Friday, November 13, 2009

Change Is As Change Does


There were many people who may have talked a good game about the promise of space and telecommunications 50 years ago, while privately despising and even undermining the very people who Actually Made These Changes Happen. Doubt and fear-bound humans have never understood change on that scale, much less at that velocity. Sputnik and the space race didn't cause that. However, they do provide a vivid depiction of technological change.

It's not entirely the doubters' fault. It's in our monkey genetic code. Different kinds of change frighten different types of monkeys (humans) on various levels. Even when we vote for change, we often don't really mean it. Often, what we really mean is: can I get that in blue instead of red? None of us is entirely immune to this desire for change that's not change.

Today, as in 1959, many continue to talk a good game about the promise of accelerating change, but privately they do not believe it for one second. They want to be perceived as hip and knowledgeable, while hedging their bets in private company; this, in order to not appear foolish, later. Ironically, that's the very strategy that ultimately exposes the timidity and indecisiveness that they attempted to hide.

We want change that's not change. We like our scarcity thinking. It's what we've always known. It puts some nebulous "they" in charge of the economy; the economy in charge of our everyday reality; and our dispassionate circumstances thereby dictate our every waking decision. Safe. Stagnant.

Postscarcity means that I may have to rethink all of that. I might have to make new decisions, based upon better conclusions, derived from closer inspection of the current situation.

What if postscarcity is not a cute little theory, but the long predicted result of the past 200 years of industrial development and success, the past five thousand years of cultural evolution and uplift? What if postscarcity brings with it today all the attendant organizational and institutional challenges that one might reasonably expect as we witness the last gasps of a dilapidated, pre-industrial ideological infrastructure that worked so very well, for so very few, for so long?

This is what cultural metamorphoses feels like; a gut wrenching transmutation of the vestigial, collective assortment of expectations and norms that forged the comforting mythological consensus reality affectionately referred to as emergent industrial America.

Scarcity and myth were our center, but the center didn't hold.

It's as if the forecasted inversion of the Earth's magnetic poles has occurred. East is the new West.

It's a confusing time. An uncomfortable time that just feels somehow unfinished, not properly planned, incomplete.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Value Flows from Abundance

"Plentitude, not scarcity, governs the network economy." -- Kevin Kelly
"Dealing with this plentitude is critical because the totals of everything we manufacture in the world are only compounding." -- Kevin Kelly

So this too is all brand new and shocking news, right? Wrong. Try 1998.

More Self-Destructive Addictions: Scarcity Through Coercion

Benjamin Abbot comments on Accelerating Future:
So far, human society has a poor track with abundance. We don’t know what to do with it, so we typically invent scarcity through coercion. We’ve had the technology to provide material comfort to everyone on the planet for decades now. It hasn’t happened.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Abundance: The Journal of Post-Scarcity Studies

"My friends, it is time to establish Abundance as a field of study.

Our task is dauntingly difficult, as most of humanity has slumbered in a scarcity stupor for so long they cannot be easily awakened. The goal is ambitious: From 2009-2010 to lay out the central concepts and theoretical foundations of Abundance Studies.

Establishing a journal is a way to focus our intellectual efforts, build a "brand" and create a home for this new field." - Joseph Jackson
How can I possibly express sufficient professional appreciation and personal respect for the groundbreaking work of Joseph Jackson and all of those involved in this rigorous trailblazing academic work? Mere words or actions can never suffice. May this essential community of scholars forgive my own early participatory negligence, born only of one's own human limitations; and may the coming transition for our emergent global community and subsequent history itself render their due recompense to these incomparably prescient and bold leaders.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Paul Romer: Many Hong Kongs

Date: Tue, 19 May 2009 12:28:40 -0700
From: Stewart Brand
Subject: Many Hong Kongs (Paul Romer talk)
Repost from: [SALT] mailing list

This talk was the first public launch of an idea that Romer has been working on for two years.
His economic theory of history explains phenomena such as the constant improvement of the human standard of living by looking primarily at just two forms of innovative ideas: technology and rules.
Technologies rearrange materials with ingenious recipes and formulas. More people create more technologies, which in turn generates more people. In recent decades technology has enabled the "demographic transition" which lowers birthrates and raises income per person even higher as population levels off.

Rules structure the interactions between people. As population density increased, the idea of ownership became an important rule. A supporting rule for managing violations replaced the old idea of deadly vengeance with awarding damages instead: simply shifting value replaced destroying value. For the idea of open science, recognition replaced ownership as the main event, which means that whoever publishes first is most rewarded, and that accelerates science.
Rules can amplify or stifle technological progress. China was the world leader in inventing new technologies until about a thousand years ago, when centralized dynastic rules slowed innovation almost to a stop
.Romer notes that business keeps evolving as new companies introduce new rule sets. The good ideas are copied, and workers migrate from failing companies to the new and old ones where the new rules are working well.
The same goes for countries. Starting about 1970, China took some of the effective rules of Hong Kong (which was managed from afar by England) and set up four special economic zones along the coast operating as imitation Hong Kongs. They worked so well that China rolled out the scheme for the whole country, and its Gross Domestic Product took off. "Hong Kong was the most successful economic development program in history."
Romer suggests that we rethink sovereignty (respect borders, but maybe import administrative control); rethink citizenship (support residency, but maybe import voice in political affairs); and rethink scale (instead of focusing on nations, focus on cities---on city
states like Hong Kong and Singapore.)

Paul Romer proposes that developing countries could invite instant Hong Kongs---new cities in new locations run by experienced governments such as Canada or Finland. They would enrich the country where they are built as special economic zones while also rewarding the distant government that makes the investment of building the new city state and installing a set of fair and productive rules. Over time, as with Hong Kong, the new city is turned over to the host country.

The idea is getting some traction in the developing world. This summer Romer is going public with a Bridge Cities Institute website for further exploration and eventual application of the idea.

One miracle of cities is that they sometimes renew themselves brilliantly. This could be a whole new form of that.

-- Stewart Brand -- The Long Now Foundation -- Seminars & downloads at

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek: Postscarcity Economics for Dummies?

As far as I'm concerned, it's generally the chickenshit Status Quo Credibility Hedgers that hide behind the word "utopian," mostly because they are just too lazy or afraid to make the effort required to promote, provoke, and perpetuation progressive change. However, knowing that the world is as it is -- at least until we so-called utopians make it better for all of you; no thanks to your ankle biting -- it's worth noting small advances of popular awareness like this from
[I]n the long run, suggests Romer and as potentially demonstrated by "Star Trek," the benefit of expanding knowledge and technological change will be widely distributed prosperity: an end to scarcity, a future where the fundamental challenge of providing for our basic needs has been solved.
Click to read the rest of the story ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

4 Day Work Week as Labor Productivity Dividend

The four day work week is not as uncommon as first thought, with forms of it popping up all across the US. The USA Today article notes that “The four-day work week is fairly common among city and county governments…” and it continues:

Jacqueline Byers, director of research at the National Association of Counties, says the four-day work week is gaining in popularity among county governments. Marion County, Fla., has a mandatory four-day work week for employees; Oconee County, S.C., and Walworth County, Wis., have it for road work crews, while Will County, Ill., has it for the auditor’s office. Oakland County, Mich., is seeking volunteers for a four-day work week, and Miami-Dade County, Fla., and Suffolk County, N.Y., are moving toward it, she says

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Postscarcity Status

Look, by the time Every Person is Running a Robotic Outsourced Corporation, it will be far too late to adapt. That time may well come, but it is not required that any specific futurist vision come to pass in order for us to grasp and act upon the imperative of apprehending postscarcity as a fundamental requirement of adaptive human civilization development, right now.

A rising confluence of urgent pressing changes are already upon us, and the observations are increasingly plain and simple. For instance, the opportunity -- let alone requirement -- for the U.S. to be the world's manufacturer has clearly past. Denial of this fact will only doom us to decades of downturn and dysfunction. This need not happen. As I've said many times, we've "beat that level of the game" and we have to show the way to the next level. When we beat the whole game, then we have to write the next chapters. That's just how leadership works.

The fact is, those of us sufficiently fortunate to exist and operate at the very tip of the spear of economic and technological development have Already Moved Beyond Scarcity. The top 2% have been here for a very long, long time, indeed.

While our numbers have "dwindled" somewhat from 1,000 down to 793, today, the challenge and charge to this generation remains as unchanged as this "downturn" will leave us top 2% untouched: to Mass Produce and Distribute this long proven level of individual material sufficiency and existential liberty. We can call this the postscarcity status.

In the advanced nations, we've already mass produced and distributed every widget imaginable to mankind and this Stuff Network will continue to work for the yet unimagined stuff into the future. Obviously, in contrast to the well worn counter cliche, everything that is needed and can be invented has NOT YET been invented; however, we do know how to make and move Stuff. We've beat that level of the game.

What we're working on now is mass production and distribution of the postscarcity status; a status which is actually quite a modest proportion of the same status that some of us have enjoyed for generations, thanks to our lineage in the top 2%. In the U.S. a meager universal $1,000/mo. Basic Income for adults would bootstrap postscarcity and could be implemented immediately.

What's puzzling is that there is, already, virtually universal unanimity of opinion that "sharing the oil wealth among all Iraqis" makes sense. Clearly, this has worked for the Alaska Permanent Fund for generations. So the idea and everyday practice of equitable distribution of Natural Resources which are pure Public Goods is not foreign to Americans. In fact, it's business as usual. Yet, many people still freak out over anything that hints at "redistribution." Economies are ALL distribution and redistribution. That's all that they do. Period. When economies fail in those functions, when they become systemically and unsustainably skewed, that's when they need to adapt and evolve, or die.

What we've missed; or rather, what it appears that a handful of literally pathological hoarders at the very top of the top of the economic food chain have worked hard to discredit, is the fact that GDP is a Shared Fate Natural Resource like any other. We create GDP all together and it belongs to all of us.

A Basic Income is not a free lunch, it is a Dividend Reinvestment program that begins by declaring CENTURIES OF UNDECLARED PRODUCTIVITY DIVIDENDS that have been hoarded by the unsustainable misbehavior of a relatively few dysfunctional market participants. The market has worked and will continue to work, but only to the extent that we identify market failures along the way and correct them, thereby making markets increasingly efficient and EFFECTIVE at raising the standard of living for everyone.

So, a basic income is like the Alaska Permanent Fund, but it's a U.S. Permanent Fund, based upon the adaptive and ever expanding deep well natural resource of GDP rather than the limited and dwindling resource of oil. In this manner, basic income is even more logical and sustainable than the legacy Permanent Fund programs which have indeed worked well and continue to work well.

Postscarcity is the charge set forth upon this generation's 793 current U.S. Billionaires -- particularly those who are STILL billionaires today, even here, near a market bottom of 2009-2010. The Carnegies and Rockefellers and Fords had to figure out how to get the most Stuff to the most People possible. They succeeded. Now, it's our turn. They mastered the Stuff part of the equation, it's up to us to master the post-Stuff part of the equation: postscarcity.

Postscarcity is not some science fiction future theoretical state, it's a status that has existed for a long time in Royal Circles; from the DNA-based Royalty of ages past to the Industrial Oligarchic Royalty of present day America and the West. The "problem" is that the postscarcity status hasn't been mass distributed yet, and for the sake of continued adaptive success of the human race, we have to solve this problem RIGHT NOW because it will take generations to roll out to wider and wider populations as our technological means advance at an increasingly accelerating pace.

Obviously, industrialization is not "dead" and there are societies that need to traverse stages of development that we in the advanced nations have long left behind. Some may be able to leapfrog the more destructive aspects of early, mid, and late industrial stages, such as dependence upon carbon based fuels for energy used during industrialization. This isn't science fiction, it's the real work for this generation of IMF and international development gurus.

So let's git'r done. Now.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Postscarcity Spawns from Overwhelming Cognitive Surplus

As mentioned before, a message that Clay Shirky has been refining for years, is finally coming into full 1080p resolution.

Yes, American Industrial Capitalism succeeded beyond it's wildest dreams. So much so, that over half a century ago, we had to start scrambling to find ways to soak up the embarrassing abundance of productive human capacity in the system. This is the very foundation of the postscarcity scenario facing us today. It is our perceptions and our psychologies that are the ironic bottlenecks, even in the face of overwhelming raw cognitive abundance.

Today, western industrial manufacturing psychologies and methods have created such a super saturated surplus of goods, services, and Productive Human Attention and Cognition that we are finally being forced from the trees, so to speak, just as our ancestors were forced to do at that stage of evolution. The prospects set before us are of no less consequence.

On the one hand, this should become comforting, for we need not quibble over "whether or not" the postscarcity scenario "can" or "should" come to pass; it simply is what it is; it's an OUTCOME of eons of accrued prior actions. Of course, we obviously need to make some crucial adaptations to the bygone system which brought us this far.

More importantly, perhaps, we must overcome much of our own psychological and philosophical inertia; our very deep, DNA-programmed Emotional Attachment to Scarcity. For most of our biological evolutionary history, that programming was adaptive, it made sense; but we've recently become the somewhat unwitting victims of our own progressively accelerating success.

As in past human migrations, we as individual monkeys each have a variety of choices available to us as we make our best adaptive bets based upon whatever random slices of perception our environment and DNA lead us to believe are most rational.

Every single one of these bets is hopelessly subjective and imperfect. Nevertheless, every single one of us, every single day, places our full stack of Attention and Energy chips upon the table.

We are All In, All The Time, whether we realize it or not.

The message here is almost embarrassingly simple. There are a number of more and less likely and more and less desirable Postscarcity Scenarios; however, they are all the inevitable byproduct of ever increasing Cognitive and Attentional Surpluses; surpluses which will only continue to accelerate at an increasing rate as we Augment and Extend our cognitive capacities in ways only glancingly imagined by the past century of our best science fiction writers.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]