Access to the means of production in an increasingly computerized global economy is THE social justice issue of our time if indeed the computers ate—and will continue to eat—all of our jobs.
There is an issue with the fact that rural areas in the United States (and worldwide) have limited access to the wonders of the Internet and computer based development, because of the fact that their geographical location is not urban.
There is an issue with the fact that a student who would love to move back to their hometown of 20,000 people can’t because the computerized opportunities they were trained to take advantage of, don’t exist in rural areas.
There is an issue when the only response from the increasingly dense urban populations to the increasingly sparse rural populations is “Well…move to the city.” Or even worse “Well, you chose to live in the country.”
Yes, people have a right to move around and live where they can, and they have a right to experience the consequences that come from making those decisions. The most iconic image of post-modern film history is that one outside the window of Deckard’s car in Bladerunner as he escapes the populated, polluted, oppressive—but full of opportunity—city, to go live in the vast, open, country. It is telling that fiction gets this dichotomy righter than lived fact.
Considerations of access, of course bring to mind the question of who will pay for such changes? The choices before us are either hard, difficult, and without obvious answers as to the outcomes of any of them:
The fact of the matter is, Universal Basic Income to everyone is not economically feasible in a country of 320 million individualists.
More calls for higher tax rates will only economically stifle entrepreneurship and further the gap emotionally between the “haves” in the city and the “have-nots” in the rural areas.
So, if we really believe that the role of government is to be a safety net, then what greater net should government be providing, than the net of advocacy, pressure, and even protection around access to the computerized means of production, via high speed cable that goes past “the last mile”?
If we don’t believe that such advocacy and protection is the work of good government, then the truly fortunate few should be creating businesses, entrepreneurial opportunities, and using every means at their creative disposal to make sure that the rural populations—which are increasingly poor, increasingly white, and increasingly politically hostile to the new order of computers because they are finally experiencing the end of the Industrial era—have the means to make a living.
And another app for doing something that our mothers used to do, won’t really bring that kind of meaning through job growth to those rural populations. Nor will it bring anything but pennies in the form of “sharing” or “gig” economic structures that cannot support the needs of children, families, or communities where education levels are low, and hope is fleeting.
If we believe that education is way out, and that not increasing access, but that instead increasing skills, e.g. teaching everyone to code, is the way to go, then we need to reform the education system from K-12 in truly, deeply, profoundly, radical ways.
And the enterprising few need to leave the cities, head to the country, and be prepared to really dig in for ten to twenty years into reforming an educational system that is simultaneously perceived as the “only place to get a good job” and also seen as “the last best hope for our children.” And the enterprising few must do it while also showing a modest profit.
However, we do have another, more comfortable choice: We can collectively decide that the rural areas don’t matter. That geography is a state of mind rather than a physical place. We can decide that “those country people” are irrelevant. We can decide that the urban poor need and deserve more attention than the seemingly spread out rural poor. We can decide—when we look at all—to continue to use the language of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century to try to resolve and acutely 21st century problem.
We can make such decisions and continue to support policies, and politicians, of all stripes who engage in such decision making.
And all the reformation of education, the gradual migration toward denser and denser urban areas (and the concomitant spread of those areas outward), and the increase in computerization and automation, is guaranteed to lead to more cries of income inequality, racism, sexism, and calls for the acquisition of capital to made harder for the fortunate few, rather than easier.
Which will create more conflict, not less.