Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rush vs. Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff, a great favorite of many of us around these parts, has a commentary up at CNN, arguing that in the age of automation it may not still be possible or desirable to center domestic policy on trying to make sure everyone has a job. He doesn't use the words "guaranteed income," but that's the concept: "We're living in an economy where productivity is no longer the goal, employment is. That's because, on a very fundamental level, we have pretty much everything we need. America is productive enough that it could probably shelter, feed, educate, and even provide health care for its entire population with just a fraction of us actually working."

It's an interesting essay. But this is, truth to tell, not a suggestion that originated with Rushkoff. Robert Anton Wilson said similar things many years ago, and before him, Philip Jose Farmer explored similar notions in his Hugo Award winning novella, "Riders of the Purple Wage" (one of my all-time favorite stories.)

But it's certainly a bold opinion to post at a mainstream site such as CNN, and there has been pushback.
Rush Limbaugh went on the air to read much of it aloud, and attack it. (Transcript here.)

Limbaugh claims not to know who Rushkoff is; I'm not sure if he meant it or just used it as an excuse to get off an amusing line ("Now, he's got a Wikipedia entry, but everybody has a Wikipedia entry ... ")

Limbaugh also mocks Rushkoff for being a "media theorist," but perhaps if Rush read Program or Be Programmed, he'd realize that Rushkoff's ideas deserve to be taken seriously. Rush can get off to a good start by reading my interview with Rushkoff.

4 comments:

beowulf1723 said...

What Rushkoff is proposing isn't really new. No less a luminary than Milton Friedman proposed something similar -- a fact which is studiously ignored by his fans, much as Adam Smith's condemnation of corporations is.

Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage" was first published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions Anthology. It is indeed a "dangerous vision' for people like Limbaugh.

beowulf1723 said...

What Rushkoff is proposing isn't really new. No less a luminary than Milton Friedman proposed something similar -- a fact which is studiously ignored by his fans, much as Adam Smith's condemnation of corporations is.

Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage" was first published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions Anthology. It is indeed a "dangerous vision' for people like Limbaugh.

beowulf1723 said...

Opps. Sorry about the double post.

John David Galt said...

"He who contests the existence of economics virtually denies that man's well-being is disturbed by any scarcity of external factors. Everybody, he implies, could enjoy the perfect satisfaction of all his wishes, provided a reform succeeds in overcoming certain obstacles brought about by inappropriate man-made institutions. Nature is open-handed, it lavishly loads mankind with presents. Conditions could be paradisaic for an indefinite number of people. Scarcity is an artificial product of established practices. The abolition of such practices would result in abundance.
...
Such is the myth of potential plenty and abundance. Economics may leave it to the historians and psychologists to explain the popularity of this kind of wishful thinking and indulgence in daydreams. All that economics has to say about such idle talk is that economics deals with the problems man has to face on account of the fact that his life is conditioned by natural factors. It deals with action, i.e., with the conscious endeavors to remove as far as possible felt uneasiness. It has nothing to assert with regard to the state of affairs in an unrealizable and for human reason even inconceivable universe of unlimited opportunities. In such a world, it may be admitted, there will be no law of value, no scarcity, and no economic problems. These things will be absent because there will be no choices to be made, no action, and no tasks to be solved by reason. Beings which would have thrived in such a world would never have developed reasoning and thinking. If ever such a world were to be given to the descendants of the human race, these blessed beings would see their power to think wither away and would cease to be human. For the primary task of reason is to cope consciously with the limitations imposed on man by nature, to fight against scarcity. Acting and thinking man is the product of a universe of scarcity in which whatever well-being can be attained is the prize of toil and trouble, of conduct popularly called economic."

-- Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, Part Four, Ch. XIV, section 1.

This, I believe, is the danger that Farmer was trying to warn us of in Riders of the Purple Wage.

Wilson was not the first to come up with the idea of the "R.I.C.H. Economy," and he won't be the last. But the idea makes no sense for human beings who want to stay human, or even transhuman. Only someone seeking nirvana (oblivion) should consider going there.