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paradigm drift
May 30, 2011 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Commodity Prices and Paradigm Shifts - "The real paradigm shift, or more like a paradigm drift, because it is slowly enveloping us, is that we are moving toward preferences and lifestyle where we will simply consume less. A lot less...

"...with the increased focus on technology – where we spend more and more of our time on our cell phone, doing emails, watching DVDs and surfing the web – there is less of a difference between how the super rich and the reasonably well off spend their time... the income gap is not as large as it might seem; that several orders of magnitude differences in income don't make all that much difference... People who are staring at a tsunami of demand for commodities from the developing world and predicting a doomsday of $400 oil and $4000 gold are missing the longer-term retreating tide of demand as citizens of the developed world actually demand decreasing amounts of energy, large goods, and heavy infrastructure."

BONUS
More People, Please - "Don't worry about the booming global population -- celebrate it." (via, previously)
Yes, threats to global sustainability are clear and present dangers. But the 10,760-fold increase in aluminum production reported by environmentalist Clive Ponting, or the 380-fold increase in oil production, or even the 24-fold increase in global GDP over the course of the last century isn't driven by population growth. It is growing consumption per person that is the problem.

And that, of course, is not the fault of Africans. The blame lies with wealthy countries that do nearly all of the consuming. The poorest 650 million people on the planet live on about 1 percent of the income of the richest 650 million. Each year, we add 1 percent or more to the incomes of those richest people - GDP per capita growth rates in wealthy countries are at least that high. And that 1 percent growth has the same impact on global consumption as would doubling the number of people living on the income of that bottom 650 million of the world's population. So, those people sitting in rich countries pontificating on unsustainable global populations might want to start off with the bit of that population they see in the mirror every morning.
posted by kliuless (88 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
with the increased focus on technology – where we spend more and more of our time on our cell phone, doing emails, watching DVDs and surfing the web – there is less of a difference between how the super rich and the reasonably well off spend their time... the income gap is not as large as it might seem; that several orders of magnitude differences in income don't make all that much difference
This is totally absurd.

I think that I'm "reasonably well off". I'm pretty confident that I'm not "super rich" (relative to other people from the developed world).

If my income suddenly raised by "several orders of magnitude", I would make sure that my first paycheck cleared, and then I would retire*. The difference between that and my current lifestyle is enormous, and the idea that that difference is minimal compared to the fact that both Bill Gates and I can currently browse the web on spiffy high tech phones is completely laughable.

Perhaps the author didn't literally mean "several orders of magnitude", or perhaps he doesn't really know what "several orders of magnitude" means. But my point would remain regardless: If it were only a "few" orders of magnitude, I retire after a paycheck. A "couple" orders of magnitude, I probably wait for two or three, but I'd be sorely tempted to retire after one. A single order of magnitude, maybe I wait a couple years, instead of thirty years or whatever.

*: I would like to think that I would also give two weeks notice.
posted by Flunkie at 9:33 AM on May 30, 2011 [22 favorites]


there is less of a difference between how the super rich and the reasonably well off spend their time... the income gap is not as large as it might seem; that several orders of magnitude differences in income don't make all that much difference...
The real difference is security. Once you have greater then a certain amount of money, you'll be able to live your current lifestyle indefinitely, whether or not you have a job. On top of that, there's healthcare (which isn't a problem in most of the developed world).
posted by delmoi at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


citizens of the developed world actually demand decreasing amounts of energy

Where does he come up with this? All the evidence points otherwise. Energy consumption per capita has been on a steady unrelenting upward trend since.. the caveman, and doing nothing but accelerating year on year. Increased population = +complexity = +energy
posted by stbalbach at 9:37 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


United Nations: Global resource consumption to triple by 2050
posted by stbalbach at 9:42 AM on May 30, 2011


Yet another article on consumption which tries to rationalize away overpopulation. It doesn't matter how little we all consume if there are just too many people demanding a certain level of lifestyle.

Consuming iPods, cars, houses, tablet computers, gym machines, cosmetics, or anything else you can think of is a privilege. As is having, and more importantly raising, children. But its a privilege we aren't immediately penalized for if we abuse it, the consequences manifest as those children hit adulthood.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:43 AM on May 30, 2011


kliuless: "the income gap is not as large as it might seem; that several orders of magnitude differences in income don't make all that much difference"

If I had my own media empire I'd be printing this story all the time.
posted by boo_radley at 9:51 AM on May 30, 2011 [9 favorites]


Which, I'm not implicating anyone you linked to, but man, what a powerful aphrodisiac that would be: "I have an iPad, I'm just like the Alphas."
posted by boo_radley at 9:52 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


When everyone is hooked up to their new trickle-current social media devices, we can harvest their body heat to run the whole thing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


So if they super wealthy are living just like me, how about paying a few more percentage points of taxes on all those billions they aren't spending?
posted by Wyatt at 10:03 AM on May 30, 2011 [21 favorites]


This is actually a rephrasing of the standard "We have cheap cell phones, so shut up about healthcare" conservative argument that gets trotted out every now and then.
posted by Avenger at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


That theory sounds to me like nothing more than a transparent attempt to counter the "1% have 90% of the wealth (or whatever)" meme. Forget about that, guys! It doesn't matter anyway! It's not about that, it's about you and Bill Gates being essentially the same thing.

I've mentioned my theory before that the only reason the repubs can get the average person to vote for them is that they can convince them that they are on the verge of being in the upper class, so they should vote like they are. It's more of the same as that "struggling on 250k/yr" article from a while back, but in reverse. The "we're really not so different, you and I" trope from villain movies.
posted by ctmf at 10:18 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


We're both the same until you eliminate my job.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:28 AM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


...the income gap is not as large as it might seem; that several orders of magnitude differences in income don't make all that much difference.

Why does this sound like a "Hey, the rich are really just like you, and you don't want to pay any more taxes, do you?" argument?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:31 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


@boo_radley

whats an alpha
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:33 AM on May 30, 2011


The point the FPP article is making is a little bit more subtle than "hey, you and Gates, no delta".

I argue that in the not-so-distant future the main items we will demand, beyond food, clothing and shelter, are “game systems” that approach the level of Nozick’s experience machine, allowing us to have the experience of being anyone we want, wherever we want (even in a world we have designed), accompanied by whomever we want, all in Realicta Immersion 3-D® with full sensory feedback.
Our demand for housing and transportation, two of the biggest commodity hogs, will be lower. McMansions will be totally passe. It should already be dawning on people that most all of our non-sleeping hours at home are spent in the kitchen and its adjacent family room. Living rooms and dining rooms are relics. When people internalize the fact that they spend most of their non-sleeping, non-bathroom, non-eating time in a ten by twelve foot space with their various experience machine prototypes, large homes will, by and large, go the way of cars with fins and chrome.


If what he's predicting comes true, there will actually be fewer super-rich as consumption collapses.
posted by storybored at 10:34 AM on May 30, 2011


So we're in agreement that this is lunacy?
It's not really that different from everybody and their dog identifying as middle class, even though most of us clearly are not.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2011


If what he's predicting comes true, there will actually be fewer super-rich as consumption collapses.

While that may be true, the probable reason for a decline in the number of super-rich will more likely be from a consolidation of wealth. Meanwhile, the flip-side of that coin will be that, given the condition of declining consumption, jobs for the rest of the world will decline in number, giving rise to even higher unemployment. While the number of super-rich will decline, the wealth gap will, in fact, widen even further, as the remaining rich amass what's left of the pie.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2011


Most of the conspicuous consumption in Western societies is driven by our deep need for status display.

One question: would we be willing to transfer most of our status-seeking display behaviors from the real world of consumables goods to the Nozick experience-generating world?

Does your Ferrari trump my seven badges of honor in BattleGrom 3D?
posted by storybored at 10:44 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm betting this guy has never been unemployed.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



If what he's predicting comes true, there will actually be fewer super-rich as consumption collapses.


Why would everybody have an electronic device slow consumption anyway? These are the same devices that are obsolete in a year, made by the same people that brought us sealed in batteries, among other things.

Tech toys aren't part of consumption anymore?

Is there any evidence that increased internet use ties to decreased consumption?
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]




I'm betting this guy has never been unemployed.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:46 AM on May 30 [+] [!]


Denial is a powerful thing. Plenty of lower class bums still vote on the side of big business, and like to think that at heart they're just the same as the oil tycoons and bank executives.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:50 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


RICK BOOKSTABER: I am currently working in Washington as Senior Policy Adviser to the Financial Stability Oversight Council and also Senior Policy Adviser at the SEC. Before my current stint in the public sector, I worked at Bridgewater Associates, ran the Quantitative Equity Fund at FrontPoint Partners and was in charge of risk management at Moore Capital Management. In the investment banking arena, I was in charge of firm-wide risk at Salomon Brothers and was a member of Salomon's powerful Risk Management Committee. I also spent ten years at Morgan Stanley, first designing derivatives, doing proprietary trading, and concluded my tenure there as the firm's first market risk manager.
Translation: I'm one of the assholes who fucked everything up and now I'm working for the government to make sure you can't do anything about it. Fuck you, peasants.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:02 AM on May 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


Weird. The big differences among people living in different income bands is quality of life. Good, healthy food, healthy places to live, meaningful leisure time, health care, dental care, a retirement that doesn't involve working at McDonald's...
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This guy's perspective probably doesn't let him see much of how people live below $80k
posted by delmoi at 11:09 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if he, unconsciously, doesn't consider people living at 200%-300% of poverty line or below to be people.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:14 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I really hate the argument that overpopulation isn't a problem, overconsumption is. The thing is, it ignores the reality that the amount of natural resources each person can sustainably consume is inversely proportional to the number of people and always will be. The sooner we can stop population growth, the greater the share of resources and the better the quality of life will be for everyone. The higher the population grows, the less realistic it becomes for the majority of humanity to live a decent lifestyle.

Overconsumption is also a problem, but eliminating it will only delay the inevitable if overpopulation isn't stopped.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]



I really hate the argument that overpopulation isn't a problem, overconsumption is. The thing is, it ignores the reality that the amount of natural resources each person can sustainably consume is inversely proportional to the number of people and always will be.


The argument is that we have more than enough resources to support a "large" population, if we were to manage those resources properly. Of course, that becomes less true every day, as we deplete our resources.

Argument 1) If we stopped throwing so much shit away and distributed the wealth better, we could all live comfortably.
Argument 2) If there were less people on the planet, we could continue our grotesque levels of waste without consequence.

I'm really warmer to argument 1 myself, although both may be technically true.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:20 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm betting this guy has never been unemployed.

Seriously, look at his resume:

I ran the Quantitative Equity Fund.
I was in charge of risk management.
I was in charge of firm-wide risk as a member of Salomon's powerful Risk Management Committee.
I also spent ten years at Morgan Stanley, first designing derivatives, doing proprietary trading, and concluded my tenure there as the firm's first market risk manager.

Why does he have a job anywhere?
posted by ennui.bz at 11:21 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think argument 1 would work if 'all' included every man, woman, and child in the developing world.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2011


I argue that in the not-so-distant future the main items we will demand, beyond food, clothing and shelter, are “game systems” that approach the level of Nozick’s experience machine, allowing us to have the experience of being anyone we want, wherever we want (even in a world we have designed), accompanied by whomever we want, all in Realicta Immersion 3-D® with full sensory feedback.

Save the planet, invent a holodeck.
posted by Winnemac at 11:22 AM on May 30, 2011


I really hate the argument that overpopulation isn't a problem, overconsumption is.

What's your solution, then? The only way to deal with overpopulation is to improve living standards worldwide. This means better access to medicine, better nutrition, better education, and better governance. The way things stand at the present, high infant mortality is actually a *cause* of overpopulation, as families hedge their bets by having more children in anticipation that some will die. More kids are needed to help out on the farm or whatever.

Improve health, improve productivity, and you've solved the problem of overpopulation (and birth rates are declining anyway).

The other key is to limit consumption. Try telling 1.3 billion Chinese folks they're not allowed to own a car, even though we in the West have had cars for 100 years!
posted by KokuRyu at 11:23 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: What's your solution, then? The only way to deal with overpopulation is to improve living standards worldwide. This means better access to medicine, better nutrition, better education, and better governance. The way things stand at the present, high infant mortality is actually a *cause* of overpopulation, as families hedge their bets by having more children in anticipation that some will die. More kids are needed to help out on the farm or whatever.

Realistically, efforts are most effective if targeted. If overpopulation was directly addressed, with mass handouts of contraceptives and efforts made to improve lifestyles in the ways that reduce the demand for high population (good health care and education, mostly) it would be most effective.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:29 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


My house has ten rooms, not including bathrooms.

1. attic, where we sleep and hang out on our computers.
2. print room, where the big printer lives (business)
3. library, where the books live. used mainly as a place to feed cats.
4. boy's bedroom, where he sleeps.
5. studio, where photography happens (business) we also watch movies here (big projector)
6. dining room, we eat here and pile shit on tables.
7. kitchen, no room to eat in it or we would
8. workshop full of machinery, used occasionally
9. laundry/mechanical room
10. pile-of-shit room, where there is old art and misc junk

We could get by with half these rooms if I rented workspace elsewhere. If we cleaned up some of our junk we could still downsize one floor.

So, yes, by and large we are taking up more space than we really need for those "experential" things, but I kind of like being able to run my business out of my house. Being jacked into the net isn't all we do.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:36 AM on May 30, 2011


KokuRyu: What's your solution, then? The only way to deal with overpopulation is to improve living standards worldwide. This means better access to medicine, better nutrition, better education, and better governance. The way things stand at the present, high infant mortality is actually a *cause* of overpopulation, as families hedge their bets by having more children in anticipation that some will die. More kids are needed to help out on the farm or whatever.

Realistically, efforts are most effective if targeted. If overpopulation was directly addressed, with mass handouts of contraceptives and efforts made to improve lifestyles in the ways that reduce the demand for high population (good health care and education, mostly) it would be most effective.


/snarkon
Targeted methods for keeping the population to a limited number... you wouldn't happen to developing an unnatural predator of Homo sapiens at the same time would you?
/snarkoff
posted by Slackermagee at 11:37 AM on May 30, 2011


Realistically, efforts are most effective if targeted. If overpopulation was directly addressed, with mass handouts of contraceptives and efforts made to improve lifestyles in the ways that reduce the demand for high population (good health care and education, mostly) it would be most effective.

Of course, suggesting these efforts be part of foreign aid opens you up to the entirely fair criticism that you are a genocidal maniac intent on eradicating the non-white hordes, and also an international conspiracy of communists and abortionists.
posted by [citation needed] at 11:41 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Save the planet, invent a holodeck.

It sort of makes sense, really. Once everyone is contained/maintained inside a suitable synthetic environment, then the real world (which everyone will never actually see again) can be stripped, plundered and polluted to a fare-thee-well, and no one will be the wiser. Up until the moment our keepers pull the plug on our burnt-out cinder of a world, from on-high in their interstellar yachts.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:45 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


[citation needed]: Of course, suggesting these efforts be part of foreign aid opens you up to the entirely fair criticism that you are a genocidal maniac intent on eradicating the non-white hordes, and also an international conspiracy of communists and abortionists.

Let's not get into all of this. My only point here was to say that anyone who says the booming population is fine and not a problem is an idiot.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:46 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]



Let's not get into all of this. My only point here was to say that anyone who says the booming population is fine and not a problem is an idiot.


It's a really good thing we clarified that, it'd be a damn shame if somebody mistook this for a rational debate between adults.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:49 AM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you want to reduce population ethically, make massive investments into literacy and basic health.

Smart healthy people make smarter healthier decisions.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on May 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Let's not get into all of this. My only point here was to say that anyone who says the booming population is fine and not a problem is an idiot.

This is the typical atheist-humanist response. Children are a gift from God, and God's commandment is to multiply. The more children brought into the world, no matter how wretched and starved, will be angels in heaven once they die of malnutrition or at the hand of their hunger crazed neighbor. It's certainly better than encouraging the horror of condoms.
posted by [citation needed] at 11:54 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think he's sort of right about how there is less of a difference between how the rich and the poor spend their time. It used to be a laptop cost $3,000 when they first came out, computers were for the wealthy. Now I can get a laptop for like $300. Both lower income and rich people can have all kinds of neat digital devices. I think of Apple products as expensive devices only the rich could afford, but people of all income levels buy them, even if they can't afford them. Some people might think it's cool if I had an iPad, but they're not going to think I'm rich. Apple products like ipods are ubiquitous.

The other day I was thinking... if I was rich, what would I buy? What item would show others I am rich and would really impress them? What would I want that would be nicer than I already have, and really provide me with an experience I couldn't have with not having as much money? I came to the conclusion there's nothing more money would buy me that I would want. I already have a TV, laptop, mobile phone, what else is there? You can't just say, bigger TV, better phone, more expensive car, that's not a big enough experience change. I'd need an AI robot or a jet pack to really show off, but I don't think those things would really change how I spend the majority of my time.

Think of it this way, name an item you could carry in your pocket that you could take out, and whoever saw that item would know that you're a wealthy person, would be impressed, and it's something that provides an experience no one else around you has. That item would not be a digital camera, a cell phone, or an ipod touch... what would it be?
posted by banished at 11:54 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sort of makes sense, really. Once everyone is contained/maintained inside a suitable synthetic environment, then the real world (which everyone will never actually see again) can be stripped, plundered and polluted to a fare-thee-well, and no one will be the wiser. Up until the moment our keepers pull the plug on our burnt-out cinder of a world, from on-high in their interstellar yachts.

Neo?
posted by maxwelton at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2011


I'd need an AI robot or a jet pack to really show off, but I don't think those things would really change how I spend the majority of my time.

As pointed out up-thread, the biggest change would be lack of worry about anything that costs money, and endless leisure time to pursue whatever it is you want, whether it's travel, education, or, hell, owning a professional sports team.
posted by maxwelton at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


According to Tainter, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can include differentiated social and economic roles, reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial "energy" subsidy (meaning resources, or other forms of wealth). When a society confronts a "problem," such as a shortage of or difficulty in gaining access to energy, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Eventually, this cost grows so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures cannot be solved by the acquisition of more territory. At that point, the empire fragments into smaller units.
posted by larry_darrell at 12:00 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Malthus was right. He just missed the efficiency of adding cheap(oil) energy to the equation. Cheap, beacause it has 0 production cost,we found it ...

You look at the energy in barrel of oil and it would cost you 5000 USD to get that energy out of the lowest cost global labour

Nuclear doesn't have this cheapness, we know whatever cost we ascribe to store the stuff will be to too low, so either we figure out solar/fusion soon or there are going to be more and more hungry people ...
posted by fistynuts at 12:02 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Uh, no. In fact mobility (and to be seen to be mobile) is one of the great signifiers of status and wealth. Travel has greatly increased even as technologies that might help to reduce travel have bloomed. The same goes for the demand for authentic "experiences" over mere things or simulacra. The rich (and those who want to be seen to be rich) go out of their way to experience and be seen to experience the "real". The rest of us make do watching commercial breaks on our cheap plastic Realicta Immersion 3-D® systems.
posted by eeeeeez at 12:03 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Think of it this way, name an item you could carry in your pocket that you could take out, and whoever saw that item would know that you're a wealthy person, would be impressed, and it's something that provides an experience no one else around you has. That item would not be a digital camera, a cell phone, or an ipod touch... what would it be?
posted by banished at 7:54

A fucking massive diamond.

Also, is this guy like some kind of inverse hippy? like he took acid and this is what he came up with?
posted by marienbad at 12:07 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Forty-some years ago, Andy Warhol pointed out that you were the exactly the same as a rich person because you were both limited to the range of commercial products that are available for you to consume: "We all drink the same can of Coke".

I'm not seeing anything new here.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 12:28 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]




Forty-some years ago, Andy Warhol pointed out that you were the exactly the same as a rich person because you were both limited to the range of commercial products that are available for you to consume: "We all drink the same can of Coke".


Sometimes when I'm a 62 Macallan I think that very thing.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:31 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sipping.

I accidentally a word.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:31 PM on May 30, 2011


but man, what a powerful aphrodisiac that would be: "I have an iPad, I'm just like the Alphas."

I think a lot of grad students, freelance "writers", and other assorted people who hang out in coffee shops and "work" feel that way about their MacBooks. It's easy to tell that a MacBook is a MacBook, because it has that big shiny apple.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I was a three orders of magnitude richer than I am now, income-wise, I would be able to pay my taxes at the headline rate in my country, drop a million a year into charity-type activities, and still have six million a year to live on.

I could decide on a whim to treat my daughter to Christmas with snow and go spend Christmas with my brother-in-law in Paris. If I saw an apartment I liked, I could buy it while I was there, on a whim. I could buy half a dozen houses and sections and donate them to the local zoo for more space. I could buy up a bunch of farms and convert them into a single wildlife reserve. All with *one year's income*.

If I wanted to live cheap for a couple of years, say a million a year spending, I could be more grandiose; I could express my love of Art Deco architecture by buying some of the vacant lots around town and starting a program of building a beautiful multipurpose building every year or two. Or fund a mini-series of Cornwell's Arthurian novels. Or fund research chairs and universities.

I could, in short, move from being someone who lives in my society, and someone who meaningfully shapes it.

"No real difference'? This guy is either breathtakingly ignorant on the topic of how most people live, or suffers from an appalling lack of imagination.
posted by rodgerd at 1:02 PM on May 30, 2011 [19 favorites]


He seems to be ignoring health-care costs. If I had even one order of magnitude more money than I do now, I would worry about that a lot less.
posted by Coventry at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's amazing that someone can work in derivatives (by his own admission) and yet not really develop an intuition for how exponential growth actually works. I had thought that working experientially with calculus and limit series would benefit everyone, but apparently I was wrong.
posted by meehawl at 1:25 PM on May 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Despite all the ignorant knee-jerking so far, he makes some very interesting points. What he's arguing is not that every difference between rich and poor will disappear, but that it will eventually be rendered irrelevant. The gap between the important life activities that each class will be able to engage in will dramatically narrow, and then perhaps effectively vanish. The desirable experiences available in physical reality, which are expensive, will be increasingly dwarfed in pleasure and importance by those cheap ones available in virtual reality. There's a great deal of truth in what he says.

It already really is a difference that we now, for instance, have pretty much the entire catalog of art, literature, music, theater, television, and movies available for little or nothing online, and that these are accessible to anyone sitting in any cyber-cafe around the world. It already really is a difference that webcams and telephones and televisions and video game systems are inexpensive and used by billions of the not-rich. It already really is a difference that self-expression and mass distribution of viewpoints is now dirt cheap, that everyone with an Internet connection effectively owns a printing press.

These have already substantially narrowed the real gap between rich and not-rich, just as the printing press narrowed that same gap.

The better virtual reality and online life becomes, the more this will be the case. Yes, the rich will still be more secure. Yes, they will still have more power. But the relevance of these differences in day-to-day life will decrease.

If you have something approximating true virtual reality, the entire importance of the physical world, and all the wealth needed to enjoy and control it, will fall off a chasm. Obviously this is science fiction utopia land, but it's unclear how far away from it we are. He thinks it's closer rather than farther, and this is the possibility at which he points.
posted by shivohum at 1:37 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


will fall off a chasm.

or a cliff maybe :)
posted by shivohum at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2011


The other day I was thinking... if I was rich, what would I buy? What item would show others I am rich and would really impress them? What would I want that would be nicer than I already have, and really provide me with an experience I couldn't have with not having as much money?

A government; see Italy.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:38 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Band together with your friends and you can buy the ability to wage war against your enemies world-wide... with nuclear weapons; see U.S.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:39 PM on May 30, 2011


So apparently air conditioning the world won't require more energy? Because they are already running into that problem in China. And most of us want our iPads all the time, not just 1 out of every 3 days.
posted by meinvt at 1:44 PM on May 30, 2011


This guy is so off-base I wasn't sure this wasn't a parody.

For instance, on the supposed paradigm shifting (sorry, 'drifting') shift to fancy electronics:
The point here is a corollary: those activities do not require much in the way of material consumption, and therefore not much in terms of commodities

Is not actually, you know, true. Forty years ago, none of us had a personal computer. Now, a not unusual electronic menagerie in North America is laptop, perhaps second computer at home, gaming consoles, cell phone or smart phone, tablet. Before we consumed exactly zero of the raw materials these things are built of, and exactly zero of the energy they consume every day. Worse, all of these might as well have been designed and marketed with planned obsolence in mind. What's the average lifespan of an iPod? How many digital cameras have you owned? How many laptops? Why do new and fancier game consoles sell so well every year (doesn't everyone who wants one already have one?).

But, of course, its not just the electronics. There was a brief time when economical cars were in ascendance, then gasoline became cheap and the SUV dominated the landscape. Gas is expensive now, but traffic volumes and gasoline consumption in the US has only slightly contracted (took a painful recession to boot). When I was a kid, a plane ride was a sufficient novelty that people *auplauded* when the plane landed, thirty years later, and air traffic volumes has gone up by orders of magnitude. The square footage of houses has mushroomed, and isn't getting smaller. Meanwhile, air conditioning is the default expectation so the energy demands of that square footage is greater.

And the comment about no difference between the activities and leisure of the most rich and the just-middle class? Justly ridiculed above. Its like saying: well both the rich and poor eat food, so their consumption is the same. I'll comfort myself with that thought as I walk by some of the fancier eateries in this land-locked city where very rare cheeses are flown from dozens of separate exclusive producers from Europe and served with the choicest parts of rare fishes caught on the other side of the planet and whisked by jet airplane to their plates. Same as a box of KD, no doubt.
posted by bumpkin at 1:50 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where does he come up with this? All the evidence points otherwise. Energy consumption per capita has been on a steady unrelenting upward trend since.. the caveman, and doing nothing but accelerating year on year. Increased population = +complexity = +energy

per capital energy consumption has been flat in California since 1974
posted by humanfont at 2:04 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


These paradigms are being shifted so relentlessly I barely know how to get out of bed in the morning.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:15 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why does this sound like a "Hey, the rich are really just like you, and you don't want to pay any more taxes, do you?" argument?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:31 PM on May 30

It's amazing that someone can work in derivatives (by his own admission) and yet not really develop an intuition for how exponential growth actually works.
posted by meehawl at 4:25 PM on May 30

He knows exactly what he's saying. There is no mistake there.
posted by nzero at 3:31 PM on May 30, 2011


So apparently air conditioning the world won't require more energy? Because they are already running into that problem in China. And most of us want our iPads all the time, not just 1 out of every 3 days.
Ugh, seriously, what is it with this line or rhetoric? What do iPads have to do with air conditioning? An hour of air conditioning could power an iPad for like a month.
posted by delmoi at 4:07 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Is there any evidence that increased internet use ties to decreased consumption?

I don't have any evidence, but I can give you my personal anecdote: it doesn't, quite the opposite in fact.
posted by Bangaioh at 4:20 PM on May 30, 2011


I think he's sort of right about how there is less of a difference between how the rich and the poor spend their time.

I have to be careful at work when people talk about how they live or my disgust will overwhelm me.

See, I make 30-60% less than everyone else in my department, even before you take into account I have a payment plan for school that means I write a check for 25% of my take-home pay each month. So I have a complex bill-payment schedule that is more about avoiding getting disconnected than paying bills as soon as I get them, and if I got really sick it would be game over for the rest of my life as far as hopes and dreams go. I haven't bought new shoes in years, and my clothing is only purchased when the old clothing is completely worn out.

In contrast, my boss just spent a week in Disney at a total cost of roughly one-fourth of my yearly pay before tax.

There is a hell of a lot of difference between how the rich and the poor live.
posted by winna at 4:51 PM on May 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I kind of get it, and kind of don't.

I certainly agree that substitutable commodities and value-store commodities won't keep rampaging -- they might get higher, but not orders of magnitude (used in a literal or figurative sense).

I also agree that technology does tend to reduce consumption, but I think that it's production-related consumption. A heck of lot more money is spent on my technology than would have been spent on my technology in my seat 15 years ago ... but it offset 5x or more by the fact that the occupant of my seat would have had a full time secretary to send, receive and file communications and deal with phone calls, and least another full-time-equivalent worth of fax and phone operators, messengers, postmen, FedEx personnel, etc., plus everyone else sending/receiving and filing the other end of those same communications. Now, all of this is handled by a tenth of an FTE of office administrative assistant, maybe another two-fifths of FTE of IT support, etc. The entire workforce for all the companies that supports the IP data network into an out of Manhattan is (I am sure) less than the circa 1996 NYNEX workforce that just maintained copper-line voice service.

However, I see no indication that technology reduces other forms of consumption. People don't eat less, they don't want smaller houses, fewer or less fancy cars, cheaper clothes, less or less expensive education for their kids, less or less expensive healthcare, etc. I especially don't see this coming into recreation. Having no secretary and sending one FedEx a month instead of three a day pays off a multi-monitor set-up and broadband connectivity immediately, but it would take a lifetime of not going to the movies to cover the cost of a well-outfitted home theater. Moreover, ski slopes, golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants, museums in foreign countries -- these things (or their real-world alternatives) are things that nearly everybody wants when they have the income to obtain them.
posted by MattD at 5:13 PM on May 30, 2011


In contrast, my boss just spent a week in Disney at a total cost of roughly one-fourth of my yearly pay before tax.

There is a hell of a lot of difference between how the rich and the poor live.


Is he rich or is he just a high net earner? Not a snark (on the contrary, perhaps a comfort), but depend on it, even now a lot of the conspicuous consumption you see around you is coasting on plastic.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:15 PM on May 30, 2011


That item would not be a digital camera, a cell phone, or an ipod touch... what would it be?

Security. The first form of displayable security that comes to mind is an insurance card for a health insurance policy that has low or no copays, and covers everything.
posted by marble at 5:23 PM on May 30, 2011


banished:...name an item you could carry in your pocket that you could take out, and whoever saw that item would know that you're a wealthy person, would be impressed, and it's something that provides an experience no one else around you has.
The keys to the pocket owner's Ferrari / yacht / private aircraft.

A paper notepad filled with Senators' phone numbers.

A pocket calendar full of business appointments but no regular 9-to-5 work obligations.

A NetJets membership card.

A one-year old passport that's already half-full of stamps.

The business card of the pocket owner's butler / valet / chauffeur / bodyguard / chef / personal assistant.

The key to the pocket owner's safety deposit box. In the Caymans.

A wad of receipts from the French Laundry.

A photo of both the pocket owner's kids together at Harvard.
posted by Western Infidels at 5:44 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


That item would not be a digital camera, a cell phone, or an ipod touch... what would it be?

Maybe a $5m diamond encrusted iPhone?
posted by knapah at 5:44 PM on May 30, 2011


Sorry, 5 million pounds sterling, not dollars.
posted by knapah at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2011


Nice fantasy.

Human beings are *wired* to demonstrate status positions. It's going to a very, very long time before we have virtual systems that *everyone* is jacked into, with multiple levels of access according to income level.

In the meantime, read up on how commodity markets (manned by wealthy commodity trading institutions! my goodness, who would have guessed??) are creating advantage for themselves at everyone else cost. - i.e. follow the money...

I don't know about anyone else, but I see a consolidation of power around strategic access to information - and it's strategic access information that drives wealth.

Is this going to change? Maybe, but it's going to take a lot more people being made aware of what's going on, and just how their lives are being shredded one thread at a time by greedy craploads-of-cash-earning wealth barons who just don't give a damn about anything else but climbing the status ladder.
posted by Vibrissae at 6:20 PM on May 30, 2011


per capital energy consumption has been flat in California since 1974

If CA were an isolated island .. but consider all the mfg and other heavy-industry that is now someplace else (China) but which Californian's participate in - thus you have to look at it globally as a whole since the system is interconnected. BTW I think that's an impressive feat for California to use almost 40% less electricity than the rest of the country.
posted by stbalbach at 6:21 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of using less energy, I recently heard (on the radio, I believe) that our local electric utility is going to have to raise rates significantly because energy conservation is eating into their revenue too much. Sucks to be poor in this scenario. Guess who doesn't have much money to buy an energy-efficient air conditioner, appliances, and windows? And "green" homes cost a lot more, as well.
posted by marble at 6:26 PM on May 30, 2011


I would like to see a citation where energy conservatiton is actually forcing a utility company to raise rates. That seems like shaking the magic eight ball to come up with a reason to do something they were already inclined to do. Good for pr, but probably bullishit. I suppose the utility company could have debt service issues related to building power plants they don't need and be facing a debt crisis as a result, but passing the costs on to the consumers seems inappropriate let the company go bankrupt and fix the underlying debt problem. It is a bit like the US automobile manufacturers. The government had to step in, fix the underlying cost and debt service problems and force the companies to build the right cars. The mangement teams needed to be totally replaced for their bad decisions.
posted by humanfont at 6:59 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


humanfont: "per capital energy consumption has been flat in California since 1974"

Yes, but residential share of consumption is just 34% of the total. In fact, the total energy consumption by the State has been rising consistently since the end of the early 1980s recession by around 1.6% annually. That's a combination of population growth and industry demand. The size of the electricity and water inputs for semiconductors are often a surprise for many people, and all those cloud server farms don't run and vent their waste heat on happy thoughts. Despite its efficiencies, California has a total Carbon output state rank of #2, and is the #2nd highest Carbon Dioxide polluting state in the United States. If electric power storage for autos ever takes off seriously, then Cali may reduce its carbon ouput and poor air scores, but given its terrible commute times, all those electric cars will ratchet up the per-capita consumption again.

I actually worked on a long-term (ie, 20-30 years out) computational infrastructure growth plan for a large trading bank. The growth curves were just disastrous, especially given the ridiculous growth in analytics necessary for ever-more complex hybrid products. Basically, this entity was facing a difficult situation 20-30 years down the road, where it needed to have close access (as in light speed round-trip time) to major trading sites, yet it was unable to easily secure enough low-risk energy supplies given the predicted growth of major metropolitan areas and the slower growth of regional energy production and delivery infrastructure. It's a nasty kind of situation, and short of reversible computation actually working as its theorists predict, there is a decreasing short-list of currently suitable areas in the US where futurity's vast server farms of loving grace can grow safely and graze closely to large concentrations of humans destabilising the grid with all their air conditioning, TV, and electric eco-flush toilets.

nzero: "He knows exactly what he's saying. There is no mistake there"

Well, for once I was giving someone the benefit of the doubt.
posted by meehawl at 7:15 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Humanfront: regulated utilities -- transmission companies, mainly -- are (by law) entitled to a return on their invested capital. If the demand for power decreases faster than the costs of operating the system, than the utility will be able to get its rates increased by the government to make up for the otherwise lost gross profit.

As for unregulated utilities, like any other kind of business that establishes price in a marketplace, all its "reasons" for trying to raise prices are in an important sense bogus. Buyers don't, and shoudn't care about a sellers costs or profit margin. Rather, such sellers are always trying to feel out the inelastic point in the curve -- the place where you can raise prices and not suffer a decline in demand, or at least as much of one as otherwise expected -- you get pure profit from that move. When you have a demand reduction that it isn't triggered by your price increases or your competitor's price cuts, you will always be tempted to try to make that up with price increases -- especially when you think, "hey, the demand cut was people moving from 50" plasmas to 10" iPads for Netflix -- but I bet that they don't value air conditioning or lights any less than they did before."
posted by MattD at 7:24 PM on May 30, 2011


If that article is what passes for a thoughtful essay these days, I'm embarrassed for the author. What utter tripe. And then I read his bio - and lo and behold, an MIT graduate who, among other things, "designed derivatives". I see. Horseshit with a pretty ribbon, still stinks. Talking monkeys, we're buying our own bullshit, this species is doomed, and I didn't need an advanced degree to know it.
posted by dbiedny at 8:02 PM on May 30, 2011


I guess the trend toward neo-conservatives making actual arguments, however weak they are, is encouraging. (Perhaps 'arguments' is too strong a word -- what we have in pieces like this are more like assertions made at a reasonable volume.) But it's also kind of creepy. Here's what I have in mind. I've been a subscriber to the Atlantic Monthly on and off for almost twenty years. The magazine has some good articles whose theses and arguments for them are cogent and well written, but much of what I read is simply neo-conservative apologia. The underwriting theme of many pieces is often simply: this is the world of realpolitick we live in, the powers that be must do what they can to preserve the established regime. When this sort of apologia is dressed up in the clothes of a think-piece, it makes the apologia seem like something that was arrived at through a process of reasoning, rather than establishment intransigence.
posted by Wash Jones at 8:10 PM on May 30, 2011


bumpkin, not to be a totally pedantic asshole, but the average square footage of new home *has* shrunk since 2008.

My cite is my dad, who has been a professional builder for 30+ years, reads trade publications obsessively and can usually spout statistics on everything construction for the past five years. So no, I don't have a link.

And marble, yes, retrofits and remodels that decrease energy usage cost money out of pocket, no question. But as far as new, residential buildings go, if your contractor tells you that building green costs more, fire his ass, because that's hogwash.

You need good windows and doors, that's true, but an insulated steel door and door size, vinyl, doubled paned, argon filled, low-e double hung window can be had for $200 each or less. An absolute garbage aluminum window, if it's the size of a door, is still going to run you about $200, because the primary things you are paying for are the glass, and the skill it took to build the window. (I don't understand why they make aluminum windows, to be honest, and it's a crime that building codes permit them.)

You can buy an NSF certified composting toilet for about what it costs for a plumber to install a toilet main. Reclaimed wood is cheaper than new, sometimes even free, not to mention typically being a better material. Steel roofing varies due the cost of metals fluctuating, but if you watch metal prices, you can actually get a screw on steel roof for less than 30 year asphalt shingles (and the steel will last 2-3x as long, maybe even more). If you are building new, geothermal heating and cooling is less than a furnace and air conditioner. If you go for radiant in floor heating and cooling, you can climate control your whole house with no register/radiators and a couple of hot water heaters (think $1500 vs. $5000). And any builder worth his salt can school you on passive solar, heat sinks, awnings and overhangs, and, aside from finding a good lot, none of that stuff costs a nickel more than doing it the stupid way.

The only things that I can think that cost more up front are thicker gauges of copper wire for electricity, and more insulation, but that stuff doesn't cost much more (again, copper varies along with the price of metal) and pays for itself very quickly, particularly insulation.

Sorry to get off topic. Carry on.
posted by Leta at 8:50 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


The analysis in the FPP is facile, but I think the underlying point is sound: technology could rapidly reduce our consumption of the earth's limited resources. At my work we have a top-of-the-line videoconferencing system, which really is just as good as being there and has reduced business travel ... pretty much entirely, no one does business travel anymore. Right now this system is expensive (I've heard $1000 a day in bandwidth), but just imagine 10 years down the road when every business has this technology.

The other point, that technology can reduce the gap between rich and poor, is kinda-sorta true. I know plenty of rich people and plenty of middle-class people, and they're basically watching the same TV, driving the same cars, using the same electronic gadgets, eating the same food, etc. (In some cases I'm convinced the rich have it worse off: the difference between a nice BMW and a nice Kia is that Kia doesn't break down half as much.) With another few decades of decreasing manufacturing costs and increasing GDP, I imagine even the poor in the US will have access to very similar goods compared to the rich.

But access to health care and education are going to be the critical factors for succeeding in the future, and the same processes that are decreasing the cost of goods aren't working to decrease the cost of those services.
posted by miyabo at 9:45 PM on May 30, 2011


The other point, that technology can reduce the gap between rich and poor, is kinda-sorta true. I know plenty of rich people and plenty of middle-class people, and they're basically watching the same TV,

Poor and middle class are not the same things. These two groups are not driving the same car, shopping at the same supermarkets, or using the same gadgets.
posted by who squared at 10:28 PM on May 30, 2011


Let's not get into all of this. My only point here was to say that anyone who says the booming population is fine and not a problem is an idiot.

Problem...

Band together with your friends and you can buy the ability to wage war against your enemies world-wide... with nuclear weapons; see U.S.

Inevitable Solution.

Remember that no wealthy white liberal ever lost money from suggesting that the problems of the world are the fault of the brown people, and can be solved by forcing them to take the solution that the Great White Hope offers. Combine that with the population bugaboo, and it's obvious that soon those contraceptive implants and forced sterilizations will be offered at the point of a gun. For the brown people's own good of course, and not just to make it easier to grab their resources.
posted by happyroach at 10:58 PM on May 30, 2011


"Doing e-mails"? Does he think it's some sort of bodily function? Could he be suffering from this?
posted by Mooseli at 4:23 AM on May 31, 2011


I know I am planning on reducing my energy consumption in the near future.
Ironically moving up a few "orders of magnitude" would help me do that quickly:

Underground house (Marginal Heating/A/C)
Sustainable farmland for myself and family (No transport costs for food)
Compost (No sewer/septic to maintain)
Solar/PV/Geo (Higher efficiency grid to ground due to marginal transmission distance)
Electric Vehicle (No oil to ship or kill anyone over)
Rainwater harvesting/Small well (No municipal plumbing to maintain)
etc...

But what about all the people who would be out of maintenance jobs you fascist!!?
posted by AndrewKemendo at 4:41 AM on May 31, 2011


bumpkin, not to be a totally pedantic asshole, but the average square footage of new home *has* shrunk since 2008.

My cite is my dad, who has been a professional builder for 30+ years, reads trade publications obsessively and can usually spout statistics on everything construction for the past five years. So no, I don't have a link.


Your dad is technically correct for the last three years, though this looks like a short term blip due to the deepest recession since 1927 and attendant implosion of the housing and construction industries. From post WWII to present, though, he's quite wrong, since homes more than doubled in average size. cite 1, cite 2. But where he's very, very wrong is when you consider square footage per capita. Since household sizes became much smaller, the per capita square footage went from ~290 sq. ft. per person in 1950 to >900 in 2006. cite 3, cite 4.

This is for the US, the trends are similar in Canada, where I live.

Anecdotally, my neighbourhood is one of the oldest in my city -- this was a working class neighbourhood for people working on the CP railway. Many of the houses are 'kit houses', ordered from the Hudson Bay Co's catalogue and delivered unassembled on a rail car. These homes are 500 to 600 sq. ft (plus a root cellar), and typically fairly large families: two parents, maybe a grandparent, several kids. By contemporary standards, these are far too small, so as gentrification proceeds, they are ripped out and replaced with tall skinny builders boxes in the 2000 sq. ft. range. Typical buyer profile is professional, affluent couple, maybe one or two kids. Same story in my brother's neighbourhood in Montreal: the 'classic' Montreal rowhousing built ca. 1910 had large families on each 600 - 800 sq. ft. floor. I mean *large* families: Catholic working class French, two or more grandparents, pair of parents, possibly an uncle/aunt or two, 4 - 10 kids.... My brother's reno involved expanding onto two floors, for his family of 5.

Going forward, are houses and sq. ft. per person going to keep expanding? Well, I hope not. I also hope that houses are built to last and be energy efficient over very long lifetimes. The quality and nature of the construction that is *typical* of the boom doesn't give me much confidence. I know we can do a lot better to reduce the total life cycle cost of our housing.
posted by bumpkin at 10:37 AM on May 31, 2011


Juvenal: "for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses."

Thomas R. Marshall: "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar.”

Rick Bookstaber: "Give us food, plumbing, heat and our two-hundred dollar experience machine games, and we will be happy as a clam."
posted by lekvar at 11:53 AM on May 31, 2011


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