Embracing Post-Scarcity

…and then he asked me,

As if those shows you watch would get aired without a profit motivation? Would they even have been made? Would Netflix exist? Would Facebook? You take a lot for granted.

I had to admit, he had a valid point. Not that I agree with him, but the point is valid on its face. Every television show, every radio show ever created was created the way they were to specifically address the advertising model adopted by broadcasters in the early twentieth century. All of them exist the way they do because their creators and the networks that paid for their creation were speculating on audience appeal and the value of that appeal on the advertising markets.

I find it amusing, when listening to public radio podcasts, that they stop for an advertising message at precise intervals. Those intervals are dictated by the broadcasters who understood just how much information the listener or viewer could assimilate at one time before being lost in the narrative. You can have this much information and no more, because we need you to pay attention to this next advertisement! Leave the audience hungry, so that they will tune back in after the pause in order to hear the rest of the story.

Public radio and television networks (and especially podcasts. No podcasts need to follow this formula unless they too count on advertising to pay for their content) do not need to stop for an advertising message every fifteen to thirty minutes. They just do that in order to conform to the standards for commercial broadcasts and the advertising model that has proven to be largely unworkable in the post-scarcity economy that the internet is the harbinger of.

The Wife and I have mused together several times over nearly a decade about what this impending switchover to post-scarcity economics implies. Gene Roddenberry and his chief work of fiction, Star Trek, do not do more than imply that inhabitants in that distant future no longer understand what money is and why we ancients could never get past the need of it.

The Wife has asked this very question when I have posed what the impending advent of a freedom dividend or universal basic income(UBI) or guaranteed minimum income (GMI) would mean to the average person. What will the world be like, when people no longer have to work to survive? No one knows, because that economic state has never existed in human memory. But it is about to happen, one way or another.

The world economic system throws off enough human value, measured in increments of whatever monetary system you want to use, for the entire world to be provided with the means to survive without having to work. The operative phrase there being having to. Work will still be done, because people need to work. They just won’t starve or be kicked out of their (modest) residences when they don’t. We already live in a post-scarcity economy, we simply do not have the benefits of that economy spread equinomically across all the participants.

The right way to get out of the problem that we are in now, the problem of false scarcity, is the only real question here. The question is not whether or not we can get out of this delusion of scarcity that the wealthy who run the world make sure to indoctrinate their workers with. How do we do emerge from scarcity in a way that the creators of all the things we use on a daily basis finally do get the benefits of their creations? That system has never existed before in history.

In Fields of Blood (Karen Armstrong, 2015) the point was driven home early in the book that the agrarian state was based on the direct confiscation of the farmer’s work. In example after example she paints the inescapable portrait of the leaders of these states confiscating the work of the providers and creators in order to live more comfortable, secure lives, while only marginally providing security and stability for the people that they live on top of.

In the recent science fiction novel, New York 2140 (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2017) the author projects a future where these economic thieves are still making a fine living off of the suffering of other people, even though a good portion of the world’s population is living a marginal existence in the flooded remains of our former coastal cities. I don’t want to spoil the ending of the book, so I won’t go into how the world changes over the course of the novel, but I don’t need to in order to make the point that I want to make in mentioning the book here.

That point is this; we can stop these profiteers, these pirates, we can stop them here and now and just avoid that future altogether. All we have to do is adopt an economic strategy that lifts all boats by design. A strategy that modifies itself as the economics around it shift from decade to decade. That strategy will take the form of a UBI or GMI, but that is just the beginning. The question then really does become, what next?

Well, the creators will continue to create, for one thing. The farmers will farm, because that is what they do. When they get wealthy from their efforts at creating they will either stop doing that or find someone else to help them do that. Someone who is still just bouncing along on subsistence. The farmers are just the beginning of what has become a very complex social structure since the days when Abraham first conjectured that the problem with society was that it stole all of his work, and set off to create the perfect agrarian state. A state that ended up never existing. Dozens of religions have been founded on his simple observations, and still we struggle with the beast that is scarcity and the fear of scarcity.

To answer the question from the beginning of this article, would these shows exist? I have to point out that most people who create do that because that is what they do. The Wife makes movies, has been part of some fifteen films over the span of decades of her life, and she’s never made a dime off of any of them. It would have been nice to make some money from them, that just isn’t the reason she does it. It isn’t the reason that anyone working in film or television or radio or the theater does the work they do. They create the things they do because that is what interests them, and there is a place for them to make these things and so contribute to the world, so they do what they can.

I write because that is what I do. I also don’t make any money off of it. It would be nice to make money; but again, that isn’t why I do it. I didn’t create architectural documents to make money. I did it because drafting and computers and escaping my dysgraphic limitations were what drove me. When I couldn’t do that anymore, and being faced with ceasing to be relevant to the world because I could no longer do the thing I loved, I found a way to do the thing I had always wanted to do. Write. Writing is the thing I had always wanted to do but couldn’t do because I had to feed a family, and writing without a computer interface is an impossibility for someone who has the kind of dysgraphic problems that I have.

The space in which to reinvent myself was provided by socialism, which is why I say that I was Saved by Socialism, and having been given that space and discovering that I had to do something in order to keep living in the here and now, I taught myself to write in much the same way that I taught myself computer assisted drafting (several times) I can now bring my ideas into existence with a word processor for them to be discussed or puzzled over by anyone who runs across them.

This personal revelation of mine is a part of why I keep telling people who clearly are angry about being forced to do a job they don’t want to do, to just stop doing it. Just stop. Wait. Wait as long as it takes for them to get that itch. Some people will never notice the itch. There is no help for those people no matter what I might say here. Most people will get the itch and they will be driven up off the couch and out the door in pursuit of something to do with themselves that feels meaningful in the grand sense of meaning, and not in the personal sense of meaning which amounts to “what can I distract myself with next?”

I want, more than anything, for everyone to be allowed to sit down and say “I’m not going to do that anymore.” …and then have them be forced to admit that sitting at home doing nothing is not a useful, rewarding life that you can be happy in. Because until that experience is a realistic possibility the delusion of scarcity and its fear will drive people to keep working at things that they don’t find rewarding but feel that they must continue to work at anyway unless they want to starve, their children to starve, live on the streets, etcetera.

They are convinced that if they don’t work the world will come to a standstill. Even the Wife says “the world will come to a standstill, won’t it?” I want to see their faces when they realize that the world keeps going on anyway, turning once around its axis each day, traveling once around the sun each year, even though they have decided not to participate in life any longer. Because it is at that point that we really will have arrived at a post-scarcity economy.

Author: RAnthony

I'm a freethinking, unapologetic liberal. I'm a former CAD guru with an architectural fetish. I'm a happily married father. I'm also a disabled Meniere's sufferer.

Attacks on arguments offered are appreciated and awaited. Attacks on the author will be deleted.