Sunday, August 1, 2010

Affluence and freedoms

I was watching Book TV today and Ralph Nader was a guest for a couple of hours. For years he's been a consumer advocate (notably auto safety) and grassroots activist, but one thing that stuck with me from all the questions he took regarded the increased difficulty in organizing now.

He indicated it was very surprising to him that the information revolution and the internet has not spurred people to action. He says it's easier than ever to find out information now, but that it seems more difficult than ever to respond to do anything about the abuses they see. One line of thought is information overload - there's so much information available that you just can't make sense of all of it. For example: He remarks how he's so frustrated with how workers continually get screwed as their pensions are shredded by the companies they work for - but he finds it very difficult to organize a coherent push around that issue to help protect people.

Is it possible that there's so much information that the corporations with very narrow but very focused interests are much better able to use this knowledge to their advantage, while the attention of most average folks gets so diluted they can't make sense of it all - or at least can't stay focused on it long enough? That's sortof like John Bogle's argument about why the managers (CEOs, boards) are running companies for the interests of the managers nowadays, and are often no longer attempting to maximize returns for the greatly diluted shareholder interests who find it difficult to stay on top of boards - especially when so much investment is diluted in 401K and pensions etc?

Bogle sees the later as a challenge for capitalism, and Nader sees the former as a challenge for our democracy - and certainly sees corporate power stronger now than ever before - and growing.

An additional thought here - what role does affluence play in this? And is there a concern that once a certain level of affluence in society is reached are we sated - like on our happy drugs of Brave New World - and are we happy just to go along for the ride distracted by the relative abundance around us?

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