Notes from the Underground

What are the Wall Street troubles about? It concerns a revolution, not too hard to figure out with a little help from the past. History is repeating itself, and the outlook is not good.

Eighteenth century industrial revolution’s proximate cause was the advent of abundant energy supplied by steam power. The texture of society was changed forever by socialized labor and manufacturing; cities evolved into masses of laborers who worked in great factories turning out cheap, yet quality, assembly line products which could be made en masse through abundant energy. Individuals with capital embraced the revolution, and fortunes of unbelievable value were made. Of interest to us is that the number of craftsmen became markedly diminished while the few capitalists became manifest and rich; unable to compete with the affordable products of the factories, craftsmen ended up as low wage workers or simply out of work. There is a similar revolution going on today, and it is hidden in plain view.

Today, computers and robots are the new “steam engines” of production and social change. Factories, and practically every walk of life, are more and more computerized and robotized. The replacement of workers is not limited to the “floor,” but is increasingly taking out the middle level white collar and many professionals. The digital manufacturing enterprise is much more efficient with computers and robots than utilizing human labor to the extent that it is revising the corporate workplace. This reduction in working force does not exclude medical enterprises, utilities, large retailers, investment firms, or government. Consider. More and more, the future of war power is through machines; unmanned drones, flown by readily trained video gamers are far cheaper than an F-16s and top gun pilots. Online shopping and truck delivery will make brick and mortar department stores too costly to maintain. Stockbrokers are being left behind by online trading. There are no more secretaries --only the few administrative assistants who know computer-processing software. Many people turn to the web for medical help, rather than going to a physician. Bookstores are now event orientated to survive, and with e-publishing, printing of books will be too costly. Large banks will be replaced by in store small banking enterprises. Even the Post office must replace offices and employees with robots and computers to survive. College tenure will disappear as online courses and part timers replace the traditional structure. The list can go on, but the gist of the matter is that the future lies with digital production of goods, web marketing to those who need the goods, and on time safe delivery. Persons not needed for those tasks will join the unemployed.

How will these persons survive? By voting themselves a salary. The government thus becomes a distributer of survival goods, here, money. Where does it get the goods? From those who have the money. What do those who have the money do to manage the government, factories, and still live a wonderful life? Many things.

First. Because corporate “persons” have practically the same rights as do individual persons (human beings), large, ”eternal” businesses can be used as placeholders for individuals who wish to take advantage of the revolution. CEO’s of corporations vote themselves into a club of board members who govern the large corporations. That makes it easy to vote CEOs of any particular corporation the desired stock bonuses and benefits. Of course, the CEOs must turn a good profit for shareowners, which task is done by utilizing computers and robots thereby reducing the costs of production. Or, if the robots and computers are not readily available or are too expensive at the moment, the answer is to ship the factory overseas to a country with cheap labor. In either case, the company makes profits, which are distributed to the stockholders and upper level employees. CEOs have board granted stock options and golden parachutes –a win in any situation for them.

Second. The rich must manipulate the government to distribute precisely that which is needed to maintain a civil society whose laws are enforced. The calculation must be to tax with prudent selfishness those who are making profits. The monies are used to provide for the general welfare of all persons, be they employed or unemployed. It is important to keep the number of unemployed down. Limit immigration and enforce mores against large families.

Such cooperation between the rich and government has been successful, up until the effects of robots and computers. The problem is now that there are too many persons who do not have sufficient government support to live a civil life. And, there are too many new poor (middle class unemployed) who provided tax income, but have now interrupted that supply and are making withdrawals rather than deposits –much faster than governmental bureaucracy can handle. Moreover, the government finds corporate persons are able to avoid more stringent taxation.

The rich have covered their “guilt” by enabling religion, education, and sports to take off the heat. Unfortunately, sports and religions have become such big businesses in themselves, that they are becoming unattractive to the masses. Video games are replacing them, but too few persons have the intellectual skills to utilize them. Yet. And, the young are disenchanted with most forms of education that lead to no jobs, save the tech junior colleges that are seeing a revival. So, in a nutshell, there are many persons out of work with the distinct impression that businesses and government are making a civilized life beyond their grasp.

The root of discomfort lies with the breakdown of the social contract, as Hobbes would have it. What bugs thinking people is government ignoring the elephant in the room. Without a social contract that works for all persons founded on the understanding that government is there to enforce laws that are mutually agreed upon for a common goal, there is a return to the state of nature. This return is what persons fear; for if the economy goes south, as Hobbes says, life becomes nasty, brutish, and short. Current, mutually agreed upon laws are for the most part good. However, there are laws and the use of loopholes that enable the rich to prosper unfairly through their corporations, or stock. The unfairness centers in the few rich not being able to get their money back into the system; frankly, they can’t spend or give away enough properly. They make too much. Not that they do not spend or give. But, the simple fact is that money remains unspent; there is no cash flow. So, peaceful protests are a good means to get the unspoken feelings out. But, I suspect violent objections will soon rise to the fore.

The danger is that the feelings may change. Here is where the forces of the Leviathan must be careful. Government must do all that it can to make cash flow again. It cannot spend monies on unproductive enterprises (wars) for which there is no payment or return in value. Paradoxically, one of the USA’s most robust products is war machinery. The swords must be advanced and turned into ploughs. And, the general population must come to see that overpopulation and ignorance is a straight way to a confrontation with the proper efforts of government.

So, the Catch 22 danger is that the ignorance of the general masses may drive them from reason to hostile feelings while the government is trying to satisfy them and corporate persons.

What does all this new revolution mean? Here’s what can be expected to happen in the next five to ten years (maybe sooner):

• Goods made digitally will last longer. Paradoxically, orders for such goods will diminish over time because demand will decrease; they will not need to be replaced so readily because of precision design and manufacture. They will last longer. Probably why auto companies have trouble; the cars are too well made.

• Medical advances will enable persons to live much longer physically, though, more than likely, not as long psychologically as would be wished; there will be diminished persons in long life bodies. Big problems for social funding and services. Euthanasia will become permitted in USA.

• Nevertheless, there will be masses of persons who live long lives, but who have no employment or intellectual means to determine how to survive.

• Many lost jobs will never return. Moreover, new jobs created by technology will require fewer, more tech and software-appropriate oriented, workers.

• The government will have to support unemployed persons, for families will not be able to afford long-term expenses.

• CEOs of large companies will have stockholders rebel and make demands on distribution of profit; dividend yield will rise. Stockholders will want returns in the form of cash, not capital gains.

• Companies that do not have dividends will be forced to give them.

• The upper middle class who own stocks will get richer, and those who do not will become poorer.

• The super rich will own considerable portions of major stocks of companies.

• Stocks will become the international currency.

• Stocks will be traded on web accounts that exist in bank “Cloud Networks.”

• Not all who are “blue collar” will find a hard time. Certain service and craft industries such as heating and air, plumbing, care giving, and refurbishing homes will prosper. Tech colleges will return.

• Colleges and Universities will fall on hard times to enroll students who will realize that a college degree is not a promise to future employment.

• With the growth of unemployed, without proper governmental functioning to manage cash flow, government will have to spend more money than it has to provide for the masses.

• The government will run out of money sooner than expected.

• Unless the situation is remedied, poorly educated populations in conjunction with unpredictable natural catastrophes will add to social upheaval.

• The social contract will need to be reestablished.

• The next election will be very interesting.