TED Conversations

Russell Richard

Piping Stress Analyst, Piping Stress Inc.

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How would an economic system not based on the acquisition of material wealth work?

The internet is essentially a machine that duplicates products without expending resources. It is a literal cornucopia of content products. The SOPA discussions are demonstrating that the old style economics of one-way distribution will not work for content companies in the present and future. But, what about everything else?

As we gather knowledge about the universe, we are able to create things with greater and greater ease. In the case of just about all content, we have gathered enough information to create a system that effectively generates product for no cost. There is also, usually, no profit - people make things because they want to.

Physical objects are more difficult to generate in this manner. We know this because it still takes effort and resources to make them. However, there may come a time when physical objects are created just as easily as content is created through the internet. What happens then?

What happens when we can no longer rely on profit from making things? How do we create an economic system that isn't based on acquiring material wealth?


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    Jan 22 2012: Great question, I'm working on just such a project. Understanding history's patterns, are key to understanding a solution. There are certain human truths in human behavior, and two big ones are acquisition, and leveraging. The acquisition part came from our very distant ancestors, and from when we were scavengers, before we were hunters. The scavenger lives within us all still, and like our ancestors we all feel a sense of whole by surrounding ourselves with "our stuff, or stuff that shows who we are". Modern marketing began capitalizing on this in the 20th Century, and making it such an art, by 1975 we were hopelessly following an invisible trumpet where the goal of self is to constantly acquire more constantly updating to others our unique self's individuality. The main reason was to distract us from politics, so everyone's religion becomes this never ending quest to explore self. "the Century of Self" on YouTube says all this much better than I ever could...

    Leveraging is something all animals practice, mostly cause it helps keep us alive, but the heart of leveraging is this beautiful natural laziness. Any animal prefers not working to get something as opposed to working for it. This is also Nature's way of problem solving, in that the easiest way is the most efficient way, and Nature loves efficiency.

    How do these relate to an alternative economy where material wealth isn't the goal? It turns out for nearly 95,000 years human beings practiced gift economics, which is the opposite of capitalism. Capitalism means to "capitalize or gain height through standing on others shoulders", or to "capitalize over". Gift economics was successfully practiced for so long because we were still moving or nomadic. Once we settled and began growing things, villages grew and the City State was born. The project I'm working on will greatly reduce the leverage city state cultures have over people turning us back in to a peer to peer free culture. leifthor (dot) wordpress (dot) com

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