sovereignty and taxation
June 8, 2012 2:46 PM   Subscribe

David Graeber: Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit (via)
Mandel had argued that humanity stood at the verge of a "third technological revolution," as profound as the Agricultural or Industrial Revolution, in which computers, robots, new energy sources, and new information technologies would replace industrial labor – the "end of work" as it soon came to be called – reducing us all to designers and computer technicians coming up with crazy visions that cybernetic factories would produce.

End of work arguments were popular in the late seventies and early eighties as social thinkers pondered what would happen to the traditional working-class-led popular struggle once the working class no longer existed. (The answer: it would turn into identity politics.)
Daron Acemoglu: The world our grandchildren will inherit - "The last century has been the age of political rights. Never in our history have so many people taken part in choosing their leaders and having a say in how their societies are governed. To be sure, this unparalleled expansion of civil and political rights remains incomplete. Yet it is profoundly significant, not only due to its transformative impact on the lives of billions, but also because so many other phenomena in recent history are connected to it. The rights revolution is intertwined with diverse trends such as the development of technology; sustained yet uneven economic growth; a general decline in war within recent decades; and a population explosion placing new pressures on our resources and environment."

Anatole Kaletsky: A New Capitalism
Seabright engages in some fascinating speculations on anthropology and biology. He posits a form of "group selection" – natural selection operating within entire societies rather than individuals... His conclusion – which is quite pessimistic – is that over millions of years humans have evolved to operate quite successfully in limited and well-defined groups. But we're now moving into a world where the social group that is relevant to the future success, maybe even survival, of humanity is no longer a tribe, a city or a nation. It is the world as a whole.

Once humanity is operating on a global level, people have to cooperate on a far broader scale, and the mechanisms for cooperation which have evolved over thousands of years may break down. He gives the financial crisis and the inability of nation states to control it as one example of this breakdown. Others are climate change, nuclear proliferation, energy depletion and environmental destruction. These are all global challenges for which cooperative social mechanisms have not had time to evolve...

If you go back to the roots of the monetarist revolution in the 1970s, you find that all its conclusions depend on the assumption that profit-motivated individuals operating in free and competitive markets will make the best possible decisions about the allocation of resources. Frydman and Goldberg explain that this claim of optimal decisions by the markets is simply untrue, unless we also assume that perfect knowledge of reality is possible, at least in theory – and not just about the present, but about the forces shaping the future. If such perfect knowledge does not exist, even in theory, then the claims about self-stabilising markets at root of most economic policy since the early 1980s are false. And if perfect knowledge did exist, then ironically Communist central planning would work as well as a market system. All you would need is a computer large enough to take into account all this knowledge, and it would be able to plan the economy.

The reason you need markets is precisely because it's impossible to know what the future will hold. Therefore, markets are a system of experimentation – and they will only work properly if non-market decisions, made by regulators and ultimately by politicians, set some bounds within which market prices can be allowed to freely fluctuate.* This is a very important and profound insight which will ultimately undermine not just the structure of academic economics, but also the way in which people think about the relationship between markets and government.
Capitalism's risk manager: The philanthropic complex - "We envision a society that values more of what matters – not just more... a new emphasis on non-material values like financial security, fairness, community, health, time,** nature, and fun."

The Progressive Consumption Tax - "By pulling a simple tax lever, we could reduce the costs of growing income disparities, while at the same time freeing up several trillion dollars of additional resources each year – more than enough to pay down the federal debt and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure – all without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone."

Beyond scarcity: The parable of water - "Yet if water abundance is great enough people will look around and see there is no scarcity. They will see they are better off than they have ever been. Eventually, they will understand all the scarcity is artificial. They will also realise they have no need for receptacles, because receptacles have no value. You can live directly off the source. As those with receptacles adjust to the realisation that they have no advantage over those with no receptacles, there is a crisis in the old system. Ultimately, however, more people are provided with access to a constant supply of water than ever before, and on equal terms. The crisis is only for those who used to have an advantage in the system."

The end of artificial scarcity - "Without something like a war — or an extra-terrestrial pursuit*** — the system can only be rebalanced by a boom in credit supply and/or artificial scarcity enforced by manufacturers themselves."

Debunking goldbugs - "Unlike the gold system, which asks you to put your faith in an inanimate shiny object, a paper 'fiat' system asks you to put faith in relationships, in your neighbours, your community. It asks you to believe that society will honour its debts because it doesn't make sense for it not to – largely because it is just as dependent on you honouring your debts to it, as you are on it honouring its debts to you. It's a system based on quid pro quo relationships. A symbiosis based on trust."

Gold's Anti-Social Behaviour Order - "So while gold may be a workable underlier for a redemption option, this doesn't change the fact that at the heart of the system it is faith and faith alone which holds everything together. Whether that faith is reflected in a sovereign's ability to manage the economy on behalf of the group, in the sovereign's guarantee to honour a gold option, or faith in the gold god himself... faith is the constant. Not gold. What's more, while gold encourages anti-social behaviour and hoarding in individuals, a fiat-based system encourages the very opposite: sharing, distribution, collaboration and cooperation."

Space opera, beyond finance edition
That includes the notion that in the future there will likely be more currencies not less. "Perhaps even billions of currencies," he says, sketching out a world where every individual and every human network boasts its own unit of exchange. He believes that city-states will become more relevant than nations. And that communities and networks will take control over their own units of account. Virtual currencies such as BitCoin or Facebook credits or others not yet invented, meanwhile, could well start to rival established state-issued money both in private exchange and international trade. And community-led Peer2Peer networks will run alongside more established currency systems.

If you thought exchange rates might pose a problem here, Park says technology will provide us with something akin to a "universal translator" for establishing relative values. Real-time and cost efficient.

The concept of pricing, meanwhile, will likely to be turned on its head entirely. That's because in the future Park believes prices will become a function of who you are just as much as broader supply and demand fundamentals. One reason why reputation tracking will once again become critical to business, investment and even daily exchange of goods. Just like when a gentleman's word used to be his bond.
previously :P

---
*gzip the universe: "I feel we look at matter and information and we see the dichotomy because it's semiotcratic to do so. Just as we look at particles and see fermions (things that can't be in the same place at the same time) and bosons (things that can be so). Perhaps it's just an artefact of our measuring equipment. It's all string vibrations, further down. And rooms and corridors. Buildings and streets (tell that to those in Catalhoyuk!). And objects and textures, of course, animate/inanimate, background/attended. Mesh/tree, mesh-becoming/tree-becoming, branching/canalising, push/pull. But we've talked about that, or we will. We've created an arboreal world, we've also been created. We can't assign causality, only proximity. Does it makes sense to talk about any thing if everything is every thing?" or look at the world in terms of affordances, viz. Hans Rosling: Religions and babies
**Paul Ford: 10 Timeframes - 'we're asking people to spend their heartbeats on things we make'
The time you spend is not your own. You are, as a class of human beings, responsible for more pure raw time, broken into more units, than almost anyone else. You spent two years learning, focusing, exploring, but that was your time; now you are about to spend whole decades, whole centuries, of cumulative moments, of other people’s time. People using your systems, playing with your toys, fiddling with your abstractions. And I want you to ask yourself when you make things, when you prototype interactions, am I thinking about my own clock, or the user’s? Am I going to help someone make order in his or her life, or am I going to send that person to a commune in Vermont?

There is an immense opportunity—maybe it’s even a business opportunity—to look at our temporal world and think about calendars and clocks and human behavior, to think about each interaction as a specific unit, to take careful note of how we parcel out moments. Whether a mouse moving across a screen or the progress of a Facebook post through a thousand different servers, the way we value time seems to have altered, as if the earth tilted on its axis, as if the seasons are different and new.
So that is my question for all of you: What is the new calendar? What are the new seasons? The new weeks and months and decades? As a class of individuals, we make the schedule. What can we do to help others understand it?

If we are going to ask people, in the form of our products, in the form of the things we make, to spend their heartbeats—if we are going to ask them to spend their heartbeats on us, on our ideas, how can we be sure, far more sure than we are now, that they spend those heartbeats wisely?
***cf. John Hodgman: Design, explained & Reggie Watts disorients you in the most entertaining way
posted by kliuless (85 comments total) 144 users marked this as a favorite

 
!

I'd gotten a few pages into the first link and thought, "let's check out the [more inside]". Looks like I've got some new reading material!
posted by junco at 2:59 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hmm, I wrote kind of a long comment about this (the main link) for another thread that was deleted before I could post it.

The basic jist was this:
secret question hovers over us, a sense of disappointment, a broken promise we were given as children about what our adult world was supposed to be like. I am referring not to the standard false promises that children are always given (about how the world is fair, or how those who work hard shall be rewarded), but to a particular generational promise—given to those who were children in the fifties, sixties, seventies, or eighties—one that was never quite articulated as a promise but rather as a set of assumptions about what our adult world would be like. And since it was never quite promised, now that it has failed to come true, we’re left confused: indignant, but at the same time, embarrassed at our own indignation, ashamed we were ever so silly to believe our elders to begin with.

Where, in short, are the flying cars? Where are the force fields, tractor beams, teleportation pods, antigravity sleds, tricorders, immortality drugs, colonies on Mars, and all the other technological wonders any child growing up in the mid-to-late twentieth century assumed would exist by now?
Actually misses the fact that the early to mid 20th century was actually something of a technological singularity when it came to thermodynamics and basic electronics. There were huge changes in human life at the consumer level during that time. You went from horse drawn carriages or maybe a bicycle to having a car, you went from playing music and reading the newspaper to listening to the radio or watching TV. You went from candles to lightbulbs. And critically all this stuff happened within people's lifetimes

So why wouldn't people expect technology to continue to advance as it had been advancing in their lifetimes? I mean, Arthur C Clark was born in 1917, and Asimov was born in 1920, think about how much the world had changed from their childhood to their 30s and 40s. In fact, Clark famously predicted radio communications satellites (and took out a patent) on them and in a few decades later (but after his patent expired)

So so the expectation that technology was going to advance at the same rate wouldn't be an unreasonable one. On the other hand, other then computers daily life hasn't changed much since the 1960s. We are still driving ordinary, non-flying cars, we still mostly have boring 2D TV, just upgrading to slightly better video quality a few years ago after like 70 years on NTSC. We still use the same electromechanical devices that people used 50 years ago: vacuums, washing machines, air conditioners, lightbulbs and so on, except now they're made out of cheaper materials.

You can kind of see a parallel, on a much faster time scale with personal computing. I mean, in the 1980s you went from an an 8 bit computer with a few k of memory to one with 3D acceleration and gigaherz speed and gigabytes of RAM. A thousand fold increase in speed and a million fold increase in storage.

But since then, we haven't really seen much change. CPU speeds have been about the same, although more CPU cores have been added, it hasn't been that many (going from one core to 2-4 cores, rarely 8)

So in the 90s you had all this Wired type futurism where computers are going to become super smart and bla bla bla. Now there's a lot less of that. It isn't that the revolution didn't happen - it did happen, and now it's over, and now there isn't really anything left to do other then rev new form factors and UIs and whatnot.
posted by delmoi at 3:18 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


The question struck me as I watched one of the recent Star Wars movies. The movie was terrible, but I couldn’t help but feel impressed by the quality of the special effects. Recalling the clumsy special effects typical of fifties sci-fi films, I kept thinking how impressed a fifties audience would have been if they’d known what we could do by now—only to realize, “Actually, no. They wouldn’t be impressed at all, would they? They thought we’d be doing this kind of thing by now. Not just figuring out more sophisticated ways to simulate it.”

Ooof.
posted by brundlefly at 3:27 PM on June 8, 2012 [13 favorites]


There's so much in this FPP I don't want to derail it by solely addressing Delmoi, but maybe a quick comment right at the start will be less disruptive than quoting him later in the thread.

Our lives have changed tremendously in the last 20-30 years, it's just that most of the changing happened behind the scenes. Almost everything we use now is manufactured or harvested far away, and brought to us by gigantic transport networks that were only beginning to grow in the 1970s. The Internet and cell phones are changing the very definition of what society is, and how we interact with it. There are many other things that are always on the horizon - fusion power, artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and molecular therapies - and in those cases we may have been too optimistic to expect them in our lifetimes. But they will come eventually, maybe when we're older, or maybe in our children's lifetimes. Everything happens eventually.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:29 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


So in the 90s you had all this Wired type futurism where computers are going to become super smart and bla bla bla. Now there's a lot less of that. It isn't that the revolution didn't happen - it did happen, and now it's over, and now there isn't really anything left to do other then rev new form factors and UIs and whatnot.

I thought it was odd of him to lay the blame of it all on global capitalism, and that if we switched to some undescribed new political system:

About one conclusion we can feel especially confident: it will not happen within the framework of contemporary corporate capitalism—or any form of capitalism. To begin setting up domes on Mars, let alone to develop the means to figure out if there are alien civilizations to contact, we’re going to have to figure out a different economic system.

Nice use of the royal we, and it's attached to a giant assertion that we can be "confident" of. I doubt any form of government, can magically overcome the technological barriers that are between us and a moon colony. This man is blinded by his politics, neoliberal capitalism is the cause of all problems, even those that could more easily be explained by the goddamned laws of physics. I preferred The Great Stagnation, which likened the innovations of the 20th centurn as the equivalent to oil: a cheap, easily obtainable fuel in short supply. Most of the innovations came from the low hanging fruit of scientific breakthroughs, we are left with the harder stuff that has a much lower bang for the buck as far as effort goes.

Maybe another economic system would allocate more funds towards pure research, but I doubt that such allocations would significantly change the fact that the easy stuff is known.
posted by zabuni at 3:39 PM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, technological change comes from scientific advancement, and science advances when paradigms change. It's just that the current paradigms have proven to be pretty accurate (so far), so advancement has had to come almost totally from an enlargement of our capabilities. That has happened on a global level: standards of living have gone up for people almost everywhere. For it to happen to individuals we have to all get a lot wealthier first, and that doesn't look too likely for the immediate near future.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:41 PM on June 8, 2012


and brought to us by gigantic transport networks that were only beginning to grow in the 1970s

A great example of this is the rise of industrial-scale agriculture, which was really taking off in this timeframe. Once during undergrad I spent some time following up on the sources in Animal Liberation and came across an in-depth report in the New York Times from around 1972-3 on the face of the new agriculture. It was fascinating and utterly depressing, because, as you might forlornly expect, it spent some time interviewing thoughtful people who anticipated the very problems we all lament today, while industry promoters dismissed their claims with marketing spin about how wonderful the future would be (fresh strawberries in February! 500 acres worked by two people!)
posted by junco at 3:44 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, in the 1980s you went from an an 8 bit computer with a few k of memory to one with 3D acceleration and gigaherz speed and gigabytes of RAM.

Did you mean since the 1980's? Because in 1995 I bought a 90 MHz pentium with 1.2 GB of hard drive space (and less RAM than that).

It's only the last decade that computers have been slowing down, and that's mostly desktops - mobile computing has certainly made astounding strides in the last decade. My phone is as computationally powerful as my desktop was 10 years ago.

The internet and mobile phones (and mobile internet) have absolutely changed how we live our lives. The internet dates back further, but even in wealthy countries it's only been had a major impact on many people's lives in the last 15 years.
posted by aubilenon at 3:55 PM on June 8, 2012


I enjoyed the hell out of that Graeber article in the print magazine, and I wanted to refer to parts of it here over the past few weeks, but it was behind the paywall and I didn't feel comfortable copypasting the PDF and hosting it on my own somewhere.

So I'm glad The Baffler (go now; Subscribe!) has made it available online, so I can gripe about this part, which undergirds much of Graeber's argument, but is handled much too glibly:
Industrial capitalism has fostered an extremely rapid rate of scientific advance and technological innovation—one with no parallel in previous human history. Even capitalism’s greatest detractors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, celebrated its unleashing of the “productive forces.” Marx and Engels also believed that capitalism’s continual need to revolutionize the means of industrial production would be its undoing. Marx argued that, for certain technical reasons, value—and therefore profits—can be extracted only from human labor. Competition forces factory owners to mechanize production, to reduce labor costs, but while this is to the short-term advantage of the firm, mechanization’s effect is to drive down the general rate of profit.

For 150 years, economists have debated whether all this is true. But if it is true, then the decision by industrialists not to pour research funds into the invention of the robot factories that everyone was anticipating in the sixties, and instead to relocate their factories to labor-intensive, low-tech facilities in China or the Global South makes a great deal of sense.
Well that's a mighty big if, Mr Graeber.
posted by notyou at 4:02 PM on June 8, 2012


A mighty big if indeed. Even many Marxist economists don't really believe in the labour theory of value any more.
posted by atrazine at 4:05 PM on June 8, 2012


And Jiminy Christmas but that's a lot of meaty links.

This FPP is where I'll be killing the time between now and tomorrow night's faceoff*.


------------------
*Go Kings!
posted by notyou at 4:11 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


One can argue that the lifestyle changes that took place during the 19th and 20th centuries were more fundamental to the basic activities of daily life. You used to have to wash clothes by hand, then you got a motorized washing machine. You used to enjoy live entertainment like theater and variety shows, then you got a radio cabinet and later a television set.

The changes in basic daily activities are focused on the creation of new kinds of consumption. Our lives are not getting simpler anymore. Now you go to the pub, but you also report your location to Foursquare. You make a purchase, but then advertise it on Facebook or make a Youtube video about it.

The basic activities of daily life are growing over with secondary cruft. One could explain the allure of a personal automobile or another innovation to people. It was conceivable that people would want these things. Check out some World's Fair films from the first half of our good old 20th.

Our modern consumer innovations are often not things that seem to have intrinsic appeal. Instead of a flying car that makes roadways obsolete, we will get a car that tweets about grocery shopping trips and makes custom iPod playlists for the driver.
posted by Nomyte at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow, this is A Good Post. Lotta good reading in here.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:29 PM on June 8, 2012


The thesis of the first article seems to be that revolutionary technological change tends to come from oddball eccentrics, and that 21st century bureaucracy stifles oddball thinking. That seems plausible. One of many issues raised:

Academic publishers ensure that findings that are published are increasingly difficult to access, further enclosing the intellectual commons.

The importance of this is difficult to overstate. It deters curiosity. It really is shocking that the most engineers do not have access to 40 year old papers even in journals relevant to their own fields, let alone on any other subject that catches their curiosity.

I'm currently tinkering with a modified version of the Project Orion spacecraft propulsion system. I got into it just for the sheer weirdness factor of designing a nuclear bomb powered spacecraft, but I think I've happened across a surprisingly practical variation on the design. I wouldn't have had any hope of making progress on that without having unrestricted access to esoteric articles on plasma physics, for example. I have that access only because I'm working on a completely unrelated degree. It irks me to know that my hobby is dead as soon as I graduate.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:35 PM on June 8, 2012 [17 favorites]


@notyou That part stuck out at me too and completely believing it is naive. There is a nugget of truth to it, in that there are tasks which humans still add value such as engineering and programming. If a computer could design and program an iPhone, the profit margin would indeed drop, but we're nowhere near that singularity.

But iPhones are made in China not because having humans put parts together magically imbues them with "value" but because the costs of doing so are cheaper than the cost of creating robotic factories. But when it does become cheaper, it will happen. Capitalism is inherently a race to the bottom and labor costs (regardless of whether it's human or robot) is just another part of the formula. High profits come from exclusivity, convenience, or irrational desirability (such as fashion or paying higher prices to support local artisans), not human value.

His complaint that the common cold and cancer hadn't been cured yet also struck me as naive. There has been a lot of money poured into antiviral and anticancer research but it's incredibly hard compared to drugs that change brain chemistry for many reasons. Killing something that constantly and easily mutates and resembles or is part of normal cells is non-trivial. We're still having big trouble killing bacteria, which is a way simpler problem.
posted by Candleman at 4:43 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow - that Paul Ford "10 Timeframes" speech was AMAZING.

Thank you for this, and especially for that.
posted by kristi at 5:13 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Foxconn To Employ A Million Robots By 2014 - what happens when we put a few billion Chinese out of work?
posted by sammyo at 5:16 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing. This will keep me occupied for quite a while. My experiences in academic led me to particularly enjoy this part:

As marketing overwhelms university life, it generates documents about fostering imagination and creativity that might just as well have been designed to strangle imagination and creativity in the cradle. No major new works of social theory have emerged in the United States in the last thirty years. We have been reduced to the equivalent of medieval scholastics, writing endless annotations of French theory from the seventies, despite the guilty awareness that if new incarnations of Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, or Pierre Bourdieu were to appear in the academy today, we would deny them tenure.

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers.


It hits the nail rather firmly on the head.
posted by knapah at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


Exactly, knapah. In fact, I forwarded this essay to one of my friends in academia. I figured she'd appreciate it.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 5:29 PM on June 8, 2012


But iPhones are made in China not because having humans put parts together magically imbues them with "value" but because the costs of doing so are cheaper than the cost of creating robotic factories. But when it does become cheaper, it will happen.

I wouldn't be so sure. You need only look at history to understand that, empirically, no, the trend has not always been towards increasing efficiency. Why was slavery the most popular economic model for so long? Why did civilization after civilization employ millions of slaves instead of taking a step back and investing in automation? Marx's theory -- that capitalists understand the extraordinary dangers of automation and shy away from it, that they are, in fact, only forced to invest in automation when labor becomes too unbearably expensive -- may not be the whole truth but it does indeed explain why capitalists, historically, has really just been the unending search for cheap labor. And in the "failure mode" you can be sure that when capitalists can no longer find cheap labor, they will make it -- because, again, anything to avoid automation.

But I feel Graeber has missed something very important here and it's disappointing that he especially would do so. The idea of the lone, oddball inventor is a myth. Innovation, contrary to popular belief, doesn't come from individuals locked away in garages or basements. Sure a genius might produce the occasional breakthrough but you can rest assured that (1) there were likely plenty of people on similar tracks and (2) the genius is 'topping off' what has been a long journey including plenty of others. Real innovation is what happens when you bring together a lot of diverse people and you squeeze them into a very small space. And if this is so then the reason why we might be seeing a "innovation crisis" in the West is simply because we don't do this anymore, anywhere (except perhaps on the internet) and that indeed the West is becoming more stratified, more gated, less diverse, and of course, much more unequal.

And frankly he just doesn't understand technology but this is okay because the vast majority of people don't. But the rise of "technologies of simulation" is not in any way a failure. Anyway you slice it, simulation is the goal of the technological paradigm. I suspect any human society, from the most hardcore libertarian to an extreme communistic one, could not at all resist this urge to simulate the world, to bring order to it, to render everything into a form in which it can be programmed and harmonious, to make everything "weightless." This technological dream simply cannot be resisted and indeed it might even be a fundamental aspect of being human.
posted by nixerman at 5:32 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


Instead of flying cars, we got cell phones. It's hard to overstate just how big cell phones are. They have completely changed life, in both good and bad ways, but the good ways were simply unimaginable back in the day. They're real life Star Trek communicators, except it never really occurred to the Star Trek TOS guys that a device like that could give you an instant hotline to anyone else in the world.

Mechanical trouble (much less likely with modern cars, but still happens) on a long trip? Used to be a nightmare. Now it's only a nightmare in the desert southwest or far off-road. Sudden change of plans from management? Now you don't find out after driving 3 hours. I remember when pagers were then new hotness and the routine was to stop at every interstate rest stop with a roll of quarters in hand to handle incoming messages. All history.

And the thing after that is the internet. Yes, I'd say after cell phones, but still very important. I remember in the 1990's when I was using Usenet through the text-only freenet, and someone on misc.consumers.frugal-living asked if there was a way to make her unneeded 220V kitchen air conditioner outlet into a normal 110V appliance outlet. So I left a message explaining how to do that. And then a message appeared asking what kind of crazy electricity we have in the US. So I left a message explaining how it works, and asking where it was so different. Turned out the guy was in Australia, and from here in New Orleans I had a brief conversation -- which was also recorded for observation by anyone else -- in the space of a few minutes. For free. I had long since given up my ham radio license but in that moment remembered the old wonder of far communication. The world where international communities like Metafilter are possible.

The problem with the flying cars and all is that energy sources didn't scale the way they were expected to. But information processing scaled in ways (and in a direction not toward AI) that nobody expected. The result might not be The Jetsons, but it's something nobody in the 1950's, when John Von Neumann harrumphed that there would never be a need for more than ten computers in the world, could possibly even imagine.
posted by localroger at 5:33 PM on June 8, 2012 [21 favorites]


PS. This is a great post kliuless. Muchos gracias.
posted by nixerman at 5:35 PM on June 8, 2012


The idea of the lone, oddball inventor is a myth. Innovation, contrary to popular belief, doesn't come from individuals locked away in garages or basements.

nixerman, I think he recognises that point. He talks about how so much innovation came from government funded megaprojects that encouraged creative thinking and how 'we' have now lost that. He also explicitly says:

As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.
posted by knapah at 5:36 PM on June 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


None of this was ever promised. Not even close.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


previously: The greater the need to improvise the more democratic the cooperation [within companies] tends to become. Inventors have always understood this, start-up capitalists frequently figure it out, and computer engineers have recently rediscovered the principle … Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages.
posted by Bwithh at 5:59 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think the biggest problem is capitalism. It's religion. The sheer drag on social and technological progress caused by the completely retrograde effects (which appear to be re-expanding with increasing inequality) of a belief in an alternative, unknowable, human-centered metaphysical universe is enormous and growing. Denial (of climate change, genetics, evolution, extinction), the growth of which is ironically enabled by digital technology, is a cement block tied to the ankle of humanity. It's not just the opiate of the masses. It's the cyanide of humanity.
posted by spitbull at 6:01 PM on June 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


I wouldn't be so sure. You need only look at history to understand that, empirically, no, the trend has not always been towards increasing efficiency. Why was slavery the most popular economic model for so long? Why did civilization after civilization employ millions of slaves instead of taking a step back and investing in automation? Marx's theory -- that capitalists understand the extraordinary dangers of automation and shy away from it, that they are, in fact, only forced to invest in automation when labor becomes too unbearably expensive -- may not be the whole truth but it does indeed explain why capitalists, historically, has really just been the unending search for cheap labor. And in the "failure mode" you can be sure that when capitalists can no longer find cheap labor, they will make it -- because, again, anything to avoid automation.

I think there's a simpler explanation than capitalists deliberately retarding efficiency. It's that you need energy to do work, and it wasn't until we invented the steam engine and tapped into fossil fuels that we hit upon a source of nearly unlimited energy which, even if used extremely inefficiently, existed in such abundance that it could effectively begin to act as a substitute for human labor. What kind of "automation" can you have without mechanical energy? All life is a competition is absorb energy --- the whole of nature is one vast and desperate and greedy fight against the second law of thermodynamics. They used human and animal muscle because in most times and for most tasks it was the cheapest power source.

That's where the essay really falls down, for me. He sort of handwaves away globalization and tries to talk about only the West, but I don't think you can do that, really.
posted by Diablevert at 6:06 PM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


The sheer drag on social and technological progress caused by the completely retrograde effects (which appear to be re-expanding with increasing inequality) of a belief in an alternative, unknowable, human-centered metaphysical universe is enormous and growing.

I think that's a rather blinkered and narrow perspective. The very term "atheism" dates to the 18th century, agnosticism to the 19th. The Bible's 2,000 years old, the Iliad's 3,000, give or take. Belief is god is pretty much at an all time low at the current moment, world-history wise. It seems foolish to me to take the hangs ups of one political/cultural grouping in one country on a handful of issues as what's holding the other 5.8 billion of us back. I think the world's scientists have more fight in 'em than Flava Flav.
posted by Diablevert at 6:19 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our lives have changed tremendously in the last 20-30 years, it's just that most of the changing happened behind the scenes. Almost everything we use now is manufactured or harvested far away, and brought to us by gigantic transport networks that were only beginning to grow in the 1970s.
Which... doesn't have anything to do with everyday life, which people actually see. There were big changes 'behind the scenes' in the 1800s, perhaps even greater then in the 20th century when you consider steam power and the telegraph, etc. The photograph was probably the greatest 'consumer' advancement in the 19th century.
The Internet and cell phones are changing the very definition of what society is, and how we interact with it.
Right which is why I said "On the other hand, other then computers daily life hasn't changed much since the 1960s.".

I did talk about the advancements in computers in the 90s. We had cell phones and the internet in the 90s, although I actually got my first cell phone in 2000, now that I think about it. Also now that I think about it, I actually got one of those PDAs in the late 90s. Other then internet access (and a camera) they could basically do everything a modern smartphone could do. But, obviously, without the internet they were pretty useless.

Of course, from a technological perspective, the lack of internet access had more to do with the way the cellular networks kept tight control over their networks then anything having to do with technology. In most of the rest of the world, smart phones were a slow evolution, where there was a gradual advance in technology, whereas here in the US they were restricted so that carriers could maximize profits. The Nokia 9000 is an example of a smartphone available in the 1990s. Yes, they were ugly and probably hard to use, but they did exist.
Did you mean since the 1980's? Because in 1995 I bought a 90 MHz pentium with 1.2 GB of hard drive space (and less RAM than that).
Er, yeah I meant 80s and 90s combined.
About one conclusion we can feel especially confident: it will not happen within the framework of contemporary corporate capitalism—or any form of capitalism. To begin setting up domes on Mars, let alone to develop the means to figure out if there are alien civilizations to contact, we’re going to have to figure out a different economic system.
Nice use of the royal we, and it's attached to a giant assertion that we can be "confident" of. I doubt any form of government, can magically overcome the technological barriers that are between us and a moon colony. This man is blinded by his politics, neoliberal capitalism is the cause of all problems
I'm surprised he didn't talk about the soviet space program. We got to the moon first, but they were first on everything else and really they had a much more advanced manned space program then us. We had one space station (Skylab) and they had several, and the international space station started out using Russian modules that were originally going to be Mir-2.
Our modern consumer innovations are often not things that seem to have intrinsic appeal. Instead of a flying car that makes roadways obsolete, we will get a car that tweets about grocery shopping trips and makes custom iPod playlists for the driver.
Okay to be fair there is one technological advance on the near horizon that is actually pretty awesome. Google's self driving car, which is on the streets but not quite available for purchase yet. Plus, it will allow people more time to check up on their twitter and foursquare. Perhaps even some pages with Google adsense!

And actually you can see why google would be interested in this, Google makes money off people's leisure time, so what could be better for them then literally creating more leisure time? I'm sure they'll make money on the cars themselves as well.
Foxconn To Employ A Million Robots By 2014 - what happens when we put a few billion Chinese out of work?
Well, they live in a communist country, so what do they have to worry about? The government imposes a robot tax, and uses distributes it to the people. Of course, now that I think about it, Foxconn is actually a Taiwanese company. So maybe they'll have to finally invade Taiwan for this to work. Hmm...
posted by delmoi at 6:23 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Note also that the tools of automation are themselves products of labor. The relation between the "dead labor" of automation and the "living labor" of the workers running automated factories is fairly complex -- one thing Marx talks about quite a bit is how factory machines tend to lose value over time, as new and more efficient machines are developed -- which means that if you're running a factory, you have a strong incentive to have laborers keep it running 24/7 so that you can get the most value out of the dead labor of the machine before the machine becomes comparatively useless. This is how "labor-saving" tools end up causing actual laborers to work extremely long and weird shifts.

Marx aside, it seems fairly intuitive to me that people holding capital will tend to take a risk on expensive machines only if labor is expensive; if labor is cheap enough that the cost-per-unit for non-automated work is lower, then of course it makes sense to hire an army of cheap laborers rather than a few workers and an expensive machine.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:27 PM on June 8, 2012


Epic post
posted by moorooka at 6:49 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised he didn't talk about the soviet space program. We got to the moon first, but they were first on everything else and really they had a much more advanced manned space program then us. We had one space station (Skylab) and they had several, and the international space station started out using Russian modules that were originally going to be Mir-2.

He does:
These moves were reactions to initiatives from the Soviet Union. But this part of the history is difficult for Americans to remember, because at the end of the Cold War, the popular image of the Soviet Union switched from terrifyingly bold rival to pathetic basket case—the exemplar of a society that could not work. Back in the fifties, in fact, many United States planners suspected the Soviet system worked better. Certainly, they recalled the fact that in the thirties, while the United States had been mired in depression, the Soviet Union had maintained almost unprecedented economic growth rates of 10 percent to 12 percent a year—an achievement quickly followed by the production of tank armies that defeated Nazi Germany, then by the launching of Sputnik in 1957, then by the first manned spacecraft, the Vostok, in 1961.

It’s often said the Apollo moon landing was the greatest historical achievement of Soviet communism. Surely, the United States would never have contemplated such a feat had it not been for the cosmic ambitions of the Soviet Politburo. We are used to thinking of the Politburo as a group of unimaginative gray bureaucrats, but they were bureaucrats who dared to dream astounding dreams. The dream of world revolution was only the first. It’s also true that most of them—changing the course of mighty rivers, this sort of thing—either turned out to be ecologically and socially disastrous, or, like Joseph Stalin’s one-hundred-story Palace of the Soviets or a twenty-story statue of Vladimir Lenin, never got off the ground.

After the initial successes of the Soviet space program, few of these schemes were realized, but the leadership never ceased coming up with new ones. Even in the eighties, when the United States was attempting its own last, grandiose scheme, Star Wars, the Soviets were planning to transform the world through creative uses of technology. Few outside of Russia remember most of these projects, but great resources were devoted to them. It’s also worth noting that unlike the Star Wars project, which was designed to sink the Soviet Union, most were not military in nature: as, for instance, the attempt to solve the world hunger problem by harvesting lakes and oceans with an edible bacteria called spirulina, or to solve the world energy problem by launching hundreds of gigantic solar-power platforms into orbit and beaming the electricity back to earth.

The American victory in the space race meant that, after 1968, U.S. planners no longer took the competition seriously. As a result, the mythology of the final frontier was maintained, even as the direction of research and development shifted away from anything that might lead to the creation of Mars bases and robot factories.
It's the gist of the argument; devoid of ideological competition, capitalism lost its progressive imagination and now focuses its energies on exploiting markets and defending margins, instead of building robot factories on the moon.
posted by notyou at 6:49 PM on June 8, 2012 [7 favorites]


On the other hand, other then computers daily life hasn't changed much since the 1960s.

That's kind of like saying that other than the atomic bomb, Hiroshima was a lovely place in August 1945.

We are still driving ordinary, non-flying cars
That are far safer, more efficient, faster and more comfortable than in the 1960s.

we still mostly have boring 2D TV
In the 1960s, there were three networks. Families owned one TV. Most shows were in black and white for most of the decade. Ever watch a sportscast from back then? They would have killed their mothers for the graphics that get slapped on high school football telecasts in Texas these days. The yellow first-down line? I've been watching football since the Bengals were good, and I watched an old college game the other day and could barely follow it without that line. I managed to get used to not seeing the down, yardage, clock and score in the top corner all the time, but I looked for the yellow line on every play. For three hours.
Yes, that's all because of computers, but everything's because of someone else.

We still use the same electromechanical devices that people used 50 years ago: vacuums, washing machines, air conditioners, lightbulbs and so on, except now they're made out of cheaper materials.
We still need dust and crumbs picked up off the floor, clothes cleaned, inside air cooled, and rooms lit, yes. We always will. You're ignoring a lot of fairly major improvements to these things -- hell, CFLs alone are fantastically different from the incandescents and fluorescents of the '60s; LEDs in the 1960s were small and red and wouldn't have lit a room if you had a thousand of them.
posted by Etrigan at 6:55 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Okay to be fair there is one technological advance on the near horizon that is actually pretty awesome. Google's self driving car, which is on the streets but not quite available for purchase yet. Plus, it will allow people more time to check up on their twitter and foursquare. Perhaps even some pages with Google adsense!

It makes sense, cars are the most perfect expression of a technology that creates alienation. Why not turn these hermetically sealed spaces into an opportunity for even more consumption and isolation? Just you, your iPad, and your own personal isolation box - now with even less attention needing to be paid to the community that you unfortunately have to move through as you fill in those little empty boxes. How else are these 'social' media companies going to continue to generate all that important data? How are advertisers capitalize on it to sell you things unless they have even more of your undivided attention?

The future sucks.
posted by bradbane at 7:09 PM on June 8, 2012 [16 favorites]


During a recent visit to the Computer Lab at an IV league school, it could be seen that each of the 30 or so wide screen work terminals had a default screen depicting the University Emblem.

It was basically a circular medallion, and not one of the screens had the aspect ratio set such that the circle would be circular.

Play back of a Youtube video is likewise free-form and the sound is up to a second out if sysnc. Not really a pressing problem, it seems, people can get the jist of everything because they know what to expect to begin with. Fidelity is a quaint notion, Anyone grousing about the details is burdened to disruptively fix and fuss while annoying most viewers who see no problems.

Instead of descriptive audiovisual depictions, everyone is satisfied with crumpled xeroxed characterizations shooting out like popcorn.

There is an unmet burden by the consumers of the future, to pay closer attention, and actually car what they are looking at.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:06 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


IV league school
Oh my goodness, I think I've spotted a new eggcorn in the wild.
posted by Daily Alice at 8:29 PM on June 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


It seems foolish to me to take the hangs ups of one political/cultural grouping in one country

Says you. Fundamentalist theism is on the rise around the world. I wasn't referring only to the US, or even primarily to the US. Maybe it's a last gasp of superstition digging in, but it is having profoundly serious influences on policy and politics in many countries.
posted by spitbull at 8:42 PM on June 8, 2012


Maybe it's a last gasp of superstition digging in, but it is having profoundly serious influences on policy and politics in many countries.

To give an example, organized religion is closely affiliated with the current Russian state and exerts significant influence on aspects of social policy, such as reproductive health and the rights of sexual minorities. Ironic, given the focus on the USSR in this discussion.
posted by Nomyte at 8:53 PM on June 8, 2012


You want to know where the flying cars are? They are in never never land. You will never see flying cars. There are enough morons out there on the roads now playing bumper cars every day. We don't need them raining fiery debris over populated areas 100 times a day.

But but but computers will control them you say! Oh yeah, the same one I have to reboot every few weeks? Or the one I have to reboot every other day?
posted by sanka at 8:56 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Please do not turn yet another thread into an anti-religion debate. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 9:14 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


bradbane: "Okay to be fair there is one technological advance on the near horizon that is actually pretty awesome. Google's self driving car, which is on the streets but not quite available for purchase yet. Plus, it will allow people more time to check up on their twitter and foursquare. Perhaps even some pages with Google adsense!

It makes sense, cars are the most perfect expression of a technology that creates alienation. Why not turn these hermetically sealed spaces into an opportunity for even more consumption and isolation? Just you, your iPad, and your own personal isolation box - now with even less attention needing to be paid to the community that you unfortunately have to move through as you fill in those little empty boxes. How else are these 'social' media companies going to continue to generate all that important data? How are advertisers capitalize on it to sell you things unless they have even more of your undivided attention?

The future sucks.
"

I dunno, as someone with severe anxiety that can't get behind the wheel for any length of time and thus is rather limited in many different opportunities because of it, a self-driving car would open up more of the world for me.
posted by ShawnStruck at 9:23 PM on June 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


We already have cars we don't have to drive. They're called buses and taxis.
posted by Nomyte at 9:39 PM on June 8, 2012 [9 favorites]


It seems weird to me that Graeber keeps uding "we" so much. We expected. We thought. We were told.... Limits to Growth was written in 1972, and even the update is 7 years old already. There were (and are) a hell of a lot of people that realized early on that a cartoon is not the same thing as reality. One just has too look for them at places other than Star Trek conventions.
To the list of links I would like to add Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind by Craig Dilworth, where he makes a pretty compelling argument that the way we think technology develops may in reality be quite wrong.

Back to the article..
posted by c13 at 10:08 PM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to add essentially the same comment as localroger -- we have our tricorders, but they're called smartphones.

Every citizen that can afford a smartphone essentially has access to a database of the sum of human knowledge from their shirt pocket, anywhere, anytime. Maps, navigation, recipes, assembly instructions, software manuals, Wikipedia, fora like AskMe, scientific journals, government, Craigslist, etc. the list is endless. I grew up without these things, and it surely is as important of a paradigm shift as flying cars or laundry robots would have been.

Seriously, flying cars would have been a disaster. Compound the slaughter of our 2D roadways by another dimension? We'd have idiots on cellphones raining from the skies. I vastly prefer the information explosion.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:24 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meh. The flying cars are a hook and a metaphor.

The point is not "where are the flying cars?"

Graeber could give a shit about flying cars.

The point is what has happened to the future? Not the failure of this present to live up to that past's future. Our present future, the future we imagine today.

What happened to dreaming of the end of poverty? The end of inequality? The end of scarcity?

Those hopes --those promises -- stood alongside the hoped for and promised technological wonders. The disappearance of flying cars is the disappearance of abundance for all.

That future sucks.
posted by notyou at 11:06 PM on June 8, 2012 [15 favorites]


I dunno, as someone with severe anxiety that can't get behind the wheel for any length of time and thus is rather limited in many different opportunities because of it, a self-driving car would open up more of the world for me.

I don't like cars so I take the train. Transit infrastructure, trains in particular, are a perfect example of the kind of world-of-tomorrow we could be imagining and building right now - no cures for cancer or breakthroughs in hovercar technology needed.

Aren't our environmental and climate problems grave enough to dream big at something, anything? Or is the march toward austerity and privatization so inevitable that we no longer dream of anything except not getting sucked into the cracks of the current crisis?
posted by bradbane at 11:27 PM on June 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


In the eighties we stopped dreaming of the world of tomorrow in our fiction. Sure there was still fantastic space travel being written, but the 80's was the rise of the cyberpunk idea. Yes, a great deal of it is silly and yes, there is material from earlier that really is the forerunner before Neuromancer, but the 80s will always be a cyberpunk decade to me.

You may have been sold a bill of goods that included space travel, the end of hunger, the end of poverty and a utopia. I was sold a bill of goods that included corporations taking over the planet, having their own private armies, a world where the company you worked for mattered more than the country you lived in, in which the cities had decayed to the point where armed guards were necessary for the wealthiest. A world in which computers were used by the wealthiest to control the world.

I was also sold a bill of goods about how we would be supplementing our bodies with incredible artificial replacements (I still want my cyber-arm with the built in computer damnit), but the future I was taught is not this utopian vision that Graeber goes on about.

Maybe I was too plugged into what was being published in scifi at the time and the awareness didn't trickle into public consciousness until later, but I would argue that the Star Trek ideals of the 60s and 70s came from the rocket fantasists of the 30s-50s.

We underwent a paradigm shift. And this one stuck. We may not have corporate private armies roaming the streets of the United States, shooting at each other, Japan may not have taken over the world, but we somehow ended up in a distopia, one that we kind of predicted.

The future sucks. But we've known that for over 30 years now.
posted by Hactar at 12:43 AM on June 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I dunno, as someone with severe anxiety that can't get behind the wheel for any length of time and thus is rather limited in many different opportunities because of it, a self-driving car would open up more of the world for me.
----------------------------

I don't like cars so I take the train. Transit infrastructure, trains in particular, are a perfect example of the kind of world-of-tomorrow we could be imagining and building right now - no cures for cancer or breakthroughs in hovercar technology needed.
----------------------------

I'd love to have better transit where I live and own a self-driving car. Transit and foot would be my primary means of getting around in any case. A self-driving car could take me to the countryside, enable me to buy in bulk, chauffeur elderly friends/relatives around, pursue jobs that require car ownership, etc.

... assuming the self-driving cars are much, much safer and produce less pollution than the manned cars of today. I HATE the cars of today.
posted by fatehunter at 12:55 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


@nixerman You need only look at history to understand that, empirically, no, the trend has not always been towards increasing efficiency. Why was slavery the most popular economic model for so long? Why did civilization after civilization employ millions of slaves instead of taking a step back and investing in automation? Marx's theory -- that capitalists understand the extraordinary dangers of automation and shy away from it, that they are, in fact, only forced to invest in automation when labor becomes too unbearably expensive

Can you give any actual examples of the bourgeoisie holding back automation? I'm looking at history and don't see it.

It's easy to look back from our post-post-industrial age where a measurable portion of elementary schoolchildren could design a simple but powerful steam engine and say that people should have come up with it sooner. Lack of basic engineering and manufacturing capability is what held back the steam engine, not a cabal of capitalists. The Luddites were workers, not the owners of factories. And as Diablevert noted, the engine and learning how to efficiently use carbon fuels was a really big deal and without it there really was little possibility for world-changing automation.

It's not a dichotomy to either exploit workers or use automation. The practical cotton gin was gleefully exploited by the bourgeoisie but caused a growth in slavery because it needed raw materials that needed hand labor to feed them. Up until (possibly) recently, machinery has still needed human handlers to use or feed them, so there's never been a great clash between technology and employment, just the need to adapt.

The wealth of the industrial age was created by driving workers hard to use the expanding capabilities of technology. Automation is what made it possible to increase yields from farming from barely above subsistence level to something capable of supporting a workforce that could then be pressed into running the machines of industrialization.

The only thing capitalists really fear from automation is completely destroying the market of people who can afford their products. You get disruptions from those that benefit from the status quo and competing technologies, but overall, history shows that capitalists are delighted to cut down on their labor costs. I have members of my family that own farms or small factories that work hard to reduce labor costs as it either provides them with a greater profit margin or at least keep pace with the competition.

you can be sure that when capitalists can no longer find cheap labor, they will make it -- because, again, anything to avoid automation.

What motivation do you think they have to do this? Again, short of something that collapses our entire economic system by putting their customer base out of work, capitalists don't care. If they can create cheap labor, it will beat expensive automation, not because they're cartoonish villains, but because that's how price/value works.
posted by Candleman at 1:20 AM on June 9, 2012


The only thing capitalists really fear from automation is completely destroying the market of people who can afford their products.

No, of course this is not true. Automation is very much an existential threat to the capitalist. The capitalist profits are essentially a function of inequality, he makes money because he enjoys a either a Comparative advantage (or perhaps Competitive advantage) and there's a government set up to ensure the orderly transfer of wealth (ie markets) from those without advantage to those with advantage. Automation destroys all such advantages. The result is margin erosion and eventually profit goes to zero as everybody and anybody can now deliver the good at the push of a button. Again, this is not controversial. We know this happens: markets are destroyed when the supply-side cost goes to zero and this is a good thing because such firms in a highly automated markets are no longer actually taking any risk. Do you actually think capitalism would survive in a Star-Trek society where absolutely everything is available with a voice command to a replicator? Because of this, yes, capitalists have a powerful incentive to deliberately disinvest and avoid widespread automation because they understand that if it becomes too easy to do what they do then everybody will be able to do it and their advantage and profits will be lost. And I would suggest that this is very much borne out by the historical record where technological breakthroughs do not often come from established institutions. Indeed more often than not you see established institutions fighting new technologies tooth and nail to protect their advantage.

What motivation do you think they have to do this?

Uh, look around. Seriously. What is the drug war, the rise of the prison-industrial complex, the endless hacking away of the safety net, the free trade agreements, ie the entire neoliberal project anything else but a desperate effort to ensure the supply of cheap labor in a world of rapidly increasing productivity?

It's that you need energy to do work, and it wasn't until we invented the steam engine and tapped into fossil fuels that we hit upon a source of nearly unlimited energy which, even if used extremely inefficiently

This is a profoundly circular argument. What if the very reason it took humanity so long to invent the steam engine was because powers of old could rely on armies of slaves? What if we didn't see the steam engine until slavery and serfdom had been eliminated from Europe precisely because it forced capitalist further along the innovation curve as labor became more expensive and they actually had to pay people to work in factories instead of inheriting serf/slaves?
posted by nixerman at 1:56 AM on June 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree that academia has become the domain of professional self-marketers, albeit clever and poorly paid ones. Academia does however handle impractical developments better precisely because academics are poorly paid.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:23 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm intrigued by this notion that our economic depression results from the preferences of the investor class and aging baby boomer middle class.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:41 AM on June 9, 2012


IV league school
Oh my goodness, I think I've spotted a new eggcorn in the wild.
posted by Daily Alice


Nope, you've spotted the etymological origin. Ivy League now refers to one of eight, or however many more tag along for the ride. It originally was a group of four, hence the IV. The term was never really that clearly understood as to how many it was numerating, and I still prefer the numerical root.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:51 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mega post.
posted by colie at 4:23 AM on June 9, 2012


What happened to dreaming of the end of poverty? The end of inequality? The end of scarcity?

Technology hasn't fixed the fact that people can be selfish, greedy bastards.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:33 AM on June 9, 2012


Ivy League now refers to one of eight, or however many more tag along for the ride. It originally was a group of four, hence the IV.

Not the case.
posted by Etrigan at 4:36 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can only read that one Baffler link at the moment lest I get intoxicated and suffer comprehension blight but I'd like to tie this in somehow with the Gen X/Y "fear of lameness" thing described in that "rally to restore vanity" article in eXiled, because it really does seem somehow connected in a direct way.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:11 AM on June 9, 2012


Well done.

Robert Paterson is on Prince Edward Island, which is struggling with induced scarcities. He has some wisdom about overcoming global squidonomics:

: "You now have a community that has supported you. Look after them. Cultivate them. Honor them."

(Buzzphrase "resilient communities".)

Or, as was said quite previously:

I have begun to plant thee, and will labour
To make thee full of growing.

posted by dragonsi55 at 5:13 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


notyou: What happened to dreaming of the end of poverty? The end of inequality? The end of scarcity?

This.

From a North American perspective (and maybe Eurozone too), it seems that for the first time we are poised to leave a worse world to our descendents than what we inherited. I don't mean just in terms of looming mega-disaster (nuclear war, worsening environment, world famine) which are below the horizon for most people, but in terms of a worse life and prospects for the average person.

I see this manifested in: stagnant or decreasing wages, fewer semiskilled jobs that will support a family, fewer apprenticeships (despite cries of future labour shortages in the trades), higher cost of post-secondary education. The number of hours in a work week has gone up for most, not down, especially when you have to work two crap jobs now to make ends meet. For the first time, the retirement age is going UP.

For me the metaphorical flying car was an improvement in the average life - shorter work week, more vacation time, early retirement, free or cheap lifelong education. We have made great strides in some areas - health, safety and efficiency for example - but real opportunity for an improved quality of life seems less.

The one shining exception to the above pessimism, for me anyway, is the Internet. Beyond the many efficiencies and opportunities it brought, it's been a big enabler of new global communities, and some very promising social and economic concepts like open-source, where the concept of value is broader than immediate economic gain, and the benefits of pursuing a common goal are clear. But it's possible they can smother this too.

In the meantime, austerity is the new religion, while corporations sit on epic levels of cash, much of it made by selling out their domestic market in one way or another.
posted by Artful Codger at 5:32 AM on June 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


The point is what has happened to the future? Not the failure of this present to live up to that past's future. Our present future, the future we imagine today.

What happened to dreaming of the end of poverty? The end of inequality? The end of scarcity?


There isn't a "we" anymore, at least not in this new global capitalist system. Other people? Fuck them. I still dream of all this stuff, but I am a disposable nobody.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it is too late for the end of poverty and inequality, at least until there is a radical do-over. Eat the rich, loot their easily portable stuff, burn the rest to the ground.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:12 AM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Academic publishers ensure that findings that are published are increasingly difficult to access, further enclosing the intellectual commons.

The importance of this is difficult to overstate. It deters curiosity. It really is shocking that the most engineers do not have access to 40 year old papers even in journals relevant to their own fields, let alone on any other subject that catches their curiosity.


Academic publishers (well, private, for-profit ones) are certainly bastards and the academy needs to accelerate its move into open-access fora, but the "increasingly difficult" is a little hard to understand. How, exactly, was it any easier for someone forty, sixty, eighty or more years ago to access this "intellectual commons" than it is now? If you were a lone-wolf scientific genius in 1900 or 1950 and you wanted to keep up with academic developments in your field you either had to spend a very large amount of money subscribing to all the paper-and-ink journals in your field or you had to live near enough to a good library to be able to use their subscriptions. And if you wanted "40 year old" papers, the good library was your only resource.

Access to scholarly work is immeasurably more widespread today than it was even twenty years ago (think how often a Metafilter discussion of a "breaking news" scientific development ends up including links to and discussion of the actual paper; that's an example of a kind of lay access which simply has no parallel in the past). That's not a reason for complacency, by any means, but to suggest that a reduction in access to scholarly publications could account for a slow down in innovation is simply not tenable.
posted by yoink at 6:12 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


i'm trying to figure out how people can believe that automation is not being adopted by capitalists - in the last 10 of my current employment, i've seen 30 jobs cut by automation - i live 20 miles from cereal factories that now have a handful of people working for every 100 or so that used to - i shop at supermarkets where 6 self-checkout lanes are monitored by one employee, rather than have 6 cashiers - i bank through atms and direct deposit rather than bank tellers - more of the billboards i see around town are electronic rather than paper-based, meaning that you don't have to send a crew out to change them

that in some cases, owners have decided to rely on cheap labor overseas rather than automate at home, doesn't change the general trend - and one might argue in quite a few cases that overseas factories have cheaper labor because they are more fully automated

want data? "In 2011, about 165,000 industrial robots were sold worldwide, by far the highest level ever recorded, 37% more than 2010"

automation is happening
posted by pyramid termite at 6:15 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It originally was a group of four, hence the IV.

Which is why students who attend these colleges are affectionately known as "drips."
posted by yoink at 6:19 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


neoliberal capitalism is the cause of all problems, even those that could more easily be explained by the goddamned laws of physics.

Basically, this.

Also: "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed." The last fifty years had a lot of distributive moments, when advances enjoyed by the small Western middle class became available to the previously excluded global underclass.

Still, there must be some cost to the political economy that devotes so much brainpower to the military. There isn't an infinite supply of engineers and mathematicians, so every STEM major that works on an absurd jet fighter or cracking our friends' the enemy's encryption is one less person working on making the world a better place.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:39 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


It originally was a group of four, hence the IV.
...Not the case.
posted by Etrigan


"A common folk etymology attributes the name to the Roman numerals for four (IV), asserting that there was such a sports league originally with four members."

In sympathy with the brave Occupiers, my allegiance remains with the common folk. Etrigan has clearly thrown in with the 1%ers, who control the dictionaries.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:26 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


In sympathy with the brave Occupiers, my allegiance remains with the common folk.

"We're here! We're wrong! Get used to it!"

"What do we want? Uncritical acceptance of implausible hypotheses! When do we want it? Now!"

"2-4-6-8 don't you try to educate!"
posted by yoink at 7:35 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


@me: Can you give any actual examples of the bourgeoisie holding back automation? I'm looking at history and don't see it.

@niverman:

[quoted is the verbatim list of examples provided]

I accept your concession.

What if the very reason it took humanity so long to invent the steam engine was because powers of old could rely on armies of slaves?

Again, from our modern perspective it's easy to look back at the yokels. Remember, it was in 1865 that a man was sent to the insane asylum for pointing out that going from cutting up corpses to putting your hand in a birthing woman was a really bad idea.

Do you actually think capitalism would survive in a Star-Trek society where absolutely everything is available with a voice command to a replicator?

Ah, but by the Harry Potter second precept of market forces, the Muggles could turn the replicators into trout at any moment, requiring society to have failsafe traditional means of production. You also have to account of the actions of Cthulhu workshiping thrill kill kultists who behave in truly irrational manners. Wow. Debating by arguing from magical fiction is fun.
posted by Candleman at 8:10 AM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a robot in my basement that makes things for me. I have my computer simulate thousands of musical instruments, and then I have my robot make me the best one.

The future is here to be had. Simulation is not necessarily bad, if it has physical results.

My university has DNA sequencers, a synchrotron, an atomic force microscope. Artifacts not from the promised future that just appear anyway.
posted by pfh at 8:37 AM on June 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can you give any actual examples of the bourgeoisie holding back automation?

The bourgeoisie lack the conspiratorial power to actively hold back technology, but they certainly had a habit of railing against it, all the way through the 19th century. The Puritans hated carriages of all things, and commonly called them "infernal machines." The whole Romantic movement was basically bourgeois backlash against the perceived evils of technological advancement, understandable given the giant mess it made of the cities. The amazement and wonder associated with scientific advancement in the 20th century was a relatively new phenomenon which emerged in an increasingly secular culture. Before that, in Gothic literature, we had Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein, etc. I'd be happy to argue that a lot of people fled to North America to escape what was perceived as the potentially apocalyptic nature of "advancement" and its associated famines, hence our extremely religious and often backward-seeming cultural inclinations and the utopian cultishness of our early settlements.

Now the aristocracy, did they ever try to hold back technology. China and Japan are the most obvious examples, but plenty of other nations have attempted the same. Japan is the only country that I can think of that had any level of success at it.
posted by mek at 11:29 AM on June 9, 2012


It's a failure of vision, absolutely. Having an idea of what is worth fighting for isn't sufficient. But it is necessary, to rally people together and organize themselves. People gave up, after the 60s, and even today, most of what we're getting in the mainstream is this "resilient community" stuff, which to me seems tautological. Exactly how small is a community supposed to be? And isn't the nation-state itself supposed to be a resilient community?
posted by wuwei at 12:17 PM on June 9, 2012


The population has exploded so quickly that low cost labor is cheaper than robots, and it is still growing, creating a huge surplus of people. You know what's cheaper than low-cost labor? Disposable slaves. That's the endgame.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:17 PM on June 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, of course this is not true. Automation is very much an existential threat to the capitalist.

It may be a threat to capitalists as a class, but that does affect the behaviour of individual capitalists. If capitalist A can out automate capitalists B through D, then he will benefit. Of course, the other capitalists know this and so capitalists A through D will compete with each other to cut their costs. They will do this even if they realise that automation will destroy them all in the long run, which by the way they do not know because the people making those kinds of decisions come from operations, business school, and engineering backgrounds and they don't have PhDs in economics.
posted by atrazine at 1:55 PM on June 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey finally! Someone to tackle the missed promise of flying cars. You what would've been really slick, is if he compared it to some other great achievement, say if he preceded it with "We put a man on the moon, but". Or something like that, I dunno, I'm not the wordsmith here.
posted by spinn at 7:54 PM on June 9, 2012


Foxconn To Employ A Million Robots By 2014 - what happens when we put a few billion Chinese out of work?

What happens when those robots start demanding a living wage?
posted by krinklyfig at 9:35 PM on June 9, 2012


I enjoyed the parts about academia, and how it's become an endless self-promotion grind where the stakes are increasingly small making the fights increasingly mean.

Apart from the eccentric and brilliant being cordoned off into endless post-graduate education for poverty wages or living despondently in the basement of their parents, a lot of energy and talent is being directed to the greatest technology of simulation ever created: the modern video game. How many brilliant minds are satisfied with making Minecraft in Minecraft since the life beyond the screen offers very little to turn their talents towards (and, yeah, I realize that one can be both a talented scientist and a gamer, but I feel the point still stands)? Game logic offers a world where one is the center of attention, the rules are fixed, and total control is possible. The depressing reality of underemployment in a job you hate is easily drowned in power fantasy simulation. Cheap video games are probably one of the best things to happen to the conservative bourgie elite that Graeber describes.
posted by codacorolla at 4:47 AM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Can you give any actual examples of the bourgeoisie holding back automation?

sugar refining wasn't improved upon until after the civil war in the United States, and labor costs increased, well, dramatically. this changed many things, but also forced sugar companies to improve refining technologies in order to seek profit.
posted by eustatic at 5:42 AM on June 10, 2012


Did Republicans deliberately crash the US economy?
posted by jeffburdges at 5:53 AM on June 10, 2012


This is the funny part about now. People read Atlas Shrugged and think it is telling them about some dystopian future when it is actually the bible for a priesthood of regressive idiots leading us towards a hobbesian anti-social dark age.

There is a perverse part of me that wonders if maybe the right wing nutters are partly correct and the world is being manipulated by a cabal of super powerful socialists who are trying to bring about their dreams by giving capitalists every single thing they want. Then I realize it is really all just the work of the invisible hand job.
posted by srboisvert at 7:21 AM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What happens when those robots start demanding a living wage?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:35 AM on June 10 [+] [!]

Well, here's one. Doesn't look like much of a target for labor organizing to me.
posted by jfuller at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2012


I just read that Alphaville "Space Opera" link, and "willfully naive" is the kindest thing I can say about it. It links back to this, which describes credit scores as "a great metric that unifies the world".

I could overstate my case and say something about gay people not being allowed to be school teachers, or say what I feel and call it 'fucking horrifying', but I will refrain and instead merely suggest that they appear disturbingly ignorant of the real workings of "reputation".
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:00 AM on June 11, 2012


and man, if you have concerns about "marketing invading life", university or otherwise
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:02 AM on June 11, 2012


taking reputational/brand management to the individual/community :P but i'm skeptical; power still resides with the state and central banking!

"documenting the struggles of premodern states to draw up sustainable tax codes. Long before modernity and the spread of democracy, societies that failed to effectively tax their citizenry were the first to shrivel..."

"A robust economic system is one that encourages early failures (the concepts of 'fail small' and 'fail fast')... the stronger you think a political economy is, the more violently it tends to break."

"If inflation-adjusted interest rates on US debt are actually negative, why bother collecting taxes at all? ... 'use cheap funds to raise future wealth and so improve the fiscal position in the long run. It is inconceivable that creditworthy governments would be unable to earn a return well above their negligible costs of borrowing, by investing in physical and human assets, on their own or together with the private sector.' "

" 'complexity has a price; avoid it unless well compensated for it'... if a business requires complexity and opacity to generate profit, it should be spun out of too-big-to-fail institutions... Daniel Tarullo, the Fed's resident guru on such matters, argues that it's not simple to preserve short-term funding and market confidence without an injection of government capital."

"The real policy question should be how to eliminate the malinvestment and reallocate capital investment to useful productive enterprises without creating a deflationary spiral."

"A mark of successful people and nations is that they function well under stress."

also btw...
What Is Globalization?
In England, for example, the development of joint-stock banking (limited liability corporations that issued currency) in the 1820s and 1830s — and later during the 1860s and 1870s — produced a rapid expansion of money, deposits, and bank credit, which quickly spilled over into speculative investing and international lending. Other monetary expansions were sparked by large increases in U.S. gold reserves in the early 1920s, or by major capital recyclings, such as the massive French indemnity payment after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the petrodollar recycling of the 1970s, or the recycling of Japan’s huge trade surplus in the 1980s and 1990s. Monetary expansions also can result from the conversion of assets into more liquid instruments, such as with the explosion in U.S. speculative real-estate lending in the 1830s or the creation of the mortgage securities market in the 1980s.

The expansion initially causes local stock markets to boom and real interest rates to drop. Investors, hungry for high yields, pour money into new, nontraditional investments, including ventures aimed at exploiting emerging technologies. Financing becomes available for risky new projects such as railways, telegraph cables, textile looms, fiber optics, or personal computers, and the strong business climate that usually accompanies the liquidity expansion quickly makes these investments profitable. In turn, these new technologies enhance productivity and slash transportation costs, thus speeding up economic growth and boosting business profits. The cycle is self-reinforcing: Success breeds success, and soon the impact of rapidly expanding transportation and communication technology begins to cause a noticeable impact on social behavior, which adapts to these new technologies.

But it is not just new technology ventures that attract risk capital. Financing also begins flowing to the “peripheral” economies around the world, which, because of their small size, are quick to respond. These countries then begin to experience currency strength and real economic growth, which only reinforce the initial investment decision. As more money flows in, local markets begin to grow. As a consequence of the sudden growth in both asset values and gross domestic product, political leaders in developing countries often move to reform government policies in these countries — whether reform consists of expelling a backward Spanish monarch in the 1820s, expanding railroad transportation across the Andes in the 1860s, transforming the professionalism of the Mexican bureaucracy in the 1890s, deregulating markets in the 1920s, or privatizing bloated state-owned firms in the 1990s. By providing the government with the resources needed to overcome the resistance of local elites, capital inflows enable economic-policy reforms.

This relationship between capital and reform is frequently misunderstood: Capital inflows do not simply respond to successful economic reforms, as is commonly thought; rather, they create the conditions for reforms to take place. They permit easy financing of fiscal deficits, provide industrialists who might oppose free trade with low-cost capital, build new infrastructure, and generate so much asset-based wealth as to mollify most members of the economic and political elite who might ordinarily oppose the reforms.

Policymakers tend to design such reforms to appeal to foreign investors, since policies that encourage foreign investment seem to be quickly and richly rewarded during periods of liquidity. In reality, however, capital is just as likely to flow into countries that have failed to introduce reforms... then the process of globalization can stop and even reverse itself. Historically, such reversals have proved extraordinarily disruptive. In each of the globalization periods before the 1990s, monetary contractions usually occurred when bankers and financial authorities began to pull back from market excesses. If liquidity contracts — in the context of a perilously overextended financial system — the likelihood of bank defaults and stock market instability is high. In 1837, for example, the U.S. and British banking systems, overdependent on real estate and commodity loans, collapsed in a series of crashes that left Europe’s financial sector in tatters and the United States in the midst of bank failures and state government defaults.

The same process occurred a few decades later. Alphonse Rothschild’s globalizing cycle of the 1860s ended with the stock market crashes that began in Vienna in May 1873 and spread around the world during the next four months, leading, among other things, to the closing of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) that September amid the near-collapse of American railway securities. Conditions were so bad that the rest of the decade after 1873 was popularly referred to in the United States as the Great Depression.
Globalization and Inequality: Is there a Superstar Effect, and if so, What does it Mean?
A case in point is the much-discussed linkage between the growth of global trade and the increased inequality of income distribution... Many think that part of the answer to the globalization-inequality puzzle must lie in the way the growth of information technology simultaneously reduces the cost of trade and raises the need for skilled workers...

One hypothesis is that technology is a complement to skilled, nonroutine tasks but a substitute for skilled, routine tasks. Think of an investment bank. Those responsible for nonroutine tasks like working out new trading strategies or new forms of securitization are able to command higher rewards for their talents when they sit in front of a bank of computer screens than they formerly could when they sat at their desks with a telephone in each hand. Meanwhile, in the departments that deliver established products and carry out established strategies, the provision of services may not be entirely automated, but it is computer-assisted to a degree that reduces the bargaining power of the workers who carry out skilled, but routine tasks...

The routine/nonroutine distinction is consistent with... rising incomes of a top 1 percent of highly skilled, highly compensated workers that they call superstars. Superstars accounted for less than 8 percent of all U. S household income, excluding capital gains, in the 1970s. In 2007 their share of income peaked at over 18 percent, and has fallen only slightly during the Great Recession.

Why, though, should globalization increase the share of income going to superstars, as opposed to merely skilled workers? Haskel et al. conjecture that reduced costs of trade in services, whether entertainment, financial services, or technology, increases the relative demand for output of just those firms that make intensive use of the nonroutine skills of superstars. As an example, they suggest that in a world where information technology makes it easier to deliver the same books to readers throughout the world, superstars like J. K. Rowling earn even bigger rewards than they would in a world where readership was more fragmented.

I anticipate that apologists for the 1 percent will take heart from this new line of research. On the face of it, the superstar hypothesis suggests that globalization allows more people to benefit from the exceptional talents of the few, to the mutual benefit of all concerned. In such a world, any barriers to the free exercise of superstar talents, such as trade restrictions or high income taxes, benefit only the envious. The fact that superstars are richer than ever before only means that they deserve their rewards more than ever before...

Instead, it may only mean that globalization is increasing the ability of superstars to extract rents rather than increasing their actual contribution to world economic welfare. One indication is the resistance of large, global corporations to scrutiny of their compensation policies by their own shareholders. It seems that the most superstar-intensive companies are precisely the ones that most fiercely resist say-on-pay rules, even weak ones that allow only nonbinding shareholder oversight of compensation policies. The fight against transparency in compensation suggests that someone has something to hide...

Finally, we must take into account the possibility that the high earnings of superstars are, to some extent, the product of their ability to gamble with other peoples’ money. Bonus-based compensation schemes with inadequate clawback for losses, combined with the moral hazard that exists when losses can be shifted to shareholders, unsecured creditors, or taxpayers, are likely to produce compensation packages that have an expected value higher than the true value of services rendered.
more broadly, market failures from the existence of (non-excludable/non-rival) 'public goods' that exhibit positive externalities/multipliers, which tend to be under-provisioned by the market, and 'public bads' that exhibit negative externalities -- e.g. pollution or say asymmetric information (lack of transparency/accountability) require gov't intervention/regulation, altho obviously that is debatable, esp if it's shown that gov't makes the problem worse... but that isn't an argument against gov't per se, just ineffective/bad gov't.

so what are conditions/examples of effective markets? what are the conditions/examples for effective gov't? how then should they apply to areas such as R&D, education, health care, housing, employment, monetary policy, taxes, military expenditure, resource management, social insurance, political influence, justice, etc.? the institutional analysis and experimental/RCT 'applied' economics approaches to finding out 'what works' -- if that can ever be agreed upon -- appear most promising to me; a trial and error feedback process seems like the only sane way to generate consensus for conducting policy (nevermind establishing scientific facts) -- a spoils system of (increasingly 'innovative') rent extraction that amounts to modern-day feudalism while understandable from a sociological perspective (probable for a cynic ;) and perhaps 'true' of current reality on the ground, is inimical to the idea of civil society [that still cannot operate without a 'sovereign' -- monopoly on violence to enforce contracts, taxing authority, minting currency (to extinguish taxes)].

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 4:04 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought of a more direct way to discuss 'reputation management': ask a black guy about getting loans
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:48 PM on June 11, 2012


subject to peer review (or 'community rating'...)

also btw...
Beyond scarcity: Redefining labour
When human labour is almost completely replaced by mechanised robotics, even on the services front, it’s fair to assume the cost of labour, production and profitability may have to be re-evaluated completely.

After all, if robots are doing most of our work, a high employment rate becomes illogical in society. In fact, it even makes sense for some portion of civilisation not to work at all or shift their productivity into different areas. Meanwhile, how can corporations justifiably continue to charge for goods and/or continue to waste products (or withhold products from the market) just in order to squeeze out profits?

Is this not the crisis of capitalism envisioned by both Keynes and Marx?

If the system is capable of free production — constrained only by energy costs and resources — a base level of existence can be increasingly provided free of charge to an ever growing amount of people.

Some will utilise this new-found freedom from labour — and their ability to enjoy a growing abundance of goods — to pursue nobler goals (possibly ones which allow society to advance even further) which will allow the individual to achieve a greater than base existence. Others, meanwhile, will be able to just enjoy what the system provides (albeit at a base level), though at no cost or disadvantage to those who contribute to it. Some others, meanwhile, might instead be able to dedicate themselves to voluntary pursuits they could never have done before...
think of money as tax credit based sovereign equity tickets, now imagine the economy is a vast amusement park the goal of which of course is to get as many people to ride the rides as possible; a theme park manager might notice that some of the rides stand empty, even tho others have long queues. this could mean that the ride/game sucks (or perhaps is perceived unsafe) at which point it should either be fixed or replaced. however, if large amounts of rides are going unused, management might consider lowering the amount of tickets it takes to play or just giving out more tickets to everyone (or people deemed 'worthy' somehow).

anyway, this amusement park theory of the economy is hopefully a (thinly veiled) descriptive analogy that is useful for framing scarcity and abundance in terms of potential output (gaps) and illustrating the role of money and prices in the 'real economy' as well as measurement/savings/coordination problems. obviously it leaves out employment and income, but presumably if the park is operating below capacity, generating 'aggregate demand' should not be a problem for a 'ticket-issuer' (of last resort) unless it gets political -- say if prospective park goers are deemed unworthy because they don't have jobs or something...

i guess my thing is that if disney can eliminate lines with 'programmable tickets', and if digital currencies are already here, then why don't we use them like ones? (btw in norway everyone can know what everyone else is making as a matter of public record, speaking of information asymmetries...)
posted by kliuless at 4:11 PM on June 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you guys remember the Seed Magazine article from 2006 where the author proposes that the reason we haven't met any advanced alien civilizations is because all advanced aliens are off playing super video games?

No?

Here is again.
posted by Telf at 2:12 AM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


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