Feudalism and Tech

In the information age, you don’t teach philosophy as they did after feudalism. You perform it. If Aristotle were alive today he’d have a talk show.

Timothy Leary

Talk about feudalism, and the first thing that crosses one’s mind is a village, rural setting and most probably agriculture. By and large that was the original form but as cities and ports emerged- the form transpired towards oligarchy and kleptocracy. Today feudalism has carved its niche even in technological paradigm. AirBnB ads mocking the regular hotel industry, showing the comparisons of billions of dollars of profitability without actually owning an inch of property is an open variation of feudal doctrine. You might think- where is the land and labor? Well that’s the best part- virtual domain and unlimited access to the labor for free. The regular hotel industry may have been demonized for long for splurge and lavish – suggestively due to the extravagant fa├žade it projects. But the new wave can be more coercive- if not obvious.

Take a look around at the millennial ventures. The app economy precisely. What are they fueling to, besides parallel economy? The regular hotel employs staff but it should not be at the cost of technology. If tomorrow every company develops a $1 Billion automated system- where will everyone go? Venture Capitalists thrive and survive on profits on their investments. How long will they remain bystanders, spectators and honestly “goo-goo dolls”. The Housekeeping, the Room Service, the Food & Beverage department. If everyone has automatic billing that will be charged to their cards, and the key cards will be mailed to them, while robots will serve them in restaurants; won’t these hotels become ghost-towns? It is easy to imagine. No check-in or checkout, luggage transferred through a conveyor belt. Where is hospitality in all of this? The logic remains the same.

Make no mistake, I am a bigger fan of AirBnB than anyone else I know- but not for the wrong reasons. AirBnB is basically Couch-Surfing concept only that the former is paid and latter is free or for fun. I am a world traveler and I know how beneficial is AirBnB, especially to explore and cherish many remote parts of the world. But that doesn’t give them a license to mock those who are actually involved in the regular economy. Who are actually transferring their profits (in whatever proportion) to people who earn their livelihoods through them and people who have families to support. There should be a line drawn. Just like hostels are for backpackers, there should be some distinction or balance to let the hotel industry thrive, besides these hospitality apps.

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Land Value Taxation and Future of Georgism

Georgism (breaking the power of last remnant of feudalism, the landlords) presents the most important point of contact and agreement between far left, far right, and centrist liberals throughout the world. Such agreement is key during transition to a new world economic system.

H.G. Wells, in The Shape of Things to Come, appears to have been correct (if off by a number of decades) when it comes to predicting Land Value Taxation becoming a fundamental cornerstone of a saner future world system. Whether the landlords are private or public in the form of a government, the unearned rents they collect will be redistributed to all living on the land. This allows most private corporations and individual capitalists to:

1) Redirect increasing anger against them onto a relatively small number of individuals (buying time).

2) Buy off the poor without incurring too much personal cost (buying time).

3) Eliminate critical inefficiencies remaining from the dark ages and allocate capital more effectively in a world where capital accumulation has been slowing down/stagnating for decades (buying more time).

4) Push governments (that they always indirectly control when not being fused with them) of key great powers in the northern hemisphere to reinvent themselves. This allows the European continent to take the torch from United States in becoming a fortress of safety for capital via even better high tech welfare states (buying time once again by providing livable stipends to elderly and those displaced by machines).

Although it is popular to focus on either financial cartels or inefficiencies of the public sector these days, the sheer absurdity, inefficiency, and tyranny of landlords is often overlooked. It is too much part of background scenery. However, landlordism must be tackled first and directly since it is an older structural problem from a pre-capitalist world system. As we approach an end of a global debt supercycle (with governments of key military powers having to reconstruct social order to continue to function), landlordism should be emphasized as having been the primary cause of the crisis. This would create a convenient (and very necessary!) scapegoat and allow many corporations, oligarchs, unions, and governments to save face during transition to a new world system. Obviously it is one of many causes but singling it out has critically important benefits for humanity in terms of saving political energy expanded this century.

A few words about the global transition. It will either be orderly (Bretton Woods 2.0) or disorderly (trade disruptions and corresponding hunger related political violence primarily in the southern hemisphere).

For it to be more orderly, the states will need resources. Resources will be scarce (factories shutting down, balance sheets of governments and corporations in disarray, etc). Tapping private landowners the world over and forcing them to pay rent will free up resources to minimize these conditions of chaos. Since new land can’t be created readily, since it can’t be hidden, and since private landlords control most of the surface of the earth, it will be easy to find what/who we need and redirect the rent these people normally collect towards infrastructure/welfare of a new world system.

Although not all landlords have the same parasitic pull, the argument of “what about mom and pop landlords” is much like the 19th century argument about “mom and pop slave owners” who just had 1-3 slaves rather than the hundreds of the large plantations (large corporation equivalent of the day). Having said that, the small landlords of course will not be physically touched and will become beneficiaries of the new system that they now help provide for. Some countries already implement a partial Land Value Tax system to great benefit. Taiwan is best example today. Future merger of China and Taiwan will hopefully “infect” a large planetary role model with a more futuristic tax code.
Problem of governments as landowners

Writing in 1976, Arthur Selwyn Miller in The Modern Corporate State, articulated the rise and decay of FDRist Social Democratic arrangement in United States from 1937 onwards. What started out as a roughly coequal coalition of large unions, large corporations, large universities, and large welfare government (with emphasis on job creating benefits of the military) has deteriorated. 40 years after the book was written, we are left with large military, large corporations (private governments), large universities subordinate to these private governments, and hollowed out central “public” government subordinate to these private governments. Combined with ever present institutionalized landlordism, this heady brew can only be described as neo-feudalism (especially with the 20th century decay/stagnation of newer dynamic progressive industrial capitalist system).

Richard Nixon, the last strong relatively-autonomous American president, tried to prevent this and wanted to develop some executive government led (as first among equals) developmental authoritarianism. Franco’s Spain in the 1950s springs to mind. Nixon was shown a lesson and now we have a major problem on our hands. How do we prevent the current, mostly privately led neo-feudal arrangement from transitioning to a mostly publicly led neo-feudal arrangement? How do we go forward towards new rather than backwards (only now with a glossier high tech patina).

Tapping and tackling only private landlordism will concentrate so many resources in the hands of the state that potential for mismanagement and confusion (see Soviet and modern Chinese examples) becomes all but a certainty. It will still be a better, saner, and more comfortable social order but one that would rapidly decay unless people in public governments are also viewed as much a (potentially parasitic) landlords as private landholders. This is especially important to keep in mind considering that most states in the world are effectively fused with large corporations to different degrees. Decreasing potential for corruption should be correlated to increasing complexity of civilization since preventing social unrest is difficult as is in such a densely populated world.

The more proactively humane solution will only be in a legal rabidly institutionalized framework that ties the productive resource benefits derived from the land to each individual homo sapien living on the land directly. This means that governments can no longer serve as self aggrandizing “representatives” with final authority on how to allocate the stipends in the 21st century. This means structurally and legally binding governments, these entities with monopoly on violence in a given area, to only act as middlemen service providers and enforcers of justice. For instance, individuals in a private cooperatively owned and democratically managed private corporation in the future will pay legally mandated “rent” (whether money, electrical energy, resources, etc) to a public government land”lord” (people actually owning the land via planes, guns, and missiles) who will in turn be legally bound to transfer these resources to all people on the land. With cutting edge communication and transportation infrastructure, the line between decentralized and centralized governance will increasingly be blurred.

Real Economy is Physical

Economics is an engineering challenge

The Wall Street vs Main Street dichotomy has been so overused in the news that it is sickening. It is time to replace this loaded married couple terminology with another. The first reason for this is that WS vs MS split has now become a political slogan and a heuristic and thus does not promote thoughtfulness. The second more important reason is that it obscures the reality of what the real economy is.

“Wall Street” has come to symbolize just meaningless paper shuffling gambling that is the financial sector. “Main Street” apparently includes everything else such as telemarketing, McDonalds service, prostitution, web design, and of course industrial production. Politicians tend to lump service industry like catering (and other demeaning unpleasant tasks that poor people are forced into to not die of starvation or exposure) and actual industry like engine part manufacture together. Since financial sector is a service sector (smart people overworking in mind numbing meaningless tasks to make the rich richer) we see how WS vs MS is not a real dichotomy at all due to the enormous overlap in classification.

Will the real economy please stand up?

I have written how the field of economics the way we know it today is so wasteful and separated from real empirical investigation as to require the term stupid. Any Western Economics 101 course will still dutifully inform that it is a study on how to deal with allocation of finite resources. In that, economists not only failed but have made the global situation much worse. Western economists are not only as ideological as Soviet economists were but have now devolved to the level of historians who study past moves made by powerful/wealthy people. When they are not busy defending themselves as real scientists through utilization of advanced statistics (to study decisions made by oligarchs as if they were orbits of planets) they are cheerleaders and cautious financial planners for rich people who don’t like to think. An analogy can be made with French generals confident that the Maginot line will hold against the tried and true offensive methods. It is no surprise that in the latest crisis of capitalism, most people regardless of their class have lost money. Economics today is not only failing the poor but a large portion of the very rich as well (who then find themselves one day with only the grand stories of their parents).

The term economics has been tainted to such a degree that it may be too late to reclaim it. Lets look at the definition of another word and see if it has any application to dealing in a world of finite material and human resources.

“Engineering – The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.It appears that economists have wanted to be engineers all along but at some point wandered off into the land of the stupid in an effort to create some ideological justification for the Cold War (follow the money trail of rich people or their puppet government organs funding the research of these brave “scientists”). Of course after a couple of generations (of economics being a creative attempt to demonstrate to the world why Western oligarchy should continue) this mutated pseudo-science has become entrenched. Youngsters on the scene either would not be hired to teach if they disagreed with the pseudo-science faculty or wanted to demonstrate how much of the nonsense they understand and thus left their brain at the door to please the older generations of these so called academics.

Most people assume that the point of economic advice would be to make everybody better off materially in the end. This means make everybody in either one nation, region, or the whole world have more access and control over resources which in turn would make the average human being on the planet healthier, more educated, happier, and better able to make use of his or her physiological talents for self-actualization or profit.

Only engineering can do that. Humanity’s only way of dealing with finite resources is to better utilize these resources. This requires ever rising level of energy available to humanity to operate machines. The process is very simple:

1) Always develop new ways to make construction of power plants faster and cheaper. One assumes mass scale production of parts to make power plants. The goal is to pop them out like one does a supercomputer with periodic retooling as better machines to make parts are invented (Japanese lead the way currently in replacing even the cheapest of human assembly line workers so factories can run almost full time).

2) Keep increasing production of ever more efficient and powerful power plants.

3) Utilize ever rising levels of energy to extract, refine/recycle, and put into use ever rising quantity of natural resources for mass construction of high tech farms throughout the world. With enough energy and materials enclosed farming with artificial sunshine/weather control is more than possible from the Sahara desert to the frozen tundras. Keep increasing numbers and quality of these farms until vast majority of people spend almost no caloric energy and productive time working to feed themselves. Keep in mind that organic chemical free food in these farms is only a question of cheap energy and materials. There is absolutely no need to send food thousands of miles across the planet and stuff it full of preservatives so this mummified food survives the journey.

4) Utilize same rising level of energy and labor freed from farming to build ever rising number of high tech places of learning throughout the world. Keep improving the efficiency of these places of learning as one does the farms. One assumes a type of modular construction so parts of the places of learning and the high tech farms can be recycled every few years and replaced with newer systems.

5) Utilize the mind power of billions of newly educated people to build better systems of power plant part production to keep churning out more energy generating sources and to reorganize socioeconomics to that end.

Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat. Rinse repeat until the solar system is colonized and humanity is in a post-scarcity transhuman world. Keep constructing better energy sources beyond this point as well naturally.

All human politics should be directed towards power generation. This means more engineers and scientists in government instead of lawyer playboys. Chinese leadership is full of engineers and this is reflected in China’s growth rate. Current batch of economists should be driven out of government policy decision making as one would drive out the clergy giving advise to the government. Every government should have an engineering ministry and we should hear of “president’s engineering advisers” instead of economic advisers. This is the only way to prevent large scale starvation for a large part of humanity in the relatively near future (not even mentioning maintaining living standards).

The side effects of such energy driven policy would of course be the possibility of other engineering marvels in the aid of construction of the power plants and places of learning. Some examples are frictionless magnetic levitation transport methods. Even today, high speed trains are already cutting into airline profits as seen by 80% drop in airfares in parts of China. To make full circle, the goal of economics should always have been to allow humans to spend next to zero caloric energy on travel, food, education, safe/pleasant shelter, etc. Instead humanity saw a worsening of their situation where even people in the Western oligarchies spend a lot of their caloric energy to get paper to exchange for traveling from point A to point B. If this continues only the rich will be able to have relatively pleasant transcontinental travel (with the poor being crammed into large slow moving ships like in the 19th century if they scrape enough for a ticket).

The goal of all governments historically is to constantly raise the minimum level of material comfort for their citizenry. This means an energy driven policy. Governments that fail in this goal are always replaced sooner or later. The transition period from today to tomorrow will require all efforts towards nuclear power. Even the American oligarchs understand the precariousness of their position as shown by president Obama’s adoption of McCain’s nuclear energy policy in his state of the union speech. Yes, solar has to be pursued but only as a bell and whistle to the nuclear power plant production. If one looks at how much land area is needed for wind/solar (and power needed to extract resources to then make parts for the wind/solar machines) to make as much energy one modern power plant, there is no contest. Green tech today is but another bubble for Wall Street and is a dead end economically and environmentally (solar for instance requires enormous amount of water that could be used to produce nutrient rich food).