The Three Requirments for a Post Scarcity Economy

March 27th, 2012 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Three Requirments for a Post Scarcity Economy)

I have identified just three necessary ingredients for achieving a fully sustainable, post-scarcity economy – open information, open manufacturing and full regenerative use of local materials. All of these are proving to be unstoppable.

Lets look at each of them in a little detail:

1) Open Information  – The modern trend towards increasingly open information began with the Gutenberg printing press in 1436 and became unstoppable ever since.  There is not a single instance anywhere in history where information has been successfully censored indefinitely. The Internet is merely the most recent and dramatic example of this ongoing information explosion. Despite the best efforts of powerful interests everywhere to control and censor information, information wants to be free, and makes it so. The end result will be a totally decentralized and uncensored global network “brain” where everyone will be able to create, share and receive bits from anyone else. For example, the Pirate Bay, the biggest victim of censorship attacks, is now designing and building solar powered, high-altitude (70,000 feet) wireless servers that will be extraordinarily difficult to shut down. Open source hardware devices like the $50 Arduino and $25 Rasberry Pi, are only the beginning of cheap, widely available general purpose computing devices. With the rapid digitization of everything, including books, music, movies, money, recipes, formulas, designs, manufacturing processes, patents, copyrights, trade secrets, state secrets, solutions of every kind, and most importantly computation itself, the genie is out of the bottle for good on this one. No amount of laws or wars to stop it will succeed. Sadly, until the old order collapses, much of the progress in these domains will be done by outlaws.

2) Open Manufacturing – With the advent of open-source desktop manufacturing, the means to create physical goods locally will be made available to all. Open sourced manufacturing generates some dramatically positive outcomes:

  • Radically improved product design without planned obsolescence – think 50-100 year product lifetimes. Indefinite product lifetimes means no further expenditures on tools, and radically reduced requirements for new materials. This translates to far less consumption, waste and strain on the planet.
  • Modular construction methods for easy and rapid construction, repair and upgrading. Example: Wikispeed designed a totally modular car in less than 3 months that gets 100mpg, has 10 minute average repair times, and can be changed from a gasoline to an electric car (and back again!) in less than an hour. Currently automobiles are deliberately designed to fail within a few years, in which repairs and parts are both expensive and difficult to replace. This planned obsolescence is a deliberate design flaw for maximizing auto industry/auto mechanic profit margins. Open source automobiles totally eliminates this waste and expense.
  • Designed from the beginning to use local and biofriendly sources of raw materials – current business models favor the use of expensive or hard to obtain materials for maximizing profit margins. If the materials are cheap and readily available, prices can’t be fixed by resource hoarding. There are strong incentives withing the current closed-source system for incumbents to use materials and processes that are hard to duplicate elsewhere. Prices only drop when their is genuine competition in raw materials. By designing open-source products to use locally available and renewable resources, the price fixers, hoarders, renters and other middle-men are completely cut of of the equation.

3) 100% Regenerative Use of Local Materials – Currently many of the products of our civilization require precious materials from far away places. However the means to create advanced technologies like high capacity batteries and computer processors is becoming possible using everyday organic materials like carbon. A good example is graphene, a new and spectacular type of carbon molecule whose strength and electrical conductivity is greater than any material ever recorded. Already people have figured out to make graphene supercapacitors and do microlithography (the process used to make microchips) using nothing more than a $50 DVD burner! The continued work on creating new materials using readily available recyclable and biodegradable resources makes the possibility of having an fully regenerative, earth friendly, advanced technological, post-scarcity, thriving abundant civilization, a tangible possibility. See Spime.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bye Bye Apocalypse: 5 Hopeful Trends

February 16th, 2009 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Bye Bye Apocalypse: 5 Hopeful Trends)

Ok, the future of doom and gloom is getting old fast. At this point, nobody can predict the future, not even Bruce Sterling, Dmitri Orlov or Warren Buffett. Even the billionaires are getting hosed by the economic downturn.  But what this really proves is we have entered a new era where the old rules no longer apply.  That prospect scares a lot of people, especially the ones who’ve gained the most money and power by maintaining the status quo.  The elite have become naive enough to think they can continue getting away with theft and cronyism without any consequences (i.e. mob revolt), but this time they’re wrong. Asynchronous power is getting stronger all the time, which is why the worlds most powerful military is loosing to a small number of decentralized insurgents. I predicted the current economic crisis back in 2002, in my post Capital, Power and Ecology, simply because business as usual is not sustainable.  It was destined to collapse, and my best guess at the time was that it would happen sometime within the next decade or so.

There is nothing like a crisis to spur rapid evolutionary growth. We are witnessing a level of creative destruction that is unprecedented both globally and historically. Yet solutions for every problem we face are already available right now. We have all the information we need. In fact we are drowning in it.

The current economic collapse, rather than being a indicator of worse things to come, is instead a wake-up call to re-engineer our society from the bottom-up to become more resilient, capable of withstanding unexpected change and upheaval. A resilient economy is also one that is more sustainable and integrated with the planetary ecology, and more responsive to the needs of all of its citizens. Economic growth can and will accelerate, but not by converting precious resources into cheap disposable products, but by making more intelligent use of the materials we already have! There is no reason why this intelligent growth (getting more from less) can’t increase indefinitely, or at least until we’re ready to leave the planet. This is what is called a regenerative economy, or what Bucky Fuller called, ephermalization, which is the idea of progressively doing more with less.

What most doomsayers like Dmitri Orlov don’t get is the process of ephermalization.  His prediction is that our only solution is to accept that we’re all going to be a lot poorer, and we should just get used to it. This is just nonsense, and he’s not helping the situation any. I suppose if wealth is defined as having tons of disposable material goods, then yes our wealth will diminish.  But is that what we really want?  Having an economy that depends on cheap imported products from China, using up more non-renewable resources powered by coal-fired plants polluting the atmosphere while inducing severe climate change, is just plain stupid.  So yes Dmitri is right, we are going to become a lot poorer in terms of Stupid Wealth, but a lot richer in terms of Smart Wealth (Please read the Smart Growth Manifesto for a great explanation of this idea).

The answers to future growth and wealth production are decentralization via localization, regeneration, remediation, renewables, and cybernation all of which results in greaterresiliency.  If we can achieve both local and global resiliency we can grow out of our technological adolescence and become a type 1 civilization.  This means the odds of our species surviving this century increases dramatically, and we can go on to become a space faring immortal civilization should that be our wish.

Here are details for the five trends I listed, and how each can change the world for the better:

Decentralization

This applies across the board.  Anytime critical needs are centralized the resources for those needs are subject to attack and failure.  If one power plant fails a domino effect can take place, knocking more power plants offline. The solution to creating a resilient energy supply that is resistant to overloads or sabotage is to localize power production through locally available renewable resources like solar, wind, and geothermal.  If every community had at least one power generator for every thousand people in combination with more renewable energy being generated on local rooftops, there is nothing short of a nuclear blast that could shut it all down. The more decentralized, localized and miniaturized the power generation, the more resilient and reliable it becomes.  In an ideal world all the power would be generated by the house or building itself.  This applies equally to food production, means of exchange (localized currency), manufacturing and defense. For an interesting read on localized defense, read John Barr’s Power To The People. The topics John covers are both frightening and reassuring. But here is a good excerpt:

A newly vigilant and networked public will push for much greater levels of transparency in government and corporate operations, using the Internet to expose, publish, and patch potential security flaws. Over time, this new transparency, and the wider participation it entails, will lead to radical improvements in government and corporate efficiency.

On the national level, we’ll see a withering of the security apparatus, but quite possibly a flowering in other areas. Energy independence and the obsolescence of conventional war with other countries will reduce tensions between the United States and the rest of the world. The end of oil will also force corrupt states, now propped up by energy income, to make the reforms they need to be accepted internationally, improving life for their people.

Perhaps the most important global shift will be the rise of grassroots action and cross-connected communities. Like the Internet, these new networks will develop slowly at first. After a period of exponential growth, however, they will quickly become all but ubiquitous–and astonishingly powerful, perhaps as powerful as the networks arrayed against us.

Localization

This is really the same thing as decentralization.  The localization movement is definitely picking up steam, as more people are beginning to realize that governments don’t work very well, and needs are best met locally.  The aftermath of Katrina is a classic case of government gone wrong. There is a great book called The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, which is a users manual for transitioning your community from one dependent on centralized sources of food, energy, and currency to a localized one.  A localized resilient community would be one that generates all of its own food, energy and many or most of its products. Desktop manufacturing will do a lot to bring the power of production down to the local level, reducing the current expensive and polluting means of transporting products from one corner of the globe to another. A product designed in Malaysia can then be sent online to you in Kansas, where it can be manufactured locally. A resilient community would also have a robust locally issued currency that is immune from government issued fiat currency that is fixed and manipulated by the most powerful for their benefit at the expense of everyone else.(See the video Money is Debt, for a fantastic explanation of the evils of corporate banking and government issued fiat currency). Localized currency is the way to go, and their many thriving examples, including the Totnes Pound in the UK, and the Berkshares in Western Massachusetts.  At last count there are over 1200 local currencies in the US alone. The Totnes Pound was the brainchild of the author who wrote The Transition Handbook.  He’s created a network of towns in the UK that are all making the transition to local resilience.

Another great idea is a Time Bank, where you deposit time by doing tasks for other members, who in turn get paid for your services with time they deposited. Time Banks are now operating in 22 countries and growing.  Here’s a good quote from a guy who has combined the two concepts of local currency and time into what he calls Ithaca hours, in Ithaca New York.

We printed our own money because we watched Federal dollars come to town, shake a few hands, then leave to buy rainforest lumber and fight wars. Ithaca’s HOURS, by contrast, stay in our region to help us hire each other. While dollars make us increasingly dependent on transnational corporations and bankers, HOURS reinforce community trading and expand commerce which is more accountable to our concerns for ecology and social justice.”

Regeneration

Regeneration is the ultimate endpoint of comprehensive recycling.  To accomplish this will require two primary fronts of advancement.  The first is new, efficient and cost-effective means to recycle materials we’ve already created, and the second is transitioning more of our products to using materials that can be recycled.  Advances on both fronts will result in a middle ground combination of materials that are biodegradable, low or negative carbon footprint specific, and/or easily recycled non-biodegradable stock.  Advances are happening on all these fronts, and those companies willing to spend money on research and development stand to reap huge financial rewards from innovation in recyclable materials and processes.

In the meantime, there are huge tracts of land that have been destroyed by pollution or non-sustainable agricultural processes.  The solution is to engage in aggressive bioremediation efforts to regenerate the soil, clean up the toxic waste and polluted water stores.  Solutions for this are already here, including nanofilters for cleaning water, microbes for cleaning and rendering harmless toxic waste, and advanced permaculture methods for bringing dead land back to life. John Todd developed what are called Living Machines, that can turn waste water back into drinkable water.  With Todd’s help the Tennessee Valley Authority has already done this with their water supply, and has cleaned up their polluted river in the process. There are many good sources for information on how to  do this for yourself. Some good starter books include Introduction to PermacultureFrom Eco-Cities To Living Machines,  Edible Forest Gardens, and Mycelium Runnng (which shows how to remediate dead soil using mushrooms).

Renewables

This is a no-brainer.  If your energy supply is produced locally from readily available sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, there is no dependence on outsiders, whether it be large energy corporations or foreign states for supple of your energy needs.  The added bonus is the energy is clean, green and non-polluting, which in turn eliminates the expenses added by pollution, including health costs and remediation of polluted lands.

Cybernation

This involves both the continuing transformation of more of our world into bits, which can be transported and replicated at next to no cost, and the increasing intelligent automation of more of what makes our world run.  If more of our services and products are conducted and generated online, it reduces the need for material and energy costs of doing the same thing in the analog world.  Just imagine how much energy costs will be reduced by reducing dramatically the need for transportation of goods, when they can be made locally by the advancement of desktop manufacturing technologies.

Then there is the continuing network effect ov more people get online, more high quality information becoming available, and connections to people and resources becoming more relevant through semantic intelligence, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and better social networking services.  And with Moore’s Law of accelerating returns we’ll continue to get computer power for less and less money.  Advances in all the areas mentioned above will become accelerated too, as everyone can connect with the right people at the right time, spreading knowledge, know-how and creative solutions more rapidly than ever before.

Resiliency & Anti-Fragility and Thrivability

So what’s the result of all this?  Our quality of life will improve dramatically because we’ll all be wealthier, healthier, and safer from smart growth.  This will produce cost savings in the trillions per year, reductions in pollution and far greater resiliency for our world.  Imagine the incredible reduction in cost when all of the materials that are currently being chewed up by mining, the cutting down of rain forests, and the pollution of lands and waters, are no longer needed.  Imagine if you can get almost everything you need within 5 miles of your home.  Imagine the cost reductions when food, energy and materials are all available locally through permaculture, biointensive gardening, local aquaculture, living machines, abundant clean energy and desktop manufacturing.  It’s a future worth working on, and we can start building it today.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Buzz is Back

March 10th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Buzz is Back)

Joi Ito and Kim Polese sat down for lunch yesterday and agreed that the buzz is back in the Valley, although it probably never left. Several responses were quite cynical knowing the Valley’s crash.

I agree with Kim and Joi, the buzz is back if it ever really left at all. Moore’s and Gilder’s Laws continue apace. Despite the fizzle of hype and greed, the empty promises and the insanely stupid business ideas that inflated the valley, the true fundamentals of accelerating change are moving forward. Despite any amount of greed or lack of capitalization, or political instability, this trend will continue, and the applications running on and thru it will only get more powerful, more connected, more networked and more cohesive. You can remain cynical about the power of blogging, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The network economy will (eventually) change everything, its just going to take longer that we originally thought. And yes, I think we are seeing the beginning of the end for Nation States.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Free Money and Open Currencies

January 15th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Free Money and Open Currencies)

Thanks to Ming for this.

Britt Blaser says some very interesting things about money and capitalism, which I’m trying to wrap my mind around. He says we’re watching the death throes of what he calls “Managerial Capitalism”, which I agree with. And he also seems to feel that a more grassroots kind of self-organizing, reputation based kind of economy ought to replace it, which I also agree with. And then he says:

“Money is Free. Get Used To It.”


Capitalistically funded and traditionally managed big companies are terribly inefficient and deliver things many people don’t really want, and they’re bad at leading people to fulfill their potentials and use their skills really well. So, why are they still the main thing? I’d say, because of the first point, that the people who create them are more well-informed about some important things than you and I. Not well-informed about what we really want, or the best ways of producing that, but well-informed about capital – how to get it, keep it and increase it. And how to keep the general public in the dark concerning your game. They make it look like we all can be co-owners of the capital, owning stocks, investing, having good credit, having a nice credit line, etc. But that is just a distraction, I think. The real thing that would make a difference would be the information about how to organize people and resources efficiently and effectively, without needing investment capital and without needing managers. I.e. the knowledge of how to bring the elements into synergy, without requiring the one guy with all the money to be in charge.

I agree wholeheartedly with Ming. I don’t think  the current form of capitalism is anything remotely resembling a free-market. I support the idea of people creating community around entirely different economic principles. For me the key is free and consensual. What we have instead is a top-heavy, hierarchical, corporate-centered tyranny that uses the strong-arm of the law (read “ability to imprison or kill you”) to get what they want at the expense of democratic principles, environmental sanity, innovation, and basic civil liberties. To understand my point see the story below on the recent blow to the spirit of copyright. Its my strong feeling, that without these strong-arm protections that corporations enjoy, they would die and give way to a more transparent, accessible and bottoms-up type of adhoc organization that is responsive to peoples needs. Since such an organization would be more responsive to the market, in a true free-market such organizations would win in the the marketplace over the corpocracies we have now. So I suppose I’m more accurately a left-leaning libertarian free-market capitalist if there is such a thing. Of course I’ve always referred to myself as an up-winger.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Reputation Based Markets

December 20th, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Reputation Based Markets)

I think as wireless, wearable internet access become ubiquitous, we are going to see consumer power re-assert itself in an unprecedented way. Imagine for example, CueCat (a technology previously with little purpose), except this time each barcode is cross-referenced with a moblog not only neatly containing everyone’s opinion of this product, but also its ethical/corruption index. These types of measurements would be made via decentralized adhoc smart mobs in conjunction with individual reputation systems. So, not only will you be able to vote with your pocketbook, but you will be able to make informed, even ethical consumer decisions based on people you trust. I can see this web-of-trust rapidly superseding top-heavy “consumer” capitalism, transforming it into a bottom-up grass-roots reputation based freed markets.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

From Global Economy to Global Commons

November 3rd, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on From Global Economy to Global Commons)

In Capital, Power and Ecology I suggested that “ecological” constraints are inherent in a global economy, and how capital along with information wants to be free.. So far the free flow of capital and information seems to be winning, but can it can survive the current onslaught of corruption (crony capitalism) and criminality long enough to see us out of global war and irreversible ecological disaster. In other words can we have free-markets without “capitalism” and environmental destruction? I believe the answer is yes.

In the meantime there are many other developments on the technological front that hold promise for democratizing prosperity, free enterprise, and fostering greater degrees of participatory freedom than ever seen before. Tools like reputation systems and p2p adhoc wireless mesh-networks are so disruptive in their potential its hard to predict what their effect will be, but they are sure to change society as radically as the internet itself – I would say much more so. For starters, adhoc wireless smart mobs will greater power over where capital flows. Companies like World Com and Enron who refuse to open their books and become more transparent will be much less likely to attract capital and investment than those companies that do. Therefore the drive of companies is to become increasing transparent and accountable to their “stakeholders” who in turn have the ability to move their capital around with the simple push of a button. This represents and eminent power shift away from centrally controlled hierarchies to bottom-up grass-roots capital structures. The future of economic wealth creation will come from the bottom-up not the top-down.

Then we have the current tyranny of the content industry as embodied by the RIAA and MPAA and other outdated business models built on artificial scarcity. At the moment, the media giants seem to be winning with draconian legislation ike the DMCA as part of their arsenal. But don’t loose hope.  What we are seeing are old modes of capital and collusion being increasingly threatened by more liquid, networked and liberated economies of scale and zero duplication cost of the internet. Regardless of the legislative and technological restrictions implemented in the US, their are other countries who are not as keen to follow in the same footsteps.

China, not normally a bastion of freedom and democracy, is adopting open-source software at a blinding pace despite Microsoft’s best efforts to shove their bloated, expensive and restrictive licensing schemes down their throats. And while AMD and Intel build in digital restrictions into their processors, China has started its own processor initiative called ‘Dragon’. Kind of ironic that a nation know for its gross human rights abuses could potentially be a bastion of digital liberty. China is not pursuing this path because of their freedom loving nature, but to increase their economic independence and capital liquidity. It just happens that increasing capital requires a corresponding increase in liberty if its to become sustainable. If China develops their own microprocessor and uses free open-source software, they are beholden to no one for their capitalization, especially the “imperialistic” US. So while the US chokes on expensive and restrictive digital lock-downs, China could enjoy a more open platform. So in the global economy where do you think the capital will go? If the US hopes to compete in the global marketplace, its either going to have to loosen its digital restrictions or loose its place as the economic super-power. So the question is can the US continue as an economic superpower without bankrupting itself through global imperialism and domestic tyranny?  Not if it continues to offshore it’s manufacturing base, while allowing banks to extract more capital from the real productive” economy and then tying it up in useless and wasteful financial instruments that do absolutely nothing for the real economy, other than make a bunch of useless bankers rich for robbing us blind.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail