The Billionaire Class is Not Fit to Rule – Paul Jay
The ruling elites are creating a world where the majority of people suffer the consequences of the climate crisis and massive unemployment while the super-rich use artificial intelligence to save themselves – a commentary by TRNN’s Senior Editor
The urgency of the situation is startling. The more I look at it, the more it scares the hell out of me. But that’s sort of the point. We need to tell people the whole truth about the urgency of this historical moment. The existential threat of the current moment. Of course, it feels overwhelming, but it does not have to be paralyzing. People can say we are being alarmist, but it’s past time to be alarmed.
While the fight for health care for all, a higher minimum wage, unionization, against systemic racism, mass incarceration and other necessary reforms are just and critical to engaging people in struggle, we also need to tell people the whole truth about just how critical the big picture is.
While the Trump presidency is a cabal of criminals, billionaires and far-right ideologues, it must first of all be seen in the context of the threats to our very existence, not merely reduced to the daily scandals and twitter storms. There is no need to treat working people as infants. The culture is aimed at the infantilization of our political discussion. We can believe that America is already great or that we should Make America Great Again, but it’s all the religion of Americanism, and it’s meant to make us willing children who will march into battle or just resign ourselves to things the way they are. We are not infants and we must, as best we can, tell people the whole truth.
As catastrophic and savage as capitalism was during the 20th century, continuous wars and genocides, deep economic crisis and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the system proved to be resilient, the global elites did find a kind of equilibrium. Capitalism did not come to an end and the attempts at socialism failed. While many societies around the world have been destroyed, millions slaughtered in war and many more living in deep poverty, the truth is the majority of the people in the advanced capitalist world are mostly doing ok. In the United States there are as many families earning more than $100,000 a year, as there are earning under $30,000. But as resilient as capitalism has proved to be, I don’t think this world order is sustainable. The elites are no longer capable or willing of dealing with grave systemic threats, even when it is in their own long-term interests to do so.
We’re in a different kind of moment than we’ve ever faced before. Of course, nuclear weapons posed an existential threat before, but at least the elites saw that ending human life on earth wasn’t in their interests. That is so far that’s true. Because as crazy as the prospect of nuclear war is, they have not given up their deteriorating hair triggered nuclear arsenals and they actually contemplate the use of localized nuclear weapons. As you know, first Obama planned for a new wave of nuclear weapons, and now Trump is spending billions expanding America’s nuclear capability. While it’s unlikely that the elites will deliberately launch a nuclear Armageddon, we are all living in denial if we think that an accidental triggering of such isn’t possible. The hair trigger policy means there is around ten minutes to decide if what looks like an attack is one or is a glitch in the software. It’s a cold war posture still in place in the United States and Russia, it’s Dr. Strange Love’s Doomsday machine. We can’t have faith in the political leadership of these elites, that is the current leadership of either the Republican or the Democratic Parties or the billionaires who bankroll them, to face up to this danger. One would think it’s in the interest of the elites themselves to deal with this. But the military-industrial complex has far too much invested in a narrative that depends on a major existential rival. They need war and almost war. American capital will not give up it’s dominant global commercial position they believe depends on their military might. Oil and guns determines US foreign policy, not national security. On this point alone, one can argue this ruling class is not fit to rule. But of course, there is more.
Modern industrial capitalism has given rise to the climate change crisis, a clear and objective existential threat to human and all living things. I’m sure Real News viewers have heard the basic facts, and the process is speeding up. Leading climate scientists have modeled that we will cross the 2 degrees above pre-industrial temperature threshold by 2050, and that was based on all the countries that signed the Paris accords living up to their commitments. Of course with the election of a climate denier as president and the undoing of the far too modest measures that were passed under Obama, who knows what that means to the model. We could cross 2 degrees in less than twenty years? Once that threshold is crossed, apparently, it’s far more difficult to slow down and reverse the process. Dramatic action is needed now. But it’s far down the list of things that get discussed in corporate media. According Media Matters, in the 2016 elections, the four major broadcast channels gave climate change 96 minutes of coverage, and those numbers included Fox who promotes climate denial.
According to a Yale poll, only 13% of people know that more than 90% of scientists believe humans activity causes climate change. Of course, it’s more like 97% of scientists. When it comes to voting, its barely on anyones radar. Yet it is clearly the gravest threat humans have ever faced.
You would think that the elites would find it in their own interest to take action given the apocalyptic consequences of denial or feeble action. But effective policy requires taking on the fossil fuel industry and committing to a green and sustainable economy. Clearly it will require strengthening the role of the public sector and democratizing the political process. It requires changing how things are owned and who has power. Even modest reforms are almost impossible as most of the elites care more about lowering taxes than saving the planet. They are not fit to rule.
Artificial Intelligence is here and rapidly advancing. It will soon produce a world with millions less jobs. Truck and taxi drivers to doctors to you name the occupation, it won’t be long before the top twenty percent of the population, won’t need most of the 80%. If you are a capitalist, a world with massive unemployment might not seem to be so bad, workers trying to compete agains the cost of robots.
The digital revolution makes all this possible. It’s allowed the process of financialization and globalization to grow to a qualitatively greater scale. Imagine creating complex financial products with a pencil and paper. There’s no Amazon or Walmart without computers to create such a beautifully efficient global supply chain. And of course, to play cheap global labor off against American workers which has basically stalled wage increases and hollowed much of the industrial working class.
Why can’t the ruling elites deal with the systemic threats of climate change, financial crisis, global war, and AI? Threats to the future of their own system? Because they are in the middle of an orgy of profit making. They can’t believe their good fortune. If they had any doubts before the election, Wall St. now loves Trump. Even though most of finance knows that unregulated, it’s only a matter of time before the crisis of 07/08 repeats itself. But what the hell, no one will go to jail and the public will bail them out again.
Wall St. is euphoric as they swim in an ocean of super wealth. While the financial sector represents about 7 percent of our economy it takes around 25 percent of all corporate profit, with only 4 percent of all jobs. With such concentrated wealth goes a competitive culture that prizes daily returns on capital, above the future of humans on earth. These are the people that control American politics as they throw unlimited funds at political campaigns.
The threat of climate crisis? The elites believe, if they actually think beyond their private jets and yachts, that they will be ok. Their kids will be ok, even their grandkids. And then? Apres Moi le Deluge. After me comes the floods said Louis the XV. In Maryland we just saw much of a city washed away, and it’s surely the shape of things to come.
I think potential of Artificial Intelligence is why the elites who think about such things, are not more alarmed by climate change. Rather than take the necessary measures to transform the economy to one that’s green and sustainable, they are planning to literally head for the hills. They have escape plans. They imagine cities on the hill serviced by robots. It’s the stuff of science fiction, but it’s on the horizon. Their greatest fear is not the cataclysmic destruction of the rest of humanity, but that AI will take over from the humans. Frankly, in that world, I’m rooting for the robots. This ruling class is not fit to rule. We must tell people the whole truth.
Those individuals in the elites who do see what’s coming and are trying to sound the alarm, and there are more than a few, are marginalized.
Of course, corporate media plays a critical role in all of this. They are far too concerned about Russia Gate and Trump’s tweet storms than the critical issues that face us. For obvious ratings reasons, but one wonders how the producers and journalists that play this game live with themselves.
Everything comes down as always, to a simple question. If we have no faith in the ruling elites, and we shouldn’t, then we the people have to change who controls government and build the public sector to challenge the power of the oligarchy. Our job at The Real News is as best we can, tell people the whole truth. The lead up to the 2020 elections will be a critical time to tell this truth. The outcome of those elections can’t be overestimated.
As much as the digital revolution helped create a vile stratum of the ultra-rich, it’s also created the conditions for a more democratic economy and politics. The Sanders campaign has shown that the political structures that were built to look democratic because the power of billionaires would always win out, can be challenged with mass fundraising. Online organizing and social media has transformed political campaigning and made it less reliant on funds for TV ads. The internet allowed independent media to challenge the power of concentrated media ownership, it made The Real News possible. We are just seeing the early phase of what’s possible.
Most importantly, Artificial Intelligence makes a planned and rational economy possible. You can’t have a planned national economy with a pencil and paper, we’ve seen what bureaucracy that led to in the Soviet Union. But AI gives us the promise of a planned, green and sustainable economy. In fact, massive planned economies already exist. Amazon or Walmart are superbly planned and rational, with an efficient global supply chain that interconnects production everywhere. Superbly planned, internally, as the economy and politics around them become increasingly insane. The problem is the tremendous promise of AI is being strangled by private ownership whose only objective is profit. Scientist Stephen Hawking said control of AI is in the end, the greatest fight we have before us. The fight to harness AI in the public interest can’t be separated from the fight to develop a rational climate policy or a more equitable society.
All over the country and the world people are organizing, fighting for such change. People are in action, at the ballot box and in the streets, to assert the people’s interests. At the Real News we want to strengthen our coverage of these movements, enrich our work on the search for effective solutions, and focus on reaching working people who rarely hear about the big picture in corporate news.
We will redouble our efforts to build our global Climate Crisis Bureau. We are building on our stellar coverage of global affairs, with a focus on US foreign and military policy. We are going hyper local in Baltimore, connecting the daily struggle for a safe and more equitable city with the systemic reasons for chronic poverty and unemployment. Soon we will go local in southern Pennsylvania, covering a congressional race where a progressive Democrat is taking on a Trump supporter. Here we will cover the issues of concern to people who voted for Trump and engage people in the search for real solutions.
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