The Human and the Capitalist

Jaime Bancroft Gennaro

April 04, 2016

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If the definition of a capitalist is someone who sells something that is built by their employee for more than the cost of the employee, then reinvests the profits to accumulate more wealth for themselves, can there be any humility in the capitalist class?

In feudal societies, the king owned everything, even the land owner's land. People were commodities. The serf that worked in the fields was a "resource" and was judged by the same criteria as the goods they foraged in the fields. Serfs weren't paid, they were given a place to live and food to eat. Their work benefitted the common good of the state (or the king depending on how you look at things).

Then trade started happening between towns, and eventually between nations, until at some point the same goods were being offered by two nations, which caused price competition which led to the free market and the first profits that didn't go to the king.

The free market sparked mass production and the industrialization of goods, which grew the economy and ended the idea of working for the common good. There was no more bartering or sharing without concern for profit.

In the 1960's, Ayn Rand argued for capitalism, as a means to free the human intellect. She described man's essential characteristic as, "…his rational faculty. Man's mind is his basic means of survival-his only means of gaining knowledge…No precepts and no instincts will tell him how to light a fire, how to weave cloth, how to forge tools, how to make a wheel, how to make an airplane, how to perform an appendectomy, how to produce an electric light bulb or an electronic tube or a cyclotron or a box of matches."

She went on to say, "Production is the application of reason to the problem of survival."

So much has changed since the 1960's.

Big business has turned capitalism into feudalism again. Conglomerate corporations have replaced the feudal king and 99% of people work to survive. There is no free mind, we're back to being serfs. Although people get paid for their work, minimum wage is a joke and most paychecks cover barely more than what it takes to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. The "state" does not benefit from the work of these "resources". The product of their work ends up in the pockets of, you guessed it, the 1%.

Of course, if you are well-educated in a capitalist society, even if you aren't a part of the 1%, you have choices. You can apply for a new job or seek out a new opportunity. You can free your mind and learn how to make an airplane. Unless that airplane is being made on an assembly line.

But how often do uneducated people get new opportunities to free their minds and to solve big problems? What if we decided to find a cure for cancer by soliciting problem solvers, rather than highly educated, elite, academics and scientists? What if it was an open source endeavor? Calling all people, of every race, class and socio-economic background, come solve this issue with us. No one will profit, but everyone will benefit.

Open source is scary. It doesn't make sense to capitalists. Where is the profit? Why would you work for free? Because technology isn't about profit, it's about problem solving. It's about creating efficiencies and solutions. It's about pushing the human mind to new heights. And when we share our solutions, we become human again. If we have faith in these solutions, somehow, the market seems to support them. Remember when Amazon and Google didn't know how they would make money? When they didn't focus on profits, they ended up giving away products for free and becoming two of the most profitable companies in the U.S.

It's time to change the factory model, to fight the need to make (and to buy) widgets of every shape and size, and instead to again put value on connection and invention.

How do we shift our focus from redistribution of wealth to redistribution of opportunity?

Jaime Bancroft Gennaro is the CEO of Neologic, a digital experience agency with an imagination lab. Neologic is proud of their two in-house projects: Cornbread App and Poetry for Robots @jaimegennaro @neologicpdx

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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