Re: true abundance?

From: Barbara Lamar (
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 12:26:16 MST

Greg Burch wrote:

"The basic concept held by some is that a very sophisticated nanotech-enabled
economy would be so rich that "the basics" as you describe them could be
provided to people at such low cost that they would be essentially free. As
some have speculated, "free basics" might come with some strings attached,
such as built-in advertising, or as a give-away in connection with some other
goods or services. Beyond this, a sufficiently wealthy and technologically
advanced civilization might be able to afford universal "free basics" as a
matter of charity."

Denis Bider wrote:

... I think technology could at minimum be provided to satisfy,
universally, the need for:
- comfortable shelter
- good, heterogenous food
- freedom of communication
- unrestricted access to information
- if possible, even complete freedom of movement
Maybe there's more, but I think this would do it very well. I would like to
see what happens if everyone, with no work required and no compensation
expected, could be granted all of the above benefits, by means of some
self-maintaining technology. I speculate the world would be a better place.

Samantha wrote:

I find this idea very appealing also. Especially if you throw in all
the computing power you could want and full access to information. Then
people like me who have some strange scheme they want to work on but
can't find a backer need not worry about starving or becoming homeless
while developing it. It could be very liberating.

Barbara Lamar now writes:

I'm writing my thoughts as I think them here, so please forgive me if this
post isn't coherent and elegant. If I'd waited to post this until I'd
thought everything through, the thread would have been long-past, so I'm
taking the risk of sounding silly in the hopes that we can keep an
interesting discussion going.

I've been looking at the guaranteed income from a new perspective since
reading Chapter 7 of THE SPIKE.

The main reason I can think of for not having a government-provided
guaranteed income is that it is morally wrong for
  one group of people calling themselves "the government" to steal from
another group of people, regardless of how the thieves dispose of the
stolen goods. A guaranteed income would seem to require that this sort of
theft be perpetrated.

[Damien writes: "...society will pay everyone, as an inalienable right, a
basic minimum dividend drawn from the productivity and wealth of the
nation."--the problem with this is that society is made up of individuals.
Productivity and wealth don't appear unattached to human effort. In order
to "draw" them and make them available for distribution, one must first
take them from the individuals who produced them--this is the libertarian
argument, and it's valid, I think, to the extent that current distribution
of wealth reflects a morally justifiable process]

Thus, it would seem that in order to justify a guaranteed income, the
contributions to the "community pot" would have to be made voluntarily; or
one would have to show that the recipients of guaranteed payments have a
morally justifiable claim to such payments.

  In Chapter 7 of THE SPIKE Damien mentions, in passing, the concept of the
guaranteed income as an inheritance. ["...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."] I like this idea a lot, and
it ties into the discussion we were recently having about "human nature."

For all the years of the existence of *Homo sapiens sapiens* other than
the tiniest fraction representing the last 10,000 years or so, members of
the species lived in relatively small groups. Based on the available
evidence, up until the start of agriculture, a typical human could expect a
guaranteed income something like what Denis listed (excepting, maybe,
unrestricted access to information--but one's access to information would
not be restricted according to the amount of material wealth one produced).
The scientific discoveries which have most changed our lives were
apparently made by people living under these conditions (domestication of
crops and animals, for example--all the major food crops and animals were
domesticated during this period).

The problem with having a guaranteed income administered by a centralized
government with power over a large number of people inhabiting a large
geographical area is the lack of personal interaction between donors and
recipients. These sorts of systems always seem to cave in on themselves
through mismanagement and corruption.

But our present system isn't working very well either. Not for the vast
majority of people living within it. Most people spend the majority of
their time doing things they don't want to be doing. For most people, life
cannot be said to be joyful. One reason for this seems to be the
association of having a job with being a respectable person. The problem
with this is that a huge portion of the "work" done each day is bullshit
"busy work." An example of busy work in school: my daughter and I used to
spend a certain part of each year traveling, and I'd get the lesson plans
from the teachers so she could keep up with her class at school. We'd
always finish a day's work in an hour and a half or less. I understand that
something like 80% of the productive work in business organizations is done
in 20% of the time. The other 80% of the time is spent non productively (if
productivity is measured in terms of advancing toward a desirable goal). I
think much of what people do these days is motivated by a need to stay
busy. Work is invented.

Another quote from THE SPIKE: "In a world mutating ever more swiftly under
the impact of high technology, detestable toil will be very hard to find,
or even invent."

I'd never heard of Robert Theobald until I read THE SPIKE and was overjoyed
to discover his work. At the link below you can read, in book form, a
series of lectures he prepared shortly before his death in 1999.

Theobald says:

"My experience shows that people ready for new opportunities. Think about
how avalanches start. When conditions are ripe, the immediate cause can be
very minor. The same is true for cultural shifts. The real challenge today
is learn how to act as though what we do can make a difference. As the
anthropologist Margaret Mead said: 'Never doubt that a small group of
committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing which
ever has'."

I'd like to begin a discussion here and now about changing the social
structures of the world. Rather than falling into the abyss of pigeon
holing and name calling, I'd like to begin by looking for common ground.
What sort of lives do we want to live? If we were writing the scripts for
our own lives, including he sort of society we'll live in, what would we write?

Here's a quote from one of Theobald's lectures:

"A new image may help us to grasp the ways we shall need to behave in the
future. Herman Daly, an economist who challenges the growth ethic, has
suggested that our present economic system is like a jet plane that must
fly at high speed, because otherwise it will stall and crash. He suggested
that we should start to think about a helicopter which could hover.
However, a helicopter is both fuel-inefficient and noisy. I propose that we
start thinking about a glider as our symbol for the future. I recognize the
danger of pushing any analogy too far but there are some fascinating
thoughts which emerge as one considers the operation of a glider.

"First, any activity will inevitably use up resources at its beginning. The
appropriate questions are first, what is the minimum effective amount of
resources needed to accomplish the purpose, and second, whether the gain
will compensate for the expenditure of energy.
Second, just as an experienced pilot can find a thermal when the less
skilled may miss it, an individual who knows how to carry through an
activity has a far greater chance of succeeding than the uninformed.

"Third, the glider is brilliantly designed for its purpose. The
post-industrial world will not have the resources to tolerate the
overdesign and waste which is so common today. Overcoming problems by brute
force, rather than by using imagination and knowledge, will not be
acceptable in the future.

"Finally, the image of the glider reminds us that nothing lasts forever:
The craft eventually comes back to earth regardless of the skill of the
pilot. We urgently need to relearn that just as we are afraid of personal
death, we are also profoundly unwilling to recognize that institutions can
long outlive their usefulness. Huge amounts of waste are tolerated as we
prop up obsolete profit, non-profit, and governmental institutions."

I'd like to emphasize a sentence from the above:

"Overcoming problems by brute force, rather than by using imagination and
knowledge, will not be acceptable in the future."

In evaluating the various technologies that are currently following
exponential development paths, it seems a good idea to sort out the brute
force ones from the elegant ones.

I gotta go now, because the sun is shining brightly and the breeze smells
of newly emerging cotyledons in the garden. I'd love to continue this
discussion if anyone's interested.


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