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What Does The Left Have To Offer In Platform Capitalism?

12/30/2016 01:51 EST | Updated 12/30/2016 01:51 EST
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Regardless of where someone stands in the political spectrum, we should agree that a healthy democracy requires all sides to be engaged and, in an ideal scenario, critically yet objectively evaluate the proposals of each other and contribute new ideas to governance.

In reality, the left of the 21st century has failed to offer alternatives to a number of critical issues and doesn't seem to be adapting to a rapidly changing society and economy. Climate change, new technologies, and the development of the knowledge-based economy are challenges that don't fit the traditional, Marxist-based narrative of the left. In order to remain relevant in the future and contribute to more stable democracies, the left needs to develop new theoretical and policy frameworks to solve these emerging challenges.

Rooted in the work of Karl Marx and his successors, the left is not adequately equipped to respond to our drastically changed modes of production and labour relations and evolving capitalism. Even though there is value in that work, in many cases the notion of "the worker" and the interpretation of class struggle do not apply anymore. Self-employment and high-paying jobs in the finance and high-tech sectors, for example, need to be approached in new ways.

An example of how 19th and 20th century leftist ideas have become obsolete is the concept of the creative class, introduced by Professor Richard Florida at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. In his discussion of post-industrial cities in the United States, Florida argues that professionals who engage in the creative process and create commercial products and consumer goods share the same -- mostly liberal -- ideas and expectations regarding their jobs.

These people have formed their own class, affecting businesses and cities which compete in attracting top talent. This high-earning, mobile, and non-organized group of skilled workers is expanding both in terms of size and influence but does not fit the traditional leftist narrative of class struggle.

The left hasn't been able to catch up with the rapid transition to the knowledge-based, globalized, and automated economy of today and might face more difficulties with the emerging tech-centred type of capitalism. In the era of platform capitalism, new technologies allow users connect with independent service providers, often in networks using their own currencies.

Companies such as Upwork use web-based technologies to connect the creative class -- web and mobile developers, designers, writers, sales experts -- to businesses. Similarly, companies like Airbnb and Uber are using mobile apps and the web to connect people offering services with customers and businesses. As platform capitalism develops, many of these digital communities will create their own internal currencies creating a Blockchain Circular Economy.

In this type of economy, each activity of a marketplace consists of a "unit of work" and each of these units generates value for the marketplace. In return for that value, users are rewarded with the marketplace's own currency -- like the already successful Bitcoin -- which can be spent inside the marketplace. The circular nature of this type of economy adds further value as the currency value increases proportionally with the amount of activity and value generated inside of it.

With the State largely removed and mostly self-employed workers determining not only the value of their work but also the value of the currency, the left would need a new type of framework to remain relevant.

Some ideas regarding the future of poverty, technology, and the environment come from an unexpected source: the Catholic Church. In his encyclical Laudato Si', Pope Francis calls on developed nations and all people to act against irresponsible development, climate change, and extreme consumerism. Interestingly, the pontiff seems to believe in science and technology but at the same time highlights that "our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience."

These ideas are rooted in Pope Francis's home region, where the radical social and ecclesiastical movement of liberation theology originates from. As he discusses, we have the power to steer technology and "put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral."

As conservatives have mostly been focused on furthering the existing model of economic development, the role of the left would be to find solutions from the intersection of social and technological innovation. More people have become aware of the need of a larger change to battle climate change and rising inequality and are open to new types of development.

The decline of the left should be seen as an opportunity to experiment and create people-centred systemic solutions and a new framework to answer the questions of the future. Our democracy needs it.

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