Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Why Post-Scarcity Economics is Scary

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

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Follow along if you will on a mental exercise in post-scarcity economics.

"Post Scarcity" is basically a utopian ideal of economists.  It means everything is free because things are no longer scarce.  Matter of fact the entire study of economics would be unnecessary in a world where resources were unlimitedly plentiful and not scarce.  But to really wrap your brain around the concept of "post scarcity" you have to understand what it really means.

If resources were unlimited, everything would be free.  Cars would be free just as gumballs would be free.  And because everything is free, then NOTHING would have value.  There would be no prices.  Just "stuff."

You can kind of imagine this if you've ever seen Star Trek where they have the replicator.  As a child you might say, "Well I'd replicate a ton of diamonds and be rich!"  But the problem is there is no "rich" or "poor" in a post-scarcity economy.  The diamonds have no value because they can be replicated ad-infinitum, just like everything else.  Again, NOTHING would have value, NOTHING would have a price.  Matter of fact in a TRULY 100% post scarcity economy, you wouldn't even have money, because,

what would you buy?  Everything is free.

Naturally, a 100% post-scarcity world is actually impossible.  Even if we perfect 3 d printing, you need people to maintain the 3d printers, people to transport goods, electricity, not to mention maintain the infrastructure of society as well as some government services to manage the humans.  But what is interesting about economics (and humanity) is that though a 100% pure post-scarcity economy is impossible, we are constantly, asymptotically approaching it.  Just 100 years ago food was kind of a huge issue.  Now it isn't.  Just 250 year ago, electricity was a huge issue (non-existent).  Now it isn't.  And thus, though we will never have EVERYTHING be truly free, because of technological advances, we are constantly closing in on that post scarcity goal.

This then leads the human mind into an interesting world.  If 3d printers actually deliver on all of their promises, it will be the first time in human history where your physical needs are met at zero or near zero cost.  This then behooves the question:

"What will humans do or pursue in life?"

Realize you, me and everybody else works a fair percentage of our lives working up the money to pay for everything.  But if "everything" (or most everything) were free, what would the economy be about then?  What would humans work and live for?

The answer is other humans.

Specifically, sex and attention.

Imagine again there is no such thing as money.  Material goods and physical possessions are limitlessly abundant.  What would then have any kind of value in this society and economy?  Well, with physical goods being completely free, the only thing would be non-physical goods or services, namely provided by humans.  And because of our binary sexual nature, this would leave only two goods or services left to be traded.

Sex and attention.

Men would want sex from women and women would want attention from men.

Of course, this trade has always been going on, but has been confused or complicated with physical goods.  Men needed to display their income earning potential to convince women that are good providers, so they would buy "expensive stuffs" like sports cars, Rolexes, etc. to peacock around.  But, alas, in a post-scarcity world, this role would be rendered obsolete, relegating the man solely to his ability to provide attention to score some sex.  Women would also face a much more simplified economy.  Instead of having to work all those extra hours to buy a pravda purse and pay off her Masters Degree in English, she now just has to earn mens' attention by solely focusing on her physical beauty.  And this is where it gets scary.

Though it's impossible to predict, as far as my SAEG (TM) tells me, a post scarcity world would be nothing more than a super, hyper-sexualized world where the last remaining economy is purely based on men's ability to be ripped and buff, and women's ability to make themselves as pretty as possible. In other words, imagine Miley Ray Cyrus and roided up guys at the gym, but a hundred times more vain, slutty, and self-obsessed.  Millions of them, all trying to outdo each other in order to garner the most about of sex/attention they can.

In short what would happen is an arms race based on narcissism, looks, beauty, and the like that would drive both the supply and demand curves to the right for sex and attention.

Normally, economists would agree this is a good thing.  When the supply and demand curves for anything shift right, you have increased production but (assuming proportional increases in supply and demand) no increase in price.  But my fear is at what human cost.

Humans are not cars or widgets.  And matter of fact, intellectual conversation and stimulation I believe is the most important thing humans can provide other humans, something physical items can't.  But with everybody racing for the gym, getting the latest implants, and injecting themselves with the latest roids, it is unlikely such a vain society will stimulate intelligence, let alone intelligent conversation.  And so my second prediction.

Should post-scarcity ever occur, it will fragment humans into two camps.

1.  Those willing to expend the effort necessary to participate in the arms war of sex/attention
2.  Those not willing to expend the effort and instead focus on intelligence and personality

The first group will likely breed and populate the future as their entire focus is on sex and attraction.  The second group, though maybe not as much, will still copulate, but focus on less physical and more mental qualities and traits.  Naturally, over time, these two groups will evolve with one group becoming "hotter" and the other group "uglier," but it makes me wonder if over time and because of the "hyper arms-sex-attention race" post scarcity would instill in the "hot group," that they would evolve into separate different species (and is here where my speculation runs out as I am not a great biologist, geneticist, let alone philosopher, and is perhaps where others might take over).

However, as I said before, this was a mental exercise.  There are many variables that would make such a scenario unlikely, even impossible, and I would hope some of you would point those out (besides, it would only take one generation focusing on looks and not the engineering needed to keep the 3d replicators operational that would end the post-scarcity economy).  But before economists cheer for a post-scarcity economy, they may want to think about what it would replace and what the consequences might be.

Article Source
Captain Capitalism
Rantings and tirades of a frustrated economist.

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