We are in the midst of massive economic disruption and growing structural unemployment caused by the automation of increasingly large segments of the economy. These days very few people are actually needed to provide the basic necessities of an affluent society. This is what Buckminster Fuller called ephermalization, the ability to do more and more with less and less. But rather than an increase in leisure time one would expect from such gains, we have record levels of poverty and wealth disparity. Despite an economy that continues to grow in per capita terms, the gains of that economy flow into ever fewer hands.
A lot of people blame the “free” market, but the situation is anything but. The source of the problem is built-in structural theft facilitated by the state to benefit an increasingly small, politically connected, economic elite. Those gains in wealth have been enclosed as a source of rent through government enforcement of artificial scarcity using intellectual property laws and regulatory barriers to prevent genuine competition, and the radical distribution of wealth it would generate.
You can see how this theft works in the current wireless services market. The technology exists now for everyone in the world to have high-bandwidth communications (data and voice) with anyone else in the world for free, without any company or middle man whatsoever, using super cheap devices that cost less than $20. When something is free, it’s one less thing you have to buy, and one less thing you have to work for. As far as radical abundance is concerned there is no functional difference between making everyone richer and making everything cheaper. So what kind of technology enables the creation of a free worldwide communications network? It’s called software defined radio, and it’s been around for more than a decade. It completely solves the spectrum scarcity problem by finding, negotiating, and determining moment-by-moment, on the fly, the most efficient frequency for any given communication. This happens at the device level, so it renders the need for centrally controlling towers, and their bandwidth bottlenecks, completely obsolete. By bypassing these lower bandwidth cell towers, this decentralized, p2p, spectrum allocation protocol increases available bandwidth over traditional cell networks by three orders of magnitude. The result is profound – by ditching wireless service companies we gain a one thousand fold increase in wireless bandwidth! The only problem with this plan is it’s illegal.
What we get instead are companies like Artemis Network’s licensing this technology (PCell) so that you’ll have to keep paying your wireless bill to use it. Say again? You’ll have to keep paying your old company every month for something they no longer provide. Imagine a scenario in which up until now you’ve always paid Peter to fetch your daily water because he had the specialized tools to do so. Then one day you figured out how to do it yourself easier and cheaper. But because of some law on the books you still have to pay Peter for the water you’re getting yourself. This is outrageous, but it is exactly the kind of situation we now have with PCell within the existing regulatory landscape. A middle man, a thief, or in this case your wireless service provider, is forcing you to pay the same “service” fee you’ve been paying for a service you no longer use, and they no longer provide. Artemis Networks is calling this new technology “personal cellular”, but it is anything but. It’s completely owned and licensed by your wireless service provider. This obscene state of affairs is enabled through enforcement of obsolete spectrum scarcity laws on a resource that is no longer scarce. I repeat – the only reason we don’t have super fast, super cheap worldwide communications is because of artificial scarcity imposed by government regulation and coercion.
The same holds true for virtually every sector of the economy. Luckily for us the trend is shifting both on the ground and in the halls of government. At the state level we’re seeing a loosening of restrictions on home based businesses. For example, California just passed a Homemade Food Cottage Business bill that makes it easier for home based business to sell food directly to the public. Meanwhile the tools of abundance are multiplying faster than they can be expropriated, because the means of finance (cryptocurrencies, crowdfunding, peer lending, etc) manufacturing and production (3d printing, permaculture, etc.) and energy (solar, microhydro) are decentralizing outside of the control of regulators. Laws are only as good as they can be enforced. We’ve already seen this battle lost by the music industry. Other parts of the economy are next. 3d printing is going to disintermediate the manufacturing business the same way Napster and Bittorent disintermediated the music business. At some point, open-source software radios are going to hit the streets, regardless of the laws in place, and once that genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back in.
But until these technologies of abundance break out we’re going to see state-sponsored capitalism, and it’s artificial scarcities and sources of rent, continue to expropriate as much of this abundance and wealth for itself and its crony benefactors as possible. What they don’t realize is by depriving us access to the tools of abundance they are actually undermining the same system it so desperately depends on. You can’t bleed a bled horse, and the sources of capital the state relies on to pay for this theft are drying up under a mountain of unsustainable debt. Debt incurred for the most part by a massive and out of control national security state apparatus and the corporate giants that depend on it. It’s bankrupting itself through anti-competitive business practices that can only be maintained by bleeding dry the very customer base they depend on, both for taxes to finance it, and dollars to buy the crap these state-backed corporations are selling. It’s an incestuous and codependent relationship of corporation and state (not to mention Ponzi scheme), caught in a death spiral it cannot escape. Death of the old system is inevitable. The only question is when.
The best we can hope for is an inflection point high enough on the graph, where the tools of abundance pick us up as the old system collapses.
In the meantime, innovations like decentralized autonomous organizations are opening up possibilities for creating wealth dividends for everyone in a decentralized and distributed manner.