In my Master’s thesis, I posited that the tragic nature of 20th century socialist experiments was due to the fact that the democratic-socialist ideals of equal political participation, egalitarian wealth distribution, and voluntary labor were simply unattainable at the time. The advent of the Internet, I argued, presents the possibility of global, participatory democracy, and the ability to track everybody’s consumption and production, a necessary task for deciding who gets to produce and consume what. The hard part, of course, is breaking from our selfish, violent, autocratic, and ethnocentric traditions.
While the social-economic-political revolution remains unrealized, revolutions continue unabated in the realm of technology. 3D-printing promises to usher in a new age of manufacturing in which the only labor is intellectual. Drones, meanwhile, are rapidly solving the problem of how to get manufactured goods, food, and people from one place to another, again with minimal human effort. The difficulty of maintaining monopolies on these machines, as well as the algorithms on which they run, means that they will likely reach the Global South far more quickly than steam engines and tractors did in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Traditionally empowered groups will certainly fight to maintain their relative privileges. The economic basis for these privileges, however, is continually undermined by the mechanization of labor. In a New York Times article last week, Eduardo Porter suggests that the labor market is becoming increasingly less capable of distributing wealth to the majority of people, who rely more and more on governments to control wealth distribution. The Participatory Budgeting movement, meanwhile, has popularized the concept of direct, democratic citizen control over wealth distribution in over 1,000 cities worldwide. Add in Misagh Parsa’s theory (pp. 12-21) that increasing governmental control over the economy contributes to the likelihood of far-reaching social revolutions and a democratic-socialist like myself begins to feel somewhat optimistic about the future.
At the very least, millennials should expect to grow old in a drastically different world than the one they were born into, whether or not human immortality is achieved. Whether this means a leaner, meaner capitalism, an expansive, patrimonial welfare state, or a democratic-socialist society remains to be seen.