WORLD OF TOMORROW
May 7, 2016 2:36 PM   Subscribe

World After Capital by Albert Wenger [Work in Progress; GitHub; GitBook; PDF; FAQ] - "Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting from capital to attention. World After Capital suggests ways to expand economic, informational and psychological freedom to go from an industrial to a knowledge society." (previously)
posted by kliuless (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm pretty sure it's still actually land that is scarce, and a lot of the song and dance of the modern economy is about trying to work around this.
posted by Zarkonnen at 2:57 PM on May 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Try asking your bank manager for a loan, using your Facebook likes as collateral.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


I've read some books that say that pre-agrarian foragers ate larger quantities and more variety of food than their early agrarian counterparts. They had better health and teeth, longer lives and were taller.
It's not clear why people settled down in cities, but lack of food was not apparently the reason.
posted by signal at 3:17 PM on May 7, 2016


I didn't click any of the links therefore my hot take is probably worth the most. Kneel plebes!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:30 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


(Ok going to read now thanks as always K!)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:30 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it's still actually land that is scarce, and a lot of the song and dance of the modern economy is about trying to work around this.

-"The social optimum...is for land to be nationalized and provided at zero rent."
-"Actually, I don't think we should empty the suburbs, just build up the cities and get more immigrants!"
-"The oldest argument for UBI (Thomas Paine's) is that it justly allocates economic rent to which no one has a fair individual claim, since it results from windfall natural resources or the overall productivity of society. Paine applied his argument to land ownership; it seems entirely plausible to apply the same argument to some of the rents created by technological innovation and privatised intellectual property." [1,2,3 ;]
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


Try asking your bank manager for a loan, using your Facebook likes as collateral.

The Bank of Facebook: Currency, Identity, Reputation - "There has been much speculation recently about the role Facebook Credits could play in becoming a global virtual currency, and even the possibility of Facebook becoming a bank. In many ways, it already is becoming a bank – just not in the traditional sense. Facebook is harnessing the power of the social graph, and has certainly adopted an expanded definition of what 'currency' means. It's time for the rest of us to hop on board."*
posted by kliuless at 4:04 PM on May 7, 2016


Kind'a like the woman in Seattle that tried to take all nourishment directly from the sun, well she had it wrong, I'll be surviving on an exclusive diet of tweets and facebook likes from now on! Skinny but oh so satisfying.
posted by sammyo at 4:21 PM on May 7, 2016


The Bank of Facebook: Currency, Identity, Reputation

Privacy will be a privilege that comes from already sitting on a mountain of wealth. Everybody else will be surveilled, monitored and measured to within an inch of their life in return for the credit required to pay rent and buy food.
posted by acb at 4:25 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Try asking your bank manager for a loan, using your Facebook likes as collateral.

It IS possible to buy a house with only street cred, but only if you're King Buzzo of the Melvins.
posted by stannate at 4:26 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Nothing tastes as good as likes feel.
posted by cell divide at 4:34 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Kind'a like the woman in Seattle that tried to take all nourishment directly from the sun, well she had it wrong, I'll be surviving on an exclusive diet of tweets and facebook likes from now on! Skinny but oh so satisfying.

Dick Gregory on Drinking Water [1,2,3] - "During this 'Dick Gregory's Zero Nutrition Fasting Experiment' he lived on a gallon of water and prayer for 70 days at Dillard University's Flint-Goodridge Hospital. Upon its completion, he demonstrated his good health by walking and jogging the 100 miles between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana." :P
posted by kliuless at 4:36 PM on May 7, 2016


But is land scarce or is it just "status land" that's scarce? A few hours drive from Times Square one could probably buy land the size of Manhattan for the price of a single block in the square. Probably an area the size of the state of New York for the cost of that block.

There are limits to remote work these days but it's possible, some folks are doing it, but most people seem to want to squish in together, somewhat artificially skewing the value of that string of beads.

When there's a post scarcity basic income available for anyone willing to live on the other side of "this line", a bunch of folks will be happy to be over there but some intense large number will insist on being on the prestige side of the line stepping on each others toes and complaining about who has the biggest cupboard.

**** hand-wavy approximation of the value of Trump-style Manhattan blocks not scientific, but yaknowwhatimean
posted by sammyo at 5:00 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Perhaps blockchain-based drone-serviced hermit colonies are what we need to break our dependency on conveniently located land.
posted by acb at 5:04 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


kliuless: "Paine applied his argument to land ownership; it seems entirely plausible to apply the same argument to some of the rents created by technological innovation and privatised intellectual property."

There was a similar motivating idea behind Social Credit:
The National Dividend is justified morally by the fact that each citizen is rightly regarded as a shareholder in his economic association and as an heir to society’s cultural heritage. It is the cultural heritage (the inventions and discoveries of past scientists, engineers, organizers, etc.) which makes the greatest factor in modern production, the real capital, possible.
Keynes gave a shout-out to the originator of Social Credit, and the Socreds ruled both Alberta and B.C. for decades, but funny money never made it past the Supreme Court. However, there's an argument that we ended up with funny money anyway.

But... uh... I should really read the links first. :-x
posted by clawsoon at 5:39 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


After air water is important. And some are very aware of it.
posted by notreally at 6:31 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's something to be said for this kind of reasoning. First of all, the amount of land does not make a country wealthy. What we face now is a glut of capital chasing too few available opportunities. Much of this is due to public policies which prioritized private capital accumulation over individual incomes and public investment.

It used to be that the betterment of the public or investment in civilization came through accumulating agricultural surpluses to support larger populations. Then through accumulation of more land through conquest. Then through the investment of private capital. Use of investment capital has been tapped out: there simply aren't enough opportunities to invest in given the capital that is available.

So how to civilizations make themselves stronger and their people more prosperous? There may be something to be said for the idea that in a world of surpluses, we need to allow people to invest in knowledge, for which the useful discoveries and understandings are inherently rare and simply not worth private capital to invest in. That requires allowing people freedom to pursue those ideas even if private capital regards the potential returns as too low to bother with.
posted by deanc at 9:05 PM on May 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've read some books that say that pre-agrarian foragers ate larger quantities and more variety of food than their early agrarian counterparts. They had better health and teeth, longer lives and were taller.
It's not clear why people settled down in cities, but lack of food was not apparently the reason.


It's a bit orthogonal to the main discussion here, but it's kind of a sore point for me: the way people tend to talk about this "pre-agrarian foragers" in toto vs "people in cities" in toto misses the massive variations in lifestyle and available resources within those groups. You're going to have foragers who are living in marginal circumstances as well as those who live in the primeval Garden zone. You're probably going to have different kinds of social organization and tool usage which might impact how well these groups do.

It's not hard to imagine some foragers finding the shift to agrarian life in some circumstances a step up, while others rightfully shrug off the option because it cuts into their quality of life.

It's been a while since I was current with the literature but this may be one reason why the evidence points to agriculture not starting in the great river valleys but in less optimal areas. Because that's where growing your own stuff rather than foraging for sparse natural plants and animals was more likely to pay off.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:10 AM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


It's a bit silly to see a professional capitalist (Albert runs $1b of investment funds for a living) claim that we're in a post-capital economy, but I can ignore that. Section 5.2, on the other hand, is basically insane.

He argues that we should, as a society, simply end the notion of privacy full stop. No personal privacy, no medical privacy, no encrypted communications, just no privacy at all. Data breaches happen and it costs his portfolio companies money to protect against them (and it costs government money to prosecute hackers), so we should just have all of our data kept in the open. It's a position that only a particularly unempathic, healthy, straight, white, male multi-millionaire might think reasonable.

He also claims that privacy is a modern construct. This simply isn't true. He supports this ill-conceived argument by noting that people have had neighbors, and that medieval folks sometimes pooped in public. But even these situations are far, far different than our entire lives being globally visible and searchable by all parties. It's one thing for my neighbor to know that I have a cold. It's something entirely different for institutions to be able to analyze every aspect of every human's life.

His payoff is also based on magical thinking. In his world we'll cure all the diseases and fix the environment if we just give up all of our privacy. This argument is never made in anything resembling a cogent manner, it's just a collection is silly assertions.

The privacy aspect isn't the only troubling part, it's just the worst part. His vision to rethink IP laws is also essentially broken. He proposed a system that sounds reasonable if you don't think deeply, but it would essentially mean that the wealthy and powerful would retain similar IP protection while the poor and the powerless would lose their IP rights.

As an example of how his would play out in practice, JK Rowling would've lost copyright to Harry Potter before it became popular, because she wouldn't have been able to afford the ongoing fees he proposes. The movie based on her idea, on the other hand, would enjoy copyright protection because a powerful and well capitalized entity (the studio) would be able to pay those fees in something close to perpetuity.

All in all, it is essentially the world view of a tech-focused corporate fascist. Somebody who wants to ensure that capital gets more powerful, that people get weaker, and his life gets better at the expense of ours.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


far be it from me to defend VCs or billionaires (and their millionaire lackeys!) but they aren't, as they say, monolithic; problematic maybe -- say, george soros, jim simons, ray dalio, warren buffett, bill gates, michael bloomberg, reid hoffman, marc benioff, etc. -- but calling them corporate (crypto?) technofascists i think is a bit of a stretch, if not uncharitable :P like i'd even grant you that the policies they fund and promote could end up in practice making capital more powerful, people weaker and fuck you, got mine, but saying wenger wants to ensure those outcomes i'd say misinterprets his motivations and what he's written and said, if perhaps not his actions.

like, for example, take what he's written on privacy, 'the most troubling part': "We should work to protect people, not information, allowing information to become public but sheltering individuals from the potential consequences. Economic freedom via a Universal Basic Income represents an important first step to protecting people..."

more here:
  • Protect People, Not Data - "Because right now we look at it at best as a potential source of embarrassment and at worst as a threat to our livelihood as we might lose our job or access to healthcare. This is what we really need to be working on – creating the social norms, economic conditions and laws and regulations that remove the stigma and the threat. We need to focus on protecting people from the potentially negative consequences of data about them, not on working harder and harder to protect their data."
  • After Paris: Doubling Down on Democracy - "Insisting on privacy because we fear our own governments will continue to pit citizens against secrecy-seeking governments in a spy versus spy society. Many will protest that we are already there. Maybe so, but why double down on a mistake? Snowden’s revelations have given us a unique opportunity to start over. I would pardon Snowden on those grounds alone."
  • Trust and Democracy: The Odd Parallels between Trump and Apple - "The answer cannot and should not be to empower a potential dictator or a massively cash-rich and secretive company. The good news in the case of Apple is that for now at least we still have a judicial process and that will play itself out hopefully all the way to the Supreme Court. Yes, the Supreme Court too is a flawed institution and I have disagreed with some of its decisions (such as Citizens United). And yes, they may get a decision in the case of Apple wrong. But if we simply abandon our institutions then we will get the presidential and corporate powers we deserve."
  • Against Technological Determinism: Blockchains and Encryption - "The key takeaway though: technology by itself doesn’t want anything. It makes things possible. The web made decentralized publishing possible but it *also* made large centralized platforms possible. Where we wind up in this massively enlarged space of possibility is *not* determined by the technology but rather by the workings of society and economy. Those in turn respond to changes in beliefs and regulation. So it comes down to what we as humans want our society and economy to be like."
which i think are more nuanced views than you're granting him; he is after all, and as he states up front, a humanist.

But is land scarce or is it just "status land" that's scarce?

Cities Where Millenials & the Working Class Are Being Priced Out - "All in all, the report helps us better understand the sorting of Americans by class within and across our metros. The affluent and the talented are flooding into superstar cities and tech hubs, creating a vicious competition for space that is pushing out the young, the less advantaged, and those who do not own homes, reinforcing the deepening class divides in our cities."

There was a similar motivating idea behind Social Credit:

'social credit' was discussed a bit here! (and also here, here, here and here ;)
posted by kliuless at 11:42 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


So how do civilizations make themselves stronger and their people more prosperous? There may be something to be said for the idea that in a world of surpluses, we need to allow people to invest in knowledge, for which the useful discoveries and understandings are inherently rare and simply not worth private capital to invest in. That requires allowing people freedom to pursue those ideas even if private capital regards the potential returns as too low to bother with.

Basic Income (and Blockchain Courts)* - "Beyond the socialist/libertarian/tech/macro cases for UBI, its deep appeal is the possibility of redefining human worth and dignity without reference to work. People in modern capitalist economies are expected to work, and their self-conception is bound up in the job they do and how good they are at it. In a post-scarcity world where the robots do the labor, how will we fill our time? How will we find meaning in life?"

which goes back to [marx's concept of] use value (utility)* vs. exchange value and redefining prosperity and wealth: "prosperity in human societies can't be properly understood by just looking at monetary measures of income or wealth. Prosperity in a society is the accumulation of solutions to human problems. These solutions run from the prosaic, like a crunchier potato chip, to the profound, like cures for deadly diseases. Ultimately, the measure of a society's wealth is the range of human problems that it has found a way to solve and how available it has made those solutions to its citizens."

even the economist is getting on board: "If GDP is failing on its own terms [as a measure of all the transactions -- exchange -- that go on], as a measurement of the value-added in an economy, its use as a welfare benchmark is even more dubious. That has always been so: the benefits of sanitation, better health care and the comforts of heating or air-conditioning meant that GDP growth almost certainly understated the true advance in living standards in the decades after the second world war... Kennedy was right. Much that is valuable is neither tangible nor tradable."

---
*like public goods and externalities independent of or incommensurable with market production and consumption, as notreally says: "After air water is important."
posted by kliuless at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


wobh dons Tarn Bird mask to indicate that he presumes nothing and makes no claims to wisdom, ferocity, versatility, musicianship, truculence, or any other virtue. He keys his zachinko and sings a bit of doggerel he composed but declines to post.
posted by wobh at 9:07 PM on May 16, 2016


I donno if land is really scarce. It's true the population keeps growing, although that might stop eventually. Yet, humans utilize far more land through food production than occupancy. It's fresh water that really controls farmland value, so war frequently get fought over water, even if couched in terms of land. We could start farming sea weed, thereby devalue farm land, but we're kinda poisoning the oceans, and we tend to spend on luxury.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2016


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