The world has changed. Many ideologies that were previously thought to be correct by many have now been debunked. We are attaining a new level of understanding of how our society should work, and when governments should intervene in private actions. However, the greatest change is yet to come.
The Profit Incentive
Many conservatives thought that corporations should be in charge of everything, and that the private sector will always operate more efficiently than the public one. They really felt that taking away the autonomy of the health insurance companies was akin to crushing the free market and leading America down a slippery slope to socialism. After all, if the government is controlling your health insurance, what says that they can’t tell you what work you can do or what business you can operate.
The reality is that there has to be a balance in society between private enterprise and public organizations. Our society has decided that fire protection, crime prevention, justice, delivery of mail, national defense, record keeping, education of our children, and several other services are best placed in the hands of the government. Meanwhile, the private sector is in charge of distributing consumer goods, food, professional services and real property, among others. Why is this?
There are certain services for which the profit incentive is fundamentally misaligned with the good of society, whereas there are other services for which that incentive allows more goods and services to be produced, allows society to progress, and gives us the sense of freedom that drives the democratic system.
Policing is a perfect example of this misalignment. Imagine if police would only protect you if you purchased crime insurance. The poor would be subject to murder and violence without any repercussion. Vigilante justice would prevail, and total anarchy would result.
Computers, on the other hand, are best controlled by the profit incentive. Computer companies are incentivised by profits to make newer and greater computers so consumers will buy them. Some individuals may be priced out of the computer market, but that can be considered acceptable by society. Not having a computer may be a disadvantage, but it would not cause pain and suffering like not having healthcare does.
The fundamental difference is whether society decides that something should be a right or a privilege. The privilege of owning a house, getting a computer or hiring an attorney puts those items in the private category. But the right of being protected from fire or crime, or of getting decent medical treatment if sick necessitates government intervention.
The Exchange System
Although I did not get my public option, the Obama health care exchange system will serve to realign the health care system in a positive way. With the public option, the government insurer would be able to bargain with health providers to lower expenses.
The exchange system simply keeps the insurer as a middle man. However, customers are able to collectively bargain with the insurance companies by making individual choices on a grand scale (by simply purchasing the cheapest and best health insurance). The insurance companies will be forced to bargain with the healthcare providers to maintain lower costs. If an insurer does not bargain, a different insurer who does bargain will get their customers. The government will subsidize insurance costs for the middle class, and therefore will be able to dictate which plans get subsidies.
The inevitable result of this exchange will be the emergence of a select group of extremely large insurance providers, possibly just one. The government will either control this one insurer, or break it up into two that would compete. Health care costs will be lower, and insurance will be available to more individuals.
The Regulated Private Sector
There are some categories in society that do not neatly fit into the public or private sectors. Hence, the regulated private sector becomes necessary.
The illicit drug market is a great example of the consequences of a completely unregulated, lawless market. When I say lawless, I realize that there are laws banning drugs. But there are no laws governing the sale, transportation, cultivation, or delivery of drugs, which means that any disputes in the industry must be settled through vigilante justice. Hence the large crime wave that emerged along with the drug wars of the eighties and early nineties. Gangs were fighting for drug selling territory, and since there was no legitimate mechanism for settling disputes, they resorted to violence and murder to do so.
The war on drugs demonstrates that even though society may have an extreme animosity towards certain goods or services, the fact that there is a demand for those goods will inevitably create a market. It is therefore the prerogative of government to provide a mechanism by which that demand can be satisfied through legal means. Otherwise, anarchy results. The government needs to legalize, regulate, and create disincentives for the use of drugs, not simply throw every drug user or dealer into jail or prison.
The Financial Sector
The financial sector is another example of a market that needs government regulation to succeed. The recent crisis has shown us that if left to their own devises, really smart individuals will make poor decisions if their incentives are misaligned. Why would banks take such risky bets on mortgage backed securities when it should have been obvious that the system would be crushed if housing prices fell. The answer is that banks, as public corporations, are incentivised by short term profits, not long term sustainability. Mortgage backed securities provided such great returns that bankers did not think about the risks that they were taking. It is for this same reason that Enron continued its fraudulent accounting practices until it became insolvent, or that Madoff kept taking new money into his Ponzi scheme even though he knew that it would collapse if new money stopped coming in.
The government has to step in to protect investors’ money from people who are investing it unwisely for current gains. The libertarian mantra of less government is always better is now a fallacy. Sometimes, government intervention is necessary. Monopoly busting was an early form of positive government intervention. Post-depression financial reforms kept the financial system relatively stable. It was when those reforms were reversed that this crisis occurred.
I recently had a conversation with an individual who claimed to be part of the end the fed movement. He concluded that the Federal Reserve caused the great recession by keeping interest rates too low for too long, thereby encouraging too much borrowing, which led to the mortgage meltdown.
Although keeping rates low may have been a small factor in causing certain individuals to get mortgages who should not have, low rates did really not matter that much. Many sub-prime borrowers were given mortgages regardless of whether they could afford the interest payments. Banks gave out variable rate mortgages knowing that rates would eventually go up and that the borrower would not be able to afford his or her house. It was the banks, who were not properly regulated by the federal government, that caused the recession; not the Fed.
The Federal Reserve, led by Bernanke, has had just as much of an impact, if not more, than the federal government, led by Paulson, Geithner and Obama, in ending the recession and leading to the current turnaround. While the government was managing $350 billion in bailouts to artificially prop up the economy, the Fed was managing trillions. The Fed is like the great counterbalance in our society. It is independent from the government, so as to ensure that economically sound decisions are not affected by politicians judgment. It has to be, and needs to remain independent.
I have been thinking a lot about what this all means in the grand scheme of things. The truth is, the economy, law and politics are all insignificant when compared to the revolution that we are currently experiencing. Humanity is at the end of its 60,000 year reign as the most advanced species on earth, and is about to be the first species to be replaced by its own creation.
Recently, a 2,000,000 year old fossil was discovered showing an intermediary species between humans and apes. Although this species may not necessarily be a direct ancestor of modern humans, it provides even greater proof of our natural origins, providing evidence of an intermediary species between early hominids and Homo Erectus, the most successful hominid in the history of the world. Homo Erectus roamed the earth from over a million years ago to the time of early humans . The new species is just one species discovered among many that have already been unearthed. We lived alongside one of our inferior relatives, the Neanderthal, for almost 10,000 years in Europe, a period ending approximately 20,000 years ago. That is a period of time longer than human civilization has existed as we know it.
Humans have been continually evolving, even though from a physiological standpoint, we are probably not very different from our ancestors who lived alongside those Neanderthals. Through civilization and technology, we have been able to maximize the productivity of our earthly forms, providing ourselves with extreme amounts of knowledge and using technology to allow us to interact with the world in a more efficient way. We have created numerous ways to express ourselves, and have made the world smaller by creating efficient methods of transportation.
Unfortunately, we have reached the limits of our earthly forms. Futurists predict that within the next 50 years, computers will have matched and surpassed our level of intelligence. They call this the singularity principle, as the distinction between humans and computers will no longer exist, making us one singular being.
The logical conclusion is that humans will have to become one with computers in order to compete. Those of us that survive to that period of time will have to augment ourselves, becoming cyborgs. Those who cannot afford this augmentation will become an inferior species that will likely eventually die out, as the Neanderthals and dinosaurs did.
The only thing that will prevent this from happening is literally a global catastrophe like one never seen by humanity. Technology as we know it would have to be destroyed. Even the greatest catastrophes, the great world wars or global epidemics, could only delay the progress of technology, not halt it. In many cases, those catastrophes actually increased progress. Although an earth shattering event could happen, I would give it an extremely low likelihood, since economics, technology, diplomacy and science have allowed us to progress to a point where such threats are diminished. A great technological roadblock (such as the end of Moores law, which will happen within the next 20 years) may present itself, but it will be overcome eventually, as all technological roadblocks are.
We Become God
After thousands of years of looking to the skies thinking that there were invisible creatures out there more advanced than ourselves that crafted us into being, it is time to realize that we are in fact the creator creature. We will create life forms much more advanced and complex than our naturally occurring selves, and those life forms will create even more advanced life forms. The only thing we can be certain of is that we do not travel to the past to visit our ancestors, at least not in such a way as to make our presences known.
And So It Goes
We stand at the foot of the great turning point in humanity. We are about to experience the greatest global economic and technological boom that the world has ever seen. We have braved the storm of the great recession, and now will be passengers on this great ride to the end of humanity as we know it. Hopefully, we will maintain our health and life so that we can be a part of it. Otherwise, c’est la vie.