TED Conversations

Andre Hoogeveen

Specialist, Apple Computer Inc.

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What benefits and challenges might arise as a result of transitioning from a monetary system to a resource-based society?

In other words, if we were to eliminate all forms of money and bartering, what changes - large and small, positive and negative - might we see?

Thus, imagine a world in which there is a comprehensive accounting of the planet's resources, such as fresh water, arable land, minerals, and animal life. Further contemplate that technology and automation have begun to eliminate dangerous, boring, or repetitive jobs. Finally, take a moment to ponder the possibilities if each person were given the opportunity for a quality education and the ability to reach their highest potential.

Indeed, there is a lot to take in, and no single answer could account for the many facets of such a scenario. Nevertheless, from a position of sustainability, I think we must realistically look at what the monetary system has done, and what ever-developing technology will do.

As you consider your possible answer(s), please reflect on the following:

- The effect of education on the birthrate.
- Ownership of the Earth's resources.
- The concept of "usership" as opposed to the "right of possession".
- The inevitability of "technological unemployment".

I thank you kindly for reading this, and for taking the time to answer!


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    Aug 3 2013: I think what you're describing here, Andre, is a world government with the world's largest "Resource Distribution Department" with the most gargantuan bureaucracy ever conceived of. The department, which (like all departments) will be staffed by dullards who make as many mistakes as right decisions, is supposed to decide who gets what of all goods for all of the world's 7+ billion souls (not to mention the 80 million we're adding annually). If you need an extra shirt you'll have to apply to this department.

    That sounds terrific.
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      Aug 4 2013: Thanks for your continued interest in this discussion!

      I suppose one possible outcome of transitioning to a resource-based society will be the eventual disintegration of the borders between nations and their governments. Would this necessarily be a bad thing?

      Also, please keep in mind that a resource-based society will be largely decentralized. Automated manufacturing technologies can work on-demand and with small batches, and will serve a local population. Large tower farms can hydroponically grow fresh fruits and vegetables locally. In addition, the tracking and controlling of materials and services will be largely computerized, so there will be no need for a "gargantuan bureaucracy" or staff of dullards.

      Finally, as one who appears to be interested in "peace on Earth" and "improving the human condition," I would very much enjoy hearing your ideas on how we might go about accomplishing these goals. Thanks!
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        Aug 5 2013: Andre,
        Indeed, I'm in favor of peace, justice, and overcoming poverty and disease. But I shy from bureaucracy as from the plague (I'm not reassured by knowing that the bureaucracy will be run by computers), and I hope many of our problems on Earth can be solved with a minimum of top-down command structure.

        You've jumped directly to what you consider a complete workable system. I think rather that some elements of what you've outlined may crop up gradually. Certainly, hydroponic farming is in the future as we lose more topsoil - one of our most serious problems. The idea of accounting for total available resources and recycling most of these will become necessary.

        It's still important to allow for individual enterprise and innovation, for artistic and commercial liberty, for dissent and protest. Revolutionaries who think they've found a final system tend to distrust these disturbing factors. Top-down command systems are notoriously inflexible.

        The world's most serious problem, in my view, is the population growth, which multiplies every other problem we face. An already unmanageable India will double again in population well before the end of this century. Many other countries are in the same boat, like Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Such countries will put enormous immigration pressure on the industrial societies, as we see now in Europe. Social and technical progress have not kept up with their young and still booming populations, and the gaps - the number of people who don't have clean drinking water - will continue to grow. These countries need to stem the population growth by reducing the birth rates (they've known this for decades), while attacking practical problems like building water purification plants, instead of spending the budget on atom bombs and rockets.

        It's been an interesting proposal, though.
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          Aug 6 2013: Thank you for your insight and observations.

          I will happily acknowledge that a resource-based society is not perfect, and certainly not a solution for every contingency. However, I very much believe that it could provide a sturdy foundation for the next stages of human existence on our planet. Part of this foundation is the idea that a well-educated population will be able to solve problems together, a kind of "crowd sourcing" for challenges. Computers and automation will merely be the tools that people use to achieve the best outcomes.

          Another desired result of a resource-based society is the notion that people will increasingly have the time to pursue the interests of their desire. They would not be hindered by a lack of money, and could then become the engineer, scientist, artist, or author that had been hidden within. And, for all we know, this released creativity could yield the next big development for humankind.

          Indeed, population growth is a grave challenge. In the long term, it is my belief that education will play a large role in bringing population growth under control, if not reversing its upward expansion. Certainly, other factors also influence population, but I am confident once people become acutely aware of the long term effects of unmitigated reproduction, we will be gin to see a change.

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