One must, I think, move in fairly rarefied libertarian circles to think that capitalism is over-defended. I also think that pleas of poverty on behalf of academics are overstated. Academics make less than people who make a lot, but they make more than most Americans, for work that is pleasant, interesting, and largely free from annoying, Dilbertesque crap.
That said, I think it’s worth looking at where we’re going instead of arguing about capitalism, something that seems unnecessary when blogging under the aegis of Cato.
Indeed, one of the themes of my forthcoming book, An Army of Davids, is that technology and markets are blurring the old distinctions: We’re likely to achieve worker control of the means of production not because of anti-capitalists, but because capitalism has made many tools so cheap that anyone can afford them. Right now we’re seeing that effect mostly in areas dominated by information — music, journalism, video, etc. — but as Neal Gershenfeld notes, we’re heading toward a revolution in personal manufacturing, too. (Developments like nanotechnology are likely to accelerate that.)
The Internet will accelerate this change, of course, as it has accelerated the earlier ones. With rapid collaboration and near-instant prototyping, we’ll see learning curves grow much steeper, with global wealth accelerating dramatically. Unless, that is, efforts to channelize the Internet, or tools for censorship developed by U.S. corporations in cooperation with the Chinese government come into wider play.
Indeed, this whole discussion reminds me of this statement:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as “bad luck.”
With the Internet explosion, the minority—though still a minority—is no longer “tiny.” This may turn out to be very significant. Or I may turn out to be too optimistic.