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By Refusing Socialism, We've Become a Society of Luddites
There are better ways to run our economy. But we choose to ignore, and sometimes, destroy them.
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If you don’t recall from your middle school history class, the Luddites were a group of militants in 19th-century England who destroyed textile machinery in an attempt to preserve their way of life. Coming from both the laboring class and the small merchant class, Luddites were threatened by mass production, as its increased productivity required fewer workers and made boutique textile artisans obsolete. With their backs against the wall, the followers of Ned Ludd saw the sabotage of human advancement as their only salvation from obscurity and starvation. It goes without saying their attempts failed, and history condemned them as fools.
Today, “Luddites” is a derogatory remark, defined as: “a person opposed to new technology or ways of working.” Of course, this is not how the Luddites would have described themselves. Undoubtedly, this militant sect didn’t see themselves as agents of destruction, but as defenders of a status quo they felt was risky to change. Ironically, though we members of contemporary society mock the Luddites for their inability to see beyond the limitations of their time, we are repeating their mistakes.
No, we don’t bash and burn machines that accelerate production, and we don’t wield hammers for malicious intent. But, we are opposed to new technologies and ways of working, as they threaten the fundamentals of our Capitalist society. It is in this regard that we are a society of Luddites.
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The Better Ways of Working
In many sectors of our economy, better ways of working are easily apparent. But because they deviate from our traditional doctrine of Capitalism, and would detriment the Capitalist class by eliminating their profits, we refuse them. While the 19th-century Luddites broke superior economic instruments with fire and axe, contemporary Luddites halt our natural advancement with less visible measures, such as fear-mongering, baseless charges of slothfulness, and the outright refusal to consider our modern society might not be the ultimate form of humanity.
Take for example the Biden administration’s recent decision to block the merger of JetBlue and Spirit airlines.
Citing the need for low-cost competition in the air travel industry, the Executive Branch is attempting to destroy what could become a potentially superior economic asset in hopes of preserving our current way of life. Were these two airlines to merge, the owners of all airlines would benefit and travelers would suffer. But were the airlines to merge, and then become the property of the American people through a process of nationalization, there would be a permanent, low-cost option for all Americans to travel on. Additionally, instead of a large portion of the economic activity created by this airline being siphoned from the American economy by Capitalist profit, nationalization would better us by funding infrastructure, social programs, and anti-poverty measures.
So while nationalizing JetBlue, Spirit, and other airlines would be a new technology that improves humanity, we’ve chosen to destroy that machine before it even exists.
(You can find more about my ideas to nationalize the airline in this post.)
The same can be said for the other industries often considered for anti-monopoly action. As part of her 2020 Presidency campaign, Senator Elizabeth Waren proposed “breaking up big tech.” On the still-existing page for this plan, Warren states:
Big tech companies have bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field against everyone else.
Though Warren’s plan is better than letting Silicon Valley run amok, each of these problems could be permanently eliminated by bringing sectors of the tech industry under public control. For example, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, bought Instagram explicitly to stop competition. Were Facebook and Instagram to be separated by the Warren plan, there’s little to stop them from gobbling up other small competitors while biding time to wait for an administration that will let them re-merge. Additionally, the company’s data-collection practices are a worrying concern, especially when they are used for political advertising. All it would take for Mark Zuckerberg to decide the next Presidential election would be a single email instructing Meta employees to promote one politician’s ads while hiding the other.
This dynamic is most obvious with Amazon, unarguably the most efficient system of distribution ever designed. Instead of thinking like a Luddite and breaking up Amazon to stop it from continuing to hurt workers and small business owners, we should bring the platform under public control so that its groundbreaking distribution practices can benefit all people, not just a few fortunate shareholders.
All of these problems (and many others plaguing the tech industry, such as union-busting), could be remedied by nationalizing Facebook, Amazon, and other large platforms so they can be run as democratic public utilities, empowering the people to choose which behaviors they want to permit, and which they want to end.
Alternatively, breaking up the principal offenders would only kick the can down the road, as the scattered fragments of the once-consolidated companies could reform, as happened following the break up of Standard Oil.
Whether it comes to airlines, tech companies, oil industries, or other sectors of heavy industry, there is no shortage of cases in which humanity has the option of enacting a better way of working. It does not apply to every area of our economy, but it applies to many.
To ignore these advancements simply for the preservation of our established way of life makes us no better than the 19th-century Luddites, cementing ourselves as yet another group of fools to the gaze of history.
What do you think about modern society’s refusal to accept better ways of working? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you haven’t yet, make sure you subscribe so future posts are delivered straight to your inbox.