Democracy in an age of “unhappy capitalism”: signal and noise

10:13 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

They say that only the good die young. In the short time he lived, it was given to Aaron Swartz to define the principal problem facing public life in the United States of America:

If it was conventional wisdom that a bunch of unelected bankers looking out for rich people were the reason everyone was out of work, politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it. The late Aaron Swartz

This post is entitled, “democracy in an age of ‘unhappy capitalism’”. What do I mean by that, and what, if anything, does “happy capitalism” mean?

To explain how it works, here is a graph straight from the great vampire squid itself:

 

Corporate Profits versus Wages

 

As you can see in the squid’s graph between 1960 and 1990, wages were up, while at the same time America’s corporations were making good money: I call that “happy capitalism”, because most of the working citizenry were reasonably content and investors were too.

After 1990 (neatly coinciding with the collapse of the USSR?) the relationship wages/profit becomes erratic and in the last two years corporate profits have shot up and wages have fallen dramatically.

What does this mean?

It means that you can make a lot of money without paying even skilled people very much. People are no longer used to make you rich, only to serve you in low paying jobs once you are rich. Most of the jobs being created now are low-paying service jobs.

That could be a problem because in a democracy “unused” and underpaid people can still vote and if they understood the mechanisms impoverishing them, this could cause problems for the “users” because as Aaron Swartz said, “politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it“.

“Unhappy capitalism” then, is when articulate, educated, middle class people like Aaron Swartz, begin to question the system. In this way the “conventional wisdom” that Swartz talks about is created: in a national “conversation” of a great number of articulate, educated voters. Topic of the day: something has gone wrong, let’s all get together and fix it.

Making that conversation difficult, hopefully impossible, is a major objective of the users facing the formerly used.

Signal and noise

Read the rest of this entry →