Societal Structure: Politics, Business, and the Arts

I am lucky to have lived in multiple countries, continents, and societies. I grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. Greater Jakarta Area, to be exact. Which housed around 30 million people. Which is crazy if you think about it. One city on the Asian archipelago has about the same population as a country like Canada [1].

Jakarta is very populated. It has one of the worst traffic in the world. In a day, expect to spend 2-3 hours just stuck in traffic if you commute from the suburbs to the center. And since I was 6 I always asked around: “why do we have traffic?” and people would say something along the lines of “because the government is incompetent”. Then the conversation would end that way.

I didn’t really think about government and politics until I’m in my twenties. To me, those have been taboo words next to the word “corruption”. By the time I went to college in the US, I would see how politics played out. It almost looks like a theater. With players or classes like Politicians, Businessmen, The Media, and The Public. And as far as I understand it, in a democratic society, this is how it would work, or at least this is what I observed in the US.

Societal Classes and their Influence

Let’s closely observe the powers and incentive structure of each class[2].

Politicians

Has the power to create laws and are voted in by the public. They are incentivized to stay in power, thus they appeal to the public by promising them favorable laws. However, to do such campaigns requires money. So they need to get money from businessmen through agents usually known as “lobbyists”. Politicians hold power in a democratic society. But they don’t really make much money. That’s why they have the incentive to turn that power into money by giving favorable laws to businesses.

Businessmen

Creates, runs, and/or owns businesses that provide products and services to the public. Also known as capitalists, merchants, or entrepreneurs. These people control the means of production. And they are rewarded with money by society. Businesses are incentivized to make the most money possible within the limits of the law. A great business kept in check will bring prosperity to society. But if left unchecked, could get exploitative towards the laborers, sell addicting products, or have anti-competitive behavior by killing opponents unfairly which leads to price gouging.

In America, I believe the business class is especially strong as we’ve seen how much influence American billionaires could have in society. This is not true in every part of the world.

The Public

Any individual who exists in the society. The biggest class of people in society. Which also includes other classes. But the average person in a society is just an employee in the government or business. They work typical 9-5 and have family-time after. They consume products and services from businesses. On an individual level seems very unimpressive, but in aggregate actually holds a lot of power. They can vote for politicians. They can boycott businesses. In some cases, they can even overthrow governments [3].

The Media

A form of business that sells information. Has its own editorial power. At first, I was thinking not to include the Media. I thought of it just as a tool for the public. However, with how information technology advances in the past few years, we’ve seen how powerful The Media has grown to influence all the other parties in the equation. The Media could be used by politicians to gain followers, attack political or business opponents [4]. The Media could be used by businessmen to paint a good light about their business. And also it could be used to shine a light on the dark parts of society [5].

Real-World Cases (Anecdotal)

Case 1: Asia

This model not only applies to the western world. But it’s true for all other countries and societies. Albeit some roles are stronger in some places. And there might also be cultural and historical caveats that make one class stronger too.

For example, Indonesia, the country I grew up in, just got independence in 1945 [6]. It was not too long ago. Compared with an established, developed country like the USA, who’s been around since 1776, Indonesia is still a “kid”. The majority of the Public were slaves before independence, thus they’re mostly uneducated and poor. And then because of a coup by the second president, Suharto, who instilled dictatorship, the Police agency was set up to work right under the president [7]. And gained a pretty corrupt culture of taking bribes from politicians and businessmen. So what we have in Indonesia is a strong Politician class in society and a Businessmen class who always “pay for protection” to the police/politicians.

Sometimes, the Businessmen aspire to become politicians as well. And it baffles me that some Businessmen-turned-politicians regulate the laws in the space that their business is in! Some of you Indonesians who are reading this might know that the Minister of Investments and Maritime also runs a big Investment company [8]. The supposedly regulated regulates their own industry. A smart citizen could see how this conflict of interest could be abused and not good for the overall balance of society. But again, an average citizen in Indonesia is too poor, too hungry, and not educated enough to band up together and riot.

Besides Indonesia, obviously, there’s a superpower that we haven’t talked about: China. Now, I’ve never lived here; I hope I got to experience it. So I can’t go deep into it, but from what I’ve heard from my Chinese friends since the Chinese government is a Single Party government, control is very hierarchical, and power is very concentrated on the Politicians class. The billionaires in America can influence the government a lot, but in China, the billionaires are under the CCP’s mercy [9].

Case 2: Middle East

I am lucky to also have experience living in one of the most famous cities of the middle-east: Dubai. When I lived there I found the class dynamics rather interesting. Although the UAE is one of the most progressive Arab countries in the middle east, its societal structure is not democratic. The Politician class and the Business class are essentially one class: the ruling class. They’re still led as a kingdom (emirates) that has their own kings (emirs) [10]. In this case, the political influence is rather simple: it’s just the Ruling class and the (ruled) People.

Case 3: Europe

I haven’t had a chance to live in Europe, but I have a handful of friends who lived there. Compiling stories and anecdotes, it suffices to say that the structure is similar to North American Countries. The Public is pretty educated and wealthy. With a little bit of twist into a stronger political class compared to the businessmen. This is due to Europe being one of the oldest groups of modern society. Also, historical preference towards social security, favorable labor laws, and laws[11]. It is a bit more restrictive to start a new business in Europe compared to North America as there are more regulations to comply with. However, the class dynamic is roughly the same as in North America.

Case 4: Africa

I also haven’t had the chance to live in Africa, but a good friend of mine from college is from Liberia. And I was shocked because the world he grew up in is totally different from mine. He mentioned how as he grew up there’s no clear sense of who’s in charge in his area. From time to time there would be a civil war between warlords[12]. Yes, actual warlords with guns and mercenaries try to establish authority in their local region. From the stories I’ve heard, it’s chaos. The people are so poor and uneducated, the boys spend time getting high on meth, the girls sell their bodies to eat. Major businesses are almost non-existent (besides gun and drugs trafficking). There is no politician. The one who has the most guns is the ruler.

Structural Layer of Society

From all these cases we could see how each class in society impacts the other. And the more developed a country is, the more divided power is, and the more dynamic their map of influence. I even think we could derive the structural “stack” of society as well. I believe it roughly looks like this:

Violence (Law)

At the bottom, we could see Violence (or Law) as the base of society. Whoever or whatever controls the monopoly of violence becomes law itself. In a developed world there is the government that monopolizes the police and the military. And the government’s power is divided between hundreds or thousands of politicians.

Commerce & Businesses

The next layer on top of Violence is Commerce. Once in a country there’s a clear idea of “who’s in charge”, generally people try to make a living through trade. Specializing and trading products and services is a pretty efficient way for a society to accrue wealth. In a war-torn country like Liberia or Afghanistan, it’s tough to establish commerce, since the bottom layer is still unstable; a group of mafia could come and steal all your fruits, and your business is done. In an emerging world like Indonesia, where a government is established, farmers are producing fruits, and factories are popping up in the 2000s. And in a developed world like the US, the Law layer and Commerce layer is so advanced and reliable that a 20-year-old could invent a billion-dollar tech company [13].

Arts & Sciences

And the top layer is Arts and Sciences. Once a society is prosperous enough, there is room for individuals to explore the world and contribute to human knowledge; thus science. And room for making the world more beautiful through art. These pursuits could be rather costly as only developed countries can afford something like a space program [14]. And this is also why the majority of celebrities are in western developed countries, although developing Asian countries are catching up [15]. At first, expenses in Arts & Sciences seem unnecessary to the survival of a society. However, science leads to technological innovation that could improve the commerce or military potency of a country. Arts could be exported to the rest of the globe to further attract talent or commercial potential thus strengthening the position of such a country. This is why Hollywood, the top exporter of culture is unsurprisingly located in the USA, not North Korea.

Conclusion

It is interesting how living in various countries exposed me to different cultures and experiences. However, after deeper analysis, I began to see that all countries or societies have a certain fundamental structure. It has layers and classes. And these classes have power and incentives of their own. I believe whichever society we are a part of, there’s a benefit to understanding the environment so we can adapt accordingly. 

All these findings remind me of John Adams:

I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

– John Adams

Citations

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakarta_metropolitan_area, https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/population-by-country/
  2. — link to another article about Power Structure and Incentives
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/technology/trump-twitter-tweets-president/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Jamal_Khashoggi, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_Papers, https://wikileaks.org/
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Indonesia
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_National_Police
  8. Just google it
  9. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-09-14/common-prosperity-china-crackdown-analysis
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_the_United_Arab_Emirates
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_labour_law, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_security_in_France
  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMwI5unlK9M
  13. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hanktucker/2021/10/05/15-under-40-the-youngest-billionaires-on-the-2021-forbes-400/?sh=6bc0ed466a5f
  14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_government_space_agencies
  15. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/16/16915672/what-is-kpop-history-explained

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to these wonderful friends that took a pass on this article:

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