Three strands of heterodox economics that are leading the way
Well done Amna – your critique is great as far as it goes.
I agree with most of what Peter Barnes said, and even Peter doesn’t take the paradigm of evolution deep enough to see what needs to be seen.
In 1978 Edward Lupinski famously quipped to Milton Friedman that socialism can only work if everyone has two servants, including the servants. Technology is rapidly approaching the point at which that will become a practical reality.
The problem is not the technology, that is on a very stable double exponential trend.
The real problem is our understanding of understanding itself, what we are, how we got here, and what we are capable of being.
The cosmology is now fairly stable, that our planet has been here for about 4.5 billion years, and life started in very simple forms about 4 billion years ago, and multicellular life started about 1 billion years ago, and human beings that could walk and make tools about 2 million years ago, and around 100,000 years ago the complexity of our societies significantly expanded, then about 15 thousand years ago, another big expansion in our ways of being, 100 years ago atoms, quantum mechanics and relativity, 50 years ago molecular genetics and plate tectonics and that process has continued its exponential expansion into generalised computational and paradigm spaces and Artificial Intelligence.
Now it seems that there are a few ideas around that served our ancestors well, that are no longer serving us nearly as well.
One of those ideas is the idea of money, of using markets and exchange to value things.
When most things were genuinely scarce, that made a lot of sense, and served many useful functions beyond the simple function of exchange, in terms of expanding human networks of trust and information flow, extended distributed coordination functions, etc. These were valuable functions, that served to increase the security of most people most of the time.
And now there is a fundamental change.
Now we are developing tools and technologies to automate processes, and we are doing so at an exponentially expanding rate. Most such processes have been in the realm of information processing to date, and they are moving ever deeper into the realms of manufacturing and design. We are seeing the 1st generations of 3D printing. As that trend matures into full blown molecular level manufacturing, then nothing need be scarce.
Even right now, we have the capacity to produce enough goods and services to meet the reasonable needs of every human being alive today, to do whatever they responsibly choose (where responsibility has both a social and an ecological context to it).
The big issue is, that money and markets can only ever value any universal abundance at zero.
If we deliver universal abundance, we break the money system.
That is too radical a mind shift for many at present.
It is logical, and inevitable (if we are to survive at all as a species) – but at present dogmatically held beliefs (in all their forms, religious, economic, political, cultural, scientific, strategic, algorithmic, paradigmatic etc) prevent most people from considering such things.
Many people would much rather die than question “truths” they hold sacred. I have seen that over and over again, in the last 6 years since curing my own “terminal” cancer, after being ejected from the medical system as “incurable” and sent home “palliative care only”, through changes in diet (and publishing all my details including my medical records on my blog site).
Doing that required that I be prepared to examine all the evidence available, and be willing to try anything that had evidence that it might work.
Since then, many people with a similar diagnosis have visited me.
Few have been willing to do what it takes to change old habits and beliefs.
The evidence is clear, that most people would rather die than make a persistent conscious effort to challenge and change accepted habits or beliefs.
In one sense, I see it happening, and know it is so.
In another sense, I can’t understand it.
I guess I have had the habit, for over 55 years, of challenging authority and proving it wrong.
I don’t know what reality is, and I am very confident about many aspects of what it isn’t.
My world doesn’t have certainty, it only has useful levels of confidence in particular sets of circumstances.
And I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the combination of the idea of “Truth” and the idea that markets deliver a useful measure of value, now combine to deliver the greatest source of existential risk to our species.
Human beings can be cooperative, or they can compete – we have both natures, and which one gets to express is very much a function of the context we perceive.
The scientific reality is, that we have sufficient abundance of energy and mass and technology to meet the reasonable needs of everyone, and in such an environment, cooperative behaviour (at all levels), delivers better outcomes than competitive behaviour. And to be stable, cooperation requires effective attendant strategies to detect and remove cheating strategies.
Markets are fundamentally based in scarcity, and as such tend to promote competitive behaviour from humans.
In any technological realm that has available technologies for mass destruction, competitive behaviour poses fundamental existential risks to all of us.
Using this logic alone, it must be clear to anyone prepared to look, that markets have passed the point of maximal utility in the story of human evolution, and have now moved into the realm of posing serious existential risk.
So the question now is not if we evolve beyond markets, but rather how and how quickly we evolve beyond markets (or go extinct).
And complexity theory would seem to suggest that we try as many different ways as possible, to find security in both distributed redundancy and diversity.
And as an initial step towards supporting such a move away from markets, and an exploration of a diversity of alternative strategies, some sort of high Universal (global type universal – not just national) Basic Income would seem to be a reasonable intermediary strategy.