To me Michael Herrmann’s paper “People, prosperity and the planet” is stuck in linear thinking, yet we live in an exponential age.
It also makes some commonly accepted yet untrue statements about the nature of money.
Starting with money:
Money is not a store of value.
Value exists in the world as either goods or services.
Money is a means of directing the available services and acquiring the available goods. It works in this capacity because people believe it will work as a token of exchange. Money has no intrinsic value in and of itself.
It functions purely based upon the fact that people believe in it enough to exchange goods and services for it.
On to technology.
Information is exponentially increasing.
The processing capacity of computers is exponentially increasing.
These two factors combine in the exponential growth of automation and the potential for production that makes possible.
It seems clear to me that the biggest systemic issue facing humanity right now is that people are stuck inside their belief in money and market values, and cannot see beyond them.
Money and markets must always value real abundance of anything at zero. If you doubt that consider oxygen in the air – arguable the single most valuable commodity to any human being, yet it has zero market value, because there is zero scarcity (total abundance).
The is profound when one applies economic thinking to human problems.
We have the technology to deliver an abundance of all the essentials of life to everyone, yet we don’t do so because there is no money (scarcity based measure) to be made from the delivery of a real abundance of anything.
It is relatively simple to create an abundance of energy, water, food, shelter, communication, education, health care, transport – sufficient to meet the needs of every individual – but there is no way to make an ongoing profit from such a situation.
Markets are places of exchange, and exchange implicitly requires scarcity.
The incentives of any scarcity based system must always value an abundance of anything at zero. This includes any abundance in nature.
Market based systems are inherently destructive of human values for natural abundance.
Humans are highly evolved for cooperation.
We are capable of very high levels of cooperation provided we have attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating.
We can create technologies that work in harmony with biological ecosystems, but the incentives of any market based economic system will always tend to destroy any systems that deliver abundance to all, because only scarce things can be traded and money only has value in a trading situation.
Poverty cannot be eliminated by markets.
Prosperity can be delivered by automated systems in a cooperative society.
A deep look at evolution shows that all major advances in complexity of living systems are characterised by the emergence of new levels of cooperation.
It is time for a major systemic push to a new level of global cooperation to ensure that every individual has the essentials of life to empower them to do whatever they responsibly choose.
Responsibility in this sense means acknowledging the rights to life and freedom of every other individual, and the needs of the natural environment that supports us all.
Freedom, real freedom, is possible, for every individual – no exceptions.
The need for economic slavery – the need to “earn a living” is rapidly approaching an end.
We can all enjoy an age of freedom, security and prosperity and cooperation beyond anything in history, or we can perish from retribution for injustice. There do not appear to be many stable intermediary forms available.
The first paragraph of the paper, and the first half of the second paragraph I like, but then the focus seems to shift.
“The focus on the production, consumption, flow and distribution of goods and services, rather than money, illustrates the insuperable linkages between social progress, economic growth and environmental protection”, which is kind of true, but it leaves out far more than it includes. Because in a market based system of values people need the tokens (money) and tokens will only be given for the production of something that is scarce, from something that is less scarce, then the system tends to force people to produce stuff and produce the demand for stuff (one aspect of advertising).
The system is not about meeting the needs of people, it becomes about the flow of tokens.
The entirety of section B uses the terms of money as metrics.
In the third paragraph of page 4 you write “… the most significant developmental challenge. Meeting it, demands a more balanced distribution of economic resources …” – the framing is in economic terms.
Page 5 starts: “health care is unthinkable without medical machinery and pharmaceutical industries; and either demands physical infrastructure” which is only partially true. I have no reasonable doubt left that our modern health care industry is more about making money than it is about human health. Four and a half years ago I was told that I was “terminal melanoma – stage 4 metastasised to the liver” and sent home “palliative care only”, and told I could be dead in 6 weeks. I am a biochemist by training, so started doing my own literature searches.
There is actually vast amounts of evidence that diet plays a huge role in cancer survival, but who is going to promote curing cancer with a change of diet when a course of chemotherapy costs $100,000 most of which is pure profit. I have been free of tumours for almost 4 years. Vegan diet and high dose oral vitamin C (pure L ascorbic acid – which costs me $52/Kg retail – and which I could by for $5/Kg if I bought it by the tonne.
I am now convinced, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that most of the illness in our society, heart disease, diabetes, cancer is caused by our diet and most of that is driven by the corporate need for profit driving us towards highly processed long shelf life foods, and away from fresh home grown fruits and vegetables.
Gardens take a lot of work – I know – I have one plot under cover and two in the open and a large orchard of fruit and nut trees.
I am also aware that we could, with relatively little directed effort, produce automated systems that would tend all aspects of the needs of the gardens – watering, nutrient monitoring, weed and pest control, harvest at optimum nutrient value, etc.
That our modern agricultural systems are the size they are is more about the needs of corporate profit than it is about the needs of human beings.
Our personal security would be greatly enhanced by having many small highly productive units of very mixed species rather than huge areas of monoculture. Yet there is no corporate profit to be made from decentralisation and democratisation.
Once again, the incentives of the market are directly opposed to the needs of human beings.
You end part B with a statement of some real issues, yet offer no alternative.
Part C – Page 5 – starts with the statement “Human wellbeing is inseparably linked to economic growth” which is actually completely untrue. I get that it is accepted mythology, and it is not actually an attribute of reality.
Human well being was quite accurately described by Maslow as a pyramid of needs. We might quibble about the details, but the general form is accurate.
The first phase of human wellbeing is meeting survival needs.
This is actually relatively easy to do – even for 10 billion, or 20 billion people (though 20 billion is about the limit if we are to leave half of the earth’s surface in a relatively “natural” state.
The subsequent levels of Maslow’s pyramid have to do with what is commonly referred to as “spiritual development”, and describe successive levels of emerging independence from the biological constraints of the bodies evolution has delivered to us.
It seems clear to me that all levels of human development require new levels of freedom. Freedom in this sense is not license to follow whim, but free choice with demonstrated responsibility for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of one’s actions.
You state in the same paragraph – “To this end, they have three principle policy levers ….
(i) Policies to promote inclusive economic growth,
(ii) policies to promote greener economic growth, and
(iii) human rights based policies to address and harness population dynamics.”
To me, these statements are completely false.
We could, as a society, decide to act cooperatively to create technologies that empower every human being to do whatever they responsibly choose.
That choice would have the consequence of destroying economic activity – and delivering true freedom of choice to every individual.
That is a policy choice we have available.
It is not being generally discussed.
I fundamentally disagree with the notion that people must be managed. In this sense, I completely reject the Rio and Cairo declarations and programs.
It is clear to me that the essence of being human is freedom of choice, but not freedom from the consequences of choice.
Reality imposes consequences, and sometimes they are harsh.
We can put in place systems to mitigate the worst of those consequences (death) for the most part.
We can teach people about consequences.
It is clear to me that our current educational systems are much more about teaching obedience (creating slaves) than they are about teaching individuals about their infinite capacities for creativity and love, and how to responsibly develop those powers in a highly interconnected world.
One of my favourite quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau – “Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” The logic of that is inescapable.
Heisenberg gave us uncertainty in reality.
Goedel gave us the incompleteness of logic (uncertainty in a far deeper sense).
Page 6 starts out “creating full, productive and remunerative employment”, but that is just more slavery.
We have the technology right now to free every human being from the need to be employed, and to give them the freedom to do whatever they responsibly choose, but we do not do so because we are trapped within a paradigm of money – and there is no profit, no money, in delivering that sort of freedom to everyone.
Within an economic system it is reserved only for those at the very apex, and then it comes with a profound insecurity.
We could deliver it to everyone, with the most profound security imaginable, but not within a market based set of values.
Market values are fundamentally based in scarcity, in exchange of something held in abundance for something that is scarce. Markets and market based values are fundamentally incompatible with universal abundance.
Our exponentially expanding technological capability has taken us past the point where universal abundance is possible, but our market based paradigms prevent us from deploying the technology.
From where I sit, your paper is more of the problem.
The paper is constructed firmly in a scarcity based (market based) mind set.
We are not short of energy.
The sun converts over 600 million tonnes of hydrogen to helium every second. That is an almost unimaginably vast amount of energy.
We are not short of mass.
We could relatively easily take a few hundred feet of mass off the far side of the moon and use it to create a few hundred acres of land surface for every human being in orbit above the earth.
Exponential technology can deliver results like than inside of 20 years.
We do not need to take anything from anyone.
We need only ensure that every individual has all of the essentials of survival, and the freedom to do whatever they responsibly choose, and then see what develops.
Most people are cooperative and responsible if given the chance.
Cooperative groups are capable of dealing with those who are truly sociopathic – and there is a very tiny proportion of people who are.
Inequality is not the issue. People are not the same, do not have the same interests, do not want the same things.
Inequality is natural and normal.
And everyone needs to have their reasonable needs met.
That is relatively easy to do (in a technical sense), but not within a market based set of values.
Page 12 you state “social development is not possible without economic development” – which I hope I have clearly demonstrated is simply false.
Social development requires the development and deployment of technologies that promote individual life and individual liberty. What people then choose to do with that life and liberty is up to them. It is not a matter for any planner, politician or philosopher to determine, and planners, politicians, philosophers and historians can advise.
To be human, individuals must have choice.
It is the role of society to provide and environment that ensures life and liberty (and again, to be explicitly clear – liberty in this sense is not freedom from consequence, but rather the responsible exercise of creativity in a reality that include billions of other free agents and a supporting ecosystem).
Enough from me for one morning.
Thank you for your response.
Many issues teasing out of this conversation – very helpful.
And consider the possibility that the issues you claim have nothing to do with the paper actually have everything to do with the paper, as they mask a set of invalid assumptions.
As Dresden James famously said:
“A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed.
It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but the fact that the world wasn’t flat.
When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic”
I have a very full day today – so will be 12 hours or more before I can respond in depth.
Agree that within a market based system, items are valued through exchanges in a market and those exchanges will have values (prices) denominated in some currency.
Agree also that again, within a market based system, money is a unit of exchange.
The third point, about money being a store of value is more complex. In one sense, yes, it must be so in practice in a limited sense, but how so? In another sense, when we had currencies backed by metals (gold and silver predominantly) then money had a value as it represented some quantity of some specie which had a value of its own in a market, quite independent of its value as a currency. Once we moved to fiat money, the only value that money has comes from our belief that someone will in fact accept it in exchange for some good or service at some future time. Fiat money (money not backed by anything) in itself is nothing other than the belief that it will work (which, usually, it does).
In this sense, money is not a store of value, but simply a promise of the exchange for some value at some future time.
The amount of money in existence has no direct link to the quantity of goods or services available.
You gave the examples of market exchange as a form of cooperation, and also of charities.
Both of those can quite legitimately be characterised as forms of cooperation, and they are forms at a particular level.
I am indicating a level of cooperation above that one, and it is very relevant to the topic.
All markets come with a substantial degree of competition, as well as a modicum of cooperation.
Market systems are, and must be, essentially competitive. It is actually illegal for sellers to act cooperatively with each other – it is called monopoly and confers too much power upon such a group to extract money from all buyers.
The paper is founded on a set of “business as usual” assumptions, which do not actually make much sense in the world of exponential growth of information systems (particularly related to automated means of production) that we find ourselves in.
I am making the claim that a combination of these exponentially increasing automated production systems and the emergence of the awareness of the benefits of new levels of global cooperation do not simply make markets redundant, but actually expose some extreme dangers inherent in market based values.
I am not proposing that we immediate stop using market based values, they are where we are and they are the tool set we have available.
I am saying that it is powerful for us to recognise the dangers inherent in that tool set, and to design a stable transition to a much safer and more prosperous system of values – one that involves global cooperation – at all levels.
On the Paper
Certainly we need to produce goods and services to meet the needs of people and to empower them to do whatever they responsibly choose to do, and in a world of exponential growth in information and technology, that does not necessarily imply any further stress on the ecosystems of the earth, and will very likely result in substantial remedial work of the damage caused by our wasteful market driven systems.
To make an assumption that there will be no increase in technical efficiency is equivalent to planning for the number of horses needed for transportation in modern cities, based upon the horses required in 1900. Technology really is advancing that fast. The difference between the technology available today, and the technology available in 20 years will be far greater than the difference between the technology available in 1900 and the technology available now.
Much of the production of today is driven by needs generated by advertising. We could do a lot more with a lot less – very easily.
Yes all systems have an environmental impact – even biological ones. There is every reason to expect that our technology of 20 years hence will be able to have a footprint at least as efficient as biological systems.
Yes – certainly there will be impacts, and those impacts will likely be compatible with biological systems, in as much as that is possible; if, and only if; we stop using market based valuation and switch to planning for the provision of an abundance of human values via automated systems.
I am suggesting that every person on the planet can live a lifestyle that gives them security of water, food, energy and accommodation, with access to education, transport and healthcare at levels enjoyed only by millionaires today. I am suggesting that this can be done with a smaller ecological footprint than we create today.
That is not over-riding physical laws, it is optimising our technology to work with those laws and for the real needs of the people.
You asked one very interesting question “Why has technology, which you claim can fix the problems, has not helped to fix the problems so far?”
The answer to that one is the fundamental point I have been trying to make. The problems we face are not the result of technology, they are the natural outcome of the incentive structure that the technology exists within.
The cause of the issues is the fact that we use markets, and markets undervalue abundance and over value scarcity.
That was fine when most things really were scarce, but fails completely when faced with the ability to create genuine abundance.
We have been able to create genuine abundance of most things for almost a century now, yet markets have failed to deliver to most people.
That is a systems failure, because of the incentive structure within the system.
I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that no market based system can ever deliver universal abundance and universal security – the incentive structure simply does not allow it.
You reference that emissions continue to increase, which they do. This is not a result of technology, but of market incentives.
What company is going to invest in distributed technologies that offer a small one off profit, when there is huge profit to be made from oil.
Over 90% of the FOB price of Saudi Oil is profit – no company would willingly give up a profit source like that – and that much money buys a lot of political influence.
The technical problems are real, and relatively easy to solve.
I can only agree that we need need to empower everyone to access education to whatever level they choose, and assert that will never happen within a market based system.
Technology can deliver, but not if trapped within a political system defined by market values.