Monthly Archives: April 2013

More Shameless Promotion: “Tweet: The Book”

cover_tweetOkay, I admit it: I’m guilty but dammit, somebody’s got to do it as my marketing budget is, frankly, flat.

So what does shamelessly self-promoting my latest book have anything to do with the ongoing critique and review of technology and social trends that you’ve come to know and enjoy here at Shockwaverider?

It’s all about the tweets.

Twitter is a fast growing social phenomenon. Stop and think about it: if you could say something in 140 characters as opposed to a e-mail (who writes letters anymore?), which would you do? Right – you’d probably (along with the rest of us ) tweet away!

Which brings up an important point: to what extent is the value of our messages getting subdued? When you stop and think about it, you lose a lot in 140 characters.

As recently as several weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on a new recruiting trend: tweet resumes. That’s right: here’s your chance to distil everything you learned though hard experience, years of toil and umpteen amounts of student loans – into 140 characters.

Kind of makes you really want to get out of bed, doesn’t it?

Building on that notion, What “Tweet: The Book” does is to conduct a re-write of history: making it all into tweets.

Actually, it was kind of fun: like eating potato chips, only not as greasy or as many crumbs and not as fattening.

So feel free to go to Smashwords (see link below) and download a copy. Laugh at what Napoleon might’ve said at Moscow; marvel at what Thomas Edison (could have) had to say about Tesla or finally learned what the Mona Lisa REALLY was smiling about (well, maybe not but we’ll never really know, although I like my reason the best).

There’s even a few ‘Tweet Haiku’s” thrown in for good measure – and for good laughs.

And yes, stay tuned for “Tweet: The Movie” where all dialogue is no more than 140 characters long.

BWAHAHAHAAAAAA!!!!

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/311152

PS: for $2.00 US dollars you can’t go wrong,…!

Time for a Change

unemployment1Capitalism, as we know it, is having major problems – and none of this should surprise anyone.

Capitalism is a system developed back during the mid 1700’s, formally introduced by one Adam Smith and in the coming centuries grew and expanded into what it is today. Contrary to popular belief, in the years prior to what we regard as capitalism, much of the world’s economies were a tightly regulated affair, falling into various versions of feudalism / state control or simply having an impact unlike what we experience today as frankly, most folks back then didn’t have a whole lot of what we call money or capital as the vast majority of what “loose” capital that existed was held by an elite, regardless if they part of a merchantile class or part of the ruling class. Thus, the notion of a truly unregulated and open / competitive market was, at the time, a radical notion when it was first propagated by Adam Smith.

But let’s face it: capitalism is getting old. Really:

We are to believe (…) that an economic system with endlessly repeated cycles, costly bailouts for financiers and now austerity for most people is the best human beings can do? Capitalism’s recurring tendencies toward extreme and deepening inequalities of income, wealth, and political and cultural power require resignation and acceptance – because there is no alternative?

Garbage.

There is an alternative.

Modern societies have mostly chosen a capitalist organization of production. In capitalism, private owners establish enterprises and select their directors who decide what, how and where to produce and what to do with the net revenues from selling the output. This small handful of people makes all those economic decisions for the majority of people – who do most of the actual productive work. The majority must accept and live with the results of all the directorial decisions made by the major shareholders and the boards of directors they select. This latter also select their own replacements.

Capitalism thus entails and reproduces a highly undemocratic organization of production inside enterprises. Tina believers insist that no alternatives to such capitalist organizations of production exist or could work nearly so well, in terms of outputs, efficiency, and labor processes. The falsity of that claim is easily shown.

Which brings me back to the point that I was referring to in my prior posting: cooperatives. One outstanding example is that of the Mondragon Cooperative (MC) located in Arrasate-Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain:

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs.

But critics would point out, the MC is in Spain – and the Spanish economy sucks.

Yes, save that the MC is one of the very few bright lights:

Far better than merely surviving since its founding in 1956, MC has grown dramatically. Along the way, it added a co-operative bank, Caja Laboral (holding almost $25bn in deposits in 2010). And MC has expanded internationally, now operating over 77 businesses outside Spain. MC has proven itself able to grow and prosper as an alternative to – and competitor of – capitalist organizations of enterprise.

And this growth was done without having to slash wages or jobs:

MC displays a commitment to job security I have rarely encountered in capitalist enterprises: it operates across, as well as within, particular cooperative enterprises. MC members created a system to move workers from enterprises needing fewer to those needing more workers – in a remarkably open, transparent, rule-governed way and with associated travel and other subsidies to minimize hardship.

So how does this MC / Mondragon Cooperative work?

MC is composed of many co-operative enterprises grouped into four areas: industry, finance, retail and knowledge. In each enterprise, the co-op members (averaging 80-85% of all workers per enterprise) collectively own and direct the enterprise. Through an annual general assembly the workers choose and employ a managing director and retain the power to make all the basic decisions of the enterprise (what, how and where to produce and what to do with the profits).

As each enterprise is a constituent of the MC as a whole, its members must confer and decide with all other enterprise members what general rules will govern MC and all its constituent enterprises. In short, MC worker-members collectively choose, hire and fire the directors, whereas in capitalist enterprises the reverse occurs.

But here’s a really revealing statistic: In US corporations, CEOs can expect to be paid 400 times an average worker’s salary – a rate that has increased 20-fold since 1965. Within the MC, that rate is strictly controlled at 6.5 times, underscoring one of the key aspects of MC: working within a cooperative, it’s in everyone’s interest to makes things work and truly be a part of something – not just in name (as some of the typical company ‘seminars’ or ‘rah-rah’ sessions try to impose).

But cooperatives are more than just “happy worker’s paradises”: there’s a real immediate economic benefit for the region as well:

Given that MC has 85,000 members (from its 2010 annual report), its pay equity rules can and do contribute to a larger society with far greater income and wealth equality than is typical in societies that have chosen capitalist organizations of enterprises. Over 43% of MC members are women, whose equal powers with male members likewise influence gender relations in society different from capitalist enterprises.

So, in other words, not only is the MC producing jobs and managing fair wages and effective – and profitable – business practices, it is also insuring local / regional economic benefit; what most capitalistic societies fail to realize that no workers mean no one is actually buying things.

A cooperative that is actually growing in the midst of one of the worst economy since the years prior to World War II? How come we haven’t heard of this before?

Because it’s a scary notion: change and how things need to evolve.

Growing up in a rural portion of the United States, we had entities known as ‘supper clubs’.  In some areas (such as ours) things were such that restaurants were few and far in between; hence, the notion of a ‘supper club’ was where people would come together, build a place with a dining room, dance hall and a kitchen where people came together and hang out. Later on as the population grew, these supper clubs remained in the hands of the original families who’d still come together and enjoin one another while inviting outsiders to come in and partake. Any profits made (after costs) were then turned over to the expansion or improvement of the supper club; more often than the ‘supper club’ would hold fundraisers or simply donate profits to the local fire department, schools or medical facilities: the money raised by the community stayed where it doing the most good (although in fairness it should be noted that a number of supper clubs also functioned as after hour gatherings and speakeasy, still their involvement with the local community made them regular fixtures).

In time, the notion of a supper club has largely disappeared, replaced by regular restaurants, owing to rising population base lessening the need for supper clubs, not to mention stronger regulation regarding the management of food establishments.

Along those same lines, during the height of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, then President Franklin Roosevelt sponsored legislation recreating rural utility cooperatives enabling rural areas to receive electricity / energy owing to the costs associated to running lines in isolated areas. And with significant success, these cooperative were weaned off of federal subsidies and now are free-standing entities managing and producing energy services for operating areas regular energy companies bulk at. Now, with the rising importance of green energy, a number of utility cooperatives are breaking new and interesting ground.

Some could argue that cooperatives are a form of communism: a throw back to a failed system – and yet examples such as the Mondragon Cooperative exist and do so quite well, operating on notions of fair employee representation, open market competition and effective business management.

Expecting an economic system to constantly break down and fail to function – if not only is absurd on the surface – is also dangerous, for every time we do suffer economy setbacks / crashes, one outgrowth of such failures is ultimately social unrest – and wars.

Some folk just need to ask themselves: how much is enough?

As for the rest of us, there has got to be a better way.

Read more about the Mondragon Cooperative here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon

Read more about supper clubs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supper_clubs

Check out more about electrical cooperatives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_cooperative

The Next Evolutionary Stage of World Economics

world-in-black-and-white-handsWe may be sure that out of the ruins of our capitalist civilization a new religion will emerge, just as Christianity emerged from the ruins of the Roman civilization.
– Herbert Read

Although it’s been nearly twenty-four (24) years since the Berlin Wall fell, presaging the official end of Communism as a viable economic alternative to Capitalism, the fact remains that Capitalism as an economic model faces its greatest challenge (and no, I certainly am not referring to the Occupy Now movement, which has simply fizzled out into total oblivion) nor the Pan-Islamic movement commonly referred to vaguely in its various guises as ‘Al Queda’.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is itself in the face of limited natural resources and global climate / instability.

It’s a scientific fact: no matter what kind of number you put on it there is only a finite amount of resources with which we can obtain, remold and sell as products for our homes, businesses and societies. Processes which were outlandish notions but thirty years ago are now major economic driving forces (read: Fracking and the economic exploitation of shale for oil) to the point where apartments in the far reaches of the Dakotas and Nebraska in the continental United States are now reaching monthly rental rates similar to midtown Manhattan, New York; these and other actions reflect the quiet desperation our notion of economic life is now undergoing.

Whether you like him or not (ah, I recall the joys of reading ‘Das Kapital’ as required reading back in my college days  – akin to running naked into a cactus repeatedly!) fact is, Karl did make some good points (revolutionary rhetoric aside) standing the test of time – among them that the capitalism is spreading the seeds of its own demise.

But Marx made his primary assumption upon the nature of human’s rebelling against their economic conditions (which, hopefully is not totally forgotten as, after all, even one of our own founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, pointed out a ‘revolution every twenty years is a good thing for a country’). Sadly, though, this is not likely for a variety of reasons, not the least of which Marx did not foresee the strength of technology (1984, anyone?) nor did he anticipate the ‘new’ opium – not of religion as he so denounced – but rather the powerful drug of consumption and the consumer society.

No, the revolution will be coming and it will be televised – but it won’t be pretty.

In recent years, numerous studies display a consistent rise in warming conditions within our global climate. This rise, coupled with growing international tension for ever more limited resources (as but one example, watch the nations of Norway, Canada and the Russian Federation jockey for power within the Arctic Circle as each stakes their claim for untapped oil reserves), we’re likely to see ever greater social dislocations and uncertainty. The ability to rationally control political events is diminishing over time; we’re increasingly faced with a rather precarious and disturbing future, forced to make hard choices at a fast and furious rate with fewer positive outcomes – and potentially without any careful thinking or forethought creating, in turn, a vicious cycle of demanding situations followed by more hurried choices.

But you, as an apologist of capitalistic thought will say, ‘it is human nature to be capitalistic; after all, we are greedy and competitive at heart and thus capitalism is the perfect economic reflection of the human condition’.

Perhaps, but the human condition is not matching up with the bottom line reality of the world: diminishing resources and rising nationalistic tensions hungry for the capture of these resources, coupled with growing social insecurity and climate instability does not bode well for any economic system based upon the survival of the fittest. The losers will not readily capitulate nor are they likely going to go down meekly.  And if you don’t believe that, consider a world in which, twenty years from now, is dominated by, say, China who’s first move as a major global leader is to annex Alaska or make a move on U.S. territorial interests in and around the Panama Canal. Don’t think it could happen? Surprise! For all practical purposes, it already has: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/world/china-eyes-panama-canal-expansion/story-e6frg90o-1225827691243.

And please don’t tell a red-blooded American patriot that they wouldn’t take losing laying down as naturally, such folks would fight back even though by the time such were to come to pass it’d probably be a hopeless fight (recalling the now forgotten quote by one General Douglas MacArthur, former commander of U.S./U.N. forces during the Korean War: “never get involved in a land war in Asia”).

Such is the nature of capitalism: there are always winners and losers – and ironically, what has been assumed all these mere two (2) centuries capitalism existed (just ask Adam Smith) is that most folks think they’re among the winners – when in fact, the intrinsic nature of capitalism demands that most are losers as there can only be but a few owners – if not one – within a capitalistic system. And sadly, most losers don’t even know that they are in fact, among the losers – the exploited – in such a system. Such is the nature of the Capitalist Con: it’s a beautiful thing when you’re on the “inside” but otherwise, it’s best to simply stay ignorant and go about your life.  Catch is, however, the capitalist con is being exposed more and more: witness the recent 2008 market crash and the constant stream of tax payer bailouts and the growing realization that clearly, this is a system which favors the haves over the have-nots – period. Traditionally, folks turned to government to create a sense of balance – even despite the tacitly accepted assumption of corruption and control, but at least there was some measure of keeping up appearances. No more: it’s now pretty much a foregone conclusion that governments operating within a capitalist framework are failures (a thought shared even amongst the die-hard apologists of Capitalism and the Free-Market advocates). Some things you can no longer ignore and simply wave off as mere discussion, not when your price of fuel and food keeps rising and the job opportunities are reduced in value while elected officials ignore you or are too busy dithering with each other to be of any practical governing value.

Capitalism by its inherent nature does not have a long-term future as the human global condition can no longer depend upon this economic approach.

The signs are all about us, just as they were for prior civilizations about to undergo dramatic evolutionary changes.

As for communism – forget it. It failed – period. In the words of Jefferson Davis, first (and only) President of the Confederate States of America when asked what had happened to the Confederacy: “it died of a theory”. Communism rested upon several precepts and assumptions which failed to materialize – among them the willingness of an educated and charged populace to be consistently and actively involved in their own self-governance chief, along with a leadership willing to conduct themselves in a measure of self-sacrifice, along with a whole host of other points which we’ll review later on.

Regardless of how you feel about either Capitalism or Communism, it’s time to check out some viable alternatives; stick around with this blog in the coming weeks and let’s see what’s out there worth checking out.