A response to a comment by Nihilist following on from Why You Should Blame The Economics Discipline For Today’s Problems
Simple is a relative term – a non trivial exercise in engineering, mostly software engineering, but also quite a bit of materials engineering, but it does actually seem to be quite achievable.
There are a few provisios.
The diet will need to be largely plant based.
If you had told me that 10 years ago I would have said no way. I was a carnivore for 55 years.
Then 7 years ago I got told I was terminal melanoma, and was sent home “palliative care only”. That rather got my attention. I spent 3 weeks scanning as many data sources as possible, and came to the conclusion that the greatest probability of survival came from a diet that was over 90% plant based by calorific value. The easiest way for me to do that was going strict vegan, so I have been vegan for 7 years. Cancer went away. I got used to being vegan, then actually ended up liking it after a few years.
It seems that when you sum up the needs for energy for manufacturing, travel, comms etc, about 200m2 per person of solar cells at 20% efficiency can do it (to what we would call a high standard of living).
Another 100m2 of intensively managed horticulture (all fully automated) would feed us.
Nutrients (materials generally) would need to be largely closed loop, so might be a 3 or 4 year cycle between food going into your mouth, and the same atoms going back into your mouth as food again.
Our existing systems of just discharging to waste cannot continue.
So in the big picture engineering sense, it is all stuff we know can be done, we just need to work out exactly how to automate it effectively at various scales. So it is a significant piece of work, and no technical roadblocks in the doing of it.
Also, no possible way of making such universal abundance “economic” in a scarcity based market measure of value. Making anything universally abundant always makes it worth zero in a market.
So in terms of planning in terms of money, it makes no sense.
In terms of planning for humanity, it makes great sense.
And it is no guarantee of any sort of utopia, it just solves some of the old problems.
To be human is to have problems.
It seems the class of possible and interesting problems is infinite.
It seems that the potential for freedom and diversity is infinite.
And having an infinite class of freedom is not at all the same as saying anything goes.
Complexity requires constraints to exist.
Remove all constraints and all you have is amorphous goo.
Freedom only makes any sense within the constraint sets that allow for the continued existence of complex systems like ourselves and whatever else emerges.
The more complex the systems, the more complex the constraints. And these are complex adaptive systems, so hard rule based constraints are not an option. Boundaries need to be flexible and permeable (and flexibility and permeability must vary with context). Hard boundaries become brittle and break – that is too dangerous.
Once you start to look at the history of evolution from this perspective, it is clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that complexity requires cooperation for survival (all levels).
Seen in this context, morality is an evolved attendant strategy that prevents complex social cooperatives being overrun by cheating strategies.
Any complex social system without deep levels of morality will, sooner or later, cease to exist.
Once you see that, the nature of the most appropriate game changes.
All emotions, likes, dislikes, can be seen as heuristics selected over deep evolutionary time at some level (genetic or cultural or whatever).
None of them are necessarily relevant to our exponentially changing present, and nor should they be lightly dismissed.
The levels of strategic complexity present are profound.
And we are now at something of a tipping point, where the market based system of values that has served us so very well in the sense of manufacturing and distribution, is now, in the presence of fully automated systems, becoming the single greatest risk to our existence if we continue to use it in a planning sense.
And we need the many layers of glue that hold our social cooperative together to remain, but not necessarily in their current form.
It is a non-trivial exercise.
We have to start to use money and markets as one set of tools in a very much larger toolbox, and to see the limitations present, and choose other values for our major decisions.
If we wish to continue to survive (and I most certainly do), then the minimum set of such values seems to be:
1 individual sapient life (human and non-human, biological and non-biological); and
2 individual liberty (within responsible social and ecological constraints).
From that base, infinite diversity is possible, and it is a base that is not at all nihilistic – it is predicated on survival – totally given by evolution in a sense, it is evolution in another sense.
We may have killed god, we may also have killed markets as a useful measure of value, and what remains is deeply based in survival and evolution, and it is clear that the evolution of complexity requires cooperation, and cooperation requires secondary strategies to prevent destruction by cheating strategies.
Self destruction is always possible, and by definition, it is not a survival strategy.