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Social Futurist revolution & the Zero State
Amon Twyman   Apr 16, 2014   wavism  

We have recently seen increased interest in the issues of workplace automation,technological unemployment, and Basic Income Guarantee (AKA Universal Basic Income). Some observers have been perplexed by visceral and sharply divided public opinion, with people viewing these phenomena as inherently positive or negative.

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
- R. Buckminster Fuller

My own view is that when people see technological unemployment as intrinsically good or bad, the side they fall on probably depends on whether they’re focused on the possible future, or the problematic present. Most jobs are only valuable insofar as they earn money to live, but if our needs could be provided without the jobs then it would be a good thing to have the option of not working for money. Thus, in an ideal world technological unemployment would be a good thing. The problem arises when such unemployment takes place in a Capitalist context; i.e. in a world like ours, where if you don’t have a job you may well be unable to afford healthcare, you might lose your home, even starve.

We live in an interesting time, in which our society has not yet finished exploring the consequences of Capitalism on a trajectory spanning hundreds of years, but at the same time is heavily pregnant with a new civilizational paradigm. We don’t know exactly what the new paradigm will be, but we can be fairly sure that its dawn will be heralded by a cascade of disruptive technologies rendering 19th Century ideas about trade and governance entirely obsolete. That has the potential to be a very good or bad thing, but in the meantime there is a pressing issue we must contend with.

1. Capitalism is a machine with no off-switch

Well, capitalism is a big problem, because with capitalism you’re just going to keep buying and selling things until there’s nothing else to buy and sell, which means gobbling up the planet.
- Alice Walker

Capitalism might be thought of as a machine, or a process. In my opinion it is a machine – an engine of sorts – which has yielded great value for society. It has made a high-technology future possible. Unfortunately, the engine’s operations have also yielded some unfortunate side-effects. The sensible move at this point would be to optimise the process; to maximise the engine’s efficiency, and minimise its negative societal effects (not to mention ensuring that the role of the engine is not confused with that of the flight crew). Unfortunately, however, it would appear that if Capitalism is a machine, it is a machine with no off-switch or pause button. It is a runaway process.

In other words, Capitalism has no mechanism for reversing itself when its effects become a problem. For example, now that automation is making it possible for people to use their time and energy for something other than meaningless labour – indeed it is taking away jobs whether people want them or not – Capitalism cannot suddenly make ‘opting out’ a viable course of action. People who opt out of Capitalism cease to be able to support themselves within modern society.

In this way, it would appear that the old system has no capacity for gracefully giving way to a new way of doing things where people want that. The old system would strangle the new in its cradle, given the chance. Consequently, anyone who wishes to employ new technologies in the creation of a progressive society must be ready to force the old system to relinquish its grip on their lives.

2. The Social Futurist alternative

Usually the first problems you solve with the new paradigm are the ones that were unsolvable with the old paradigm.
- Joel A. Barker

As I’ve mentioned above, there is a broad space of post-Capitalist alternatives potentially enabled by new technologies. I am an advocate for a single category within that broad space, which I call Social Futurism. Right now, Social Futurism simply refers to the intelligent and compassionate application of new technologies to individual and societal improvement, with an emphasis upon voluntarism and personal freedom. At this stage, therefore, Social Futurism could be considered a synonym for Techno-Progressivism, although no-one knows if that will continue to be true as these schools of thought evolve.

WAVE is a Social Futurist movement, its ideas and concerns being explicitly compatible with Techno-Progressivism. We believe in positive social change through technology, and so are firmly on the side of the emerging new paradigm. My own view is that there will always be a place for responsible trade in emergent commodities, and that healthy private competition drives innovation, but so far Social Futurism leaves such questions open. Capitalism as it currently exists, however, will soon be faced with challenges unprecedented in its history. If Capitalism is incapable of graceful reform to adopt a place within the new paradigm, as I strongly suspect, then Social Futurists and other post-Capitalists will be forced to take a revolutionary stand. To forcibly unplug a machine loose in our lives, which never had an off-switch.

3. Revolution means never being alone

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
- R. Buckminster Fuller

​But what does it mean to speak of “revolution” and “force”? Of course we can easily conjure images of violent political revolutions, and there is no denying that public rebellion is back in vogue. I personally believe that violent revolution is not something to be desired or fetishised, both because it seldom ends well or as predicted, and also because the deepest revolutions are inclusive and take time to play out. Here I am referring not to minor political revolutions so much as major paradigm shifts like the Industrial Revolution. Now, we are facing a techno-cultural shift on that scale (if not much larger), but at the same time it is likely to spark various social, economic, and political conflicts of the sort associated with violent revolution. We must ask ourselves how best to proceed, with the probability of such events looming large on the horizon.

At least two answers to that question might be suggested by the Zero State (ZS)community, which is part of the WAVE movement. The ZS idea is to create a virtual, distributed State which adheres to a set of ethical principles including limits of governmental jurisdiction. The first answer is that Social Futurists’ engagement in violent situations should be governed by principles, such as an imperative to do so only in self-defence. The second answer is to focus on building new communities, new infrastructure, and new paradigms rather than attempting to fix broken systems. In short, we need to build principled networks and use them to apply the latest innovations to our highest ideals, to the benefit of as many people as possible.

If we can do that, then I believe we will indeed be seeing a revolution unfold. New social and economic models will evolve and emerge from within the old, which will compete with older systems to provide high quality of life. Where people are not offered freedom of choice between these alternatives, and where the remnants of the older society seek to destroy its offspring, we must stand ready to fight for our freedoms. If we are hardworking and organised, then we will have the chance to contribute to the shape of the future. If we are lucky, then that future will unfold peacefully for all.

Dr M. Amon Twyman (BSc, MSc Hons, DPhil) is an IEET Affiliate Scholar and philosopher interested in the impact of technology on humanity.

Amon's professional background is in both cognitive science and digital arts, and he has been a founding member of several organisations including the UK Transhumanist Association / Humanity+ UK, and the Transhumanist Party. Amon is currently the Transhumanist Party’s UK Party Leader, and Global Party Secretary.


Hi Amon,

I’m not understanding the concept of redistribution without force, i.e. the “emphasis” on voluntarism and personal freedom… does this simply mean only resorting to taxes when all else voluntary fails? Or is there something new that I’m not imagining that eclipses the two general methods of redistribution? (charity or tax)

Secondly, it has been my understanding that the kind of post-capitalist futurism you are referring to has a strong disposition towards Basic Income. Basic Income does not “emphasize voluntarism and personal freedom”, it is increased taxation with a somewhat new social/moral framing. Could you comment on how WAVE and “Social Futurism” as you see it (emphasizing voluntarism and personal freedom) reconciles such a tension (between Basic Income being an argument for a welfare state, and the point of view that a welfare state is not one of “voluntarism and personal freedom”?)

Some of the quotes you select and the language used indicate viewing capitalism as a “thing” in an ontological way that is distinct from the way that economists and other philosophers view it ( i.e., the thing with no off switch vs a method of exchange). Like, does understanding what you are proposing require viewing capitalism as a kind of thing doing “force”, and hence the welfare state is an antidote/liberator (and in some sense then, the purveyor of “voluntary” action)? Generally speaking, economists and philosophers tend to restrict the concept of “force” in the moral sense to something that people do, not systems - kind of like how people say advertising “forced” them to do something’s a weaker notion of the word “force” than political/moral philosophers tend to mean. I do see this weaker notion of “force” on the rise, where this weaker form of the word force is supplanted as an antonym to “voluntary”... so perhaps this is related? 

There are quite a few more prominent philanthropic strains advocating for voluntary use of advancing technology to improve human welfare from within the framework of capitalism. One that comes to mind is the “effective altruism” group, which Peter Theil and some MIRI persons are a part of. Aspects of the Singularity University grad program would also apply. These are advocating something voluntary and respecting of personal freedom in the economic and personal liberties sense. It seems to me that there are many groups like this .... and then there are Basic Income advocates, who are advocating for a socialist economic state. Is WAVE or “Social Futurism” as you conceive it somewhere in between?

I guess the main question I am asking is what does it mean to emphasize voluntarism and personal freedom and yet believe there is a need to pull the plug on voluntary trade? How do you reconcile relevant opposing concepts? etc. etc. Does “emphasize voluntarism and personal freedom"refer only to other aspects of life, like freedom to use cognitive enhancement, and not to economic life? Is this a Basic Income with morphological freedom type of argument? I would imagine you are saying something new here, but I can’t grasp it. Essentially I guess I am confused. 

Anyway ... enlightening post. I just noticed when looking through a forwarding folder in my gmail for mailing lists the ZS name change, and was curious as to what was up. 




No, the effective altruism movement that Peter Thiel and MIRI persons are involved with has to do with maximizing effectiveness in altruistic/charitable acts.

They advocate using rational principles and science to figure out how to be the most effective in making a positive change. They do things like figure out which charities are the most effective, try to help people to understand what career would most likely make the most impact in solving things like world hunger, etc. etc. It is an organization about effective charity (i.e., voluntary means of improving the world).

There was recently a Effective Altruist Summit in San Fransisco with keynote from Peter Thiel. Another affiliated group related to futurist organizations is CFAR.

from: “5 Obnoxious Libertarian Oligarchs Who Earned Fortunes from the Government They’d Like to Destroy”

“3. Peter Thiel

Whatever his shortcomings, John Mackey can also be an engaging and interesting personality. Internet tycoon Peter Thiel, on the other hand, shows all the signs of being a rather unpleasant individual. He doesn’t think women or minorities – excuse me, I mean “welfare beneficiaries” – should be allowed to vote, for one thing. Since 1920,” Thiel fulminated in an essay, “the extension of the franchise to (these two groups) have (sic) turned ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

Give him points for honesty: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” writes Thiel.  That’s not an unusual point of view in one strain of libertarian thinking. But it’s unusual to hear it stated so plainly.

In his rather comically grandiose essay, Thiel compares the criticism his undergraduate newspaper received at Stanford to the “carnage” of “trench warfare on the Western Front in World War I.” Thiel, who made his fortune at PayPal with Elon Musk, has shown none of his former partner’s genius for technological and business creativity.

And speaking of grandiosity, Thiel tells us that “the founding vision of PayPal centered on the creation of a new world currency, free from all government control and dilution” – and presumably controlled instead by the likes of Peter Thiel. He waxes equally excessive about Facebook and other Internet companies, touting their inability to overthrow democracy and replace it with a newer and “freer” (at least for Peter Thiel) digital regime.

But Thiel’s expansive vision doesn’t end with regime change. “By starting a new Internet business,” he writes, “an entrepreneur may create a new world.” (By now, Star Trek fans may be noticing a growing resemblance between the essay’s author and a certain semi-omnipotent recurring character.)

Thiel is honest about one thing, if only inadvertently, when he writes that “the prospects for a libertarian politics appear grim indeed.” That’s true. His brand of politics is extremely unpopular with the general public. But he fails to take that thought to its logical conclusion: democracy is the free market of governance. When Thiel rejects its judgment he contradicts his own political philosophy.

But Peter Thiel has a much bigger problem than that. He clearly believes that he and his fellow Internet success stories are a brand of Nietzsche ubermenschen.  “The fate of our world,” he writes, “may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”

In other words: there’s an app for that.

But Thiel, along with the other boys in his treehouse, made his millions by relying on taxpayer-funded and democratically-managed assistance every step of the way.  Like Facebook and the other big tech corporations, PayPal was built on the government-created Internet. It is accessed by computers whose core technology was funded by government research. The vast majority of its customers are able to read its instructions because of government-funded education.”


“pponents of neoliberalism commonly argue these following points:

  Globalization can subvert nations’ ability for self-determination.
  Accountability to the stakeholders, who depend upon the service provided by the privatised entity, is lost as a consequence of business secrecy, a practice that is normally adopted by private investors.
  The replacement of a government-owned monopoly with private companies, each supposedly trying to provide the consumer with better value service than all of its private competitors, removes the efficiency that can be gained from the economy of scale.[112]
  Even if it could be shown that neoliberal capitalism increases productivity, it erodes the conditions in which production occurs long term, i.e., resources/nature, requiring expansion into new areas. It is therefore not sustainable within the world’s limited geographical space.[113]
  Exploitation: critics consider neo-liberal economics to promote exploitation and social injustice.
  Negative economic consequences: Critics argue that neo-liberal policies produce inequality.
  Increase in corporate power: some organizations and economists believe neoliberalism, unlike liberalism, changes economic and government policies to increase the power of corporations, and a shift to benefit the upper classes.[114][115]
  There are terrains of struggles for neoliberalism locally and socially. Urban citizens are increasingly deprived of the power to shape the basic conditions of daily life.[116]
  Trade-led, unregulated economic activity and lax state regulation of pollution lead to environmental impacts or degradation.[117]
  Deregulation of the labor market produces flexibilization and casualization of labor, greater informal employment, and a considerable increase in industrial accidents and occupational diseases.[118]

Critics sometimes refer to neoliberalism as the “American Model,” and make the claim that it promotes low wages and high inequality.[119] According to the economists Howell and Diallo (2007), neoliberal policies have contributed to a U.S. economy in which 30% of workers earn low wages (less than two-thirds the median wage for full-time workers), and 35% of the labor force is underemployed; only 40% of the working-age population in the U.S. is adequately employed. The Center for Economic Policy Research’s (CEPR) Dean Baker (2006) argued that the driving force behind rising inequality in the U.S. has been a series of deliberate, neoliberal policy choices including anti-inflationary bias, anti-unionism, and profiteering in the health industry.[120] However, countries have applied neoliberal policies at varying levels of intensity; for example, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has calculated that only 6% of Swedish workers are beset with wages it considers low, and that Swedish wages are overall lower due to their lack of neoliberal policies[121] Others argue that Sweden’s adoption of neoliberal reforms, in particular the privatization of public services and reduced state benefits, has resulted in income inequality growing faster in Sweden than any other OECD nation.[122][123] John Schmitt and Ben Zipperer (2006) of the CEPR have analyzed the effects of intensive Anglo-American neoliberal policies in comparison to continental European neoliberalism, concluding “The U.S. economic and social model is associated with substantial levels of social exclusion, including high levels of income inequality, high relative and absolute poverty rates, poor and unequal educational outcomes, poor health outcomes, and high rates of crime and incarceration. At the same time, the available evidence provides little support for the view that U.S.-style labor-market flexibility dramatically improves labor-market outcomes. Despite popular prejudices to the contrary, the U.S. economy consistently affords a lower level of economic mobility than all the continental European countries for which data is available.”[124]

Notable critics of neoliberalism in theory or practice include economists Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen, Robert Pollin,[125] and Richard D. Wolff,[115] linguist Noam Chomsky,[107] geographer David Harvey,[126] Marxist feminist Gail Dines,[127] American scholar and cultural critic Henry Giroux[128] and the alter-globalization movement in general, including groups such as ATTAC. Critics of neoliberalism argue that not only is neoliberalism’s critique of socialism (as unfreedom) wrong, but neoliberalism cannot deliver the liberty that is supposed to be one of its strong points. Daniel Brook’s “The Trap” (2007), Robert Frank’s “Falling Behind” (2007), Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson’s “Social Murder” (2007), and Richard G. Wilkinson’s “The Impact of Inequality” (2005) all claim high inequality is spurred by neoliberal policies and produces profound political, social, economic, health, and environmental constraints and problems. The economists and policy analysts at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) offer inequality-reducing social democratic policy alternatives to neoliberal policies.

Sociologist Loïc Wacquant argues that neoliberalism has transformed the U.S. into a “centaur state,” or a nation with little governmental oversight for those at the top and strict control of those at the bottom.[129] Santa Cruz History of Consciousness professor Angela Davis, a Communist, and Princeton sociologist Bruce Western have claimed that the high rate (compared to Europe) of incarceration in the U.S. – specifically 1 in 37 American adults is in the prison system – heavily promoted by the Clinton administration, is the neoliberal U.S. policy tool for keeping unemployment statistics low, while stimulating economic growth through the maintenance of a contemporary slave population and the promotion of prison construction and “militarized policing.”[130] David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, argues that while expenditures on social welfare programs have been cut, expenditures on prison construction have increased significantly during the neoliberal era, with California having “the largest prison-building program in the history of the world.”[131] The Clinton Administration also embraced neoliberalism by pursuing international trade agreements that would benefit the corporate sector globally (normalization of trade with China for example). Domestically, Clinton fostered such neoliberal reforms as the corporate takeover of health care in the form of the HMO, the reduction of welfare subsidies, and the implementation of “Workfare”.[132]

Neoliberal policies advanced by supranational organizations have come under criticism, from both socialist and libertarian writers, for advancing a corporatist agenda. Rajesh Makwana, on the left, writes that “the World Bank and IMF, are major exponents of the neoliberal agenda” advancing corporate interests.[133] Sheldon Richman, editor of the libertarian journal The Freeman, also sees the IMF imposing “corporatist-flavored ‘neoliberalism’ on the troubled countries of the world.” The policies of spending cuts coupled with tax increases give “real market reform a bad name and set back the cause of genuine liberalism.” Paternalistic supranational bureaucrats foster “long-term dependency, perpetual indebtedness, moral hazard, and politicization, while discrediting market reform and forestalling revolutionary liberal change.”[134] Free market economist Richard M. Salsman goes further and argues the IMF “is a destructive, crisis-generating global welfare agency that should be abolished.”[135] “In return for bailouts, countries must enact such measures as new taxes, high interest rates, nationalizations, deportations, and price controls.” Writing in Forbes, E. D. Kain sees the IMF as “paving the way for international corporations entrance into various developing nations” and creating dependency.[136] He quotes Donald J. Boudreaux on the need to abolish the IMF.”


D.10 How does capitalism affect technology?

Technology has an obvious effect on individual freedom, in some ways increasing it, in others restricting it. However, since capitalism is a social system based on inequalities of power, it is a truism that technology will reflect those inequalities as it does not develop in a social vacuum. As Bookchin puts it:

  “Along side its positive aspects, technological advance has a distinctly negative, socially regressive side. If it is true that technological progress enlarges the historical potentiality for freedom, it is also true that the bourgeois control of technology reinforces the established organisation of society and everyday life. Technology and the resources of abundance furnish capitalism with the means for assimilating large sections of society to the established system of hierarchy and authority . . . By their centralistic and bureaucratic tendencies, the resource of abundance reinforce the monopolistic, centralistic and bureaucratic tendencies in the political apparatus . . . [Technology can be used] for perpetuating hierarchy, exploitation and unfreedom.” [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 3]

No technology evolves and spreads unless there are people who benefit from it and have sufficient means to disseminate it. In a capitalist society, technologies useful to the rich and powerful are generally the ones that spread. This can be seen from capitalist industry, where technology has been implemented specifically to deskill the worker, so replacing the skilled, valued craftsperson with the easily trained and replaced “mass worker.” By making trying to make any individual worker dispensable, the capitalist hopes to deprive workers of a means of controlling the relation between their effort on the job and the pay they receive. In Proudhon’s words, the “machine, or the workshop, after having degraded the labourer by giving him a master, completes his degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of common workman.” [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 202]

So, unsurprisingly, technology within a hierarchical society will tend to re-enforce hierarchy and domination. Managers/capitalists will select technology that will protect and extend their power (and profits), not weaken it. Thus, while it is often claimed that technology is “neutral” this is not (and can never be) the case. Simply put, “progress” within a hierarchical system will reflect the power structures of that system.

As sociologist George Reitzer notes, technological innovation under a hierarchical system soon results in “increased control and the replacement of human with non-human technology. In fact, the replacement of human with non-human technology is very often motivated by a desire for greater control, which of course is motivated by the need for profit-maximisation. The great sources of uncertainty and unpredictability in any rationalising system are people . . . McDonaldisation involves the search for the means to exert increasing control over both employees and customers.” [The McDonaldisation of Society, p. 100] For Reitzer, capitalism is marked by the “irrationality of rationality,” in which this process of control results in a system based on crushing the individuality and humanity of those who live within it.

In this process of controlling employees for the purpose of maximising profit, deskilling comes about because skilled labour is more expensive than unskilled or semi-skilled and skilled workers have more power over their working conditions and work due to the difficulty in replacing them. Unskilled labour makes it easier to “rationalise” the production process with methods like Taylorism, a system of strict production schedules and activities based on the amount of time (as determined by management) that workers “need” to perform various operations in the workplace, thus requiring simple, easily analysed and timed movements. As companies are in competition, each has to copy the most “efficient” (i.e. profit maximising) production techniques introduced by the others in order to remain profitable, no matter how dehumanising this may be for workers. Thus the evil effects of the division of labour and deskilling becoming widespread. Instead of managing their own work, workers are turned into human machines in a labour process they do not control, instead being controlled by those who own the machines they use (see also Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century).

As Max Stirner noted (echoing Adam Smith), this process of deskilling and controlling work means that “[w]hen everyone is to cultivate himself into man, condemning a man to machine-like labour amounts to the same thing as slavery. . . . Every labour is to have the intent that the man be satisfied. Therefore he must become a master in it too, be able to perform it as a totality. He who in a pin-factory only puts on heads, only draws the wire, works, as it were mechanically, like a machine; he remains half-trained, does not become a master: his labour cannot satisfy him, it can only fatigue him. His labour is nothing by itself, has no object in itself, is nothing complete in itself; he labours only into another’s hands, and is used (exploited) by this other.” [The Ego and Its Own, p. 121] Kropotkin makes a similar argument against the division of labour (“machine-like labour”) in The Conquest of Bread (see chapter XV—“The Division of Labour”) as did Proudhon (see chapters III and IV of System of Economical Contradictions).

Modern industry is set up to ensure that workers do not become “masters” of their work but instead follow the orders of management. The evolution of technology lies in the relations of power within a society. This is because “the viability of a design is not simply a technical or even economic evaluation but rather a political one. A technology is deemed viable if it conforms to the existing relations of power.” [David Noble, Progress without People, p. 63]

This process of controlling, restricting, and de-individualising labour is a key feature of capitalism. Work that is skilled and controlled by workers is empowering to them in two ways. Firstly it gives them pride in their work and themselves. Secondly, it makes it harder to replace them or suck profits out of them. Therefore, in order to remove the “subjective” factor (i.e. individuality and worker control) from the work process, capital needs methods of controlling the workforce to prevent workers from asserting their individuality, thus preventing them from arranging their own lives and work and resisting the authority of the bosses. This need to control workers can be seen from the type of machinery introduced during the Industrial Revolution. According to Andrew Ure (author of Philosophy of Manufactures), a consultant for the factory owners at the time:

  “In the factories for spinning coarse yarn . . . the mule-spinners [skilled workers] have abused their powers beyond endurance, domineering in the most arrogant manner . . . over their masters. High wages, instead of leading to thankfulness of temper and improvement of mind, have, in too many cases, cherished pride and supplied funds for supporting refractory spirits in strikes . . . During a disastrous turmoil of [this] kind . . . several of the capitalists . . . had recourse to the celebrated machinists . . . of Manchester . . . [to construct] a self-acting mule . . . This invention confirms the great doctrine already propounded, that when capital enlists science in her service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught docility.” [quoted by Noble, Op. Cit., p. 125]

Proudhon quotes an English Manufacturer who argues the same point:

  “The insubordination of our workmen has given us the idea of dispensing with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort to replace the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object. Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour.” [System of Economical Contradictions, p. 189]

It is important to stress that technological innovation was not driven by reasons of economic efficiency as such but rather to break the power of workers at the point of production. Once that was done, initially uneconomic investments could become economically viable. As David Noble summarises, during the Industrial Revolution “Capital invested in machines that would reinforce the system of domination [in the workplace], and this decision to invest, which might in the long run render the chosen technique economical, was not itself an economical decision but a political one, with cultural sanction.” [Op. Cit., p. 6]

Needless to say, this use of technology within the class war continued. A similar process was at work in the US, where the rise in trade unionism resulted in “industrial managers bec[oming] even more insistent that skill and initiative not be left on the shop floor, and that, by the same token, shop floor workers not have control over the reproduction of relevant skills through craft-regulated apprenticeship training. Fearful that skilled shop-floor workers would use their scare resources to reduce their effort and increase their pay, management deemed that knowledge of the shop-floor process must reside with the managerial structure.” [William Lazonick, Organisation and Technology in Capitalist Development, p. 273]

American managers happily embraced Taylorism (aka “scientific management”), according to which the task of the manager was to gather into his possession all available knowledge about the work he oversaw and reorganise it. Taylor himself considered the task for workers was “to do what they are told to do promptly and without asking questions or making suggestions.” [quoted by David Noble, American By Design, p. 268] Taylor also relied exclusively upon incentive-pay schemes which mechanically linked pay to productivity and had no appreciation of the subtleties of psychology or sociology (which would have told him that enjoyment of work and creativity is more important for people than just higher pay). Unsurprisingly, workers responded to his schemes by insubordination, sabotage and strikes and it was “discovered . . . that the ‘time and motion’ experts frequently knew very little about the proper work activities under their supervision, that often they simply guessed at the optimum rates for given operations . . . it meant that the arbitrary authority of management has simply been reintroduced in a less apparent form.” [David Noble, Op. Cit., p. 272] Although, now, the power of management could hide begin the “objectivity” of “science.”

Katherine Stone also argues that the “transfer of skill [from the worker to management] was not a response to the necessities of production, but was, rather, a strategy to rob workers of their power” by “tak[ing] knowledge and authority from the skilled workers and creating a management cadre able to direct production.” Stone highlights that this deskilling process was combined by a “divide and rule” policy by management based on wage incentives and new promotion policies. This created a reward system in which workers who played by the rules would receive concrete gains in terms of income and status. Over time, such a structure would become to be seen as “the natural way to organise work and one which offered them personal advancement” even though, “when the system was set up, it was neither obvious nor rational. The job ladders were created just when the skill requirements for jobs in the industry were diminishing as a result of the new technology, and jobs were becoming more and more equal as to the learning time and responsibility involved.” The modern structure of the capitalist workplace was created to break workers resistance to capitalist authority and was deliberately “aimed at altering workers’ ways of thinking and feeling—which they did by making workers’ individual ‘objective’ self-interests congruent with that of the employers and in conflict with workers’ collective self-interest.” It was a means of “labour discipline” and of “motivating workers to work for the employers’ gain and preventing workers from uniting to take back control of production.” Stone notes that the “development of the new labour system in the steel industry was repeated throughout the economy in different industries. As in the steel industry, the core of these new labour systems were the creation of artificial job hierarchies and the transfer of skills from workers to the managers.” [“The Origins of Job Structure in the Steel Industry,” pp. 123-157, Root & Branch (ed.), Root and Branch: The Rise of the Workers’ Movements, p. 155, p. 153, p. 152 and pp. 153-4]

This process of deskilling workers was complemented by other factors—state protected markets (in the form of tariffs and government orders—the “lead in technological innovation came in armaments where assured government orders justified high fixed-cost investments”); the use of “both political and economic power [by American Capitalists] to eradicate and diffuse workers’ attempts to assert shop-floor control”; and “repression, instigated and financed both privately and publicly, to eliminate radical elements [and often not-so-radical elements as well, we must note] in the American labour movement.” [William Lazonick, Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor, p. 218 and p. 303] Thus state action played a key role in destroying craft control within industry, along with the large financial resources of capitalists compared to workers. Bringing this sorry story up to date, we find “many, if not most, American managers are reluctant to develop skills [and initiative] on the shop floor for the fear of losing control of the flow of work.” [William Lazonick, Organisation and Technology in Capitalist Development, pp. 279-280] Nor should we forget that many technologies are the product of state aid. For example, in the case of automation “the state, especially the military, has played a central role. Not only has it subsidised extravagant developments that the market could not or refused to bear but it absorbed excessive costs and thereby kept afloat those competitors who would otherwise have sunk.” [Op. Cit., p. 83]

Given that there is a division of knowledge in society (and, obviously, in the workplace as well) this means that capitalism has selected to introduce a management and technology mix which leads to inefficiency and waste of valuable knowledge, experience and skills. Thus the capitalist workplace is both produced by and is a weapon in the class struggle and reflects the shifting power relations between workers and employers. The creation of artificial job hierarchies, the transfer of skills away from workers to managers and technological development are all products of class struggle. Thus technological progress and workplace organisation within capitalism have little to do with “efficiency” and far more to do with profits and power. “Capitalism does not utilise a socially nature technology for capitalist ends,” Cornelius Castoriadis correctly argued. It has “created a capitalist technology, which is by no means neutral. The real intention of capitalist technology is not to develop production for production’s sake: It is to subordinate and dominate the producers” and “to eliminate the human element in productive labour.” This means that capitalist technologies will evolve, that there is “a process of ‘natural selection,’ affecting technical inventions as they are applied to industry. Some are preferred to others” and will be “the ones that fit in with capitalism’s basic need to deal with labour power as a measurable, supervisable, and interchangeable commodity.” Thus technology will be selected “within the framework of its own class rationality.” [Social and Political Writings, vol. 2, p. 104]

This means that while self-management has consistently proven to be more efficient (and empowering) than hierarchical management structures, capitalism actively selects against it. This is because capitalism is motivated purely by increasing the power and profits for the bosses, and both are best done by disempowering workers and empowering bosses (i.e. the maximisation of power)—even though this concentration of power harms efficiency by distorting and restricting information flow and the gathering and use of widely distributed knowledge within the firm (as in any command economy) as well as having a serious impact on the wider economy and social efficiency. Thus the last refuge of the capitalist or technophile (namely that the productivity gains of technology outweigh the human costs or the means used to achieve them) is doubly flawed. Firstly, disempowering technology may maximise profits, but it need not increase efficient utilisation of resources or workers’ time, skills or potential. Secondly, “when investment does in fact generate innovation, does such innovation yield greater productivity? . . . After conducting a poll of industry executives on trends in automation, Business Week concluded in 1982 that ‘there is a heavy backing for capital investment in a variety of labour-saving technologies that are designed to fatten profits without necessary adding to productive output.’” David Noble concludes that “whenever managers are able to use automation to ‘fatten profits’ and enhance their authority (by eliminating jobs and extorting concessions and obedience from the workers who remain) without at the same time increasing social product, they appear more than ready to do.” [David Noble, Progress Without People, pp. 86-87 and p. 89] As we argue in greater detail later, in section J.5.12, efficiency and profit maximisation are two different things, with such deskilling and management control actually reducing efficiency—compared to workers’ control—but as it allows managers to maximise profits the capitalist market selects it.

Of course the claim is that higher wages follow increased investment and technological innovation (“in the long run”—although usually “the long run” has to be helped to arrive by workers’ struggle and protest!). Passing aside the question of whether slightly increased consumption really makes up for dehumanising and uncreative work, we must note that it is usually the capitalist who really benefits from technological change in money terms. For example, between 1920 and 1927 (a period when unemployment caused by technology became commonplace) the automobile industry (which was at the forefront of technological change) saw wages rise by 23.7%. Thus, claim supporters of capitalism, technology is in all our interests. However, capital surpluses rose by 192.9% during the same period—8 times faster! Little wonder wages rose! Similarly, over the last 20 years the USA and many other countries have seen companies “down-sizing” and “right-sizing” their workforce and introducing new technologies. The result? Simply put, the 1970s saw the start of “no-wage growth expansions.” Before the early 1970s, “real wage growth tracked the growth of productivity and production in the economy overall. After . . ., they ceased to do so. . . Real wage growth fell sharply below measured productivity growth.” [James K. Galbraith, Created Unequal, p. 79] So while real wages have stagnated, profits have been increasing as productivity rises and the rich have been getting richer—technology yet again showing whose side it is on.

Overall, as David Noble notes (with regards to manufacturing in the early 1990s):

  “U.S. Manufacturing industry over the last thirty years . . . [has seen] the value of capital stock (machinery) relative to labour double, reflecting the trend towards mechanisation and automation. As a consequence . . . the absolute output person hour increased 115%, more than double. But during this same period, real earnings for hourly workers . . . rose only 84%, less than double. Thus, after three decades of automation-based progress, workers are now earning less relative to their output than before. That is, they are producing more for less; working more for their boss and less for themselves.” [Op. Cit., pp. 92-3]

Noble continues:

  “For if the impact of automation on workers has not been ambiguous, neither has the impact on management and those it serves—labour’s loss has been their gain. During the same first thirty years of our age of automation, corporate after tax profits have increased 450%, more than five times the increase in real earnings for workers.” [Op. Cit., p. 95]

But why? Because labour has the ability to produce a flexible amount of output (use value) for a given wage. Unlike coal or steel, a worker can be made to work more intensely during a given working period and so technology can be utilised to maximise that effort as well as increasing the pool of potential replacements for an employee by deskilling their work (so reducing workers’ power to get higher wages for their work). Thus technology is a key way of increasing the power of the boss, which in turn can increase output per worker while ensuring that the workers’ receive relatively less of that output back in terms of wages—“Machines,” argued Proudhon, “promised us an increase of wealth they have kept their word, but at the same time endowing us with an increase of poverty. They promised us liberty . . . [but] have brought us slavery.” [Op. Cit., p. 199]

But do not get us wrong, technological progress does not imply that we are victims. Far from it, much innovation is the direct result of our resistance to hierarchy and its tools. For example, capitalists turned to Taylorism and “scientific management” in response to the power of skilled craft workers to control their work and working environment (the famous 1892 Homestead strike, for example, was a direct product of the desire of the company to end the skilled workers’ control and power on the shop-floor). Such management schemes never last in the long run nor totally work in the short run either—which explains why hierarchical management continues, as does technological deskilling. Workers always find ways of using new technology to increase their power within the workplace, undermining management decisions to their own advantage). As left-wing economist William Lazonick puts it:

  “Because it is the workers, not managers, who are actually doing the work, access to information on the effort-saving potential of a machine will be asymmetric, giving workers a distinct advantage in determining the pace of work. In addition, workers through their unions will attempt to exert industry-wide control over the relation between effort and pay on newly diffused technology. The resultant relation between effort and earnings will depend on the exercise of social power, not on abstract ‘laws’ of proportional change.” [Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor, pp. 66-7]

This means that the “economic effectiveness of the factory as a mode of work organisation did not occur within a social vacuum but depend[s] on the historical evolution of conditions that determined the relative power of capitalists and workers to structure the relation between effort and pay.” As such, it is important not to overemphasise the “independent influence of technology as opposed to the relations of production in the determination of work organisation. Because machinery does change the skill content of work, it can potentially serve as an instrument of social power. How and to what extent it does so, however, depends not only on the nature of the technology but also on the nature of the social environment into which it is introduced.” Thus the introduction of machinery into the capitalist labour process “is only a necessary, not sufficient, condition for the displacement of worker control over the relation between effort and pay.” [Lazonick, Op. Cit., p. 52 and p. 63] Needless to say, capitalists have always appealed to the state to help create a suitable social environment.

This analysis applies to both the formal and informal organisation of workers in workplace. Just as the informal structures and practices of working people evolve over time in response to new technology and practices, so does union organisation. In response to Taylorism, factory and other workers created a whole new structure of working class power—a new kind of unionism based on the industrial level. For example, the IWW was formed specifically to create industrial unions arguing that “[l]abourers are no longer classified by difference in trade skill, but the employer assigns them according to the machine which they are attached. These divisions, far from representing differences in skill or interests among the labourers, are imposed by the employers that workers may be pitted against one another and spurred to greater exertion in the shop, and that all resistance to capitalist tyranny may be weakened by artificial distinctions.” [quoted by Stone, Op. Cit., p. 157]

For this reason, anarchists and syndicalists argued for, and built, industrial unions—one union per workplace and industry—in order to combat these divisions and effectively resist capitalist tyranny. This can be seen in many different countries. In Spain, the C.N.T. (an anarcho-syndicalist union) adopted the sindicato unico (one union) in 1918 which united all workers of the same workplace in the same union (by uniting skilled and unskilled in a single organisation, the union increased their fighting power). In the UK, the shop stewards movement arose during the first world war based on workplace organisation (a movement inspired by the pre-war syndicalist revolt and which included many syndicalist activists). This movement was partly in response to the reformist TUC unions working with the state during the war to suppress class struggle. In Germany, the 1919 near revolution saw the creation of revolutionary workplace unions and councils (and a large increase in the size of the anarcho-syndicalist union FAU which was organised by industry).

This process was not limited to just libertarian unions. In the USA, the 1930s saw a massive and militant union organising drive by the C.I.O. based on industrial unionism and collective bargaining (inspired, in part, by the example of the I.W.W. and its broad organisation of unskilled workers). More recently, workers in the 1960s and 70s responded to the increasing reformism and bureaucratic nature of such unions as the CIO and TUC by organising themselves directly on the shop floor to control their work and working conditions. This informal movement expressed itself in wildcat strikes against both unions and management, sabotage and unofficial workers’ control of production (see John Zerzan’s essay “Organised Labour and the Revolt Against Work” in Elements of Refusal). In the UK, the shop stewards’ movement revived itself, organising much of the unofficial strikes and protests which occurred in the 1960s and 70s. A similar tendency was seen in many countries during this period.

So in response to a new developments in technology and workplace organisation, workers’ developed new forms of resistance which in turn provokes a response by management. Thus technology and its (ab)uses are very much a product of the class struggle, of the struggle for freedom in the workplace. With a given technology, workers and radicals soon learn to resist it and, sometimes, use it in ways never dreamed of to resist their bosses and the state (which necessitates a transformation of within technology again to try and give the bosses an upper hand!). The use of the Internet, for example, to organise, spread and co-ordinate information, resistance and struggles is a classic example of this process (see Jason Wehling, “‘Netwars’ and Activists Power on the Internet”, Scottish Anarchist no. 2 for details). There is always a “guerrilla war” associated with technology, with workers and radicals developing their own tactics to gain counter control for themselves. Thus much technological change reflects our power and activity to change our own lives and working conditions. We must never forget that.

While some may dismiss our analysis as “Luddite,” to do so is make “technology” an idol to be worshipped rather than something to be critically analysed. Indeed, it would be temping to argue that worshippers of technological progress are, in effect, urging us not to think and to sacrifice ourselves to a new abstraction like the state or capital. Moreover, such attacks misrepresent the ideas of the Luddites themselves—they never actually opposed all technology or machinery. Rather, they opposed “all Machinery hurtful to Commonality” (as a March 1812 letter to a hated Manufacturer put it). Rather than worship technological progress (or view it uncritically), the Luddites subjected technology to critical analysis and evaluation. They opposed those forms of machinery that harmed themselves or society. Unlike those who smear others as “Luddites,” the labourers who broke machines were not intimidated by the modern notion of progress. As John Clark notes, they “chose to smash the dehumanising machinery being imposed on them, rather than submit to domination and degradation in the name of technical progress.” [The Anarchist Moment, p. 102] Their sense of right and wrong was not clouded by the notion that technology was somehow inevitable, neutral or to be worshipped without question.

The Luddites did not think that human values (or their own interests) were irrelevant in evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of a given technology and its effects on workers and society as a whole. Nor did they consider their skills and livelihood as less important than the profits and power of the capitalists. In other words, they would have agreed with Proudhon’s later comment that machinery “plays the leading role in industry, man is secondary” and they acted to change this relationship. [Op. Cit., p. 204] The Luddites were an example of working people deciding what their interests were and acting to defend them by their own direct action—in this case opposing technology which benefited the ruling class by giving them an edge in the class struggle. Anarchists follow this critical approach to technology, recognising that it is not neutral nor above criticism. That this is simply sensible can be seen from the world around us, where capitalism has, to quote Rocker, made work “soulless and has lost for the individual the quality of creative joy. By becoming a dreary end-in-itself it has degraded man into an eternal galley slave and robbed him of that which is most precious, the inner joy of accomplished work, the creative urge of the personality. The individual feels himself to be only an insignificant element of a gigantic mechanism in whose dull monotone every personal note dies out.” He has “became the slave of the tool he created.” There has been a “growth of technology at the expense of human personality.” [Nationalism and Culture, p. 253 and p. 254]

For capital, the source of problems in industry is people. Unlike machines, people can think, feel, dream, hope and act. The “evolution” of technology must, therefore, reflect the class struggle within society and the struggle for liberty against the forces of authority. Technology, far from being neutral, reflects the interests of those with power. Technology will only be truly our friend once we control it ourselves and modify to reflect human values (this may mean that some forms of technology will have to be written off and replaces by new forms in a free society). Until that happens, most technological processes—regardless of the other advantages they may have—will be used to exploit and control people. Thus Proudhon’s comments that “in the present condition of society, the workshop with its hierarchical organisation, and machinery” could only serve “exclusively the interests of the least numerous, the least industrious, and the wealthiest class” rather than “be employed for the benefit of all.” [Op. Cit., p. 205]

While resisting technological “progress” which is considered harmful to people or the planet (by means up to and including machine breaking) is essential in the here and now, the issue of technology can only be truly solved when those who use a given technology control its development, introduction and use. (“The worker will only respect machinery on the day when it becomes his friend, shortening his work, rather than as today, his enemy, taking away jobs, killing workers,” in the words of French syndicalist Emile Pouget [quoted by David Noble, Op. Cit., p. 15]). Little wonder, therefore, that anarchists consider workers’ self-management as a key means of solving the problems created by technology. Proudhon, for example, argued that the solution to the problems created by the division of labour and technology could only be solved by “association”, and “by a broad education, by the obligation of apprenticeship, and by the co-operation of all who take part in the collective work.” This would ensure that “the division of labour can no longer be a cause of degradation for the workman [or workwoman].” [The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 223]

While as far as technology goes, it may not be enough to get rid of the boss this is a necessary first step. Unless this is done, it will be impossible to transform existing technologies or create new ones which enhance freedom rather than controlling and shaping the worker (or user in general) and enhancing the power and profits of the capitalist. This means that in an anarchist society, technology would have to be transformed and/or developed which empowered those who used it, so reducing any oppressive aspects of it. In the words of Cornelius Castoriadis, the “conscious transformation of technology will therefore be a central task of a society of free workers.” [Op. Cit., p. 104] As German anarchist Gustav Landauer stressed, most are “completely unaware of how fundamentally the technology of the socialists differs from capitalist technology . . . Technology will, in a cultured people, have to be directed to the psychology of free people who want to use it.” This will happen when “the workers themselves determine under what conditions they want to work,” step out of “capitalism mentally and physically”, and “cease playing a role in it and begin to be men [and women].” [“For Socialism,” pp. 184-6, Anarchism, Robert Graham (ed.), p. 285 and p. 286]

Thus most anarchists would agree with Bookchin’s comment that technology “is necessarily liberatory or consistently beneficial to man’s development” but we “do not believe that man is destined to be enslaved by technology and technological modes of thought.” A free society “will not want to negate technology precisely because it is liberated and can strike a balance” and create a “technology for life,” a liberatory technology based on human and ecological needs. [Op. Cit., p. 43 and p. 80] See section I.4.9 for more discussion on technology within an anarchist society.”


“At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.Source 1

More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.Source 2

The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.Source 3

According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”Source 4

Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

If current trends continue, the Millennium Development Goals target of halving the proportion of underweight children will be missed by 30 million children, largely because of slow progress in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.Source 5

Based on enrollment data, about 72 million children of primary school age in the developing world were not in school in 2005; 57 per cent of them were girls. And these are regarded as optimistic numbers.Source 6

Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.Source 7

Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.Source 8

Infectious diseases continue to blight the lives of the poor across the world. An estimated 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, with 3 million deaths in 2004. Every year there are 350–500 million cases of malaria, with 1 million fatalities: Africa accounts for 90 percent of malarial deaths and African children account for over 80 percent of malaria victims worldwide.Source 9

Water problems affect half of humanity:

  Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
  Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.
  More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.
  Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.
  1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day. In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)
  Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea
  The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.
  Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
  Millions of women spending several hours a day collecting water.
  To these human costs can be added the massive economic waste associated with the water and sanitation deficit.… The costs associated with health spending, productivity losses and labour diversions … are greatest in some of the poorest countries. Sub-Saharan Africa loses about 5% of GDP, or some $28.4 billion annually, a figure that exceeds total aid flows and debt relief to the region in 2003.Source 10

Number of children in the world
  2.2 billion
Number in poverty
  1 billion (every second child)
Shelter, safe water and health

  For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

      640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)
      400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)
      270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)

Children out of education worldwide
  121 million
Survival for children


      10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)
      1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation

Health of children


      2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized
      15 million children orphaned due to HIV/AIDS (similar to the total children population in Germany or United Kingdom)

Source 11

Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than US$1 a day and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin.Source 12

Approximately half the world’s population now live in cities and towns. In 2005, one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people) was living in slum conditions.Source 13

In developing countries some 2.5 billion people are forced to rely on biomass—fuelwood, charcoal and animal dung—to meet their energy needs for cooking. In sub-Saharan Africa, over 80 percent of the population depends on traditional biomass for cooking, as do over half of the populations of India and China.Source 14

Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis.Source 15

In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. The poorest fifth just 1.5%:

The poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% and the wealthiest 10% accounted for 59% of all the consumption:

Source 16

1.6 billion people — a quarter of humanity — live without electricity:

Breaking that down further:
Number of people living without electricityRegion Millions without electricity
South Asia 706
Sub-Saharan Africa 547
East Asia 224
Other 101

The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest people combined.Source 18

World gross domestic product (world population approximately 6.5 billion) in 2006 was $48.2 trillion in 2006.

  The world’s wealthiest countries (approximately 1 billion people) accounted for $36.6 trillion dollars (76%).
  The world’s billionaires — just 497 people (approximately 0.000008% of the world’s population) — were worth $3.5 trillion (over 7% of world GDP).
  Low income countries (2.4 billion people) accounted for just $1.6 trillion of GDP (3.3%)
  Middle income countries (3 billion people) made up the rest of GDP at just over $10 trillion (20.7%).Source 19

The world’s low income countries (2.4 billion people) account for just 2.4% of world exportsSource 20

The total wealth of the top 8.3 million people around the world “rose 8.2 percent to $30.8 trillion in 2004, giving them control of nearly a quarter of the world’s financial assets.”

In other words, about 0.13% of the world’s population controlled 25% of the world’s financial assets in 2004.

A conservative estimate for 2010 finds that at least a third of all private financial wealth, and nearly half of all offshore wealth, is now owned by world’s richest 91,000 people – just 0.001% of the world’s population.

The next 51 percent of all wealth is owned by the next 8.4 million — just 0.14% of the world’s population. Almost all of it has managed to avoid all income and estate taxes, either by the countries where it has been invested and or where it comes fromSource 21

For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment.Source 22

51 percent of the world’s 100 hundred wealthiest bodies are corporations.Source 23

The wealthiest nation on Earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.Source 24

The poorer the country, the more likely it is that debt repayments are being extracted directly from people who neither contracted the loans nor received any of the money.Source 25

In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people in the richest countries had 30 times the income of the poorest 20% — in 1997, 74 times as much.Source 26

An analysis of long-term trends shows the distance between the richest and poorest countries was about:

  3 to 1 in 1820
  11 to 1 in 1913
  35 to 1 in 1950
  44 to 1 in 1973
  72 to 1 in 1992Source 27

“Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished, almost two-thirds of whom reside in Asia and the Pacific.”Source 28

For economic growth and almost all of the other indicators, the last 20 years [of the current form of globalization, from 1980 - 2000] have shown a very clear decline in progress as compared with the previous two decades [1960 - 1980]. For each indicator, countries were divided into five roughly equal groups, according to what level the countries had achieved by the start of the period (1960 or 1980). Among the findings:

  Growth: The fall in economic growth rates was most pronounced and across the board for all groups or countries.
  Life Expectancy: Progress in life expectancy was also reduced for 4 out of the 5 groups of countries, with the exception of the highest group (life expectancy 69-76 years).
  Infant and Child Mortality: Progress in reducing infant mortality was also considerably slower during the period of globalization (1980-1998) than over the previous two decades.
  Education and literacy: Progress in education also slowed during the period of globalization.Source 29

A mere 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and these 12 percent do not live in the Third World.”


“What is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade products are food or crafts that are produced under standards designed to end and prevent the poverty, sweatshop labor conditions, environmental degradation, etc that are endemic to the free trade “race to the bottom” that puts profits above people and the planet.

A widely recognized definition of Fair Trade is enumerated in the FINE Principles: 

“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.

“Fair Trade organisations (backed by consumers) are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

Read the FINE Principles in full. (.pdf)

The exact standards of Fair Trade that a company follows depend on the company’s Fair Trade certifier or membership organization.

How do I know if a product or company is Fair Trade?

Fair Trade food and drinks are certified by independent, third party labeling organizations.  Global Exchange acknowledges Fair Trade certification for food and drinks by two organizations:

  Fairtrade Labeling Organization/Fair Trade USA (Note: For coffee and cocoa, this certification indicates that the product was grown by small farmers in democratically organized cooperatives, which play a crucial role in the empowerment of farmers.  The certification has especially strong standards prohibiting child labor.)
  Institute for Marketecology (IMO)

For clothing and crafts, look for membership in the Fair Trade Federation, an association of businesses that follow Fair Trade principles exclusively.

What is the impact of Fair Trade on labor rights?

Under the standards of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization, Fair Trade requires compliance with domestic and international labor law, including the prohibition of child and forced labor and child trafficking.

What is the impact of Fair Trade on the environment?

Fair Trade certification systems include stringent and wide-ranging environmental protections.

Fair Trade plays an important role in protecting forests, with ripple effects in preventing global climate change and preserving biodiversity.  Fair Trade coffee and cocoa under the Fair Trade USA/Fairtrade Labeling Organization system is grown by small farmers, who primarily grow these products the natural way, under the shade of a forest canopy.  Fair Trade prices make it financially viable for farmers to preserve forests rather than cutting them down or selling their land to big plantations that may clear-cut the forests.

Are Fair Trade products organic?

Fair Trade products are often organic, but not always.  A Fair Trade product that is also organic will carry the organic label.  Fair Trade also restricts the chemicals that can be used.

Are environmental certifications, such as organic, also Fair Trade?

Not unless the product also has a Fair Trade logo or the business is a member of the Fair Trade Federation.

Only Fair Trade certification offers minimum prices for farmers.

Can mainstream products receive Fair Trade certification?  For example, could there be Fair Trade Hershey bars?


After years of pressure from Global Exchange and other advocacy groups, a number of brands are starting to make the switch to Fair Trade, demonstrating that this approach works for mainstream brands.  Brands that carry the Fair Trade logo or are in the process of achieving Fair Trade certification include Ben & Jerry’s for all its products worldwide; Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars in the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; Nestle 4-finger Kit Kat bars in the UK, and Green & Blacks for all their cocoa products worldwide.

Do you have a Reality Tour where I can see first hand the impact of Fair Trade policies?

Global Exchange provides numerous Reality Tours, through which you can experience Fair Trade and visit cooperatives around the world.  Some tours give participants the opportunity to travel and visit locations throughout a specific country, and others enable participants to spend ten days living with Fair Trade farmers and helping to bring in the harvest.  Visit to learn more about these trips.

Are Fair Trade products more expensive that non-Fair Trade products?

Often, there is little or no difference between Fair Trade products and non-Fair Trade products.  Non-Fair Trade products are often traded by a long string of middlemen between the producer and the retailer, increasing the price of those items.  Fair Trade tends to be based on direct trade relationships, so that more of the price of the item goes directly to the Fair Trade producer.

Where can I buy Fair Trade?

  Global Exchange Fair Trade Stores
  Fair Trade Blog, coordinated by Global Exchange Fair Trade Campaign and partners.
  Fair Trade Federation Members
  Fair Trade USA Partners
  Insitute for Marketecology (IMO)/Fair for Life Certified Operators

Which chocolate companies produce Fair Trade chocolate?

The 100% Fair Trade chocolate companies that take a leadership role by partnering with Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Campaign and stores on Reverse Trick-or-Treating and other programs:

  Alter Eco
  Equal Exchange
  Sweet Earth

I would like to know more specific details about Fair Trade certification, or how to become a Fair Trade business.

Please visit the following websites:

  Fair Trade Federation
  Fair Trade USA
  Fair Trade Labeling Organization
  Institute for Marketecology (IMO)

General information child labor in the cocoa fields

I understand that Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Campaign is one of the leading organizations campaigning to end child labor, forced labor, and child trafficking in the chocolate industry.  What is the relationship between this issue and Fair Trade?

Under the standards of the Fairtrade Labeling Organization, Fair Trade strictly prohibits child and forced labor and trafficking.

In which countries is child and forced labor and trafficking a problem?

The main child labor problem is in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s two leading producers of cocoa.  Children who are trafficked into the cocoa fields come largely from neighboring countries, such as Mali and Burkina Faso.

What is the Harkin-Engel Protocol, and what is its status?

Following a public outcry in 2001, when media reports first revealed child and forced labor and child trafficking in the cocoa fields, Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel introduced legislation that would have legally required a slave-free label on all products containing cocoa that were produced without forced labor.  The legislation passed in a landslide 291-115 victory in the House of Representatives.

On September 19, 2001, before the Senate acted on the legislation, Harkin and Engel signed an agreement with major cocoa industry companies became known as the Harkin-Engel Protocol.  In the Protocol, the companies commit to voluntarily eliminate the worst forms of child labor from the cocoa fields by July, 2005.  The companies failed to meet this deadline and subsequent deadlines they set, and child and forced labor and child trafficking continues to this day in the cocoa fields.

Read the Harkin-Engel Protocol (.pdf)

What is Global Exchange’s position on the Harkin-Engel Protocol?

Global Exchange was not a signatory to the Protocol.  We did not believe that a voluntary protocol would be effective.  Click the links below for some of Global Exchange’s critiques of the Protocol:

  Global Exchange Report: “The News on Chocolate is Bittersweet” (.pdf)
  Common dreams op-eds:
      Tainted Love? Chocolate-Lovers: Cocoa Industry Set to Be a Heartbreaker on July 1, 2008
      New Report Released on Valentine’s Day Eve: Chocolate and Heartache?

What is Global Exchange’s position on the steps necessary to end child and forced labor and trafficking in the cocoa industry?

Global Exchange’s position is that eliminating child labor, forced labor, and trafficking in the cocoa industry requires both (1) a system for monitoring and eliminating these practices and (2) stable minimum prices that exceed the cost of production.  Fair Trade Certification under the Fairtrade Labeling Organization standards satisfies both of these requirements.

How can I learn more about child labor in the cocoa industry?

Visit our resource page for reporters, researchers, and individuals interested in this issue.

How to get involved in Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Campaign

How do I receive updates about Global Exchange’s Fair Trade Campaign Activities?

Join the Fair Trade Campaign Listserv.

What is Global Exchange’s Sweet Smarts?

Sweet Smarts is a national network of individuals, from youth to senior citizens, who educated and advocate for Fair Trade in their communities.  Visit our Sweet Smarts page to learn more and start your own group.

What actions can I take throughout the year?

By joining the Fair Trade National listserv, we’ll keep you updated on actions you can take throughout the year.

Visit our Take Action page. Here are some of our most popular actions:

  National Valentine’s Day of Action
  We Want More From Our S’mores
  Reverse Trick or Treating
  Fair Trade Holiday Caroling

Where can I find resources (flyers, videos clips, etc) for a Fair Trade event I am organizing?

You can find resources throughout the Fair Trade Campaign webpages.  Here are a couple of examples:

  Dark Side of Chocolate video
  Fair Trade Curriculum flyer (.pdf)

I am a college student and I would like my school to transition into only selling Fair Trade coffee and chocolate.  What should I do?

  Contact Fair Trade Colleges and Universities, which provides support and resources to help with your campaign.
  Sign up on Global Exchange’s Fair Trade listserv to stay informed of more ways to get involved.


I am an individual or student researcher and I have more questions that are not addressed on this list.  What should I do?

Please read all of Global Exchange’s Fair Trade webpages.  The Global Exchange has a very small staff and does not have the capacity to answer individual inquiries, but we can assure you that you will find the answers to virtually all of your questions on our website.

I am a reporter for a professional news organization, and I am writing a story on Fair Trade or the cocoa or coffee industry.”

And then onto state protected “free trade”... which means the State and Corporations run the show together.


On Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is poised to become the largest Free Trade Agreement in U.S. history, with profound negative consequences for social, environmental and economic justice, as well as basic human rights throughout the world. We don’t know much about the TPP, but the few things we do know aren’t making us feel any better about the whole thing: giving corporations more power, trampling labor rights, and so much more.

Join the hundreds of labor leaders, trade justice and food sovereignty groups, family farmers, immigration reformers, public health and internet freedom advocates, environmentalists, students and communities in signing this statement to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Urge the U.S. Congress not to “Fast Track” the TPP

The nearly two decades of economic, environmental and cultural damage wrought by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), while by no means experienced equally, have been highly detrimental to the majority of people across the North American region. As a direct result of NAFTA, there are fewer good jobs, more struggling family farms, less stable food systems, and everyday consumer safety measures are weaker and social inequality grows. The pact’s intellectual property rules continue to undermine access to affordable medicine, while its financial service provisions have undermined banking regulations. NAFTA fueled even more the conditions that precipitated an economic emigration crisis and exacerbated a false drug war, leading to mass-scale human rights abuses where tens of thousands of citizens have been the victims. It has degraded the earth and its ecosystems in numerous ways, including from mining and other resource extraction projects, and has had pronounced effects on indigenous peoples’ sovereignty. Subsequent trade agreements have similarly propelled a race to the bottom in wages, labor rights and environmental protection, as well as deregulation and privatization, contributing to the worldwide financial and climate crises.

Halting further damage should be a shared priority of our peoples. Instead, because NAFTA has simultaneously redirected wealth and power to elites in each of the countries involved, the governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States, among others, are now seeking to expand NAFTA’s trade and investment rules throughout the Pacific Rim in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). In fact, leaked documents suggest that the TPP could very well go beyond NAFTA in the new powers and rights it hands to transnational corporations, including with an expansion of NAFTA’s infamous investor-state dispute process, by which international investors can challenge public interest laws, regulations and even court decisions that could threaten their expectation of profits through unaccountable tribunals that circumvent and violate domestic judicial systems.

The world cannot afford this NAFTA expansion package. Instead, we need policies that help build a more just and sustainable global economy, including those that respect and promote fundamental labor rights, including equal rights for migrant workers; the creation of high-wage, high-benefit jobs; environmental protection; food sovereignty; financial market stability; food and product safety; access to quality healthcare; and local democracy.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is currently under negotiation between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. It is being written as a “docking agreement” that would allow other countries to join over time, but without them able to make changes to existing text (a pre-condition that Canada and Mexico agreed to).”

I guess I find this movement and rhetoric somewhat confusing also, so not sure what to make of this at all at this stage?

Also, we can easily get bogged down with terminology and semantics? Words like “Force”, (as abhorrent to “Objectivist” Libertarians and often utilized as excuse against central and beneficial taxation). These words can also be replaced by “volition”, and inherent “Will to action”, (as applied to Capitalism “World” machine programming).

Seems logical that Capitalism would be best served by the removal/mitigation and opportunity for “Human greed”, and the methodology would seem to be radical taxation, this including the redistribution of Global wealth for the greater “Social” good, and also removal of trade embargo on the African continent, so that African states can actually enter the 21st Century and explore their own freedoms of creativity and world trade opportunities?

How? And by what measures/methodology? And at what rate? And by what political persuasion? is all up for profound debate for any and all who are willing to take serious interest and concern?

Yet to reiterate, at this stage I am left rather confused with this article.

From the WAVE website..

What is Social Futurism?

“Social Futurism is a worldview which integrates social justice concerns and problem-solving approaches that embrace the radical transformative potential of modern technology.

The WAVE research institute is an explicitly Social Futurist organization, as evidenced by its motto, “Positive Social Change Through Technology”. In other words, WAVE is Social Futurist by definition, and Social Futurism is being established on the basis of current WAVE concerns and beliefs.

This page is currently acting as a placeholder, while we conduct a full exploration of the Social Futurist (SF) idea. In future, it is expected that this page will act as a gateway to an array of SF theoretical treatments and resources. At this point in time (2014), SF could be considered synonymous with Techno-Progressivism, although that may change with the development of both positions.

For now, we can say that the “Social” part of SF refers to a broad space of generally Left-Libertarian positions. In other words, Socialism with an emphasis upon personal and societal freedoms. Correspondingly, “Futurism” does not refer to passive futurology, but rather an active engagement with new technologies in order to change ourselves and the world. As such, Futurism is a broad activist category which incorporates more specific but compatible concerns such as Transhumanism and Singularitarianism.

If you feel that you have something substantive to contribute to the development of these ideas, then please do get in touch: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).”

Then there’s this.. curiously defensive?

Strategic Threat Assessment & Response (STAR)

“The STAR (Strategic Threat Assessment & Response) group is being developed to work on systems for identifying, assessing, and planning effective responses to serious threats against WAVE-affiliated organizations, people, and resources. The project will focus on short- and medium-term threats rather than relatively long-term “Existential Risks” (e.g. asteroid strike or bad Singularity), which are already studied extensively by groups such as the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University.

The critical feature of any risk which determines whether it is of interest to us is whether it represents a threat to WAVE associates or critical resources. The focus of the project will be pragmatic rather than theoretical, leading toward the development of rapidly-deployable contingencies for emergency situations.

Initially, the project will look into two categories of threat scenario. The first category will be that of action by organized groups – particularly States and political organizations – against WAVE-affiliated networks. This will include a range of possibilities from low-level violence to legal action and outright bans. The second category will be that of natural disasters which impact individual WAVE associates or critical infrastructure.

For more information about STAR, please email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Perhaps, it would be beneficial if you provided a series of articles for the category, highlighting and outlining what you see as problematic with 19th Capitalism models applied for the 21st Century, (which I am sure we all somewhat would agree upon), and expand your ideas of how to transform(?) the Capitalism “World” machine into a workable and progressive model.

Suggestion: There is much information and important questioning in articles and media here at IEET already - (and it would also be good to collate these topics under more easily accessible tags/tabs, so folks can then progressively gather information and opinion over time, and for the goal of changing political, socioeconomic and technological consciousness).

I can envisage political concurrence and collaboration between groups like IEET and WAVE and even OWS as constructive to aspire to change in Global Social Consciousness and ethos of socioeconomics - and all of this aimed at ultimately persuading the EU, UN and G7 to “think” about the “bigger picture” and real applications of new evolving technology and the provision of Human basic needs as both abundant and cost effective/FREE.

ps. in the above picture, are those hands supporting each other or holding each other back?

I wrote a longer comment but just caught the “left-libertarian” description from what Cygnus posted. It makes more sense now, though it is still vague. But I think I can safely assume “emphasis on voluntary” is to be taken strictly in a personal liberties sense. Voluntary sex changes but not voluntary trade sort of thing. I look forward to more material on Social Futurism, in particular that fleshes out standings on instances where personal and trade freedoms are not mutually exclusive. (free to enhance oneself, at the expense of doctor’s time that could be spent on healing disabled people, sort of complications)

@Nikki, I am afraid that what we are talking about is really trickle down altruism and compassion from government’s (G8) and multinational corporations. They have historically been very bad at this, as the statistics I cited above shows. Governments (G8) wage wars that kill millions, and many corporations look to make a profit from it, even lobbying to get into the private sector portion of wars. I highly doubt that capitalism and big government is the answer, but I do agree that effective altruism is a good start for capitalists who want to seriously think about environmental and human rights.

“They have historically been very bad at this”

I guess an obvious question is what systems/mechanisms have worked better, or could work better in the future.

Another good question could be: why isn’t inequality even more pronounced than it is? Why are wealth and power not more centralised that they are? Nikki mentioned taxes and charity; I would add to that social memes that value the underdog and convey dislike/distrust of centralised power and wealth.

Another point to bear in mind: from a utilitarian perspective, inequality itself is not what we should be trying to avoid, but rather suffering / absence of well-being. In that context a degree of inequality is probably healthy.

Another thing we should remember is just how conservative we are, even those of us who like to think of ourselves as progressive. We find much to deplore about the current state of affairs, but mainly because we are relatively powerless to change it.

@Kris, yes, makes sense! This is a new concept for me, “trickle down altruism”. 

@Peter Wicks re: social memes - yes, absolutely!


I liked this article a lot and find WAVE, which I learned of for the first time here, fascinating. I think what would really be helpful at this juncture are experimental communities that would test the waters in regards to how society could be organized in light of emerging technologies in a way that is fundamentally different from the early 21st century capitalism. Almost all of these experiments will fail, and many of them will be ridiculous, but may also serve as seeds for a reconfigured social order in the same way Utopian experiments, such as those of Robert Owen laid the seeds for the Welfare state.

I agree with Rick: we need to experiment, and we need to encourage others who experiment (and curb our tendency to ridicule them).

Re “Christianity today is a ghost of what is was in the distant past”, I think that is probably fair, though it may be even fairer simply to say that it has evolved. Meanwhile, one of the benefits of religion that is sometimes claimed is precisely that it helps to reduce inequality by building a greater sense of community. So one answer to these questions - which I think ties in well with Rick’s suggestion - might be to find ways to draw inspiration from our religious traditions that don’t actually require us to believe nonsense.

I guess that’s one thing I like about utilitarianism: the commitment to maximising well-being is absolute, not conditional on things going one’s way necessarily.

But don’t underestimate the importance of belief, Instamatic. It is one thing to “draw lines” and another thing to look beyond behaviour we refuse to accept and understand why it happens. You mention aging, but we all age and not all of us start to crave apocalypse, so there must be some other explanation for why some people do this. And if you are emotionally committed to a belief system that obviously conflicts with evidence (which is basically what I mean by “believing nonsense”), then defending that belief system may indeed start to take precedence over basic compassion and goodwill. This is when religion becomes really dangerous IMO.

It so happens that I’m spending Easter this year on the Greek island of Patmos, where the original Apocalypse was (allegedly) written. One result of this is that I’ve been attending a lot of religious rituals. However, for many if not most of the participants - and certainly the ones I’ve been attending them with - belief seems to play a very minor role in their adherence to this tradition. It seems to be more than anything a way of expressing their ethnicity, being sociable, and keeping a good ol’ tradition alive. But even here, scratch below the surface and I’m pretty sure you’d find emotional commitment to beliefs that are not really consistent with evidence, and all sorts of neurotic reactions occurring when people become aware of that evidence.

In any case we should not focus only on religion: the problem of emotional commitment to false belief is much wider than that. But it is especially pronounced in the context of religion, and to the extent that we see religion as a possible answer to the problems we have been discussing here, or a source of inspiration for some of the experiments Rick alludes to, this problem needs to be tackled.

Contemplating radical change - are we there yet?

Peter Joseph talks about the end of money and the logic behind technology focus and a resource based economy - the “Zeitgeist movement”

More from Peter Joseph on Singularity 1-on-1

We Are All Subjected To The Same Natural Law System

Culture in Decline part 1 of 6 - youtube



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