Should the tech giants reprogram capitalism?
Nicholas Barrett

The business models of today’s tech titans are in some ways just a more sophisticated exploitation of the commons, with mind share the plundered resource rather than forests and rivers.

Capitalism is the best worst system we’ve come up with, but it will need some iterative development if we want a sustainable existence. However talented, the programmers, engineers and designers called upon by Rushkoff won’t be able to accomplish the disruption he envisions without a high level recoding of the very organizations they work for.

Two examples:

  1. An obscure legal precedent, born of a mistake, once gave corporations the same rights under law as individuals. Over decades, this has been twisted by corporate attorneys into an obscene distortion of “personal” morality and privacy that enables these super-organisms, beholden to shareholders, to make decisions based on the credo of growth at all costs — often ignoring responsibility to the commons.
  2. Many studies of cooperative vs competitive systems have shown that cooperation actually yields better, more egalitarian results than pure competition. Yet capitalism today still uses metaphors borrowed from warfare, with large corporations seeking to conquer and assimilate, and plunder concentrating among the generals. Some new models: social enterprise, impact, double bottom line, etc. show promise, but are seen as weak and fuzzy.

The solution? Google could retool their famous 20% Time as “Anarchy Days” and invite executives and outsiders to join the engineers in whiteboarding capitalism 2.0. Once a wireframe is in place, Larry and Sergey could set up a JV with Apple, Amazon and Facebook and head to Washington for some rapid protolobbying.

Put more succinctly, Silicon Valley really does have the innovative firepower to do some good, but some fundamentals would need to change, summed up beautifully by a line from the series Silicon Valley, “I don’t want to live in a world where someone else is making the world a better place”.

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