Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Great Rich-and-Poor Divide.

I have two ways to see the world. 

One is an ever-sharpening pyramid where the top 1% still reigns and rules with the ever-expanding base still struggling to make ends meet. 

The other way of seeing the world as it unfolds is to compare the top (of the pyramid) to a mouse, nimble and crafty, moving in and out of nooks and crannies. And to compare the pyramid's vast base to an aging elephant, slow and lumbering, struggling to catch up, lagging behind. 

From these two ways or perspectives, we develop two different categories of people, with their attitude and temperament changing with it. 

The top will look down at the bottom. And the bottom will rage on against the top. The former will develop an indifference spurred by entitlement and privilege, and the bottom will develop a biting sense of desperation spurred by hopelessness and rebellion. 

If Karl Marx's class struggle happened in smokestack industries and factories, in our modern era, it is happening in cities, homes and schools. 

For deindustrialization is not the end of the class struggle, it is unfortunately replaced by something more sinister and creeping. It is replaced by automation, robotic technology and AI industrialisation. 

Today's article by Vikram Khanna entitled "The scary and exciting future of jobs" tells us about this imminent future of job displacement, disjointed career switches faster than we can blink, and the wiping out of traditional small and medium companies catering to the masses.

Well, it seems like a more scary future than one that is brimming with excitement because unlike the social and technological evolution of the not-too-distant past of mass production and assembly line manufacturing, this technological breakthrough exclusively favours the capitalist investor who happens to belong to the top 1% in the global society.

And no country or city-state is immune. 

Khanna highlighted that the future of this little red dot will see "about 24 per cent of work activities...could be displaced by 2030", which in my view, only sharpens further the top of the pyramid and goes further to broaden the base. 

As such, the richer will get richer, and the poorer will get poorer, and who are adding to the base much more than filling up the top? 

Well, it is the middle class. This socioeconomic transition is called the hollowing out of the middle class. 

It works simply by way of this metaphor. It is the inversion of the eye of a needle in Jesus' parable. This time it is not the rich trying to get through, for they are already on the other side.

This time, it is the middle class that are trying to squeeze through; as the poor are too disillusioned to move up. Like the Dead Sea, social mobility for the poor is in a state of immutability and immobility.

But the camel, representing the middle class, is too big to fit through into the needle's eye for entry into the gated community of the wealthy and the powerful on the other side.

So, in time, the camel will starve and shrink and eventually join the base of the pyramid with the majority of the poor, disadvantaged and disenfranchised. The world would then be even more divided, fractured and unstable.

When automation and AI technology take over our jobs, and none is spared from medicine to law, from white collar to blue collar, the ones who will directly, or even indirectly, benefit are the, well, top 1%. 

By then, when robots rule the world, or when the entire production capacity of the world is owned by the top 1%, with billions displaced, the rich, like landlords, will sit on the throne of their walled-up castle to collect economic rent, which has always been defined as the concentration of wealth on a few without expending much effort, or at all, by that collective few. 

We will then return to the age of king and queens with a large feudal system, but this time, the kings and queens are those at the top born not of heritage or hereditary, but those who capitalise on the upward trend of technology and enrich themselves beyond their wildest imagination. 

And the feudal indentured populace will be the same masses who are forever struggling to make ends meet with what little they have, or those who work to their bones just so that they can eke out a smidgen from their lifetime labour. 

Let me end with another article entitled "Priority Primary 1 admission could worsen educational inequality" by Assoc Professor Irene Ng. 

She raises the concerns of the inequality effect by the creation of a preferred/prioritised route to primary school via MOE kindergarten.

Prof Irene's concern is that it will create a category, make it competitive in a way that only the rich can afford, and soon runs the risk of ossifying into being exclusive to price out the poorer class in society. Alas, segregation starts even younger for us. 

She compared it to the Integrated Programme, "which lets students skip O levels and move seamlessly from secondary to pre-university studies. It was meant to be another path to broaden choice, but it became a prestigious programme viewed to be superior, and its students are over-represented by children from wealthier families."

This man-made superiorty effect starts with a category, that is, a category created by public policy. 

Prof Irene aptly observed: "When you create a category, it differentiates. Depending on the starting point, that category starts to be given a prestigious or stigmatised label. Through a self-fulfilling prophecy, the category assigned with prestige attracts more demand and resources, and the stigmatised category attracts less. Richer families are then better able to prepare themselves and their children for entry into the prestigious educational category, leading to educational segregation by socio-economic status."

Alas, collectively, the Mathew effect (where the more will have even more) will go on in our modern society; this time, it may just get worse, and the segregation even more fractured, divisive and inflammatory. 

The categories we have thus created for ourselves will only isolate society, widen the income and social gap, and deepen the divide. 

This is just a microcosm of what is happening in the world where unchecked globalisation is not closing the gap, but fracturing it further and deeper because our nature is always to horde, enrich and exploit. 

So, in the end, the elephant will never catch up with the mouse, and the top will get ever sharper with a broader languishing base. 

This is the definitive modern evolution of materialism whereby, in the primitive world, our ancestors lived shorter lives caused by diseases, war and plague, but in our modern world, we are living longer lives compounded by depression, hopelessness and loneliness. Cheerz?

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