DAY 28: The Fate of Capitalism and Change in Light of The Current Technological Advances
by Jadal for Knowledge and Culture, with Kaife Amin, Karim Ariqat and Kamal Balawi, at Jadal for Knowledge and Culture, Amman, Jordan, 3–4 Sep 2017
In order to talk about the day and the motivation behind organizing it, I need to first introduce Jadal and how this Day of Learning relates to its objectives in making change happen.
In the wake and spirit of the Arab Spring, Jadal was founded by Fadi Amireh in 2012, as he witnessed the need for more dialogue and awareness raising on the roots of our socio-economic crisis. Jadal was envisioned to do exactly that through its activities, and through building an alternative management model and offering an open space, where cultural activities and knowledge sharing fuse to evoke and spread new societal values.
Amidst the troubling reality of the West Asia-North Africa region and while searching for answers and solutions to how we should face and deal with our problems, it became evident that the vast majority of our social problems, wars, and many health problems as well, are the direct results of our economic system. Fadi came across the Zeitgeist Movement and the Venus Project and felt very aligned with what they’re calling for in terms of utilizing cutting edge technology and the scientific method of thinking to achieve more efficient resource management and distribution. Market capitalism being solely profit driven has proven itself to be structurally corrupt and wasteful of resources. Structurally means that no new progressive law or an honest Politician can make things better, everywhere, for the planet and all its inhabitants.
So the Day of Learning organised in Amman revolved around the same train of thought; that the way we live under the current socio-economic system is destructive, unsustainable and leads us to live our lives in a manner that is not in-line with our human nature. By embracing the fact that everything is connected and constantly changing, and employing technology and the scientific method of thinking, we can not only avoid catastrophic scenarios, but also create abundance that puts an end to the exploitation of all forms of life and builds a sustainable free world, one that is in harmony with the laws of nature.
First day— Sept 3rd 2017: 3 speakers, 3 sessions, 50-70 participants
Session I (7:00–8:00 PM) by Kamal Balawi — Economics Enthusiast: The History of Economy and the Emergence of Capitalism
The objective of going over the history of economy was:
A. So that participants can put into perspective, on a time scale, the relative duration of time where economy has been the way it is now (or similar). This serves the message that nothing about capitalism is “natural”, as the below paragraph better explains:
“Capitalism — the economic system that currently dominates the world — has existed in meaningful amounts about 300 years. From one point of view, this is a long time. After all, in the early 1700s — 300 years ago — the world was a very different place from what it is today. The United States did not yet exist, people accused of witchcraft were still being executed Europe and elsewhere, Japan continued to refused to establish political or economic relations with Europe, and the Ottoman Empire was still one of the world’s great powers.
But from other points of view, 300 years is an extremely brief period of time. For instance, Homo sapiens (that is, you and me) have been around about 100,000 years. Capitalism, then, has been around about only 0.3% of human history (300/100000 = 3/1000 = 0.003).
The relative recentness of capitalism fails to support the argument — made by some — that there is something “natural” about capitalism or that there is something within the human makeup that makes capitalism the most “appropriate” economic system. For 99.7% of human history, non-capitalist economic systems were dominant.” (Source)
B. Drastic economic change was always driven by technological invention and advancement. From a long-term historical perspective, this can be seen in one image, the following graph from a McKinsey Global Institute report.
This point relates the content of this session to the next 3 (both days).
Kamal first explained the concept of economy, and how it is related with human practices intended at regulating the production, distribution, exchange and consumption of goods and services. He also clarified its connection with scarcity, not having enough to meet everyone’s wants dictates that there is a system to manage the available resources. He then walked us through a brief overview of human history with a focus on means of production and exchange, starting from the Paleolithic period (500,000–10,000 BC) when sapiens roamed lands in small groups of hunters and gatherers, then moving on to the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods when humans gradually discovered agriculture that marked the beginning of settled communities and a shift in roles, community and leadership structures. Great civilizations rose around fertile lands and sources of water.
The Age of Exploration and Discovery, which took place at the same time as the Renaissance, witnessed an intellectual revolution that encouraged new ideas and a scientific approach to problems. That age paved the way to the industrial revolution, especially with the expansion of trade and increasing activity and importance of merchants.
Upon the first industrial revolution, production increased tremendously, so did population numbers in industrialized countries. GDP per capita to spiked to unprecedented highs. Economic thought gained more importance and different schools of thought emerged.
The Industrial Revolution was a period from the 18th to the 19th century where major changes in agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transport had a profound effect on the socioeconomic and cultural conditions starting in the United Kingdom, then subsequently spreading throughout Europe, North America, and eventually the world. The onset of the Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history; almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way. In Europe wild capitalism started to replace the system of mercantilism and led to economic growth. (Source)
Capitalism or any other economic system, Kamal explained, is also a social one, as it involves a combination of various institutions and entities (political, legal, ethical, religious), and it plays a role in shaping the types of relationships between these agencies and other actors (producers and consumers). Economic and social structures prevalent at any point in time are always connected, they transform and develop together.
Kamal went on explaining a bit more about the current form of economy, how no pure model has been established in reality, almost all current prevalent systems in countries are somewhere on a spectrum between pure capitalism and socialism, some intervention in economy was needed by banks or governments either to pull us out of financial crises (recessions) or to keep things from crashing again (stabilizing economy). He also shed some light on the internal structural contradictions of capitalism, which include capital accumulation and monopoly, saying that “capitalist economies always go through boom-and-bust cycles, with recessions interrupting the process of capital accumulation and economic growth”.
Kamal ended where Karim will pick up next, that technology nowadays and in the near future will cause many people to lose their jobs to the machine, again. The current economic model is not equipped to deal with such a number of unemployed and unemployable individuals. We have to think ahead and plan for how to overcome this situation and turning it in favor of the planet and humanity.
A 15 min Q&A was moderated with participants pitching in and asking questions on their mind.
Session II (8:15–8:45 PM) by Karim Ariqat — Automation Engineer: Man & Machine: How Will the Advancement of Technology Shape our Future
The first industrial revolution replaced peoples’ and working animals’ muscles with dump machines. Now we’re at the verge of a new kind of industrial revolution, one that will replace human intelligence and creativity.
Karim started by giving an introduction to what Artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning are. He explained how they need massive amounts of data to practice and learn/build experiences from, and how they are designed to mimic the human neurological system. A video example of a machine learning a task was displayed with its visual feedback mechanism.
Autonomous vehicles were brought up as a popular example of how artificially intelligent machines will no longer need man operators. They’re also more time, cost and energy efficient, and their error margins are much lower than humans.
Karim displayed the finding of a 2013 study which examined the extent of tasks computer-controlled equipment can be expected to perform over the next decades, relying on advances in fields related to Machine Learning (ML), including Data Mining, Machine Vision, Computational Statistics and other sub-fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI), in which efforts are explicitly dedicated to the development of algorithms that allow cognitive tasks to be automated. In addition to the extent of computerisation in manual tasks.
The graphs below from the study were shown, giving an idea about jobs’ susceptibility to automation based on 3 variables; Perception and manipulation tasks, Creative intelligence tasks, Social intelligence tasks.
The study was also able to measure susceptibility to automation of a job given its average pay and required educational qualification.
The Employment Impact of Computerization
In Figure III, the study distinguishes between high, medium and low risk occupations, depending on their probability of computerization. Its focuses on the impact of computerisation on the mix of jobs that existed in 2010 in the US. According to the study’s estimate, 47% of total US employment is in the high-risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two.
Karim then highlighted some of the efforts that are being done globally to mitigate the expected unemployment crisis. One of the proposed, but not radical solutions some countries are considering today is providing a basic income or a Universal basic income (UBI) to their citizens regardless of their employment status or ability to work.
In the last year alone, Mark Zuckerberg called on Harvard’s graduating class to “explore ideas like universal basic income,” Elon Musk told a gathering of world leaders in Dubai that “some kind of universal basic income is going to be necessary,” and President Obama remarked that universal basic income is a subject we’ll be debating “over the next 10 or 20 years.” (Source)
The Q&A after Karim’s presentation was intense, participants had a heap of questions to ask and discussions to start, most revolved around what would humans do after AI taking so many jobs, what would be the incentive for people to work anymore if UBI was applied, how are cryptocurrencies related to AI and the future automation, and whether the advancement and utilization of AI technology could pose an actual threat to the existence and/or safety of mankind.
Session III (9:00–10:00 PM) by Kaife Amin– Activist at the Zeitgeist Movement: The Monetary System Crisis and Technological Development
The monetary system is closely related to the future crisis of technological unemployment. The below cycle of capital among the actors in the chain, demonstrates how employees first sell their labor in exchange for monetary compensation, then both employees and employers take the role of consumers and pay for goods and services with the money they made. When a lot of us become unemployed, we lose out ability to act as consumers and that breaks the cycle on which economy depends on.
Capitalism faces two types of criticism, one is ethical; albeit justified but it is not our concern today. And the other is a structural one. The same mechanisms necessary for capitalism to work will lead to its failure. The first of these is evident in the constant effort by businesses to increase productivity, so when more efficient machines can replace people in the workplace this will render people with little to spend in the market, breaking the cycle needed to keep things going. Another structural problem is the tendency for capital accumulation in the hands of a few, a few that gets fewer every year. (2017 Stats show that it is 8 men now, not even 62!)
The third structural problem is that our current monetary system requires continuous economic growth, as otherwise our money supply disappears and we experience recession. This has detrimental effect on the environment and will turn against us as our overall waste management strategies cannot even keep up with the increased consumption and waste of materials.
“ In most countries, about 3% of our money originates from government-owned mints that make notes and coins. The rest is digital and created by private banks, out of nothing, when they issue loans. When we go to a bank to take out a loan, the bank does not lend its own money or that of its depositors. As a deputy governor at the Bank of England put it: “Banks extend credit by simply increasing the borrowing customer’s current account … That is, banks extend credit by creating money.” As banks create the amount borrowed, but not the interest to be paid on that loan, there is now more debt in the world than money. That means there must be an increasing amount of lending to pay off debts plus interest while maintaining the amount of money in circulation, which means economic activity must continually increase. Otherwise, as debts are paid off, so our money supply shrinks, which leads to defaults, foreclosures, bankruptcies, unemployment, depression, and, history shows us, then crime and extremism.” (Source)
Regardless which shortcoming/s will strike first, or when, a global financial crisis is foreseen by many specialists says Kaife and the best way to deal with it is to plan a safe exit starting Now. And for this, we view the working plans undergoing right now by many governments worldwide, led by Jeremy Rifkin in that regard.
The Third Industrial Revolution and the Demise of Capitalism
Jeremy Rifkin, a world renowned economic and social theorist, writer, and political advisor (has been an advisor to the European Union since 2000) and his global economic development team are working with cities, regions, and national governments to develop the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure for a Collaborative Commons and a Third Industrial Revolution. The TIR Consulting Group LLC is currently working with the regions of Hauts-de-France in France, the Metropolitan Region of Rotterdam and The Hague, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in the conceptualization, build-out, and scale-up of a smart Third Industrial Revolution infrastructure to transform their economies. (Source)
Rifkin describes the Third Industrial Revolution, or “ Industrie 4.0 “ as called in Germany, in his latest book “The Zero Marginal Cost Society”, in how the emerging Internet of Things is speeding us to an era of nearly free goods and services, precipitating the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of capitalism.
“Rifkin uncovers a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness but is now taking it to its death — the inherent entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.
The plummeting of marginal costs is spawning a hybrid economy — part capitalist market and part Collaborative Commons “a sharing economy” — with far reaching implications for society, according to Rifkin.” (Source)
More on the TIR will be discussed the next day.
This day ended with an open discussion between the participants and the 3 presenters, and a promise to continue the talk next day about the future and what we can do in the meantime.
Day 2 — Sep 4th 2017: 1 speaker, 2 sessions, 30-50 participants
Session I (7:00–7:30 PM) by Kaife Amin– Activist at the Zeitgeist Movement: Human Behavior, Evolution and History
The discussion started by raising questions regarding human behavior and the nature vs. nurture debate; Why is it important to talk about human nature? Are humans violent, competitive, selfish and greedy etc. by nature? Are our behaviors dictated mostly by biology (DNA, evolutionary development) or is our environment also a factor? Do we currently live in harmony with our nature?
To start with, it’s important to address the topic of human nature because we’re talking about change, we’re talking about new systems and ways of living. And every time these topics are stirred some familiar voices rise saying that the current system is built because of and around our nature as human beings to compete and exploit, and that all our actions stem from self-interest, so there is no point in seeking to change things because we will always revert to that nature.
Therefore, it was necessary to illuminate the side less observed, which is more up-to-date and scientifically backed, by presenting the findings of several studies done by different professors in psychology, psychiatry, human behavior, neurology ..etc. These included:
- Dacher Keltner and the Survival of the Kindest: Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., is the founding director of the Greater Good Science Center and a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that “Survival of the fittest” was not Darwin’s phrase, “Survival of the kindest” better captures Darwin’s thinking about his own kind. Keltner writes “In Darwin’s first book about humans, The Descent of Man, and Selection In Relation to Sex from 1871, Darwin argued that sympathy is our strongest instinct, sometimes stronger than self-interest, and he argued that it would spread through natural selection, for “the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.” “ This point was totally forgotten by evolutionary science for quite some time. Through different experiments in his lab, such as those detecting which parts of the brain that light up when we see images of suffering, the mirror neurons, the vagus nerve.. Keltner believes that there are a lot of data that suggest we are wired to care, down to the neurochemical level.
- James H. Fallon and What Makes Someone a Psychopath?: An American neuroscientist and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior and emeritus professor of anatomy and neurobiology in the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. In his work on psychopathy, James was comparing brain scans of people with and without psychopathic tendencies and says while there’s a substantial genetic component, there’s some environmental influence too. As Fallon explains in his TED talk.
- Gabor Maté and his new approaches to treating addiction based on an understanding of the biological and socio-economic roots of addiction: Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadian award-winning author and physician who specializes in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction. In his book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he describes the significant role of “early adversity” i.e. stress, mistreatment and particularly childhood abuse, in increasing susceptibility to addiction. He feels that society needs to change policies that disadvantage certain minority groups, causing them more stress and therefore increased risks for addictions. (Source). In other writings and appearances Maté talks about how “the very nature of the system in which people live their lives is a significant source of illness. Now there are obvious factors like environmental pollution, toxins, and then of course there are the social determinants of health: the impact of poverty, the impact of inequality, the impact of history and continued racism.”. He goes on to say “even the people who are not on the wrong end of economic inequality or systemic racism are still made ill just by how we live our lives. The stress that we live under, the competition, the aggressiveness, the uncertainty, the loss of control that we experience in our lives. The gender inequalities, these are not just social phenomena, they have an actual impact on community health. The isolation people are experiencing.”
A look was also taken over some works by Professor Robert Sapolsky and Christopher Ryan.
A link was drawn between some of these findings and our evolutionary history, when Kaife briefly offered a recap of the historical modes of production and associated community relations.
Homo sapiens have lived from about 250,000 years ago (Source) mostly as hunter and gatherer tribes up until 12,000–10,000 years ago. A growing body of evidence suggests that, at our core, both animals and human beings have what Dacher Keltner coins a “compassionate instinct.” In other words, compassion is a natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival. That way of living prevails over the grand majority of our existence. Modes of production started to change as we discovered agriculture and with it our social structures. Exploiting the work of others became more prominent and then structurally legitimized. Kaife showed us on a timeline graph how we moved from hunting and gathering in tribal societies into ancient civilizations where slavery started and then feudalism, moving on to capitalism that appeared in the past 300 years only. Stressing that different modes were present simultaneously with one shrinking over time.
Again as in Day 1, this segment was prepared to put matters into perspective. Holding on to the status quo or refusing to make an effort to change things to the better under the pretext that the way things are like now (the socio-economic system and its manifestations) are core to human nature/evolution is not a very well supported claim. More and more scientific evidence is showing that we are actually wired for compassion, not self-interest. From there, we can allow ourselves to imagine a better future, believe in our ability to get there, and summon all the motivation and energy needed to make it a reality.
And luckily for us millennials, this idea of an inclusive, just, humane, and sustainable global economy for every human being is ‘technically’ possible when taking into consideration the recent advances in technology and the studies that predict near zero marginal cost of production, as artificially intelligent robots and equipment will soon be able to do most of the mundane tasks humans still do. We just need to advocate hard to match it with a social system that utilizes the benefits of these discoveries for the best interest of all people, mother earth and all other forms of life upon it.
Session II (8:00–9:45 PM) by Kaife Amin– Activist at the Zeitgeist Movement: What is The 3rd Industrial Revolution and Resource-Based Economy, and What are some Immediate Actions for Change
Kaife reintroduced Rifkin as the principal architect of the Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change, through fundamental economic change that will occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy regimes, mainly, renewable electricity.
The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission. Rifkin has also been advising the leadership of the People’s Republic of China in recent years to develop the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution.
The presentation first elaborated on what makes an industrial revolution, according to Rifkin:
There have been at least 7 major economic paradigm shifts in history. From an anthropological point of view they are very interesting because they share a common denominator: at a moment in time three defining technologies emerged; and then they converged to create a ‘general purpose technology platform’. In other words: an infrastructure that fundamentally changes the way we manage, power and move economical activity across the value chains. they are:
· New communication technologies to manage the economic activity,
· New sources of energy to efficiently power the economic activity,
· New modes of transportation logistics to move the economic activity
The First and the Second Industrial Revolution are good illustrations of this. England led us into the first Industrial Revolution with steam-powered printing. Next, they laid out a telegraph system. Those communication technologies converged with a new energy source: cheap coal. Then they came up with a technology to harvest that energy: the steam engine, which when put on wheels and rails gave rise to the railway system to kick-off the industrial revolution.
During the Second Industrial Revolution in the US, centralized communication and especially the telephone, and later radio and television converged with cheap Texan oil. This was powered by a German invention to harvest that energy: the internal combustion engine. This resulted in a long time growth which peaked in July 2008. (Source)
Now for the Third Industrial Revolution; the internet, the communication internet, has matured. We all have our smart phones but now that communication and internet are converging with a renewable energy networks. That’s going to allow millions and millions of people to produce their own solar and wind and other green energy and send it back on energy infrastructures. And that “energy internet” is now converging with an automated GPS and soon driverless cars, rail, water and air transportations to create three new networks: a communication network, a renewable energy network and an automated transportation network. (Source)
Kaife then explained how this would manifest in our daily life. The below excerpt from Rifkin’s book Goodreads summary writes it eloquently:
“The new technology infrastructure — the Internet of things (IoT) — will connect everything and everyone. Billions of sensors are being attached to natural resources, production lines, the electricity grid, logistics networks, recycling flows, and implanted in homes, offices, stores, vehicles, and even human beings, feeding Big Data into an IoT global neural network. Prosumers (a prosumer is a producer and a consumer at the same time) can connect to the network and use Big Data, analytics, and algorithms to accelerate efficiency, dramatically increase productivity, and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just like they now do with information goods.
Hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives to the global Collaborative Commons. Prosumers are plugging into the fledgling IoT and making and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy, and 3D-printed products at near zero marginal cost. They are also sharing cars, homes, clothes and other items via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, and cooperatives at low or near zero marginal cost. Students are enrolling in free massive open online courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost. Social entrepreneurs are even bypassing the banking establishment and using crowdfunding to finance startup businesses as well as creating alternative currencies in the fledgling sharing economy. In this new world, social capital is as important as financial capital, access trumps ownership, sustainability supersedes consumerism, cooperation ousts competition, and “exchange value” in the capitalist marketplace is increasingly replaced by “sharable value” on the Collaborative Commons.”
Now although as Karim showed us in Day 1 of the event that many jobs are at risk of automation, resulting in mass technological unemployment, but that won’t happen all of the sudden. As during the lay out of this third industrial revolution infrastructure, millions of new jobs will open over the next two generations because we’re going to need semiskilled, skilled and professional employment to actually lay out the smart infrastructure for cities, and it is going to engage a lot of local businesses: power transmission companies, ICT companies, electronics companies, transportation, logistics, manufacturing, real estate, etc.
John Maynard Keynes’s wrote in his “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” even during the most hopeless part of the Great Depression that “technological unemployment” may be frightening as the need for human labor is reduced, but “much sooner perhaps than we are all aware of” the benefits of this transformation will accrue. As humans are more liberated from the need to toil for a paycheck, we will “devote more of our further energies to non-economic purposes.” (Source)
When we get out of the bottle-neck that we’re at right now, and states and institutions start to give way to the TIR, and the sharing and collaborative economy becomes strong, this might drive us into considering a different global economic model that better suits that world and its potentials to serve everybody’s needs. The Natural Law/Resource Based Economic Model is a viable alternative that has a great potential in saving the planet and catering to the needs of its inhabitants indiscriminately.
When abundance is secured due to free energy sources and advanced, high productivity technology, everyone’s basic needs will be provided for without discrimination or monetary mediation. Needs will be predicted via AI and the IoT and resources and production intelligently controlled with the help of massive feedback data. To establish RBE on a global scale borders need to be removed to allow smart allocation, distribution, transportation and production of resources. Earth is our common eco-system and its resources will truly become everybody’s common heritage. The system will guarantee access to things we need, not ownership. The scientific method will be utilized and a form of governance for addressing any decisions or problems, not political deliberation, ensuring the principals of equality, humanity, non-discrimination, and sustainability.
Immediate Actions for Change
Participants were then presented with methods in which they can enact change on an individual or community scale. This included (Local examples were provided when available):
- Aiming at self-sufficiency, preferably on a collaborative/communal level
- Minimizing the consumption of resources (reducing waste to minimum)
- Be a responsible/conscious consumer (boycotting oppressive, irresponsible and unsustainable brands/corporations/products)
- Share, swap or give away items that you don’t need anymore to be used by someone else
- Reduce consumption of animal-based products and only get products from ethically and environmentally responsible producers
- Resort to alternative news sites as opposed to mainstream media and the major news networks
- Spread the knowledge, take small steps and keep the conversation going
The audience discussed points of action, the importance of technology but yet how scary the unknown seems right now, the catastrophic reality in the MENA region and where are we from this whole process, the pros and cons of using alternative currencies in that regard, and much more.
Many thanks to everybody who helped make this happen, Jadal’s team, the teachers who volunteered (and some traveled a long distance to be present), and the support and inspiration we received from 100 Days of Learning initiative by Age of Wonderland.