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 20 2012: .
    Its almost obligatory to mention a startrek-style economy as an answer.
    (Replicator devices to create anything required and efficient energy generators to sustain them)

    Interestingly it isn't as far off as you might imagine (the replicators atleast).
    Prototype Bio-3d-printers are a great step into that kind of direction.
    (I would assume that besides medical, the technology could be altered to 'print' food at some point).
    That in-line with the post below regarding the internet makes the goal ever more likely, even if it is perhaps in the far distant future.

    There is also something known as the Venus project, but from what I've seen there is essentially a lot of talk from the project but they never actually say anything, which to me seems like a political way of saying 'I've got nothing'.
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      Jan 21 2012: This is precisely the kind of advancement that I am talking about! This is the thought process and technological direction that will lead us to a system where objects can be copied just as easily as content is on the internet.

      If media companies are worried about us copying songs and TV shows, imagine the rage of food companies against a food copying machine.
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    Jan 22 2012: If I ran the world, or even a country, for a year, my social experiment would be as follows:

    Basic food staples are free. Bread, vegetables, eggs, etc, so no one fears starvation.
    Basic housing is free. Small apartments mass produced so everyone has a place to live.
    Basic transportation is free. Buses, subways, etc are all free, so people can go wherever.

    These things would all be subsidized by the government, ensured as basic rights for all people.

    Everything else, however... the luxuries... still costs money.

    Want a TV? Work for it. Want a house? Work for it. Want a car? Work for it. Want steak? Work for it.

    With people's basic rights supplied, work is no longer a NEED, and so jobs lost to the advance of technology is no longer a tragedy. People who do any sort of work gain a form of civic prestige, and in addition are payed for the luxuries they desire.

    Now, what does this mean for artists? Simply put, artists can be artists. If you want to paint, save up some money for tools and paint. If you sell your products, great; you get money. If not, maybe painting's not for you, but at least you won't have to worry about starving.

    Everything else in society will more or less be the same; there will still be a great need for many types of workers and experts. But there will not be a need for every single citizen to have a job, and so bureaucracy will be lowered and more people have the freedom to pursue their own interests.

    The numbers are a tricky thing, I admit. Maybe incentives for small families, to ensure that feeding and housing everyone doesn't cause an explosive birth rate beyond our means to support. And other stuff. But I think it's doable, and I'd like to see how well it works, as well as how it might finally put an end to the myth that people who are given things for free won't work.

    Millions of people spend hours on work without pay. Just look at the internet. Create space and freedom for people to experiment in, and many will inevitably produce.
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      Jan 23 2012: I really like your social experiment idea. Nonetheless, there IS evidence (most of it empirical) that goods gained without effort are goods not being valued or correctly used. An example would be the utopian societies. All of them failed and none lasted more than 10 years. The reasons? 1. People started wanting to own (capitalism) 2. People didn't make that much effort and lived upon the work of their fellows. 3. Fights broke over how the communities should be managed.
      Another example is the plastic money paradox. Yes, it is money gained, but as you actually don't feel you're giving your money away, you tend to spend more. Same thing happened with the 2008 economic crisis; banks got greedy and started offering credit to people who couldn't actually pay back the credit given, not to mention the interests. What happened? people spent way more money than what they actually gained (that means, the credits they got were used as free-I'll-worry-about-paying-back-later money) and voila! economic crisis!

      I think this can be translated to the "giving basic things free" idea. I live on a medium-high class district were we've got our own water wells. Four years ago, the neighbors' counsil discovered we were running out of water because no one was caring about not wasting it. They made us install water meters in our homes and asigned us a fixed quantity depending upon how many of us lived in each house. Results? No more excessive waste of water. The key here was creating a concept of cost. Water's still "free" (we pay maintainance fees), but since we have to actually work for it, we no longer waste it.

      In your social experiment, you'll help people? undoubtedly. You'll get burdened with people who live upon what they are given and don't make even the least effort? definitely. Which will be the biggest group? I sincerely don't know.
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        Jan 24 2012: Hey there, I wanted to ask a couple questions about the points you raised;

        1) Why would people not be able to own things in the experimental society I outlined? I said nothing about ownership or capital or the lack thereof.

        2) Many people currently work for promotions or try to get better jobs not for food, but for luxuries: how would that change in the society I outlined?

        3) Why would community management cause fights in the society I outlined? What would be different in that regard?

        I'm just having trouble connecting the objections you raised to anything I said.

        As for your later point:

        "They made us install water meters in our homes and asigned us a fixed quantity depending upon how many of us lived in each house. Results? No more excessive waste of water. The key here was creating a concept of cost. Water's still "free" (we pay maintainance fees), but since we have to actually work for it, we no longer waste it."

        This is exactly how the problem of "waste" would be solved. There wouldn't just be an infinite supply of food for everyone to take from whenever they want; people would be given food stamps or food credits, just like now, that would only be able to be spent on those basic food staples (bread, eggs, vegetables, cheese, etc). Why would people be wasteful of these things if it's still limited and finite for each person?

        "You'll get burdened with people who live upon what they are given and don't make even the least effort? definitely."

        But these people are already a burden. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters... these things can be eradicated by solutions in our grasp. We HAVE the food. We HAVE the space. They don't cost us anything; we as a society simply have to make the decision to distribute them rather than let people starve to prove some philosophical point that benefits no one.

        Think of it this way; if they are truly that unmotivated so as to not work for luxuries, what are we proving by letting them starve?
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          Jan 29 2012: The comment about utopian societies was to illustrate my point about why I believe that a society that offers free things wouldn't survive and I gave a basic analysis about why they failed. I wasn't referring to your social experiment when I talked about capitalism. Still, you're right - I didn't really grasp your idea.

          You raise a good point about soup kitchens and homeless shelters and also about how letting people starve proves nothing. But - a big but - the real problem here is what will happen once people do not need to work.

          If, for example, low-paying jobs are what they are nowadays, then I can tell you that a lot of people will choose not working over luxuries and they are right, because working conditions are not fair. Others simply won't even try because climbing the job ladder is quite difficult. So it is very probable that a chunk of society will stop working altogether.

          If low-paying jobs start being more fair, then part of that chunk of people that chose not working over luxiries will work. But you will still have a segment of society that won't bring any good to the community. Given, as you have stated, every society will have them.

          Nonetheless, we as people are quite the copy cats so, if you've got a bum who doesn't work but does reproduce, most probably his kids will be bums who don't work but do reproduce and you can't actually stop them. The incentives for small families may work, but, unless you actually kill the "spare" kids, the parent may or may not follow government regulations.

          When I see a kid that's starving, I feel that's unfair, because he or she isn't given the oportunity to have a dignified life. When I see an adult, I think of a bum. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe the adult is another victim of our greedy, capitalist society, but I cannot help the feeling that if she or he wanted to better him or herself, he or she could do it.

          I think that's a key point: how to offer a dignified life to everyone, but do not condone being lazy.
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        Jan 30 2012: "If, for example, low-paying jobs are what they are nowadays, then I can tell you that a lot of people will choose not working over luxuries and they are right, because working conditions are not fair. Others simply won't even try because climbing the job ladder is quite difficult. So it is very probable that a chunk of society will stop working altogether."

        How many people will actually choose not to work and be satisfied with no luxuries? "A lot" is an assumption you're making, and an unrealistic one. Millions of teenagers do chores, mow lawns, babysit, flip burgers, etc, all while still living with their parents and having their every need taken care of, many for the sole reason of having spending money or saving up for a luxury like a car.

        The major fallacy most people make when considering a capitalistic job market is the assumption that everyone needs to work, without considering that maybe they don't. What if there just aren't enough jobs? Literally, what if there are more people than there are jobs that need people to fill them? In a purely capitalistic system, that means unemployment and misery. With the proper social systems in place, it's just an inconvenience. It would be good to have more jobs so more people can share in the wealth they provide, but no one is starving.

        Part of the reason low paying jobs are low paying is because they're incredibly easy to fill. Even if your assumption was correct and a bunch of people stopped working, guess what? Companies would have to offer higher pay for their jobs to get the positions filled. If they don't need to, then enough people are working. So what's the problem if a bunch of people don't work? We don't need them to work. All the jobs are filled. We still have enough food and space for them.

        Also, how does your view of people as copy cats not work both ways? You insist that people will stop working and have kids just because others do, but not that they would want to work if others do?
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    R B

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    Jan 21 2012: Capitalism creates nothing. Human's create inequality. Capitalism is nothing more than an economic system that allows for the individual's acquisition of private capital. Greed is as natural as breathing. As stated earlier, we want what is best for us and hope for something better for future generations. As far as a society that has moved beyond material wealth, well the only way I see this happening is if technology removes the worry of basic needs of survival (pavlovs hierarchy of peronsal needs). Assuming we have food, water, safety, shelter etc in the can via technology, I can see moving forward from a material wealth ie: gold, silver, platinum, etc paying for basic needs to knowledge/understanding and the collective forward movement of humanity as the currency. Task A. is done so for a knowledge B. The basic economic structure is there however we are trading material wealth for intellectual wealth - intellectual wealth that furthers the species.
    • Jan 21 2012: Actually, the richest societies that are making all these great improvements are the capitalist ones. So when you say all these new improvements will allow us to get rid of capitalism, in reality that's not true: these new inventions were produced by capitalists, and new inventions will always continue to come out, until you end capitalism. Besides, greed isn't all that drives capitalism: legitimate desire for improvement also drives it. If people want a better life for their kids, or if they want to make some great invention for the betterment of all, that also drives people to produce in capitalism, but in communism, which you seem to like as you echo Karl Marx, stifles these legitimate desires for improvement. Same goes for McCarthy's statement.
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        Jan 21 2012: @Scott.
        Capitalism worked just fine . but it had a problem - it uses a thing called "currency" currency assumes that it represents redeamable value .. but the value rots while the coin endures. After a while, the currency is no longer current - the value has expired. Expired value is what we call "capital". THe value is replenished by exploitation (taking value for no return).
        It can only be sustained by what the bankers call "growth" - sort of like a desparate "leap-frog" to get away from the cascading debt you leave behind - the difference between the currency and the value.
        But now - all the growth is curtailed - there is no new continent to exploit, there is no new race to enslave, there is no more sea or air to poison. And the Global debt collector is on our doorstep.
        We must fix our currency as a matter of urgency - instead of linking it to gold - link it to grain - and let it wax and wain according to the grain - it then becomes currency again. and all that has expired will be seen to be gone, the gap will be seen and draw real value from the community - not more derivative schemes.
        Ultimately, we must question why sheer trust is not enough - you think that's a utopian dream? I assure you it is not - I live it and I see it in many places that few get to see. It works, but you have to see it to beleive it. And once you see it - you will not ever turn back.
        • Jan 21 2012: There's no such thing as taking value without return in capitalism. All transactions are two way - both members give something - except for charity, which helps the poor who have nothing to give. In addition, you seem to believe that slavery is capitalist, but I don't see how it could be, as it takes away somebodies' natural rights.
          Also, this debt you keep complaining about was created by government regulation: the Federal Reserve regulators strictly enforced the Equal Lending Act, which caused banks to make subprime loans.
          Also, the value of gold is fairly constant, and ideal for currency: I direct you to http://www.321gold.com/fed/greenspan/1966.html. However, grain is hardly ideal: it rots easily, is constantly consumed (in your system, that would be eating money!) is unsplittable, and - unlike gold - has decreased in price throughout history. So your baseless accusation that gold loses value, actually applies more to grain, which you choose as a substitute.
          Although you seem confused, we haven't really been on a gold currency for a hundred years: all the inflation since 1913 was caused by the fed. So if you have a problem with currency devaluation, debasement, and destruction, the solution is to end the fed, not capitalism.
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      Jan 21 2012: Greed can drive an individual, but capitalism isn't about getting all that you can as quickly as you can. Capitalism is about being rewarded for work that society deems good and needed. The more work you put into a good idea, and the better that idea is, the more you make.

      So, if you have a terrible idea, you probably won't make any money (and we can't always assume what ideas will be terrible, some people once considered pet rocks to be a great idea and hey were proved right)

      And if you never do work, you also won't be rewarded.

      And some people will make it big! They don't stash that money away in some huge vault as physical currency. If a person has made it big, that person and their descendants will have the ability to fund people with great ideas in the future.

      Relating to the original topic, perhaps if we don't have to worry about physical needs, then the currency in which we will deal will be recognition for good ideas. The difference being here that descendants probably won't reap the benefit of the parent's creation as much as in a money and resource based system.
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        Jan 21 2012: Scott, Russel, Yes, I understand all this. And I have followed the sub-prime and greenback and gold issues very closely for some time. But the concept of currency itself is flawed, no matter what you pin it to. Gold is practically useless - it is only used to underpin a currency because it is rare and impossible to conterfeit. Because it has only cosmetic value, it cannot be a true representative of current value. In fact, the flaw of currency is in the representation because it mis-represents value. Let me explain - there are 3 primary types of value: Current value, expired value and potential value. All things traded eventually return to the Earth - their value expires, but the gold does not expire - what it seeks to represent diminishes, such that the gold is perpetually inflated. This does not matter so much while people continue to make up the loss of value through the production of present value, however, if this shortfall of value is not serviced through creative means, destructive means are used - shortfalls of real present value artificially inflate the value invested in the gold unless it is proportionally removed from circulation - which it never is. The result is that most of our capital used for investment represents expired value that exists only in the currency and not in the real world .. that's not so bad whilever the value sought is potential - neither the capital nor the potential exist .. but all draw on present value. This means that people must labor, not just for present value, but also to recover expired value and fund potential value. It cannot continue. On top of this, I was helping a friend in Greece to design a new local currency to supplant the Euro .. I got the design done, but never delivered it because I realised how much power the new currency would exert on the participants - the issuers of currency gain absolute power because the natural rights of the participants are ceded to make it work - it enslaves them.
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      Jan 21 2012: I like your model RB. What we need is a transitional economy. The flaw in the concept of currency is that it excludes the Earth - to which all things return. The new economy/currency must bring Earth back into the transaction. The most obvious factor is how we manage our waste - the evidence of our ommission is all around us, and time is short to get it fixed. Consider: a currency must apply to everything we throw away - recovered present value should be paid less cost of recovery. We should get paid for our feces and urine - and it must be returned to the Earth in dignity. WE must stop heaping our waste in landfills and we must start paying the Earth for the minerals we rip from her. Once the bank of the Earth is honoured, then we can start looking at replacing currency with true present value. Then the bank of Earth can begin to fund our intellectual wealth. AS it stands, money is a con-job that fills our attention - we are asleep at the wheel.
  • Jan 20 2012: Firstly, just want to touch on your point that the internet "freely replicates content". It doesn't. The online content had to get "online" in the first place, and there is a very real cost associated with that - the tangible costs of hosting a webpage, to the time commitment needed to research, type, post, upload, maintain,etc.

    Also, we have to question why it is we have the drive to acquire material wealth. It is independent from the economic model - it is human nature.
    We're animals. We live for the advancement of our species, procreate, have babies, whom we want to be better, stronger, healthier than us. To do so, we buy things or aim for a lifestyle that will help us acheive this. Better clothes, better car, better things, to attract better mates. Better education for a better job for more money. etc etc.

    There will always be a drive to accumulate and acquire "things", whether material or otherwise.
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      Jan 21 2012: True, there is no zero point module or perpetual motion device. However, compared to the usual method of copying and distributing material, the amount of energy expended (for example) by a peer to peer data transmission system like Bit Torrent is miniscule. You don't have to have material to make DVDs, DVD cases, DVD writing machines, and paper inserts. Nor do you have to ship anything except data through a well established network.

      I agree. The internet is not really free. Somebody buys the equipment on which the data of the internet is stored. it is all based on physical items that must be purchased and maintained.

      It is a standard economic concept that the cost of an item is the lowest price at which it can be purchased (withing a reasonable time frame and distance). But, copying information based products is theft. It doesn't fit in the construct of economics. It operates outside of the cost rule because it sets the cost to zero. Here we have a problem. The people who consume data based products generally copy (steal) them. They do this without even thinking about it. To them, it's just another piece of data, just like any other. To believe that the government will be able to stop this theft with a law is foolish at best. There is no way to actually stop data copying short of destroying the equipment on which it is done.

      Therefore, because we cannot get rid of this kind of theft, we are going to have to find a way to live with it.

      And probably within this century, we will be having this same conversation for many physical objects, and soon after, all products of all kinds. The normal economic principles don't work when most of the consumers steal the things they consume. We are going to have to come up with a new kind of economics. I'm just wondering what that will be.
  • Feb 12 2012: One does not create an economic system that is not based on material wealth any more easily than one creates a system that is based on material wealth - unless the tools to create it are inherently easier to develop and use.
    Yet, as I just discussed: all of these systems should be expected to cohabitate.
  • Feb 12 2012: The idea of profit that I infer from the construction of your question directly relates to the abstract concept of money. What you are seeing in the emergence of this fourth economic system (distributed and non-market) as described by Yochai Benkler is a result of tools supplied to a group that have a group awareness regarding important values that do not necessarily revolve around the abstract concept of money. One could consider the two classical forms of liberty described by Isaiah Berlin when discussing this fourth economic system. Tools by definition are meant to enable task achievement without being consumed in the process. The fourth economic system is itself a tool to enable people in a plethora of subjects physically manifest as the emergence of self-actualisation in a group sense. There are many communities that view the group as an important and indivisible part of the self, the reasons are obvious and supported from various experiments in Social Identity Theory.
    I would not worry about the inferred danger imposed on supplying physical objects. 'Profit' of the group is subsequently 'profit' for any individual that is part of the group. Profit can be obtained along any value medium including, respect or self-actualisation. Money is only useful to motivate a basic function such as discussed by Dan Pink elsewhere on TED.
    The Internet is a tool that enables the fourth economic system, and the others. Just as we are still learning how to work with the other three, adding this fourth is another part of the equation that will remove burden from the systems that are not designed to handle certain important functions. This fourth system will not remove important functions from the other systems, except where the other systems are failing. That is how all of the economic systems are meant to work together.
  • Jan 31 2012: The Answer is to get rid of money altogether provide a resorced based economy. what would make people work? Beifit socitety and the world.
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    Jan 29 2012: This question seems simple to me philosophically and technologically but almost impossible socially:

    Extensive mechanization and total resource management could provide every person on the planet with food, clothing, shelter, furniture and transportation. The vast majority of people who are no longer needing to toil for subsistence are then free to produce intellectual and artisan products. The subsistence products could be provided to all without the concern of a monetary system and the artisan products never needed monetary resources to be traded in the first place, money only represents the prestige which is the actual impetus for such products.

    The monetary system is not necessary for the human condition, it is only an evolutionary step forward from bartering as a way of establishing social relationships. Anyone that says the world would not produce subsistence products without being forced to by wages is cynical and anyone who says that products could remain creative without entrepreneurship is delusional. If all subsistence is mechanized than all we need is to make sure is that there is enough competition in society to keep up the quality of the doctors, lawyers, teachers ect.
  • Jan 25 2012: Wonderful topic! Thank you for that!

    I think the problem is that our society functions on acquisition.

    Yes, to acquire is a natural instinct due to self-preservation. However, selfishness is only one of many motivators of human behavior - and we now see that it is a rather precarious one as the ethos of a society.

    What if, instead, a society functions on giving?

    Human social evolution researchers theorize that it is due to an advancement in our ancestors' evolved ability to collaborate in larger numbers that the first large societies emerged. Perhaps we must transcend our primeval instincts once more to accommodate ourselves to our evermore connected society. In the context of intellectual property and the internet, the application of this is to rid of copyright altogether. All information will then become necessarily unshackled from "acquisition" motivated behavior.

    Practical considerations:
    1) Will there still be motivation to produce goods?
    2) What will the producers eat?
    3) What about quality?

    1) There are many nonprofit producers of goods/services on the net (10,000,000 soundcloud artists, 80,000 Wikipedia editors, Linux, deviantart, etc). Here is a study by Heyman and TEDster Dan Ariely on how monetary motivation does not trump social motivation: http://bit.ly/3xzhna
    2) This answer requires a bit of rosy optimism. Ideally, the users of goods/services will support the producers voluntarily, altruistically. The only example of success in this area is Wikipedia, and yet they are still supported by volunteers. However, there is evidence that by participating in a profit-driven system, we are robbed of our motivation to give. Study on how once money is introduced, social norms disappear: http://bit.ly/m8tSsc. Study on how even the concept of money reduces collaborative behavior: http://bit.ly/cHwdD
    3) If there is motivation to produce, competition will ensure quality. Here is Dan Pink on intrinsic > extrinsic(monetary) motivation: http://bit.ly/t5WEsL
  • Jan 24 2012: Your premise is flawed. The current US or world economy is NOT based on the aquisition or accumulation of material wealth. Some choose to leverage it for those purposes, others do not. In essence, your question is "how do you wipe out envy and focus energy on the pursuit of better-ment?"

    Any and all ecomonies are based on the exchange of goods and services. At present one cannot exchange intangibles with infinite value such as years of longevity, happiness, wisdom, love or spiritual peace, though we are free to seek and possess those things. There are no rules saying you must accumulate... in fact if you spend too much effort on accumulating, you will die at 40 of a heart attack.

    If you have spent your life pursuing 10 phds, why are you angry at the person who spent their life accumulating $$$? According to your own values, your pursuit was better.

    It seems the premise is based on an #OWS disdain for the accumulation of material items which is fundamentally based a sin called "envy." Spending time this way is as flawed as athiests being mad at God for not existing. It's a game you hate, that no one is forcing you to play, yet you play anyway and then cry because you don't like the rules. Sort of like trying to get back at the popular kids who ignored or teased you in junior high.

    Very few in this world are inhibited from taking care of their own 4 walls. It is envy of others possessions that is the issue, not the other persons possessions.
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    Jan 24 2012: It would be communism. But wait! before you immediately call the government to report me to the FBI, think about it. Communism would be the ideal form of government but it would only work if everybody did it
  • Jan 24 2012: Status is often an outward display of power. I cannot think of a way to equalize power without a significant dissolution of individual freedom. Not everyone who wants to be captain of the Enterprise can be. There is likely to be a significant amount of disagreement as to who that captain should be. And it's easy to say that the universe is in harmony when you are, in fact, the captain. There are powerful biological urges which insist that we pass on our genes more often than the next guy and that's often accomplished by acquiring and using power over others.
  • Jan 22 2012: Appetite & Theories of Buddhist Economics:

    http://www.supportows.org/redslider/general-essays-index/buddhist-econ/
  • Jan 22 2012: There will always be prestige items, that will be whatever is hard to get. Many people work toward large savings accounts and live very frugally, but the number on their balance is their "trophy".

    I think many here should think hard before embracing Marxist ideology and neo-1960s commune fantasies. Both are at odds with human nature.
    • Jan 23 2012: What aspects of Marxism do you find unconvincing? Marx demonstrated, for example, how the capitalist class exploits the working class through its appropriation of surplus value, and explained why recurrent economic crises are an inevitable concomitant of capitalism. Lenin showed how capitalism spawns imperialism and wars of imperialist banditry. In what respects would you argue that they were mistaken?

      And given that it appears that well in excess of 90% of the history of the human species was spent by homo sapiens living in small hunter-gatherer groups where food, which had to be collected on a daily basis, was shared on an equitable basis, what makes you believe that the far more equal distribution of resources which socialists advocate is "at odds with human nature" rather than profoundly in harmony with it?

      Capitalism is a very late arrival on the human stage, so it would be absurd to posit that its value system could by now have left an even remotely comparable imprint on man's genetic and psychological inheritance.
      • Jan 24 2012: What I find unconvinces me about Marxism is the net result as seen in the former U.S.S.R and Cuba. What you got/get there is the replacement of a vaguely unfair not quite meritocracy as seen in the West by a completely unfair system of pure cronyism. You also get hunger and abject poverty for the vast majority and terrible abuses of power by a tiny elite - much worse than here in the West.

        Capitalism is as old as trade and markets, so it is actually thousands of years old. Even dogs compete, and somebody wants to be alpha to enjoy such luxuries as taking the first bite from a hunted carcass. Food was never shared on an equitable basis - there were tribal leaders, there were star hunters and they got more than others, especially access to mates.

        Here we compete for a Manhattan apartment with a view.

        Marxism is a recent construct of fairly clueless academics creating an imaginary world based on how they think people "should" be.

        I for one am now going to settle in with a nice glass of $200 wine which I earned by working very hard and being very good at what I do. Thankfully there is Marxist government to force me to give you some, so you can't have any.
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          Jan 24 2012: For you Robert Ruffo: First Cuba is a wonderful country with enviable statistics on literacy, social equality, nutrition and poverty, especially compared with some parts of the U.S.A. Given the oil embargo it has had to suffer from the same hostile, and powerful neighbour, this is nothing short of a humanitarian miracle, and Fidel Castro should have been awarded the nobel peace prize several times over, for achieving it.

          Cuba should not to be compared with the USSR at all which is hardly even Marxist on paper. If you are able to be objective at all about world politics Robert, you will see that the USSR has always operated as an Oligarichy (albeit unofficially) capitalist country, very like America is today except for the unofficial part. Instead of reading world politics as if it were a comic book with the players filling the hero and villain roles you have been taught to admire, it would be more accurate if you looked at the facts.

          You think anyone else cares about your Manhatten view and what was it? silly $200 bottle of wine? Its the same stuff they pump into the plastic casks, they just make more money when they add faux prestige value, to people who are susceptible to such elitist junk.
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    Jan 22 2012: Great question however I might suggest that the intent behind the question is why is it that we seek to acquire material wealth? And how would you build an economic system designed to balance the needs of a society that uses an economy?

    Looking simply at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or John Nash’s Equilibrium animals including man seek out and act on their desire to survive to sustain to procreate; and thus in current modern times man has seen the acquisition of material wealth as a means to achieve security.

    However that all changed as we replaced the accounting system used to measure value and materials in a form of a ponzie scheme by replacing the currency system backed by gold and silver with one backed with a promise or note and no real value – do you remember when gas was 15 cents per gallon?

    The discussion around a shift in our economic system is based on our desire to achieve security – I might suggest a short read of the “Metamorphosis Blueprint” here is a link to the paper --> http://bit.ly/fsyEiZ
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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
  • Jan 21 2012: Don't sweat about Capitalism.
    We a very close to times when material or non-material wealth will be produced with minimal effort thanks to technology. Capitalism is a system to give incentives to people to do work they don't want to do. We all like to create, to give to others, feel good about ourselves. (Vast majority of us) Robots will do repetitive work. We will do creative work we like.
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    Jan 21 2012: @ Scott, LOL I think you missed my point as I wasn't clear. I agree completely with you that capitalism is a good economic system, a great one in fact. The weakness is not capitalism, it is how humans use it. Capitalism doesn't create vast wealth or inequality, humans use of it does. I also agree that the capitalist economies in the world today are making the greatest strides in technology to get us to a hypothetical point down the line where basic needs are covered and the idea of physical currency is challenged and the only value beyond physical currency that I can imagine right now would be a knowledge/acknowledgement for service/commodity based evolution of our current system. The basic capitalist model is wonderfully elegant & simple - I'm just playing around with the type of currency from a physical one to one that is not.
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    Jan 21 2012: @ Russell, this is what I was getting at. Intellectual currency of knowledge & the value/recognition of that. - A non physicial version of currency that still has value to the society using it. A classless, truly self-actualized society in other words. Fun topic!
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    Jan 21 2012: Damn good question!

    I have been thinking on this for a few years. What we see in this IP war is based on the end-point of a few falacies:
    Falacy 1 - real-estate is infinite.
    Falacy 2 - the environment is infinite.
    Falacy 1 has fallen becuase there is no real estate left - so the real-estate agents seek new land in cyberspace.
    Fallacy 2 has fallen - we now see that the environment is about to tank.
    How did this happen?
    This happened because of the nature of currency - to begin the coins corresponded to real value - stored grain. The farmers took the harvest and stored it in community stores for protection over the winter when nothing grows.
    During the winter, the coins (or shells or stones) were redemed by the farmers to recover their share - and so the farmer's family survived to the next harvest according to what they put in.
    But what happens when rats have invaded the store and there is nothing left to redeme but rat-poo?
    But ..The coins remained ...
    And so it is today - what we call "capital" is coins that represent grain that is no longer there.
    And who are the rats?: They are the store-keepers (aka bankers) and all that is left in the silo is banker-poo.

    THis model has not changed in 5000 years. The bankers insist that we must have "growth" to make up for all they have despoiled from us. And the shortfall is ripped from the ground we walk on and extracted from the air we breath.
    Well there's a new kind of air now - it's called the internet. We can see it all unfold before our eyes, and we will not again allow ourselves to eat bankers' poo. Not in the internet, and no longer in our ground and no longer in our air.
    We never needed them.
    But we are so far gone down the path of lies and exploitation that it is going to take a long transition back.
    The first step is to recognise our mistake, we then move forward step by step.
    What we have now, that we didn't have before?
    Now we know where we are going, and there is no longer any excuse for complaicency
  • Jan 21 2012: There is no way to produce without a measure of capitalism. The amount a society produces is equal to the amount it is capitalist. Even on the Internet, capitalism is what allows people to produce: bandwidth and sites are bought and sold, and it is because of this that we are able to do everything we like doing on the Internet. When people do not think they will gain something, they usually do not work. Even on the Internet, people only do a few things here and there usually, not hard work.
    For example, my brother made a chrome app that would let you see when you had comments on Facebook: he did this because he thought it would be useful to him, and it only took a few minutes to make it public for everyone. When it got many downloads, he was hired to work for Facebook. Russel Richard seems to be under the impression that the Internet works without Capitalism - in reality, the capitalism is there, just usually invisible.
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      Jan 22 2012: Capitalism has one major benefit - it mandates over-production. Overproduction is needed to make up for expired value and to fund potential value - the funding of potential value is the benefit. It allows for advancement. The big downside, of course, is that all this investment funding is in the hands of the currency-masters, not the community. SO all the advancement is skewed to the personal interests of the bankers .. no mater how philanthropic they may be, it is an unbalanced way forward - and the interests of most people are not adequately served.
      • Jan 23 2012: Nobody has ever said, "Oh, look, I have to much wealth." Therefore, I do not understand your use of the word "overproduction". Also, the point of capitalism is to serve everyones' interests, so I don't understand that part of your statement either. People can do whatever they want in capitalism - so long as they pay for it. If you don't pay the consequences of what you do, then you just have looting. (e.g. if you don't pay for stuff you take, or if you dump waste in someone else's backyard, both of which are common in nonfree societies) Looting is bad for everyone - therefore, capitalism is good for "the interests of the community" except for the would-be looters.

        I would also like to point out there is no such thing as "the will of the community" or, as Rousseau stated it, "the general will". Will is a characteristic specific to individuals, not groups. Humanity is not a massmind. Any belief that is built on humanity as a massmind, or the general will of humanity or the community, is inherently misguided.
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          Jan 23 2012: ERm .. I'm not sure which post you are replying to? I haven't mentioned any "will of the people". But if you are replying to my previous post, I can't see your connection between too much wealth and overproduction The concepts are not connected. I also refute that "people can do whatever they want in capitalism" - currencies and economies are rigidly regulated and contracted. And as for too much wealth - have a look around, many people turn their backs on riches. Looting normally happens in societies that exert repression and maintain a large gap between the "haves" and "have-nots". There's a ted talk here somewhere on the subject. I find It helps to use reason in discussion - emotions and dogma don't cut it.
  • Jan 20 2012: It depends what you mean by "based on the acquisition of material wealth". Capitalism creates a society where a minority accumulates obscenely large amounts of wealth by exploiting the labour power of those who do not possess capital (or prefer not to exploit fellow human beings). Socialism posits a society whose citizens are at liberty to acquire personal possessions, but not to exploit other people's labour. Under socialism, most wealth is communally owned and is deployed under democratic control to benefit society as a whole, not a private profit seeking minority whose self-serving activities inevitably engender an unending series of economic crises and, if left unchecked, will cause runaway environmental catastrophe.
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      Jan 20 2012: In your opinion is there a current example of a socialist society as you describe it?
      And, seriously, the same for a capitalist society as you describe it? Thanks.
      • Jan 20 2012: Attempts to create socialist societies have so far been deformed or derailed by the fact that the capitalist powers have made every effort to strangle them at birth or subvert them - efforts made easier by virtue of the fact that attempts to build socialism have mainly occurred in poor, undeveloped or war-ravaged countries which doubtless you could name as well as I.

        Is there a capitalist world which operates essentially as I have described? What element/s in my description do you find difficulty in identifying in any number of so-called free market capitalist countries in the contemporary world?
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          Jan 21 2012: So I will take that as two "No" answers?
    • Jan 21 2012: Actually capitalism leads to better education, health care, and environmental care: (see page 20-25) http://www.freetheworld.com/release.html
      • Jan 21 2012: What do you understand by better health care? Highly sophisticated facilities which only the wealthy can access, existing alongside very minimal provision for poor people? Or a health service which is paid for collectively and which everyone can access at nil cost at the point of use?

        These are, needless to say, very different conceptions of health care. Depends what you want to minimise: taxes, or infant mortality and avoidable suffering. Also on what you prefer to maximise: profits for private health insurance companies, or social well-being.
        • Jan 21 2012: Actually, hospitals never turn anyone away because they can't pay. In the U.S. healthcare is better for even poor people than it is for most people in the world. You say only the wealthy can afford it - well, that's not usually the case. Most poor people, unless they are spending their money on drugs or alcohol, can afford much better health care than most people in other countries can.
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      Jan 21 2012: Unfortunately, democratic control usually means some form of government. Governments, once they have power, almost never give that power up. If the majority of he wealth is under democratic (government) control, then it is the government that decides what I can buy and how to by it. Not directly, of course, that would be communism, but indirectly by controlling the flow of money.

      Luxury goods in such a system are automatically removed from the market. They contradict the idea that no one person should have substantially more wealth than any other person. Unfortunately, luxury goods are the places where many innovations are made. Things like cars, finely stitched clothing, and white bread were originally luxury goods.
      • Jan 21 2012: Democratic control always means some form of government. Government is forcibly taking money from other people. Even if this control is democratic, it is still wrong. If 51% of the population wanted the 49%'s wealth, that wouldn't make it right to take it. A democracy stealing money from people and redistributing it is just as bad as a dictatorship like China or Russia. And yes, stealing is equitable with taxation: what else do you call forcibly giving up your property? The difference between necessary and bad taxation is that in a free society, as little as possible is taxed in order to preserve other freedoms. It is for this reason that the Founding Fathers said government is a necessary evil: it must subsist on stolen goods. Therefore, we should limit the taxation to as little as is necessary for defense and courts.
        • Jan 22 2012: Your vocabulary appears to equate the phrase "stealing money from people" with public taxation. Certainly in societies with a dominant wealthy class, taxation is an efficient and prevalent method of looting the poor to benefit the already rich, either directly or by making the poor pay for essential state functions while effectively exempting the rich from similar burdens.

          However it's also possible to conceptualise taxation as a transfer system within capitalist societies which enables the reproduction of the profit system by reducing the toxic disaffection, and the consequential breakdown of the society, which would tend to occur if only the wealthy could enjoy clean water, food, housing, education, health care, essential personal security, etc.

          In an egalitarian, non-capitalist society, more equitable ways of covering the society's essential running expenses and necessary generational transfers will no doubt be developed. But no conceivable advanced society could function without some system, which it might be a gross oversimplification to call theft, for pooling resources and transferring some to the young, the old and the needy.
  • Jan 20 2012: Kenneth Boulding once wrote something on what he called the "grants economy." That may be relevant to this discussion. I hope there can be a separation of money income from work. Even Aristotle thought there was something wrong with working for money. The excesses of acquiried material wealth are based upon fear. We live in a fear-based society. If we let go of the bible brainwashing, re-program ourselves to relate to reality as a neutral or positive place to be, we will design systems that are based upon positive assumptions, thereby leading to the creation of economic, social and other systems that will actually work to achieve the stated desired (positive) goals.
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      Jan 21 2012: Is it your contention that we could move away from a wealth-gathering society construct now? Generally, we use money as a reward for good work and great ideas. (Unless you're the government, then you just take money regardless of whether you've earned it.) We have the ability to stockpile money from one generation to the next, and those with a lot of it can fund the ideas of those without a lot of it (investing).

      I agree that somewhere inside of each of us there is a part that is afraid to be without food and a home. It is biological. Those without food and home die. Therefore, if we can buy more stuff, we do. It adds to our home and makes us feel more secure.

      Economics is generally based on the idea that every person always wants more and better stuff than they currently have. If every person in an economic system were to say, "Nope, I have enough. I don't want any more.", how would we get people to innovate and create new ideas and technologies? how would we reward them for making our lives better?

      Do we have to?
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        Jan 21 2012: @Russell
        To begin with - you lock up your car for a month to educate yourself about what you waste and how that waste wrecks your body.
        Second, you admit the difference betweeen "job" and "work" - you see that a job is what you do for money and work is what you do for yourself - then you ask your self, who or what is getting the benefit of your time and effort - is it you? Or money? Then ask yourself if money was worth serving and quit your job, find your work.
        Are you afraid? .. does anyone love you? IF no one loves you .. how did that happen? And if anyone loves you - how can you be afraid?
        I tell you that there is no one on this planet that does the work of Russell Richard better than Russell Richard can.
      • Jan 24 2012: Russell, If people were FREE of generating moneyforsurvival, they would work and create and innovate far more. We should give everyone an amount of money they can live well on and trust the good human spirit to do the rest. People are wonderful. Let's show them the respect they deserve.
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    Jan 20 2012: As a start to the conversation, Gene Roddenberry envisioned an idyllic future for humanity in Star Trek. One of the concepts visited in Star Trek was that human society no longer used money. To quote captain Jean-Luc Picard, "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives." With the invention of the replicator, I can understand why physical wealth would be considered irrelevant.

    We have invented a very powerful replicator for information and content called the internet. In fact, it is so powerful that it replicates content whether we want it to or not. It also is even more powerful in that it freely generates content.

    What happens when we are able to generate all things - physical items included - as easily as we can generate content on the internet? The economics of the world would break down if everything suddenly became free.

    It would be my hope that the driving force in our lives would shift to become the acquisition of spiritual wealth, wisdom, and knowledge. How would such a society work? What would it look like? Would we stagnate because there is no incentive? How would we transition from this economy to the other, understanding that the technology to get us there will not suddenly appear?
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      Jan 21 2012: I think we would immediately begin playing "keep up with the Jones" if replicators become a reality.
      I will replicate 4 Ferraris to top your three! It's about human nature. Acquiring wealth is just how we keep score. Some people want to be 1 percenters.
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        Jan 22 2012: I think you have nailed a very cogent factor. Can I call it "advantage"?
        Why do we seek advantage?
        To me it seems pretty obvious - to survive.
        Do we need all the advantage we have gained to survive the natural environment?
        Obviously not.
        Do we need so much advantage to survive the social environment?
        Absolutely.
        Why is this?
        Because we fear each other.
        This is the mechanics of greed - we hoard advantage to match the advantage of our neighbor.
        How did this come about?
        The fear started somewhere .. territorial needs perhaps .. uneven advantage perhaps .. the behaviour of sociopaths/psychopaths/alpha males.
        Is all this fear desirable?
        Obviously not.
        SO what do we do about it?
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          Jan 22 2012: How did this come about you ask? It is the very nature of fallen Man. QUOTE: "The avaricious man is like the barren sandy ground of the desert which sucks in all the rain and dew with greediness, but yields no fruitful herbs or plants for the benefit of others." (Zeno)
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        Jan 23 2012: Hmmm .. I don't think dogma is very helpful.
        I think addressing the basic fear would go further.
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          Jan 23 2012: Ah well, you say human fear, I say human nature. I guess we are both saying an economic system not based on the accumulation of wealth will not work unless ,as you say, people stop being motivated by fear; or, as I say, people stop being ruled by their natural propensity for avarice and greed. Thanks Mr. Smith.
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        Jan 23 2012: Thanks also to you Mr Long - This helps clarify the basic conceptual framework.
        It is true, that I have observed massive greed and avarice in humans. But I have also observed great goodwill and selfless sacrifice. Personal advantage cannot be the only rule as it is not universally observed.
        If the propensity to personal advantage is natural - what is the mechanism? Can it be adjusted?
        I would not even bother to ask this except that I have seen whole communities thrive on the practice of goodwill .. For much of my life I thought this an impossiblity, it came as a complete surprise.
        From that, I suspect that we become overly accustomed to unfinished understanding of concepts we hold to be indivisible .. (call it "fashion"?) and that subsequent experience reveals that these "basics" are indeed divisible! But that fashion prevents acceptance.
        In this I am supported by the new understandings of networked systems - and their danger of falling into "local minima" which prevents them finding the absolute minimum.
        I suspect that all human exploitation is based on local minima, with the exploiter being in secret posession of the absolute minimum. I suspect that we are well skilled at this.
        So if fear is a necessary signal to enable survival - that some degree of personal advantage is mandated as a default, perhaps greed and avarice are the unbalanced extension of personal advantage. If this is so, then perhaps we should look to the laws of diminished-return to find our balance?
        What are your thoughts?
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          Jan 24 2012: You have provoked several thoughts. My diminished faculties demand that I choose just one, so here goes: I paraphrase, "Can the mechanism be adjusted?" The love of self is natural and healthy. The abuse and exploitation of others for one's own gain is also natural, but not healthy. The mechanism driving greed and avarice in mankind is his disregard for, and disobedience of, his Maker.The onl;y effective adjustment of the mechanisn is to become a new creature, to be born again. Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are the evidences of a born-again person. Absence of this evidence reveals a pretending, false christian. Man's fallen condition is the problem. Being born again is the solution for the individual. Where sin reigns there is adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.
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        Jan 24 2012: @Mitch:
        "Why do we seek advantage?
        ...
        Because we fear each other."

        I think this line of thought misses the central driver behind what we see as greed today. When we look at our closest evolutionary relatives, we see that the alpha male in the group can have reproductive access to all the females, particularly the most desirable. Today, for us, the striving male that has climbed past survival and comfort next seeks mating with highly desirable females. Current first world culture draws the most attractive females into the class known as Supermodels and readily pays them dollars by the million. The aspiring alpha male of today has to compete his way into the billions if they aspire to a harem of such women. Yachts, helicopters and phallic office buildings aren't enough anymore. One needs to buy whole governments, command slave armies, start private space programs, etc.

        Fear in the sense of insecurity is likely to be a component of such drive, but imagine the perks of such wealth with today's technologies: Buying people for replacement organs, breakfast in Paris and dinner in Tokyo, ordering assassinations, converting any outrageous whim into physical reality...

        Today's top monkey gets closer to a god all the time, and soon immortality will be on the auction block. Not much incentive to share it all.
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        Jan 24 2012: @Edward: "I think we would immediately begin playing "keep up with the Jones" if replicators become a reality.
        I will replicate 4 Ferraris to top your three! "

        I would imagine that to go from here and now to there and then, that would be a common occurrence. But I also imagine that it would soon be recognized as a sort of mental illness or at least childish behavior.

        In my mind, there is no question that technology will get there, including virtually unlimited matter and energy to feed such manufacturing at our whim.

        The bigger problem that I see is that with our current economic organization, that such capability will be achieved by the few and used to keep the many enslaved. If you think about it, we are well past halfway toward this dream of replication. A small minority of humans are involved in making all of the really hot manufactured goods: computers, smartphones and automobiles. Largely, this manufacturing has moved from the U.S. to the other side of the Pacific to a labor force that is far more compliant than union-spoiled Yankees. The world has millions of small farmers that can scarcely compete with just a few highly automated agribusinesses.

        It seems obvious that the trend is toward manufacture without human labor and ever more concentrated ownership and profit from that production.
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          Jan 24 2012: Man-hours cost money, so do machine-hours. Are these replicators you envision free to operate? I doubt it. The pieces may change but the game is still Monopoly and you win by accumulating more and bankrupting everyone else. If human nature is in the equation the only workable solution is always the same. . . a new nature. Thanks Mr. Tao.
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          Jan 24 2012: On the monkey thing - have you seen this? http://killerstress.stanford.edu/
          The cogent bit is what happens to a primate colony when all the alpha males are removed.
          I agree that there is carrot as well as stick in the personal advantage equation.
          I also agree that a kind of rebirth is required. Although I do not ascribe to the anthropomorphic god model, I see the universal outgrowth as something that sits in harmony with religions - certainly enough to not criticise the basis of ancient wisdom.
          If I was to call my central dogma "god" then it is a(the?) god that invites me to explore his mystery - to split the assumptions and move closer to the advancing wave of "truth" (for want of a better word).
          Once again - I point to the laws of diminished return to regulate balance. No water is bad - you die of thirst, enough water is good - you are hydrated, too much water is bad - you drown in it.
          Many instances of diminished return are much harder to detect. For instance, when I had way too much money, I started to suffer from "lifestyle diseases" - it was certainly fun, but I am glad to have gotten out of that before having to feed all my wealth into medical postponement of the inevitable end.
          As for Harems .. I had one of those as a pennyless itinerate musician .. no need for even one Ferrari .. and as the game theorists demonstrate - going for the top prise results in no one getting it.
          And then there's the local minima .. the untested assumptions. They seem like the rocks we walk on, but until you actually try things, they are perpetually ghosts - we assume they have truth, but they don't. And let's face it - it is our very capacity to assume that allows us such quick adaptation. I am the happy man who fell through the ghosts. Inspiration and hardship have taught me much. I can site the events if asked. THere are other things I could talk about that sound like sheer mysticism, but the language of sciience will do for now.
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        Jan 24 2012: @Edward:
        Man-hours and machine-hours only cost money because people imagine it that way. I believe that we have to get past that thinking. Just like your Monopoly metaphor, it's a game and we can make up new and better games to play.

        Reading your other posts leads me to the assumption that you may be a Christian. I don't claim to be one myself nor can I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.

        I do however think that "Love thy enemy" and the Sermon on the Mount are pure genius. Add the Golden Rule and you can leave the rest to historians and anthropologists.

        To be "born again" is perhaps a psychological trick that may work for some and perhaps they can feel forgiven and proceed on a more virtuous life with added peace of mind. Others will not be able to accept enough of the story to get anywhere near that activity.

        I do believe that most, if not all children, when raised well with kindness, love and gentle, wise guidance, could go through life without a word of Gospel or any other religion and still be as ethical and virtuous as the most pious parishioner.

        I respect someone striving to be a good person, but communication is difficult with those who take biblical teaching as literal truth. As the metaphors put forth by ancient writers in an attempt to reach toward answers to life's mysteries, scripture offers much to ponder and a starting point for all the ethics and philosophy that has been written since.

        In my understanding, the only time Christ displayed anger was toward the moneychangers at the temple. I can't help but think he would be an equal-rights, gay-friendly, pacifist hippie socialist if he were around today.
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          Jan 24 2012: Thanks for your benevolent assessment of the teachings of the Bible. Most unbelievers do not recognize the intrinsic worth of the Biblical standard for decent, moral conduct. I do not see how the high cost of labor is a result of people imagining it that way, as you say. No mattter how people imagine it, it costs $60 per square foot to build a house.Becoming born again is not a psychological trick. It is an act of God, a spiritual act involving physical change. And you are right, most people stay far away from it.We agree that ethical, virtuous behaviour can be inculcated without using the Bible. The point is that from infancy we tend toward rebellion and selfishness and must be constantly reminded to do right and good. There is a New Testament model of an economy not based on the accumulation of wealth. (Acts chapter 4, verses 33 through 37). I try not to be difficult to communicate with but believing in the Word of God, the Bible, does not foster acceptance in an agnostic/atheistic environment. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Tao.
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          Jan 24 2012: @Zaz - I tend to agree with Mr Long on the rebirth principle. One actually has to emerge from one's egg of conflict to rejoin with the wave of truth which is driven by that thing which is not-nothing - the "!" that gave rise to the multiverse. I could also call it "realigning with ones life-wave". It's not an easy thing to do. The Christian "rebirth" thing is a vary powerful way of getting on the lifewave and remaining there (more consistently) .. otherwise you just get "flashes" of it. One very powerful evidence that you are nearing your "lifewave" is that you begin seeing insights that resolve all your conflicts .. paradoxically, once you are on your lifewave, there is no real incentive to broadcast all those insights .. you just live them. I suspect Mr Long is sharing his insights becasue he has been asked.
          Right now, I am operating from my "egg" - I feel the need to broadcast. Injustice and the struggles of humans draw us here, it's fun, but there is no real answer in it.
          @MR Long. My experience with raising an Autistic child has given me massive insight into the process of selfishness and rebellion .. the tendency towards these things comes from the social environment - not from the child. THis environment lays close-in to what we perceive as the child .. it's an illusion that exists in the adult, not the child.
          The economy of the "holy spirit" (unified life wave) works well for those in it .. but one must first be in it. But the good of the "holy spirit" radiates outwards to good and bad alike - we cannot deny our fellows, lost or found - if it is asked, then it is given.
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        Jan 24 2012: @Mitch: No, I haven't, but now I have. Many thanks for the link!
        Robert Sapolsky is one highly enlightened and dedicated scientist, and apparently pretty badass with a blowgun! Everybody should give a listen to anything and everything that man has to say. He has a TED talk by the way:
        http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/robert_sapolsky_the_uniqueness_of_humans.html
        and features prominently in this video:
        http://www.youtube.com/user/TZMOfficialChannel
        which although an excruciatingly long video, is right in line with this overall conversation.

        As for all that "law of diminishing return" stuff, well, the Buddhists are much better at talking about balance then economists, who cooked up said "law."

        In my opinion, (which is not usually humble,) 99% of economic theory is utter nonsense. I place the validity of current economic theory significantly below the validity of psychology at the time when it was leaving Sigmund Freud's pen. Here and there might be a half-truth or a roughly sensible supposition like "supply and demand," but people make up economic rules, then break them immediately after. Economists seem to have little grasp of new inventions and their impact, and aren't likely to wrap their heads around the Internet and what it means to ... just about everything.
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          Jan 24 2012: Yes .. the Sapolski observation is a thunderclap - a great part of assumption concerning "human nature" is blown to bits in a stroke.
          I have long questioned on the role of the sociopath and psychopath - and had the privelidge to speak to a PHD who studied them (the real "silence of the lambs" psych). THe sociopath is an environmentally made defect, the psychopath is hereditary. It is possible that both these conditions can be fixed. But it probably won't be until we abandon repect for the "alpha male" principle in our society and make it obvious who needs healing.
          It is from these defects that all the destructive dominance behaviours arise. I have not conceived a satisfactory method to detect and deal with them without wrecking civil society in the process. Evolution is the only way I can see.
          Be careful not to dis the economists so easily - many of these have been brilliant mathematicians and philosophers - the theory they delivered is quite powerful. THe ones you refer to are just the psychophantic clones who occupy the void that currency creates - they, for the most part, haven't a clue about how money operates.
          As I indicate - the laws of diminished return are missing from the eqations - I observed it starkly as a supply chain forcasting expert - my contribution to the market statistics world was to identify methods to separate natural and induced demand so that supermarkets could forecast underlying demand and the effects of promotion (to 95% accuracy). My other contributions were to identify natural efficiencies in warehouse input/output and to identify the market-identified unit consumed in fashion items (mobile phone handsets).
          These statistical forecasting systems DO identify diminished returns in questions of supply/.demand, but they do not identify it in so much else that makes up economy (ROI for instance or labor efficiency or company size morale or extraction of natural wealth).
          Also significantly missing from economy is the REAL bank - the Earth.