To further add to the discussion that had led to the Occupy Wall Street movement but also a generic observation of a secular cultural movement, here are the problems with the current system.
The biggest cause is the combination of scientific understanding and mass production. Imagine for a second that you would only be able to use technology that you yourself fully understood and was able to build yourself. This would very much look like either a hunter-gatherer society or an agrarian society where everybody understands everything the need about the world and are able to feed themselves, build shelter, etc.
If we translate that to the present very few would be able to live like we do now. It takes a decade or more for someone to understand and learn how to build a rudimentary microchip. I once read a story about a guy who spent more than two decades building copy of an otherwise very expensive sportscar from scratch machining every single component from scratch. Furthermore, since people are born with very different levels of abilities, only a few would ever reach such a level of technological understanding.
As it is now, you don’t need to learn how a high frequency magneton generates microwaves which are directed at objects where they excites molecules. You just need to buy a microwave oven and push a button.
Technology has abstracted the understanding into a similar user interface. This is similar to how one no longer needs to train twenty years with a sword in order to be a dangerous solider. Give someone a gun and they can be off killing people five minutes later.
Hence, the combination of technology (applied science that can simply be copied) and mass production has made it possible for the majority of people who otherwise would never have the skill to enjoy these innovations.
The problem is that our distribution models are still based on agrarian models. It is not easily acknowledged that when it comes to mental capacity, one person can, by building a system, be hundreds or thousands times as productive compared to a farm labor system where a hardworking man might only be 50% faster than an average man.
By buying into this we have created a system in which only a minority actually need to work in order to feed the entire population.
Initially, the idea was that this would lead to a life of luxury with less work. However, the redistribution system remained agrarian in spirit. As the most productive members of society took over an ever larger piece of the cake and provided iPhones to replace telegrams, the less productive got squeezed out. This created an enormous competition at the lower levels with women entering the workforce in order to help bring home enough money to buy all the things that were made available and people were expected to have.
Now, having been locked into the system nobody even knows how to provide for themselves anymore. They have been rendering helpless by technology. Just to give an example of how bad it is, my neighbor was thoroughly impressed that I had been able to construct a mallet by taking a round of wood, drilled a whole in it for a handle and jammed it in there. If people hadn’t bought into technological wonderland, they could in principle say “okay, since you have no need for me, screw it, I’m going back to the farm”.
In such a scenario, you would have the people who understood technology well enough to build it living with its benefits. Those who did not understand would not benefit from it. You would essentially have a situation where instead of having productivity concentrated in first world countries and subsistence living concentrated in third world countries, everything would be intermingled. Furthermore, nobody would think it unfair. To each according to their ability.
As it is we have a bunch of patchwork solutions.
First off, the productive members of society would naturally be a bit annoyed if other people required them to work because they were the only one’s able to. I’m sure everyone can think of an example where someone else has mooched on them because they were the tallest, the strongest, the smartest, etc. and used that as an excuse for an easy out.
Certainly some compensation would be required. This currently takes the form of absurd amounts of money (Come on, who needs a salary of $50 million per year?!?) but maybe there is a better way? Of course this money quickly makes its way back into the economy: It’s either invested (essentially a wash), spent on luxury (providing jobs to toilet assistants or whatever rich people enjoy), or donated to charity in exchange for their name on some building. It’s not all bad except when it looks bad (e.g. aforementioned toilet assistants). Some of these guys could learn a lot from Marcus Aurelius.
Another patchwork measure is to generate waste. If we can’t find useful things to do for people, let them do something useless. And since the private market is not so good at doing useless thing (this tends to lead to bankruptcy) let government do it. The government will never go under because it can print its own money. Of course this generates inflation. One way of seeing inflation would be as “excess inefficiency” compared to a private market solution. Thus by hiring people to dig up holes and fill them up again and paying them gets money into their hands and since they performed something that could be confused with productive work, nobody has any resentment (except those who paid the taxes for it).
Of course the traditional means of redistribution was the family. I’ll happily share resources with my wife and if pressed I will also share resources with the rest of the family. This is how things worked before everyone became a two-income household. This is how most people are.
The problem with this model is the relative to the baseline, many such families don’t have the talent to provide for themselves anymore since technological advances have moved beyond them. Hence, everybody from the family is out scrambling.
Perhaps the solution would be tribal in nature. This of course just pushes the problem slightly further out. But imagine if you felt filial loyalty not just to those you were related to by blood or marriage but also to the “clan” or whatever. By loyalty I mean a situation where you wouldn’t mind giving all your money to the clan as long as the clan also looked out for you.
Today most people expect this to happen on the national scale where it’s called socialism. The problem with large scale implementation is the Dunbar limit. You can’t relate socially to more than about 500 people. You need to keep track of people to know whether you’re being screwed over. This can not happen on a national scale and thus everybody tries to screw over everybody with only some government bureaucracy and a vast assortment of laws and regulations trying to prevent it.
Of course what I’m talking about here is something akin to an intentional community and those have been tried and they have largely failed (as far as I’m told). Conversely, the tribes and clans of old times which people were born into seemed to work quite well.
Anyway, that’s all I have for now. The present problems are certainly a result of technology and science having advanced far more than the political and economical sciences. Too, it is a result of the majority of people not being able to keep up with either, if any.
Maybe the solution for you is to establish better connections with your neighbors and extended family. Maybe the solution is tribes on the internet, such as the “ERE tribe” if there’s such a thing(?)
ERE in itself is a partial (if not complete) solution. First off, by retiring early, you’re making room for someone else and sharing work instead of hogging it. Second, by investing money (in people who are more efficient) instead of spending it on junk, many would make money much more efficiently than they could on their jobs. At the current stage ERE requires a large level of self-confidence because you would be doing something different from the herd (and humans are herd animals). However, in time as it becomes more popular, a full solution would be one where it would be normal to only work for some years and then use the financial system to redistribute money back for the rest of one’s life.
If “everybody did it”, the world wouldn’t collapse. You’d just remove all the waste-pretend-busywork-productivity that infests the current system. I realize that it’s hard to admit (perhaps even akin to a form of existential crisis) that one’s job is ultimately pointless. I certainly had a tough time admitting to myself that my career didn’t really make much of a difference at all in people’s lives—definitely not compared to what it was paying (roughly $10,000 in government money for each paper I published). However, people would need to go through that kind of soul searching in order to transition the system.
Originally posted 2011-10-14 13:13:54.