Dear Me from Ten Years Ago,
Hey Me, it’s Matthew, from the future. 10 years in fact. Listen: in the event that the space time continuum allows for us to live in parallel, I wanted to drop you a line in the hope that I might be able to help you deal with the anxiety you feel about the state of the world. Specifically, I want to tell you a bit about how your political views are going to evolve. What I’m going to say might seem scary at first, but stay with me and hopefully we’ll agree that while the medium may have changed the message stays the same.
Before I proceed though I have to draw your attention to one thing: please enjoy that chin-length hair you’ve been cultivating for some time now. Once you cut it you’ll never grow it back despite your best intentions after joining the workforce. That lion’s mane will slowly start to retreat, like an awkward guest trying to back out of a party without anyone noticing. Don’t worry though: it’s not yet a war on two fronts, and hopefully by the time I write your next letter in ten more years either new technologies, such as your idea for the Insta-Fabio will exist (future patent pending) or new confidence-boosting drugs will make the problem essentially obsolete (overdose warnings exist for America).
So let’s get to the core of the issue: remember that quote “”If you’re not a Socialist before 30 you have no heart, if your still Socialist after 30 you have no head”. Remember how you thought it was bullshit? I hate to say it, but it turns out that it’s true.
I know: I am as surprised to hear myself say it as you are, and before you label me a sell-out let me explain something: a time is going to come when you ask yourself whether or not your ideology serves you or you serve your ideology. In other words, is your commitment to the means or to the ends? Do you see where I am going with this? If you do you realize that we’re going to have to re-think our relationship with capitalism in order to tackle the issue from which much injustice generates, and that issue is the unequal distribution of opportunity.
Let’s be honest with ourself: capitalism is here to stay. People vote with their feet. You have limited time and energy to spend trying to solve the problem of inequality. I suggest therefore that you focus on figuring out how to use capitalism to achieve your means rather than proposing an alternative no-one is realistically going to buy into. If much of the world has a hard time getting right the hands-off system of capitalism, then you can be sure they will struggle to implement the hands-on system of socialism.
Look: I know what you’re going to say because we are, after all, the same person: hasn’t capitalism failed the world’s poor? Yes: while you can make that argument, a more nuanced argument is that 3rd world governments have failed capitalism and thus their citizens as well. What you see in much of the so-called third-world is not capitalism but something between feudalism and capitalism. Access to capital, the central tenant of capitalism, is extremely limited. The rules meant to create a fair playing field don’t exist: regulation is either too much, thus stifling creativity, or too little, thus enabling monopolies and oligopolies (that’s still your favourite word, btw). Furthermore, the absence of the rule of law means that citizens have no means to protect themselves when corporate interests work against the common good. In other words, it’s much less about capitalism and much more about complete and utter systematic failure: capitalism is as much as symptom as it is a cause. Put in another way, while a heart attack or liver failure may both kill you, in the end its lack of oxygen to the brain which underlies all death.
Having said all that it still does appear though that uncontrolled consumption is pushing us towards a dystopian future, but again I’d argue that the fault doesn’t necessarily lie with capitalism as a concept but but instead poorly designed global capitalism. In addition governments carry part of the blame in enabling the consumption that is driving global warming: after all, fuel subsidies play a huge part in enabling us to consume the massive amounts of petroleum that are driving global warming. You see, again: the problem isn’t inherent in the system but instead in its use.
So with our newfound appreciation for markets, does that mean we have a disregard for government? Not at all: indeed, while we now agree that the state should retreat from some battles, in others it needs to double-down, especially when it comes to facilitating our quality of life. Not all problems, after all, will be solved by through fluctuations in demand-side economics: instead, in some cases government will have to attack supply for the greater good, even at the cost of additional economic growth.
As an example, the automobile is the primary plague that is affecting the quality of life in our cities. As people become wealthier and the demand for automobiles increases we will need governments to take drastic actions to preserve and protect the benefits that come with population density. Governments need to take a carrot and stick approach by intervening and investing in strong public transportation while limiting the circulation of vehicles to make not driving more convenient than driving.
Similarly on the topic of education governments still have a major role. As someone you’ll meet will point out, talent and intelligence are equally distributed throughout the world, but access to education isn’t. Employing the free market to resolve this problem is highly inefficient, since filtering education in accordance with access to capital limits collective efficiency and productivity. The lack of equal access to opportunity in turn makes capitalism less attractive to those who are born into the losing team. Capitalism’s ability to permanently silence the romantic call to alternatives depends on our ability to get access to education right.
I should also point out that the idea proposed by conservatives that society should solve its own problems without depending on the government will take on a different and less-sinister meaning for you. In 10 years the cost of communicating and thus organizing a society will drop dramatically as a result of the rise of social media brought on by the proliferation of web 2.0 (don’t ask, you’ll see what I mean soon enough). Society will then have the means though which each individual, by making minor contributions to the public good, can indeed contribute to solving many of the social problems we face. In resolving more problems on our own we can allow government to focus on areas where it can have a real and efficient impact (like education).
In addition, the internet is going to democratize the means of production in unforeseen ways by lowering barriers of entry in some cases to almost zero. Many giant corporations in the world will find themselves struggling to compete with small, nimble and highly efficient internet start-ups. This is a sign of a massive disruption on the horizon which will have an equalizing effect that even I, ten years into the future, am only beginning to catch glimpses of.
So to conclude, like a Hollywood movie in which traditional enemies eventually become allies in the battle for their collective survival against a new and highly destructive force (btw, go see Lord of the Rings before it leaves the theatre), you may be able to work with capitalism to achieve your mutually beneficial objectives of self-preservation through sustainability and the realization of justice.
P.S: A few final ideas: putting on a suit and schmoozing with businessmen will not in any way threaten the integrity of your values. After all, no-one is going to see if you’re still wearing your Che Guevara T-Shirt under your suit (note, it’s time to upgrade your Che Guevara T-Shirt). Be careful of people who talk the language of combating injustice but who happen to be incompetent. I’m not going to say who I am referring to, but the name of his country rhymes with Menezuela). Finally, if you can please try to get in on that Google IPO. You’ll thank me later.