Yes, certainly, what is written here is a small part of the issue.
Certainly we are influenced by the context of our existence at many levels, from deep cultural to sound bite advertising, to such approximations as we manage of rational consideration.
Certainly humans can be both highly cooperative and highly competitive, depending on context, and the evolutionary justification for that is clear and complex. Reality has many dangers. As one example, super-volcanoes are real. 1815 was the last time a little one went off, and gave a winter to the planet that lasted 18 months. Bigger ones can create much longer winters. All of our ancestors were sufficiently competitive to survive all such things.
And it seems that for most of human history (between such external destructive events), there was sufficient abundance for humans to live in highly cooperative societies. And cooperation by itself is unstable, and requires attendant strategies to prevent invasion by cheating strategies – we see them at many different levels – within our cells, to prevent viruses, our immune system, and many levels of cultural systems.
So if there is genuine scarcity, we can all compete, and compete hard.
And if there is enough for all, we can all cooperate, at potentially infinite levels (whatever level we have managed to achieve awareness of).
Our ability to automate processes is on a double exponential growth pattern, and has been at least since the 1890s and possible well before that. The doubling time on that process is now about 10 months (far faster than human population growth rates of around 2%per year).
We can automate any process of production we choose (I write as someone who has run a software company for 30 years) – be it goods or services.
That anyone on the planet experiences want of any necessity is not about our ability to produce those things, it is about the social constraints on the systems we use (not the technology itself).
It is a relatively simple issue, technically, to meet the material needs of everyone, through automation.
What is far less trivial is changing the ways we think, the things we accept without question.
There seem to be many variations (perhaps potentially infinite) that can be usefully and broadly categorised into three basic ways of thinking.
Some groups accept a certain set of ideas as “True”, and one may not challenge such truth.
Many cultures have notions like “heresy” and “blasphemy” that make it a crime to challenge such beliefs. Other versions of the same general class of thinking come in notions like patriotism, nationalism and “truth”.
Some groups simply accept certain cultural norms, without necessarily ascribing the idea of truth to them. Things that must be done, even if no one really know why, and even if everyone acknowledges that the stories are just stories.
Some few people question assumptions, learn about learning, learn about as many aspects of the complexity within which we seem to find ourselves as possible, and create new modes of interpretation and understanding, and end up in modes of understanding that are fundamentally based in probability (without “Truth”).
Science, at its best, falls into the latter category, and it is not difficult to find examples of individuals using science in both of the other major modes.
So what has this to do with economics?
Economics is a set of ways of thinking about social organisation that are founded in exchange.
Exchange, and specialisation was certainly of great benefit to our ancestors, and through them to us.
And now automation is overtaking exchange as the prime delivery mechanism of practical benefit.
Marx tried to create a Labour Theory of Value. There are some clear logical flaws with a labour theory of value, and there is the essence of something in it.
It seems that we each use a measure of time in making value judgements.
How much time would it take us to get x by path a to b to c, versus by path f to g to h.
Many people collapse time into the concept of labour. Marx certainly did, many others have too, in various different ways.
By specialising, we can produce more, and thus society as a whole becomes richer.
But what happens when automation comes along?
Now we can automate any process.
Automation completely breaks exchange based systems.
If you really think money is an accurate measure of value, just consider how you would feel if you didn’t have any air for an hour.
Air has no monetary value.
It is a free good.
It is universally abundant.
No one will exchange anything for it because all they need to do to get what they want is to breath.
But imagine a plastic bag over your head, so you cannot breath – for just one hour.
At normal temperatures you are irrevocably dead at the end of that hour – no chance of even the most advanced medical systems being able to restart your consciousness, the levels of cascading systems failure within the many levels of organisation within your body would have caused just too much damage at too many levels to start again. Dead Jim!
Oxygen in the air is arguably the most valuable thing to any of us.
Yet it has no monetary value.
Automation has the ability to make most goods and services (certainly all those required for survival) as common as oxygen in the air, and just as valueless in economic terms.
The response of the system to date has been to create artificial barriers to such abundance, with ideas like copyright, and intellectual property; the sole aim of which is to prevent universal abundance and thus maintain marketable scarcity.
Gaining awareness of the levels of freedom that are possible takes a lot of work.
People who spend all their time working to make just enough to survive have no reasonable chance of ever gaining sufficient freedom to be able to make the time to investigate the deeper levels of what freedom actually is and what it can become.
There is no shadow of reasonable doubt left in my mind, that having a reasonable chance of real long term security for any of us, requires that we develop systems that deliver such freedom to all of us. Many people will still be in one of the first two modes of existence above, and I have spent over 50 years in the third mode. So I don’t expect to generate universal agreement any time soon.
And we need many more people to start seriously looking at the invalid assumptions present in many of our currently dominant institutions, if any of us are to have a reasonable chance of survival (and I am cautiously optimistic that most (and perhaps even a reasonable approximation to all) of us can survive indefinitely).