Who Wants to Run the World?
Google versus Facebook. Silicon Valley versus Hollywood. Wall Street versus Main Street. Increasingly, the rivalries and alliances that define our lives have nothing to do with kings, queens, or Congress. What we’re witnessing is a fundamental shift in the way our society is organized.
Megan Erickson is an Associate Editor at Big Think. Prior to Big Think, she taught reading and writing to ninth and tenth graders in NYC public schools and tutored students of all ages at the Stuyvesant Writing Center, which she helped launch. In her spare time, she worked in the communications department at the Center for Constitutional Rights and served as a mentor at the Urban Assembly, where she designed and led an extracurricular civics course on grassroots community action. She’s written on education, small business, and the arts for CNNMoney, Fortune Small Business, and The Huffington Post. Megan received her master’s degree in Education from Teachers College. You can reach her at email@example.com.
What's the Big Idea?
David Rothkopf remembers sitting in the office of Robert Rubin, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury under Clinton, and asking him whether he had any regrets about the dismantling of industry regulations over which the administration had presided in the 1990's. “Too big to fail isn’t a problem with the system. It is the system,” Rubin told him at the time.
As Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, Rothkopf oversaw the International Trade Administration during the 1990’s. What Rubin meant, he explains, is that as the world's multinational institutions get bigger, so too do its financial institutions.
And the world's multinational organizations, from corporations to NGOs, are getting very big. At 1.7 million, the number of people employed by Wal-Mart is larger than the government of New Zealand.
What we’re witnessing is a fundamental shift in the way our society is organized that is every bit as significant as the transition from feudalism to capitalism. “The international lay of the land is not what is taught in graduate schools. It’s not about state-to-state relations. It’s about state relations with non-state actors, non-state actor relations with semi-states,” says Rothkopf.
Google versus Facebook. Silicon Valley versus Hollywood. Wall Street versus Main Street. Increasingly, the rivalries and alliances that define our lives have nothing to do with kings, queens, or Congress. Many of the political and economic decisions that define our lives are now made by private, not public entities -- and they’re acting in a way that puts their self-interest as organizations above the self-interest of the countries in which they operate.
Why? Private companies and philanthropic organizations are not accountable to people at large, but to shareholders: as Rothkopf puts it, “The people don’t determine how their assets are going to be used." In the case of Facebook, for instance, the physical commons—the personal relationships we have in public spaces—are being replaced by the digital commons. But terms of service agreements and (often) lack of transparency limit the power of the individual and the community to control what we once thought of as fundamentally ours. Data, status updates, shopping habits: these become the property of whatever web site or service you happen to be using.
What's the Significance?
“We can’t sort of shrug it off and say oh yeah, these rich guys they’ll take care of us," says Rothkopf. "Warren Buffet is going to give a certain amount of his money and that’s going to make everything better. That’s not the same as having an effective government reallocating assets of everybody to the interest that people at large have determined are their priorities.” In Rothkopf's estimation, the rich guys have been doing a very poor job.
Case in point: the United States, where the gap between the rich and the poor is the highest it’s been since the Gilded Age. The 450 richest Americans have a net worth equivalent to the 150 million poorest Americans. That is not just an interesting statistic--it’s a complete breakdown of a society that prides itself on opportunity.
“When you look at the United States at the moment and you think about our future one of the things that you might ask is, what are we good at?” he says. The U.S. used to lead the world in job creation, infrastructure, and innovation. In the past ten years, the only thing it’s taken the lead in is creating institutionalized inequality.
The challenge is about more than casting a vote – it’s about changing the system from the inside out. We need to make institutions accountable again, and not just to the few at the top. The world needs global organizations specifically designed to counterbalance the power of global companies to ensure that they’re acting in the interest of the many people in the world, not just those who own stock in them.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.