New World Symphony
“I envision a world where water, electricity, food, and education would be for free in the next 25 years for everyone on this planet,” said Carlos Santana during an interview at the Latin Grammys.
The need for the essentials of life to be made freely available is obvious: Three billion people now live in poverty, half of them subsisting on less than a dollar a day. Yet everything is being privatized: education, health care, the very cells which make up our bodies.
The agent of privatization, the corporation, was once an organic part of our society. In 1949, U.S. corporations paid 49% of all taxes. They pay just 7% now.
In the 1950s, polio vaccine was given away for free, yet AIDS vaccines are now priced out of the reach of most people who need them, even though the public paid most of the price of their development. Corporations such as Enron receive hundreds of millions of dollars worth of government “loans.” Corporations such as Microsoft use convict labor to make their products.
Corporations are not content with their riches. They are on the attack. The music industry demands that it be allowed to make the rules for the Internet, which was developed entirely with public money. Developers file so-called SLAPP suits, claiming libel when citizens raise environmental concerns. NAFTA gives corporations the power to sue governments if regulations cut into profits.
Is there an alternative to the corporation? Consider the answer given by Marshall Brain, entrepreneur and founder of HowStuffWorks.com, in an October 15, 2003 LA Times op-ed piece entitled “Relax, Wage Slaves, Robots Promise You an Endless Vacation.”
Brain explains pretty convincingly that robots will perform most tasks by 2040, then says: “To achieve true economic freedom, we must break a fundamental doctrine in today’s economy: the link between work and income. Robots will be doing all the work, so this link becomes meaningless. We need a new paradigm. In the current paradigm, millions work to make the rich richer. For example, 3.5 million fast food workers get minimum wage so executives can make billions of dollars…Instead of letting the mega-rich swim in an ocean of money…we should tap that ocean to provide a swimming pool of money for each person. Give everyone $25,000 a year.”
Can this work? It’s easy to come up with objections. Without jobs, people will have nothing to do. Where will that money come from if no one’s working? How can you live on $25,000 a year? But that’s not the point. The point is to be willing to think completely outside the corporate box, to dream in terms of what you really want and need and then let the chips fall where they may. George Clinton’s admonition to “Free your mind and your ass will follow” remains sound advice.
Is Carlos Santana’s prophecy any more farfetched than John Lennon’s “Imagine” was thirty years ago? Not if we’re willing to imagine a world without corporations. This starts with admitting that the corporation—from oil companies to entertainment conglomerates, from HMOs to defense contractors—has created a world that simply does not work.
Rock & Rap Confidential / 2004