Values, Technology, the Internet, and a New Opening for Humane Socialism

Michael H. Goldhaber


September 15, 2003

"Society with the handmill gives you the feudal lord, society with the steam mill gives you the industrial capitalist."

- Karl Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy


In a previous paper, I argued that the natural economy of the Internet is what I call the Attention Economy. Like every other economy, it is based on the allocation of scarcity, in its case the scarcity of attention. Since attention comes from other human beings, no technical system can completely overcome its scarcity, and certainly the Internet cannot. But what of other kinds of scarcities? They can be overcome, and I now shall argue that the Internet plus further technologies enabled and inspired by it can move us pretty close to that goal. We could be heading towards a world of equality, freedom, community and abundance, which is originally what was meant by the idea of socialism. {To the extent socialism overcomes rather than allocates scarcity, it can be viewed not as an economy, but as a post-economic system.]

From the start the values of a humane socialism have largely, if unconsciously , been built into the Internet, as I shall show. These values differ sharply from the capitalist values built into most prior technology, which explains two crucial facts: the failure of previous socialism, and the incompatability of capitalism and the Internet .

My strategy will be to offer a brief history of technology, focussing on an analysis of what values were built in and why, and on how those values influenced outcomes. But before doing that, I want briefly to make the case for rehabilitating the idea of socialism. After all, little more than a decade ago, socialism seemed safely buried, justifiably un-mourned. The analysis of technological values I offer will strongly suggest that Marxian, Soviet style socialism was not only doomed from the start, but doomed to be the gruesome system it is correctly remembered as being. At the time it was set into motion, roughly in the period from 1850 to 1950 no other socialism would have worked either. Yet that horrible memory should not put paid to the general idea. One thing Communist leadership never attempted and no one else in the past came close to achieving was to construct a humane socialism via humane means. If that should now be possible – fully humane socialism via fully humane means – then it would be far superior to capitalism. While that possibility remains a big if, it no longer is unthinkable.


At this point, it will be helpful to summarize some aspects of capitalism. That will allow me to do two more things: First, to show why present day capitalism doesn’t seem headed for satisfying the world’s needs, which is why humane socialism is needed;. Second, to exhibit the values that originally underlay technology – values that Marxian socialists, in adopting that technology, did not realize they were adopting as well.

Capitalism is the economic form that has dominated life for the past couple of centuries. It interweaves two disjoint systems, each operating primarily in its own space, each according to a set of values quite antithetical to the other. One is the market, the other the factory, or factory-like corporation. Think how different they are.

The market works – at least ideally – on the basis of freedom of choice among standardized, comparable goods, all freely exchangeable for money, which is simply an abstracted good with no characteristics other than quantity. Further, the market encourages:: the free exchange of information; competition; and equality with respect to personal origins (anyone can buy or sell; your money is as good as mine). In the market, you can act at whatever pace you want; economists refer to "efficient" markets but that efficiency puts no constraints on what individuals do. As far as its basic workings go, the market is largely pre- or a-technological. (It does have its own down side, in that certain operators , by "cornering" the supply of some kind of goods, or by acting on inside information can profit at the expense of everyone else.)

The factory or corporation, on the other hand, is a restricted space in which the market is banished. Within its walls, no free choice, no free exchange of goods, of money, or of information (or attention for that matter). All actions are under the control of management. Efficiency in carrying out the management’s dictates is paramount. Each worker is to be as machine-like as possible, yet it often is convenient to assign workers to different tasks according to ethnicity or race, gender, and level of education (which often is a marker of social class origins). All work that is done is for the direct or indirect purpose of enlarging the wealth of the owners, which is equivalent to enlarging the scope of the particular factory or others like it. This is effected by the management’s increasing the quantity and variety of goods put out on the market. (In recent years, capitalist firms have tried to expand into many new areas in which the factory model is less applicable, because in one way or another the workers cannot do just what management wants, but have to pay attention as well to individual clients; in these fields, such as education and health care, however, profits have proved more elusive on the whole, precisely because the conditions of the factory cannot be replicated.)

Market and factory are interlinked in three main ways. Most obviously, the standardized goods that pass through the market come from and often go to factories.. Whoever lacks money (or capital) must enter the labor market to sell her own powers of both muscle and mind to the factory owners, to be stripped of freedom of thought and action and there to enable the factory owner further to enlarge his or her capital. The third, newer link is the stock market, the ability of anyone to buy into capital, to turn money into the means by which more money is raised, that is capital, that is a share of the factory.

When capitalism is extolled, what is generally emphasized is the market; when it is criticized, what is specifically opposed is usually the restrictive, oppressive, mind- and body-numbing, alienating and exploitative conditions of the factory and other factory-like settings that are found within capitalism. Socialism would be of value if it could free the human race of those conditions while still permitting a life of abundance and community.

Socialism is needed also because the intersection between capitalist factory and market is becoming increasingly unworkable. Corporations compete to drive down their costs. This they can accomplish by one of two methods – or both together. They can improve factory productivity, that is raise the hourly output per worker. They can also lower wages, which they accomplish by enlarging the pool of available workers, either by increased immigration, or by moving factories to the lowest-wage countries. As productivity increases while trade barriers are lowered, the vast number of people throughout the world employed in pre-industrial occupations (principally small-scale farming) can no longer compete. To survive, they are thrust on the capitalist labor market, where the lucky ones find employment, thereby driving down wages world-wide, and the unlucky are reduced to utter desperation.

Thus, as capitalism becomes more and more able to produce an ever-larger abundance of goods, lowering wages leave fewer and fewer consumers in a position to buy those goods, even the most basic. A small segment of the world’s population, on the other hand, earn very large incomes, but their consumption doesn’t rise nearly fast enough to create an incentive for worldwide capital to put enough people to work to raise wages at the bottom. Feasible abundance goes unrealized; working conditions and/or standards of living for the majority get worse. As a result, endemic wars, crime, dictatorship, disease, resurgent slavery, terrorism, rebellion and large-scale environmental destruction are now spreading rapidly throughout Africa, South and Central Asia, and most of the Americas south of the United States. Meanwhile, in the US, itself the most capitalist place, those who do have jobs find themselves working ever harder, both in and out of the job, as taking care of oneself and one’s family becomes more complicated, while at the same time, we all find ourselves under an increasing barrage of advertising by companies desperate to sell enough of their products and services to increase their profits.


Thus the need for a new kind of socialism – a new, equitable, humane, and democratic sharing of sustainable resources – has grown. Without the proper technology, however socialism can’t work. As the famous quote due to Karl Marx that heads this article implies, one complex of technologies that can’t be right for socialism is "the steam mill" or more broadly the industrial factory in all its varieties and ramifications. The reason is that these technologies came into being precisely to make possible large-scale capitalism, and like most technologies they help reproduce the values and social circumstances that brought them forth.

The factory by its very nature, and completely by design, separates work in production from work in directing that production, since from its beginnings it was intended to function as a means to enrich capitalist owners, while limiting as much as possible the power of ordinary workers to have much say either in its workings or in their wages. As Marx also famously noted (in the 1844 manuscripts) the factory system sharply separates the workers from consumers or suppliers, though, in different times of day or of life, these may be the same people.

Socialism, if it is real, should not curtail freedom but enhance it. Yet the factory’s oppression is built into its technology. Suppose that with the best of intentions it is proposed that workers run the factory (or all factories) democratically, which is the only way, in a factory-like setting that anything approaching freedom for the individual workers might be realized Because during their normal jobs individual workers must concentrate on tasks and machines in their specific part of the factory, they cannot engage in democracy at the same time. That would have to involve meeting together outside of, and in addition to, regular factory assignments to raise such questions as what and how much they should be producing, where the products should go, where they should obtain raw materials, and other issues that currently are the province of management. These meetings would often tend to feel onerous, irrelevant, unnecessary, in short quite literally counterproductive, since they generally would not bear very directly on a typical worker’s ordinary duties. Attendance at such meetings, if voluntary ,would quickly slough off. The attention of those present would often stray. The whole exercise would probably soon be abandoned, in fact if not in theory. Managers of some sort would retain power, whatever their new titles.

Thus the form of the factory, including the standard sort of machinery in it, in itself inherently discourages and sabotages attempts at any sort of worker self-rule, instead encouraging rule both inside and outside the factory by individual factory owners or high executives of some sort, who would function in much the same ways (at best) whether they were Communist Party high-ups or well-paid representatives of major shareholders.

Despite having remarked that the factory [steam mill} "gives. you the industrial capitalist" Marx ignored the implications of this. Most of his successors, certainly including Lenin and Stalin, later completely lost sight of the issue. In fact the industrial factory came to be seen as the necessary incubator of socialism, while it was the market that was to be scrapped. This was a fatal mistake. Nineteenth-century industrial capitalists, whenever possible, could be utterly ruthless in their suppression of worker independence or sovereignty within their factories, but in general their actions were restrained by the larger society. The Soviet Union, run in essence as one single, monopolistic [one seller] and monopsonistic [one buyer] industrial corporation, unrestrained by any external force, extended this very same ruthlessness to the larger society. As long as they were trying to ground socialism on the industrial (in essence, capitalistic) factory it couldn’t have been otherwise.

The factory model also requires an attitude towards dedicated work. To live, in a factory-dominated society, one must have an income, and that generally means a job (or at least a worker in the household). To lack a job is to be on the margins, unemployed, looked down upon. The more oppressive conditions in the factory become, the higher the pressure required to force people into factory work, the worse the conditions and attitudes that must face the unemployed. Equally, the worse it is to be unemployed the easier it becomes to move people into oppressive factory jobs. If socialism is to be based on the factory model, yet distinguished from capitalism by everyone having work, the most obvious way to achieve this is to create more and more factories and factory-like settings (e.g., collective farms), but not to make any factory too efficient, since that might lead to its needing fewer workers, and thus to its managers having less power. The end of oppressive work remains an entirely unimaginable and unrealizable goal in such a system. So does a really pleasant life for everyone outside work.

So three seeming paradoxes stymie socialists who favor wide-scale social equality, a sense of community and concern for the common good, and a substantial degree of both democracy and individual self-determination. (1)To create socialism, some completely new kind of technological order would have to be established, presumably in advance of the adoption of the new social system. (2) Even if this new technology can be envisioned, standard capitalism would seem utterly unsuited to bringing it forth, since capitalism’s values should still be expected to dominate. (3) Further, if socialism is predicated on some degree of material abundance, so that everyone may live without crushing want, the kinds of efficiencies provided by the factory would apparently remain essential, thus assuring that the conditions for socialism can never really obtain.

These paradoxes seem to imply that the best that can be hoped for is an ameliorated capitalism as provided by Western European-style Social Democracy. There, capitalism holds sway but is constrained from its worst excesses by an active state, while at the same time basic necessities such as housing, health care and education are provided to everyone, and human rights also are carefully protected. Social democracy thus ameliorates considerably, but still basically leaves in place the oppressive monotony of most people’s typical work life, while leaving those who are not so employed to kind of shadow existence.

Until quite recently, that would have been pretty much the end of my story. Not anymore. For the first time, with the Internet the technological climate looks fairly propitious for the emergence of genuine socialism. I must hasten to add this is not the socialism Marxists have envisaged, precisely because the latter view was so closely tied to romances of worker control of factory production. This new socialism instead extends and enlarges the freedom of the market, turning the factory inside out.

We are poised for a transformation that in itself need not be violent in the least, but could still be remarkably fast. The remainder of the paper is devoted to explaining all this.



"The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers."

- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto, 1847

How did the paradoxes listed in the last section dissolve? The answer to that comes from a closer look at the history of technology itself.

So far I have used the word "technology" as if its meaning were unproblematic; but that is not so. While the most common usage of the word today, say in newspapers, implies it has to do vaguely with computers, the way I have used it so far certainly extends it more broadly and further back in time. The question is: how broadly should we understand it, and how far back in time should we take it? Many of those who engage in an even vaguely philosophical discussion of technology mean, in essence, any routine human way of doing anything, from chipping a stone-age ax to sending a rocket to Mars. That usage strikes me as far too broad, and it ignores the historical situation in which the word itself took on meaning. Technology is not the same as technique, in other words.

In fact, the word technology entered the English language at the start of the seventeenth century as the title of a book attempting to show how a great many crafts were carried out at the time by traditional craftsmen. As its Greek roots techne and logos imply, that book initiated a study of technique, offering to nascent capitalists among the first opportunities to seize for themselves knowledge that had traditionally been the secrets of different guilds of craft workers.

So technology itself was a new development that went hand in hand in with the origins of industrial capitalism. Until that point (in Western Europe, anyway) innovations in making things had come from skilled participants in various crafts or from the work of more or less self-sufficient orders of monks in monasteries. But if a new class was to take over production for its own profit-making ends, it was going to have to take charge of developing new methods of putting workers to work. It was out of that need that technology was born. From Arkright, who invented one of the first power-driven yarn-spinning machines, to Watt, who adapted the steam engine as a power source for factories, to Ford who introduced the assembly-line in complex mechanical production, many of the leading technological designers and visionaries were capitalists in their own right, a trend that continues to the present day with Bill Gates, among thousands of others.

Yet, along the way something changed. Technology partially broke free of its capitalist roots. One reason was that it grew closer to science. Modern natural science itself originated around the same time as technology, at the start of the seventeenth century, and it grew up hand in hand with capitalism as well. But scientists remained somewhat separate as a group from capitalist efforts, maintaining an independent sphere of activity and intense interconnection with each other (the "Invisible College") that indirectly grew out of clerical and collegial ties first established in medieval Christian Europe.

Science as an activity largely retains its own collegial values. Foremost, they include broad, international cooperation in a common enterprise (of trying to make sense of nature). Ideas, theories and facts are shared in common and available to all. ("Communism," is the term for this used by the famed sociologist of science Robert K. Merton.) Another value is a desire for recognition for achievement (including a standard that it is wrong to claim another’s discovery as one’s own). Awards and prizes often go along with that recognition, thus promoting competition to be first with each discovery. Further, in line with many other activities, the collegial values include the additional reward found in the act of discovery and the satisfaction of curiosity themselves. (One more value is strongly linked with standards of comparability and equality that apply for the capitalist market: Scientific results are to be reproducible by anyone who is sufficiently trained, regardless of conditions of birth or other personal attributes )

As technologists came to depend increasingly on scientific discoveries for their own progress, and as scientists in turn came to rely on technological developments for their instruments, the intertwining of the two activities made for a certain distance from direct capitalist control. This endured even though, by the start of the twentieth century , large corporations had attempted to routinize innovation itself by establishing large research and development arms, which began to turn many scientists and technologists alike into corporate employees.

Marx and Engels were certainly prescient in foreseeing this trend as early as 1847, but they erred in a critical detail. Despite mostly being employees and often having to rely on expensive laboratory equipment that tied them to their jobs, scientists and technologists could not be controlled as factory workers were, for the simple reason that their work, to be of any value at all, had to be innovative. Therefore it could not be not subject to the kind of rigorous administrative control that befell factory workers. On a particular machine in a typical factory, the output per hour of whatever is being produced or processed can easily be counted or measured. As the nature of that output is supposed to remain exactly the same from day to day, any deviations can easily be noted. But innovation, whether in technology, science, art or any other field, is not and cannot be like that. One might instruct a technologist to turn out one new invention an hour, a day or a week, say, but even if obeyed that rule could not ensure that the value of the inventions would be similar, and no easy means to ascertain that are likely to be found.

Scientists and technologists then, can never be fully converted into "paid wage laborers" but must retain a certain independence. They also retain necessary ties to others in their fields who work for different employers. All this allows scientific values to remain pretty much intact, though at odds with strictly capitalist ones. That is how they came to have informed an alternative direction of modern technology that can have socialist uses.

The next step was the computer. For the sake of clarifying how values entered, I will briefly retell this perhaps familiar story. Computer technology began perfectly in the mold of capitalist managerialism.. By the 1930’s the very large number of numerical calculations required for complex science and engineering were routinely carried out by roomfuls of trained workers –"computers," as they were called – sitting at adding machines. It was work almost as regular and monotonous as in any factory. Technologists and scientists dreamed of even faster computing. World War II turned the dream into a patriotic duty.

Around that time, as part of an attempt to solve a meta-mathematical problem, Alan Turing came up with the idea of a new sort of universal computing machine, one that would be instructed by symbols on an endless tape to do any operation that the human computers could be instructed to do, if not more. All this would seemingly fit in perfectly with the idea of factory mechanization and speedup, were it not for the fact that it was left open who was to write the symbols on the tape and why. Turing’s machine remained purely theoretical, but soon similar kinds of programmable computing machines were actually built.

The first computers, besides being expensive, slow, energy-guzzling mammoths, were also quite difficult to program. That last difficulty changed with one particularly brilliant invention of the 1950’s: the first compiler, along with the compiled language [COBOL, invented by Grace Murray Hopper] that was easy for moderately mathematically inclined users to grasp. The compiler profoundly changed the social structure of computing. Once non-experts could program, the collegial values of science began to influence how and where computers were used, much more than heretofore.

As scientists and engineers took up computing in a major way, universities found themselves forced to offer campus-wide computer centers as a service to researchers. By around 1970, use of these facilities was expanded and made more convenient by the advent of remote, "dumb" terminals. With different researchers at each university or government laboratory now tied to everyone else on the same campus through the dumb terminals, it began to make sense to think of linking different campuses .That would clearly further the values of scientific collegiality. Hence the Internet.


The Internet actually originated in a Defense Department project but not with the military values one might have expected. Military technology has always been dominated by the values of destruction and killing, since that characterize what armies do. Other Pentagon projects such as nuclear bombs, fighter planes, smart weapons, tanks, chemical weapons, etc, could not easily be converted to any sort of humane use. But, from its start, Internet technology owed its existence to a different aspect of the military’s relation to civilian life, especially in the US.

The privileged, heavily-funded status of the Defense establishment and its vast size permitted it to secrete and nurture attitudes scorned in commercial life. Military bases are notorious for the "cradle-to-grave" care of soldiers and their families, situations that in our capitalistic culture would be considered socialist were the government to make them available to ordinary citizens. Similarly, the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Defense Department (known once as "ARPA," and later, "DARPA") had funds enough to engage with little legislative oversight in vast projects of quite idiosyncratic purposes.

Out of that the Internet grew, originally funded as a network to connect the computers of ARPA-sponsored, often university-based scientists and engineers, but with very loose controls on how it was to be used.

From the beginning the social and technical structure of the Internet both mirrored and furthered the collegiality of scientists, and because of the loose controls, this extended rapidly beyond purely professional links. As university computer systems proliferated in the same period, more and more college and university students and faculty members campuses began to be tied through both the ARPAnet and eventually the copycat USENET. [ Soon technophilic star-influenced publics, such as that associated with The WELL – founded in the 1980’s by 60’s guru Stewart Brand and colleagues – were forming their own on-line communities. ] Government-sponsored laboratories in different countries were also responsible for further innovations, such as the World Wide Web, useful e-mail programs like Eudora, and the first web browser, MOSAIC.




"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities’..."

- Marx, Capital

Scientific values are historically the first, but by no means the only ones at odds with inherently capitalistic and managerial values to have snuck into influencing technology by now. Though attention-economic values have always been with us, they emerged into prominence largely as a result of the capitalist need to design products that ordinary consumers would be likely to buy – and then to get them to buy them.

For design for consumers to become a major focus of technologists took a remarkably long time A wide range of technologically complex products (including automobiles, washers, dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners, sewing machines and, of course, computers) all got their start as capital goods for industrial or business use., usually with a considerable gap before anyone thought to sell them to the general public. When they finally were sold, at first they continued to embody the values of the capitalist factory. They continued to emphasize raw efficiency (labor-saving in the crudest sense) with little concession to such niceties as comfort, aesthetics, quiet, individual variation in ability or aims (i.e. no concern with what eventually came to be termed "user-friendliness") or promoting neighborliness or community.

But television technology was different ( as were other media including radio, recorded music, and movies). Pretty much from the first, it was thought of as something that to have any use would have to enter ordinary homes or ordinary people’s life experiences outside work. For that to happen, there had to be not only the production of the device itself, but also some means to get people to want to watch. Inevitably, the media, rather than promoting efficiency, instead promoted the rather different values of watching (or at least listening) and, preferably, being watched, or in other words fandom and stardom, the values of the Attention Economy.

Americans, especially, grew up (after 1950) spending hours every day learning by example the value of getting attention along with the sorts of skills necessary to accomplish this. Even the dumb terminals of the original ARPAnet visibly shared the underlying technology of TV screens, so right along the possibility was latent that each user could watch or better yet be watched through these screens as on television, but now with every user having his or her own studio.

[[[NOTE Though still basically a two-class system (of net attention receivers, or stars, and net attention payers or fans) this new system’s underlying structure is as different from capitalism as the latter was from feudalism. [Marx and Engels offered a long list of two-class systems in the opening paragraph of The Communist Manifesto, but offered no real reason for their presumption that such two-class systems would automatically have to end with capitalism. No realistic hope for attaining a classless society can be based on ignoring other possible class systems, such as the Attention Economy, that could replace capitalism.] Many details of current life can be understood in terms of the complex interplay between four classes: the rising stars; their subordinate fans; the possibly waning capitalists; and their subordinate workers.}}}


A further development was critical. The microprocessor chip was invented in the 1970’s as an outgrowth of efforts to lower the costs of electronic circuitry. .Its value was supposed to be that rather than having separately to design millions of different special-purpose chips or circuits for different uses, manufacturers could use the same chip and only vary the programs they had them run on, effectively replacing costly variations in hardware with much more flexible and cheaper variations in software. This development, which proceeded fully according to standard capitalist logic, suddenly and accidentally opened up the collegiality of programmable computing to the wider public.

A naked microprocessor chip wouldn’t be much use to an ordinary person. But the microprocessor combined with other devices and circuitry held the promise of being a complete computer, far smaller and cheaper than any before it. The ones who first honed in on this were not corporate engineers but hobbyists, though hobbyists not without political interests and savvy of their own. The Homebrew computer club of the San Francisco Bay area was made up of people heavily influenced by or involved in not only the counterculture of the ‘60’s, but also by the radical politics of Berkeley students during that same decade.

Rather than take over, more or less unchanged, a device that served industry and convert it to personal use, as previous commodified appliances had been, the Homebrew group in effect invented the small-scale computer for personal use. The business personal computer followed from that, but later. Thus, from the beginning the personal computer was designed according to countercultural values, such as community, pleasure, "doing your own thing," a disdain for large corporations and, to a considerable degree a feeling that the goods of society ought to be available to everyone. As personal computers were first commercialized and then turned into a tool of business, these values were diluted with more directly capitalist ones, but they still remain very much a force and a presence.

First directly through personal computers and such innovations as bulletin boards and "shareware" and "freeware" and later through the aegis of the Internet, the full panoply of countercultural values remain a vital force, further strengthened by the degree to which they overlap with the ethos of science that underlay the Internet.


The advent of personal computers around 1980 and the ease of computer-programming that had begun in the 1950’s now combined to enable millions of self-taught computer programmers, many still teenagers, to greatly swell the ranks of technological innovators. The Internet further permitted them to join in new kinds of confraternities, increasingly unlimited by distance or national boundaries. While the sheer joy of innovation and the celebration of inventiveness by the larger society were nothing new, the size and integration of this newly formed technological community was quite unprecedented. Innovation for the sake of innovation, for the pleasure of solving self- or community-defined problems regardless of commercial potential now became, for the first time, a significant motivation – a significant value – in its own right.

These various sources of values come together in the wider Internet, implemented through linked personal computers as it was around 1995: scientific collegiality, the counter-culture, computer-related technological innovation as a value in its own right, and the nascent attention economy. The first three together tie the Internet to such values as: the pursuit of pleasure; the community of property; collegiality, criticism; anti-authoritarianism; the love of the new.

The values of seeking attention and recognition lurk in the background of the same three systems. Scientists eagerly seek recognition at least from their peers, and often from the larger community for new discoveries, that recognition being a major part of the established reward system of science . The counter-culture was steeped in media and music. Technological innovators too are partly motivated by showing off their neat new fixes to the members of their groups. So the Internet is an extremely natural new medium for the pursuit and granting of attention, as I have previously elaborated.

To a large extent, though not completely, all the values so far listed are also compatible with each other, though of course the realities of the scarcity of attention mean that in certain ways the Internet is inherently diverted from the goal of equality. Some are likely to get a great deal more attention than others, and those who are not on the ‘Net at all, can get less attention than ever before. So socialism – presuming that it requires the value of equality – is not entirely built in. Still, many of the values needed for it are.

Meanwhile, however, it is completely clear is that capitalist values are very distant in the basic structure of the Internet. If Soviet attempts at socialism foundered because they had to rest on the factory with its intrinsically capitalist values, then a capitalism that tries to extend itself on the back of the Internet is equally endangered. I now want to show how that incompatibility has played itself out, so far.


To explain how capitalism has received the Internet and is challenged thereby, I must first set the stage with some other movements in capitalism already underway by the time in the mid-1990’s when the World Wide Web first burst forth in the public mind. By the late 1970’s, in the U.S. the capitalist economy had entered a period of stagnation. Capitalist attempts at profit-making and growth had been offset by more or less monopolistic (or duopolistic) firms’ dominance in many markets, coupled with essentially social-democratic truces with labor that kept a good proportion of wages relatively high and provided high-paid workers with a range of "benefits." Among these truces had been the rise of employee pension funds, which by then together owned large numbers of shares of many companies – to the point that the well-known economic guru Peter F. Drucker wrote of "Pension-Plan Socialism." Though these stocks were supposedly owned in the interests of workers, the mandate of the fund trustees was to maximize growth in the value of shares, whatever that might happen to do to the workers in the owned companies. To this end those trustees and other "institutional investors" became powerful advocates of much more aggressive corporate management.

Along with increasing competition from non-US firms such as Japanese auto makers and the rise of the new micro-electronic-related technology sector, the new emphasis on "shareholder value" helped put in place a regime in which corporate executives were to be offered huge blocks of shares or options in order to align their interests more precisely with newly avaricious shareholders. Having slowly evolved into little but slightly glamorous, very well-paid employees not that different from Soviet apparachiks or government bureaucrats, who cared to some extent about a variety of "stakeholders " including workers, consumers, and citizens of the surrounding communities, top managers were once again to be a full-fledged owning class, with the extent of their wealth tied to increases in share value.

A mostly unmentioned background of these trends had been the steady rise of the attention economy, which increasingly divided the world into stars and fans. Pension-fund trustees, corporate CEO’s, and stock-market analysts, among others, were now seeking stardom, which provided much of the justification for their high pay. As long as the money economy continues to hold considerable sway, whoever garners a high share of attention and thus is a star can usually obtain a good deal of money – essentially in homage – from their fans. Movie, TV, music and sports stars had long cashed in on this, and now so could the new business and financial stars, their star status dependent on little but the profit figures they managed to ring up quarter after quarter, or even on simply the excitement they generated, which by itself vaguely but sufficiently promised future growth.

Into that milieu emerged the growing Internet, which around 1993 was suddenly noticed and acclaimed by the world at large, and which cheerleaders of capitalism, newly triumphant over Soviet socialism, took be a new sphere that beyond question could only be a vast new area for capitalist growth. In their minds there simply was no other possibility. They couldn’t foresee in how many ways the Internet itself would change things.


Because of the values built into it, the Internet at a most basic level is antithetical to the capitalist factory and corporation. Where the factory is closed, the Internet is open. Where the factory is based on close and undistracted attention to the dictates of management and to repetitive, assigned tasks in an unchanging environment, the Internet offers varied pleasure, vast knowledge and endless distraction. Where the factory isolates workers with their machines, allowing few interactions, the Internet makes possible interconnecting with anyone on earth, constant chatting with friends, and involving oneself in a great variety of communities.

LESSENING RETURNS TO SCALE If the growth of capitalism depends on capitalists’ being able continuously to enlarge the sphere of production under the control of particular capitalists or corporations, the rise of the Internet works in a different direction. Despite the many paeans in economic rhetoric to the value of free competition, when capitalist growth occurs, it is always dependent on a curtailment of competition, a limiting of the suppliers to the market of any line of goods in any particular locale to just a few providers, so each are not so inhibited by price competition that they cannot obtain the profits they need to grow larger. This curtailment of competition traditionally has been much aided by the phenomenon known as returns to scale: the larger the factory or firm, the more efficiently it can parcel out tasks, the more efficient the machinery it can afford, and the more it can throw around its weight on the market to obtain low prices for its inputs as well as profitable prices for its product.

For reduction of competition to be possible, any would-be new competitors must be confronted with substantial and growing barriers to entry into the fray (among which have traditionally been the need to operate on an ever-enlarging scale.). The Internet, and ever-cheaper computer power both work in the other direction, lowering entry barriers, and allowing even very small firms to have many of the advantages formerly dependent on giant scale. Some tasks that formerly required specialized departments now can be handled on a single PC; small-scale computerized machinery is often as efficient as giant machines; via the Internet each firm, no matter how small, can have global reach; groups of firms can often pool their purchasing power; firms of all sizes can farm out certain tasks formerly performed in-house to specialized companies elsewhere. (The very presence of these capabilities is a sign that the collegial and counter-cultural values implicit in the Internet and personal computers still function.)

The one thing these small firms cannot do is command profitable prices for their output. The result is likely to be a continuing proliferation of competitors in all sorts of fields, which by dint of the unalloyed competition, are always on the verge of running out of capital.

One might think that this result would automatically be prevented because wise capitalists would have the good sense to stay of out of markets they could otherwise enter as long as they recognize that it would be quite unlikely that they and their competitors could all remain profitable. But this has never been how things actually work. There are always reasons not related to profit that motivate new people to choose to enter a business if they can. Even when profit is the motive, unwarranted optimism is common. Both these patterns can readily be observed in fields such as farms, restaurants, or art galleries, where small businesses have long been the rule, and without subsidies tend to be short-lived unless they are maintained on a hobby-like basis. The Internet and related technologies vastly extend the range where such marginal efforts can seem plausible.

THE STOCKMARKET Since stocks can be traded without actual matter passing back and forth, the market for them is perfectly suited to the Internet. The resulting competition among brokers has sharply lowered the price of such trades. Combined with new ease and speed of trading, this rapidly increased the number of trades and the number of "investors" as well.

The attention-economic features of the Internet also increased the interest in glamorous companies and, by the same token, in glamorous corporate heads. These new business stars then felt entirely justified in demanding the compensation due entertainment superstars. A large portion of the new "capital" that flowed into these companies directly and indirectly enriched the top officers. As their stock prices shot up on the basis of the excitement they generated, these newly wealthy companies were in the position to buy or merge with other, more established but less glamorous ones. As stock market analysts also moved into the new attention era, they not only sought by every means possible to ally themselves with the corporate stars, but became stars in their own right, meaning they could then direct even more fans of the stock market to invest in the companies they chose. And the rise of stock prices in this climate, in which these new fan-investors failed to recognize the difference between the attention economy and the old material-based, capitalist economy, became a source of the new business-related stardom in itself.

Thus, in a climate in which underlying structural factors increasingly militate against old-style accumulation, money flowed into the markets, leading to what has become known as the Internet bubble. Partially because most of the new capital was spent "unproductively," it did underwrite the general economic expansion of the ‘90’s. Most economists and other observers take it for granted that, though the bubble has now burst, underlying trends towards heightened capitalist growth that the bubble seemed to reveal remain perfectly viable. My analysis suggest the opposite is the case. Large-scale capitalism has gotten out on a limb which can no longer support it, and there is probably no way back for much of it. Since one aspect of the boom was enormously to increase Internet capacity and the number of users, it increasingly becomes the space in which decisive economic activity takes place, and this is not going to be fundamentally supportive of capitalism.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. Capital has always meant "productive property," namely property that could grow, fundamentally through producing goods (or possibly services) that could reliably be sold at a net profit, mostly through direct manufacture of material goods. But as competitive possibilities increase, so that profits that come from having at least partial local monopolies become less reliable, and as the Internet itself increases emphasis on non-material goods, the old kind of productive property loses value. Corporations, scrambling to maintain partial or complete monopolies by any means possible, have increasingly turned to so-called intellectual property, meaning primarily rights protected by government action through copyright, patent, and trademark law, as well as contractually-protected trade secrecy. Both the scope of what is supposed to be owned in this way" and the effort to maintain strict enforcement for this kind of ownership have increased enormously in recent years, and can be expected to intensify further.

However, the values according to which the Internet was designed are basically inimical to restrictions on copying by which intellectual property is to be preserved. The more a song, say, is listened to, the more attention goes to the singers, musicians, composers and producers involved, which is clearly advantageous from an attention-economic point of view. The more copying, then, the better. Likewise, the ethic of scientific collegiality includes Merton’s "communism," of ideas.

Thus the struggle over intellectual property is likely to intensify, with supposedly ardent believers in the "free market" calling for increased government intervention to preserve their "property," as if the nature of this as property were not a social convention of a certain time and place but an unquestionable, eternal, natural right. (A slightly more subtle basis of arguing for intellectual property restrictions is that they are the basis of all socially valuable creativity As a sweeping assertion this is clearly false. Monetary reward has never been, and is not now the sole motivation for creativity. Nor can it simply be taken as a given that the current level of creativity motivated by intellectual property laws is a benefit to society that is worth the costs and restrictions that enforcing these laws implies. Creative types clearly must have some type of support from the larger society to keep at it, but they are not unique in this need. Other, non-property-related solutions to this problem may prove more viable and appropriate.)

On the Internet, protecting or even observing the niceties of intellectual property seems far from natural, as out of accord with the values by which it was constructed. Even if existing media companies find themselves able, say through technical means, to restrict uncompensated copying of their offerings over the Internet, a wealth of non-protected offerings by other attention seekers is likely to grow up, so that fans will pay increasing attention to what presents least barriers to doing so. The advantages of not imposing barriers will seem greater and greater.

SOCIAL INVENTION The rush of investment in the Internet, though it was mostly misguided, did help underwrite social inventions which are fundamentally non-capitalist and greatly increase the social cooperation the Internet makes possible. The foremost commercial success, exemplifies this. Its basic contribution is to provide a means for ordinary people to recycle items they no longer want, putting them in the hands of people who do want them. The auction format that is used, based on monetary payments, could easily be augmented with non-compensated transfers, say to those most needy. Even if this doesn’t happen anytime soon, the community building aspects of E-bay seem at least as important as the profit potential. By allowing slightly used or unwanted goods to find new homes, E-bay helps cut down on needless production, thereby probably lowering other companies’ profits far more than it adds to its own. A similar social invention is in place in the used-book sites, including Amazon’s; any used book in stock with almost any small seller or even ordinary reader is now available to anyone searching for the book, often at an extremely modest price. Amazon just acts as a connection between buyer and seller, so its large warehouses are not needed for this purpose, and again one can envision a similar system with no money exchanged at all.

Another major invention is the search engine, which permits anyone’s views or knowledge about anything to come to the attention of anyone else interested in similar subjects, implying a vast democratization and diversification of scholarship, science, political discussion and much else. More than ever, knowledge is held as a commons. And not just knowledge: Though Napster was destroyed by US courts, it helped put forward the idea of music as a commons, and the idea did not die with Napster.

The last social invention, (actually antedating the others) that I want to mention is the "free software" movement, as embodied specifically in the cooperatively designed GNU-Linux operating system. This is a major technological project, put together without any sort of traditional organization. It reveals that other, even more ambitious projects could be conducted without hierarchical organization as the number of people connected via the Internet continues to grow. Its much-celebrated usefulness and reliability illustrates the advantage of a innovation without the barriers of private (i.e., corporate) property.

TRANSPARENCY It is now becoming apparent that much of the recent capitalist boom was a performance, in fact a kind of magic trick, both enticing and bamboozling its audience. In it, a good proportion of the funds fed in by the vast and enchanted audience was funneled into the pockets of the star performers, the CEOs and other high corporate officers. They came to believe that like other stars they deserved the attention, whether in the form of money or not, that their fans were sending their way.

It’s not likely that many investors will be willing to be fooled soon again by the myriad sorts of accounting and other persiflage the boom brought forth. They will instead demand of any company worth investing in a rather complete transparency, for which the Internet is a perfect medium. A high proportion of all company books will have to be open on line all the time or investors will shy off. But this policy of transparency has no natural limits, down to viewing and communicating with individual workers at work. That degree of interconnection would also enable customers to ask for individual product variations, while enabling everyone everywhere to be aware of working conditions anywhere. The barriers between public and private which previously marked off the capitalist company and permitted it to work would thus be breached. The open character of Internet technology can invade and transform the previously closed sphere of production technology.


Internet technology moves swiftly. In little more than a decade, the Internet seemingly came out of nowhere to play a major role in, or to dominate, almost every aspect of life for hundreds of millions of people, and it can certainly grow much further in the next decade. The trends of shrinking monopoly advantage, lack of sustained profitability, disputes over the validity of intellectual property as a means for extracting cash, rapid and widely impacting social invention, and greater transparency can all be expected to strengthen. If so they will not only cut into the viability and hegemony of the capitalist model for the world economy but open up new possibilities for socialism (while also strengthening the attention economy).

Together these trends may well tend towards prolonged, global capitalist contraction. If so, we can expect heightened suffering stemming from corporate down-sizing, declining living standards, and yet more oppressive working conditions for those still with jobs. As more and more people connect to the Internet, what could be more natural than seizing on it as the means by which to ameliorate or end some of the suffering. Capitalism’s extension into a kind of unwitting post-capitalism of profitless entrepreneurialism makes the alternatives both more obviously attractive and the preservation of capitalistic relations in many ways increasingly obviously onerous.

In fact capitalist forms and rules will more and more appear as onerous, unneeded and unwelcome restraints even if there is no prolonged contraction. Evidence will pile up that life would be better and good things would happen more rapidly without restrictions such as those surrounding intellectual property, insistence on profitability for Internet ventures, or limits on how workers may communicate or cooperate with outsiders while on the job.

New forms of cooperation, new means of providing help to the most downtrodden, new social and technological inventions that help spread attention and goods more widely, new options for voluntarism and new modes of requesting, offering and obtaining material as well as non-material goods partly or wholly outside the aegis of capitalism, are all likely to spring up. At some point (why not right now?) some will begin to have a clear sense of the new form of socialism towards which we could be heading, and by that consciousness to work more systematically to develop on and through the Internet some of the technical and social underpinnings needed.





"In socialism, everyone must have a wide choice of pastries available at all times,"

- Charles Fourier (misquoted)

For this new movement towards socialism to have a chance of success it would probably help if its adherents could offer some sense of what its fundamental values would be and how it might work. Its great difference from socialism Soviet style has to stand out clearly to all concerned. The silly-sounding thought (mis)quoted above may be a good place to start. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) is widely acknowledged as the founder of socialism, though even among leftists – in English-speaking countries anyway – his actual writings are little read. Ever since I glanced years ago at an excerpt from Roland Barthes’ semiotic analysis of Fourier’s texts , I’ve been repeating the line, "In socialism, everyone must have a wide choice of pastries available at all times." I’ve now discovered it was my own invention. While Fourier did focus on desserts and held opinions not that far removed from my quote, he never actually expressed quite that thought.

Still, ridiculous as my pseudo-quote may sound, I have always felt a serious adherence to it’s basic point: Socialism should be concerned with making available to people not simply what they need but what they want, certainly including indulging in life’s pleasures, and at a small and human scale. If we cannot imagine a society which is so structured that most of us are able to indulge our tendency to want each other to be happy (an emotion Fourier variously termed "Harmonyism" or "Unityism") as much of the time as possible, then, almost inevitably the society we do imagine will be sure to cause either great suffering or widespread depression.

Further, as Fourier well realized, social solidarity can only be based on individual differences of taste and preference, which themselves are by no means constant. Not only is it impossible for society to decide, Soviet style, which pastry everyone should like, it cannot even assume that you in particular will always want the same pastry you do now. Nor will you always necessarily want to do whatever work or other activity you engage in now. For socialism to work, Fourier knew, doing good work had to stem from an eagerness to do it, not from necessity or coercion. We need a society in which "the best for everyone" – regardless of previous condition – is seen as both realizable and desirable, not in some distant future, but on a daily, hourly basis. This can be consistent with a rapid rise in conditions for those at the bottom, rather than a focus on those at the top.

The key challenge facing those who would create socialism is not creating a new kind of human being, as the Soviets posited.. Rather it is devising a self-sustaining technical and institutional framework in which people find it easy and natural to honor and exercise the best that is already in them. We almost all have inborn tendencies towards friendship, generosity, enjoying the happiness of others, cooperation and sharing, creativity, compassion, and community. In the right conditions it ought to be possible for these traits to flourish, outpacing our capacities for selfishness, hostility, deviousness, bigotry and the like.




It may not be immediately evident how a wide choice of pastries could be available for everyone at all times, but, in terms of nourishment and delight for the mind, for all, it is evident: The Internet can do it. Music, novels, movies, as well as writings, performances, games and sports events, lectures and news of every sort, photos, opinions , art works, discussions advice, pure palaver, games, puzzles and so on – the ’Net already offers them all. In a world without copyright and other intellectual property laws they could all be freely dipped into by everyone everywhere who had a broadband Internet connection.

This much of utopia is well within the reaches of technical feasibility, for everyone on earth, within a couple of decades at most. During the 90’s Internet boom US companies helped prove this point by installing something like fifty times as much broadband capacity as is actually now in use. Technological developments, if they continue, will make it possible soon to install far more broadband connections, everywhere. A tiny fraction of the world’s current industrial capacities would be enough to equip everyone on earth with a (current)s state-of-the-art, solar-powered computer of some sort to connect to the web.

"No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," said Samuel Johnson, but we know that is not true. Even without material rewards, there remain many motivations – among them being social solidarity, helping others, being the first to solve some artistic or intellectual problem, getting attention, and the sheer pleasure of creation – to "provide" the "content" mentioned above, though without money as a goad, there will not be quite the same works as with it. Millions of other kinds of works are also available on the Internet today at no cost. Some of these find no audience whatsoever and thus might be deemed worthless. But many others definitely do garner some interest, which demonstrates they each have some social value whether or not being to everyone’s taste.


Still, this mental-pastries-for-all approach may seem too reminiscent of the line mis-attributed to the eighteenth-century French Queen Marie-Antoinette – "Let them eat cake." Don’t the poor of the world above all need material sustenance? Won’t the artists, writers, etc., and everyone else still have material needs and desires? Shouldn’t anyone concerned about this focus on "basic needs" and only worry about luxuries like the Internet for all later?

I will argue in two steps that such thoughts can badly mislead us at best. While we do need more than the mental and more than the strictly pleasurable, if pleasure and play as well as interaction and communality are not built into a new socialist effort from the start it will go as viciously astray as Soviet communism and for essentially the same reasons. To focus on basic needs is to try to establish a level in which only purely animal needs for sustenance need be offered to the poorest. In practice, that floor always rapidly becomes a ceiling, separating humanity in to two distinct castes, with the poor little better treated or regarded than zoo animals – if that. At its best, that outlook simply reproduces the capitalist factory work ethic, leading straight back to the very problems capitalism now faces.

Those of us who do enjoy a rich mental life and other pleasures are in no position to deny what we do have to others, especially when, via the Internet, such denial is quite unnecessary. More important still, those of us who are better off are so not simply because of our skills and abilities but because we are somehow connected: we are able to get crucial attention. In any conceivable society, the deprived and marginalized can have their needs and desires met only if they get someone else’s attention (though whose may vary according to the system). They clearly have a better chance of doing this if they somehow have Internet access that ties them to the entire world than if they are restricted to trying to reach, say, local officials or a restricted set of International relief workers.

While a world-wide Internet doesn’t by itself solve the problem of assuring abundance for all, it is a critical first step, one that can immediately lead to new solutions to the many sub-problems involved. As E-Bay shows, even under the aegis of capitalism, the Internet has proved an adept medium in which to exchange material objects. It also has proved to be a very good medium to ask for and receive advice of all kinds, as well as to devise new technical means for many purposes.


The make-or-break question still begs for an answer. How might material goods come to be available in abundance without factories and factory-like work settings? Because its own underlying structure is both highly decentralized and highly automated, the Internet can serve as both a model and – with added technology – a means. It already has demonstrated the possibilities of abundance for non-material goods, altered the demarcations between material and non-material, permitted large scale cooperation at a distance in projects of many sorts, routinely allowed "action at a distance," for instance in the case of web-controlled cameras or telescopes, demonstrated new possibilities for public inventories of not only information but also material resources, and by its very existence and growth demonstrated that a new and unprecedented form of interconnected activity can rapidly come into being..

To take one of the simplest examples of the Internet as model, consider an article such as this. Once anyone writes one, with extremely little additional effort on anyone’s part it can become available to everyone on the globe who has ‘Net access of any sort. In this case what would formerly have been the production and distribution work has been almost completely automated.

That would of course be less the case were one to demand not Internet texts but more traditional books or magazines, in which case trees have to be planted, grown, cut down, turned into pulp and then paper, often in gigantic mills, shipped to printers, printed with ink that has been separately supplied by other factories, bound into books with glue or other supplies from still other sources, and then distributed through a system of warehouses, bookstores, and the like. At each step there are choices, such as of what material (wood pulp, linen, cotton or a mixture?) to make the paper, the size and style of the type, the size of the page, the thickness of the paper, the format of the book or magazine and its cover art. For some purposes, a wide range of these choices would result in what would be considered exactly the same book or magazine, while for other purposes they would lead to distinct differences.

But even now, with ordinary publishing, and with many other kinds of goods, the writing, setting of type, and design or the equivalent may already be handled remotely or automatically. Whatever is currently produced by whatever method, its material substructure is not actually created for the purpose out of nothing. At best, material that already exists is merely transformed. This transformation can be viewed as a more elaborate kind of printing – an impressing of ideas on matter. The challenge facing those attempting to extend the Internet into a full system of socialist technology would be to devise forms of this generalized printing that allow any kinds of goods to be made as easily as possible according to the standards of those who want them, and with the least negative effect on anyone else or on the general environment.

We can imagine this development beginning by many small extensions of a great variety of current processes into slightly new areas. In some cases this will involve altering the boundary between material and non-material. Photographs, pictures, and important documents were until recently taken to be perfectly material, embodied, taking up observable space, having to be passed from person to person, in only one place at one time, etc. But now with digital photography and digital signatures that materiality suddenly seems unnecessary, and the practice of putting photos directly on the ‘Net without ever printing them out has quickly been widely adopted. In other cases, such as clothing, getting people exactly what they want to wear can involve everything from passing around existing clothes to reducing the scale needed for automated manufacture (which already takes place}, while devising new methods for coordinating different steps (such as cloth-making and fitting) in such a way that large-scale organizations of the traditional kind are not required..

Ever-widening inventories of existing goods, design and production principles, substitution recipes, and so on would be cooperatively advanced on the Internet in a manner similar to the creation of GNU-Linux. This would lead to decentralized machinery, often controlled remotely from a distance, a high degree of automation of most routine steps, the development of small-scale production steps, and a more efficient, more highly decentralized kind of shipping of goods than now, based on a kind of packet-switched model, rather than a very few large shippers (such as UPS). Goods would be made with mixtures of new and recycled materials, with the mix being decided based on what an Internet search at the moment would turn up as the most convenient and acceptable alternatives.

By spreading what needs to be done more equitably, by interconnecting those who know how to make with those who express needs or desires, factory-like conditions of oppressive work could largely disappear, and with it the oppression of having no social place that now befalls the huge worldwide pool of un- and under-employed.

Under capitalism, the standard of production efficiency is ultimately one that places profitability first. At best it is expressed in increased worker productivity. Workers can find their lives wasted and misshapen by the rigors of production. Socialist efficiency would be an entirely differnt sort of measure. That is most efficient which most allows each person to do what she or he wants and to get the most out of life.

It is still the case today that most efforts at automation and robotization are instigated by corporate managements in the name of heightened productivity, often leading to many workers’ losing their jobs and being forced into a lower standard of living. Naturally there is often resistance. As society moves more towards an Internet-like model of shared and cooperative abundance, with work being done more out of desire than compulsion, automation and robotization would be very different, seen as a means of making life more enjoyable, with individuals or small groups deciding for themselves what to eliminate from the tasks they would like to carry out. The greatest automation advances could come in those activities that people want to have done but don’t want to do. Meanwhile the open process would ensure that safety, communitarian, and environmental issues would be considered at every stage.

The tight organizational structure characteristic of corporations could successfully be replaced by looser, cooperative, voluntaristic, yet highly effective efforts. Advances in that mode could in fact be far more rapid than now, because anyone on earth who saw how to solve some particular problem would be able to contribute to a joint solution, rather than, the current system, where each group of technologists has to work separately to preserve its employing company’s rights to intellectual property.

At some scale many such innovations are already under way. They can be expected to grow and proliferate even while the factory model continues its sway. Bit by bit, as it enlarges, as different new pieces are invented and brought into play, the new system will jell and swell to such a size that it will suddenly emerge as the equal to factories. More and more techniques originally developed for factories will be reshaped and appropriated for this new, more open style of interconnection. By then, those areas still chiefly dominated by factory methods will increasingly be subject to rethinking and replacement, and the factory model will begin to appear rare and obsolescent. If that occurs, capitalist investment in existing factories will fall off, putting added emphasis on replacing them entirely.

Presumably, in an economy that isn’t based on money, profit and earnings, most people’s material desires will be different from now. There would be no need for advertisers constantly to tempt us with new goods we may not really have much use for. Showing off material wealth would be pointless. We wouldn’t need to own what we could instantly get from the Internet, such as encyclopedias or record collections, nor would we need the space to house them. Much the same would go for items we would use only occasionally that we could quickly and reliably obtain from the general inventory of currently unused items.


The question I find myself being asked over and over about such a system is, "who would collect the garbage?" The assumptions behind the question are interesting, especially since no one who has asked me at present has a job anything like garbage collection. Evidently, it would appear, some jobs are so unpleasant that the only way anyone can be expected to do them is that otherwise they and their families will starve. Those who ask me mostly don’t imagine that such motivation is needed to do what they do, but they believe our current system of wages for work must be kept so that someone other than they will do the unpleasant tasks. They also apparently assume that "collecting the garbage" is a fixed, unchanging kind of task that will have to exist as such until the end of time. This is not so.

What is or isn’t to be considered garbage, and the social arrangements by which to deal with whatever, if anything, fits in that category have different answers at different times and places, and even under capitalism the answers are by no means either uniform or fixed. Further the general problem of waste remains of considerable interest to a great many people. Under the kind of system envisioned here, we can expect that lively discussion and invention around this topic will provide a great many viable solutions to the various problems raised. This will occur despite the fact that most people will probably continue to take little interest in the question. By the time the process I’m in favor of gets to the point that things like municipal garbage collection can no longer be relied on, those who wake up to find they have a garbage problem in their own neighborhoods will find many possible solutions waiting to be effected.

In general, no one would be required, coerced or assigned to do any particular regular task. Some would contribute very little or nothing, but most people would willingly take on a variety of activities out of interest, eagerness to demonstrate prowess, community feelings, or a sense that something ought to be done.

Of course, all this will take some time to unfold, Most likely, the new form of socialism will long remain incomplete and somewhat elusive as relics of capitalist monetary inequality and exploitation survive alongside inequalities in attention getting. While people may be more motivated than now to act according to communitarian, cooperative, pleasure-seeking, playful and compassionate values, money and attention seeking may well continue to remain not only motivations but to some degree necessary parts of a workable social structure. Still, the varying values will compete on a more equal footing than they did at the height of industrial capitalism or at the present moment.

The movement towards this new socialism, conscious or not, has already begun. Given the swiftness enabled by the Internet, we should consider its substantial realization to be years or at most decades away, a project that requires no violence, no seizing of the "means of production" or of the mechanisms of the state, no vanguard party or secret conspiracies to move humanity in a new and better direction. Internet users and thinkers are well-positioned to take up this great project and advance it further.