Go with a smile!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Institutional obsolescence

Recently I stopped being such a bookworm. But I think I stopped at a bad time. It used to be that those books written between 1995 and 2008 said the same thing, and I probably read all the same arguments more than once – we are on the course towards more and more economic success, fuelled by greater openness in the world, greater efficiency gains through the internet, the magic of capitalism spreading towards more and more new markets.

After the great recession of 2008, there has been a lot of changes to the thinking that globalisation / capitalism is a great thing and they are leading us into a glorious brilliant future. Recently I borrowed 2 books from the library. One of them is “Life Inc” by Douglas Rushkoff. It charges that too much of our modern life is controlled by corporations, and because of the dynamics of the system, a lot of dysfunctional behaviour results. Another book is “The enigma of capitalism” by David Harvey, which posits another way of looking at macroeconomics. The way that an economy works is a lot like blood circulating around a body. You wouldn’t think of studying biology by studying how much blood flows into each organ. But for some reason that’s the way that economists do things. It’s crazy and it doesn’t make sense.

If there is something that I will remember about 2011, it’s that there is a big change in the old way of doing things. Many certainties are crumbling before our eyes. Here are some of them:

1. Japan and the West will always be the rich and powerful countries of the world
2. Books and CDs will be the primary means of transmitting words and music.
3. The social / democratic / welfare model is sustainable
4. The neoliberal “everything is a commodity” model is sustainable. Unfettered capitalism will always channel money into the most productive enterprises and it will help ensure that the people who benefit society the most stand to gain the most for themselves.
5. There are more than enough resources for all of us, and everything is getting cheaper
6. Economic growth is always a good thing because the earth will never run out of resources / more industrial activity is not going to change the climate
7. Life is always getting better / everybody is moving towards democracy
8. Democracy will always get the right people into the positions of power in government.
9. The Arab dictatorships will always be in place
10. PAP will always be able to hold on to government power in Singapore
11. Government power in Singapore will be able to achieve anything it wants
12. You will prosper when you put all your money in stocks
13. The most important wars are being fought in physical space instead of cyberspace
14. The internet is a force for democracy and freedom all over the world
15. Universities are the best way of getting educated / certifying the people with the best ability.
16. East Asia will be a peaceful and prosperous place in time to come.
17. The PC will always be on the cutting edge of technology.

All the old systems are failing. All those things that you thought were designed to work – they can’t make the transition when the situation changes. Your old school curriculum that drilled you over and over again to do complicated maths shit – you’d be better off knowing how to write a good computer program. Capitalism – you have to ask yourself why only a few people benefit from it. 2 party democracy in America – it’s all be bought by corporations. Old processes – people were given orders, and then they forgot what all those orders were for, and then they will follow the law to the letter, regardless of whether it still serves its original purpose or not. There’s so much of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

I think Douglas Rushkoff said that the world is being governed by "Legacy systems", which is an IT term for old stuff that is no longer relevant, but impedes progress towares new and better way of doing things, because it is very difficult to get people off that system. I think that is a great metaphor for understanding so much of what is going on in the world today.


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