State of the World

Time for the 11th annual Bruce Sterling/Jon Lebkowsky State of the World conversation on the WELL. This year we have a lot to talk about, the world’s off-center and wobbly. We’re off to a good start…

Basically we’ve got an emergent, market-driven global financial system that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism. It was deprived of oversight for three good reasons (a) it rapidly brought prosperity to billions (b) under globalization, money is inherently global while governance is inherently local (c) complete regulatory capture of the system — nobody but bankers understands how to bank. There’s no caste of regulators left anywhere who have the clout or even the knowledge to do anything usefully stabilizing. No, not even if you give them guns, lawyers, money and back issues of DAS KAPITAL.

Too big to fail. So, what can you do? Cross your fingers, basically. Make some reassuring noises. Cheerlead instead of reforming the infrastructure. And pawn what’s left of the credibility of government.

Twenty years ago, it seemed like this situation might lead to shareholder power, a kind of pension-fund ownership society. It kind of did, for a while. But over a longer term, the poor engineering told on the rickety, fungus-like structure of finance. The wealth and the executive capacity drifted into the hands of moguls. Not governments, big institutions, megacorporations, multinationals, but moguls, weird eccentrics, like Russian moguls. Madoff figures, Enron. Nobody was left to look. Even if they did look, all they could possibly see in Madoff and Enron was a genius, highly charitable head of the NASDAQ and the world’s most nimble and innovative energy company. It’s like looking at your SUV and seeing drowning polar bears. Just a minority viewpoint.