Bruce Sterling: State of the World, 2009

Futurist and sf author Bruce Sterling’s annual State of the World discussions of The Well are always worth reading. This year he dialogues with Jon Lebkowsky, however others can join in.

An excerpt.

Cellphone banking is happening now among Third Worlders who never saw a bank in their lives — forgotten people who’d be spat upon by conventional bankers. Their need for money is so dire that even rapacious cellphone outfits look good to them.

There are two major kinds of poor in this world: people inherently incapable of generating value for others, and people who are KEPT from making any money by oppressive systems that don’t serve their interests. You don’t have to be a Marxist to see that this second problem is a major issue for everybody now.

The shattered banks are making honest, industrious, capable people go broke. It’s not that we created some over-complex loan vehicles, and things would be great if we returned to the limpid honest of the Gold Standard. That’s idea is wingnut hokum. Money is always a social invention. Money is never simple or natural. Money always has winners and losers.

The problem with these booming cellphone banking systems — thriving in places like Kenya — is that they are stealth operations. If the local kakistocracy caught on that the Little People were actually making money, they’d drive by in a Mercedes Benz to beat and shoot them. Improving things by stealth has limits. Kenya isn’t like Kenya by accident.

The same goes for Americans trying to rebel against Wall Street. There’s no visible other space. There’s no liberated territory. It’s like rebelling against a funhouse mirror because it makes you look so fat and stupid.