Sunday, February 07, 2016

The Best Reason for Supporting Bernie Sanders

MIT Technology Review
“In a sense, you could say we are engaged in the class struggle.”
"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."
 Warren Buffet
“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.”
What is the best reason for supporting Bernie Sanders?

How about: "the future of humanity is at stake"?

Exaggeration? Not really.

To get right to the point: in at most a generation, or perhaps much sooner, science, in the form of robotics and Artificial Intelligence, will have led humanity to a fork in the road. A clear choice between a dream utopia and utter dystopia lies before us... it reads like science fiction, but it isn't.

One path we could take holds the possibility of leading us to an amazing and paradisaical utopia of infinite possibilities for a full and enriched quality of life, an end to poverty and even alienation... for everyone... everywhere.

And the other path - the one we are traveling today - would eventually lead the immense majority of humanity, including most of today's middle class Americans, to live in conditions that would make the legendary slums of present day Calcutta look like Disneyland by comparison.

Calcutta today.- Your town tomorrow?
How can we take the right path?

The question is: what ideas and what political mobilization will best make sure that humanity takes the path of the greatest good for the greatest number, instead of the path that will lead to unimaginable wealth and power for a tiny minority and utter misery and a "life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"  for 99% of humanity.

Here is how the situation stands now, with the present technology... in the opinion of none other than Martin Wolf, someone who nobody could consider "radical". Here the prestigious, chief economist of The Financial Times says.
(T)here is anxiety over rising inequality and economic insecurity. Perhaps the most fundamental cause is a growing sense that elites are corrupt, complacent and incompetent.  Martin Wolf - Financial Times
And remember, that is with present technology.

Now meet Hod Lipson:
Hod Lipson (born 1967 in Haifa, Israel) is an American robotics engineer. He is the director of Cornell University's Creative Machines Lab (CCML), formerly known as Computational Synthesis Lab (CCSL), at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Lipson's work focuses on evolutionary robotics, design automation, rapid prototyping, artificial life, and creating machines that can demonstrate some aspects of human creativity. His publications have been cited close to 10,000 times, and he has an h-index of 50, as of November 8, 2015. Wikipedia
Professor Lipson is very worried.
Hod Lipson’s vision of the future is one in which machines and software possess abilities that were unthinkable until recently. But he has begun worrying about something else that would have been unimaginable to him a few years ago. Could the rapid advances in automation and digital technology provoke social upheaval by eliminating the livelihoods of many people, even as they produce great wealth for others? (...)  Are we at the beginning of an economic transformation that is unique in history, wonderful for what it could do in bringing us better medicine, services, and products, but devastating for those not in a position to reap the financial benefits? Will robots and software replace most human workers?(...) A prevailing view among economists is that many people simply don’t have the training and education required for the increasing number of well-paying jobs requiring sophisticated technology skills. At the same time, software and digital technologies have displaced many types of jobs involving routine tasks such as those in accounting, payroll, and clerical work, forcing many of those workers to take more poorly paid positions or simply abandon the workforce. Add to that the increasing automation of manufacturing, which has eliminated many middle-class jobs over the past decades, and you begin to see why much of the workforce is feeling squeezed.(...) Whoever owns the capital will benefit as robots and AI inevitably replace many jobs. If the rewards of new technologies go largely to the very richest, as has been the trend in recent decades, then dystopian visions could become reality. (emphasis mine) - Who will own the Robots - MIT Technology Review
Newslinks Thought for the Day: If the word "democracy" has its origins in the Greek words demos, meaning "people," and kratia, meaning "power"; then what happens to democracy, when the demos don't "add value"?... "Not adding value" being a bland technicism that means people are not needed for much of anything anymore. Therefore power-less?
Some people and organizations who are paid to think are busy thinking about all this. One of them is  the Brookings Institute.

This is how Wikipedia describes them:
The Brookings Institution is an American think tank based on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C., USA. One of Washington's oldest think tanks, Brookings conducts research and education in the social sciences, primarily in economics, metropolitan policy, governance, foreign policy, and global economy and development. In the University of Pennsylvania's 2014 Global Go To Think Tanks Report, Brookings is ranked the most influential think tank in the world
    This is how they see the problem and possible practical solutions to it.
    While emerging technologies can improve the speed, quality, and cost of available goods and services, they may also displace large numbers of workers. This possibility challenges the traditional benefits model of tying health care and retirement savings to jobs. In an economy that employs dramatically fewer workers, we need to think about how to deliver benefits to displaced workers.
    Darrell M. West proposes striking economic changes in order to restructure how our society delivers on the social contract, such as:
    • Separating the dispersion of health care, disability, and pension benefits outside of employment, offering workers with limited skills social benefits on a universal basis.
    • Mandating a basic income guarantee for a reasonable standard of living to combat persistent unemployment or underemployment posed by the automation economy.
    • Revamping the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to allow the benefit to support households in the grips of high unemployment.
    • Providing activity accounts for lifetime learning and job retraining to motivate the workforce to keep pace with innovation.
    • Offering incentives for volunteerism—beneficial for many people who in the future may not be able to provide for their families through regular employment but may still wish enrich their communities.
    • Encouraging corporate profit sharing to spread the benefits of improved productivity to the broader workforce.
    • Reforming the education curriculum to reflect the high premium STEM skills will offer employees in the future.
    • Expanding arts and culture for leisure time, ensuring that reduction in work will not eliminate chances for cultural pursuits.
    "There needs to be ways for people to live fulfilling lives even if society needs relatively few workers," West writes. Taking steps now in anticipation of the exciting new future that awaits will help people adapt to new economic realities.(emphasis mine"What happens if robots take the jobs?" - Darrell M. West
    If West's agenda could be realized, what might it look like?

     Going back to the piece from MIT:
    Software and digital technologies have displaced many types of jobs involving routine tasks such as those in accounting, payroll, and clerical work, forcing many of those workers to take more poorly paid positions or simply abandon the workforce.
    The disappearance of paper pushing jobs doesn't have to be a tragedy. Read this from the philosopher, Erich Fromm:
    Marx did not foresee the extent to which alienation was to become the fate of the vast majority of people, especially of the ever increasing segment of the population which manipulate symbols and men, rather than machines. If anything, the clerk, the salesman, the executive, are even more alienated today than the skilled manual worker. The latter's functioning still depends on the expression of certain personal qualities like skill, reliability, etc., and he is not forced to sell his "personality," his smile, his opinions in the bargain; the symbol manipulators are hired not only for their skill, but for all those personality qualities which make them "attractive personality packages," easy to handle and to manipulate.  Erich Fromm
    So if, thanks to AI and robots, it is no longer possible to "earn" a living, but the rights to "life itself, + liberty + the pursuit of happiness", are still maintained, then offering West's menu of "Incentives for volunteerism—beneficial for many people who in the future may not be able to provide for their families through regular employment but may still wish enrich their communities." or "Expanding arts and culture for leisure time, ensuring that reduction in work will not eliminate chances for cultural pursuits.", while making sure everyone, everywhere, has decent health care, education etc, would,  in short, mean a recipe for heaven on earth.

    Of course the money for all of this would have to come from taxing the only ones who would still have any money... the one-percent.

    Now stop for a moment and think a bit... Can you imagine the "one-percent" buying into any of Darell West's agenda? For example: the Koch brothers... or Sheldon Adelson or the right-wing think tanks, like The Heritage Foundation The American Enterprise Institute, Standford's Hoover Institution, etc, etc,etc, all the "greed is good" crowd, Ayn Rand's Objectivists, or any of their political errand boys: Cruz, Trump, Christie, Rubio, Bush... and the endless lobbyists and their hordes of parasitical congress-persons and assorted senators or governors. Can you imagine them swallowing West's program without the assistance of a nationwide, massive, political, "Great Awakening", to "help" them gag it down.

    Facing such hard, ruthless, well-funded and organized opposition, those who call themselves "realists", those possibilists said to "living in the real-world"; in other words, those settling for small "realistic", incremental gains, would be putty in the hands, of such brutal opponents .

    It will be a long hard fight and very different from the old-fashioned labor battles... because with robots doing everything and the one-percent owning the robots... who could go on strike? In the meantime, until all the robots arrive, the one-percent is moving more and more manufacturing to China: a one-party dictatorship where strikes are illegal.

    The fight

    Below I have included a classic political fight song, "Which Side Are You On?", sung by the iconic folk singer, Pete Seeger, in social-democratic Sweden, in the no less iconic year, 1968. It's about a coal miner's strike in Kentucky.... It is a wonderful song, wonderfully sung, but coal's going out these days and so are strikes... so only the title makes much sense today... and one single phrase in the song... which sums up why I believe that anyone who thinks that Darell M. West's agenda is worth fighting for, should support Bernie Sanders.

    The single phrase?

    You guessed it!

    It's,  "Us workers haven't got a chance, unless we organize."

    Recite that as a liberating mantra.

    This brings us to Bernie
    When Sanders says — as he does in every speech — that he’s seeking to build “a revolution,” that’s not just rhetoric. What Sanders understands in his bones is that every period of progressive reform in U.S. history has come as a result of massive street heat, of energized movements that push policymaking elites to the left. Abolitionists pressured the Lincoln Republicans toward a policy of emancipation. Militant workers and a socialist left, whose general strikes shut down several major cities in 1934, prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Democrats to legalize collective bargaining and create Social Security in 1935. The civil rights movement enabled the Kennedy-Johnson Democrats to pass the landmark legislation of the ’60s. Progressive reform doesn’t happen absent a large and vibrant left. Harold Meyerson - Washington Post
    Now Robert Reich, the brilliant Atom Ant of left-wing, economists and agitators, describes how it was done before and how it could be done again.
    Teddy Roosevelt got a progressive income tax, limits on corporate campaign contributions, regulation of foods and drugs, and the dissolution of giant trusts – not because he was a great dealmaker but because he added fuel to growing public demands for such changes.(...) "The real world we’re living in” right now won’t allow fundamental change of the sort we need. It takes a movement. Such a movement is at the heart of the Sanders campaign. The passion that’s fueling it isn’t really about Bernie Sanders. Had Elizabeth Warren run, the same passion would be there for her. It’s about standing up to the moneyed interests and restoring our democracy. It Takes a Movement, Like the One at the Heart of Bernie Sanders’ Campaign, to Change the World -  Robert Reich 
    Reich makes a very, very important point... This is not really about Bernie himself, it is about the people themselves, the Demos and their Kratia.  

    Bernie Sanders is simply the only one who has had the guts to rise to the occasion. 

    The only "mouse" brave enough to volunteer to "bell the cat"...

    Bernie Sanders + enough voters = Mighty Mouse

    And finally Bernie speaks for himself:
    As he looked ahead to carrying on the fight in New Hampshire, he used many of his favorite lines. “It is just too late for establishment politics and establishment economics.” “We do not represent the interests of the billionaire class, Wall Street, or corporate America. We don’t want their money.” “The American people are saying no to a rigged economy.” “We are going to create an economy that works for working families, not just the billionaire class.” - Bernie Sanders Just Changed the Democratic Party - The New Yorker
    You could say it louder, but it would be hard to say it more clearly. 

    Moral of the story: It has happened before and it can happen again and God help us if it doesn't. DS

    PS: Here is the Brookings document in full to download: 


    Fiddlin Bill said...

    The great question for Democratic voters in 2016 is whether Sanders' idealism (which you well state here) will translate into a loss of the Presidency in the way McGovern's idealism did in 1972. It's looking at the moment as though Mr. Sanders may well win the Democratic primary battle, although it is definitely too early to be definitive. By the end of March... The power of money is gigantic. The forces of evil have most of it. This is why the triangulation strategy of the Clintons exists, and why it works to the extent it does. The ability of the Right to stalemate the Obama administration is proven (and a tragedy for the US in its own right, and a kind of treason). It's possible that the only way to make any "progress" is Clintonian.

    Sisu said...

    Great great article David! Impressive list of intelligentsia Such as the Brookings institute, MIT check knowledge he reviewTech Review,Robert Reich