Sometimes you click on a link somewhere, in something that you’re reading, which takes you to another link and another and another as you continue the train of thought of your line of inquiry as far as time allows. When that happens to me, often times the end of the line in the referrals process is a book, which I sometimes put in my Amazon cart and forget about it till it arrives at my doorstep and I pick up the book and try to figure out what I was thinking.
So it goes with “Four Futures”. This nasty little tome by Peter Frase isn’t really a book; it’s sort of more an extended whine replete – from the first sentence to the last (which I’ll admit I didn’t get to) – with tired recitations of the debunked thoughts of yesteryear and unsubstantiated assertions buttressed by outrage and insult as the only recourse by and for the weak-minded.
It used to be people would write to attempt to persuade others. It is widely believed that the best way to bring others around, to sway them to the validity of your claims is through the written word. Debates are hostile, arguments unhelpful – winners needing to show their dominance, losers attempting to not be humiliated in front of their peers. But the pen – in the quiet of night, darkness cut by the flickering flame of a candle that illuminates just as the black words on paper enlighten.
Those days are over, it would seem.
Specifically, “Four Futures” looked – at least when I mistakenly bought it – to be an outside-the-box presentation of four ways the world could see itself reorganized if things continue to go as they currently are. ‘Currently are’ means technological innovation continues to undermine employment and environmental degradation continues to cause life conditions to worsen for people who are degrading their environments. Indira Gandhi, Frase is not. “Poverty is the greatest polluter,” to Frase has given way to – wait for it – rapacious evil of corporations motivated only by a conspiracy of greed.
What does Frase propose? Ignore “climate deniers”, they are crackpots anyways; really try what Marx was trying for (of course not the half-hearted attempts of Pol Pot, Hugo Chavez and Joseph Stalin – but really do it!); condemn the corporate interests and the managerial elite, etc. How to do this? Read Keynes and Krugman – never mind that those two have been widely debunked. Never mind that Frase doesn’t seem to understand spontaneous order; can’t figure out issues of scarcity; and still pines for that simplified planned world that has produced famine after famine after famine. As I tried to read this book (I didn’t go very far, neither should you), I channeled Ayn Rand a little bit – for giggles. As Frase decried the fallacy of Wall-E’s portrayal of post-work, technologically advanced humanity (I’m not kidding) while he defended the idea of “Universal Basic Income” which, he claims, doesn’t have to produce sloth and deviance, I imagined what Rand would have said about Frase’s workless world. Machines producing for the consumptive purposes of the listless masses; what could go wrong?
Of course forget that we have the technology that we have because of capitalism which, though imperfect, actually does take into consideration incentives; forget that the only solution for greed is competition, and that planning just makes another less-accountable elite; forget that planned economies do not work because the profit motive is the only way for humanity to allocate its scarce resources. And forget that in rich places the environment is getting better: reforestation and water purification and detoxifying our rivers while in poor, workless places the environmental damage continues relentlessly. Or, for the know-nothings, better yet just forget everything humanity has learned about itself since we pulled ourselves from grinding poverty and 35 year life-expectancy. I’m sure that’s gonna work!!
All that to say – don’t read this book. And if you can figure out a way I can un-read it, I’d be grateful for the hint.