As a sci-fi author, I always have at least one foot in the future. It’s not a choice, my brain can’t help looking for signs of what is coming next. The day-to-day patterns of the world are my I Ching sticks.
At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about purpose —
For most of human existence, aligning against adversity has given us clear purpose. Once our defining enemies were lions, glaciers, storms, or the monsters in the next village. For much of recent history, we derived purpose from banding together against worshipers of Gods who didn’t see eye to eye with our own [Gods]; but the last century saw a new great battle of good versus evil: Capitalism versus Communism. For two generations, we pitted ourselves against the great enemy. Working in a corporation made you a holy warrior. CEOs were generals; warlords of capitalism. Money was munitions. Going to work, you were not just earning ‘TV tokens’, at a primal level you were strapping on a shield and sword and doing battle.
Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, in the early 90s we found that we had won. The enemy was routed; the foe was vanquished. Our battle-weary hordes did what triumphant conquering armies always do, they sacked the place and helped themselves to all the plunder.
Post-conflict, those trained killers continued the fight. The ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ paladins of Capitalism, knowing only war, became thugs terrorizing their societies, it was all they knew.
The Big Bang of the 90s; Thatcherism, Reaganism, and the self-delusional absurdity of trickle-down economics.
Naked greed became the highest purpose. ‘Increasing shareholder value’ an unassailable right that excuses all. It has been used as a justification for screwing the poor out of their health-care, the rainforest out of its trees, and the Millennials out of a chance at ever owning assets.
I chose to start one of my books with this quote by Antonio Gramsci:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
This image of an interregnum between epochs captures the spirit of these times. We can see a better future; but we are stuck here infested with pathogenic mind viruses, cucked and emasculated by computational propaganda, and addicted to genosadistic patterns of consumption. We are frozen, led by a generation of battle-scarred warriors so impaired by corporate PTSD that their minds are unable to conceive of another way.
Let’s talk about Corvid 19… (Wait don’t go! Keep reading, it’s time for some optimism!)
I am writing this on day one of the Lockdown. Already both my kids are doing lessons over video conferencing. Who knows how society will have changed in the year and a half it may take for this storm to pass? But there is no chance the status quo of our current interregnum will maintain.
The economy we know is going to fall apart. Governments will have to take extreme measures to avoid a full-on slide into the “Great Contraction” because they know very well what will follow if they don’t.
What measures will they take?
1) No redundancies allowed…
People will be paid to stay home, regardless of whether this makes sense for their jobs. Companies won’t complain because the government will loan them payroll at attractive 0% interest. The optics of this will certainly be politically much less controversial than having starving homeless hordes wandering the streets smashing windows and burning cars or, heaven forbid, the far more terrifying prospect of expanding the social security safety nets.
2) Free Healthcare
Any developed society that is so psychopathically tone-deaf to human suffering that it doesn’t already have universal health care will be adopting it pretty soon. (Yes, I’m looking at you!) Millions of your people who don’t have health insurance are about to need intensive care treatment, and then shortly after they will be voting for their next government. I don’t see how it will be politically expedient to let these people die, go bankrupt, or both. This will necessitate another twist of the magic money taps (MMT).
3) Education for All
Online education is going to be the norm from now on. As I write this, my kids are already getting their lessons at home via zoom. University courses are already freely available online. The only missing piece of the jigsaw is remote accreditation, and that will come. Gen-Z is not going to have to worry about crippling student loans the way their older sibs did. Millennials will kick up a fuss, but they’ll settle down once their student debt is forgiven. …and why not have an amnesty? So much money is going to be printed for the retired boomers, sick poor people, and out-of-work Gen Xers, that we might as well print a bit more for the millennials while we are at it.
Coronavirus will deliver universal basic income, universal healthcare, and universal education; perhaps it’s some massive communist plot in disguise?
Where will the money come from?
Simple, out of nowhere like it always does. Money is not real like Gold or Bitcoin is <troll/>. It is made-up. It is what Yuval Noah Harari calls an intersubjective phenomenon; it only exists because we all agree it does.
I don’t know how this will play out over a decade or more. Will we have—
Modern Monetary Theory?
Fully Automated Luxury Communism?
…all of the above?
I just don’t know, but I suspect that money in its current form is on the way out. Money is made up and ‘negative interest’ is the unmissable nudity that will set off a wave of contagious tittering in a crowd who until very recently was happily admiring the emperor’s new clothes…
What about moral hazard?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody really works anymore anyway. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but a lot of middle-class jobs feel like fake-work to keep people off the streets where they might cause trouble. Automation is coming; when robots are driving cars, robots are building cars, robots are styling cars, and robots are managing the few human unicorn engineers left still designing cars, there is going to be a lot less demand for non-digital people (aka version 1.0 humans). Too few jobs, too many humans, and free money everywhere — from Universal Basic Income, either backdoor or overt — will change our relationship to work. I see the economy bifurcating into:
1) Zombie organisations paying people to fake-work so governments don’t need to publically implement contentious decisions like helicopter money.
2) Exponential organisations with bold purpose and inspiring vision drawing Gen-Z talent into their orbits because these energetic idealists are bored and disillusioned with the naked orange emperor and want to do fun stuff instead.
In this new world — just a few months away now — there will be purpose again; a species mission statement more inspirational than ‘increasing shareholder value’. In this utopia, billionaires will be ridiculed and reviled, their mega-yachts — once supernormal phallic stimuli — will be nothing more than the silly red-noses on clowns. Robots will do the unpleasant manual work; the talented will build our future out among the stars; and everybody else will complain and whine while supping sweet nectar from the Magic Money Tree.