A former hedge fund manager who bought a drug company has hiked the price of a generic drug 55x to pay for the purchase. The drug was $13.50 a dose but is now $750.00. It costs $1 to produce. The drug treats toxoplasmosis and is widely used by sufferers of AIDS.
So clearly Martin Shkreli, the capitalist in question, is all about the money. No morals. No philanthropy. In fact rather the opposite. What does that say about our society? When the winners take all? It’s not that he should be punished. It’s not that his wealth should be confiscated. It’s that we should ask ourselves what kind of civilisation we are choosing when this kind of behaviour appears “justifiable”, because it doesn’t seem just to me.
If the highest achievers, the brightest stars, the richest, the winners are only interested in taking more, shouldn’t we all wonder what morals our civilisation promotes? It’s not that people are bad – everyone’s “good”. But the result of all our choices promotes a dynamic which appears quite feudal and therefore inflexible, often unfair and probably dysfunctional. Certainly we are seeing the cracks in our civilisation – economic crisis, immigration crisis, food crisis, …
The solution? Change our choices. Each of us can make small changes which determine the shape of civilisation. What we eat, what we wear, what we consume, what we waste. Our individual behaviour results in the civilisation we have, including a hedge fund manager taking more stuff from people in already difficult circumstances.
The prospect of your job being automated is increasing. The convergence of neuroscience, computing, biology and engineering has already made robotic prosthetics a reality and everyone carries a small thinking machine so that they can remember phone numbers, birthdays etc (media device/phone).
We are certainly choosing a future in which we don’t work. We haven’t addressed the consequences in a thoughtful way evidenced by the unchanged platitudes by politicians, ongoing agglomeration of industry and commerce (get big to survive) with its attendant pyramid of wages (little at the bottom, inconceivable wealth at the top) and public education systems still modelled on the factory.
Everyone is good, yet somehow the product of our civilisation is often pain and suffering.
More people are becoming aware that something needs to change and are even doing something about it. Simply talking about the challenges is a start, while others initiate changes in behaviour such as what they eat or wear. But engaging a big picture perspective is difficult and can seem futile because the system seems dysfunctional.
The text below is from a blog about morals (personal) and ethics (system) which is a short read offering insight in to the nature of the problem. Perhaps having read it you might contrive ways in which you can contribute to system enlightenment in your work and life, before this civilisation implodes like all those before it. Enjoy …
Our current ethical system requires politicians to act unethically, to do great harm to people they don’t know, while protecting those they do. This can hardly be denied, and was on display in the 2007/8 financial collapse and the bailout after. The millions of homeowners and employees politicians and central bankers did not know were not helped, and the people the politicians and central bankers and treasury officials did know, were bailed out. Austerity, likewise, has hurt people politicians don’t know, while enriching the corporate officers and rich they do know.
I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible- Jew, Gentile, black men, white…
We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each others’ happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery ,we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.
Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.”
The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder!
Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate!
Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.
Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.
Let us all unite.
Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!
Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance!
Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.
Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!
The death of John and Alicia Nash on 23 May brought attention to game theory and the Nash Equilibrium, which offer insights into resolving the problems of today’s world.
As The Economist succinctly says: “In the real world of less-than-perfect competition, a “Nash equilibrium” may well be stable, but not optimal.” Game theory shows that competition yields a sub-optimal stability, which can only be enhanced by cooperation.
Today we live in a world where resource constraints are not just widening the chasm between “haves” and “have-nots” but are destroying the fabric of nature upon which all life depends. Human consumption is reducing access to clean water, land and air, is eliminating species and people increasingly rely upon junk (food, fashion and stuff) to prop up our confidence.
The way to reverse the destruction of the biosphere is to reduce consumption which can only be achieved with a cooperative approach to resource allocation. At the root of this cooperation must be the sharing of technology which allows efficient production and allocation of food, clothing, housing, energy.
A cooperative approach is not a bureaucratic approach, it is not mechanical and it can not be maintained with laws. Cooperation is founded on a culture of empathy which engenders trust which reduces enterprise overheads. The root of a the solution to resource constraints is in cultural maturity.
John Nash showed this scientifically half a century ago. Many others have shared the same wisdom over the centuries, but have been drowned out by the confidence of political and economic ego.
Of course, there’s really no trouble with being rich, but … family is where issues arise because that’s what’s usually neglected.
If you made it you probably had to work hard which took you away from your family. Whether you made or received it, you probably have responsibilities which you feel take you away from family. Either way you might give your family the things they want because you want the best for them or just because they expect it. So they live in a big house, ride in a fine car, jet off to hols and have the latest gear. The trouble arises because what people need is you.
You might give your family the best schooling, clothing, holidays etc but you probably just don’t spend quality time together. The “stuff” without the “touchy feely” invariably nurtures weak consciousness and a moral compass that spins easily. The values that cement civilisation, like honesty underpinning trust and empathy underpinning care, are weak so while everyone looks marvellous their happiness is compromised. And probably yours too.
It is ironic that it is family that suffers most because relationships make human experience rich and wonderful.
The solution is simple, though difficult because it requires a change in perspective. The solution is to give more time to family. That is difficult because, as the entrepreneur or founder or guardian of the wealth, you are busy and feel the need to work and fulfil responsibilities. But if you spend time with family, playing as well as working, you help nurture a positive culture in which the sense of entitlement is replaced by one of duty and responsibility, greed is replaced by empathy and anger replaced with humour.
You don’t even have to be that rich for these issues to be pertinent. Anyone with any prospect of succession will face family issues. The best way to minimise problems is to admit they could be happening and try to separate ownership of assets from management of assets from family relationships.
Tension is rising is the USA. Two US police officers were shot dead in Mississippi. Last week.a New York police officer was shot in the head while questioning a suspect from his police car. And riots bubbled in Baltimore after a suspect died in police custody. The mood is confused and angry.
The issue is justice. Minorities in America (non-whites, females, etc) have been depreciated by law and culture for too long. The solutions of education, jobs, and infrastructure have been neglected in favour of guns and incarceration.
System change is afoot. We can choose a soft landing by opening up opportunities, sharing resources, and the “rich giving to the poor”. Even if we do, cynicism and history means people will be sceptical of change for a while. But the longer we continue using command and control approaches the worse it will get.
In Europe, refugees are dying by hundreds as they try to escape feudal regimes, bereft of opportunity. Many are people like us – farmers, teachers, postal workers, shop keepers, even doctors and engineers. We can do more to stop them drowning, though, the real solution is again to promote education, infrastructure and jobs while reducing access to guns.
As long as we continue to turn a blind eye to unethical behaviour in the middle east, even to the extent of investing in weapons, the violence will continue. As long as we allow capital and corporal punishment in our own judicial systems the global moral compass will continue to spin.
We can’t stop earthquakes, like the recent one in Nepal. But we spent fewer, even no, resources on weapons, there would be more for education, infrastructure and jobs and emergency supplies for inevitable tragedies which will become more invasive as climate change and biodiversity loss impacts food supplies and our habitat.
Sadly, the push back against ignorance, immorality and injustice is going to get worse. The sooner global cultural enlightenment can emerge the sooner humankind’s destruction of our own living systems will be reversed.
It’s not as though it wasn’t expected. The behaviour and algorithms users and social media networks are intended to filter ideas to suit our individual perspective. That’s a major reason people use the big engines like Google and Facebook.
But that behaviour encourages groupthink. The user only clicks on stories and links that match their own desires and perspective and the engine tends to serve stories and links that the user prefers to click. It’s a self-reinforcing process.
The result is that you get a narrower view of the world. You don’t hear stories or connect with people that you have differences with. This reduces your information as well as your perspective. That means you don’t develop ideas; your thinking is less critical.
The solution? Every now and then, click links that you would normally avoid. Even if you don’t read them it will diversify the feed you get from the big engines. Use a different search engine which does not track your behaviour so that the search results are generic and diverse (try duckduckgo or ixquick for exmaple).
It happens that as the UK goes to the polls today many marginal constituencies are based in rural areas and expose an unexpected economic vacuum throughout the economy.
The numbers are striking. Very wealthy people live next to swathes of people surviving on charity who would rather work but jobs are scarce and low paid.
The Cotswolds charm tens of millions of tourists each year. It is a place that provides a rural sanctuary for billionaires. …. but it is the hub for many more who are in such a financial crisis that they are unable to feed themselves.
Maybe the issue is not about red or blue, labour or conservative, but about a system change in which it is recognised that the city is dead without its hinterland, that people need work however much automation is available and that the gulf between rich and poor is not about equality but about fairness, justice, equity. Human beings need sustenance and love.