Capitalism, Scarcity, MNT, and the Future
Fri, 30 Jan 1998 19:19:17 -0500

I do not agree with the focus of the discussion on this mailing list revolving
around capitalism, communism, and the future. Most of the ideas I have seen
seem to arise more from political and ideological motivations than sincere
attempts to speculate what the future holds for these socio-economic systems.

Capitalism, socialism (and its more extreme cousin communism, and most other
socio-economic systems that dot the ideological landscape all arise from one
central "fact of life" in the human experience since antiquity: scarcity of
resources. I define "scarcity" as a condition where the sum demand for
resources of a given population exceeds the available supply of those
resources. This is the classic "supply and demand" mechanism which drives any
market. I find that the distinguishing characteristic between socialism and
capitalism is the degree to which this "supply and demand" mechanism is allowed
to determine who gets what they want and who does not. "Resources" are defined
as essentially anything that someone wants (for whatever reason). For capitalis
m, to the extent that a resource is scarce it has a value which is determined
by the dynamics of supply and demand. For socialism, the supply and demand
dynamics are suppressed as much as possible to ensure an equanimity how many
resources each individual person has. Both systems allege to be achieve the
optimal allocation of resources among a society, i.e. maximizing happiness or
utlity. Whether either does better than the other in this regard is a subject
for the political scientists and the economists to debate.

Scarcity in an MNT Future

Several people have stated that they believe that capitalism will go the way of
the do-do in the future. Often a fully realized molecular nanotechnology (MNT)
is cited as a reason for this predicted death of capitalism. I do not think we
should dismiss capitalism in such a simple fashion. A MNT future where
production is virtually free and the supply for such resources is virtually
limitless is beguiling. I can understand why people, even using my definition
of "scarcity" above, could assert that such scarcity would no longer exist
since demand could easily exceed supply. I submit that the one commodity
(scarce resource) in a MNT future would be MNT itself. The only real
"object"/"process" with value would be the ability to produce with MNT. The
crucial question becomes would the supply of MNT exceed the demand for it?

MNT Monopolies?

The supply of MNT would be extremely vulnerable to manipulation. MNT supply
could be virtually limitless and definitely in excess of demand. However, MNT
could be controlled in some fashion and its supply regulated similar to the
DeBeers/diamonds and OPEC/crude oil situations of the present. MNT would be so
hard to contain, since if even a few assemblers "got out" they could render any
MNT monopoly obsolete in a matter of week, that if a MNT monopoly ever existed
it would probably be the most absolute institution in terms of power and
control to exist in history. It would have to be to control the supply of MNT.

Drexler warned of the dangers of "stumbling into" the MNT age. The threat of
MNT monopoly would be scary indeed not only for individuals but also for
governments who realized they would not be a part of it. Maybe we can hope
that in attempts to ensure it was never subjected to such absolute control, a
scrupulous government or corporation would make MNT freely available long
enough for it to proliferate.

Scarity in an Age of Autarky?

If the supply of MNT did exceed demand, each individual would essentially be
self-sufficient. Speculations on the technologies emerging out of MNT hint at
the possibilities of ancient institutions in the human experience being
rendered obsolete such as : the necessity of mates for reproduction (marriage),
death, limitations of the human experience in general (intelligence, insight,
physical limits, etc.). What would be considered scarce in such a future?
Scarcity may arise from limitations so basic and fundamental that vast
technologies beyond even MNT would be required to eliminate them. (note: I
find the same confrontation with fundamental scarcity arising in a future where
superintelligent artifical life-forms [assuming they are competitive] race at e
xponential speeds to usurp one another) Aspects of the universe such as time,
energy, mass, heat (a derivative of time), etc. would become the fundamental
limits that (trans)humans in an MNT future would confront. The vast
technologies needed to eliminate them? Tapping into additional supplies of
these resources which I can only determine would be possible by accessing other
universes (this assuming the multiverse speculations of Lee Smolin et. al. are
true). Is there some resource more fundamental (and immune to the machinations
of life) than time, etc,? I can not imagine what it would be.