I just love giving this particular lecture. Little excites my students these days, they have difficulty relating to the main issues of the past, their lives are simply too removed to contemplate such past human difficulties with any resonance.
The Money and Capitalism lecture however, gets them going. They have of course heard of them both, but with little real comprehension of the madness involved and at such a relatively late period of history - in fact during the first decades of our own millennium.
Perhaps it is because as individuals they can relate to what money and capitalism meant to people’s lives in those old days, is it this that provides such intense interest?
Anyway, getting back to the point here, introducing the topic is a joy. The look of shear incredulity on their faces when I explain that there existed a ‘lottery system’ where one individual literally overnight became ‘a winner’ and gained the equivalent of a thousand or more total lifetime Shares. (These lotteries were a totally cynical way for the government to raise extra taxes by enticing mainly the poorer people in the society to bet with almost no chance of winning, and yes, their general understanding of maths was also poor).
But “what was the point” my students would shout out! How could you possibly use more than a few peoples lifetime Shares anyway? This of course was where it got really interesting.
Trying to explain the concept of wealth, materialism and capitalism endemic in this old society was tricky. My students live in the solar group that has no concept of capital and material things in general, nearly everything physical is available, mostly you don’t even need to offer a Share to obtain what you need as they are developed autonomously by the drones and many are not dependant on finite resources.
They do understand of course, the nature of limited resources as it is this that drives their lives and they accept that their Shares are a simply and fair way for each of them to gain their fair share of these solar wide finite resources.
Their amazement was palpable - an individual could suddenly gain access to a thousand times more resource than they could use? But, I would counter, you must put yourself back in this old society, this was an unfair society, driven by a few people who ‘owned’ the means to everything (think of it as just a few people having all of our Shares and decided who used them). But they could still not understand, “what was the point? Why would these people want so many Shares that they simply could never use?”
Now I was getting to the best bit. This was my trump card. I would introduce the concept of ‘Power’. The old society, I announced, ‘was driven by Power’. These individuals (‘Power People’ as we now know them) didn’t really need or want more Shares, but having control of 99% of the ‘world wide Shares’ gave them ultimate Power within their society. The Power People lived effectively within a special subset within the society. They were the people who organised the laws and rules for the rest. These people made sure that their rules governed the controlling factors (capitalism, money, legalities, wealth creation, resources), for the society. In fact, we can see that this system was very similar to the much older world where power resided in monarchs, dictators or feudal regimes.
It was however a deal cleverer, in that, it did so behind a contemporary cloak of democracy and legal institutions. The elected politicians however were just puppets of the Power People (some were indeed Power People themselves), and the democracy used such a beautifully simple trick to maintain the sham of authenticity. Everyone had a vote for a particular person to act on their behalf, (although less than half normally bothered, perhaps they understood?) But these individuals were organised into political groups (which were controlled by the Power People), so a politician as an individual had no chance of effecting change themselves. This made it completely impossible to create change by becoming part of the political process. This lack of democracy was compounded by a short tenure of only five years. This of course made it impossible to plan any long term societal change even if the politicians had wanted to, so the whole society was run day to day along the mainly unchanging rules set out by the Power People.
So what was the cause of their downfall? Well it took a while, but eventually the Power People’s own money system (due to their own greed and power broking) became so unstable that it caused many ‘normal’ people to opt out of the general money supply. This was not even an organised venture in many ways. It happened due to the (then) new networking opportunities of the Internet. People started trading with each other using a variety of new types of Internet money that had a fixed value as it could not be created or destroyed without recourse to a change in the underlying resource. The Power people were effectively disenfranchised from their own money as it became effectively worthless. The political system being effectively undemocratic and neutered had no way to prevent this underlying change. This did of course happily coincide with the robotics age (or drones as we now call them). The biggest impetus came in 2039 when the first semi-intelligent drone self assembled from very basic commodities (basic metals, silicon, building material). This meant that things could then be manufactured anywhere there was a (solar hydrogen) power source (which was by then in most part of the globe).
People were then able to break free of the shackles of the Power People (many of whom were burnt at the stake, it was still a very unthinking age) and started the long road, (and of course the drone wars), to sharing resources that we now use solar-wide. The word ‘Share’ by the way started off as a joke on an Internet site, they coined the term because it was the one used for controlling what the capitalist companies did in this old world. The Power People were mostly the owners of these company shares, so our current terminology is an enduring reminder of the old world.