Technology, the costs of capitalism and a better way
In a truly democratic society, voters would choose what technologies were developed and how they would be used. Unfortunately, the idea of a utopian democratic society where people are able to decide what is developed based on discussions of the pros and cons without the bias of the all-powerful market economy is so far removed from anything that a normal person might even consider.
Because corporations are the main innovators, rather than individuals, they are always seeking to influence politicians and public opinion, not for the betterment of society but to recover the costs associated with research and development.
The hazards of allowing profit to drive innovation can be seen in the streamlining of the FDA drug approval process wherein several drugs were approved before they were fully vetted. These drugs, including Vioxx, killed people and caused other unacceptable side effects.
The same can be said of the subsidies provided to nuclear power developers in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Politicians were told that nuclear power would bring widespread benefits of cheaper energy. Instead of funneling money to alternative energies like solar and wind, nuclear was the winner of the government sweepstakes. Subsequently, nuclear power does not provide cheaper energy or cleaner water as promised. It does provide waste disposal problems that can last tens of thousands of years, and it provides contaminated land where the reactor was placed and where its waste is sent.
The truly sad part about the development of technology is that people will argue that the consumer gets to vote on what succeeds and what doesn’t by purchasing or not purchasing the technology. That only happens if the purchaser is a person, if the technology is brought to the market, and if it doesn’t face unfair competition like the subsidies provided by the government to fossil fuels and nuclear power.
When the purchaser is an organization like the Department of Defense, people do not have a say in what technology is developed and used. The DoD is simply too large an economic force to be ignored or overruled by the general public, and that means that small nuclear reactors get built for submarines and other uses.
In other cases, companies may purchase the patents to technologies and then suppress the development of that technology that would otherwise threaten that company’s ability to dominate the market.
Even if none of this was the case, the market economy has left the people of the United States essentially without choice and without the ability or desire to educate themselves. The media is largely responsible for this as it sells intense but short emotional experiences that leave the user wanting more.
The media is also representative of the lack of choice that consumers have. “Viewers merely seem to have choices as they select among essentially similar radio and TV stations (Technology Matters, pg. 152).”
White labeling is another example of giving the appearance of choice when in actuality there is none. White labeling is when a factory creates a product like corn flake cereal and sends that product to several other companies to be packaged as a brand of Corn Flakes. The cereals in the different colored boxes all came from the same place, but consumers believe that they can choose amongst the “different” brands.