Capitalism Is in Trouble. Socialist Principles Can Save It.
Should scientists and the more technological minded be given more power in a capitalist world?
Eric Weinstein is an American mathematician and economist. He earned his Ph.D in mathematical physics from Harvard University in 1992, is a research fellow at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University, and is a managing director of Thiel Capital in San Francisco. He has published works and is an expert speaker on a range of topics including economics, immigration, elite labor, mitigating financial risk and incentivizing of creative risks in the hard sciences.
ERIC WEINSTEIN: I get asked a lot about the state of capitalism and I think that for those members of society of a certain age we think of capitalism as being locked in an ideological battle with socialism perhaps or even communism.
But we never really saw that capitalism might be defeated by its own child – technology. And I think that what we find is that even the most diehard free market economists usually save place for what they call market failure.
That is, markets really only work when the value of something and the price of that object or service coincide. So the key question is: what causes value and price to get out of alignment? And, in fact, every government on earth has a form of levying taxes of some form, because at some level there are certain things that need to be paid for that cannot, in fact, be priced where they must be valued.
So, for example, raising a standing army is tough because if somebody chooses not to pay for it it’s very difficult to exclude them from the protection of that army. So that in general—what we find is that these market failures are found in every economy, but they are also hopefully a small portion of the economic activity so that we can deal with them as a special edge case.
Now the problem with this is that technology appears to do something about figuring out the size of that small slice and making it rather large. So, for example, if I record a piece of music, once upon a time if you wanted a high quality version of that music you had to go to the folks who actually pressed the record albums.
But now I can record music with arbitrary fidelity and share it as a small file. And my having a copy of that file doesn’t preclude anyone else from copying the file and using it themselves. There’s no question that the number of times I use that file doesn’t really degrade the file because it’s, in fact, digital. So in that situation musicians were among the first to feel the earth crumble beneath their feet and they had to find new business models because, in fact, they found that they had gone from producing a private good where price and value coincided to producing a public good.
And the idea of taxing people to pay for both an army and their diet of jazz and rock n’ roll probably didn’t make a lot of sense.So the danger is that more and more things are being turned into small files, and that means that the portion of the pie that is private goods is likely to shrink. This is one of several different forces.
Another one that I talked about in an essay called Anthropic Capitalism is that software has some very peculiar features.Traditionally technology has moved us from low value occupations into higher value occupations. So while we always decry the loss of jobs we usually create new jobs which are more fulfilling and less taxing.
And therefore those who have cried wolf when they’ve seen technology laying waste to the previous occupations, those people have usually just been wrong. The problem with software is that software spends most of its time in loops. Almost all code can be broken into two kinds of code. Code that runs once and never repeats and code that loops over and over and over. Unfortunately what jobs are is usually some form of a loop where somebody goes to work and does some version of whatever it is they’ve been trained to do every day. Now the danger of that is that what we didn’t realize is that our technical training for occupations maneuvers the entire population into the crosshairs of software. It’s not just a question in this case of being moved from lower value repetitive behaviors into higher ones.
But the problem is is that all repetitive behaviors are in the crosshairs of software. So it’s not that there’s nowhere to go; we still have the Rube Goldberg sections of code, where something will happen only once. You know: a company will be founded, never to be repeated. A poem will be composed that will never need to be recomposed.
But the problem here is that most people don’t see themselves as opportunists in this positive sense, right. They don’t see themselves as capable of doing these one off acts of inspiration, which will probably always be fairly highly rewarded. They see themselves as needing a repetitive behavior on which they can build their families, their hopes and their dreams. And in general that may be coming to a close. Even if that’s always been false in the past I think that there’s excellent reason to think that the era may have changed.
When we lost the ability to beat computers at chess we immediately thought of Go as being a deeper game. But that bought us a very small respite from the power of the computer.
And I don’t even know of anyone searching for new games more human-friendly than Go to maintain our edge. So I think it’s really important to understand that where we are is that we may need a hybrid model in the future which is paradoxically more capitalistic than our capitalism of today and perhaps even more socialistic than our communism of yesteryear, because so many souls will require respect and hope and freedom and choice who may not be able to defend themselves in the market as our machines and our software gets better and better.
And this is one of the reasons why something like universal basic income comes out of a place fiercely capitalistic like Silicon Valley, because despite the fact that many view the technologists as mercenary megalomaniacs, in fact, these are the folks who are closest to seeing the destruction that their work may visit upon the population.
And I don’t know I think of any 9, 10 or 11-figure individual at the moment that I’m familiar with who isn’t worrying about what we’re going to do to take care of those who may not be able to meet their expectations with training and jobs as in previous models.
Whether it’s truck and car-driving is one of the largest employers of working age men threatened by self-driving vehicles or any of the other examples. For example: computers that are capable of writing sports stories from the scores alone.
So in all of these cases I think the technology is actually forcing those who are most familiar with it to become most compassionate. And whether or not we are going to leaven our capitalism with some communism or start from some sort of socialist ideal and realize that if we don’t find a way to grow our pie very aggressively with the tiny number of individuals who are capable of taking over operations of great complexity, I think that we are going to have some kind of a hybrid system.
I wish I could tell you what it was going to look like but the fact is nobody knows. Universal basic income is very interesting but is clearly a first step and I would say really a first draft of a part of a theory that we just don’t have yet.
It’s hard to say whether I’m optimistic about the future. I’m very confused as to why our government is still populated with so many soft – let me try it again. Honestly I’m rather confused about whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. One of the things that I find most perplexing is that our government is still populated by people who come from sort of softer disciplines if you will. Whether that’s law, whether these people come from poli-sci, very few people in government come from a hard core technical background. There are very few senators who could solve a partial differential equation or representatives who could program a computer.
And I think that this is really a terrible inversion of what should be happening. As the world becomes more technically demanding it’s important that the children of engineers, mathematicians and scientists grow up with the children of politicians or executives.
And what we’ve seen is we’ve seen this terrible economic stratification where the technical professions were turned into support roles for this different leadership class.
Now during the 50s, for example, we would have university presidents who might come from a physics background such as we had at the University of Pennsylvania. The atomic bomb came out of World War II, as did radar. We came to understand the incredible power of computers like ENIAC and during that period of time there was a tremendous vogue for thinking of a technical intellectual elite that could, in fact, lead us into a more hopeful and technological scientific tomorrow.
Somewhere along the line that got lost and I’m very concerned that we have the technical talent to build an optimistic future, but that what for whatever reason we’re so terrified now of those technical folks that we keep attempting to subordinate them, to keep them on a leash, to make sure that they are not the ones in the know with power, with decision-making abilities.
And I think that if you look at a society like China’s, China’s certainly not falling for this trap and they are proceeding along a very different path.
So I think whether or not we understand where we are and we make the correct decisions for the optimistic future depends as to whether we have the right leadership class. Do we view our technical people as support staff for the true decision-makers or do we realize that, in fact, these are the people who should have been making the decisions all along?
I think if you think about, for example, the Challenger disaster it was the management class that didn’t understand the real risks. The engineers knew just how much risk was being taken. And I think that, in fact, if we could just invert that relationship we’d have a much better chance at an optimistic outcome.
America is falling behind when it comes to leadership, and it's pretty much directly correlated to how we value people with technical brains. They aren't given enough power, so much of the American way of the last 50 to 60 years or so has been marginalized by middle management types. The reason, Eric Weinstein argues, is that these types don't trust the smarter and more technical minded men and women. One example Weinstein gives is that university presidents 60 years ago might come from a physics or math background—now they're much more likely to be middle management types who have worked their way up the ladder using charm. Weinstein also makes an extremely valid point that technical talent can build a more optimistic future. This was certainly the case in the middle of the 20th century, but has been lost by the wayside. Meanwhile, superpowers like China have the same outlook we used to and are vaulting ahead in the world using the same mindset we used to have.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM
A strange object found in Utah desert has prompted worldwide speculation about its origins.
- A monolithic object found in a remote part of Utah caused worldwide speculation about its origins.
- The object is very similar to the famous monolith from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey".
- The object could be work of an artist or even have extraterrestrial origins.
1. ART OBJECT<p>Chances are, this is an art object. The shiny "monolith" appears to be bolted to the ground and made of metal. It also seems to be fastened with rivets, rather being a uniform block of more unexplainable production origin. Deserts are great places for unusual art installations as has been evidenced by art projects you can discover wondering through the desert ghost towns and faraway canyons of Nevada, California, Utah and New Mexico. Certainly, an artist with a sense of humor and an appreciation of Kubrick's genius could have installed such "sculpture" in hopes of exactly what is happening right now – viral fame.</p><p>On the other hand, there is evidence, courtesy of eagle-eyed <a href="https://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/jzkpad/helicopter_pilot_finds_strange_monolith_in_remote/gdg9qfi?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3" target="_blank">Google Earth sleuths</a>, that the object appeared in that location (somewhere near <a href="https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Canyonlands National Park</a>) in 2015-2016. So it's possibly been there for a few years. Would an artist have placed it there so long ago with the aim of having this type of success eventually?</p><p>A gallery owner <a href="https://www.9news.com.au/world/utah-monolith-desert-mystery-solved-john-mccracken-sculptor-artist-2001-a-space-odyssey/0bae1a27-5bd2-451e-90a6-393928d9ed02" target="_blank">claimed</a> the work may be a tribute to the art of the late artist John McCracken, who created similar-looking objects before he died in 2011. McCracken was part of the Light and Space movement with such artists as James Turrell, and was known to make his sculptures from plywood forms that were coated with fiberglass and polyester resin.</p><p>While the theory that the monolith was the work of a McCracken aficionado (or the artist himself) may hold some water due to the object's similarity, the fact that the artist died so long ago and the lack of clear incentive for anyone to have planted this years ago only to reveal it now work against this theory.</p>
John McCracken sculptures.