Greg 00:02 [Intro] As Toni Morrison has put it, “The destiny of the 21st century will be shaped by the possibility or collapse of a shareable world.” Welcome to our podcast where we explore the history, theory and practice of democratic socialism with our guide, Big Mike. What can we learn from the past to help us create a better, more shareable world in the future?
Greg 00:33 All right. Welcome everybody to A Shareable World, the history, theory, and practice of democratic socialism, we’ve decided to call this, which we hope will be a long series of podcasts, um, about democratic socialism and its past and relevance to the future. Um, and my name is Greg. I’m here with my daughter, Erica. You can say hello.
Erica 00:59 Hello.
Greg 01:00 Who is a proud college dropout and world traveler. And in some ways a target audience for this series, but most importantly, we’re joined by big Mike, uh, who can also say hello.
Mike 01:17 Hi!
Greg 01:18 And will be our teacher in this adventure. The idea is to find a way to get started—this is our introductory podcast. Um, and one thing we know we want to talk about is the crises that we face. But also set up some general thoughts about, uh, the need for this and where it’s headed. Do you want to say anything to get us going?
Mike 01:50 Do I want to say anything to get us going?
Greg 01:52 Yeah, before we dive in, we know we want to talk about these crises.
Mike 01:55 Right. So let’s just start in.
Greg 01:56 All right. Yeah.
Mike 01:58 There’s no way to deal with a crisis except to deal with a crisis.
Greg 02:02 The future looks bleak.
Mike 02:05 The future looks extremely bleak. There’s no question about it. So my argument is, uh, I assume that we’re going to go on with this because, uh, there’s a huge amount of stuff to talk about that, by and large, is not covered in the literature—either in the, uh, literature, if you can call it that, which is our daily newspapers or the media, social or antisocial, however you want to think about it. And probably isn’t covered in even the academic or polemical literature on the subject. So let me start out with why I think what I think about this, this so-called crisis that we’re in. We’re in a real crisis, but I’d like to start out by pointing to the fact that it is not just socialism that is in decline, but capitalism is in decline as well. Everything is in decline when you think about it.
Mike 03:07 And we’re not dealing with it anywhere in the world. It’s not being dealt with. So let me start with what I think are the four basic crises that we need to deal with, that make radical change, not only desirable, but essential, uh, in the future. So I’m going to start with the, with three smaller ones and get to the biggest one. First of all, our society and not just our society, but all societies—some societies deal with these better than others—but by and large, all societies have, first of all, the problem with health, right? So how do we define health? What do we mean by health? That’s a very important question that we should be discussing more in America. We’ve had a lot of discussion about health care and it’s been inadequate. We don’t have adequate healthcare. Everybody knows that in our society in America, we have one of the worst healthcare systems in the world, regardless of what the politicians say about it, we have a terrible healthcare system and healthcare is going to become more and more important because of the other crises.
Mike 04:23 And we need to find a way to solve it. It’s not being solved by private enterprise and it’s not being solved by Obamacare. None of the systems we’ve experimented with so far do it well. There are some places in the world, Scandinavia, Germany, even France, where it’s dealt with quite well, but we don’t want to look at it. We, you know, if you—if you read the daily literature on this subject, it’s all concentrated on America and we don’t seem to learn from the lessons that other countries have learned and how they’ve solved the problems. So first of all there’s this question of health. The health question is going to get worse as time goes on for a whole variety of reasons, which involves some of these other crises. For example, we’re getting older, the population is getting older all over the world.
Mike 05:13 One of the reasons the population is getting older is because we’re healthier. That doesn’t mean we solve the health problem, but as medical science makes it possible for us to live older, old age—and I’m old enough to know this very well—old age leads to greater health problems so that our health problem is growing much faster than our health system is growing to take care of it, partly because of the successes of health science. So we’re kind of caught in a—like a mouse or a rat in a, in a training wheel, right? No matter what we do, it gets, gets worse and worse. So health and aging. Then the next question would deal with, which I think is extremely important is the question of work. And again, this is kind of the negative side of scientific development. It’s very nice that we have modern science involving, uh, discoveries.
Mike 06:11 And all kinds of things that make us possible for us to sit around this table and talking to microphones in a very comfortable environment instead of standing out in the public square screaming through a megaphone to try and track attention. This is really very nice. But nonetheless, the more science advances and the more we learn how to do things by machine, this raises the question of are we going to have enough jobs for people? Now the population increases as health gets better, the population increases. We already have 9 billion people in the world and it’s going to become 12 billion by 2050, or whatever those statistics tell us. And we’re not creating enough jobs to keep these people going. So people are coming up with kinds of, of, um—band-aids to cover that problem. So like guaranteed annual income, everybody should get a handout from the government.
Mike 07:09 At some future point we’ll come to that, but these are band-aids. The fact is that—I’m at a certain age and I’ve worked all my life. I’ve, I’ve loved working in the kind of work I do. I love working. It’s not in a coal mine so I’m probably more fortunate than others. But the fact remains that if I didn’t have work to do, I’d probably fall to pieces. So the problem of work is a matter of how I organize my life. Karl Marx—who was right about many things and wrong about many things, and we’ll come to that also I think—but at one point Marx writes about in the— come and get a day when everything is beautiful and wonderful. I can be a poet in the morning and I can garden in the afternoon and I can make a movie in the evening, you know, all that kind of stuff.
Mike 07:57 Or make children in the evening, whatever I feel like doing. But I’m free of the, of the necessity to work. So then I, I read that and I sit down and I think, what would it be like not to work? Well, I think it’d be a disaster, right, because work is some way of participating as a society. I do things by working. Think about a work—I’m thinking about a life in which all you had was leisure. Think about the egocentrism, the selfishness, the greed that would develop. What work is, is not just a way of producing things, but it’s also a way of interacting with other people in a community. And so I think that’s very important. We have to think about work not simply from an economic point of view, but from the social and even the spiritual and psychological point of view.
Mike 08:48 So I think as jobs decline in number, and this is, you know, they always tell us here in Silicon Valley where we’re sitting right now, they will say, “Oh, the new technology will create new jobs.” The trouble is there’s no proof of that. There’s no evidence of that. So we need to worry about that. And all of these crises, these three, what I consider to be big crises are, are, um—dwarfed by the biggest crisis of all, which is the environmental crisis. I mean we, we are living in a world where, if you accept what science says, and a lot of people today are in anti-science mode, but my argument is that we need to accept it. I’ll explain that in a moment. If you live in a world where we, you accept science and science tells us this is getting worse and we don’t really have much more time, the optimists say we have a generation or two.
Mike 09:43 The pessimists say the tipping point comes in 2040 or 2050. You know, that’s like tomorrow from the point of view of the history of, of the world. Uh, and that environmental crisis is not going to be like catching a cold. That environmental crisis means that I won’t be able to breathe when I go outside because everything will be so polluted. It means that there won’t be enough water for us all to drink. That food will become so expensive—which it already is becoming in many places—that people are having trouble paying for food. You just open your daily newspaper today and you’ll see that in many parts of the world today, people are having trouble buying food and we’re not producing food enough and cheaply enough in distributing them enough. If we could breathe enough to be able to consume the food that in a better world we might, we might, uh, produce.
Mike 10:33 The environmental crisis is huge and it’s not about my welfare or your welfare or the welfare of America as opposed to Bangladesh. It’s about the welfare of the entire human race. And beyond that, the welfare of all animals and even plants, it is the one holistic, total rising crisis that we all face. And we are doing nothing about it. We are going so slowly and are thinking about it and we’re having all these political arguments. So I like to say to people, if you, if you, if you are feeling a pain are you going to wait until your pain has developed to the point that it’s killing you or will you go see the doctor and ask for some way to deal with the pain? That’s what I think about the environmental crisis. It’s not a question of is it right or is it wrong, there’s enough suspicion. The pain is already there.
Mike 11:22 We need to deal something to do something about it. Not—not wait until it’s overwhelmed us. So these crises combined with one other observation which I think is very important and that is that everyone says today this—we’re going to have these conversations about democratic socialism. Everyone says today socialism is in decline, that it’s dying out. That hasn’t solved problems. That’s true. And we’re going to discuss over time ways that we can deal with that. But we don’t talk about how much of a crisis capitalism is in. Capitalism’s crisis is no worse than socialism’s crisis. Socialism may have run out of some imagination, but so is capitalism. And we’ll talk about why that’s the case in my, my argument will be that socialism and capitalism are inextricably intertwined and in fact capitalism is created by socialists. And then that’s a strange statement to make, but we’ll, we’ll see what it means. But we are in crisis. And we are in a systemic crisis, our inability to solve the crises that I just mentioned, shows how profound the crisis that all of our societies are in. And we need to think boldly, we need to think imaginatively. That’s what’s not happening.
Greg 12:47 All right, well that’s a lot. And so this is I think a chance to check in with Erica who’s our test audience, but also as a 22 year old. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s a sense of these crises that led you to drop out of college. So any, any thoughts or comments or questions about the framing of the crises? Is that how you, are those, the categories you use to think about the trouble we face
Erica 13:17 Yeah, I think those are pretty good.
Mike 13:23 So, you know, dropping out of college, that’s a, an interesting thing to do these days. Um, so I have ideas about this w so why, what was wrong in college that you dropped out?
Erica 13:36 Um, I felt I wasn’t learning the right things. I felt that I wasn’t meeting the right people, which college is a lot about, um, which also had to do with my choice of college. But, um, and I also felt I wasn’t getting an education about the world that I craved. Um, and yeah, I wanted to travel and explore in other ways. So I felt entirely trapped by the idea of an education in one place and inside four walls with people who want to party and…
Mike 14:25 No, I understand that. I, you know, I think that’s exactly, exactly the point that—what people would say. You know, education is in a crisis too, right? All we have to do is open the New York Times every Sunday and look at the education section. And as always, we’re always in a crisis—they define the crisis usually in terms of money, or the teacher’s union, right? They’re the great devil, the teacher’s union. All my friends think the teacher’s union is so dreadful. Right? Um, but no one is asking or very few people—I’m, I’m, I’m exaggerating, nobody’s asking what should we be educating about? Right. And I, um, I have a little bit of knowledge about education, especially higher education and, and I wonder about that an awful lot. That—you look at college catalogs for basic education in the substance of these crises that I’m trying to talk about.
Mike 15:23 How are we preparing you to think creatively about these crises which are going to come to a greater and greater peak as you grow older? Yeah. I mean, I’ll be long gone and dead and I’m going to escape all of this, but you won’t. And we need to rethink the substance of education. And get the media to be talking about this and so forth. In order to raise our consciousness about this and to improve our imagination, we need to learn more about the rest of the world. And I’m amazed how much American education is more and more narrowed down to American experience or to even—even where you have courses looking at some of these issues. They only look at the American experience. They don’t look at anybody else, how these are solved.
Erica 16:14 Yeah. And I grew up in a dorm and had a very particular experience of, um, arguing and debating with students about things I care about as a young kid. And I expected that from my college experience and realized quickly that that’s not what other people were there to do—it wasn’t to like share ideas and debate and not take things personally and all those things. But it was not about that.
Mike 16:46 Well, it’s more and more about how are you going to make a living, right? But if we don’t think about these crises, you’re not going to be around to make a living.
Erica 16:53 Right. Exactly.
Greg 16:55 Yeah, so you don’t need to say a lot more about this, but you—just in terms of your sense, you combined with your experience of, of college was also a sense that the future is very worrisome. You’re worried about sustainability and, and political, our current political system. Is there any, yeah. Do you want to add anything to that?
Erica 17:16 I mean, I think those are two things I worry about constantly. Um, and I just felt if the world’s gonna fall to pieces, I might as well see it before it does. So there was a bit of urgency and my decision to leave—that things are declining fast and I might as well see it while it’s here.
Greg 17:39 Right. So, and the word—when a big Mike was talking about that the work piece too, um, I know that’s important to you too, that you’re looking for a way to find, find rewarding engagement with other people.
Erica 17:53 And I’m struggling to find that because often the conversation is about money and I’m like, I’ll just sit here and do some favors for you as long as we have company and food to eat. And you know, it’s more about the reward and engagement than the money. Um, so I’ve, I’m finding that difficult too.
Mike 18:15 Well, I think also just to add on another component here is that I think your generation, if I can use that expression, that’s not a—I’m not using it pejoratively in any way, but it will be your generation to distinguish it from my generation. So, I mean, I’m, I come from the medieval world and you come from the postmodern world, but, um, your generation has a very foreshortened view of time. And then that’s also a huge problem both in our school system, in our institutions of higher learning. We’re not creating consciousness of historical change, which also makes it impossible or more difficult for, for younger people to imagine alternatives. Right? Right. So one of the problems is that we, we—we’re stultifying your imagination. History, why study history? History is important to study because it’s a source of imagination by studying other cultures… and other times we see how people solve problems differently than we solve them and how they go about solving them. If you don’t study history, it’s very hard to have any imaginative approach to the future. How, how can I imagine alternatives to the present if—I don’t know that the past was different than the present. So we’re, we’re, we’re very actively involved in trying to diminish your imagination. Uh, and, and, and to, uh, foreclose on the futures that you need to be thinking about. And I think that’s one of the things in, in these podcasts that I want to pay attention to is looking at past alternatives in a way to make it possible to imagine future alternatives. I think that’s very important.
Greg 20:05 Yeah. So to come back to the title, the idea for our title is this podcast of a shareable world. So you just said this, but I want to, I think it’s an important organizing principle for what we’re up to, but—the idea of a shareable world of course is, one that we want. In fact, we want a world that is shareable and that’s a material real world thing we’re looking for. But as you just said about history, we achieved that through imagining the shareable world by doing that, um, in the imagination as well. So when we construct this series for the podcast, we’ll be looking both at those real world things and the mental imaginative work we need to do.
Mike 20:49 I think I would go, yeah, go a little bit beyond that or maybe a little bit to the left of that and say something like this. If I say a shareable world, and I like that expression, but that that expression focuses my attention on what’s out there to be shared. A great deal of our problem is that we have forgotten how to share. Sharing is after all a matter of consciousness—it’s not only, there has to be a lot out there to share, but we have to develop a culture in which we want to share. Where sharing becomes part of being a human being, part of being a community. One of the problems with capitalism, particularly liberal capitalism—and those two words are not synonymous—but one of the problems with liberal capitalism is that we have emphasized individualism to such an extent that we have really forgotten how to share.
Mike 21:45 You know, I often think about that. We teach what we forget. We’re afraid of forgetting something or we have forgotten something. So we—we have to teach about it. So my grandchildren are taught to share. Imagine going to school and being taught how to share when after all, sharing should be something that is a natural human, um, uh, part of the, part of the human condition. So a shareable world is one thing, but I have to want to share it. I have to think—I have to share it without thinking about sharing. And we need to think about culture. And one of the things that I hope we’ll talk about in these podcasts is culture institutionally, but also culture from a psychological point of view. Right? In order to, to raise that issue.
Greg 22:30 Yeah. Yeah. No, and that’s how I’m thinking about that mental imaginative part. Because if you think about [the] discourse about the crises that you mentioned, it tends to—I mean, people are aware of these crises, but they tend to think either the current political machinery is going to solve it, and more likely, that some technological innovation is going to solve these things. Whereas what we’re saying is that the act of imagination of what kind of world we’re trying to create and how we relate to each other and what it is to be human is as big a part of that solution as any.
Mike 23:06 And the emphasis on we, not on me, but on we.
Erica 23:09 I was going to say, um, I wonder how they teach how to share in school because I, the way I remember is—this thing is mine and I will let you have it for a minute. It’s never about the world is inherently all of ours. And let’s share it from the start. So even the way we’re teaching sharing is an endeavor visual action of letting you to have something that was mine. Which is just wrong in the first place.
Greg 23:40 All right. Big Mike. Uh, where do you think we go next?
Mike 23:43 Well, I’m, what I’d like to do is start out by saying a few words about history and the history of what we’re talking about. ‘Cause I think that’s very important. I just argued it, so I should at least listen to my own voice and, and do that. Um, what we have not really paid attention to—the academic literature does, but—but we have kind of forgotten this in our public culture, is that there has been a very high level of discontent, uh, in our society. A lot. Probably… I mean, we’re always discontent. It’s in the nature of human beings to be discontent with the present. But, but when capitalism began to emerge when Adam Smith—and many people point to him as sort of the first grade capitalist thinker—he wasn’t, he did not like capitalism. He was actually quite upset about capitalism. He records it, he analyzes it in the last part of the 18th century.
Mike 24:48 But he also doesn’t think it’s a moral system. He says, this is the way it is. And if it works, well, that’s fine, but there’s something fundamentally wrong about it. And he, he writes, he writes another book besides The Wealth of Nations in which he analyzes the kind of negative sides of it. Nobody reads that anymore. But in any event, he did. Um, when capitalism begins to develop—the word, by the way, is not used really until the end of the 19th century. Capitalism is not conscious of being capitalism. It doesn’t have a word for it. Even Karl Marx, when he writes the Communist Manifesto in 1848, um, doesn’t use the word capitalist. The communists who claim to be Marxists—I think they’re not but they claim to be—uh, will then talk about capitalism, but the, but Marx doesn’t use the word. The concept of, of capitalism as a whole system didn’t exist yet.
Greg 25:47 So it’s just class difference.
Mike 25:48 Well, there’s always class difference, right? He talked about, he talked about the capitalist mode of production in which he said that the dominant mode of production, the dominant way of producing things and doing business in this period of history that he was writing about was dominated by the capitalist class. But there wasn’t a system called capitalism yet. Uh, so what’s very interesting is that—that beginning in the middle of the 18th century with the rise of the system in which we’re now, I think, experiencing the end of it, um, is that there was a tremendous amount of discontent with the degradation of life which this involves. So what do I mean by that? Well, until the beginning of the so called industrial revolution, the first industrial revolution, people lived in villages. They lived on the land. They had a hard life.
Mike 26:40 I mean, you know, to put it bluntly, life was really shit in those days and they lived in this shit and, and it was, it was a smelly, dreadful life, you know, no question about that. But when they were forced off the land for a whole variety of reasons as we won’t go into right now and forced to move into the cities, they actually suffered a decline in the standard of living. You know, at least if you were a sheep herder, you could go out and kill a sheep once a year and have the meat. But when you’re living in the slums of Manchester, there are no sheep wandering around the streets that you can just go grab one and, and, and uh, have some meat once a year. You’re really, uh, you’re really suffering a decline in the quality of life. And I think that’s what—what we have to pay attention to.
Mike 27:26 We talk a great deal by the way, about increased income levels and this and that. The other thing, I’m going to talk very much about the quality of life. We talk about it and don’t measure it. Very interesting. Our measurements don’t deal with the things that really disturb us. So, so people at the end of the 18th century and 19th century, really suffered a decline in the—and they were conscious of this—the quality of life. And you’ll already begin getting at the beginning of the 19th century, people who call themselves socialists, uh, and who were protesting against this new system, the end of which we’re experiencing now, in my opinion. The Romanticism, the Romantic poets; in Christianities, in especially in Britain and England, some of the nonconformist churches, these were people railing against this new industrial system and they called themselves socialist because they began to understand—and here becomes a very important point.
Mike 28:25 They began to understand that they were no longer living in a village. They were no longer living in a kind of feudal system where they were defined by the rank they had vis-a-vis people above them and below them. They were now living in what they began to call a society. And the word society becomes a very important concept in the first part of the 19th century. I’m going to come back to that a little later point. But when, when I think of myself as living in a society, I then have to ask myself what kind of society? But it’s very different if my point of departure is a village, or my family. When I’m in a society, my, my reference is to other people, whom I may or may not know, but we’re part of a system. So the idea of living in a system becomes a very conscious thing.
Mike 29:15 And people who were conscious of this began calling themselves socialists, from the word society, because they wanted to change the society. So they’re raising this question. And already in the 1820s, you begin getting people experimenting with alternatives, uh, partly because of Marx and because of communism and because of capitalism. We call these people utopian socialists. But it’s fascinating that these guys went around establishing communities which were different from the cities. They wanted to experiment with different kinds of social relationships. Right? And these experiments went on in England. And even in America, a lot of these people came to America. A lot of our agricultural centers in America in the 1820s and 1830s were experiments in a different alternative form of society. Something we forget. My favorite example is the Mormon church. And most people today, if they’re not Mormon, think about the Mormon church as a rather conservative organization.
Mike 30:19 But the interesting thing about it is that, partly because of the social conditions under which they started, the Mormon church started off as a radical critique of emerging capitalist society. They were cooperativists and right down through the latter part of the 19th century, the cooperative movement was extraordinarily central to the Mormon church. All of that changes later as does much of the world. But what we forget is that that early period of the emergence of capitalism was not a triumphant victorious capitalist class taking over everything. It was a battle for the consciousness of society, a battle for the emergence of the concept of society. So I think those are important things to keep in mind. And the, and the—that’s why I started to say that the socialists create capitalism by, once they start out creating the concept of society, and trying to think of alternatives, people become conscious of what it is that they’re actually experiencing in that period of time.
Mike 31:26 And after the middle of the century, the word capitalism begins to emerge as the word to define. So it’s the socialist who create capitalism as a concept. Now go a step further. It’s this emergence of the idea of society that creates the, the science to study this object called society. So we began getting in the 1820s and 1830s, a new field of, of, of thought, of academic work, emerging called sociology—not economics!—but sociology as a new way of thinking, a new way of analyzing this object called society. And among the early sociologists, they were all socialists. Because if you’re interested in society, you’re a socialist. You know something’s wrong. You want to change it. So as you look through, for example, the, the history of French “sociology” you find that they often identified themselves as socialists. They called them, they, they, they knew they were on the left, to use a contemporary expression, on the left of the political spectrum because they were questioning the society which they were studying.
Mike 32:40 They knew something was wrong and they were trying to find solutions to, and so already you get the great French sociologists, Durkheim and the 19th century writing a book about, about anomie, about this feeling of loneliness. What is the negative side of individualism—it’s loneliness. And he’s becoming aware and trying to make the rest of us aware of the fact that something’s wrong with this society. This, you know, we’re lonely, right? We’re disconnected from each other and so forth and so on. And so, so I think we need to, to rethink history from that perspective and begin to put in, put in a different way of thinking how we’ve arrived at our present discourse, how we’ve arrived at, uh, at a time when we think capitalism is triumphant. All we have to do is solve some of the problems that capitalism has. This is the natural way of life, but it isn’t the natural way of life. It’s a new way of life in terms of world history.
Greg 33:44 Any questions, student?
Erica 33:46 Makes sense to me.
Greg 33:48 Um, so it, so it—it was a new thing and it was a painfully new thing.
Mike 33:55 Yes, very painful people, people, you know, there are—people oppose the emergence of the machine. People were, uh, were, were shocked by the fact that machines, like we are today—we think about the media and, and algorithms replacing human beings. In the 1800s people were shocked that machines could replace human beings, or that the machine degraded human life. So this image of my working on a, on a, on an assembly line, pushing a button there, that great classic image of what factory life was like. Where I spend my whole life on that assembly line pushing the same button over and over and over again. That contrasted with an earlier history in which I lived in the village. And I, uh, you know, I, I may not have been a poet in the morning and a, and a, and a painter in the afternoon, but I herded the sheep in the morning and I planted the wheat in the afternoon and I was thoroughly involved with the world and involved, by the way, in a kind of romantic way of course, but involved with the world in terms of climate and in terms of the seasons because some of my work—what I did as a human being was defined by the changes in the seasons that I lived through.
Mike 35:05 Of course the city changes that, right? The city, we get cold in the winter, but we don’t live in the winter basically differently than we live in the summer. But in the village, you do live differently in the winter than the way you live in. So, so there’s a really profound change in life. There are people just as were opposed to the idea or frightened—I’m very frightened by the idea that an algorithm will replace me. There was a cartoon in The New Yorker many years ago, in scenes, right? The first scene was of a professor lecturing to a class. The second scene was a professor lecturing to a couple of tape recorders and the class. The third scene, there are only tape recorders in the students’ seats. Then the fourth scene is a tape recorder lecturing to the tape recorders in the classroom. [laughs]
Mike 35:56 Now, that tape recorder would be replaced by a mathematical formula. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s scary if you think about it. Where, where do we find the human being in our contemporary second, third, fourth industrial revolution or whatever we want to call it. Where are we as human beings in this? That’s a—these are existential issues and we don’t like talking about existential issues, but they really are existential issues today. And I think a lot of the unease that we feel today, a lot of the, um—these are things we’ll come back to. Uh, the anti-globalism, the anti-globalist movement that appears all over the world are very much a consequence of the disappearance of our understanding of what it means to be a human being. We’re the victims of forces over which we have no control, which are in the computer. Right? Um, so I, uh, and I think that’s very important for us to take into consideration that what, what socialism has to become is a critique of society, not romantically, but a very hard-headed critique of these problems that we’re raising this morning.
Greg 37:07 So I think another thing I’d like you to talk about for the introductory podcast is, um, the reaction that a lot of people will have, just the knee-jerk reaction of if you, how, um—that capitalism has given us so much basically. So any, anytime you attempt to engage in a criticism of capitalism as a system, the response is often, but look at, look at everything it’s given us. It’s worth it.
Mike 37:34 Uh, it’s, it’s very funny cause I was thinking about that this morning. Believe it or not, in a different context from the [inaudible]. But yeah, capitalism has done a tremendous amount for us. There’s no question. Uh, and here I don’t, I think the romantic criticism of capitalism was, um, you know… we really don’t want to go back and live the way peasants did in the 14th century. We really don’t. You really like being able to fly around the world.
Mike 38:04 In the 14th century you probably could have made it to the next village, but you certainly couldn’t have flown around the world. So there’s no question that, that capitalism has fostered and been fostered by, uh, improvements in technology. No question about that. And we need to accept that. One of the common things one hears is almost every day—social media or on the, on the, um, cable networks—is how we’ve, we’ve removed, we, we’ve, we’ve, uh, done so much to improve the situation of poverty in the world. China at the moment is becoming very much a subject of conversation. And everybody saying, look how the Chinese have reduced poverty, right? So I was thinking about that this morning, about how we define poverty. Because capitalism, everyone claims, as I said, that it’s due to capitalism, right, why have the Chinese been able to do so much about poverty? Because they moved away from Marxist Communism to a kind of capitalism which we like and understand although it challenges us. So president Trump is trying to keep it away and do something to control it, but, but nonetheless. So poverty. We measure poverty in absolute terms. It’s very, how do I know I’m poor? I know I’m poor because I only earn $2 a day. Uh, I’m, you know, in Bangladesh, the women who work in the factories that produce the clothes I’m wearing—earn 1 dollar and 79 cents a day. They are poor than somebody in America who earns $15 an hour, right? So that’s poverty. But we’re not poor. We don’t really have poverty in America. Of course, we do, and we talk about it sometimes, but, but we measure that poverty in absolute terms.
Mike 40:00 We live today in 2019 in a world in which the figures were released last week or the other or a couple of weeks ago, but, 15 people. I think the figure was, I don’t remember what the number is, but you know, 15 people, give or take five, own half the wealth in the world. This is a figure that I think it was um, Oxfam or Amnesty International, one of these organizations issued at the time of the Davos Conference… think of that! You know, I can count on, on, on the hands of, uh, three fingers or three hands, three feet, the number of people who own half the wealth of the world. My God, that’s the, a different way of thinking about poverty that we live in a period in which there’s so much wealth concentrated in so few hands that in fact I’m poor. Poverty is relative, right? That’s number one. Number two is that poverty is not just about money. It’s also about how rich my life is—about my human relationships and we pay very little attention to that.
Mike 41:09 There are very rich people in the world who are poor in those terms. Then people who live in a village culture, which is still thriving. So we need to rethink this concept of, of say, poverty. Capitalism has given us a great deal. It’s also taken a great deal away from us and we need to balance that. Now why do we say that poverty can be measured by the amount of money? Because we are so materialist as society because it’s like—like you said, a shareable world. We talk about what’s out there. I can’t measure poverty only by what’s out there. I also have to measure poverty by what’s in here. So we need to rethink this whole question of, of poverty. Yes, capitalism has given us a great deal. It’s technology which may have given us a great deal. It’s not clear that capitalism is the cause of the technology. We have to talk about that question as well. Right, right. So … and capitalism has taken away a great deal.
Greg 42:09 Yeah. Hmm. Good. So one—So another question I have that I think people might have on their minds, and I don’t know, maybe, maybe you don’t want to get into this right now, but whatever you think about capitalism and what—the history of it and how you evaluate it and what it’s given us, part of what you want to say is, given the crises, the system as we have it cannot solve them.
Mike 42:35 Yeah. Look, system, the system we have cannot solve it. There’s a, there’s a, uh, there’s a kind of religious belief that innovation will find solutions to these problems. But so far innovation seems to create new problems rather than finding solutions to existing problems. Um, there are those people who think that we can have capitalism with a, with a happy face. You know, there was a—in the mid-sixties when communism began to show itself for what it really was, uh, there were these attempts like the Prague Spring in 1968, communism with a human face. So now we have ,what’s very interesting, so now we have 30, 40 years later, the idea of capitalism with a human face. That’s not an abstraction. There are a lot of people, students at the university for example, who want to find ways for “social investment.” There’s a wonderful idea I’m fascinated by, the idea of social investment.
Mike 43:36 And the idea of social investment means you kind of have something to invest. So where do you get the capital to invest socially? So somebody is producing something. You have to be able to make a profit out of that production in order to have that profit, what we call capital, to invest. There’s something missing in, in, in the, in the, uh, in the line of thinking there. Um, we want to have green investment, for example. That’s kind of an answer to the environmental question, right? We want to have green investment, but, but the problem there of course, is that what we produce, we produce out of nature. Nature is after is, is the source of the raw materials with which we produce things, uh, food, right? It comes from nature, it’s not going to come from, from, uh, my computer. Uh, water is going to come from nature.
Mike 44:26 It’s not gonna come from my computer and so forth and so on. So a green investment bank may be a good idea, but it’s not going to solve the problems, it’s going to put a human face on capitalism. The question is, can capitalism itself solve these problems? And I would argue that it can’t. The capitalism is creating these problems, [and] that we really have to have the courage to rethink the system we operate in. And we have to have the courage to rethink how, what it means for us to be human in order to create that kind of system. And I don’t care whether we call it social—I call it democratic socialism because that’s a good word. A lot of people use it today and it makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t mean making capitalism better. It means we have to restructure the way we do business, the way we relate to each other, uh, the way we produce goods.
Mike 45:18 Let me give you a specific example of this; one that I like very much. Uh, you know, the, the, uh, the um, production approach that you, you, you are on a, uh, on a line and everyone pushes the same button right? All, all life long. And at the end of the line you’ve got an automobile. So at a certain point, I think it was in the 1970s, the Volvo company began to understand that this kind of production was a source of tremendous dissatisfaction. One of the things that workers in the automobile factories did not like being was on the production line, and I turn that nut in the wheel and that’s what I do eight hours a day, right? And that’s kind of mindless work and so forth and so on. So they experimented and they got groups together, a whole group that would make the car—they would learn from each other and the car would be a product of social action of this group of workers.
Mike 46:15 Not my pushing the same button, but all of us solving the problem of producing the car. No one could argue that that system was a little bit slower than everybody’s standing on a line, presumably. But the point is that the workers and they, they studied this, the workers who engaged in that kind of social production were actually more happy, or satisfied more with their work, than standing on the line turning the same nut on the wheel for eight hours a day. So we have to rethink how we do our work. Here in Silicon Valley, you walk into some of these great, um, firms and you walk into a huge room and there are a thousand people each sitting beside, behind his or her computer terminal, right? And that’s what they communicate with. They communicate with their terminal and with other people sitting next to them. I mean, in my house, I communicate with my grandchildren by messaging.
Mike 47:13 Right? Now there are only two rooms away, but that’s very different from going and talking to them. Right? Or they’re coming to talk to me, but, but here’s a case where technology changes the way we interact with each other. So how we organize interactions in production or in communication really requires thinking about society itself. What is society made up of? Work, communications. Those are the, those are the daily activities of a society and that’s where we need to restructure. So we need to get out of the atmosphere, out of the, out of the, out of—outer space and come down to how do I live my daily life? What do I do in my daily life? That’s really one of the poles of our thought that we have to emphasize.
Greg 48:00 All right, well what do you think? We’re close to an hour. We can route, we can close up.
Mike 48:05 Revolution is waiting for the next hour.
Greg 48:10 And Erica, I thank you for joining us, Erica. Uh, we’ll be hitting the road again tomorrow, but she’ll be listening as we post new episodes. Okay. Thanks big Mike. See you next time.
Greg 48:26 Thanks for listening to another episode of a shareable world. To find out more about this podcast, visit firstname.lastname@example.org.