On a winter day in 1773, a rallying cry of “No Taxation Without Representation” egged on Boston’s Sons of Liberty to overthrow the East India Company’s imported cargo into the harbor; and triggered a chain of actions that eventually jettisoned the British themselves from her American colonies.
Their remonstration arose - at its core - from the injustice of assuming a burden of payment without a benefit of ownership. Taxation, after all, is a duty towards the expense of the State; and Representation a receipt of the ensuing value.
In our modern economic system - the same then as now - the stakeholders comprise of lenders and borrowers of capital, and the enforcers of obligations arising therefrom. Admittedly it is an ambitious attempt to simplify the vast complexity of society’s commercial dynamics into just these counterparts.
The supporting logic is like this: a borrower must have an asset at his disposal to secure the resources to put it to productive commercial use; the lender in turn provides the necessary capital which is reasonably secured against the asset. The resulting economic gain is shared between the parties. In the event of losses, the enforcer ensures the security terms of the bargain are met.
Everyone else in society is merely labor in the equation, paid - or, as was the case with slavery - unpaid. This in a nutshell is the diagram of an economy. To be sure it is not equitably distributed amongst its participants, which, then and now, is the root cause of dissent.
The British Parliament decried the actions of the Boston Tea Party as “Intolerable Acts”; similarly President Trump’s condemned the rioting following George Floyd’s killing. Both called for domination over dissenters - a reaction which eventually proved to be indefensible.
Yet the capitalist system endures on, perhaps more pervasive today than any time hitherto. A handful of billionaires, mostly American, enjoy disparate ownership of society’s underlying assets. Most forms of labor barely compensate its contributors for their basic living requirements; meanwhile the State has extended credit far beyond the income generated from its constituents.
Perhaps worst of all, the socioeconomic contract is enforced by authorities inconsistently and incongruously. The obvious conflicts from shared interests between borrowers, lenders and enforcers have resulted in a tilted playing field where risks and returns are unevenly distributed.
This will inevitably fuel conflict, though it may not result in enduring change until it balances the underlying dynamics of economic advancement with the resolution of social problems.
At the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), we have another attempt at re-engineering the human experiment using 4IR technologies like blockchain that decentralize authority and AI to de-emphasize divisions along the lines of color, creed and country.
Until then, our quest for Society 5.0 built around the needs of a human-centered society continues, the siren call of “No Taxation Without Representation” reincarnated today as “No Justice No Peace” – this time mobilizing technological transformation rather than a call to arms.