Sadly, I need to step up my game. I didn’t make the list.
For several hundred years the global average standard of living has been rising rapidly. This has been especially evident in the Western world. What factors deserve the credit for this unprecedented improvement in the human condition? Will it continue to improve into the future?
The term ‘work’ in this essay, refers to any effort or energy expended in the performance of a task; it includes but is not limited to what you do during your 9 to 5 job. For many thousands of years, people have performed ‘work’ to improve their standard of living by using only their human muscle.
Productive output, the sum of all work that a society performs in the production of goods and services, establishes that societies average standard of living. Average does not mean equal. In most societies, a few receive a large share of productive output, while the rest receive a smaller share. For all of human history total productive output per capita grew very slowly, because we were limited by how much work we could do with muscle alone. The Industrial Revolution changed everything as muscle power was no longer a limiting factor, and our standard of living began rising very rapidly.
Shall we give Capitalism the credit for our dramatic growth over the past 250 years? It has offered an efficient method of organizing human labor (muscle power) to perform more work in the transformation of Capital into productive goods and services.
Shall we give the spread of democracy the credit because it permitted the free flow of information that fostered innovation and improvements in productivity; which is an increase in output per unit of labor input?
The answer to both questions is yes, some. But neither of the above factors would have made much of a difference if it were not for the discovery of a new way to do work by consuming energy.
In the 18th century the use of stored solar energy (coal) started becoming popular as a way to perform work. The burning of coal provided access to rich iron deposits which then permitted the construction of bigger machines that could harness that energy. By the 19th century an easier to use liquid form of accumulated solar energy (oil) became popular. Increasingly these energy sources were used to perform more work than was possible with the use of muscle alone, leading to a rapid increase in the total productive output of society; and therefore the average standard of living.
At first, oil wells was easy to access, sitting just a few feet below the surface. The amount of energy required to extract it was negligible. Over the years we used up the easy oil, but we found a lot more deeper under the ground. Eventually new deposits started getting scarce and getting deeper. Every new barrel of oil required a little bit more energy to be consumed to extract it?
Our standard of living is the sum of our total productive output or work, which includes the energy consumed. If you use 1 unit of energy to obtain 100 units, then only 99 units of that energy are left to do productive work. Over time, as it becomes harder to obtain the next 100 units, the energy remaining out of those 100 units to do work declines. If extracting 100 units of energy then requires consuming 5 units of energy, only 95 units remain to do productive work. We call this the declining marginal utility to of the next unit of energy.
Prior to the 1970’s, the United States increased the average standard of living of its citizens by rapidly increasing oil production to offset the declining marginal utility of the next barrel of oil as it became harder and harder to obtain. When peak oil production in the U.S. occurred during the 70’s, it was realized that we could no longer maintain the perpetually rising standard of living that Americans had become accustomed to by consuming more oil.
In fear, our misguided but well-intentioned politicians tried to reverse the effects. To paraphrase the conventional wisdom at that time, they said things like “We need to liberalize the Capitalist engine, let it run free to be more efficient.” And, “we need to make access to debt easier, so people can borrow, and thereby increase consumption.”
Unfortunately, all of those political solutions have been short sighted and do not address the core problem of declining marginal utility in our energy supply. Drilling for tar sands, and deep sea oil is very expensive, costing about 20 barrels for each 100, leaving only about 80 for use in production of our global average standard of living. The same thing is happening to natural gas and coal. Because there is a finite supply, future units are harder to extract than units extracted in the past. This is not a problem that can be solved by simply drilling more wells and increasing the rate of extraction. Doing so will just accelerate the decline in the marginal utility of our energy supply.
Serious thought needs to be given to the decline in our energy supplies marginal utility and our inability in improve our standard of living. Our current Socio-Economic system seems ill equipped to even acknowledging this problem, much less develop a long term working solution.
We live in a very complex world; a world made up of a vast network of interconnected systems. Each large macro-system such as our economy, or the environment is made up of numerous smaller complex systems that are all connected and independent on each other. How it is that large and complex system such as an economy or eco-system fail, and is it possible to predict when these systems will failure before it happens?
Large systems such as the economy or environment are so complex that they are almost impossible to compute (in other words predict) the exact future of the system. For this reason, we build models of systems (abstractions) so that we can better understand how the various parts of these systems interact and affect one another. One very successful model has been designed to do just that, and it involves building piles of sand.
In 1987, three physicists working on complexity theory tried an experiment by piling up grains of sand one at a time[i]. The sand pile would grow until at some point a landslide would occur. Sometimes the landslide would be very small, but at other times, the whole side of the pile might collapse in a catastrophic failure. The purpose of their experiment was to determine why they would sometimes get a catastrophic failure, and if by learning that they could apply their findings to other complex systems that sometime fail. That experiment has famously become known as the bak-tang-wiesenfeld sandpile model, has been tested and found applicable for many complex systems from financial markets to weather forecasting to predicting solar flares.
Why System Fail
When you pile sand up one grain at a time, each grain falls at random rolling down the sand pile until it finds a stable perch along the side. What looks stable however, may actually be a grain of sand just barely hanging on from falling farther own the side. When a new grain of sand drops, it may touch and jostle another grain that is just barely hanging on and knock that grain loose. Now two grains are tumbling down the side. At this point, both grains might find a place to rest and the slide will stop, or if they encounter more grains that are barely hanging on, they too may be added to the landslide. Two grains become four, tumbling down the side increasing the odds that they will encounter more loose grains and increase the size of the slide. The result of all of this is that a single grain of sand (like the last straw that broke the camel’s back), can cascade into a failure where a large part of the pile joins in a catastrophic landslide and the whole pile of sand collapses.
How does this apply to systems like our economy or the environment? When all the subsystems within a large system are healthy we say that the system is robust, because a few small failures (like grains of sand rolling down the side) will not encounter other weaknesses and stability can easily return to the system. The weaker those underlying subsystems become though, the more that that each part is pushed to the very edge and is just barely holding on, the more likely that a small disturbance will push it over the edge with the increased potential of a cascading system failure.
In fact, we have seen exactly that, over and over again, throughout history. Take for example the great Mayan Civilization that collapsed around 950 A.D. It is estimated that the Mayan population at one point exceeded 10 million people living on the Yucatan Peninsula, in an area about the size of Southern California. When the Spanish arrived centuries later, they found no cities, and a total population in the 10’s of thousands. What happened? Did millions of people just walk off into the jungle and give up a life of luxury in the city? Until recently we could only guess about what happened. Several recent studies[ii] however, have shed light on what really caused the Mayan Civilization to collapse.
First of all, as you can guess, is takes a lot of farm land to feed 10 million people without the use of tractors, water pumps for irrigation and fertilizer to replenish the soil. The Mayan developed a habit of farming an area to exhaustion, then picking up and moving down the road to a new area. As a result the soils on the peninsula were very shallow, poor in minerals and nutrients, and could not hold much water. When land is over used as was the case with the Mayans, it may take decades or longer for nature to reclaim the land and replenish the nutrients. The Mayans were squeezing everything they could out of the land, pushing crop yields to the limit at all times. The soils became weaker and thinner over time. Agriculture on the Yucatan Peninsula was becoming like a very unstable pile of sand with farms just barely hanging on trying to meet demand.
Building great cities also requires a lot of timbre used in construction and to build cook fires. Archeological records show that vast areas of forest were stripped down to bare land in the centuries leading up to collapse. Unknown to the Mayans at the time was the fact that the jungle trees plays a vital role in controlling the climate. Trees provide shade and help prevent rain water from evaporating rapidly from the soil. Dry soil is easily blown by the wind, and gets taken away as dust. Trees also cool the surrounding air as they transpire (evaporate) water from the surface of their leaves, and exhaling Oxygen while pulling in CO2 from the atmosphere.
Over time, with thinning top soil from wind erosion, and without the trees to help hold moisture in the ground, the entire regional climate was slowly being changed. Beginning in the eighth century A.D. the climate started to get warmer, and dryer. At first, the occasional summer drought started to occur more often, and then eventually became a prolonged drought that spanned a century. Collapse did not happen overnight; it actually took about 150 years of worsening conditions before the cities were completely abandoned. It began as an increase in malnourishment and starvation in the poorest parts of the population. This was followed by increased violence as people began fighting and giving human sacrifice over what few crops remained. Eventually, exasperation in a failed system led the remaining survivors to return to a simpler life in small villages.
Could a situation similar to what happened to the Mayans take place in our modern society, full of wondrous technologies? Our current world is much more complex and interconnected that the Mayan civilization. Could our hyper-complex civilization suddenly collapse like a giant pile of sand, as the Mayan’s did? The answer is YES, it is possible. The likelihood and timing of that possibility however, requires more research.
How to Realize a Resource Based Economy (RBE)
In the first two parts of this series, we discussed the changes to employment that advanced technology and automation will soon bring, and how a Resource Based Economy is the only solution that we know of to that dilemma. We know what the problem is, and we even have the solution in hand, however, one sixty-four-million dollar question remains: how do we get there from here? The transition to a completely new socioeconomic system will be anything but easy. It will be the grandest challenge that Humanity has ever undertaken. however, it also holds the most promise for creating a sustainable future that is compatible with an advanced technological civilization.
The largest challenge facing the adoption of an Resource Based Economy is education. No one has ever tried to develop or implement this type of system before, so, people have no point of reference. They will grab bits and pieces of ideas and try to fit that into models of systems they are familiar with, some that were huge failures, and make false assumptions. The most common misperception centers on the idea of ownership.
Around 10,000 years ago, people went through a transition from hunter-gatherers to farming the land and living in one place for longer periods. For the first time in history people were staying in one place long enough to obtain and accumulate objects of value. This is probably when we first started seeing the concept of ownership of objects and lands take hold. Therefore, for the last 10,000 years or so, we have conditioned our society to measure our worth by the amount of stuff we can accumulate and own. Do we have a natural disposition to want to own things, to accumulate wealth? Are we destined to always be greedy and hoard material wealth? I think not. I think it is our nature to live in better harmony with our neighbors and the Earth. The last 10,000 years has been an aberration in our natural behavior.
We only have a few examples of other societies to get a glimpse of how we probably spent the majority of our time evolving. The Native Americans of the mid-west in America gave up farming to return to a life of hunting & gathering and developed a social structure based on sharing. They could not carry very much when it was time to pick up and move, so they put little value on accumulating things of value. People could no more own the land than they could own the air we breathe. What they did have, belonged to the entire tribe. Around the turn of the 20th century, many South Pacific island tribes had plenty of natural resources; food and water. Even though they stayed in one place, because there was such abundance there was no need to take more than you needed. They developed a very egalitarian culture were people openly shared everything. When our environment permits it, we can be rather nice to each other.
The fact is that humans are perfectly capable of living harmoniously in a society where ownership of things is not important. We think that we must accumulate things of value because that is what we have been taught our entire lives. It is part of our culture; the same culture that is willing to kill men, women and children just to get their oil. The need to have something that someone else has, to take it from them, is at the root of most of the crime and violence around the globe for the past 10,000 years. By eliminating money, and the value it associates with things we use, we can finally return to a society that values people and relationships over material wealth. By creating the technology to harvest energy and provide renewable resources in abundant supply, we will finally be free of the violence that emerges in a society that values possessions over people.
However, we still have a challenge. The challenge is convincing seven billion people to stop valuing material possessions, give up the need to own things, and put their trust in technology to provide for their every need.
Education and Building Faith in a New Way
Two things need to happen before the concept of a Resource Based economy will gain acceptance with the majority of the population.
- We must educate the people about what a Resource Based Economy is and how it works.
- In addition, we must prove to the people by example that these concepts will work in practice, not just theory.
The change to a Resource Based Economy is too radical to get the support of the majority of the worlds population without a major catastrophe driving them to accept anything that offers some hope of security. Unfortunately, there are powerful interests in the world that would use a global disaster to seize control. The only way to avoid a negative outcome is to educate the people about a better option, so that when the day comes, they can vote intelligently. What better way to educate people than by example.
The Path Forward
Millions of people have heard of The Venus Project (TVP) by now, and another popular initiative known as The Zeitgeist Movement (TZM). The Zeitgeist Movement began as the activist arm of The Venus Project, however their tactics for spreading the message of an RBE were not in keeping with the core values of The Venus Project, and therefore they split and went their separate ways. However, they still pursue the same goal, which is a Resource Based Economy.
As of this writing, The Venus Project is trying to raise the capital to create a full length movie that will show what life in a society that no longer uses money, has no need for war, and has access to abundant resources would be like. People will continue having a hard time visualizing that society without a frame of reference. The movie is a key educational tool that will give people that reference from which they can base their understanding. In addition to awareness, proceeds from the movie will be used to help fund the first experimental city.
The trailer below is not for the full length film mentioned above, however I think it will be very informative:
Once awareness is improved through education, additional funding can be raised to construct the first experimental prototype city. The first city will be a scaled down version of a full city concept. This prototype city will need to rely on funding to buy land, and pay for materials and equipment because it will still exist somewhere within our current monetary system. It will be constrained to the laws of the land, including taxation wherever it is built. It will probably also require manual labor since the automated construction and production techniques still need to be developed. Establishing a reliable and renewable energy source will be one of the first priorities.
If the people have been well educated about the vision for an RBE, then there will be enough skilled people available to volunteer their time to see that vision brought to life. Initially there will be a high demand for contractors, electricians, plumbers, painters; all the construction trades. We will also need people for first aid and emergency medical care, as well as agronomists to set up the first hydroponic farms. They will all live in the city as they construct it. Teams of architects, engineers, and IT professionals from all over the world are already volunteering their time to design this first new city and the computer systems that will run it. Hundreds more professionals have already signed up to help when the time comes.
Once the first prototype city is constructed, the first inhabitants in addition to the construction people will need to be researchers, engineers, technicians, scientists, and others with the required skills to develop the technology that will enable a Resource Based Economy to thrive by replacing manual labor with automation. However, researchers and scientists are expensive in today’s money based world. How might the first city function financially in a word that uses money?
The method of that operation has yet to be decided by the TVP team. This suggestion is but one approach that may be used and is presented here to illustrate that doing this is not a Utopian pipe dream, it can happen.
The Coop Approach
A Cooperative, or Coop (pronounced ‘koe-ahp’) for short, is a business organization where the members share ownership in the business. There is no corporate stock, and so no stockholders telling the business what to do. Members may be the customers of the coop business as with Credit Unions, Farming coops, and some insurance companies. The coops members can also be the employees of the coop as is becoming popular in Europe. In a coop where the members are the employees, the employees each own an equal share in that business. There is no single owner or boss controlling all of the others. It is the ultimate flat organizational structure. A coop may pay its members who do work a wage, but it is not required.
One way to structure the coop, would be to offer members the right to live in the city. They would have access to all of the cities resources; food, water, shelter and anything else the city is able to provide. People would not be paid a wage while living in the city. The research and technology produced, along with any excess power and products manufactured in the city can be sold to those outside the city. A priority will also be placed on establishing the ability to fabricate our own tools, equipment and supplies as early as possible so as to not be dependent on the outside world. However, there will inevitably be items beyond the early cities ability to manufacture; computer chips for example. The value received from trade would enable the early city to purchase additional material, supplies, tools and equipment that it could not manufacture, as well as things like medical care for situations beyond the cities early medical staffs ability to deal with.
Another option is to open the city up to college students who want to learn sustainable living. We may be able to attract a few college professors and offer a number of colleges a fully accredited course for their students spending a semester in the city doing research, learning and helping build the future.
An additional possibility is offering the city as an experimental testing ground for technology companies developing new automation techniques. Think Google’s new driverless car. These companies may not be ready to embrace a new way of life without money, but they may be interested in plugging their technology into an experimental infrastructure full of scientists and technicians who can provide valuable feedback.
The coop will be a legal entity, responsible to the country where it is built for all taxes and laws. Since members volunteer their efforts, they are not paid, and therefore not subject to taxation. If successful, enough capital can be raised to finance a larger city as part of the same coop business. In the second city, the automation technology developed in the first city is used to help construct it as well as the cities control and distribution systems.
It may be advantageous to have different cities specialize in different kinds of goods. That way one city does not have to establish the capability early on to be able to create everything it may need. A computerized distribution network will keep track of everything that is available in each city and arrange for transport between cities when needed. That computerized system is actually undergoing design as you read this. I know this because that is one of the roles I fill as a Software Architect volunteering on that project. We will also connect our cities with high speed rail service for both passenger and resource/goods distribution.
Another early feature that will appear in the first city is a municipal transportation system that goes beyond your typical mass transit system. The details of that system are still being worked out, but it will be both environmentally friendly, and convenient.
Some of the early initiative the city will need to achieve are:
- Establish manufacturing and fabrication labs. 3D printers for various materials will help accelerate this capacity. To the extent possible, the early city will want to only buy raw materials, and then manufacture finished goods on site. This will be the quickest road to self sufficiency.
- Establish self sufficiency with our food supply; hydroponic gardens, aquaponics, pigs, goats, sheep and chickens. Fish not only supply valuable and healthy protein, but their waste is a valuable fertilizer for the hydroponics gardens. Live stock should be restricted to those able to consume left over waste from the gardens.
- Establish a reliable source of power with 24×7 availability; This likely will be solar or wind with a storage device to supply energy at night.
- Establish a transit system. For the first year the city may be small enough to get anywhere reasonable by bike, but eventually a better method will be required, especially in bad weather. The details are yet to be worked out, but may simply be a small fleet of electric vehicles.
- Develop a local resource management system.
- A school, not just for the children, but adults as well. This will double as a place where people can visit the city and learn what we are about. Perhaps we call it RBE University.
Mid Term Development:
- Manufacture of our own solar cells and power conversion equipment. This will be used to expand our power availability as the city grows until geothermal comes online, eventually generating a surplus that may be sold to the outside.
- Manufacture of electronic components of moderate complexity. Sophisticated computer chips will be a late stage endeavor.
- Expanded manufacturing capacity, with fully equipped research labs for the development of new automated construction systems and manufacturing techniques.
- Build an electric arc furnace mini steel mill, and casting to manufacture recycled steel from scrap. Recycled scrap steel is not very expensive and readily available. The raw steel will be critical to expanding our manufacturing capacity.
- Develop a regional resource management system.
- Establish a smelter and foundry for other metals and minerals.
- Establish chemical processing capability for needed chemicals.
- Geothermal power plant. Geothermal is the most desirable long term solution, however, the construction effort is high (approximately $3400/kilowatt in a monetary economy).
- Comprehensive and fully automated manufacturing and fabrication of all needed materials,components, and equipment needed by a highly technical society.
- Produce our own high quality computers and equipment including the components such as chips.
- Manufacture of high speed transport system, and fully automated municipal ‘doorstep-to-doorstep’ transit systems.
- Expand the resource management system to a global scale.
- Completely 100% self sufficient and independence from the outside ‘monetary’ world.
In each new generation of city that we build, the technology and automation used in city construction, infrastructure, services and industrial areas will be improved. At some point, we will branch out and start building cities in other countries. Eventually our cities will be so successful that we will have a hard time building them fast enough to meet the demand for people who want to move in to them. Before long, there will be so many people living in our cities, and so many others wanting in, that the world’s governments will have no choice but to make the commitment and convert their economies.
We have a way forward; one that does not require a revolution, or depended on the total collapse of society. We have simply create an alternative that people will be able to look to as a successful and functioning way to live. As the number of cities grows, they will eventually reach a point of complete self-sufficiency where there is no longer any dependency on the outside world for any resources. At that time, we should be able to transition away from the temporary coop model that allowed us to trade for resources from the moneyed world. We will then be 100% running as a true Resource Based Economy. There will still be those on the outside though. The remaining world’s governments will have no choice but to listen to the millions of people still on the outside and wanting to join our superior way of doing things. A global referendum of the remaining outside citizens will drive the world’s governments to plan their own conversion and join us.
Only one thing is certain about the future. If we survive as an advanced technological civilization, eventually machines will be doing all the work. There is no logical way to avoid that conclusion. One can argue about the timing, but not the result. When we humans are no longer needed for labor, when the machines are doing all of the work, we will either evolve into a new society where the machines serve our needs, or we let the machines have this planet and wave farewell as we become just another chapter in the long history of Earth. The one thing that has gotten us this far, is the fact that we humans are experts at adaptation. We adapt and survive. I think we have it within us to adapt to the coming changes, to evolve to a new way of life. We will live among the machines and they will be our friends.
If change is the future,
we could use a little future right about now
In case you have not noticed, our society is coming apart at the seams, and the global economy is preparing for a mega meltdown. As of this writing, Europe is on the verge of going bankrupt, which may result in the dissolution of the Eurozone and the rest of the world is not far behind. How this will all come to pass is the subject of other articles that I have posted, so I will not retrace those steps here. What is a society to do when it collapses?
The only thing that is real in the world economy, are resources. Resources are the things we use, and consume. They are required for our survival. Resources allow us to produce all the trappings of a modern society. Money is not a resource; money is an artificial tool that simply enables the control of resources by an entity. Therefore, money is not real; it is simply the illusion of wealth and power. Money is the source of everything that is wrong with our modern society; greed, envy and corruption. Money is the shackle by which the people of the Earth are forced into servitude.
How you structure a monetary based economy, whether as Capitalism or Communism is irrelevant; they all have the same flaws focused around greed and a desire to accumulate power over others. Which political system you use with a monetary based economy, whether a Republic, Fascism or Socialism is irrelevant; they all have the same flaws centered on corruption of the political process and politicians. It is therefore vital for the survival of the human race that society evolve, that it transcends the need for money, politics, and an artificial monetary based economy. Fortunately, there is a way, a plan in the making for several decades; it is The Venus Project.
The Venus Project represents Jacque Fresco’s vision, and a unique solution to the socioeconomic and environmental problems that face our society and the planet we live on. What he proposes will seem radical to many people. Some will jump to negative conclusions before understanding the full concept, while others will want to jump at the chance to live in the first new cities. Whichever camp you are in, I beg of you to learn as much as you can about this proposal for a new type of socioeconomic system. It just may be the single most important decision in your life. Nothing less than the future of humanity is riding on this.
A very important point: While you will be tempted to think of this proposal as a Utopian society, it is not. Utopias do not exist; they are only a fantasy. They presume the creation of a perfect society that is in no need of further improvement. No one working on The Venus Project is under the assumption that this is a perfect Utopia. The Venus Project will have its challenges to overcome, and will take a lot of hard work before it is realized. It will be improved over time, and evolve as the technology and culture of the people evolves. Nothing is set in stone. With that said, there are a few key concepts that are firmly in the required column:
- There will be no monetary currency. The use of currency is replaced by a resource-based economy. This may be phased in over time, or occur abruptly.
- The Earth’s resources are for the shared benefit of all humankind. No individual or group shall be able to exploit resources for their sole benefit or to use resources in such a way that they are able to coerce or control others.
- Technology is a resource, and is to be a shared benefit of all humankind. The use of patents or other mechanisms that give exclusive access to a technology are not permitted. All people share the discoveries, inventions and designs equally and openly.
- Elitism is eliminated; whether through wealth or technology. It will not be possible to own or accumulate assets or property of any kind, therefore no accumulation of power may take place. This also may be phased in over time to lessen the shock. Before you get excited, read the entire article; it is not scary at all once you understand that personal ownership of things is not important when you share ownership in all the worlds’ resources.
Resource Based Economy
When discussing resources we are referring to everything of value; natural, manmade and human. We include everything: minerals, water, food, tools and equipment, land, buildings, human labor, electronic equipment, computers, robots, software, as well as all the gadgets we create in a modern society.
How will we be paid for work? How will we obtain things?
There will be no money; no paper currency, metal coins or electronic funds. There will be no banks, no stock market and no corporations. You will not need any money because you will have access to everything you need at no cost; food, clothing, a home, education, transportation. You will have all the gizmos and widgets that make up a modern life; T.V.’s, phones, computers, camera’s etc. All resources and the things made from them are the shared inheritance of all the Earths people.
You need to understand that in a monetary system, one where you have to buy everything, you may only use resources to the extent that you can afford them. Resources are artificially restricted and made scarce through the application of money used for trade. In an economy that does not require money to trade for resources, all resources become abundant and are available to everyone.
What do we have to give up?
You are probably thinking. “Does that mean that most people in developed countries like the United States have to give up some of what they have so that all people are made equally poor?” If done intelligently and with the use of technology, no one need suffer a loss of comfort, or lifestyle. You may choose to live a different lifestyle, but that is your choice because you will have many more options from which to choose. The reality will be that the lifestyle of the average person in such a system will rapidly exceed the best lifestyle of today’s wealthy elite.
Imagine for a moment a fictional world, where people own all the water on the planet. If you want to drink water you must buy it from someone (were almost there today). It would not sound so crazy to you if someone in that world suggested that water should be shared by everyone, that no person should have to pay another for the right to drink from a stream. That is because you have the advantage of a perspective where you have seen a world where things like water and air are free, and you have enjoyed its bounty. Is it such a stretch of the imagination then, to make all the Earth’s resources free; shared by all of humanity?
Have you ever noticed that when the economy goes into a recession, that it grinds to a halt, even though nothing else has changed. The store shelve are full, companies are busy making stuff, however, people stop buying stuff. With declining demand for more stuff, companies start laying off workers, which reduces tax revenue and further reduces demand, and so on, and so on; you have a viscous circle of an economy in decline. What changed? There are just as many goods on the market as there were before. The wealth of the nation did not suddenly change overnight, yet suddenly no one has any money to spend and companies are having a hard time. The truth is that it is not real; it is all just smoke and mirrors. There is no shortage of products and resources, and there is no shortage of need. There is only a shortage of money; and as we have discussed before, money is not real; it is artificial.
Have you ever thought it odd, that we have a record number of vacant houses on the market, and we have a record number of homeless families at the same time? Is it odd that stores are having a hard time finding customers to buy their food, while at the same time we have a record number of poor families and hungry children? Is that any way for a modern society to function? Does it have to be that way? The answer is a resounding NO! The truth is there are plenty of resources available; it is just that they have been artificially made scarce by trying to control them with money.
What about the environment and running out of resources?
There is the question of how sustainable a resource is, which determines the rate at which it can be consumed without running out of that resource at some point. Non-renewable resources like oil must be conserved; otherwise, we may deprive future generations of a precious substance. There are alternatives to using oil taken from the ground, but the need for profit and human greed prevent full development of those technologies. If profit were not a factor, the development of alternative energy sources could go into overdrive, probably replacing the need for any oil within a decade. In addition, do not worry about the oil producing countries going broke; as members of a global Resource Based Economy they will start to enjoy a lifestyle that even all that oil could not buy.
If you analyze what is needed to obtain something, be it ore from the ground, or a carved column from a block of marble, or the heavy equipment used to dig a canal, you realize that it all boils down to units of work expended to produce a result. In other words, we only need to consider the energy consumed to perform that work. If we had an unlimited supply of energy, and no need to make a profit against competitors, we could have access to an unlimited supply of resources, to the extent that the resource physically exists somewhere.
There happens to be a huge supply of resources. Earth’s crust and Oceans contain many trillions of times the mineral resources that humankind has used since climbing out of the trees. In addition, before we consume all the Earth’s resources, there is an equal or greater quantity just waiting for us in the millions of asteroids, and the moons in our solar system. There is no need to strip mine the Earth.
How do we get an unlimited supply of energy?
The world is energy poor right now. We are energy poor because we have an artificially scarce supply by design. Developers of energy sources, solar, wind, wave, geothermal, or nuclear must compete to make a profit against the lowest cost source, which is usually oil or coal. In a monetary based economy, if the cost to obtain energy is more than the lowest cost source, it is unlikely it will receive funding for development. Witness what happened to the US solar cell producer Solyndra in 2011. They simply could not compete with the government subsidized Chinese companies.
In a resource-based economy, the lowest cost energy source does not matter. As long as an energy source produces more energy than is required to create the source after environmental factors are included, it will have a net positive effect on the global energy supply. There is a huge untapped potential for energy with solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power. We have enough renewable energy to power our civilization for many thousands of years. We do not have a shortage of energy; we have a shortsighted monetary system that is inhibiting its development.
How do things get distributed to people? How do we keep it fair?
Ok, so there is all this energy; and with that comes abundant resources. How then, do we ensure a fair and equitable distribution to the people, and prevent the abuses that we see today where people try to monopolize a resource to gain power. Who is in charge? Who decides who gets what, and how much? How do we prevent corruption? The answer may shock you at first, so let it sink in before you get excited. No person will be in charge, computers will control everything. There will not be a central government calling all the shots; no leader is in charge. We will do away with all political offices.
During the early stages before full computer automation is available, we may have professionals and scientists who are experts in a certain area to help manage and coordinate things. Managers may only work for a few hours a day. In addition, most of that work is done from home. During the transition, resource managers will not be able to obtain personal gain from doing their job because they cannot accumulate assets as they would in a monetary society. They cannot own exclusive access to a resource any more than anyone could. Thus, we eliminate the motive that creates corruption. If a manager is incompetent, it is an easy matter to find a replacement.
Need, will determine the distribution of resources. Development of the automation to replace managers and other human labor positions will be a high priority. Forget what you see in the movies, like Terminator. Computers are not hell bent on the destruction of humanity. Those are total fantasies designed to sell movie tickets. A computer that does not have emotions and no desire other than to serve humanity will control the resources. Technology will be every person’s friend, and create a world of almost limitless possibilities.
Computers will measure and track all of the resources on the planet and will schedule the transport and manufacture of all goods, including food, clothes, buildings and other infrastructure. Since there will be more than enough resources to go around, there is no need to ration or restrict access, except in the case of non-renewables. In cases where a resource is not renewable, the system will find ways that do not consume that resource, or by replacing it with a renewable source. For example, cars and trucks that use gas or diesel become obsolete, in favor of all electric or hybrid designs that can use renewable fuels for extended range. All uses of oil today could be replaced with renewable sources, and healthier alternatives; all that is lacking is the effort to do it.
What about work, what will people do?
Making a change as significant as that proposed by The Venus Project, cannot happen overnight without either some sort of major collapse of society or a revolt of the people. We all hope to avoid either of those two scenarios, as there would be great suffering. If we can effect a peaceful transition over time to a resource-based economy, then there will be a period where people will still need to contribute labor until their positions are automated. How all of this might be coordinated is pure speculation, as it could work any number of ways. One way to do it might be to ask people with the required skills to volunteer their time. As long as their needs are met, most people will want a sense of fulfillment by achieving something. What could be more fulfilling than helping transform humanity into a civilization able to endure millennia, while preserving the Earth as a livable habitat?
As automation replaces the need for a person’s labor, their workday could shorten until there is no need for any labor. Automation of jobs will happen rapidly because there will be no budget constraints limiting development, and there will be no ill effect on society by eliminating positions. Technology will be our friend, and the elimination of jobs though automation a benefit to society. Everyone benefits from technology, not just the corporate shareholder as we see today.
Once a person is no longer required to provide labor, they are free to devote their time in whatever area interests them. It is highly unlikely we will have a world of couch potatoes, who just eat and get fat. Oh, I am sure there will be a few, especially the first generation that grew up in a world of scarce resources. People will have to adjust to having plenty. It is odd though, that the majority of people who are lucky enough to retire early do not spend their days on the couch watching TV; they find other ways to enrich their lives. Go back to school, get involved in research or their church, learn to play music, experience nature or travel the world; the choice is yours. It is your life to live, as you desire.
What about transportation, will we still have cars, busses, trains and planes?
The simple answer to the question above is probably yes, in the beginning. However, there will be a big push to convert all transportation to more efficient, cleaner modes. For example, electric vehicles will replace gas-guzzling automobiles.
One scenario might be that the cities of the future will provide electric vehicles with a built in autopilot systems. This technology exists today.
You may have a key fob like the one that opens your locked car door today, only this fob when pressed will call a car and tell it to wait outside your house for you. One of the many autonomous vehicles in the city is then dispatched to your home. You would enter the vehicle and tell it where you want to go. The autonomous vehicle then takes you wherever you need to go. When you return home, the vehicle returns to a municipal parking space to await its next command. It is an automated on-demand taxi service without the taxi driver, or a running meter. There would not need to be as many vehicles produced as we have cars today. Only enough vehicles are needed to supply the people needing to go from one place to another. When not transporting people, autonomous vehicles may be used to move goods from place to place. When you use an item in the kitchen, you scan its bar code. That item could automatically be scheduled for delivery to your home the next day by an autonomous vehicle; much like the mail is delivered today. Your kitchen shelves will never be empty.
Other mass transit options will be available for longer distance travel. Electric trains are the most efficient and have the least impact of the environment. They may even be moved underground so as not to disrupt the lands between cities that are returning to their natural state. High-speed rail will be developed for all continental travel and transport. Eventually, ultra-high-speed maglev trains that travel in a vacuum tube and reach speeds of over 1,000 miles per hour may replace intercontinental air travel.
What about food? I like to eat.
Food, like all other resources will not cost anything. Several things will help ensure a plentiful food supply to every person on Earth. No one will go hungry in this system. Many foods will be grown in hydroponic or aeroponic greenhouses year round in any climate. Doing so will increase yield per acre by 100- 500% and consume 70-80% less water. It will also require far fewer pesticides since no soil is used, and drastically reduce the amount of fertilizer required. This also means that more food can be grown locally, reducing wasted energy, time delays and spoilage associated with transport. Other foods that cannot easily be grown in a greenhouse will be controlled and coordinated by the resource management system.
Meats will still be available, however, expect a shift to synthetic meat that is grown without the need to kill an animal. It is actually just like the real thing; grown from real animal cells. The only difference is that no animal need suffer and die to provide it and the nutrition, taste and fat content can be more closely controlled.
Our culture has grown to desire fast food because we lack the free time to cook for ourselves. It will take time to adjust, but with more free time, the fast foods of today will give way to higher quality foods that are more nutritious. In addition, once the food lobbyists are out of Washington and advertising is outdated, then perhaps we can actually bring healthy foods into our schools for our children as well. Along with more attention spent on how to live a healthy lifestyle, the greatest gift we give our children may be the gift of more life.
What about creativity, and individuality? Will we force everybody be the same?
No. In fact, people will be able to express much more individuality than they can today. It is true, there will not be 27 versions of the same product made by competing companies. However, by bringing manufacturing closer to the source of consumption, like what we expect with 3D printing technology in the next few years, people will be able to customize their order a thousand different ways. For clothing, you may select from thousands of different styles and colors, not just the ones mass-produced in a sweatshop by human slaves six months ago.
In our schools, instead of indoctrinating our youth for a job as a wage slave, we can teach them analytical freethinking skills. Rote memorization will be replaced with doing, discovery and experimentation. Every child will have a chance, and be encouraged to become an Einstein, or an Edison. The human potential within all of us will be released.
What about healthcare and medicine?
As with everything else, healthcare is free of charge. Health care professionals will do the work out of a desire to do something important with their life, to make a difference. It will not be about getting rich. Without money or budget constraints, we will have the best healthcare technologically possible. Decisions will be based on what creates the best outcome for the patient and not on making the best profit for a healthcare corporation.
Currently, our drug industry is severely broken. We know about a great many drugs, but we do not produce them because there is not enough profit in it. We produce other drugs, but keep them scarce so that outrageous prices can be charged that will generate huge profits. Still other drugs are not discovered or brought to market because the cost of research and approval is staggering. Research done to develop a drug then becomes a closely held secret, and therefore kept out of reach from many people who may need it.
Now, imagine a world where there is no budget constraining research; a world where the amount of effort put into research is based only on the potential for improving the human condition, not a juicy profit loss statement. Imagine a world where drug discoveries were instantly shared with the entire scientific community, and once proven safe are not withheld from anyone. Imagine a world where medical science begins to focus on how to keep us healthy instead of just trying to fix us when we break. Imagine a new world of limitless possibilities.
There is so much more to The Venus Project than can possibly be covered in this short article. The scope of the ideas we have talked about here are vast, and many of the concepts mentioned will need to be further developed, tested and evaluated before being placed into practice. For every detail, there are 100 questions yet to be answered. Many questions cannot be answered until events start to unfold; such as exactly how the transition to a resource-based economy will take place. Until then, all we can do is prepare, and educate people about the possibilities. We have lot of hard work ahead of us.
The rewards will be well worth the effort; yielding a healthy, vibrant society and living a lifestyle that the ultra-wealthy today would envy. Abundant resources will be shared by all humankind fairly. In addition, we will have an end to war, poverty, human suffering and most crime. Living on planet Earth will truly be a pleasant experience.
I encourage you to visit The Venus Project web site and continue finding out as much as you can. If you are moved as I have been, the project is actively looking for volunteers on a number of projects, and I encourage you to apply to volunteer your time and help make the ideas discussed here a reality.
The Venus Project: http://www.thevenusproject.com/
In addition, a fantastic resource and excellent reading is a book by Jacque titled “The Best That Money Can’t Buy,” available for sale at the Venus Project web site. All proceeds go to support the project.
The End of Work; Jerry Rfkin, 1995; Tarcher Putnam; isbn: 0-87477-779-8
Technological Unemployment; blog
“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.” -Warren Buffett
The Evolution of Labor and Society
Human labor is the effort that a person puts into some process or product that enhances value. The employment of human labor is a principle contributor to the very fabric of human culture and society for as long as known human history. For much of our history labor was not much more than walking around and picking up food off the ground, or hunting animals for meat. Life was simple, and so too, were our social structures and culture. People were nomadic, meaning they did not maintain permanent homes. They were always on the move, and their culture reflected values that enhanced their survival in that environment. Little value was placed on material possessions that could not be carried for extended distances. The concept of ownership, especially of the land, was as foreign to them as being able to fly.
A technological innovation known as agriculture came along about 10,000 years ago, and changed all of that. The nature of labor shifted from walking around picking things up off the ground, to actually having to work the soil to get editable plants to grow. For the first time, we see the modern concept of labor applied. After all, while agriculture had its benefits, it was a lot more hard work than just walking around. People developed the notion that if they put in the effort to get plants to grow then they should reap the benefits of that work. The concept of ‘my work, therefore my reward’, was introduced to the culture. In addition, agriculture permitted people to establish permanence by staying in one place. For the first time in history, they could accumulate stuff. With the accumulation of stuff, people began developing the notion of mine vs. yours, of ownership instead of community property.
Later, the invention of money brought change that permitted people to convert their effort into a transferable medium to facilitated the exchange of goods. With trade made easier, people could specialize in certain types of labor in exchange for money. They no longer had to be a jack-of-all-trades and produce everything they needed. They were able to master a specific skill, convert that skill into money that they then used to obtain the things they needed.
For almost 1,000 years until the 18th century, a socio-economic structure called Feudalism dominated Europe. This system consisted of legal and military obligations between nobility; the kings, lords and vassals. This was a hierarchical system with a King at the head, Dukes, Barons and Knights as vassals; each of them were considered the lord over their own fiefdom (lands). At the very bottom of the social structure were the peasants, and just barely below them were the slaves. A peasant was an indentured servant who worked a lord’s lands in return for just enough food (hopefully) to avoid starvation. Peasants were not the lord’s personal property, as a slave was. Their indentured service tied them to the land. A Lord could grant the land to a new vassal, and the peasants on that land went with it. Once a family indentured themselves to a lord, their indentured service passed from generation to generation; so that it became a multi-generational form of quasi-slavery.
The rise of international trade fueled by an increasing desire for exotic goods, and enabled by a new class of merchants that traveled the world, evolved into what we now call Mercantilism. The theory of Mercantilism was one of protected trade through high tariffs and laws that restricted trade to protect local production. This practice was the source of many conflicts across Europe. With the onset of industrialism, and the ability for a factory to produce large quantities of goods, Mercantilism started to fall apart as a sound economic theory. An alternative was needed that could explain increasingly complex financial interactions.
In the 18th century, David Hume and then later Adam Smith challenged the conventional economic theory of Mercantilism with a radical new idea. Lift trade barriers, and let free trade and competition determine the price of goods. They created the theory of ‘means of production’, profit, wage labor and the accumulation of Capital. Of course, this radical new theory would be called Capitalism. It was all based on the notion of the owner of capital being able to add labor to that capital to convert it into something of higher value. The sale of that capital would take place on an open market, where free competition would create the optimal price for both seller and buyer.
From the perspective of the Capitalist, two factors affect their ability to compete in the market; the cost of capital, and the cost of labor. The cost of capital was considered fixed, since in a free market all competitors could purchase capital at the same price. Therefore, labor was the only factor they had to work with where they could exorcise any control. Coincidently improvements in farming technology meant that fewer farmers were needed to tend the land, creating a huge surplus of ready labor to use in new factories being built. Since most laborers were former peasant farmers (barely better than slaves in social status), they were easily exploited and abused by the first industrialists. In fact, this exploitation and abuse, so reviled a young German philosopher that he took up their cause and attempted to envision a better way to run the world, were workers could not be exploited by the elite class. His solution was drafted in 1848, called The Communist Manifesto. He was Carl Marx.
The Industrial Revolution…is Still Underway
The advent of steam made possible large-scale mining that made iron cheap. Peasant farmers, displaced by improved iron plows found themselves migrating to the city to run the new machines of industry. Thus began the Industrial Revolution. Many will argue that the Industrial Revolution based primarily on steam power, extended mid-way through the 19th century, followed by another Industrial Revolution with the invention of better fuels, and steel. I prefer to think of the Industrial Revolution as one continual period of redefining the meaning of labor that is still taking place today. The Industrial Revolution is about the discovery that machines can be used to harness energy to do work that used to be the sole domain of biologic muscle. Initially these machines needed human operators to run them, and so there was a temporary transition from farmer to machine operator, however it did not take long to discover ways to automate the machines so that less and less work was required from a human operator.
In the early 19th century, many people in England became very successful as highly skilled textile workers, weaving the fabrics that the world needed to make clothing. It was a trade that took a lifetime to master, and could provide a nice lifestyle to those who did. Then along came progress, new technology in the form of a wide frame loom than could be operated by unskilled labor. This was very profitable and a huge boon for the textile mills. As you can probably imagine, those weavers who spent a lifetime learning their trade and who had families to support were suddenly being replaced by technology, were not very happy. They revolted by attacking textile mills and smashing the new looms. They would come to be called the Luddites, after General Ned Ludd. People do not like change, especially when it upsets their established way of life. The term Luddite, or Neo-Luddite is still used today to refer to anyone that objects to the progress of technology.
Since the industrial revolution began several hundred years ago, the transition period where people were required to help run the machines eventually resulted in the workers ability to use that requirement as bargaining leverage to demand that they participate in the profits realized from improving productivity. The owners of capital had no choice, since the machines could not yet run themselves. For the first time in world history, the average citizen was elevated to a lifestyle that would have been the envy of kings in the previous century.
The capitalists were determined though to improve profits any way they could. If they could not control the workers wage, then they would have to discover ways to eliminate the worker, thus reducing the labor component of production. Discovering ways to automate the machine to do work with less input of human labor became a primary goal of the capitalist. Over time, most people came to accept automation as the price of progress. It seemed that every time machine productivity increased, and workers were displaced, that there was enough demand in new markets to employ the displaced workers. At least that is how it seemed while the United States enjoyed being the worlds primary manufacturer of goods after World War II.
Disappearing Labor and the Death of the Middle Class
With the rise of the industrial revolution came the rise of the laborer. The laborer is the person who ran the machines, who through sweat and hard work made things, and greased the wheels of industry. Human labor was indispensable and a valuable commodity. In fact human labor was inextricably linked to production. Every economic theory whether it is classical, neo-classical, Keynesian, or Marxism all rely heavily on linking labor directly to production.
Early in the history of Capitalism, the laborer was little more than an indentured servant. It was never envisioned that they would someday actually be able to buy the goods they produced. Their role was clearly defined as simply a means to an end, a necessary ingredient in the production of goods. Following the Great Depression, an interesting phenomenon was discovered. The average laborer could actually contribute to the economy as a consumer of goods, thereby creating demand for more production. More production required more labor, which became more consumption and a golden age of increasing consumption and growth was born. For most of the mid-section of the 20th century the demand for labor remained high, therefore, the laborer was able to demand that companies share most of the productivity gains realized from automation.
For the past 30 years, the United States has seen a huge shift in the labor market. The manufacturing sector has continued its push to find new ways to automate the machines. This was fine following WWII, as the United States was the words manufacturer, and had enough growth to offset gains in automation. This began to change however as other nations recovered from the war and rebuilt new factories that were capable of competing with the best factories in the United States. In the U.S. this translated into slower growth beginning in the 60’s. However, automation continued to take its toll on the workforce. This effectively meant that there was a growing surplus of labor. As any economics student knows, whenever there is a surplus of something in the market, prices drop. However, many wages could not fluctuate with the real market demand because of Union contracts that were established while the laborer was in high demand. What resulted was a war on labor unions to disband wage contracts. In addition, where possible, companies slowed down wage growth. They continued to innovate and automate, but wages no longer shared in the growing productivity. The capitalists for the most part were not conspiring to destroy the middle-class, those productivity gains were needed to continue competing with foreign producers who often had very low labor cost.
As many laborers found their jobs disappearing, they increasingly had to face the prospect of changing careers and making less money. American families learned to cope with a declining wage. They found extra members of the family able to go to work and add to the family income. The long-term effect of this copping mechanism however did not solve the problem, in fact in many ways the problem started getting worse. There were now more workers in the marketplace, putting further downward pressure on wages. Many families developed a new copping mechanism. If they could not make enough money to live the lifestyle that they had expected to have, they could borrow money to buy that lifestyle. More and more families started to rely on debt as a way to keep up with the Jones.
What became of the laborer? Increasingly the laborer became rare, just as the farmer became rare in the previous century. The transition in labor never came to completion during the first Industrial Revolution that ended around 1850; it never found a state of equilibrium and stabilized. That is why I think we are still in the midst of the revolution.
There is one factor involved with the advancement of technology that goes unseen by most, because we see thing in the present; the here and now. As good as our minds are at analysis, we have a difficult time putting things into the proper context, or seeing anything other than simple trends:
If I am a fisherman, and I catch a fish, I can sell you that fish for a sum of money. Then you have a fish and I have some money. We both still have the same value. I can now go catch another fish and repeat that process. However, technology is not based on labor, as catching a fish is. Technology represents information. If I know something, I can sell you that knowledge for some money. Now you have knowledge, and I have money, but I still have the knowledge also.
While fishing is a zero sum game, technology is a plus sum game. More value exists after every transaction. This results not in the linier growth we would see from an industrious fisherman, but in an exponential growth curve. Previous gains are added back on top of future gains like compound interest. They build on each other. If you look at a small section of an exponential curve it does resemble a linear curve, which is why so many people are caught unaware of the change when that curve starts to accelerate.
One of my favorite stories is the Human Genome project. After the first seven years, they had only completed decoding one percent of the human genome. Many scientists grew frustrated at the prospect and cost of taking another 700 years to complete the project. Ray Kurzweil told them they were on track to complete the project in another seven years. Of course, no one believed him. How could they finish in the next 7 years when the first seven years only saw one percent of the project finished. He explained that the technology was doubling every year. They were only seven doublings away from turning one percent into one hundred percent. As it turned out Ray was not only correct, but the project finished a little ahead of that seven-year prediction. The same kind of exponential growth is behind the computer chip with the now famous Moors’ Law.
Technologic innovation and machine automation is now happening at a pace that is becoming hard to ignore. At first, the job market was able to keep up by creating high tech jobs and expanding the service industry to replace lost manufacturing jobs. Recently, the pace with which jobs are being replaced by machines has accelerated as the pressures of global competition and recession have required improvements in production efficiency to keep cost down. Many companies have a hard time knowingly replacing worker with automation outright, especially smaller companies where the owner may be closer to the workers and actually feel bad about laying people off. However, an economic downturn creates opportunity for those companies. They are relieved from guilt because the blame for layoffs is the fault of the recession. As the economy picks back up, and demand returns, they have a choice; rehire employees, or upgrade their machines and processes to automate the job. At this stage, it is much easier to invest in automation, especially since interest rates are at an all-time low. As far as losing the purchasing power of the American consumer, foreign emerging markets have stepped up to create the demand. The American consumer is not required to provide a demand as they once were; International markets have diversified consumption.
There is a problem though that few people are willing to address. The problem is that many of the dynamics of the American laborer are on the fast track in developing countries. Eventually these countries will start having the same problem the U.S. started experiencing. More developed countries in Europe and Japan already are experiencing problems. The only way to sustain perpetual growth is through increasing debt. The creation of debt however has an end game. There comes a time when the accumulation of debt cannot be sustained, as we saw in 2008 when the debt laden real estate market crashed. America absorbed the bail out of banks by printing more money. However, this was not an option in Europe with everyone tied to the Euro. Each country had to borrow a lot of money to bail out their banks to prevent them from failing. Now, that huge government debt has grown to the point that those countries are struggling with being able to make the payments. The very same banks that the governments bailed out for making bad investments are now refusing to lend those governments more money. This debt trend will spread to developing countries as the global market for labor starts to feel the pinch created by technology.
The Industrial Revolution…where will the wheel stop.
The next several decades should see the Industrial Revolution finally come to an end. In that period we will see the introduction of new technologies that are so revolutionary, that they will alter the very fabric of our society in ways that are hard to grasp. Even if I am off on the periods listed below, these statements will all be true in the very near future. Three technologies will cause the majority of job losses; 3D printers, Robotics and Artificial General Intelligence.
The invention of 3D printers will redefine the manufacturing and Construction industry. Initially we will see resurgence in local manufacturing with small fabrication shops. These will not be traditional manufacturing jobs however. There will be some growth in technology jobs and 3D design jobs, especially artists. We will see the biggest decline in foreign manufacturing markets, and continued local decline in traditional manufacturing jobs. Expect to see almost all remaining manufacturing jobs disappear with 10 to 15 years.
Most 3D printers today work with only one material, plastic, metal, glass or ceramic, even wood. However, that limitation will be overcome in the very near future, as newer printers will be able to incorporate multiple materials into a single product. When that is achieved, we will have the equivalent of the ‘Star Trek’ replicator, able to produce anything on demand. The impact on manufacturing will be huge. With the complete elimination of labor, manufacturing will once again transition to a local possibly even personal endeavor.
We still need people to assemble larger and more complex manufactured items for a short time; such as appliances and aircraft. However, it will not take long with the new robotics systems under development, to replace all manufacturing labor.
OK, we have been bleeding manufacturing jobs for years now, but at least we still have a strong service sector…right? Wrong! The development of more intelligent Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Intelligent Agent systems in the next few years will make a big dent in administrative, secretarial, and customer service jobs. Apples’ Siri is a sign of things to come. Expect a 50% reduction of these jobs the next ten years; by twenty years, we could see almost all service jobs disappear.
Service jobs are being hit just as manufacturing was around 30 to 40 years ago, but they will catch up rapidly. Do you use an ATM, on line banking or a drive-up automated teller instead of a live bank teller? Have you ever been to a grocery store with automated checkout lines instead of a live checkout person? Have ever called a company and had a computer answer the phone. If you answered yes, then you have witnessed the beginning-of-the-end of our service industry.
In the last few years, voice response systems have improved to the point that they can understand anyone’s voice, even with different accents and languages. Instead of the rather dumb list of “Press 1 for…” options, they are starting to ask verbal questions that require answers that are more complex. In just a few more years, these systems will all have what are called intelligent agents. These are not truly smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) yet, but they know how to have a conversation, they will be experts in a specific area and be able ask and answer questions, and even look up information from a database. Instead of giving a menu list of options, the new system will simply say; “Hello, XYZ Company, How may I help you.” I would not count on Customer Service as a long-term profession.
In the near future, when someone calls your office, your phone will answer itself; it will ask who is calling and what the call is regarding. If it is from someone that you have told the phone you want to speak to, it will contact you wherever you happen to be and ask you if you would like to accept the call. When your phone is not busy answering incoming calls, it may be making outgoing sales calls for you, sending email reminders to people about their appointment, ordering flowers for you wife’s birthday, or searching the web for news on a topic of interest to you. If your occupation is a receptionist, call center operator, or administrative office assistant I would be worried.
We talked about the 3D printer being used to manufacture products; however, it is also being developed for construction. That is right. The first commercial unit able to construct an entire small building is expected to be ready by 2013. Taking exponential growth into consideration you can probably expect to see these systems used on large industrial and commercial projects such as skyscrapers by the end of this decade.
Robots built today have the manual dexterity to do general repair work. In fact, there is one called Robonaut, already on the job at the International Space Station. Robonaut can do repairs in the vacuum of space without putting an astronaut at risk. Other robots are performing delicate surgery that is physically impossible for a surgeon alone to do. Of course, a skilled person operates these systems by remote control. The only element keeping these systems from being fully autonomous is a highly skilled brain telling it what to do. Those brains are coming. Before 2020 gets here, a super computer will exist that contains computational power equal to the human brain. Within seven to eight years after that, a typical desktop computer will be just as powerful. The software of Artificial General Intelligence will not be far behind.
These types of devices will come down in cost as there use is accelerated until they are filling every type of repair position; automotive, HVAC, general office and home maintenance, and everything in between.
Surely doctors, lawyers and the computer specialists who will create the robots and artificial Intelligence will be safe…right? For a little while yes, but in the end no, even these jobs are on the block. This will take a little longer because these highly trained professionals rely much more on what we call general intelligence. They quite often have to pull in knowledge and understanding from multiple areas and disciplines that are each very complex. A true Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that can reason at the level of a person probably will not emerge for another twenty to twenty-five years.
An AI however, does not have to be conscious and intelligent at the human level before it starts making an impact on labor. Semi-intelligent systems are being developed today that will be able to diagnose a patients illness, in many cases more accurately than a human doctor could. Even before reaching full human intelligence, AI systems will be used to make human professionals more productive by taking over some of their workload. That increased productivity equates to a need for fewer professionals.
What is a Person to do?
Wow, so does that mean that we are all out of a job in 30 years? How can that be, there must be work so that we can earn a living, to pay our bills and debts and buy stuff. How will our society function? What good will all that technology be if we are all out of work? We will all be living in the land of plenty, but no one will be able get any of it…or will they?
Current Capitalist economic theory accounts for a balance being achieved between supply and demand. It would appear that with all this technology we might have an abundance of supply. In fact a number of well know scientists and experts are calling for just that. In Feruary of 2012 Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler published ‘Abundance: The future is better than you think’. Another book by famed scientist and professor at the Oxford Martin School, Eric Drexler has announced a book due out later in 2012 which will be called ‘Radical Abundance’. Both books speak about the ability for technology in the very near future, being able to increase productivity so much that we will be able to create an abundance of anything we could ever want; the age of scarcity is almost over they claim.
I cannot speak about Dr. Drexler book yet because it has not been published. The first book though, by Diamandis and Kotler, expects new technology to usher in a golden age of innovation and economic growth. Unfortunately, they are not schooled in historical socio-economics and have a naïve attitude about how all this will play out. The potential for abundance of resources will be there, of that I am certain. What I do not have faith in, is our current socio-economic institutions; banks, corporations, the Federal Reserve and the government to enable that abundance to be shared with all of humanity. If current trends are any indication, wealth will continue to pool at the top crating new age of Feudalism. The bulk of humanity indentured to a few elite families.
Dropping employment will lead to declining demand. Declining demand can be made up in developing countries for a little while, but they too will go bust eventually, especially after they start to loose manufacturing to 3D printer technology. Expect increased civil unrest around the world as unemployment continues to climb, even in the U.S. At some time, we will reach a tipping point. I cannot say when that will happen, but the population after tasting freedom is not going to go easily back in the cage. Either the government will have to get extremely repressive and brutal (most likely scenario), or they will have to concede that the system is failing and be open to change (do not hold your breath). Either way, it will probably end up in a violent transformation. But what should we do then on the other side of that transformation. If we must endure a lot of pain to gain something, we want to make sure that it is worth it.
The Great Reformation
When society no longer has any money, just create a new society that does not need any. – Me
When whole institutions go through radical change we refer to that change as a reformation; meaning the old institution is reformed into something new. Reformations can be bloody or peaceful; they can occur because of a revolution, or out of a gradually changing culture and needs of a society. A famous reformation occurred when a group of people broke from the Catholic Church and formed their own religion. It became known as the Protestant Reformation.
As you read above, it is obvious that our capitalist society depends on laborers to supply a middle class of consumers and money to buy the goods being produced. It has lead Capitalism to be a great success in the last few hundred years. However, if you remove the middle class as a consumer, then there will be no support for production; there will be no one to buy the goods being produced. We have all watched the news in awe, as the reports about unemployment are bleak, while at the same time companies are reporting record profits. This is because they have improved productivity with automation. They do not need as many workers to make the same amount of goods or provide the same services. The catch phrase of this recession has been, “learning to do more with less.”
Declining wages though, means decreasing revenue from taxes and more dependence on public assistance. Public debt will then keep growing out of control, quickly becoming unsustainable. As witnessed in Europe, austerity (cutting back on government spending for social programs) has a disastrous negative effect. Nevertheless, people get desperate at times like these, and cling to their old institutions out of fear. At that point, nothing short of a very large reset button can correct the course. It is as if we are all ridding on the Titanic. There is a very large ice burg dead ahead, and there is no time to change course. It is going to crash. We have a choice: we can grit our teeth, hold on and pray for salvation, or we get out the lifeboats and abandon this sinking ship of Capitalism. However, where would we go? What could possibly work better than Capitalism, especially since we will all be out of work and have no money or power? Certainly, not Soviet Communism or Fascism; they both have serious flaws and would be problematic.
The sixty four million dollar question then is ‘If not Capitalism, what?’ I have pondered that question for years. In previous articles, I have proposed changes such as reforming the banks and health care institutions into non-profit or state run businesses, and a new democratized global government. However, those solutions are simply Band-Aids covering deep lacerations in a very sick patient. The problem is that even with those changes we will be unable to account for the mass and rapid transition to an economy that requires no input of labor, no wages, and no taxes. Something more must be done.
What a conundrum we find ourselves in; the ability for society to produce unlimited goods with no input of labor results in the mass starvation of most of the world’s population, when the opposite should have been true. We should be reaping the rewards of increased productivity and an overabundance of the material goods that we equate with a high quality of life.
Recently I watched a video produced by a 95-year-old inventor/futurist/social engineer by the name of Jacque Fresco. Jacque has been thinking about this problem far longer than I have; long before anyone else even saw the problem on the horizon. He has come up with a solution that is very elegant, though radical.
Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project
Build it and they will come.
As part inventor, designer, architect and futurist Jacque Fresco has spent his life solving difficult problems by thinking outside the box. Most notably, he has been able to transcend culture and existing dogma to offer novel and often revolutionary ways to solve some very old problems. In 1975 he created the Venus Project with the lofty goal of completely redesigning our society in such a way as to maximize the use of technology to eliminate hunger, poverty, corruption, abuse of power, and war.
Jacque’s vision is to create a classless society where technology serves all humankind. The plan would be to eliminate money, and replace it instead with an economy based on resources. All resources would be the shared property of every person on Earth. Computers and automation that have no desire for profit or power would replace our market economy and provide for a new abundance to everyone. Since there is no money, people do not get paid for any work they do, nor do they need to pay for the things they use or do. Everything is free. People will not be wage slaves to an economy that chews them up and spits them out. People will be free from drudgery, and able to pursue whatever they find rewarding. You might decide to become a scientist and do research, or express yourself with art, or music, or simply travel the world and learn about its wonderful people. Alternatively, you could spend your years in school satisfying your thirst for knowledge, or perhaps you enjoy spending your time in spiritual meditation, convening with God. It is your life, you choose; anything you want to do.
Wait just a minute; I have heard this before; they try to do that with Communism. No, it is not even similar. Communism was a currency-based economy where people were exploited for their labor. Power was concentrated in the hands of a few elite, and therefore it maintained the class divisions that Marx sought to eradicate, and was custom built for the worst kind of totalitarian corruption. Marx would have turned over in his grave if he had witnessed how is ideas were perverted. If you remove money from the equation, and place no people in a position of power where they might be tempted to become corrupt, then no person can amass enough power to exert their will over the population. This new world will be free of money that corrupts, free of people who would enslave you, and perhaps best of all, free of Politian’s who would tell you how to live.
Most crime will disappear; why would anyone steal, when they can obtain anything they want at no cost. If we further decriminalize those crimes that do not cause harm, that exist only as a means of forcing people to conform to a social norm, then there would be very few criminals, and no prisons. We will probably also find that when people are raised in an environment free from stress and all the factors that have created dysfunctional families, that children will grow up with fewer psychological disorders that may lead to unacceptable, antisocial behavior as an adult. After all, we are all products of our environment.
There will be no need for war when everyone has what they need. No need for police when there is no crime, or prisons when there are no criminals. Instead of laws that try to enforce a certain behavior, the structure of society will bring that behavior out in a natural way. No one is born evil; for someone to become evil, they first have to live in a dysfunctional society.
I do a disservice the Jacque’s vision by trying to describe every aspect in this short article. Much more information is available on The Venus Project web site located here: http://www.thevenusproject.com/
I’m not the only person that sees this comming; other highly respected people are starting to join the fray; like Thomas Frey:
2 Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030
In the next article, I will go into much more detail about how a Resource Based Economy would actually function.
Keep reading: Change is the Future – Part II
It’s Not Your Money
An argument that we hear repeatedly against taxes is that what we pay in taxes is our money and we should be able to keep it. Some even go so far as to say that the government is stealing that money from us. In this blog post, you will hear an argument for why that way of thinking is wrong from the perspective of a wage earner, someone in the bottom 99% of income earners.
It is fair to say that the job market in America is a competitive one. Actual wages are an agreement between the employer and employee about what a job is worth. Even with the economic downturn, companies will pay whatever it takes in wages and benefits to hire and retain their workers, no more. Low skilled jobs where there are plenty of workers will pay much less than a job that requires an advanced degree and years of skilled experience in which there are a limited number of people who are qualified.
If qualified workers are in short supply as we saw in Silicon Valley in the 90’s, then wages will go up as competition for the most skilled people heats up. By the late 90’s most companies were paying large signing bonuses to anybody who joined, and even paid bonuses to existing employees who suggested someone that got hired. The other side of that is that a few years later the dot com bubble burst. Companies reduced their labor cost any way they could, often through layoffs. However, some companies would lay off their higher paid employees, just to turn around and rehire that position for a much smaller wage. Anyway, that is what happened to my job in 2001.
If you were lucky enough to have multiple job offers at the same time, you would likely evaluate a number of factors before deciding which one to accept; quality of schools, crime rates, and the areas cost of living. When evaluating the cost of living you will consider the cost of housing, food and other consumables. However, you may also look at the areas tax structure; in other words, how much each areas tax burden is; sales and state taxes. All other factors being equal, the company with a higher cost of living will have to pay a higher salary to attract people to the area. The employee does not care so much about how much they make (gross wages), so long as they have the best lifestyle they can afford, and that means how much money they bring home.
The reality is that if taxes are reduced to the average wage earner, you may get an initial boost from the extra monthly disposable income. However, eventually the employer will offset the tax savings with slower wage growth each year or possibly even a wage reduction to bring your take home pay back into balance with what you job is worth in your area; the minimum they can pay you and have you want to stick around. Therefore, changes in taxation will have an impact in the short term only. In the long run your take home pay will be the same, with or without taxes.
Therefore, that money being paid in taxes, is not yours, it never was. It is just a number. If your gross wage says you make $20 an hour, and you pay 20% of that in taxes, then your real wage is $16 an hour. $16 an hour is what your job in your area is worth, not $20. If the law changed and somehow all taxes were abolished, you would get to enjoy that extra $4 and hour for a while. However, your employer would likely reduce future raises and offer lower wages to new hires, until he was again paying what the job was really worth. You cannot beat a system when you are not making the rules.
The Benefits of Taxation
Some might ask after reading the last section, if it does not matter what we pay in taxes, then why pay taxes, what is in it for me? How does paying taxes benefit me?
The answer is all around us. Almost everything substantial in society we owe to taxes; the roads we drive on, the sidewalks we walk on, the street lights that illuminate those roads and sidewalks, and the safety standards that make our vehicles safe to drive just for starters. Most of us have had the trappings of a modern society for so long that we have started taking it for granted. Many people fail to realize that what is paid in taxes is the cost to maintain our society, America. Without taxes, we would have the same living standard as some African countries that do not have the benefit of a functional government, such as Somalia.
Most medical and pharmaceutical advances would not have happened if not for tax money that paid for research programs.
Most technology would not exist today if not for research dollars paid for with tax money.
While I’m a pacifist at heart, the truth is, I would not have the freedom to write this blog, nor would you be able to disagree with me if not for the tax money and American blood that paid dearly for that right.
The next time you walk down the street and are not murdered, thank the tax dollars that pay for law enforcement to protect you.
Unless your parents were wealthy, you probably benefited from a public education paid for with tax dollars. Without which you could not afford to own the computer you are reading this on.
If you or anyone you know has ever been the victim of a fire, had a medical emergency, or even a cat stuck in a tree, you can thank your tax dollars for the firefighters, and paramedics that come to your rescue.
One thing that you will hear people say, even after they understand all that has been said above, is that it not fair. They may not have school age children, yet they still have to pay for schools. They do not drive, but they have to pay for roads and highways. People will accept that they have to pay for the things they need, but are reluctant if they have to pay for things they perceive has having no value to them. The answer to that argument is this: Most of those things you may not think you need, you still depend on in one way or another. You may not have school age children, but you benefit every day from having an educated workforce in this country that can provide the products and services you consume. You may not drive on the roads and highways, but the goods and services you use depend on them. In fact, you may be alive today simply because tax dollars paid for a police officer or a soldier somewhere that ensured that you have a safe place to live and work.
Some things our tax dollars pay for are simply humanitarian. Most of us have evolved to the point that we are able to think beyond just our own selfish needs. If we see a hungry child covered in grime, our heart goes out to them, and we feel compelled to help. If we see someone who has a disadvantage that others are taking advantage of, we want to step in and help that person. Most of us grew up thinking that this was a core American quality. A quality, that set us apart. It is what put us on the good-guys side in every battle. Taxes are a way of realizing that need to help.
Our economic system is very complex, so I will not go into great depth in this article as I have written extensively about it in other posts. Money (capital or wealth, whatever you want to call it) is in a constant state of flow from one person or company to the next. It never stays put for very long. When free from restrictions, money has a propensity to pool in the upper layers of society where they write the rules.
Take for example our earlier discussion about taxes and wages. If taxes are reduced, the employee may see a short term benefit, but the employer who makes the rules can reduce your wages, or reduce future raises so that eventually you no longer get that benefit, they do. At the end of the day the person who writes the rules takes home all the chips.
A progressive tax system is one that is funded more from high-income earners than from low-income earners. When taxes are in balance with the normal propensity for money to pool at the top, they act as a stabilizer shifting just enough back to the lower levels so that one group does not grow more than the others do. Some people call this wealth redistribution, but wealth is being redistributed every day without taxes. When done properly, taxes are wealth balancing. They help prevent an unfair flow of wealth to those who make the rules which leads to a system out of balance and greater wealth disparity between the haves and have not’s.
Recently, in the United States, taxes on the wealthy have been reduced to the point that enormous wealth has been redistributed to the wealthiest people, leaving much of the rest of the country impoverished. Higher taxes on the upper income layers of society are needed to be put the system back in balance. We are not playing a game of Monopoly here folks. It is not OK for only one person to win the game. We are all in this together, and either we all make it, or sink.
We have seen that the income tax is not taking away something that is otherwise ours. That money was never ours to begin with. We take home what our employers and we deem our job is worth, no more; taxes or no taxes. That portion of our gross wages that go to taxes benefit us in numerous ways, some not so obvious. Taxes are responsible for the very fabric of our society. They bring balance to a society that would otherwise spin out of control. They benefit all of us, and it costs us nothing.
If you have read my other posts, you will know that I am not a socialist, or a communist. I believe that Capitalism is the best form of economy. However, those that write the rules at the very top of the food chain see the world through very different glasses. They envision themselves as gods, and the rest of the masses simply here to worship them and serve. Such a world view does not support Capitalism, it is in fact it’s dreaded enemy. It will cause the Capitalist system to flail out of control, growing in fits and spurts, feeding the greed until they consume themselves. If we want to save Capitalism, save our way of life, or at least salvage as much of it as we can, we must wake up and stop trying to see the world through glasses crafted by the wealthiest few. We need to see for ourselves what makes the world tick. If we fail to learn and then act, we will all be doomed as this system destroys itself from the inside.