I like to continue with where I left in “About ‘Emma’ (XI)”. I want to continue with the discussion about “merit based” system.
In my last post, I suggested that humanism should focus on the principles of Love and Reason. However, since Humanism has been focusing on “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”, and “merit based” system is somehow related “Truth, Beauty and Goodness”, I want to spend more time on “Truth, Beauty and Goodness” related to “merit based” system.
My interpretation about “merit based” system is that it is a theory indicating that the economic system is based on monetary rewards for actions that have “merit”. But the financial crisis in 2008 and what was and is being done after put a big question mark to this theory. And this is not an isolated scenario, I can provide many examples to illustrated how much a “myth” the rewards for “merit” is.
But one can still argue that these are just individuals circumstances that at best can only prove that the system is not “perfect” because there is no such as thing as perfect in reality. But here I will point out something more fundamental. The economic system as it is now can only make sense if the assumption about “Goodness” is correct. But as I have said in my last post, it is not.
Let me explain. The biggest problem about “Goodness” is how to determine what is “good” or not. The problem can be further divided into the problem of establishing the standard, and the problem of applying this standard to real life to make judgement. And, we could also question whether there is just one standard for everything, or there are many standards for each occasions.
As I said many times, my posts now cannot go too much into details, so my discussions about subjects cannot be too thorough (hopefully later I will go back to write more in details). So, I will skip the general discussion about “Goodness” in this matter, and go directly into the discussion about economic system.
The problem with the economic system is, at best, it rewards very specific “merits” but then, these “merits” are treated as paramount “Goodness”. Let me explain. For example, suppose if a person is a “computer genesis” who can write a “killer program” that is very beneficial to humanity and will generate great wealth for this person (I don’t think it is as simple as it sounds. I think in reality, it is very questionable it can ever happen. It all goes to how much we can trust the stories. But we will assume it actually will happen in real life for the purpose of this discussion. More on this later), people will say the “merit based” system works well at least in this case. But does it? What if this person starts to do all “bad things”? My point is just because people did something good for the society, we cannot assume this person is a “good person” and everything this person will do will be “good”.
I think the biggest problem with the economic system as it is now is, in reality, it is not a “merit based” system and it cannot be, because in this system, ultimately, money is the only determining factor. Money can buy things, and can direct people to do things. So, if people do not have the ability, they might still be able to do things by hiring other people to do things for them, and they can be financially rewarded. For people who has a good ideas (inventors for example) but do not have “financial resources” to implement them, they will most likely ruin their lives for trying. But people who have the “financial resources” to “implement” the ideas can steal the ideas and “get them done” (have other people do things for them) will be rewarded as “doers” (or savors of the world, etc.)
But from the society point of view, does it matter? Well it does. The importance of encouraging people to come up with new ideas is to try to change the world to benefit people. But the world as it is now and as it ever was often benefits very few people to the detriment of most people. For example, when people recently talk about machines may replace people, and there are suggestions that then people can simply not work, some people start to worry people might get too lazy. But there were and there are people who are “independently wealthy” (with the “merit” of being born into “wealthy family”) who had never worked in their lives, I did not hear too many people worrying about them (more about this in my later posts).
My point is, when people steal ideas, they often left out the best parts, and use what are useful for them. In other words, if money is the only things matters, people who have it often want to make sure it stays this way. The worst part is, even if some wealthy people want to do the “right things”, they will most likely be at their own peril, cannot change the system over all (for example, even if Mr. Knightley give all his wealth away to the needy, would he be able to change the system over all?)
I think we have to face the reality that the world we are living in has very few defense mechanisms against the possibility of people who can control the world for their own purposes, and it seems technology development actually did not help the situation for the better. But this did not become this way because this is what “technology wants” (the things people say are just unbelievable). The reason it becomes this way is because this is what the people who control the technology and control the world want.
Here, I want to mention briefly how the legal system has helped to build the domination of “tech giant” companies. First, I think the relationship between patent and copyright laws is completely backwards when we are talking about their applications in software. Copyright law only applies to artistic expressions, not ideas, and the subject matters cannot be “functional”. So, how can copyright law be applied to software? This is one of the biggest myths if you ask me (this also means people can argue both ways). And, ideas that related to software are “unpatentable” (interestingly, this matter has not been completely settled. I assume it all depends on who own the rights of patents)?? Why? We got to remember that software is part of the computer and it is not actually “language”, but a physical existence resides in “hardware” that people cannot see (so, it is not an “expression” to communicate with humans.)
Then, there are “trade secret” laws, which can also be argued both ways with the help of “preemption laws”. I am talking about these because these things are very much the reason we have the “tech giant” companies today. With all these laws that can be argued both ways, and judges will be the persons deciding about the “questions of law”, the outcome of the cases and the fates of companies can be predetermined (especially when they can put a leash on attorneys with Bar Association sanctions). “Merit based” system? This is especially a joke when above 80% of the cases in federal courts are decided by “unpublished opinions” (copyright laws and patent laws are federal laws. Trade secret laws are state laws but can often be litigated in federal courts as well. I don’t know the percentage of “unpublished opinions” in state courts).
Although Intellectual Property rights only deal with who will be awarded, the effects on the society are more profound. If only a few companies “control the world”, then the chances of people who can “control the world” through these companies are much higher. Without Intellectual Property rights protections, what “competitive advantages” a new company can have? Nothing. This is why the legal system is the cause of these “giant tech” companies, and the dominations of these “giant tech” companies are not the results of “merit based” system.
The “merits” of these “giant tech” companies are even more ambiguous. What could possibly be the “merits”? I think the most possible ones are convenience (for customers) and efficiency (for companies). These do not seem to be too bad until we think about at what cost. Do we want someone to know everything about us, having all the power to do anything to us and do not have the best interests of us at their minds? These kinds of scenarios are becoming reality more and more.
And, we can even question the benefit of convince and efficiency. I will start with efficiency. The most obvious question is efficiency at what expense. Under the current system, “efficiency” most likely means reduced labor force, which creates more problems than benefits. This becomes especially obvious when we think that increased efficiency cross board does not necessarily increase profits, and with the wall street games, what can produce shareholder values are even more questionable.
The problem with “convenience” is even more complicated. If the “conveniences” for the customers means increase their personal “competitive edges” in the “market place”, then as these conveniences often have costs (money or time), then it will create disadvantages for people who cannot afford (or choose not to have) the “conveniences”. Even for situations this problem does not exist, there are still other problems. The most significant one would be shaping people’s behaviors and thoughts. For example, if I read something important, I will often want to think about what I read and write on the books I read. For this reason, I prefer physical books than electronic versions of them. But is it possible to let people write on electronic versions of the books? I think so. But does something like this exist? Not to my knowledge. This is just a simply example, and there are many examples indicates the ways technologies are used are purposefully directed for people to think less. There are more and more occasions indicating the problems with losing one’s rights in exchange for convenience are very real and becomes more and more serious. [These “giant tech” companies gain their domination because they often claim to be the “good guys” who want to “change the world”. But the reality is their very existences are results of being parts of the system. One can see clearer if we can see the “democracy” of two party system as it is now as part of the “political game”.]
The “giant tech” companies I mentioned here are software and computer related companies, and the examples I gave are not the worst ones. But there are obviously many problems with the “merit based” system. But if we look at other companies, the question about “merit based” system can be more obvious. For example, let us look at pharmaceutical companies. Suppose someone invented a drug that can pure all the diseases at once, and suppose this person do have all the resources to make and market the drug. How would this person be rewarded? I don’t think this person will be rewarded very well, because people will get well immediately, and there would not be many customers left soon. So, very soon, this will become a failed business. But what if people can invent a drug that cannot cure people but can prevent people from dying? Then they will do something “good” for people, but not as “good” as being able to cure people, although their business would more likely become “successful” businesses. So, we can say the economic system is not exactly a “merit based” system for sure.
There are also other cases where the success of people may have not much to do with their own “merit”. For example, real estate industry. If the economy in certain region is growing fast, then real estate prices in this region will increase, and people in real estates will be more “successful”. But does this kind of “success” “merit based”? I don’t know for sure, because in one hand people in real estate do provide something people need, but on other hands, the increase in real estate prices would most likely slow down the growth of economy and/or cause financial problems for other people. The same will be true for other industries, such as oil industry, etc.
The same with “financial industry”. If people “playing with numbers” get a huge chunk of the pie, then what is left for others? If “inventors” are not “makers” (which is a very troublesome notion), then bankers are even less so. Why are they getting most of the benefits (according to what I read sometimes ago, the revenue of “financial industry” is just little less than half of the GDP, and the number now could be much higher)?
Well, in my last post, I said I am not going to discuss economics. Here I could not help and get into it anyway. But I do think I am not far off topics now, although I got into complicated subjects again here. I will continue in my next post.
December 3, 2017