Posts Tagged ‘Economic inequality’


(Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. Macmillan, 2017, 379 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

In Walkaway, Cory Doctorow takes on one of the most vexing matters of our time: Automation (more broadly, technological advances) is, at an accelerating rate, making human labor ever less necessary.

But what will it lead to?

A post-scarcity, egalitarian, “to each according to their wants” economy of abundance in which working is a matter of choice? Or to a version of the present artificial-scarcity economy in which there are an army of the poor and oppressed, and a few super-rich individuals who will resort to anything to retain their positions of power and privilege?

In Walkaway, the answer is both. In Doctorow’s medium-near future, there’s both a drastically more repressive version of current society — to alter the famous quotation from Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it’s worse” — and a (small “l”) libertarian and egalitarian alternative built by those who “walk away” from the dominant “default” society, a “post-scarcity” alternative made possible by sweeping technological/productivity advances.

Therein lies the main virtue of Walkaway: Doctorow’s convincing, detailed, and attractive portrayal of that post-scarcity society and its workings.

To get a bit politically wonkish, what Doctorow describes, though he never uses the term, is an anarcho-communist society (in contrast to the other flavors of anarchism: individualist, mutualist, and syndicalist).

Other virtues include Doctorow’s insightful treatment of technological advances, notably in the liberatory and repressive possibilities they entail, and in the book’s humor, which mostly appears in its first 150 pages.

One of the main points Doctorow makes in support of a post-scarcity, egalitarian societal set-up is that meritocracy, in both authoritarian capitalist society and in libertarian alternatives, is a very bad idea, as the following dialogue between two of Doctorow’s characters, Gretyl and Iceweasel, illustrates:

“Your people are all fighting self-serving bullshit, the root of all evil. There’s no bullshit more self-serving than the idea that you’re a precious snowflake, irreplaceable and deserving . . .”

“I’ve heard all this. My dad used it to explain paying his workers as little as he could get away with, while taking as much pay as he could get away with. . . .”

“You’re assuming that because [the rich] talk about meritocracy, and because they’re full of shit, merit must be full of shit. It’s like astrology and astronomy: astrology talks about orbital mechanics and so does astronomy. But astronomers talk about orbital mechanics because they’ve systematically observed the sky, built falsifiable hypotheses from observations, and proceeded from there. Astrologers talk about orbital mechanics because it sounds sciencey and helps them kid the suckers.”

“You’re calling my dad an astrologer then?”

“That would be an insult to astrologers.”

Two other notable aspects of Walkaway are the full-spectrum sexual diversity of the characters, and that Doctorow includes two explicit, well written sex scenes. (This is in stark contrast to the usual, annoying avoidance of such scenes in the vast majority of science fiction novels, where disgustingly graphic depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but — horrors! — not graphic depiction of sex; the only other sci-fi authors I can think of who include explicit, fitting sex scenes in their work are Richard K. Morgan and Walter Mosley.)

As for the plot, it would give away too much to say more than that it revolves around the brutal repression of the walkaways, and their use of nonviolent resistance in response, after they develop a technology that the ultra-rich of “default” society find threatening.

The description of this conflict takes up more than two-thirds of the book, which is likely too much of it. In too many places, the latter portions of Walkaway drag. After reading the first 225 or so pages, I found myself wondering when it would ever end; I kept reading only because I wanted to see how Doctorow would resolve the conflict between the walkaways and “default.”

Anther problem with the book is that it seems disjointed at times. This is in part due to Doctorow’s using five p.o.v. characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem (see George Turner’s effective use of multiple [five] p.o.v.s in Drowning Towers), but it is here. Doctorow switches from one to another purely to advance the story, with the amount of time devoted to the different p.o.v.s varying considerably; and, as Walkaway progresses, it all but abandons the p.o.v. of what I originally thought was the primary p.o.v. character.

It doesn’t help that there’s little if any overlap — no differing views of the same things, a la Rashomon — in the events described from the different p.o.v.s, which aggravates the disjointedness problem.

Still, Walkaway‘s virtues — especially it’s detailed, attractive portrayal of a libertarian post-scarcity society — outweigh its faults.

Walkaway is quite probably the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written.

Recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, and on an unrelated sci-fi novel, in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover

Advertisements

There seem to be two explanations for Donald Trump’s attacks on the courts, media, and objective reality: 1) He’s a whining, self-pitying baby who simply can’t stand it when he doesn’t immediately get his own way; 2) He wants to pull a full-Stalin by undermining the institutions that stand in his way — the judiciary and free press — and by creating a false reality in which his followers simply accept his bald-faced lies and self-contradictory statements while ignoring abundant and immediately presented contradictory evidence.

These two explanations are not mutually exclusive; both are probably correct.

So, what do we have to look forward to from Trump and his Republican enablers?

  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act without anything approaching an adequate replacement. Trump and the congressional Republicans will almost certainly take their cues from the insurance industry and big pharma, making healthcare less available and more expensive for the vast majority of people. Probability: Virtually certain. 7-stars-72

 

  • Assaults on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Congressional Republicans will push for “entitlement reform” (never mind that people paid for these things through payroll taxes), which will amount to at the very least reduction in cost-of-living increases for Social Security and reduction of benefits for Medicare and Medicaid recipients, and more stringent eligibility requirements for Medicaid recipients. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Full-scale privatization of Social Security and Medicare. The more ideological (read Ayn Rand worshiping) Republicans, such as Paul Ryan, will push hard for this. If this happens, they’ll likely sell it by leaving a weakened Social Security system and Medicare in place for those over 45 or 55, and privatizing both for those under those age limits. This would result in not only younger people losing those benefits in decades to come, but also resentment among them at paying for benefits for older people which they themselves won’t get. Probability: All too possible. 
    4-stars-72

 

  • Increased voter suppression. The Republicans have used entirely manufactured scare stories about “massive voter fraud” at the ballot box, while providing no evidence whatsoever of it, to push through restrictive laws in states across the country that make it more difficult to register to vote (e.g., among the elderly without photo ID and the poor who don’t have cars who’d have to travel to get state ID) and to cast ballots (restricting early voting). This has resulted in the disenfranchisement, at minimum, of hundreds of thousands of voters, and more likely millions of voters. Now, the Republicans seem poised to do this on a national scale. They’re unpopular (look at their approval ratings), desperate to hang onto power, and are very obviously willing to do anything to retain it, including betraying America’s (supposed) democratic principles. Probability: Very, very high. 
    6-stars-72

 

  • Use of a terrorist incident to suppress civil liberties. The chance of Trump creating a “false flag” terrorist incident are low, simply because of Trump and accomplices’ overall incompetence and the outright loathing the intelligence agencies have for Trump; they very probably wouldn’t allow him to get away with this. On the other hand, if there’s continued instability in the Trump Administration, and continued appointment of the grossly incompetent to decision-making positions, it’s all too possible, in part because Trump is playing into ISIS’s and Al-Qaeda’s hands through his fear-mongering rhetoric and Muslim ban. If there were a major terrorist incident, we can expect demonization of all critical voices and opposition movements, legislation restricting freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. Probability: Likely under 50/50, but only because of the professionals in the intelligence agencies. 3-stars-72

 

  • Worsening economic inequality. Trump’s economic policies overall, basically trickle-down economics (or as Jim Hightower puts it, “tinkle-down” economics), will result in continued and worsening economic inequality. Lowering taxes on the rich and corporations will do nothing to create new jobs, because demand creates jobs, not “job creators.” When low- and middle-income people receive more money, they spend almost all of it on food, consumer goods, utilities, and services — they have to. This creates jobs. When the rich receive more money, they spend it on stock buybacks, real estate (among other things, driving up the cost of housing), and luxury goods, such as yachts. This creates very few jobs. And this is the direction in which billionaire, entitled-heir Trump is headed. Probability: Virtually certain.
    7-stars-72

 

  • Continued scapegoating, fear-mongering, and demonization of all opposition. The Clintons, Barack Obama, and the other corporate Democrats paved the way for Trump’s success through their betrayal of those who elected them, through their abject servility to the corporate elite; this resulted in long-simmering anger among working and middle class people. Trump has taken full advantage of this anger and will continue to do so. Probability: Certain. 7-stars-72

 

 


In a recent interview, Bernie  Sanders explained the divide-and-conquer tactics of the ruling class. He began by talking about the lowest-paid white workers in the country during the Civil Rights era: Mississippians.

 

What did the whole system tell these white workers, who were the lowest-paid white workers in the U.S. — in other words, these workers were being exploited.

What they said is, you can go over to that water fountain and take a drink, and this black guy can’t. You can go to this bathroom, you can go to this restaurant — Man, you got it good!

Meanwhile, we’re paying you nothing.

So you divided blacks from white, in that case, whites from blacks.

It is what they always do.

And then they go, you see that woman over there? An uppity woman wants your job, man.

You’re not gonna let that woman take your job, you’ve got to divide from her. . . .

That has been what the ruling class has done over and over again. Why?

Because they understand that when we come together, if we fight for decent wages, for education for your kids, the right to Social Security, we win. If they divide us, they win.

 

What Sanders didn’t say, but could have, is that politically correct types are actively aiding and abetting the ruling class in their divide-and-conquer strategy. They do this by their focus on race, on guilt-tripping white working class people, telling them that they’re “privileged” and asking them dishonest, condescending questions such as “Are you a racist?” (The answer of course, as they’ll generously explain, is that all white people are racists–it doesn’t matter how you live your life, how you treat other people, you’re automatically a racist because you’re white.)

This is not the way to unite people. It’s a way to keep them divided–while at the same time allowing the condescending PC types who do this  crap to pat themselves on the back for being so enlightened.

Add in awkward, artificial, off-putting language that very, very few working class people ever use, and you end up with a situation where all too many white working class people think that all politically progressive people are upper class or academic PC jerks who use strange, ugly jargon, and who look down on them. And so, white working class folks flock to right-wing political manipulators who at least speak their language, but channel the white working class’s rage onto fellow victims.

Unfortunately, the ruling class’s divide-and-conquer strategy continues to work, driving the white working class into the arms of its exploiters. Aided and abetted by arrogant PC  types who focus on race rather than economics.

One hopes that PC leftists will learn that lesson and start being allies rather than obstacles to those of us trying to make the world a better place.

At minimum, one hopes that they’ll shut up and get out of the way.


John Wycliffe

“Lords devour poor men’s goods in gluttony and waste and pride, and they perish for mischief and thirst and cold, and their children also . . .  And so in a manner they eat and drink poor men’s flesh and blood.”

–John Wycliffe