Capitalism Continued

Continued evonomics conversation on capitalism and its alternatives

A continuation of this previous thread.

Reply to Gary Kent

Hi Gary,

Firstly, thank you, profoundly, for taking the time to write your thoughts. I really appreciate it.
These ideas are extremely complex, lots of different themes tightly linked, which is not easy to communicate in an age dominated by tweets and txts.

I did chortle a little when you wrote “You seem to have hit upon a clear understanding almost immediately” given that “almost immediately” spanned the period 1974 – 2010. For someone with a 160 IQ, I’m not always as quick as some might expect.

I like Peter Joseph, and a lot of what he is proposing.
What I dislike is centralised systems (which might sound odd coming from someone who has spent decades designing and producing computer system).
Anything centralised is high risk, as it provides single point of failure, for either intentional or accidental types of failures.
Biology usually solves risk by massive redundancy. Our brains are prime examples.

Yes, there is a kind of point to TZM movies that is about values, but nowhere in any of them is the nature of monetary value explicitly framed in terms similar to my own that you quoted.

TZM use the term “Global resource management system”, which to me is clearly a centralised system of management. To me, it is much safer to empower every individual with the means to produce whatever they reasonably need, and there will remain tests of reasonableness, and assessment of risks. Those are social functions. Individuals wanting to do things that involve significant risk to others will need to meet higher standards of risk mitigation strategies. Some things may be judged simply too dangerous to allow on this planet, and might need to be done in habitats in high orbit, well isolated from earth ecosystems. A lot of genetic engineering work will likely fall into that category.
So while I agree with many of the identified risks, I see that many of the strategies adopted are themselves high risk in the wider sense.

So, as I wrote in that 2011 critique TZM has “some really good stuff in it”.

I was raised on farms, studied biology at university, with particular interests in biochemistry and ecology. In all my writings I stress the need for all actions to be responsible in both social and ecological contexts. So in this sense, we agree on that (some of the “good stuff” mentioned above).
Environmental sustainability can be a derived value from valuing human life and human liberty.
In one sense, we require an operating ecosystem to support us.
In another sense, the complexity of ecosystems is one of the most interesting aspects of the freedom of existence and exploration, and is thus a core component of freedom. Freedom in a sterile environment is very different from freedom in an environment that contains both technology and complex ecosystems. I am all for increasing diversity while decreasing risk.

Earlier today I was chairing our region’s Water Management Committee, and we had a presentation on climate from a climate scientist. Some very interesting aspects to it, and also very limited in the systemic options presented as mitigation strategies. And he did make the point that the last conference he attended that attempted to directly address that set of issues rapidly lost all cohesion as the possible options expanded out.

I am in the camp of – yes, we have real issues with climate change, there is evidence beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that there is increasing temperature, and most of that energy is going into the ocean. And there is credible evidence and mechanisms pointing to CO2 and “greenhouse” gases as the probable lead agent in the warming.
And we also live in a time of exponential technological change, far faster than any climate change.
And right now, the “economic system” is not doing a great job of directing resources to developing effective risk mitigation strategies.
So I see that climate change is a real issue, and to me it seems that technological changes of the coming two decades will make it a relatively trivial problem to solve.

And yes – systems thinking includes all systems, all social and political and technical institutions.

I don’t see the money system as being devoid of human values.

I see monetary value as being the product of human value multiplied by scarcity. Set scarcity to zero (the definition of universal abundance) and the product becomes zero.
No money system can deliver on universal abundance, in and of its own internal incentive sets. If it is to be part of the process of delivering universal abundance, it must be as a tool within a broader set of values and strategies.

Context.
Alway context.
Context is king.

Marx got hung up on private property too.
He was looking for a simple explanation of value.
He got to a labour theory of value, which as a first order approximation is a useful heuristic in many situations, and it is much more complex than that.
I am clear that evolution has encoded a vast set of heuristics at many different levels of organisation, and in both genetic and mimetic realms (bodies and culture {in the broadest possible sense of culture}), and that we each have our many levels of personal assessments of what is valuable to us (which will contain many levels of heuristics and some levels of choice).
There is no such thing as universal value.
Money works as a store of value only because we believe it will. And we believe it will because such beliefs have worked for us (and our ancestors) in the past.
Evolution is often deeply, recursively, complex.

I am all for stewardship.
The Maori language has a word, kaitiakitanga, which is kind of like stewardship, and kind of guardianship, and kind of wise to the ways of complex interrelationships.
I like kaitiakitanga.

And all systems require boundaries. Without boundaries everything tends to uniform mixtures. In this sense, a degree of private property is an aid to stewardship.

For me, there is real power in the notion of private property, and it has to be within a context of valuing human life and human liberty.

Within that context of life and liberty, there is a minimum requirement for land and energy that must be available to every person, that nothing can take away, ever. That is the minimum acceptable limit to sustain an individual and deliver them the energy and tools to have reasonable choices in life. It doesn’t need to all be in the same place. It might be substantially in a house and garden in one place, with small plots being part of larger shared plots in various locations around the world devoted to growing things like coffee beans, or brazil nuts, etc.

I am also a great fan of Elinor Ostrom’s work, and the sorts of strategies that can be successfully used to manage commons resources.

So I do not favour any sort of system that is pure anything.
Strength and security come from diversity and redundancy (at every level – recurs to infinity).

So I am definitely a fan of every individual having at least a minimum allocation of property, that is private, and theirs to be responsible stewards of.

Yes we are born naked, and unless we are born into a caring social context, we die then and there.
Yes we are individuals, and all individuals exist in social contexts, and all societies are in ecological contexts.
We all get language and so much more from culture.
We all stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.

About a third of the land area is too cold to be very useful to most life forms – so leave that out and consider what is left.

My idea is that about half the remaining land area is managed as “natural” ecosystems in semi natural conditions.
Of the remaining half, about half of that be allocated to individuals as private property, which individuals are free to swap and share as they choose (with existing use rights carrying substantial weight in the allocation process).
Of the remaining half, about half of that be managed in various sorts of commons regimes (of which an infinite set seems possible).
The remaining bit being available for use whatever ways communities can reach agreement on.

And yes – in complex strategic landscapes, it is often necessary to have sufficient energy present to allow a system to move from one semi stable state to another; and other forms of change completely are possible, where entirely new paradigms reach a certain level and new modes of behaviour spontaneously stabilise.
If one looks at the evolution of complex systems, one sees that new levels of complexity are usually the result of new levels of cooperation.

When one can see that, one’s view of human nature changes profoundly.

And yes, sometimes things have to get fairly bad in the “old patterns” before the “new patterns” are even visible to some.

[followed by]

Hi Gary,
Again – thank you.
Some of your points go in directions so deep I could write for days.

We are strongly aligned – that is clear.

And I have found it pays to be very clear about implicit assumptions when there is a significant probability of them not being shared. Failure to do so is an immediate block to communication. And I acknowledge that can be very difficult as the number of conceptual levels in models builds.

Your question around the Internet as a centralised system is very perceptive, and very complex. The TCP/IP protocol was designed as a resilient protocol that would ensure message transmission through networks containing real-time disruption (in battle field situations). So the network protocol is designed to work on distributed systems.
The current reality of Internet Service Providers and state security systems has delivered a set of physical infrastructures that are highly centralised in practice.
Part of what I propose is a massive decentralisation of that.
Developing physical hardware that allows multiple distributed mesh networks, using any sort of medium (wireless (multi-band), fibre, or cable) is a part of such liberation and security. Currently most routers only have one connection possible. I would like to see network router hardware that allowed routing between a minimum of 5 physical networks, with easily defined rules about ports, paths, bandwidth, report of intrusion, auto-exclusion (with reporting) of failed connection attempts, etc. I would like to see such hardware standard in all cell phones, as well as all routers in homes and vehicles etc.
The other key aspect I propose is distributed trust networks.
So we can define levels of trust and levels of access in respect of individuals and topics, and we have very smart software monitoring and reporting to us any unusual activity in such networks. Aspects of these networks would be loadable into the firmware of our network hardware

So yes – the Internet as it exists is a basically centralised system, and the protocols of the Internet allow it to be otherwise, even if economic and security incentives drive it towards centralisation currently.

As to doing better, yes, most certainly. And it is hard to unpick the linkages between economic incentive structures and current legal and security systems. That is a topic of infinite complexity, that we can take as far as anyone wants to take it.

And right now I am attempting to stay as much on target as possible.
And I define target as:
developing systems that deliver the greatest possible probability of individual survival and the greatest degree possible of individual freedom with both being applied universally (as soon as you make an exception, you might well end up in that category – it is a high risk strategy, particularly if, like me, you are well outside normal distributions in many attributes).

So my systems have to deliver real benefits in terms of security and freedom, to everyone, both the richest and the poorest, though the degree of benefit to the poorest may be many orders of magnitude greater on a proportional basis than the benefits to the richest.

And, of course, all such benefits have to exist in responsible social and ecological contexts.

No class struggles here.
This is universal benefit.
Everyone wins – no exceptions.
And there will be change.
Some practices from the past will clearly contain too much risk to be allowed to continue.
Such will likely always be the case, such is the nature of the exploration of infinite domains of possibility.

You are right, that allocation issues around property can be complex.
I accept that there could be an infinite set of possible ways of achieving such allocation, and I accept that different communities might choose different methods.
Existing large land holdings would need to be reallocated within the terms I outlined previously. And I was explicit that existing title holders would have as much say as possible in that. That would give them first choice of which bits they retained. At the next level it would give them choice of what category of land the remainder was parceled into – which could include assignment to friends or family etc, or to different classes of wilderness or commons. So they might end up with a central area private, surrounded by a ring of wilderness, surrounded by a wider ring of commons – if they were particularly fond of isolation for example.
Such things would need to be done by agreement on a case by case basis, with some sort of final arbitration mechanism in the case of disputes that would not resolve by consensus.

Yes, any system can be “gamed”, any form of cooperation is vulnerable to exploitation by cheating strategies, and that requires a certain sense of “Eternal Vigilance” as being the price of liberty.
And if one is prepared to take that to whatever level is necessary, then resolution does seem to be possible.
If there are reasonable mechanisms in place (recursively so) then the probability of being identified as a cheat escalates, as does the cost when caught.
So while I acknowledge that there is no theoretical way to ever guarantee 100%, 100% should be achievable in practice most of the time.

Getting into tribal cultures is getting into very complex territory.
Yes they work, in a sense.
And from a systems perspective they work because of the commonality within the group.
Most such groups have quite strict limits, in practice, on the diversity expressed.

If one is optimising based upon the value of freedom, then one must allow for diversity.
Diversity requires greater degrees of boundaries.
We exist because of the many levels of boundaries, from field effects around molecules, to concentration gradients around active catalytic sites, to cells, to organs, to bodies, to communities, to cultures, to paradigms, …….
Our physical bodies have physical needs.
Our expression of diversity requires an aspect of physicality that is best expressed in something like a reasonable level of private property (applied universally).

Your last paragraph introduces the word “rational”.
A cousin of mine made the very astute observation about 40 years ago about me – he said “You are not rational, but you are the fastest rationaliser I have ever met.”
I spent a lot of time considering that comment.
He was correct.
And coming to a systems understanding of why he was correct transformed my understanding of understanding itself.
Once I started to see that all knowledge is essentially built from levels of evolved heuristics, things that survived in practice, then my model of models evolved a level.
It is hard to talk about abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, when all abstractions are by definition personal – they are not anything concrete (whatever concrete actually is) that can be pointed to.

So I have some deep criticisms of rationality, as much as I use it and rely upon it – it is based on sets of heuristics which may not be applicable. Indeed the most open interpretation of the equations of quantum mechanics would seem to indicate that the assumptions of rationality are not valid. And it is undoubtedly a useful tool in many contexts. And I am not at all sure that anyone else alive will be able to make any sense of this paragraph.

So I acknowledge my own, and everyone else’s, essentially intuitive nature, as well as any rationality present.

I doubt that the idea of “common understanding” will have much validity, if it ever did. Plato’s republic in fascinating to me, in this aspect.
I was in a conversation with a woman a few months ago, and she used a word, and I started to reply, then stopped, and asked her what she meant by that word in that context – I guessed I had about 200 possible interpretations, she did not understand my question, as clearly she had only one interpretation available, and I had insufficient information to localise to any one of the 200 some available to me.
Common understanding isn’t common, and is likely to become less so.
That is one reality of exponentially increasing diversity.

Recognising the possibility of infinite sets of nested frames of reference is a step towards understanding the limits of rationality.

[followed byTed Howard Haris Iasonas Haralabides]

Hi Haris,

I’m not sure how you got from what I wrote to “the government is too large”, and I am confident that it will make sense to you in the model that you have. My model is very different.

Looked at purely from a systems perspective, cooperation (which is a reasonable description of any system that allows individuals to peacefully coexist without resort to violence in disputes), can only be stable when there are effective attendant strategies present to prevent invasion by cheating strategies.

The genetic sets of strategies encoded into our being equip us with brains with default sets of systems that allow us to operate in cooperative groups that are stable up to groups of around 150 (Dunbar’s number), which is the limit of the effectiveness of human brains at identifying individuals and reliably determining and recalling social interactions over time (on average over time – a massive set of overlapping probability functions).

Various sets of social systems have evolved which have enabled us to extend Dunbar’s number, and create ever larger sets of semi stable groups.

If you look at the idea of money, and its impact on societies, it is clear that even the ancients understood the tendency of money to accumulate. Various different mechanisms were explored. Various societies developed semi permanent class systems, and strongly discouraged intermixing. Other societies developed alternative approaches. The Jewish tradition of jubilee saw an evening out to everyone every 50 years, and that mostly worked for them. Christian tradition used a mixed strategy of class and a stricture against the charging of interest. Lots of other alternatives at various levels, and all run into the same set of problems eventually:
1 the creativity of individual brains being able to find effective mechanisms to circumvent any system imposed;
2 the inability of brains generally to be able to hold enough information over a long enough period to effectively discover novel cheating strategies;
3 the problem of novelty, new ways of doing things disrupting old patterns, which is part of a larger issue;
4 the problem that many systems are fundamentally unpredictable, for any of an infinite set of possible reasons, chaotic systems, maximal computation complexity, emergence of new levels of complexity, etc; providing a level of “noise” within which cheating strategies can hide.

What is fundamentally different about our age now, from anything that has existed before, is that we now have the tools that give us the technical ability to fully automate any process. Any process fully automated has the ability to deliver universal abundance. Any universal abundance has zero value in a market place (like air, no value because scarcity is zero, therefore market value is zero).

This is a real issue, because markets perform many levels of very complex functions:
coordination (information flow);
risk management;
value storage;
exploration.

Yet the fundamental incentive sets of markets tend towards accumulation and the majority of people being at or below subsistence. The economist Robin Hanson has done some great work on where these trends necessarily lead. I respect that work, even though Robin and I are directly opposed about the desirability of such outcomes.

Aspects of the existing system are set up like a giant winner takes all tontine. But tontines rely on people dying, and we are rapidly moving towards the ability to extend lifespans indefinitely. Such extension is a major systemic change, and changes the incentive sets present hugely – for everyone.

Going back to Dunbars number, and stability, it is possible to read Asimov’s Foundation series as an extension of Plato’s Republic, and doing so requires third level abstraction in both cases. That is an interesting line of enquiry.

Looking to possible alternatives, it is now clear that modern digital technology can extend memory and communication fidelity and network size to the point that Dunbars number can be extended beyond any human population any single sun is capable of supporting.

It is also clear that we have the technical ability to meet the reasonable needs of every human being living, but the incentives of our existing monetary system, and the ways of thinking and behaving that it rewards, work against that.

I am very clear, that the existing system of markets and money is now the single greatest long term risk to the each and every one of us.

If one really does have individual life, and individual liberty as one’s highest values, then one must view both of those in the social and ecological realities that exist (and seem likely to evolve), and act responsibly in all contexts.

Markets and money can be used as tools to deliver on our highest values, but the raw incentives of markets do not align with either human security or human liberty (applied universally, or even personally).

I am saying that it is very much in the long term interests of every citizen, in all countries, to work cooperatively together to ensure that every citizen is provided with the fully automated tools, and a minimum allocation of land and resources, to enable them to do whatever they responsibly choose.
That is a massive task of coordination, not achievable by any single individual. Any ten of the top 100 most wealthy individuals could between them fund such a project with little individual risk, and that seems unlikely to happen, bottom up seems much more likely.

Freedom always comes with responsibilities.
In a sense we all have the freedom to go dancing on highways, and the probability of extended lifespan from such choices is very low. Reality is like that. It has consequences. Pretending otherwise is not powerful.

Real freedom, the sort that delivers long term security, and expands the options available to all, comes with flexible context sensitive boundaries.

Yes we have to all look after our own interests, and we all need to be conscious of the interests of everyone else. Security demands at least that much from us.

I am in favour of maximising individual security (life) and individual freedom, and I acknowledge that can only be done through responsible social cooperation (which includes responsible action in an ecological context), at many different levels.

It is no longer good enough to rely on von Hayek’s information flow through markets, security demands we go beyond that.

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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