Good Economy

9 – 11 Dec. 15 ~ QofDay ~ What is a Good Economy?

What is a good economy?
If we had a referendum what would a good rebirth of the global economy look like to you?

In the narrow sense of economy, in the sense of money as a measure of value, then a good one is not possible – the incentive structure is built on scarcity, and cannot give a non-zero value to universal abundance.

So it doesn’t really work with our exponentially expanding ability to automate the production of goods and services.

In the deeper sense, of the Greek origins, in the way we organise our global household, then it seems clear to me that can be most powerfully done by producing automated machinery that can build a copy of itself and deliver any other good or service it is programmed to. A basic starting set would be, water storage and treatment, housing, sanitation, food (gardening), education, transport, communication, energy and personal healthcare.
Delivering such a set of machines to every person on the planet would remove the need for anyone to exchange anything to survive.

People would then begin to experience freedom, many for the first time.
Everyone would have the choice to do whatever they responsibly chose, within the boundaries of taking reasonable measures to mitigate the risk to the life or liberty of others as a consequence of actions (or inactions).

I suspect many different sorts of conversations would develop.
Money would be an interesting historical phenomenon.
Everyone would live in abundance and security.

[followed by]

Hi Andrew, Shaily, FOS, Torch, et al,

Shaily bought up the accurately recognised fact that Seligman noted, that GDP simply measures economic activity, and not what causes it, so war and disaster increase GDP, but decrease happiness (not that happiness is necessarily a good measure of well being – as I will indicate soon).

Andrew stated “Any Utopian model is reliant on the human psyche becoming cognisant of a higher order thinking paradigm developing a self motivated and benevolent outlook demonstrated by equal respect for every other individual irrespective of their ability to contribute.
Simple really…. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened already.”

Stating in detail why it hasn’t happened already would fill not just a book, but entire libraries, and leaving out most of the detail, and touching only on what seem like the most important concepts in the puzzle, it seems to go something like this:

Human beings are very complex entities. We have brains that are very flexible, and capable of responding to reality with infinite creativity, and we also tend to form habits, at every level of awareness.
We are not born as “blank slates”. We come with many different levels of tendencies, and many different sorts of information and strategy at many different levels (happiness is one such, largely genetically determined, information set, determined mostly by our deep past, and not necessarily relevant to our exponentially changing present or future).

It seems clear beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that all life on earth is part of a process of evolution by natural selection happening over vast time scales, it seems likely that all cellular life is descended from a single common ancestor some 3.8 billion years ago.

It seems that evolution has incorporated information into the organisation of every living entity that is the result of the differential survival (filtering) of variations on different themes in different sets of circumstances. In that sense, every living entity, from bacteria to humans, trees to algae, fungi to fish, have been evolving for the same length of time, and are part of the same continuum of life, and each line through that continuum has been subject to different circumstances, and different selection as a result.

Coming back just to us as humans, it seems clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that we as humans are uniquely capable of high order cooperative activity, and we are also capable of competitive activity, and both of these possibilities seem to have a stochastic element (are subject to a degree of randomness) and are also influenced by all the circumstances of our existence (and one of those “circumstances” is our individual degrees of conceptual awareness, and another is the degree to which we have developed the habit {at every level} of creating a gap between impulse to action and action, where we can, if chosen, bring a new level of judgement or context to the situation). That process, of creating a gap for a new level of awareness, appears to be capable of infinite recursion, which can lead to a “halting problem” of infinite regress (the “halting problem” is a term from computational theory that describes several classes of problems that can, for a variety of reasons, be computed indefinitely without reaching a solution, and without being certain if a solution is possible or not).

Coming back down a few levels of awareness.
It seems that there is a very definite sense in which most of our behaviours, most of our likes and dislikes, can be thought of as information and strategy selected by experience through time. In the sense of the deepest time of our evolutionary history, that information is built into our genetics, into the form and function of all parts of our bodies, including all the subsystems of our brain and nervous systems and hormonal systems. That time spans billions of years, and more recently (in the uniquely human aspects) millions of years.
There is also a much more recent sense of selection over time in terms of our culture (in the widest sense of culture that includes all language, knowledge and habit and technology {including writing and video etc}) that spans the last few hundred thousand years, and most particularly the last few hundred years.
So we are all born into genetic bodies and our particular cultures, then we have our individual experiences within those contexts. And all these things deliver particular probability tendencies to particular outcomes in particular contexts – nothing certain, and some things more likely than others.

We seem to be genetically conditioned to largely accept whatever we encounter in the first few years of our lives.
We do not get born with any levels of conceptual awareness, though we do develop limited forms of awareness while still in the womb, and can and do lay down memories of those experiences.
Our brains start to function in limited fashion at about 8 weeks after implantation, and seem to go through many levels of development prior to learning how to speak. Several levels of those early memories are without meaning at the time, just experience. If we do manage to recall them in later life, meaning is added at the instant of recall. Our memory systems seem to be of the “destructive read” type, which means that when we recall a memory, we destroy it, but we very quickly lay down a new memory of the act of recall. However, there is always “contextual bleeding” in that some of the old context is lost, and some of the new context gets added to the new memory. {This seems to be the major systemic action present in psychotherapy – changing the context of one’s memories to something less disturbing and less influential.}

So it seems that we can be said to have many levels of being, and these levels each have different start times, and some things are shared between levels.
It seems clear that we can form memories of pattern long before there is a level of awareness capable of recognising meaning in that pattern.
In a very real sense, it seems that our ability to develop an awareness of meaning, is dependent upon this ability of brain to learn pattern independent of awareness.

So it seems that small children just learn stuff, and do stuff, initially without higher conscious awareness of that learning or doing.
They develop distinctions, and a model of the world, and populate that model with the distinctions available.
Higher levels of awareness all deal with the model by default, and not with sense perceptions directly.

It seems that the level of self awareness that we all seem to share, of being aware of self, and aware of others as things like self, is an aspect of pattern upon pattern within brain.

It seems that in the first instance, experience teaches us pattern. We learn distinctions, in space and in language (over time).

Learning distinctions usually follows a pattern, from the simple and distinct to the more complex and more related.
The simplest possible distinction is a binary (thing or not thing).
Part of that learning in language will involve a simple binary distinction of value, like good/bad, right/wrong. These distinctions need not have any actual valid referent in reality, the boundary between the sets can be entirely arbitrary in a sense, and at the time of learning such distinctions, we have no concept of sets or boundary conditions or infinite spectra. When we first encounter any infinite spectrum of possibilities, the simplest distinction we can make of it is a binary. Finer gradations of understanding, if they come at all, come later.

In most things, we learn those gradations quickly. Light and dark quickly become shades of grey. Colours usually multiply quickly. Most people go from 2 to 3 to 7 to many hundreds at a very early age.

Unfortunately that is not so common in the realm of concepts like “good and bad”, “right and wrong”. Many people hang onto these simple ideas well into later life, and do not move into infinite spectra in these domains. And there are many reasons why that is a probable outcome. That can be changed with training, and it takes time and effort.

It seems that there is a very real sense in which our reflective self awareness is born of a conceptual distinction in a simple binary valuation (like good/bad, or right/wrong). It seems that as a small child, each of us learns such simple notions, and the rules sets particular to our culture surrounding them, and at some point, we find ourselves in a situation where we are forced to put ourselves on the wrong side of such a valuation. That presents a problem for self. Brain solves that problem with a declaration in language in the general form “being x was wrong/bad/whatever, so I am going to be y”. The specifics of x and y don’t really matter, though it seems we all have them. What is important is the form of the declarative judgement, as what it does in systems speak, is it forms a bootstrap routine, that starts a new level of awareness, as a pattern in language within a human brain.
This process can repeat in different contexts, and at different levels.

So there is this sense in which each and every one of us has a level of birth in our own personal “original sin” and this may happen many times, at many new levels.
Such things are rarely pleasant, and thus tend to be repressed and hidden (and there may be many levels to such hiding).
As I stated at the start, human beings are complex.
All of what is written above barely scratches the surface of the levels of complexity within each and every one of us.

So without going any deeper, and acknowledging that there are in fact profound depths (to both the physical and the spiritual levels of being), it seems powerful to look at some other aspects that seem to apply to all levels.

It seems that one way of classifying operating strategies is in the infinite spectrum lying between competitive and cooperative poles.

Darwin clearly demonstrated the role of competition in evolution, and that has quickly entered the popular consciousness – the whole “nature red in tooth and claw” thing. And it is only part of the picture, an odd caricature in a sense.
Evolution has always been about the roles of both competition and cooperation.
The more complex the entity, the more important the role of cooperation in its being, and competition in its getting there.

And raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation by cheating strategies, so at every new level, cooperation requires attendant strategies to prevent invasion by cheats, and at every level there will continue to be a sort of “evolutionary arms race” within levels of cooperative systems between potential cheats finding new cheating strategies that evade detection, and the cooperative system finding new strategies that bring the cheat back to cooperation. From a systems perspective, there can be no end to that process, at every level, eternal vigilance is required by those within the cooperative, both to detect new cheating strategies, and to develop effective counter-strategies that make it in the self interest of the cheat to come back within the cooperative.

And within all of this complexity, there exists a vast array of common over simplifying assumptions at every level, that lead many to sub-optimal outcomes in terms of both understanding and incentive to action.

Within the highest levels of commitment to life and liberty, there is an extremely difficult exercise of creating boundaries that both respect life, and empower liberty. It is extremely difficult to empower liberty without posing significant risk to life. Nothing is simple.

One of the most profound problems that exist right now, is the dominance of market values in our society.
To a good first order approximation, money rules.
It seems that most of the intellectual justification for this comes from a mistaking of correlation with causation.

Throughout history, free markets have been associated with freedom and prosperity.
Many people have taken that association to mean that money (the market measure of value) must be at the root of this freedom and prosperity.
It now seems clear that such a causal association was a mistake.
It seems that the greatest prosperity coming from markets was from the distributed trust networks between traders, that allowed individuals to make reliable judgements.

It seems that high level cheating strategies within economic thought have exploited that mistake of correlation with causation, and have managed to put monetary systems at the top of our governance systems.
This appears to be a logical error.
What is needed is distributed trust networks within a cooperative context. It seems to be decentralisation of control (trust in a reliable context) that most reliably delivers liberty.
Freedom is the result of distributed trust networks within a cooperative context, not the freedom of capital.
Capital has many tendencies to be exploitive to the cooperative, as even Adam Smith noted.

Markets and capital were great tools in times of genuine scarcity, but they cannot work well in contexts of universal abundance.
The social utility of markets degrades rapidly as our ability to automate production increases.
Exchange based thinking tends to be intensely short term and self centred and tends to ignore the needs of the many levels of cooperative existing.
And automation is not yet at the point it can entirely automate all goods and services, and it is rapidly approaching the point that production of all essential goods and services could be fully automated (water, food, housing, healthcare, transport, communication, education, sanitation, energy, recycling).

So yeah – its complex, far more complex than most people have even the slightest inkling of.

One of the major issues with human brains is that we form habits, and under stress our brains revert to earliest habits.
In logic, we must all start from simple binaries.
Thus, under stress, we all have a strong tendency to revert to the simplest binary “truth” our brain associates most strongly with that particular context. That worked well when stress came from big cats or bears or invading hordes, but doesn’t work so well in times of abstract economic and social crises.

The evidence in logic is now clear, that provided that there is actually enough for everyone, then cooperation is always more powerful for everyone than competition.

And we are now at the stage in our development as a species that we need to go to a level of universal cooperation, and put significant effort into developing systems that can support everyone (no exceptions) in a high standard of living, with high standards of security. The only logical alternative is not really safe for anyone.

We all get far more by cooperating, than any can get by cheating, however unlikely that may look to most right now.
Exponential technological development does actually have the ability to deliver that, but not in a competitive market context.

Transition is going to be “interesting”.
[followed by]
Hi Andrew

The greek – Oikos, from which economy comes, means how the household is run.

Money is not usually involved in running a household (internally). People do the tasks required at present, and treat others with respect if they wish to stay around or avoid punishment.

Hayek quite accurately characterised money and profit as means of information transfer. In that sense, they were (and still are at present) very powerful tools. And they require genuine scarcity to operate.
What is changing, is our ability to automate and to digitally reproduce. It may have taken me 20,000 hours of intense mental effort to write my main computer system, yet I or anyone else can duplicate it in a matter of seconds.
As that ability comes on stream in the world of the physical, when 3rd generation (not the first generation toys we see today) 3D printers come online, and are capable of reproducing any physical good with atomic level accuracy, then everything changes. Once a design is completed and tested, within seconds it can be available to anyone who wants to build it.
In that environment, very little is scarce.

In that environment, we can do what we choose, and anything anyone else wants can be done by their robotic servants. Labour, as a means of exchange, then has about the same value as oxygen in the air we breath.

Exchange values evaporate.

Life becomes not a matter of exchange, but a matter of choice and trust.
If is freedom in a way that only the uber wealthy have ever had the vaguest inkling of, and it is universally available.

There is no historical precedent.
None!

The past is no a useful indicator of the future in this instance.

Interesting times indeed.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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