"It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting our high technology from WEAPONRY to LIVINGRY."
- Buckminster Fuller (h/t Suzy Waldman)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Did You Know?

Brazenly stolen from Dylan Hendricks


gryposaurus said...

Well, the technocrats have been saying this for 80 years now.

The "artificial scarcity" is interesting and should be examined against the idea that the amount of any essential, non-commodity item produced will equal whatever it can be sold for at make a small number people profit. IOW, what is the excess value lost as a result taking from the laborer to give to the owner of the production means and how does that effect scarcity?

Greg said...

While artificial scarcity is real, the suggestion that there is no longer real scarcity clearly goes against much of what is discussed on this blog.

Michael Tobis said...

It's a confusing thing, I'll admit.

There's plenty for us all to get by. There isn't enough for us all to get "rich". No matter how hard we try.

But we could be a lot happier, I think.

Steve Bloom said...

OT: Michael, would it be possible to devote a post to this? Many journalists still need straightening out on this subject (inc. Charlie, although not nearly so much as many others). I think all the science journalists who matter read the KSJTracker, so it's a good pressure point. I've been thinking about this issue quite a lot for the last few months, and think I have some useful things to say, so a good place to say them would be helpful. Recent statements by Trenberth and Hansen refer, but didn't seem to me to be complete or for that matter entirely consistent with one another. There's an obvious serious need to get scientists on the same page, since until they are journalists are going to keep going off on tangents. The current (and highly contradicotry) Australian press coverage of this issue makes for a good case study.

Vinny Burgoo said...

Steve Bloom, your link points to this page. You might be making a complicated (and, for me, giddying) philosophical point but I suspect that you've cocked up the link.

Richard said...

A very good topic. Some thoughts it prompts:

Matt Ridley (or Jeffrey Sachs, for that matter) might point out that North Americans are already wildly rich, even the poorest of North Americans, by world historical standards. (Electricity, food, air conditioning, modern medicine and lifespans.)

Daniel Kahneman says that Americans need only $75k/yr to max out their income/happiness ratio. ($150k for New Yorkers. D'oh!)

Most amazing to me is something that has not yet been much discussed: much like the premise of the cartoon, our productivity seems to have produced a period of a sort of 'invisible utopia.' Wall Street, by far the largest industrial concentration of wealth in the US, has been mostly non-productive (Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan both in agreement on this point); essentially a cash extraction machine for people with high SAT scores. Leaving aside the justice or injustice (particularly post-crash), which is well covered in the likely Oscar winner "Inside Job," what's really interesting is that if you work in a non-productive industry, it doesn't really matter to the outside world if you even go to work or not. So, after the SAT's, the Princeton degree, and the Goldman interview, why should bankers even have to work? They have brutal hours, especially as analysts -- because of the competitive nature of the game; but from a social standpoint it would be easy enough to spare them the hours and let them keep the money.

What if the government decided proprietary trading could only happen for four hours per month, while leaving compensation otherwise untouched. In other words, at Goldman, you can still get the $10m bonus, but are restricted to a day or two of work per month. Just like a poker game that can either go for weeks, or for one evening. If you call the game at the end of one evening, the spoils get divided, and you can spend the rest of the month in St. Barts, or volunteering on energy research, whatever a Goldman physicist might like to do.

There was a name for great wealth that was decoupled from productivity: the aristocracy. A key missing link in the past 30 years is understanding how meritocracy has devolved into a similar, but more profoundly resilient, social structure.

David B. Benson said...

MT --- Did you have rolling blackouts in Austen?

txprt6 said...

The notion that nonindustrial peoples live on the knife-edge of constant starvation is completely false. On the contrary, according to Marshall Salins, tribal groups represent the original affluent society. They figure out how to make a decent living together within the limits of their particular ecosystem. Without a growth imperative or a desire to conquer their environment, most indigenous bands can maintain themselves well—as long as conditions last. Relative equality and a mostly flat hierarchy assure little social unrest.

Steve Bloom said...

The missing link (no, not *that* missing link).

adelady said...

txprt6. I remember someone reporting that your "average" hunter-gatherer spent about 4 hours or less a day acquiring food.

The idea that hunter-gathering leads to starvation comes from a combination of looking at remnant populations surviving on more and more marginal land and the very real problems of agriculture - esp in the absence of good storage.

In Australia it's certainly true that non-desert indigenous peoples had a near idyllic lifestyle. In terms of abundant food gathered in relative ease.

Michael Tobis said...

I think it's clear that pre-technical human populations, like populations of other creatures, rise to fill their niche.

I do not believe that there were no lean years for the aboriginals; their population would have grown until there were. They would have worked very hard to survive the lean years. The survivors would have had it relatively easy in between.