The Coming Leisure Society

January 31st, 2004 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The last few days I’ve become increasingly obsessed with where the global economy is going and it’s effects on the labor pool. After days of contemplating the large number of variables I now believe that a leisure society is inevitable, short of global catastrophe. Futurist and optimists have been dreaming about it for years, but I think we are likely to see it in our lifetimes, regardless of how bankrupt governments and social programs become in the interim.

One undeniable trend that almost every business guru agrees on, is that companies will have to become increasingly accountable and transparent to their investors and more responsive to their customers if they want to survive. As the power of the network grows, making it possible for more real-time information of a companies operations, the Board of Directors and the CEO are going to increasingly become accountable to investors and customers until they are almost superfluous in the organization. The current juggernaut of centralized and corporate behemoths, obscene executive salaries, and hierarchical organizations cannot withstand the power of the network much longer. I think the massive swindling is happening in part because of fear of their inevitable demise.


Imagine you have two publicly traded companies that are both competing in the same sector.
transparent-accounting One of these companies is completely transparent throughout the entire enterprise – finances, hiring/firing, supply-chain, everything is open for review. One possible way to visualize this is to imagine a sophisticated 2D/3D real-time interactive animation display of every area of the companies operations. You could tell exactly how many people are working where, who is being hired, fired, expenditures for everything from trash bags in the company lunch room, to how much is being spent on advertising. All of it will be completely displayed in dynamical real-time techni-color graphics. The second company is just like most any company now doing business as usual (circa 2003).

In this competitive environment, the first company will be far more likely to attract investors than the second, but more importantly the first company’s functioning will be so transparent to the people running it that clear communication and knowledge will available to everyone, even the customers and investors. Such a company will make it very easy for anyone to communicate, ideas to be exchanged across company lines, problem areas to be easily identified and resolved. The level of innovation and efficiency, not to mention the very attractive capital inflow from investor confidence, will easily out compete a company more worried about keeping things secret – regardless of whether its their books or intellectual property.

With the proliferation of RFID, good or bad, it will enable everyone, you and me to identify every product that we buy and automatically, and in real-time shopping mode, purchase only those products that come from companies who adhere to our ethical/corruption index, details of which I have blogged about earlier:

These types of measurements would be made via decentralized, ad-hoc, smart mobs in conjunction with individual reputation systems. So, not only will you be able to vote with your pocketbook, but also you will be able to make informed, even ethical consumer decisions based on people you trust. I can see this web-of-trust rapidly superceding top-heavy “consumer” capitalism, transforming it into a bottom-up grass-roots participatory capitalism.

As time goes on, and it won’t take long in this nanosecond, increasingly automated and accelerated economy for this ecology of transparent companies to fine tune the very essence of what a company/economy does. By definition the economy itself will become utterly response to investors and customers who increasingly become the same person. These so-called ad-hoc transient companies will increasingly blur the line between one company and another, employees and investors, customers and executives, that such distinction will become meaningless. No longer will we have distinct “solid” and separate companies and consumers, but an evolving complex decentralized ad-hoc network of capital, people, ideas, innovation and wealth responding in real-time to the people it serves. It will mark the end of the corporation as we know it and the beginning of a truly support economy.

These responsive, transparent companies will become the economic and wealth producing engines that take all of us participants, along with their increasing automation into a full-time leisure economy. Already we are seeing massive outflow of labor to India and elsewhere. This unfortunately is the result of the power of the network. However, it’s only a matter of time before even the cheapest of labor will no longer be necessary. More and more of the economic engine will become automated. It’s inevitable, always has been. Initially such displacement could be very painful for a large number of people. However, these transparent companies won’t survive if they are not responding to it’s customer base. And without customers the company itself doesn’t survive. So it will continue to make products cheaper and cheaper, continually improving the ease of investment, making it increasingly easier to move your money where its most needed and where it will provide the largest return. Everyone will be making less money from lack of employment and things getting cheaper, but everything will be getting cheaper at the same rate. So my theory is this time, this inevitable global depression will result in a leisure economy for everyone.

Oh, and green companies will out compete polluting companies, simply because they are more efficient. Such distinctions are not sensitive enough yet to tip the scale, but the real-time transparent economy will make every last shred of efficiency matter. End result, green and environmentally friendly companies win out.


Augmented/Participatory Freed Markets

April 23rd, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Augmented/Participatory Freed Markets)

Augmented Markets

A new post over at Headmap makes some interesting insights:

the internet is doing some disturbing things it is creating currencies and ecoonomies with no money intermediary

link economies, peer two peer file sharing economies and software development and exchange economies
this seems to suggest that in the absence of friction money makes less and less sense

in fact in the current climate many things are starting to make less and less sense

and these network economic anomalies will soon slip into the real world

destroying huge industries based on friction difficulty seperateness and centralisation

as exchange without money becomes more efficient and reliable

money won’t disappear but will have to start living in parallel with vibrant, aggressive efficient parallel economic forces

the moves towards hardware level copyright controls and crippling copyright legislation

seem more and more like attempts to artificially introduce friction into a system that by its nature is able to remove it entirely

there seems to be the fear that money itself may be on the verge of collapse and that only a radical lockdown can save a civilisation with money at its heart

capitalism is being augmented at a frightening speed.

Indeed. It is my  strong feeling that the real war afoot has nothing to do with Iraq, Oil, WMD, etc. but is instead the beginning moves of a new war between the old guard and the new, powerful, democratic and participatory freed market forces emerging in the trenches of cyberspace. What is perhaps frightening and disturbing about it, is its immediate threat to the power elite, and more specifically the drastic and scary measures they may resort to maintain their power in the face of ever decentralizing forces. Things like the DMCA, the PATRIOT Act, etc are just the first salvos in this war of the ultra-rich against everyone else. Interesting that Alvin Toffler predicted just such a war in 1991 in his book Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century.

Perhaps I’m just having one of my paranoid moments, but I suspect the ultra-rich’s real agenda is the creation of a slave-society where people are more easily controlled, subverted and eliminated as needed. I think our best chances lie in the emergence of wide-spread decentralized democracy and total transparency, rather than top-down surveillance and centralized state backed corporatism. As long as governments/corporations hold the upper hand on surveillance, secrecy and control, I’m not optimistic about humanities chances. Besides, if they’re truly serious about fighting terrorism, then decentralization and transparency are vastly more effective in dealing with it. No, all this secrecy and draconian legislation serves only to make the rich and powerful more so at the expense of everyone else.


Replacing the Space Shuttle with Cheaper Alternatives

February 4th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Replacing the Space Shuttle with Cheaper Alternatives)

Just read this article in time, The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped.

That core problem is the space shuttle itself. For 20 years, the American space program has been wedded to a space-shuttle system that is too expensive, too risky, too big for most of the ways it is used, with budgets that suck up funds that could be invested in a modern system that would make space flight cheaper and safer. The space shuttle is impressive in technical terms, but in financial terms and safety terms no project has done more harm to space exploration.Capitalism, of course, is supposed to weed out such inefficiencies. But in the American system, the shuttle’s expense made the program politically attractive. Originally projected to cost $5 million per flight in today’s dollars, each shuttle launch instead runs to around $500 million. Aerospace contractors love this fact that the shuttle launches cost so much.

There are have been lots of cheaper and safer atlernatives each of which has been cancelled by NASA or government contractors. The problem goes back to laws put in place during the Nixon Administration that capped contractor profits to less than 10%. Therefore, logically, contractors want space access to be as expensive as possible, so their profit margins are greater. This may explain $10,000 screws, and $30,000 hammers. Since the space program is based on government subsidies, free-market principels do not apply, otherwise we’d have costs less than $100/lb orbit by now. With costs below $100/lb, the price of going into space for an the average individual would be the same price as an extended European Vacation.

Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before private enterprise takes up the challenge, especially with the X-Prize competition now in full-swing. Mass-produced nano-materials are just around the corner, which means amazing applications like space elevators and spaceships the size of RV’s and that weigh only 200 pounds. Either one of these would reduce the cost to orbit to less than $10/lb. Thats only $2000 for a trip into space!


The P2P Endgame

January 7th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The P2P Endgame)

I just read this on Lessig’s Blog:

As cable companies continue to increase the cost of broadband service, and as telcom monopolies are strengthened by changes in FCC policy, it is now absolutely clear what the broadband endgame will be in the US: wireless. Think of a city where every single street light is a node in a mesh (for an example, see meshnetworks), and thus where the cloud of the internet sits on the street like the fog in San Francisco. For almost nothing, cities could provide IP light, as cities provide street lights. Neutral, end-to-end, fast, and cheap.

Lets hope Lessig is right. I’m dubious. The telecoms will use their power to prevent local governments from installing free wireless, claiming it’s unfair competition, socialism, etc. Ironic isn’t it? It’s OK when the government protects them, but “socialism” or “anti-competitive” when it protects us. It has become obvious to me that the telecoms, with their dying business model, are pulling out all the reguatory stops to maintain their monopolies, even if it means stopping the promise of an open wireless era from ever happening. Imagine if special interests in the early 20th century were successful in stopping the automobile. Lets hope FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in deregulating telecom to the monopolies advantage, applies the same philosophical de-licensing of more spectrum. That will be the day, no, seriously. If you believe the U.S. has ever had anything close to a free-market, I have some freedom fries to sell you. Just look at these telecom deals as collusion-as-usual between big government and big business. And its going to get worse before it gets better. Lets not forget, it was the crown-granted monopoly given to the East-Indian Dutch Trading Company that ultimately led to the American Revolution.

The Endgame (as I see it):

Until the ever evolving tinkering going on by smart people makes the world a better place, the corporations will work day and night to control the government and use it to keep the rest of us in line, through torture and violence if necessary. This means no due process, no checks and balances, death by decree. This may seem like bad news, but there is a silver lining to all of this. They are desperate. People do not take kindly to such brutal repression. Those in charge may think they are winning the game, but they are loosing the playing field. They are grabbing things from their last bag of tricks.

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers”, Princess Leia, Star Wars.

For a moment, imagine you were in their shoes. If you were truly secure in your power, would you resort to ever more desperate measures to hold onto it? Think about it. Since it is the system at large, the growing and evolving world that has become the threat, ever more desperate (and futile) means will be made by those in power to stop it. We are likely to see an acceleration of new draconian “laws” and measures passed against the will of the populace or passed in the darkness of night. You can forget about the Constitution. They will own the government, the airwaves and the press. They will lie with impunity. They will do absolutely everything in their power to maintain and grow that power at all cost. Witness the increasing number of “back room” deals already happening between big industry insiders and the government agencies charged with “regulating them”. This is called Regulatory Capture and it is in full swing. There will soon come a turning point, probably sometime in the next 10 years or so, when most people will see the jig is up, the game is rigged and the fix is in. They will realize they’ve been duped and they will either be really pissed off or see it as a tremendous opportunity to start turning things around.

Just to be clear, between now and then, this new corporate elite will use the strong arm of their illegitimate “laws” to maintain their ongoing theft of humanity. As long you depend on them you will feel the pain of this betrayal. The solution will require you to break free of them completely. The big question is this: will the P2P genie now out of the bottle, successful facilitate a global-wide shift in power away from centralized players to everyone else? I believe the answer is yes. I believe this is the question and struggle of our age and we will be remembered for the decisions we make today.

That is the reason why they are trying to stop P2P and other liberating technologies, not for any bullshit reasons like intellectual property, economic growth or national security. They want to stop p2p, because it’s the very thing that will end their monopoly on power forever. Since the transition to these new technologies is inevitable short of total species annihilation, the question is how to transition to this new era as peacefully and harmoniously as possible? Most of us discussing these issues know the answer – trust in the power of the common man, woman, and child. Know that overwhelmingly most people want to do good. Far more harm has come from “leaders” than from anyone else. Most people everywhere want peace, that is the future that beckons us. P2P brings the power to all the people, making it damn near impossible for there to be a monopolization of power ever again. From that time forward things like personal reputation and integrity will matter far more than money and power does today.

Feudalism, and in this case neofeudalism, which they are so desperately trying to impliment, is a dead-end for humanity, and I mean dead end. Without a free and open economy and culture, advances will stop, and we loose our adaptability in the fitness landscape, and thus our survival advantage in the face of the critical challenges that lie ahead. In my very strong opinion, this issue of centralized versus decentralized power is the existential issue of our time. That is why I blog about decentralization and P2P so much, and why it’s so critical we win this. I believe we can, because it is humanity itself, all of us that are fighting for our survival.