The Future of Money – Does Money Have A Future?

Builds Upon: Why Unrest Will Continue To Grow In Industrialized Nations

As production becomes increasingly efficient and requires ever less labor, civilization is faced with a horrible dilemma—abundance.

Without scarcity, there can be no market.
Money deprived of a market is a goldfish flopping about after its bowl has been shattered.

For those who enjoy the benefits of money, unfettered abundance can only bring on a fate worse than death—to become perfectly ordinary with nothing to justify a sense of superiority or to distinguish oneself from the faceless crowd.

It takes a lifetime, even generations to accumulate money. A decrease in the importance of money would destroy gains won through years of labor and sacrifice. Many would lose their life’s work.
The incentives bring the wealthy to the obvious conclusion.
Efficiency in production cannot be allowed to result in indiscriminate abundance.
Scarcity must be maintained at all costs.

For most human beings, money is the shackles of slavery. It is always scarce and without it one cannot be considered a member of society or even a human being.
Ironically for this majority, as the production of goods becomes more efficient, money must become more scarce. If less people are needed to produce, less people are paid.

Thus wealthy people’s goal of maintaining the integrity of markets and the value of money is inimical to the interests of most people.
Abundance has resulted in zero sum conditions that pit the wealthy against everyone else as never before.

This is why we see a different sort of conflict developing. This time it is not about getting a slightly better deal under the existing system. It’s not even about unseating the wealthy and taking over the top of the pyramid.
The scope of what is happening here is far wider than most people yet understand.
The system itself is at stake.

Let us look at some possible new worlds:

1- The Powerful Stay In Power

There are only as many cattle as demand supports.

This same principle applies to the human herd.

As less people are needed, the population of workers must shrink down to the level of equilibrium.
-Perhaps some people would perish of privation
-Fertility in the herd drops because of scarce resources.
-Social strife spurred by scarcity causes millions of deaths.
-Direct and indirect means used by the powerful to reduce the population to a more manageable level.

A critical precedent is established once and for all: societies exist to serve the rulers. Anyone else is livestock.

The rulers want each generation of cattle to be more useful and pleasing than the last.
Predictably, genetic engineering and selective breeding become the norm.
The process of human domestication that began 10,000 years ago is finally taken to its logical conclusion.
In the underclass, at least, humans as we know them cease to exist.

2- Abundance Destroys Money As The Means to Power

The powerful are unable to maintain artificial scarcity. Like a high tide, the influence of money over the world begins to recede.

Basic human needs such as food and shelter are massively devalued or even become free.
In a world where people aren’t just desperate to eat and keep a roof over their head, pointless tasks that no one wants to do(most of the economy) are abandoned.

The money system likely continues, but only where there is sufficient scarcity.

A new period in human history begins but it isn’t a utopia. Indeed, without scarcity to keep people in line, such a world would be one of disorder. All the impulses that people must suppress in order to eat for another day would be unleashed on the world.

Is this world better or worse? As in outcome 1, it depends on who you are.

For followers who instinctively love predictability, the world is a much darker place.

For those who thrive on creativity, critical thinking, and chaos it is a great age of opportunity.

3-A Middle Road?

The length of the working week is reduced from 40 to 35 to 30 and so on. The job is gradually and peacefully phased out.

Unfortunately, the moderate path comes with certain problems.

Already, the 40 hour workweek is a myth.
People in salaried jobs commonly put in 12-16 hours a day.
A monthly salary is a blank check for an employer: the employee ends up working as many hours as they possibly can. The employer then gets to hire less people.
Furthermore, no one creating a job wants to have their best worker work only 30 hours in order to share time with someone less competent. Equal distributions of jobs or hours can’t work in an unequal marketplace.

What really happens then is that only the most desirable people end up with real work to do while most of the rest of the population is underemployed or idle. The elite employers and employed won’t support an unskilled, unneeded, disruptive underclass forever.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 1.

As most people find they can rely less and less on traditional jobs for their livelihood they inevitably start looking for alternatives.
Abundant leisure time and urgency results in millions people stopping to think about the world they live in.
The artificial nature of scarcity becomes obvious.
Social unrest in favor of abundant resources ensues.
This trend drives the world towards outcome 2.

To say the least, this middle passage seems precarious.

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12 responses to “The Future of Money – Does Money Have A Future?

  1. Any city-state or nation that can make 2 or 3 work will have a large advantage over a type 1 economy.

    If worst comes to worst, they can just export the people they need to build that type of economy to a country with a weak government. That government has a lot more to gain by letting them stay and set up shop than by kicking them out. The established interests are much weaker than the labor unions, think tanks, lawyers, police ect that we find in the US.

    Even many of the progressive/liberal cities that want a “Sustainable/Green” image aren’t ready yet for a post scarcity environment. They have regulations on rainwater collecting, home gardening, ect… even during the drought of these past few years many states kept their ban on personal use rainwater collectors. I’ve heard some people complain that it might decrease the property value of neighboring homes.

    But all of that technology is just for personal resilience and is not appreciated in a system that’s supposed to be “interdependent” (dogma). The real kick in the nuts comes with personal 3d fabrication units, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and land based robotic drones. A decade or two from now, anything you can’t make yourself with your personal printer you could have shipped to you using an UAV, that you custom designed on the internet, created by automated manufacturing units. The technology won’t take decades but we’re a lot slower than technology.

    The more agile jurisdictions that don’t outlaw them or heavily restrict what can be made on them will enjoy a quality of life unheard of for mankind. But they won’t be the majority. There are only maybe a dozen countries (probably less) that have used the internet to somewhere near it’s current commercial, social and educational potential (that is still expanding). Most of the nations and cities are dragging so far behind that they basically aren’t in the race.

    • I was wondering where in your opinion is using the internet to its fullest potential or is most open to it?

      South Korea is perhaps the world’s best connected country but that doesn’t necessarily translate to creative use.

      As I’ve watched the Arab Spring unfold I’ve wondered if nations in north Africa might become leaders in new creative trends.

      When it comes to adopting a new system, we’re not just talking about conservative resistance.

      Pre-existing infrastructure makes advancement difficult.

      Compare British to American roads.
      Britain has comparatively few M roads and going anywhere other than the biggest cities requires driving on lots of one lane A and B roads that follow the courses of centuries old cart paths. You can’t go much faster than 40 mph because they curve all over the place and you have to constantly watch out for oncoming traffic.

      The American highway system is so efficient that it takes about as long to get places in America as it does in England.

      The difference: England MacAdamized their roads first and everyone else got to learn from their mistakes and refine the process. Plus, places like the US could build much more flexibly because of less pre-existing infrastructure and more available land.

      Compare the NYC subway to other subway systems around the world.
      Trying to get around Manhattan is a mess with all the lines named after both different colors and letters of the alphabet.
      The reason: NYC was one of the first places metros popped up.
      In the beginning, different private companies were all running separate lines.
      It didn’t take long for other cities around the world to figure out this wasn’t the best approach. Meanwhile, NYC was stuck with its anachronistic infrastructure.

      Thus, I anticipate that in the future the West may lose some of its edge simply because there’s less pre-existing stuff elsewhere.
      Countries/cities that are just now coming into their own on the internet will have a lot more room for innovation.

  2. When I look at the ambition of the people in power, I see a bunch of man children that hunger for poptarts and chocolate milk, when they should be eating a New York Strip with a glass of bourbon. There is no accounting for taste and style.

    • Since the rulers tend to be the people most satisfied with the way things are, they have the least incentive to make any meaningful change.

      If absolute monarchs still ran things, surely we wouldn’t have a shower and microwave in every house.
      For short-sighted despots, having an abject, beaten population incapable of organization or resistance serves their interests.
      They tend not to think about how many advances for the common good also improve their own quality of life.

      When I’ve seen the tombs of the rich and famous of medieval Europe, I couldn’t help but notice that few of them lived far past age 60.
      It’s also occurred to me to imagine what modern medicine could have done for an older, ailing Henry Tudor.
      Yet we can count on such a man to crush innovation every time.
      A despot understands that innovations affect the world in ways that no one initially predicts and holding onto power is the bottom line. For Kings, allowing innovation is like playing a game of Russian roulette.

      We might think of the story of the town mouse and the country mouse:
      Pop tarts in peace vs. a nice steak in an unpredictable, dangerous world.
      The poverty of the rich is their desire for security.

      My next post will deal with how paucity of the imagination affects markets and what we can do about it.

  3. I’ve ran ad campaigns in other countries using translator services (though never anything in Africa). Credit card penetration varies widely from country to country, so getting people to pay using conventional methods can be difficult (paypal isn’t actually a banking institution and shouldn’t be used by anyone with common sense). It’s difficult for them to buy Western products unless they are from the upper classes. It depends on which demographics you target. Which in fact could make them all the more likely to adopt their own systems.

    Many people in African countries will have to outright resist their governments to get their hands on things we take for granted. The State has an even bigger hand up everyone’s asses in African countries than here, whereas here we have most of the tools we need at hand. All we have to do is use them creatively and the system falls on it’s own weight.

    The road/subway system example doesn’t hold up completely, we can build this system without completely putting the old 20th century manufacturing system on hold (though how long it remains economically feasible is a guess). Whereas with a road you are certain to have traffic jams and additional accidents. I think the biggest risk is people viewing the current system to just be “good enough” until we get so far behind the power curve that our economic engine stalls out. Some people have been working on this problem-set for some time though, at the very least there will be pockets of growth in the US.

    I view this like a passive insurgency, we need non-commissioned officers who will form the skilled portion of our “army” to provide leadership and to teach people. Their skills will become active as the old economy stalls out.

    The current timeline I’m working with has an economic recovery from late 2012 to late 2016-2018. Then we get hit with a major shock. I won’t reveal why as it’s basically voodoo science but it’s the best I got to go on.

    The cost of testing is currently somewhat high, I’ll grant you that but it is going down steadily. It’s already possible to build many of the technologies/ideas, if you’re an MIT type geek, for a few grand (UAVs, land drones, small CAD unit). More importantly, their uses are increasing which will justify their cost. Biotech is still extremely experimental and costly but cost is going down as well.

    In both cases though political considerations must be made. Few leaders have been able to convince the ruling class that giving up their power is a good idea, the loss to their self respect is usually too high for them to consider it an option. Augustus Caesar was one of the few men who pulled it off but we have a lot more work to do than he did.

    The US is currently demoing many of the technologies I mentioned before and ironing out the bugs. We still have a first mover advantage and people with the skills and experience to use the systems. While we can export the tools, having people who understand the system and can expand it is incredibly valuable.

  4. In some ways, we are cannibalizing the outdated system so we can create tools (some exist, experimental) that can be used with a much smaller monetary and time investment.

  5. US/UK/Japan/Germany, maybe Taiwan, are the countries I’d put down as using the internet moderately well. I’m probably leaving some out as I’m not on top of all of them. I know there are some Eastern Euro countries like Estonia that are highly connected but I don’t know that much about them.

    South Korea is highly connected but they do not understand the concept of rest and free time, if you want to be creative you have to relax and let answers connect themselves. Several African countries prefer just to use small intranets to share information with the locals and just use wifi when they have to get on the internet.

    France is trying to enforce outdated business models by combating torrenting and pirating and failing at it. Getting internet in Canada and Australia is too much of a pain in the ass and the bandwidth caps are too restricting (Australia also has censorship problems). The US is keeping with it’s decline in personal freedoms with this new SOPA bill but with predictable resistance from the people who use the internet frequently. Speed in the US varies so much from city to city that I don’t bother factoring it in as much (we are behind several other nations though).

    I’ve heard about some interesting business models in Japan, particularly how they use mobile phones to sell product. But usually the US still leads the way in hawking shit to people that they don’t really need. I’ve worked and talked with internet marketers from a lot of other countries, the US is still universally recognized as king kong when it comes to marketing.

    —–

    To keep going on the previous issue of infrastructure:

    Whenever there is an intersection of political, corporate and government power preventing you from creating your own “thing”, you are better off trying in a more receptive environment. For example, the independent ISP’s that tried to start their own high speed services to compete with established services in very low speed states, only to find themselves blocked by the local government because of bribes. The blocks can be local, state or federal.

    Right now the technology to circumvent artificial scarcity is becoming cheaper and more advanced. We have several pioneers in country who are already familiar with their fields, like Aquaponics, farming/gardening, 3d printing/manufacturing, UAV/robot building, as well as experimental biotech. The diffusion of such technologies vary and it can be unpredictable when the right time will be for it hit the market (see here: http://www.synthesis.cc/2011/11/diffusion-of-new-technologies.html ).

  6. More wall of text:

    Paul the 1st of Russia is another example of someone trying to change the system from the top to empower the bottom, however in his case he was assassinated by the nobles he was dis-empowering. I can only speculate why, he was known to be very aggressive, perhaps he didn’t have the patience and tact that Augustus possessed.

    There are a lot of differences between now and previous times. The returns on even the simplest attacks against infrastructure bring returns in the thousands to millions times higher than what is spent (MEND in Nigera, Islamic Insurgents in Iraq/Saudi Arabia, PEMEX bombings, though these are all oil). Explosives (one of many options really) are relatively cheap compared to the things they destroy and there are still too many points of vulnerability to secure internet and powerlines. And these are nonviolent attacks in an environment in which trust in the government is at an all time low. Narrow AI has displaced many jobs and will keep on doing so but the hardest part of fueling the bot system is physical security. It’s possible to harden the targets over time but it’s unnecessary for them right now.

    That sort of warfare is more suited to 3rd world countries than the US. It’s much better for everyone involved to create your own system. Many countries don’t have this choice.

    I probably could of wrote all of this in one much shorter comment but I’ve been working a lot and I’m only partially coherent 😛

  7. Eric, you have a lot of good thoughts here.
    In addition to an understanding of the issues underpinned by your personal experience, you also have an unusual grasp of foreign affairs and upcoming trends in technology.

    Have you thought of starting your own blog if you don’t already have one?

    If you did, I’d definitely put you on my roll.

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