A tale of two classic essays
Agree completely with the idea of consilience in as far as it means including all domains of knowledge that are relevant and significant to the time and space domains under discussion.
In that respect, there are several key concepts and trends from technology, complexity theory and the more generalised domains space of paradigms of understanding that need to be included in any conversation about the relevance of economics and evolution to our near term future (next 50 years).
Technology – as Ray Kurzweil adequately demonstrates, we are in a time of a double exponential of increases in price performance of computation. That trend has been stable since the 1890s (and possibly prior but definitely since), and has shown no significant deviation in response to economic depressions or world wars. We have seen computers beat the best humans at chess, then Jeopardy and most recently Go. Those are limited domain spaces certainly, and they are significant in the timing and the size of the spaces involved. Automation is now moving rapidly and deeply into the realms of manufacturing and service delivery.
Complexity theory has now clearly demonstrated the fundamentally different modes of complexity that exist (and the infinite gradations within them and linkages between them), and the general classes of strategies that are most effective in dealing with different types of complexity. David Snowden’s Cynefin Framework is one of the best simplifications of that infinite complexity.
This clearly demonstrates both the limits of utility, and the dangers of reliance upon, rule based systems; at the same time as it clearly demonstrates the need to distribute power and control.
In the realm of generalised domain spaces of comprehension, it is now clear both from the work of people like Stephen Wolfram in the more abstract realms of modes of comprehension and from the work of those like Feynman and others looking deeply at the very small, that the simplistic idea of our reality being based on strictly deterministic rule based systems is not viable. The common mode of human understanding and intuition that is based in notions like true and false, right and wrong, and hard causality may work very well in many contexts at the normal levels of human experience, but it fails at many others.
It fails at the scale of the very small, and it fails when considering the realm of human comprehension and the drivers of human activity. The latter domain of the space of possible human values is both infinite and potentially infinitely recursive in its levels of abstraction. There does in fact seem to be space for free will and choice to form an ever expanding component of the suites of probabilities to action present in any particular individual in any specific context.
Bringing these three concept sets to the realms of evolution and economics is critical.
Exponential expansion of the ability to produce goods and services is far outpacing the needs of human beings, but our dominant distribution paradigm of money and markets cannot give a positive value to any universal abundance. In other words – money and markets will always work against the development and delivery of any universal abundance – we see that with the expansion of intellectual property laws that are creating artificial barriers to the delivery of universal abundance of such information. As third and forth generation 3D printers start to be able to copy themselves, we will see similar issues in the realm of matter. Our material technology is now making the scarcity based values of money, markets and capital not simply redundant, but they are now posing an ever expanding threat to humanity generally if allowed to respond in ways that are the natural systemic responses of such incentive sets.
One great fallacy of many models of economic demand is that the demand for goods or services is infinite. The vast bulk of human beings actually have quite limited and quite reasonable demands for goods and services that can quite easily be met within the energy and matter budgets available. That is not true if one continues to use a system that is based upon advertising to create exponentially increasing demand.
The big remaining issue is that identified by Hayek and others, of the information and coordination function provided by markets.
That is actually a relatively trivial exercise to replace it with a diverse set of intersecting distributed trust networks between free individuals using high bandwidth real-time information and some very smart software to monitor and respond appropriately to requests from others in ones networks, only bringing to ones attention those that really need consideration. This can allow near real time response to unexpected events when the automated agents bring people most highly rated in their respective networks into the discussion and solution of novel problems (and individuals always have the option of self selecting – as I am here).
Another aspect I will briefly mention is indefinite life extension. It has been clear to me since completing undergraduate biochemistry in 1974 that it was logically possible. All life today seems to be part of an unbroken chain at least 3 billion years old (and probably closer to 4). In a sense, those cells have all been alive that long. Sure, some are more different than others, as mechanisms for exchanging and selecting genetic material have evolved, and the germ-line is unbroken in each case. Age related loss of function is not a characteristic of germ-line, only somatic line in complex organisms like ourselves, so it must be solvable.
It seems that the notion of freedom requires that we go post cultural.
All individuals require culture as part of their bootstrapping process, and human beings are basically social apes that require communication at some level, and the domain space available for variations on themes seems to be infinite, and it seems likely that when material requirements are fully automated, and lifespans are indefinitely extended, we will see exponential expansion of exploration of the domain space available.
It seems clear, in logic, that economics, in as far as it is taken to mean the use of money and markets, has no major role in such a world.
It seems that exponential expansion of computation and automation is about to do to money and markets what exponential growth of oxygen releasing photosynthetic bacteria did to the then dominant ecosystems of anaerobic life forms – displaced them to restricted and specialised micro-environments.
The key difference is, that some of this crop of “anaerobes” have an ability to destroy the entire system, rather than change modes of metabolism. It is a problem of a distinctly higher order of complexity.