How Conscious Consumption can save Capitalism from itself
On the 23rd August 2037 at 15:37, AmaBaba (a merger of the last two standing megapowers of capitalism) sucked the last dollar from the historic economy and closed it’s virtual doors. Currency, as we know it, had essentially disappeared when the global reserve bank, created in 2021 to produce a single global currency, outsourced its function to AmaBaba in 2028. Shortly after that, every bank in the world decided to use AmaBaba’s cloud banking services because it was just cheaper and easier than having to maintain liquidity levels. AmaBaba had become the creator, distributor and collector of every financial transaction on the planet. They had a staff of just 8 people, who were mainly there due to regulations that required at least some human presence to be maintained in any company with more than $1 trillion in annual revenue. AmaBaba was the only company that met that criteria, because they were the only company still trading, so these were actually the last 8 people formally employed in what used to be the economy.
iCaOS (or El Capitalism as it had been nicknamed) was the operating system that had been written to systematically remove every market inefficiency it encountered. Accelerated by machine learning technology, and tapping into the human drive for cheaper, faster and easier, it reached its logical conclusion of hyper efficient profit taking. Greater efficiency had decreased market friction, less market friction had decreased transaction time, and faster transaction time had accelerated growth rates and profits. El Capitalism had reached, and played, its end game. There was nothing left to do other than display a message on the one remaining screen that read “El Capitalism will shut done in 15 seconds …. Press Esc to exit”. But there was no-one there to read it or push escape.
Why is that future highly improbable, even though we mostly live in societies where the dominant economic drive is the extraction of maximum profit for an increasingly small number of people?
Because before we get there, people in societies that are systematically destabilised by poverty, inequality and greed will press Ctrl-Alt-Del, and in that scenario there are only losers.
So how can conscious consumption save Capitalism, which IMHO, still has some redeeming qualities worth saving? Capitalism has an implicit algorithm designed to increase efficiencies and get more from less, but not all efficiencies are good. We are not in the same situation as the industrial revolution where advances in technology replaced, but actually increased, job opportunities. There may have been a few hundred carriage makers that lost their jobs, but there were millions of jobs created in the automobile manufacturing industry that took its place. But this next revolution in machine learning and AI will reduce the number of jobs, and education is no longer the vaccine it once was that will make you immune to its impact.
People are by nature lazy, who doesn’t want to expend the least effort for the greatest reward. We are also largely incapable of acting now to avoid some unpleasant, even inevitable, future. These two qualities are the rohypnol that will cause us to wake up groggy the morning after we have been gang-banged by the people we allow to strip mine the economy in pursuit of faster growth and higher profits.
Buying local, supporting smaller entrepreneurs and paying a fair price may seem like a short term pain, but there is a journey that money takes once it leaves your pocket that creates a lot more value than when it is vacuumed up into a cabal-like institutional accounts and hoarded like Golem’s precious. In a functional economic system money should flow, from me to the grocer, to the grocers employee, to the school teacher who educates her child, to the doctor who sees the teacher when she’s not well, to the medical equipment supplier who works with the doctor, back to me who consults to the equipment supplier. The same money creates value along that circular path, it stabilizes society by allowing people to participate and feel involved and valued. That’s not socialism, that’s just capitalism without the cocaine.
If we continue to pursue the cheapest, easiest and quickest way to spend our money, we feed the cocaine-fuelled machine whose purpose is to extract and hoard, to look for efficiencies that alienate people and fracture society into little dysfunctional pieces that turn on each other out of pure frustration. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. At some point there needs to be an awareness of the consequences of our unthinking, advertisement manipulated, media endorsed actions. Not out of some tree-hugging, karma- collecting need to self-actualise, but out of pure self-preservation.