American Devil’s Triangle: Capitalism, Artificial Intelligence and Value System
Part 1: Capitalism.
Since I migrated to US back in 2001, I have been eager to learn about American culture, people, economy and their fundamental value systems. I have been engaged in many conversations with people — from different political views and backgrounds — to better understand “what” goals the people of this society are after and “how” they are going to get there.
In one of my conversations with Bob,
[Let me introduce him quickly: Bob is a hardcore pro free-market and a colleague of mine, who has educated me tremendously about the right-wing, conservative republican ideology.]
I vividly remember once he — very passionately — mentioned to me that
“Capitalism is the Best Thing that has ever been invented for societies.”
While I was mesmerized by his passion on the subject, he kept comparing a typical Capitalist society with the past Socialist societies and all of their disastrous outcome — particularly, the extreme poverty and the grim situation of people lived under the former Soviet Union regime.
Since then I have been very observant and analytical about the principles and benefits of Capitalism; from economics to sociopolitical perspectives. I’ve learned about the history and also about several influential people in the field (e.g., Milton Friedman), read so many books and still I am on the investigative mode. One thing that I have realized is that so many people in the US religiously believe in the Capitalistic ideology and they tend to be so defensive about it. Nevertheless, I believe that it is very constructive (for any ideology) to be questioned and criticized. Thus, if I may, I want to cautiously talk about current Capitalism that is practiced in the US. But, first let me clarify my intention:
I don’t intend on attacking the foundation of Capitalism, but, in fact, I genuinely acknowledge most of it. I would also invite you to celebrate all the great stuff that Capitalism has been able to deliver to American Society; especially during the second half of the 20th century — to make sure the means of production are owned by private individuals.
Meantime, the important question is whether the current [modified version] of the Capitalism is still capable of serving the people of the United States. You may ask what I mean by the modified version? As any ideology can be easily contaminated by people’s ego, thirst for power, etc., I believe that the current Capitalism also has been deviated from its roots and soon would start to fail to deliver its promises — due to one common human trait: GREED!
So, again here the intention is not to undermine the great contribution of Capitalism upon American society. I know we all should be grateful and so proud of living in a society that let us practice our individualism and encourages entrepreneurial spirit. So, don’t worry. I am not trying to be like a Marxist intellectual who wants to overthrow the Capitalistic system and replace it with some sort of socialism or state-owned entities.
On the contrary, I think that we can save the Capitalism together if we first admit that it is not aligned with its fundamentals and is already failing to deliver its promises. Why? Because based on my understanding, Capitalism in its core, is supposed to liberate people from the influence of Centralized authoritarian institutions — who have control over market, people, media, etc. However, I personally don’t see that much of a difference between a dictatorial regime who limits its people’s choices in what to buy, what program to watch, etc., versus a big (one trillion dollar) company who owns huge market share, extreme amount of people’s data, and creates illusion of choices within its advertising platform and is capable of promoting anything (I mean, anything) within its giant ecosystem and media.
Do you see my point?
For example, let’s look into the Amazon’s (and other giant Platforms) ownership over the market and unfair access to lots of crucial data from people.
A side note: Amazon even does not often pay the tax to make sure some public goods, healthcare, etc., would be more affordable for the same people.
Not only this situation is not contributing to the liberation of the people, but it has made the situation for small businesses (aka middle class) almost impossible to grow/open new businesses and as a result the fair competition idea just does not exist. That is the perfect recipe for leading a society to poverty. [Of course, the top 1% are excluded]
Business expansion and yearly growth are (understandably) the main objectives of all the for-profit corporations within a capitalistic system. That’s great. However, you would agree that the constant expansion and control over big chunk of market (and consumers’ data) would translate to an unstoppable POWER, and possibly to a monopolistic influence on the market, politics (i.e., politicians) and even the culture. That is potentially dangerous for
and also for
the democracy of the society.
…Ironically both are the main promises of the Capitalism.
Again, while thanks to those promises, so many societies successfully were liberated from the control of centralized authoritarian regimes in the past; yet, everybody is getting worried now about another form of centralized giant power: the Corporate America.
One of the signs of this worrisome is appearing in the form of (lack of) trust between people and corporations.Trust is a complicated thing in any relationship. It takes so many years and lots of reciprocal transactions to build trust between two entities. But honestly, in your opinion, how is the relationship between most of the people in America and the big corporations? Forget about people buying the stocks of some companies here and here — for just tiny short-term financial gain. But actually, I am talking in a more fundamental level.
When it comes to exploiting consumer data, don’t you really think that people have lost their trust in Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc.? How about people’s trust with regards to financial institutions and banking companies?
Well, just as an example, people rushed to the cryptocurrency idea (i.e., bitcoins) mainly to show a middle finger — Let’s face it — to the not-very-trustworthy centralized banking institutions. Again, that paradigm shift was fundamentally due to the fear and lack of trust with big corporations — as opposed to being inspired by a new creative alternative.
Yet, another example would be the attempt to bring every aspect of the society under the umbrella of Capitalism. Just imagine you are sitting in a board of directors of a private healthcare company under a capitalistic system. In one hand, you need to equip your institution with top-of-the-line equipment, machines, doctors etc., to serve your customers (in this case, patients), but at the same time, because of the pressure form the board members, you should make sure that your company is set to make substantial profit. The more profit, the more bonuses for the top executives and for yourself, perhaps.
To bring that into perspective, just let’s take a look at the recent $69 billion merger of CVS and Aetna in the health care industry. They (i.e., the corporate America) claim that this merger would help the consumers, but critics worry that consumers could end up with far fewer options and higher expenses and of course more profit for CVS in future.
For your information, last year, CVS Health had revenues of about $185 billion and Aetna, had $60 billion in revenue.
But, you agree that essentially the main purpose of a health care system is “health”, right? And, not to make “profit”? It is not supposed to be about Capital, but about Humans. It is not supposed to be about double-digit growth, but about that person, who is possibly in the most vulnerable situation of his/her life and needs empathy, care and human connection more than anything else. Darn….What a convoluted dilemma?
These are just few signs to show us that there is a shaky road ahead of us. Both for the Capitalism and for this society. Some people just waiting to see which one of the two would collapse first. I am, however, suggesting to let’s save both. I’ve got some ideas and I would love to hear yours.