Post Capitalism and a world without work

Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work

Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work is a major new book that argues for a novel set of alternatives for the future – alternatives which seek to rekindle a popular modernity. The book lists three “demands” on its front cover: Demand full automation, Demand basic universal income, and Demand the future.

A partial answer.
A recent post of mine – gives a brief outline of the problems associated with any form of exchange value (aka money).

It is clear to me that long term security for any of us (even those at the peak of the current capital distribution) requires a different sort of set of deeply distributed and massively redundant networks of trust, production, cooperation. In one sense, these things are simple enough with the tools we now have, but they are almost impossible to envisage from within a money based paradigm.

UBI (universal basic income) may be part of a transition, and to be really stable, we need to get away from exchange values altogether, they are fundamentally antithetical to cooperation in an age of automated abundance. All of the many information processing functions of markets as identified by von Hayek et al can be done much more efficiently by other tools (like SenseMaker developed by David Snowden et al).

Interested to watch what transpires. A pity I live on the far side of the planet, and can’t be there in person, though I do feel a connection to the place as one of my grandfathers was born in Camberwell, and captained a sailing ship to NZ in the later 1800s, and stayed. He died before I was born, but I heard many tales from my mother, aunties and uncles, and learned a bit of cockney in the process.

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In one sense you’re quite right Anette. Unless we give people a very good reason to change their ways, then there is a strong probability that the same sorts of patterns will repeat.

And there is another sense in which this time round is profoundly different. At every other stage in human development, the prosperity of one dominant groups required the labour of another group. Slaves outnumbered Roman citizens about 3 to 1. The dynamics of such systems usually end badly – eventually.

This time is profoundly different in that we can create automated system to empower everyone to a high level. No slaves required. No perpetual economic underclass.

This has never before been possible.
It is a very different game.
So different, many of the players can’t see it yet.

They will, eventually.

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Hi Anette,
Again – it is a yes and no thing.
Yes, the reality of today is of a large set of cultural and economic systems that have what can be viewed as a master-slave relationship.

Humans don’t have much that comes under the technical definition of instinct.
We certainly have a lot of behaviours that come under the definition of not yet examined, that come from assumptions implicit in various layers of culture.
So there is in practice a “power hunger” present, it is not an instinct as such, more of an unexamined cultural habit that isn’t that difficult to remove with a change in context.

Capitalism and communism (as currently practised) are both centralised systems, far more alike than they are different.

I put Marx in the same general category as Smith, Riccardo, Bentham, Hume et al – interesting to read, some interesting ideas, and essential ignorant of recursive systems theory, games theory, evolution, biochemistry, complexity, or computation more generally.

So I’m not about “banal socialism”.

I am about evolving, open ended, complex systems at multiple levels simultaneously.

That means (to me) empowering individual human beings to do whatever they responsibly choose, where responsibility means acknowledging that they live in a social and an ecological context, and actions need be considered in all levels of those contexts to mitigate any significant risk to the life or liberty of others.

It means forgetting the 60s notion that nature is some sort of grand balance, and acknowledging that evolving systems are open ended, always testing boundaries and exploring new domains in many ways.

It means accepting that evolving systems come with many fundamental levels of uncertainty.

It means accepting that the only approximations to security and liberty that exist come from “constant vigilance” in a very real sense.

I do not see people as being “power obsessed”.
I see people as being driven by a search for security, and that without a broad enough strategic context, that does deliver a certain phenotype of “power obsession”.
But that particular strategy set is founded on invalid assumptions.
It is actually a very high risk strategy, but it is very difficult to see that once you are inside it (it is a difficult box to get out of).

What you seem to be missing at present is the concept of distributed systems.
Take Marx’s control of the means of production, personalise it using automated micro machines using a distributed power source, and distribute it to every individual. Personalised means of production.

Take distributed trust networks, and distributed information networks, and combine them with distributed means of production, and any idea, any good or service, can be distributed around the planet in seconds (actual production may take minutes or days, or in extreme cases weeks).

Recurs all of that to as many levels as you can imagine.

It is a very different world.

The old Buddhist saying, “that for the master, on a path worth walking, for very step on the path, the destination gets two steps further away” is one of the best descriptions of infinity I have come across.

I am not talking about a system with hard limits.

I am talking about systems with perpetually expanding boundaries.
Complex systems, where all boundaries and constraints are constantly changing in all dimensions of their properties in response to the actual contexts present.
Many aspects of maximal computational complexity.
Many aspects of chaotic systems.
Many aspects of uncertainty that cannot be overcome by any mechanism, and must simply be accepted.

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I don’t see any of the states you mentioned being set up for anything utopian.

I see that most in the western world are held in a prison of thoughts defined by accepting the notion that markets values and freedom have a causal relationship, which belief seems to me to be not simply mistaken, but to actually now be the single greatest threat to individual freedom in existence.

Like you, I see many barriers being erected, in the name of “free markets”, called “free trade agreements” which are nothing more than agreements to ensure scarcity.

I don’t expect anything to happen by magic, unless one is using the A C Clarke definition “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

Agreed that we need to see our own self interest in a broader social and ecological context, and there is no need for scarcity (other than to sustain a scarcity based economic system).

I’m all for morals, conscience, empathy and intellect – all are needed.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,

A couple of aspects of that “practical end”.

1/ it doesn’t do uncertainty in the way we have to (with all of our measurement errors and hypotheses). It does seem to have an uncertainty component, but by the time it gets to anything directly perceivable by human senses, it has much more of an either “it is” or “it isn’t” aspect to it.
So yes, hypotheses in understanding certainly. Beliefs in as much as they do not have uncertainty associated need to be eliminated (and that is a tricky recursive idea that one cannot push too hard).

2/ what I am proposing is quite explicitly a decentralised system of distributed networks, with infinite possible configurations around any decision making process, which does not remove the need to make decisions, some of which have hard real-time consequences.

And I have been actively working at this for over 40 years, at many different levels, many different strategic domains, many different social contexts.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,

The problem with that approach is that it isn’t “post ideology”, it is continued ideology.

What does one use to determine “best” and “worst”? If one is being reasonable, within an ideological framework, those terms will be defined by the ideology.

If one is post ideological, then one has a set of chosen values, one looks for areas where one can get agreed sets of values with others, then one uses a mix of the available data, and the intuitions of those involved, to get the “best” outcome possible in the particular context. It is based upon an agreed subset of values. It is an ongoing conversation.

Why go down the Turkmen-Pashi route. That is well understood. There is a certain heuristic value in benevolent dictatorship – the two major problems being:
1 one cannot ensure benevolence (probabilities degrade with time in most cases), and
2 it is a single point of failure that becomes the focal point for opposition.
Democracy is the most expensive form of government known. That is why the constant search for alternatives – most people are not interested in putting in the time required to make democracy work effectively.

Still not clear where you are coming from.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,
I’m with David.
I have never supported a democracy that is any form of a “tyranny of the majority”. That is not what I do this stuff for.

What I have consistently worked for is the greatest degrees of individual security and individual liberty possible in the present social, political, technical, ecological, physical environment.

Democracy is powerful not for the power it puts into the executive, but for the limits on executive power that it bestows on the populace. It is a very complex strategic mix, and it is in need of some adjustment to catch up to the technical environment.

So I am about evolving our systems to meet the new demands of exponentially expanding diversity that universal empowerment to self actualisation must logically deliver.

Lots of practical trials happening out there in reality – not all a matter of MIRI theory.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,

Looked at from a purely theoretic framework, it is a very complex problem.

Human beings live in complex realities.
We have limited computational power, and limited knowledge.
It seems clear that evolution in both the genetic and mimetic contexts have provided us with sets of heuristics for “simplifying” the complexity down to manageable chunks, and has delivered heuristics for decision making in uncertain conditions.

Reality is, that there is too much going on in complex societies with many levels of specialisation for any individual to be up to speed with them all. So we have mechanisms for specialisation in different sorts of decision making.

Various forms of democracy can be viewed as various sorts of solution to this general class of problems.

Enemy of the nation is not a powerful concept in any situation other than immediate threat of physical extermination by some external agent.

In that specific case, it can be a powerful heuristic.

When one looks at problem solving in an abstract sense, there are many classes of problem that cannot be solved by computation and cannot be determined ahead of time that such is the case, giving rise to the “halting problem”. The halting problem is part of the more general class of diagonalisation in computational systems (depending on the levels of abstraction one brings to viewing such things).
A classic approach to solving such problems is the use of “Oracles”, essentially black boxes that respond with a mix of heuristic and random aspects, with consistent probabilities (the Greeks discovered this in practice long before the theoreticians of the 1930s).
This is similar in a sense to the finding from database theory, that the most efficient search possible is a fully random search – that all forms of indexing and sorting consume more machine cycles than they save if the processor is fully loaded.

As societies and technologies have grown in complexity, people have tended to offload decisions about non-specialist areas to other groups – assuming those groups to be more informed and to generally have the interests of the whole in mind.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case.
Such a system is prone (in games theoretical terms) to invasion by cheating strategies, which does appear to be what has happened in practice in many cases.

Another aspect of the problem is conceptual schemas in use in society generally.
Everyone has to use heuristics to simplify problems to manageability, but some heuristics take that simplification too far.
As we each evolve and grow as individuals, we must all start from the simplest possible distinctions, binaries, like true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark, etc. That is a necessary developmental phase.

Unfortunately many individuals hold on to such simple binaries as lifelong heuristics, and do not move to finer gradations of approximation to infinite variability. That is a real issue for governance generally and democracy in particular.

One needs to go through quite a few levels of examination of the strategic interactions present in biological systems, and the realms of probability, logic, games theory etc, before one can gain a practical confidence (a reliably tested set of priors in a Bayesian sense) as to the sort of strategic systems we find ourselves in, and the sorts of strategic responses that show reasonable probability of delivering long term security and freedom.

It is not a trivial problem.
Not a simple situation.

Many different sets of strategies at many different levels all with interacting phenotypic expressions in reality.
It is a complex, and at times chaotic system (in the mathematical sense of chaos).

Simple heuristics definitely have utility in short term or time limited decision making, and for longer term decisions one needs different sets of heuristics, and one needs to be able to change heuristics rapidly in response to changes in the systems actually present.

It is a strange reality indeed when some of the best strategic insights are coming out of biological realms, time limited battlefield decision theory, and artificial intelligence research, and not necessarily from the realms of philosophy, political science or psychology that one might expect to deliver such things.

The power of consensus decision making, if it is used powerfully, is that it allows rapid identification of what wont work, because of the wide field of practical knowledge present in the group. It can be slow, and if well facilitated, and if people are prepared to go back, and look for alternatives, rather than becoming attached to any particular process or outcome, then it does (from my experience) work well. Not useful if time is short. The quicker the response needed, the greater the need to pare down decision systems and information. Complex.

And again, one of the great powers of democratic forms is their power to limit the worst excesses of power itself.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,

At some level, we are all subject to a certain level of “brain train”ing. None of us can invent everything by ourselves.
At every stage in our development, we must do a certain degree of imitation and trust of others, in language, in culture, in science etc.

And I agree with you, that most continue doing it to a degree that is both dangerous and unhealthy. And there is a certain selection pressure for such things, a certain social cohesion maintained.

And like you, I favour individuals doing their own testing of all assumptions as and when conditions allow. I have in fact had such a habit for about 55 years. And many of our social and legal systems are not really set up for that sort of independence of thought and action.

[followed by]

Debate seems alive and well here – between you and I.
Futurists have to eat, so until post scarcity arrives, selling books is one way to do that.

All of my writings are freely available to all, here and on my blog. And elsewhere.

Most of my time I give freely to community projects.

Do you think I am bullying?
Debating, certainly, bullying – don’t think so.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,
A lot of truth in what you say, and not always.

Just occasionally, real novelty does happen (not nearly so often as many think, and more often than some hope).

The problem with real novelty, is that most people have no distinction set to allow for it, so it usually gets mis-classified as something already known, by most people, for a long time. And eventually, if it is persistent, it does break through those distinction/classification barriers.

[followed by]

Hi Anette,

For me, I see everything about me as systems.
Life forms are examples of highly recursive sets of systems.
So for me, the human psych is one level of system, and all systems have within them classifications and rules (distinctions and habits in a sense). Its “just” a matter of levels and degrees.

So in this sense, I agree with all else you wrote, and there is another aspect at play.

I have observed many aspects of instant change, and without real change in context, old patterns tend to re-assert.

As I see the patterns, the xenophobia is real enough, and it is an effect of the patterns emergent from using markets as a valuation tool (money in a real sense).

I’m clear we have all the levels of tools to effect real change, and tools don’t make a difference if left in the toolbox, they only make a difference if used in reality.

In dynamic multiple stable state equilibria there are threshold values, tipping points, and there are instants in space and time when those values are far lower than elsewhere. Those are the points of focus.

Those are the “spaces” to identify and focus upon.


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
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