You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy. (maybe)
Smart TV’s, Hitler, Experts, and OnlyFans - Just how real are the predictions of the WEF?
First they came for the smart TV’s
Yesterday I was reading a newsletter put out by a local New York City Lawyer, Paul Skallas, that included a list of links for recommended reading over the weekend. One that jumped out at me was a story about how Samsung had remotely disabled TV’s that had been looted from a warehouse in South Africa. The press release from Samsung had contained a quote from Mike Van Lier, the Director of Consumer Electronics at Samsung South Africa on their development of their remote control technology:
“In keeping with our values to leverage the power of technology to resolve societal challenges, we will continuously develop and expand strategic products in our consumer electronics division with defence-grade security, purpose-built, with innovative and intuitive business tools designed for a new world. This technology can have a positive impact at this time, and will also be of use to both the industry and customers in the future.“[emphasis added]
I couldn’t quite place it, but this language struck me as a bit chilling. In examining why it affected me this way I thought back to a little over a year ago when the World Economic Forum (WEF) announced its proposal for a ”Great Reset.“ Or a plan for members of the Forum (governments, global corporations, large NGO’s, and other institutions) to utilize the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to execute massive overhauls of society to improve the state of the world. From their website:
“The changes we have already seen in response to COVID-19 prove that a reset of our economic and social foundations is possible. This is our best chance to instigate stakeholder capitalism - and here's how it can be achieved…. To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism.”
Now as creepy and as ominous as that sounds, it is perhaps not a surprise that people on certain corners of the internet did some digging and scrounged-up this video on the WEF’s Facebook page and spread it virally across the web. The video from 2016 has the WEF making eight predictions about what the state of the world will be like in 2030. The first of which implies that personal private property ownership will be eliminated or as they put it in the tag-line “You'll own nothing. And you'll be happy.” Hinting at the concept that everything and anything you need will no longer be yours but rather something you rent from service providers in the near future. If you clicked on the actual link to the article you would see that under the prediction of there was this little gem:
Naturally this set off alarm bells in many fringe corners of the web. The WEF’s announcement of the Great Reset along with the prediction of no ownership within two decades was blasted around as proof that the ravings of conspiracy theorists had been right all along. A range of actors from Alex Jones’s to the Nation of Islam were quick to call it evidence of Satanists, lizard people, the illuminati, etc. And just as quick as the quacks started going viral their claims were quickly batted back by a laundry list of approved fact checkers including the BBC and Reuters.
I am not here to defend either side. But I do think a further examination of the “You’ll own nothing” prediction is worth examining a bit more thoroughly. Reexamining the Samsung Smart TV shut-off (granted the “owners” of the TV’s had stolen them) it is striking that the corporation is still able to control the use of its products well after their control is ostensibly in others’ hands. Skallas remarks in his newsletter:
“It’s interesting how there used to only be black and white TVs. Then color TVs came and now there are not any black and white TVs. The same thing is happening with non-smart TVs. There are almost no TV manufacturers offering consumer TVs without the ability to connect to the internet to collect metrics, display ads, and run “apps” like Netflix””
There is a narrowing of choice for consumers at hand, almost all TV available are now smart devices – read devices that can still be controlled by the manufacturers, or other outside forces for that manner, throughout the products entire use. And it is not just smart TV’s. with the advent of the internet of things, large proportions of the appliances and devices in people’s homes – from their thermostat and refrigerator, to their lights and blinds – are exposed to external controls whether they want it or not. It does seem accurate that on some level ownership is being actively redefined.
It’s worth noting here that Samsung is not a member of the WEF. But the breadth of companies that comprise the WEF are broad; it is includes over 390 of some of the worlds largest firms and organizations across all industries. From Energy (Saudi Aramco, BP, Shell) to food (Unilever Coca-Cola, Nestle, and Bayer (owner of Monsanto)), technology (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft), and pharma (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna) the WEF even has a special singular “Strategic Foundation Partnership” with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It would be ridiculous to think (like any organization) that all that comprise the WEF are moving in lockstep towards its predictions. And to be clear the lack of personal ownership is a prediction not a goal of the WEF (to be fair neither is being happy) – and in that vein, perhaps a slow erosion of ownership shouldn’t even be looked at as a function of the WEF, or its partners, but simply the end-state of a natural progression of technological growth and expansive powers of government and industry (more on that later).
Lobbying from big tech has created for forms of “ownership” without actual volition to do what one wants with one’s property to become ever more prevalent throughout society. For example actions like one’s ability to alter one’s phone or software he or she wants is often times in a state of legal limbo if not outright illegal. There are even severe limitations on your ability to repair your broken property yourself or through a vendor of your choice.
These aspects water down even what the concept of ownership means. If a person paid $4,000 to purchase a Peloton treadmill for her home, after June of this year, she was alerted that she could no longer use her treadmill for free but would actually have to spend an additional monthly fee for the right to a subscription to use her own equipment. Perhaps we should begin looking at most ownership in the technology space now more akin to extended licensing agreements with permission to use.
However, it is not just limited to just the tech and appliance space. The 2702 page infrastructure bill contains a new program under section 24220 (page 1066) that focuses on “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology,” and mandates that as early as 2026 all new cars will have to be able to monitor for DUIs and have technology to “passively detect” driver impairment and measure blood alcohol concentration. As one outlet summarizes: “Included within the potential applied sciences are methods that might monitor drivers’ breath for high-levels of alcohol, sensors that might monitor drivers’ eyes for indicators of impairment and infrared contact exams put in on automobiles’ ignition buttons.” Indeed, it doesn’t matter if you own your car, your ability to even turn on your car will be dependent upon external verification.
A Wall St. Journal article from 2017 titled “Meet Your New Landlord: Wall Street” indicates the growth of the rental market, and the expansion of large institutional investors including BlackRock, Allianz, JPMorgan Asset Management, and other Private Equity, Sovereign Wealth, and Pension funds are purchasing record numbers of individual houses to rent out and also building large scale rental communities of single family houses. It seems the basic tenets of classical property ownership are eroding, as asset prices inflate, the purchasing ability of individuals evades them more and more and, even further, smaller local landlords are being squeezed out, and more people’s living situations are being laid in the laps of the behemoth institutions of Wall St.
Further, a consistent subtle shift in the meaning of ownership comes down to one’s ability to use their property with meaningful amounts of privacy. Apple made headlines a few weeks ago when it announced it would actively be scanning hashes of all users photos uploaded to iCloud and run them through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) database to ensure that users do not have child pornography saved on their personal devices.
The aforementioned infrastructure bill includes an additional pilot program under section 13002 (page 508) is the “National Motor Vehicle Per-Mile User Fee Pilot”, a vehicle mileage tax program which if implemented would install a “third-party on-board diagnostic device” in every car on the road in America to actively track each driver’s movement and tax them for distances travelled.
Even your (or your child’s) scholarly writings may not be safe from collective oversight. Multiple market research firms have pointed to the expansion of anti-plagiarism expect to see substantial expansion of the use of the technology, where student’s writings are submitted to databases and surveilled for potential plagiarism.
The apotheosis of this took place perhaps with the news that policy makers were working with SMS carriers to dispel misinformation shared via text messages. All of the above instances seem to beg the question can it be considered private property if there is no privacy to its use?
The Road to Hell
Now though the above examples may seem to demonstrate that the definitions of private ownership are shifting so radically that momentum will lead us well on our way to a world where practically we will “own nothing.” They are probably at best just cherry-picked examples from some tin-foil hat wearing loony. Further, there is still no reason for concern because all of the above facets come from good-faith, altruistic aims that are of net-benefit for society. Generally speaking, as long as the owners of all the above appliances have good intentions then they have nothing to fear:
If a person wants to use a TV, then they should not steal it out of a warehouse.
If a person wants to be able to turn on their car, then they should not be inebriated.
Apple is only monitoring your phone to make sure you have no child pornography.
The government is monitoring your driving and whereabouts to only tax you more efficiently and thereby provide resources for national infrastructure.
As long as you do not plagiarize you do not have anything to worry about submitting your writing to large surveillance databases.
Large institutional investors can much more readily and effectively source capital to a housing market that is facing a large shortage of houses than small single owners, there should be no concern if they control a large portion of the housing supply.
As long as you are not spreading misinformation you have nothing to worry about surveillance of SMS messages.
Even the shift in Peloton ownership to subscription was ward off potential injury to children.
These are all – just like the WEF’s stated goals: for the greater good.
I am taken to another newsletter I read often (and highly recommend) by Dr. Michael Eades, a physician and author, where he touched upon the concept of the Bootlegger-Baptist Coalition:
“The idea comes from Prohibition times when bootleggers and Baptists--an unlikely coalition under almost any circumstances--joined forces to fight a common enemy. The common enemy? Low booze prices. The Baptists were teetotalers and wanted everyone to be that way. One way to keep folks from drinking, or at least minimize their drinking, was to keep booze prices high. Bootleggers also wanted high booze prices so when they sold their goods, they made a lot more money. How best to keep booze prices high? Make sure supply was limited. How best to keep supplies limited? Work to keep prohibition in place.
‘Baptists took the moral high-ground in the public debate, earnestly spelling out the evils of an unbridled market for drink. Meanwhile, bootleggers offered bribes to corrupt politicians, knowing there were huge profits to be made down the road.’ [he is quoting from a different Substack piece here]
When you look around and analyze many situations from the same saint-sinner coalition perspective, you find them all over the place.”
I find the Bootlegger-Baptist dynamic to be a powerful tool of analysis when observing any social cause. When applied to the shifting of ownership one quickly surmises that though there are ostensible altruistic aims: Protecting children, the environment, ensuring safety on roads, efficient allocation of resources, etc. – there is also the potential for bootleggers to be partnering with them for more devious aims. However, I am not claiming the existence of any such bootleggers. Whether they exist or not, may never even become known. (and further I have no cares to be lumped into the conspiracy theorist group or go on one some disinformation watch lists) so I will take the optimistic view that these aims are ALL altruistic.
The Greater Historical Good
In general, the above eroding of tenets of personal private ownership is an act of centralization. The dynamic shifts the ability for decentralized, discrete, private personal use or objects into more centralized nodes of control, be it government or industry. Even if we are optimistic about the altruistic origins of these control centers, we at least must be cognizant of what centralizing this type of control could mean if they were to fall into more nefarious hands, or if the bureaucratic institutions themselves were to become warped and mal-incentivized.
It seems almost by chance that earlier this week a friend of mine randomly passed along an essay that included quotes of former world leaders with their outlook on collective societal goals and the greater good. I have included two of them below:
“[our political] conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide [with it]…. [the basis of our government] reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual.”
The ideal citizen in his noblest form “willingly subordinates his own ego to the community and, if the hour demands, even sacrifices it…[The individual has] not rights but only duties.”
Both quotes appear to be the typical speech of politicians who are pushing forward a conception of altruism and the greater good. It may surprise you then that the first quote is pulled from the speeches of Benito Mussolini and the second directly from Adolph Hitler’s writings in Mein Kampf. The essay which I pulled them from was written in 1994 on and is on the topic of Economic Fascism, the full quotes are below:
““The Fascist conception of life,” Mussolini wrote, “stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with the State. It is opposed to classical liberalism [which] denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts the rights of the State as expressing the real essence of the individual.” from: Benito Mussolini, Fascism: Doctrine and Institutions (Rome: Adrita Press, 1935), p. 10.”
“The philosophy of German fascism was expressed in the slogan, Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz, which means “the common good comes before the private good.” “The Aryan is not greatest in his mental qualities,” Hitler stated in Mein Kampf, but in his noblest form he “willingly subordinates his own ego to the community and, if the hour demands, even sacrifices it. ”The individual has “not rights but only duties.”” From: Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943), p. 297.
These quotations were rather shocking to me. I had never personally read the writings of either man and was always inclined to believe both would have a style of deranged fanaticism and scapegoating of political dissidents, rather than using language we wouldn’t be shocked to see from our politicians today. Now to be clear, I am not equivocating all calls for large-scale altruism with fascism; but, we must remain vigilant of how calls for the greater good can be used for nefarious means in the wrong hands. I was certainly unawares as to how Mussolini and Hitler relied upon these political tactics to gain support, and many people I have encountered were similarly ignorant. It reminds me about the old adage about those ignorant of their history.
The focus of the above essay reflects on the role of industry under fascist regimes – a facet of authoritarian governments that is oddly often elided from study. Economic fascism in 1920’s and 30’s Europe took the name of “corporatism,” and was an effective melding of interests, aims, and ultimately actions of the state and industry.
One could surmise that in the world predicted by the World Economic Forum, where individuals own nothing, that it will actually make little difference if the institutional owners are private industry, governmental bodies, or some hybrid of both. However, we need not even use our imagination, as WEF head Klaus Schwab wrote in 2019 advocating a form of global governance putting forward “Stakeholder capitalism” which is an economic and political system that, in partnership with government, “positions private corporations as trustees of society.” Indeed, an even earlier 2010 report from the WEF on a “Global Redesign” initiative calls for “multidimensional cooperation…. integrating non-governmental expertise into the formulation of policy frameworks, be they formal (legal) or informal (voluntary or public-private); and integrating nongovernmental resources into policy implementation.”
From Tax Credits to OnlyFans
But perhaps the WEF is not even necessary for this synthesis of government and global corporations. In many ways the symbiotic union of state and industry is not only already well under way, but even in a fairly advanced stage, and welcomed by establishment facets across the political spectrum left, right, and center.
The revolving door of regulators and the businesses they oversee is well tread ground. It is present in nearly every major industry, from energy to pharmaceuticals, education to agriculture, and, in effect, regulatory capture unifies many of the aims of industry and government pushing them to act in tandem to common goals.
Beyond just traditional regulatory capture the comingling of public and private finances through grants, subsidies, tax credits and outright funding make large private industry beholden to the state. Tesla is hardly the prototypical company that comes to mind when envisioning a stodgy establishment corporation under the thumb of the government; yet, in the first quarter of this year the company had a profit of $438mm, yet it made $518mm of revenues from the sale of regulatory tax credits. What implicit incentives does Tesla have to align with the aims of the state, to whom it is dependent upon for up to 118% of its profits? Extended a bit why would any publicly listed company look to buck a government under whose monetary policy they have seen vast increases in valuations?
Shift the context to fiscal policy, and the barrage of government spending and stimulus bills, though ideally re-invigorating the economy, also make the government a top customer of numerous businesses across the nation small and large. In a free market if individual actors don’t favor a business or service they usually vote with their wallets, and do not give the enterprise their business – surely the government can do the same. And as more and more fiscal policy grows – so too do more businesses need to stay in the government’s good favor. However, there should not be much to fear as again the government institutions are for the public good, and so long as these businesses are upstanding and do the right thing, they have nothing to fear.
The recent shutdown of sexual content on OnlyFans at the behest of their payment processors was reminiscent of the earlier occurrence of Operation Choke Point an event between 2011 and 2014 where regulators of payment processors looked to crackdown and “cut off the financial lifeblood” on over two dozen industries including those engaged in online poker, pornography, weapons sales, payday lending and others. These businesses were doing nothing illegal but were simply unfavored by certain lawyers at the Department of Justice. A cohort of regulators, including the OCC and FDIC, deemed that financial institutions that provided services to these industries would be placed under such an onerous amount of regulatory scrutiny through the issuance of FIRREA subpoenas that their business would effectively become unprofitable. Thousands of businesses found themselves overnight cut off from banking services and payment processing and soon had to close shop. In this manner a group of unelected bureaucratic regulators circumvented courts and representative legislatures to shut down activities they personally disliked. In less than 10 years the WEF predicts you will own nothing, and instead receive all your essential needs from large industry or the state or some synthesis of the two, you have nothing to fear as long as you are in their good standing.
What is to be done:
This essay may be taken as a warning about issues that could arise from this deterioration of the core concepts of ownership. Sadly, the slow encroachment upon personal volition is glibly elided in mainstream discourse which is much more focused on convincing you that racism is a pandemic, or that perma-war in the middle east is a good thing. I have pounded the drum over and over again on how the culture wars and other political discourses are simply distractions leaving the majority of us standing with doe-eyed apathy as we witness the nexus of control of our lives actively being wrestled out of our hands. And if we do nothing, why should we believe that the encroachments will ever stop? Perhaps even before 2030, the WEF’s predictions can come true.
To be able to resist such an outcome, any person so-inclined must know thy enemy thoroughly. One must not only be familiar with the actions of these government and industry bodies that are harvesting volition; but also they must develop an intimacy with the thought kernels that generate the ideological scaffolding undergirding these behemoths. The philosophical underpinnings of “You’ll own nothing and be happy” are the synthesis of many roots. Including, a general adoration for centralization, a deeply-seated epistemic faith that humans can operate with a thorough level of certainty in a random world, and, perhaps most importantly, a fundamental mistrust in everyday men and women to run the affairs of their lives.
The belief that people are better off owning nothing is directly tied to the idea that decision making should be kept in the hands of experts. Individual free choice is viewed as subpar, and self-harming. People cannot be trusted to guide their own lives, let alone own their own property, for they may divert from the optimal goals of centralized power and undermine the common good. Think of the public health officials like Dr. Fauci who openly admits to not being up front with and moving goal posts for the American public for their own self-interest and Surgeon General Adams who insisted people not wear masks not because of his belief in their effectiveness but rather because he wanted to control public behavior (conserve mask buying). Think of academic creeps like Richard Thaler or Cass Sunstein who want to nudge society to be in line with their shortsighted utopic aims. Or Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Charlie Munger, and any other billionaire who thinks they can glibly alter core tenets of society through their philanthropy.
All of these instances are facets to a common theme of centralized elite control – and this is no novel idea, but rather one as old as time: from ancient world teachings of the Egyptians and Plato, to the premodern era of Calvin and Spinoza, and now to the likes of Curtis Yavin and Klaus Schwab. The belief is that the nexus of control of the world should not be in little people’s hands but rather at the behest of either large corporations who compete in allegedly “free markets”, government technocrats who have gone through the ringer of bureaucratic credentialling, CEO’s-esque rulers who would be “properly incentivized” by stakeholders, benevolent dictators who rule through force, philosopher-kings entitled to rule for their love of wisdom, or absolute monarchs who are given the divine right by God Himself. The difference in effect is negligible - it is all the same wrestling of the power to craft a life out of the hands of individuals and into the control of people who know best. Common folk will own nothing and they’ll be better off as such.
Paraphrasing John Gatto: the arguments for these systems of control are seductive and irrefutable, that is not a coy or sarcastic statement. An expert exists for everything, one who knows more than you and I and can make every choice better than you and I. Who can deny that isn’t true? And yet it is a feeble, stupid truth - the truth of a limited mind which itself is afraid of having the responsibilities (along with the implied risk and rewards) of freedom and self-direction fall upon it.
Without the ability to make our own choices and more importantly our own mistakes, human life becomes meaningless. Yet despite this, individuals and institutions looking to enlarge the “greater good” and stamp out the perceived suffering of people (often without direct contact and from thousands of miles away) are willing to cede their own neighbors’, families’, and loved ones’ freedom and ability to craft lives deemed fit under their own terms.
If we believe that we are just machines to be adjusted for optimal outcomes, and are too stupid, malformed, irresponsible, and ignorant to make the best decisions even in the most intimate of personal choices in our own life then in many ways we have revoked the immense and majestic potential of life – finding, creating, and fulfilling our own singular destinies.
Come 2030 we may very well own nothing – but I find it hard to believe we will in any meaningful sense be happy.