Re: true abundance?

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 02:44:06 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> The dividend of history
> The run up to the Spike will deepen today's dreadful problems, but also
> ease their solution, if we keep our nerve and use our brains.
> A corporation that downsizes its work-force today, in favour of robots, is
> surviving as a beneficiary of the human investment of the past. Its current
> productivity, after all, is the outcome of every erg of accumulated human
> effort that went into creating the economy and technological culture that
> made those robots possible.

What I am going to say here is not an argument against a guaranteed
minimum standard of living per se. It is an argument against a
dangerous and I believe pernicious means of justifying such.

This is a popular socialist argument. It assumes that all of us, every
single humans somehow contributed something to everything we have and
therefore we all have an equal right to the fruits of human progress.
this argument is quite questionable. The majority of human progress
comes from a relative handful of creative and energetic people, not from
the masses of humankind. Nor is it clear that the existence of this
handful was so dependent on the masses. The great accumulators of human
effort were the innovators and the technologists and business people and
the philsophers and ethical leaders that made their existence and
freedom possible. The majority of humanity resisted at every step of
the way.

> So let's not look at a guaranteed income as a `natural right', like the
> supposed innate rights to freedom of speech and liberty. Rather, it is an
> inheritance, something owed to all the children of a society whose
> ancestors for generations have together built, and purchased through the
> work of their minds and hands, the resource base sustaining today's
> cornucopia.

But this argument does not follow. Not all ancestors contributed
equally. The face of human progress is not a blank or a composite of
all faces. The work of most hands and minds was barely at subsistence
level. All that was common to all was the dream of better.

> Committed to the present structure of society--a prejudice doomed in any
> case, as we have seen, by the on-coming Spike--some people believe that
> most of their fellow humans won't work without an external goad. Others
> agree that incentives are required, but hold that these can spring from
> within, and need not depend upon the threat of hunger and destitution. In
> the short run, this debate can be avoided, for a guaranteed income would
> abolish severe poverty more effectively than current schemes that tend to
> act as a disincentive to taking up part-time work.

But the current schemes come from the same root of the right to a
guaranteed level of sustenance just for being alive to be provided by
others by force. Now, as I've mentioned NT makes it less an enslavement
(to some degree) of others for this program. And to that extent I
believe it is both workable and moral. But at the current level such a
program is not moral.

> And while a guaranteed wage would ensure you the bare necessities, your
> craving for luxuries and a higher standard of living would hardly
> disappear. Few of us now are content merely to earn a subsistence income.
> Those who are--the `shiftless scoundrels' who live their rudimentary life
> of ease on the dole in sunny climes--will continue to do so, but without
> costing society the extra burden of trying to hunt them down and punish
> them for refusing to take the jobs that don't exist.

And of course these are not the only possibilities.

> What we must hope, as the juggernaut of technological change rolls onward,
> is that material incentives alone really are not more important than other
> driving forces of the human spirit. The artist and the scientist are two
> celebrated instances of a deep human hunger and enthusiasm for creative
> activity, the kind that draws people together while being intensely
> rewarding to the individual. It's very likely, no doubt, that some arduous

The truly creative very seldom want to be "drawn together". They want
room and time to create.

> jobs traditionally the domain of depressed and excluded groups would find
> no takers if survival were no longer at stake. In wealthy nations like the
> United States, bordering less well-off countries, a constant influx of
> illegal migrants testifies to the reluctance of citizens with high
> expectations to do the sweaty work.

Actually, it testifies more to the disincentive to employment created by
our own laws hypothetically for the benefit of the poor like minimum
wage. If you actually ask these workers they will tell you that they
are quite pleased to have this work rather than no prospects at all back
home. Nastiness is relative. Doing yard work in a nice neighborhood is
infinitely preferable to the conditions back home in many cases.

> Return to the village
> The impulse to automate such unpleasant activities, or design around them,
> is thus intensified. If nobody can be found to take the nasty jobs, the
> proportion of such unrewarding tasks delegated to machines will grow
> (thankfully) until people are free of them for good. And in many cases, we
> can expect that nano minting and AI systems will simply wipe many of the
> worst kinds of odious toil off the agenda forever.

So, you have taken people who can work the land and may actually enjoy
it and made them unemployable. Odious is a very relative term.

> Hans Moravec puts it succinctly: `In the short run this threatens
> unemployment and panicked scrambles for new ways to earn a living. In the
> medium run, it is a wonderful opportunity to recapture the comfortable pace
> of a tribal village while retaining benefits of technological evolution. In
> the long run, it marks the end of the dominance of biological humans, and
> the beginning of the age of robots' (Robot, p. 131).

Who in the hell wants the pace of a tribal village!? This was one of
the dumbest things I ever read from Moravec.

> The anthropologist Conrad Arensberg claimed that every successful adaptive
> innovation, social or biological, always has a further effect than the
> immediate and conservative: `the opening of a vast new door, a splendid
> serendipity'. It is impertinent and finally futile to try to anticipate
> serendipity, but it seems fair to assume that the adoption of a general
> right to a share in the inherited productivity of the human race will be
> liberating, more often than not, to the spirit.

It depends on whether you need to enslave some to provide this share to

- samantha

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