In Capital, Power and Ecology I suggested that “ecological” constraints are inherent in a global economy, and how capital along with information wants to be free.. So far the free flow of capital and information seems to be winning, but can it can survive the current onslaught of corruption (crony capitalism) and criminality long enough to see us out of global war and irreversible ecological disaster. In other words can we have free-markets without “capitalism” and environmental destruction? I believe the answer is yes.
In the meantime there are many other developments on the technological front that hold promise for democratizing prosperity, free enterprise, and fostering greater degrees of participatory freedom than ever seen before. Tools like reputation systems and p2p adhoc wireless mesh-networks are so disruptive in their potential its hard to predict what their effect will be, but they are sure to change society as radically as the internet itself – I would say much more so. For starters, adhoc wireless smart mobs will greater power over where capital flows. Companies like World Com and Enron who refuse to open their books and become more transparent will be much less likely to attract capital and investment than those companies that do. Therefore the drive of companies is to become increasing transparent and accountable to their “stakeholders” who in turn have the ability to move their capital around with the simple push of a button. This represents and eminent power shift away from centrally controlled hierarchies to bottom-up grass-roots capital structures. The future of economic wealth creation will come from the bottom-up not the top-down.
Then we have the current tyranny of the content industry as embodied by the RIAA and MPAA and other outdated business models built on artificial scarcity. At the moment, the media giants seem to be winning with draconian legislation ike the DMCA as part of their arsenal. But don’t loose hope. What we are seeing are old modes of capital and collusion being increasingly threatened by more liquid, networked and liberated economies of scale and zero duplication cost of the internet. Regardless of the legislative and technological restrictions implemented in the US, their are other countries who are not as keen to follow in the same footsteps.
China, not normally a bastion of freedom and democracy, is adopting open-source software at a blinding pace despite Microsoft’s best efforts to shove their bloated, expensive and restrictive licensing schemes down their throats. And while AMD and Intel build in digital restrictions into their processors, China has started its own processor initiative called ‘Dragon’. Kind of ironic that a nation know for its gross human rights abuses could potentially be a bastion of digital liberty. China is not pursuing this path because of their freedom loving nature, but to increase their economic independence and capital liquidity. It just happens that increasing capital requires a corresponding increase in liberty if its to become sustainable. If China develops their own microprocessor and uses free open-source software, they are beholden to no one for their capitalization, especially the “imperialistic” US. So while the US chokes on expensive and restrictive digital lock-downs, China could enjoy a more open platform. So in the global economy where do you think the capital will go? If the US hopes to compete in the global marketplace, its either going to have to loosen its digital restrictions or loose its place as the economic super-power. So the question is can the US continue as an economic superpower without bankrupting itself through global imperialism and domestic tyranny? Not if it continues to offshore it’s manufacturing base, while allowing banks to extract more capital from the real productive” economy and then tying it up in useless and wasteful financial instruments that do absolutely nothing for the real economy, other than make a bunch of useless bankers rich for robbing us blind.