The scariest thing about humankind

The scariest thing about humankind is this:

  • Our ability to scale.

Or in other words,

  • Our ability to concentrate resources and power. 

Or in other words,

  • Our capacity for removing boundaries for the expansion of power.

Or in other (nerdier) words,

  • Our capacity for removing negative feedback loops (“damping effects”) regarding the concentration of resources and power, making us subject to to positive feedback loops (“runaway effects”).

A capitalist economic society/system is often described in terms of “survival of the fittest”, modeled after the highly potent process of evolution in nature. However, there are some very dangerous differences that a capitalist economic system has by comparison to survival of the fittest in nature:

Nature is full of damping effects:

  • If an elephant gets too large, it will run too slow. It will be eaten by lions.
  • If a population of gazelles gets really large, the population of lions will swell, and then diminish the gazelle population.
  • The same is true with populations of plants and the bugs that eat them, and with the birds that eat the bugs… and the eagles that eat those birds.
  • If you get too many apex predators (birds).

NONE OF THESE DAMPING EFFECTS ARE TRUE FOR CORPORATIONS.

  • Corporations are not allowed to act as predators each other. Proliferation of WalMarts does not trigger a swelling in the population of a company whose niche is to raid walmart stores.
  • Corporations can quickly switch niches. Unlike aphids, if the thing they were doing is no longer available to do, they can reorganize and take on a different challenge. “AT&T” is “American Telephone and Telegraph”. “3M” is “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”. And Google… Google is whatever it wants to be this month! Unlike cacti or freshwater fish, they can quickly add (or acquire!) the capacity to fill a new target market OR IF THEY DON’T, THEY JUST GET BOUGHT BY SOMEBODY BIGGER!
  • Those are literally the 3 things that keep species’ populations under control and dominance limited in nature: 
    • Predator populations swelling.

    • Prey populations diminishing / niche exhaustion.

    • Inability to merge

  • AND NONE OF THEM APPLIES TO CORPORATIONS!!

 

SO. then we are just subject only to RUNAWAY effects among corporations.

  • Bigger corporations ->
    • better lawyers
    • more lobbyists
    • ability to price-gouge in limited space and time to destroy smaller local competitors
    • more capital to buy less huge corporations — within or across niches.

Dear libertarians out there… who it seems don’t like antitrust… and who think The Market is the guide for all of that…

STOP IT!

But before that, let me say,

I GET IT! I LOVE the idea of the free market emulate the ways evolution in nature keeps each species adapted and optimized to its surroundings. And I hate the idea of putting an inefficient beaurocracy in the way. I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. Let me say that again so you know I care and validate you… I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. That would have been great when Mao was (probably accidentally) starving the heck out of his constituents! He just didn’t know that the people were hungry! Supply and demand would have helped!

Okay. Now that you know I care. … I’m going to spend even more time convincing you that I understand, that I care:

Government cronyism really DOES screw up our economies and lives! Look at our addiction to corn syrup… corn puffs… corn everything… because it’s so darn cheap because it’s subsidized!

I hate cronyism too. But let me say this:

Laissez-faire / hands-off economics works great for grass, gazelles, and lions. (In the CIIIIIIIRRRCLE of LIIIIIIFE!)

BUT IT DOESN’T WORK FOR US!

If we’re going to:

  1. protect corporations from their competitors (and individual citizens) physically raiding/looting/conquering them
  2. allow them to switch niches, and
  3. allow them to buy each other

(measures I generally agree with!)

…then we NEED SOMETHING ELSE to stop our current spiral of concentration of power into fewer and fewer companies.

ALSO, libertarians and libertarian-tempted-thinkers: keep in mind that point #1 above is NOT laissez faire / hands off! As soon as a larger force like a government prevents people from stealing each others’ stuff, it creates the “conditions for growth”. It really does. Because in a society like that, most people are generally spending more time creating wealth and less time stealing and protecting it. And that’s generally / arguably / potentially a good thing… but ONLY IF you also create conditions to prevent runaway growth!

Humans generally have unique, non-nature-like capacity for scalable growth, and capitalist governments’ protection of private (and corporate) property causes it to occur specifically within business corporations. (In communism, we can get similar effects but more directed toward governments).

Here is my sense of the 2 things we need to do to prevent the runaway corporate growth:

  • Serious “early-and-often” Antitrust
    • CURRENTLY ANTITRUST BREAKUPS ONLY OCCUR WHEN THERE IS ONLY ONE COMPANY LEFT IN A NICHE!!!!!!
      • So what, then? We’ll live in a world with 2 companies per niche? 2 oil companies, 2 ag companies. Are we sure that’s okay? AND since companies can span niches… maybe that just means 2 companies in total!
      • ALSO, BE AFRAID because think about what happens when a company is bigger than the U.S. (and/or bigger than China). What happens when a company is so big that it can successfully boycott the biggest nation!?!? Good heavens. I’ll tell you what happens then. Then we can’t do antitrust at all. … Unless all the nations merged into one to do the boycott. Also reasonably terrifying.
    • So… yeah. I’m thinking early-and-often antitrust is needed. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I much prefer that over the world being gobbled up into 1 giant ACME congolomerate, and nations themselves become figureheads and cultural niceties.
  • Every measure possible to keep companies out of government.
    • Yup. Every. Possible. Measure.
      • Companies can’t give a dime.
      • Individuals have flat campaign giving caps.
      • No PACS (super or with any other prefix) can advertise.
      • Unions don’t get to give either. (we gotta be fair here. our point is to combat runaway giving.)
      • Lobbyists may not receive any compensation. Or maybe it’s that they can’t give any money to the candidates.

 

We need to take these measures because if we don’t, the current runaway growth of corporations will have nothing – literally nothing – to stop it.

The horrors of a world with only one company (or a handful thereof) can only be imagined.

  • But I’ll say this: the past and present can show us horrors of scenarios — whether for coal miners or jim-crow-south sharecroppers — where your life is owned by a single company; where you always owe money to the overpriced “company store” so you can never. stop. working. … where the law exists to bring you back to your boss if you ever try to run.
  • In terms of the environment, we must remember that corporations have almost unilaterally pushed for looser environmental policy, and governments have pushed toward more constraints. Runaway corporate power could generate runaway greenhouse gas-driven warming (sometimes called the “Venus effect”).
  • In terms of war, I imagine corporations with all the power and armies and WMDs of todays nations, but accountable only to their shareholders… I could see them warring for resources or for customer-bases. I’m not fully certain that megacorporations commanding armed forces would be worse than today’s nation-states are, but I’m quite certain that I don’t want me or my children’s children to find out.

This blog post discussed reasons for the runaway affect we’re already seeing, discussed the fact that it is an unfettered runaway cycle with catastrophic possibilities, and discussed what I think needs to be done about it.

To recap:

  • The idea of business mimicking the “survival of the fittest” we see in nature is appealing. Supply and demand, and The Market, truly are powerful effects that can accomplish swiftly what bureaucracies cannot. It is tempting to think that if we remove the regulative interventions of government, those forces will create balance, efficiency, and a flourishing economy that benefits all.
  • This idea, however, is severely flawed, for the following reasons:
    • Businesses do not experience several key damping effects that species’ populations face:
      • Companies do not have to shrink when their niches shrink, as they can switch niches much more rapidly than animal populations.
      • Modern companies are not regulated by the proliferation of predators that normally keeps a growing population in check. Modern capitalist governments actively apply incontestable force to prevent the raiding or takeover of firms or their locations. Even a very libertarian government is not “laissez-faire” or “hands off”, but rather, is applying a strong force in favor of property accumulation. I find deep, or “anti-antitrust”+”anti-social-net” libertarianism to be highly misguided in that it believes it can safely apply the above martial property-protecting force without applying forces to constrain that runaway effect in which property and power beget more property and power for the increasingly few individuals and corporations that hold them.
  • The above “runaway effect” must, I believe, be countered by socialist-capitalist hybrid policy in the world’s most powerful governmental agencies, before those agencies are no longer powerful enough to constrain the worlds’ largest corporations, or we will suffer a one-world-company distopia or whatever bloody revolutionary chaos it takes to break it up. I believe those needed constraints are:
    • “early and often” AntiTrust… I’m not sure how it would work but I’m imagining something like a forced version of how Google is always internally breaking itself up into little competing companies.
    • election reform; i.e. extreme constraints on the degree to which money (corporate or union) can influence government… and in general efforts to make the government accountable to and representative of voters on a per-person rather than per-dollar basis.
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