The movie “Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck really highlights the fact that economic freedom is very fleeting in the United States.
It’s very easy to think that the United States is this land of free people. After all, it has a rich history of rebellious colonists and settlers turning their backs violently against the English king.
It’s as if people rose up as one and said, “No, we’re going to chart our own history. We’re going to chart our own way. We’re going to be free.”
There is quite a bit of a mythology built on American freedom. In fact, if you listen to any typical political debate or you pay attention to materials generated during a typical election cycle, the word “freedom” is mentioned probably most frequently than other words. Maybe the phrase “middle class” comes in a distant second or third.
There’s just something about the idea of freedom that resonates with most Americans. After all, the vast majority of Americans came from somewhere else.
Maybe they were fleeing starvation from Eastern Europe, or limited job prospects from Southern Europe, or religious persecution in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. They look at America as a land of second chances.
For a lot of people, America is not just the land of second chances, but third chances, fourth chances, and fifth chances as well. Given this context, it’s very easy to look at the idea of freedom and put it on a pedestal.
The problem is, ideals rarely match up with reality. And this is where the movie “Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck comes in.
When you notice that his attitude towards earning a living is kind of problematic, you basically start to realize the disconnect between the freedom that living in America supposedly delivers, and the reality on the ground.
The truth is, until and unless there’s some sort of universal basic income where the government basically guarantees a paycheck to everybody, every person is on their own.
Some people are naturally gifted, some people have skills that are heavily in demand, other people just have a unique way of attracting others to hand them money.
Whatever the case may be, there is this Darwinian or market-oriented process where the cream rises to the top and the simple idea of just drawing a paycheck payday after payday doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would go on in a truly free society.
In fact, the sub-context of this movie really highlights the political reality of America today. You have to understand that the 800-pound elephant in the room is not what you think it is.
For the longest time, a lot of societies had to struggle with too many mouths to feed. If you go to places like India, the Philippines, or many countries in Africa, this is still the issue. There are too many people and there’s not enough agricultural food products to ensure cheap, plentiful food for everybody.
Well, in reality, this is an illusion because people who have money can access food. They can access quality healthcare. They can definitely get their hands on clean water.
The issue is not so much on food productivity because if trade was liberalized in many of these societies, food would be available. It’s only an import permit away.
The real issue is the notion of equity. What kind of society do we live in? Do we live in an inclusive society? Do we live in a society where everybody gets an equal shot?
Well, the problem is, for the longest time, the idea of an equal shot in the United States started to degenerate. It became very clear that regardless of how hard many people tried, they still end up settling for crumbs.
A lot of people would say, “Well, this is just the natural order of things. After all, there is such a thing as the Pareto Principle.”
You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle. It also goes by the name of the 80/20 Rule. In other words, 20% of the population will get 80% of the benefits.
This applies across the board. 20% of people are very, very attractive so they get 80% of the attention and opportunities for romantic partners. 20% of any NBA team account for 80% of their points.
Well, according to this thinking, there’s really nothing wrong with any kind of inequality because the cream rises to the top. Well, this is really the subtext of the movie “Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck.
Are we going to accept this? Is this the natural order of things? Or is there a better alternative plan out there? Is there a different option?
And as we come face to face with a fully automated world with the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, it’s only a matter of time until the clamor for some sort of income equity or some sort of income redistribution system becomes deafening.
Because as more and more people lose their jobs because of automation, you can bet that there will be a tremendous amount of political pressure built up for some sort of solution. And the issues present in the movie “Paycheck” starring Ben Affleck will turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg.
While Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has made great strides in making the soon coming mass automation sea change a campaign issue, the mass media hasn’t really made this a top priority. This really is too bad. Seriously. No joke. Why? If automation takes place the way it was predicted, there will soon be a huge army of angry unemployed people. Whenever you have such discontentment, you can bet there will be social turbulence.
A lot of what’s gone wrong with America can be traced to the fact that it systematically ‘overcompensated’ for the Great Depression of the 30s. The end result are policies with long term effects that end up making the country worse off.
Can you imagine what kind of bad ideas will come to the fore when people become so desperate and angry enough to demand change? You can bet that it probably won’t be a well through out package of solutions.