Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Socialism and You: A Thought Experiment

Sorry I've been away for a few days, I've just been busy.  However, a friend of mine recently posted something on facebook that got me to thinking, and I thought I'd spill some words here now.

The basic premises of socialism aren't so bad.  In fact, when people think of how great America used to be, it was largely because of a special kind of socialism that worked.  For this thought experiment, I want to focus on telephones, solar panels, and cars.

For a bit of preface, Bell Labs is important here.  If you're not familiar with them, I'd suggest reading up a bit.  The important bit to remember here is that they were amazingly innovative, essentially creating and effectively implementing the transistor.  This allowed for a wide range of products which would come to change the way America functioned since.

It wasn't so long ago (through the 1960s) that telephone services were largely run through Bell Telephone, a subsidy of the United States Government (not so different in this respect from the postal service).  This led to a unique situation, one that we've largely moved away from today.  During this period in time, the phone company would own the equipment in your house, including the telephone.  Today this probably seems odd, given how everyone likes to have their own cell phone.  However, it did solve one problem, and that was the ability of the phone company to provide service to essentially anyone.  If the phone malfunctioned, it was simply replaced.  Again, this is a bit of an oversimplification, but bear with me.

Let's move forward another ten years or so.  NASA was a similar subsidiary, responsible for countless innovations, but most notably for this illustration: the solar cell.  The thing most people know as a silicon chip, usually blue, which can be placed in the sun and generate electricity.  Let's imagine for a second what might have happened if we had adopted a similar approach.

Power companies were similarly a type of subsidiary for a very long time as well, even until much more recent deregulation in the early part of this century.  Imagine for a moment if the power company had been installing solar panels on the roof of most of the houses to which it supplied power, and had set up infrastructure conducive to allowing feeding that energy back into the grid.  We could have had a power grid which would have been much less prone to outages, and therefore more reliable.  This would have given the same sort of push to create innovation like we see in the current communications market, also.  Now, as it stands, we will have to play nearly fifty years of catching up just to come close.  This scenario even allows for the replacement of faulty equipment at no 'cost' to the end user: the costs would be divided among the base of users exactly as the cost for a new phone would have been.

Now, let's move to the realm of automobiles.  The employees of a car manufacturer (who are typically unionized in the same fashion as the employees of those other industries) would be similar subsidiary employees of the government.  Instead of worrying about what you'd do when your car breaks down, you simply take it to the nearest Car Service shop, and it's fixed in much the same way.  This could have allowed for much better infrastructure also, as it would have given much more incentive to the government (and subsidiary car companies) to develop the best automobiles in their own self-interest.  A car which gets only 200,000 miles would no longer be seen as practical, nor a car that was not as efficient as reasonably possible.

We're actually moving toward a world where the car scenario is becoming more plausible.  Self-driving cars are fast approaching, and electric vehicle technology is only improving.  Imagine, if instead of owning a car, the car could drive itself.  No longer would the car you drive to work have to sit most of the time.  It could be functional, and provide transport for countless individuals.  Similarly, since the car would be owned in much the same way as the phone in the previous example, if it breaks it's simply fixed or replaced. This keeps the people who perform those functions in a job, and even grants greater incentives to make those jobs better.

Nothing in this scenario limits your own ability to go out and buy something better.  It does, however, provide much more opportunity for people who might not reach the same kind of earning threshold as yourself.  Like it or not, the number of physical labor jobs in the past century has decreased massively, and it's not likely to increase simply because someone might want it to.  One hundred years ago, it took around 50% of the population to produce enough food to feed the population.  Now, it takes less than one percent.  Automotive assembly lines require far fewer people than in the past, and so on.  Computer manufacturers and software developers no longer need the same kind of human labor they once did - you can even compile simple programs from your phone if you were determined enough, which would have taken years of man-hours in the past.

Again, I'm not saying capitalism is bad, or that it can't work.  I'm simply saying that, in perhaps another hundred years, 'capital' won't necessarily be a thing.  When's the last time you actually had to use cash to buy something?  When money is digital, it's just a fancy way to count the time you've worked.  There's absolutely no reason this couldn't continue.  Be a productive member of society, log your hours on your bankcard (as you probably already do), and you get the things you want and need to survive and thrive.  Your consumption of other folks' service keeps them working, and their consumption keeps you working.  The problem with modern capitalism is that less and less of the capital is actually going back into the pool.  This kind of socialism also solves that problem, by creating a logical demand for workers in whatever fields are being demanded.

I realize this might be a bit out in left field for some of you, but I guarantee that socialism isn't evil, and that capitalism isn't either, in their purest forms.  Think back one hundred years, and I'm sure people would swear we'd still be doing things basically the same way as we had been.  Think back ten years, however, and I bet you can't even imagine using the same phone today as you had then.