Excerpts with References:
References listing 'N' through 'Z'
...This book is the summation of a wide-ranging research project which tracks the role of capital in western economies since the early days of the industrial revolution to the present. Probably the biggest takeaway that most people get from reading this book is that finally all of the evidence is presented in a coherent argument which shows that "trickle-down" economics is pure propaganda unsupported by any facts. Even Obama openly ridiculed the republican's continued use of the popular "trickle-down" fallacy in his campaign speeches in the 2012 federal election. Putting more money in the hands of the wealthy (with lower tax rates) does not automatically benefit society as a whole.... Picketty shows how wealth is increasingly generated by capital instead of labour. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, the recovery has been characterized as a "jobless" recovery, where the stock market has quickly regained it's pre-recession levels without a corresponding improvement in the unemployment rate. The majority of voting citizens may have been opposed to the government coming to the aid of Wall Street and the auto manufacturing giants, but the politicians proceeded with their own agenda of bailouts (despite claiming to resent having to interfere in the free market).
This popular extended essay is a great introduction to the Open Source software movement and shows how development projects benefit from the participation of many different contributors. Everybody is familiar with the old cliche: "two heads are better than one" - well doesn't that mean that 200 heads are better than 2? When it comes to developing software systems which are hoped to be used by the wider public (comprised of many different people with differing viewpoints and preferences), perhaps two hundred project participants are better than a single team of half a dozen developers working in a closed loop. Another important feature of the "Open Source" movement is that no single individual or group claims exclusive control or ownership of the system design. By freely offering the "system blueprints" to be altered and improved on by literally anyone who might be interesting on working on them, there is exponentially more possibilities for achieving something truly useful, effective and innovative.
...This novel comes from an innovator in the field of online music sales. He is the founder of the company which created the Rhapsody service, and is very well informed about the issues around music sharing and copyright law. This book could be described as a sci-fi comedy - it takes the current activity of online music sharing (what music industry execs insist is PIRACY) with its absurdly disproportionate criminal penalties as the launch pad for a fictional account of aliens slapped with gazillions-of-dollars music piracy fines for copying music produced by earth's recording artists. The premise may seem absurd, but perhaps fittingly so, given the absurdity of the current legal penalties surrounding the activity of online file sharing.
The part of the storyline which I think relates to the themes in Democracy Sucks has to do with the career activities of the story's protagonist: He is a junior lawyer in a firm tightly allied with the music industry in its fight against piracy. One of the senior lawyers indirectly creates copyright law for the benefit of the firm's music industry clients. This is achieved through maintaining a controlling interest in a certain politician:
"Fido is our hazardously impolitic nickname for a man who can only be described as the music industry's pet senator - a high-ranking Republican. I think he views himself as a fiercely principled advocate of The People. But he's firmly on our leash. And like any good pet, he obeys his master's voice." p.24
The law firm maintains the loyalty of it's pet senator by throwing it the occasional juicy bone, in the form of treats which will help him attract and maintain financial supporters OR through feeding his ego and vanity by arranging personal meetings and public appearances with music superstars. The form of this relationship will not appear far-fetched to most readers, as most now believe that politicians are heavily (and openly) influenced by lobbyists. It is a dependency created in part by the massive amounts of money needed to fund a successful election campaign. Nowadays even the politicians complain that the political process is too controlled by the influence of lobbyists - but nobody seems to be suggesting a solution ...
"...it is absurd for the will to bind itself for the future, nor is it incumbent on any will to consent to anything that is not for the good of the being who wills. If then the people promises simply to obey, by that very act it dissolves itself and loses what makes it a people: the moment a master exists, there is no longer a Sovereign, and from that moment the body politic has ceased to exist."
In the cyberpunk thriller Rule 34, Charles Stross extrapolates on a number of current social and technological trends, primarily on the phenomena now known as "social networking". A sub-plot which strays into the territory covered by Democracy Sucks, concerns his vision of the corporation as it might exist somewhat further on into the 21st century if the growing critique arising out of the notion of "corporation as psychopath" gathers enough steam to affect public policy (in the form of trade regulations).
"...enterprises...run by conscience-free predators who were even less community-minded and altruistic than gangsters...Maximizing short-term profit worked brilliantly for sociopathic executives looking to climb the promotion ladder... (p.82)
In the aftermath of social chaos created by pathological corporations in the teen years of the 21st century, Stross imagines a future in which EU politicians "Draft directives outlining standards for corporate citizenship... [creating]... a new generation of management consultants...who could look at an organization and sound a warning if its structure rewarded pathological behaviour." (p.83)
Corporations are expected to maximize shareholder wealth, and some claim that they will engage in any activities (up to and including illegal ones) to achieve that objective. When you consider that lobbyists act mostly on behalf of corporations, it is no surprise that the cozy relationships between lobbyists and politicians make more than a few people uncomfortable. In the age of "too big to fail" where we have seen massive bailouts of huge car manufacturing companies in the US and Canada, and the governments in both US and Europe pumping billions of dollars and euros into failing banks, it looks more and more like "government by and for the people" is true only in the sense that corporations are considered to be people too. Whether or not we will actually see the power of corporations limited by regulations which require adherence to certain standards of social responsibility remains to be seen, but if governments continue to be more accountable to corporations (as people) than to the living organic people who elect them, it doesn't seem likely.
...Self-sufficiency, individualism and the pioneering spirit: North American settlers may have escaped the bonds of controlling governments, social stratification and restrictive economic conventions by founding a new world based on more rational principles of fair play and equal opportunity, but how much of the pioneering spirit remains today? It appears that 200 years may just have been enough time for classism and the associated economic and political elites to have re-established control. Young people are told that any kind of meaningful participation in today's economy requires advanced education and skills training which must be paid for by assuming crushing levels of student debt. Similarly, if you want to be the master in your own home (rather than a renter), the only option open for most people is a mortgage which could ultimately amount to a total purchase price of more than twice the original value of the property. For the majority of people, the condition of modern living may not exactly be indentured servitude, but could feel like something very similar. In "Walden", one of the great classics of American literature, Henry David Thoreau explains how he rejected the current social conventions and forged a lifestyle based on his own labour and innovation. It is interesting to note that he thought that spending 10 to 15 years to pay off a mortgage was unacceptable when in the 21st century the average house motgage takes is twice as long. Ah, gotta love those wheels of progress!
"...the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. An average house in this neighborhood costs perhaps eight hundred dollars, and to lay up this sum will take from ten to fifteen years of the laborer's life, even if he is not encumbered with a family... The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself... he has set a trap to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it. This is the reason he is poor; and for a similar reason we are all poor in respect to a thousand savage comforts, though surrounded by luxuries."
"Look at what's happening: I mean, how can each member of an entire political party so consistently vote exactly the same way on every kind of issue? It's impossible for that many "free thinking" humans to vote alike, unless they're controlled by something other than their own minds. Such monolithic behavior ought to be a tip-off to fraud and betrayal."
"...We're in a war today against the merger of corporate and state power (fascism, as Mussonlini defined it). The government still wants us to believe that you, the individual, have the say so. That's the big lie. How much of the pie is actually left for us? The answer is very little."
"Thousands of people are starting to realize that what politicians want us to do is sign up for their propaganda packages, which only reflect the will of the their lobbyist paymasters. To get our unconditional endorsement, they talk down to us, scare us, lie to us with claptrap solutions to the nation's problems. And until now, their manipulations have worked quite effectively, especially in conjunction with the de-balling of the media.
Are we really only card-carrying reds, blues, greens, teas, mavericks, liberals, traitors, terrorists, communists? I'm sorry, but any form of unquestioning allegiance is nothing more than life on autopilot. We are constantly asked to cancel our individual thinking, questioning and demanding by the very people who are supposed to be encouraging it!"
...The Zeitgest Movement, through it's ongoing events, literature and three feature-length documentaries (available on Netflix) does a great job exposing the fraudulent nature of the mainstream sociopolitical status quo. The third film produced in their series contains probably the most lucid and comprehensive description of how the international fiat monetary system with it's fractional reserve banking exerts an almost criminal level of control over today's global economy and political systems.
"... the current social model, while perpetuating enormous levels of corrosive economic inefficiency in general... also intrinsically supports one economic group or "class" of people over another, perpetuating technically unnecessary imbalance and high relative deprivation."*
If there is a fault in the movement's strategy, I believe it lies in the overly ambitious design of an almost utopian alternate socioeconomic model which (they admit):
"can only happen with the needed consensus of the population... The logic does not support a 'dictatorial' disposition because that approach, apart from being inhumane, wouldn't work."*
What is most problematic about this approach is that it seems to be combined with an uncompromising "all or nothing" end goal:
"It is important to point out that TZM is not concerned with promoting "patches" as its ultimate goal... we want to promote the largest order, highest efficiency set of solutions available at a given time, aligned with natural processes to improve the lives of all..."*
The Public representative System takes a much more gradual approach based on the assumption that once elected representatives begin to draw on the full intellectual and humanitarian resources of their constituents, better social and economic modes of being will naturally evolve to take the place of the dysfunctional systems currently in place...
*included quotes are from "The Zeitgeist Movement Defined" available for free download from thezeitgeistmovement.com.
Zittrain's analysis of the evolution of personal computing and the Internet revolution which followed provides a welcome new perspective to those of us who feel that the truly transformative potential of these technologies has yet to be realized. His argument centers around the notion that technologies may either be "generative" or "locked down": Early personal computers provided an open-ended platform for which computer users would write their own software. This open-endedness or flexibility is summed up as a single quality labeled "generative". The flipside (which we see more and more often now in computing appliances like smartphones and tablets) is the quality of being "locked-down", where users have less and less capability to write their own applications. I would like to see a "generative" process in place for the design phase of the Public representative Constituency System: the more people (from various diverging professions and lifestyles) providing input and feedback, the more chance it has of being adopted by a wide user base.