Today, I just want to make a simple observation. The wealth of the world rests with the people. That isn’t a metaphor or some complicated semi-mystical argument. It’s a simple fact.
A fact that we should remind ourselves in our current era of politics. Probably the most powerful idea in the politics of North America and Europe right now is that the world’s wealth is being concentrated among a small hyper-elite. People are deservedly upset about that – from the new left-wing parties of Europe to the social movements of North America to the Bernie Sanders campaign to the Panama Papers.
The way we’re rolling our capitalism and our global markets right now, we’re not making equal opportunity for all. We’re building an oligarchy. And that’s dangerous for our democracy and freedom.
More profoundly, though, the concentration of wealth inside a small elite actually prevents the creation of more wealth. The world becomes more impoverished as the wealth of its most elite grows. This isn’t just a matter of concentrating what wealth there is in tax havens and private investment holdings. It interferes with the production of more wealth.
|A genuine thinker of people's own power together. The|
reason we do philosophy is to think of new ways to live
and prod each other into considering how we might be
able to change our lives for the better.
At one level, this is just a basic fact of demand-emphasizing economics. If there aren’t enough people wealthy enough to support their societies’ businesses, then the businesses fail and more people are plunged into poverty. The vicious cycle continues until the masses have virtually nothing and the elite can live off the interest rate from their savings.
But on another level, there are production processes that specifically require everyone to take part in the economy and participate in complex webs of social relationships. In the current economy, so much material productivity comes from knowledge and communication. If poverty cuts people off from these social networks, the engine of wealth has less fuel.
Here’s an example from Toni Negri that shows how knowledge open to everyone creates more wealth than holding and fiercely protecting private intellectual property. Scientific discoveries and patents.
Say an unscrupulous and short-sightedly greedy private company runs a research lab. This company – let’s call them some unprovocative name like Frump Inc – owns all the patents, research tools, programs, and discoveries made in its labs. It bought the lab, so it has the right to control it.
But a bunch of different labs – Frump, Knockefeller, Boozemanov, Carlos Fat, Alimama, Rinestone – each carry out their research entirely on their own. They’re isolated from each other, hide their information, hide their methods, hide their discoveries and all their knowledge. They force their employees to sign strict non-disclosure agreements. All to make sure that none of their rivals can use anyone else’s research to make money.
Private organizations in competition with each other. Should spur innovation, right? Except it doesn’t. A scientific community needs a shared global base. When it comes to producing knowledge, different organizations need to share their existing knowledge and work together.
They’ll catch or cover each other’s mistakes, help each other solve problems, share techniques and knowledge to boost the overall resources of knowledge production. They will help each other improve their work and innovate faster together. If a catastrophe happens at one company, its knowledge won’t be lost, and others can continue their work and legacy.
They’ll thrive best when they work together. That’s the secret of success when you live in a society.