To use the metaphor of our era, we are running an extractive, growth-driven economic operating system that has reached the limits of its ability to serve anyone, rich or poor, human or corporate. Moreover, we’re running it on super computers and digital networks that accelerate and amplify all its effects. Growth is the single, uncontested, core command of the digital economy… An operating system designed by 13th century Moorish accountants looking for a way to preserve the aristocracy of Europe has worked as promised. It turned the marketplace into one giant debtors’ prison. It is not only unfit for the needs of a 21st century digital society; central currency is the core mechanism of the growth trap.
Douglas Rushkoff, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus
To be alive in 2017 is to be living through a raging, roiling argument about money: how it’s generated and how it will be distributed in the 21st century. Money dominates the changing politics and economics of the western hemisphere. Whether jobs, free trade, taxes, student debt, housing prices, AI-based automation, wealth disparities, educational funding or any of dozens of other headline-topics, how society will create and share value and resources sits at the forefront of our current moment.
Many people sense that something has gone terribly wrong.
In this Integral Life exclusive, renown media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff argues that the central assumption of our economic lives — that further economic growth will create continually rising prosperity for all — is broken.
Taking us on a whirlwind tour from the bleeding edge of Google to the dusty streets of medieval Europe, Doug charts four cycles of capitalism over the past millennia, arguing that we’re living through the dying remnants of what he calls “digital industrialism.”
The core command of industrialism (and its digital variants, found in the likes of Amazon and Uber) is to extract value from everything within and around it–labor, competitors, communities, the environment, the stock market, the government–and plow that value into a form of growing “wealth obesity” for the rich.
And yet, as he points out, growth at any cost no longer works, running headlong into fundamental constraints and contradictions: the world’s resources are limited, people can’t eat software, and demand for products can only be as strong as are underlying jobs and income.
It’s against this backdrop that something new is emerging: from alternative currencies and open source platforms to economic cooperatives and benefit corporations, Doug sees the rise of a new “digital distributism” that just might evolve economic life to one of a just, sustainable prosperity for the 21st century.
About Douglas Rushkoff
Douglas Rushkoff is a writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age. He is the author of fifteen bestselling books on media, technology, and society, including Program or Be Programmed, Present Shock, and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. He has made such award-winning PBS Frontline documentaries as Generation Like, Merchants of Cool, and The Persuaders, and is the author of graphic novels including Testamentand Aleister & Adolf.
About Robb Smith
Robb Smith is a leading social entrepreneur in human development. He is co-founder and CEO of Integral Life.