As the NBA basketball world enters its post-season inside its comfortable bubble, players continue to try to highlight inequality. 2020 has forced America to face its fundamental flaws, and sports is a short reprieve from the problems of the day. But games are a diversion.
Si ves deportes, es divertido.
Watch Sports, it is fun, is the loose translation of the above quote. But the word Divertido and Deportes both contain roots that mean “Diversion” or “Take away.” And, quite frankly, that is the danger. The world is beset with income and racial inequality. We are in the midst of a new technological revolution and a global pandemic. In times like these, a nightly diversion is welcome, but there is danger. The danger is that we lose focus on what forces are pushing us farther apart.
As the Philadelphia 76ers entered the bubble in Orlando, Brett Brown mentioned how often this topic comes up in the locker room “Racial injustice discussion and incredibly sort of powerful real sad examples that lead us to this topic, and we talk about it all the time.”
The US spends 1.7B per year on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but 115B on police depts. The SEC fights white-collar crime, Police fight street crime. The result is massive income inequality, which begets street crime. We are simply failing to live up to our core principles of opportunity and equality.
A country is not a geographic region, it is a shared set of principles. And America’s most important principle is equality. Our founders baked it into our Declaration of Independence. There are arguments about Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of outcomes. That sounds like a fair philosophical debate. From a pure numbers standpoint, there is very little equality of opportunity in the United States as currently constructed. Not all children born into the world have equal educational opportunities. Sleep conditions, and healthy nutrition all vary wildly. The “equality of opportunity” argument is dead on arrival until we fix this.
Egalitarianism is a school of thought based around equality and dignity. It is a political philosophy that prioritizes equality and fairness. And you don’t have to theorize, the numbers are clear. In Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology, the fundamental mismatch between theory and data is explored in detail.
Piketty uses 200 plus years of economic and tax data from the US, England, and France to provide a look at the realities of our continuing debate over macro and microeconomic theories. The news would have us pick a side between Marxism and Adam Smith. But like our political duopoly, this is presented as a false choice to keep humanity from looking at modern society with fresh eyes and demanding updated solutions.
Adam Smith was an 18th-century theorist. His work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, remains a founding principle to the current American economic ideology. This theory gets tremendous credit for incentivizing the expansion and conquering of the American empire, but in the age of automation, optimization, this theory shows signs of age. The US had a population of 2.5 million people in 1776, and the world was 770 million. In 2020 the US has a population of 330 million, and the world is approaching 8 billion people.
Marx was a 19th-century German philosopher who coined the phrase “Workers of the world, Unite!”. Marx is vilified by most and blamed for the atrocities of the 20th-century Russian regimes. The Bolsheviks used his simple message of “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” as a rallying cry to overthrow the Russian monarchy to gain power.
In reality, however, Marx was a critique of the problems of Adam Smith’s philosophy AND the feudalist concepts of European monarchal exploitation of labor. Both theorists attacked a similar challenge, the exploitation of ordinary people by those in power. Both theorists sought to empower humanity, albeit in very different ways. Marx’s primary critique of capitalism was that it did not address the core problem of valuing labor only as a means to fetishize commodities and products.
Neither Marxism nor Adam Smith holds the answer for the looming challenges of the 21st century. The modern world requires new values beyond labor and productivity. Those two, previously sacrosanct, values are increasingly handled by robots and algorithms. Humanity needs to find a new path to dignity. That path must start with a rethinking of what a life should mean.
In 2020 humanity is facing a crisis that is decades in the making. We face an exploding technology sector that is optimizing every aspect of production, often to the elimination of labor entirely. The human population is exploding, and automation continues to accelerate. What is left is an ever-widening gap between what is needed and who is required. And humans are feeling the pressure of looming obsolescence and uselessness while also being told from early on that work and productivity is our primary measure of success.
And no segment of the population is hit harder by this reality than our minorities. In an economic crisis, those in power will tighten their grip on power and seek to marginalize anyone, not in their “tribe.” Sadly, human nature drives this behavior. But it needs to change.
Ultimately our society will be judged by our ability to succeed together. In 200-500 years, I predict that historians will look back on the number of Billionaires in the 21st century the same way we look back on lesser Nobles of the 16th century. What metrics will history use to judge us? I would posit that history will judge us by our poverty rates, our average quality of life, and our justice for all humans. Nothing America achieved from 1776-1950 will matter if we don’t accomplish the founding principle of “All Men Are Created Equal.”
We are definitely brainstorming around a lot ideas to make real impact and real change and to do something that we know that we’re going to be proud of. – Tobias Harris July 2020
Everyone is Scared
So as everyday people and police clash in our streets, remember everyone is scared. Those in a majority demographic but lacking any real economic power are circling their wagons. When you don’t feel secure, you don’t feel like you can help anyone but yourself. Minority populations are drowning between being told they’re lives are worthless both by being thrust onto “essential workers” and being killed at alarming rates. Meanwhile, the system we have is only effective at funneling money to the top of the economic ladder.
So politicians will argue about the reasons why. But look at who punches up and who punches down. This is a simple way to measure who has good intentions and who does not. If someone blames a minority group, they are likely to feed the vicious cycle we have today. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t divert your attention from the real issues. Egalitarianism is our finest ideal, we need to find a way to live up to it.
Election day is November 3rd.