Monday, July 25, 2016

Is Capital approaching its own Singularity?

Strange times - and so a second post on the economic-societal discontinuity we find ourselves amid.

Strange times when the politicians find themselves out of control (most parliamentarians in the UK wanted to remain in Europe, for example, most 'reasoned analysis of the promises of Donald Trump would have him sidelined by the US Presidential campaign process - and still he comes...).

Strange times - when lies become the gold-standard for political currency and we find ourselves evaluating who to trust in a post truth world?

Who and what to blame?

Spare a moment to consider The Singularity - not of computer technology - but of Capital.

Markets are meant to be the single most effective tool we have for distributing resources. The idea was that resource ends up where people have greatest need for it - supply scurrying to meet demand.

And in pursuit of this perfect market dynamic we have relentlessly handed control of the market to capital. The Bank of England has been out of political control for decades, the free market is almost universally saluted as a paragon of doing the right thing.

But rather than become the ultimate distributor against need, the market has become the single greatest machine of growing capital for capital's sake. It creates volume very efficiently - it has failed to match this with an evolution in distributive capacity. Indeed - it has proven it can't be trusted to do so.

It puts the payouts in the hands of fewer and fewer who simply use their gains to gather more and more, er gains (see what I mean, for its own sake?). What is the point of any individual having more than 10 million dollars in the bank? I'm not saying its morally wrong, or reprehensible, but in a world where millions starve you may have thought that a free (frictionless) market would have the capability to correct itself if its purpose is the efficient distribution of resources.

The reality is it isn't - never has been - at least not as far as 'most people' are concerned. In the past we placed more controls on it. And the wealth to poverty gap was a much smaller one. We had progressive taxation. Now the rich pay a lower % of personal income than the poor.  How does that help distribute resource efficiently? Freedom to choose to spend on what you choose is the argument of the defenders of the rights of capital over the rights of people.

So maybe - just as the predicted point at which computers make cleverer computers than themselves and go into a cycle building ever cleverer machines until they are wiser than all human thought, maybe capital has reached or is rapidly approaching its own singularity - the point at which it generates more and more capital in an unstoppable cycle and without a moment's thought for the humans it was once meant to serve.

In the technological singularity the arrival of the super intelligence (best guesses around 25-30 years from now) heralds the end of the Human Era.

"...the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate." It would make of us what it chose.

Perhaps capital has escaped its moorings and is cycling in a wilder and wilder vortex of self-gratification, sucking up everything in its path, hoovering it into an ever reducing pool of power-wielding pockets, until at last there is nothing left to own, buy or sell, the pile implodes and, big bang style, redistributes its content thinly and more evenly across the world's markets...

What can save us from the Singularity of Capital. Perhaps a return to the basic trust on which capital was built in the first place - the promises it made (on its bank notes being backed by real values), genuine trust?

Perhaps by winding back and taking a different turn. I'm thinking how Co-operatives emerged to defend against the early excesses of capital against the man in the street.

Perhaps by understanding that aggregation of wealth beyond need has a cost for the rest of the world we inhabit.

I'd like to think the revolution of the web still has the power to bring to fruition a world in which we are valued as much for what we share as for what we accrue.

I just hope that world can find its feet before Capital reaches its singularity.

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