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.

Why the Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough

I had this image thrown at me in a minimum wage argument recently. What about the cost of producing milk? What about tax rates? Hunh? How do you explain that? If I had real patience with the speaker, I might have explained it this way. A gallon of milk costs one gallon of milk. That is its actual value, because it is a gallon of milk. I didn’t, so that wasn’t my initial argument.

Without refrigeration, milk spoils quickly, which means milk has to be drank quickly.  This is why cheese was so popular before refrigeration, unless you lived on a dairy farm.  Before refrigeration most milk went to make cheese or it was fermented into an alcoholic beverage (try it, it is revolting) because even though you could die from drinking tainted raw milk, it was still an irreplaceable source of protein. What created the market for milk was pasteurization and the discovery of cheap refrigeration (Connections) both of which indirectly impacted farming techniques and allowed farmers to get milk to the stores so that you can enjoy it and the farmer can profit from selling it. No one pays for the knowledge that is utilized to make all this possible. It is gratis, free, part of being in the human community.

However, the cost of educating all these morons so they don’t poison themselves is not factored into the cost of the gallon of milk. Anyone care to guess what that cost would be? I’ll save you the trouble, it can’t be calculated. Why? Because the cost of education raises the cost of production, which in turn raises the cost of education, etc. This incalculable cost is what is known as an externality and people who count beans for a living would like to pretend that externalities don’t exist.

But externalities do exist.  Which is why the cost of a gallon of milk is… one gallon of milk.  Money is a variable that steps into the equation that allows you to get milk without having to raise and milk the cows yourself.  That is really all there is to it.

What we have to decide is, what is money? That is what we need to figure out. If it is a creation of society then we can say everyone gets some, not enough, but some, and if you want enough you have to work for it. That function right now is served (imperfectly) by the minimum wage.  It could easily be served by Universal Basic Income or some other kind of minimum income floor that would allow people to survive without requiring everyone to work all the time. Funds are distributed to everyone or just the poor at a set rate a month, a week or even daily. Not enough money to live lavishly or even easily, just some money for everyone in any given area. What would that do for the economy?

The bogeyman of income tax tacked on at the end of the meme is just that. A bogeyman placed there to scare you. Income tax is a bad vehicle to do what the government wants, and is as subject to change as the minimum wage is. The list of alternatives to progressive taxation is nearly as endless as the numbers of ways that progressive taxation can be calculated. Set dollar amounts should be done away with, in any case. A 99% confiscatory upper tax rate could be set on any income that exceeds 20 times the lowest income in the marketplace. See how fast lower pay increases when you tie upper pay to it. Can the wealthy get by on $160 an hour? That should be an interesting experiment to witness.

Personally I like negative interest rates imposed on money left uninvested. That forces money to be used in the marketplace or lost over time. Impose negative interest rates on all accounts which are not retirement accounts or money market accounts. Invest it, save for retirement, spend it or lose it, Pick one. In any case, the problem is not the minimum wage. The problem is the limits on the imagination of the image creator.

The image was found wild on the internet, and was used in an internet argument against me. Post content written and forgotten on November 13th 2016. I probably had other things on my mind that day.

I am the 99%

I know this photo is from 2011, is part of the Occupy demonstrations for that year. There were quite a few of these images released with the title “I am the 99 percent” about that time.

I reposted it today because of the events in Washington DC, where the congress and His Electoral Highness Donald J. Trump are trying to undo all the work done by President Obama. They are trying to repeal the ACA which they nicknamed Obamacare specifically trying to denigrate his accomplishments and tar him with the failures of the policy they helped to shape. The ACA, deemed to be not going far enough by most Americans especially the ninety-nine percenters, and condemned as going too far by the most vocal minority segment (self-identified conservatives) of the electorate.

In what should have been an obvious if counter-intuitive turn, the same people who protested that Obama did not go far enough voted for what was popularly seen as the opposition party, the Republicans. However, what the Republicans are is the party that confined Obama to the minimum that he was able to do. What is now transpiring in Washington DC is what happens when fiscal conservatives who think they have a mandate propose doing exactly what the people who voted for them don’t want done. To the utter consternation of the public who doesn’t follow politics as maniacally as I do, the hardliners in the party think that this barbaric proposal they’ve dubbed the AHCA is not punishing enough. The hardliners want it to be more punishing on the poor, the sick and the disabled, the complete opposite of what the popular mandate was.

Candidate Trump in one of his only sane moments said he would protect Medicare and make sure that everyone had healthcare better than they did under Obamacare, the ACA. However, His Electoral Highness has also forgotten his own promises on the subject of healthcare in his efforts to rally the party that saw his stances of protecting Medicare and Social Security as being too liberal.

We now find ourselves caught in an example of the argumentum ad absurdum brought to life. The people who voted for one kind of change, people like the one in the image, discovering their representatives apparently do want to see them die in the streets after all. That the reason conservatives knew there were death panels in Obamacare was because they were planning on creating death panels themselves. Death panels staffed by health insurance insiders who want to protect their profits. I’d laugh at the absurdity of it, if only I weren’t so busy focusing on not giving in to vertigo.

When I stumbled across that image in my Facebook timeline for 2011, I was immediately struck by the notion that I could craft a similar statement. Mine would have to be computer printed like his because dysgraphia would make it take two days to write by hand. It would go something like this,

I worked for 30 years until my health failed me. Unable to sit or stand without pain or dizziness, move without assistance, constantly medicated, I faced a future where the only hope of seeing my family fed or for them to continue to have shelter was to apply for disability. The federal government refused to honor my claim for almost five years. They said I wasn’t really sick. They said I wasn’t an American. I had to proved that I was both before they would pay me anything even though I had faithfully paid my taxes for my entire life.

Now I must stay unemployed in order to keep my family fed and sheltered and keep my insurance, the only thing that allows me to live an almost normal life. In the meantime my wife and children do not qualify for aide because my disability payments amount to more income than is allowed for the poor to make and still qualify for benefits. I have better care with Medicare than any of them receive even though they live in my house and must subsist off of the meager payments the government provides for my disability.

I am the 99%

 If you voted for Republicans in the last election, what happens next to people like me, people like him, will be entirely your fault. Think about that the next time you are tempted to complain about your taxes, or to vote for people who promise to save you money by taking a lifeline away from other people. You could well be me one day. Probably will be.

While the current word is that the AHCA is dead, we should never forget that the hardest of the hardliners, the most conservative of the conservatives, the ludicrously named Freedom Caucus, refused to vote for it because it didn’t strip enough benefits from the poor, the sick and the disabled. Think about that the next time you try to out-conservative your conservative neighbors..


As of this writing, the Senate has postponed their version of the AHCA (which finally did pass the House, a meaningless achievement that they still celebrated on the White House lawn) it won’t come up for a vote until after the July 4th holiday. If there is any justice in this world, it will never be voted upon at all. It is a waste of time, a waste of lives and a waste of fortunes. What needs to happen now is Medicare for all, a basic level of coverage that every American chips in for, so that everyone pays into the system that we need when we get sick, and all of us will be sick at some point in our lives.

Robert Reich: Medicare for All Explained – Jun 28, 2017

I am currently on Medicare and having the least trouble I’ve ever had getting my health problems tended to. Sadly, becoming chronically ill appears to have improved my overall health. That is what making your health a non-commodity will do for you. Make you healthier. 

Driver-less Cars Need Not Equate to Starving Drivers

…which is why the need for [Universal Basic Income] for all of us to legitimately claim that we have the right to not be left to starve in the streets, is so important.

This kind of anti-progress agitating is something that just sounds ignorant. Technology will not stop. Driverless cars will happen. Shovels made fewer diggers necessary, but that doesn’t mean we should hire an army of diggers equipped with spoons. It means that maybe no one likes to dig and we’d like to have a machine do it for us. But that also doesn’t mean that people who used to dig should simply roll over and die.

Uber is just one ride-sharing app. There are several. I think writing laws to combat how Uber does business is essentially wasting time, because there really isn’t any functional way to stop people from ride-sharing. It’s going to happen, and some of those people will exchange cash for the ride.  I really don’t care about what Uber says they are doing, when faced with a full-court press against them. I didn’t care what the music-sharing software companies said back when they were under attack. When that was the case, I observed that I didn’t think making music sharing illegal was going to stop music sharing. It didn’t. There is a serious vein of Luddite running along this anti-Uber rant I keep hearing. Which is why I pointed out that shovels put people out of work too. There needs to be a reality check involved when people start screaming about loosing their jobs. Loom workers and carriage makers lost their jobs too. Shall we de-automate that process? Go back to using horses? Seems silly to me.

Uber is flouting public transport regulations, I can grant that as a premise with no qualms in hindsight. All of the new internet services disrupt the previous social structures in some significant ways. Music sharing sites destroyed corporate music systems as they existed previously. There is big money behind taxi medallion holders in NYC. I think that’s the only reason Uber is in the news at all. File sharing and corporate music was a similar situation, and the last thing we want is another DMCA that addresses cabbies. Crying for the poor taxi drivers is a front; because that’s not what it’s about. It is about gatekeepers and control, just like the music industry. There is far more music now, and better music, than there ever was when corporate gatekeepers had the lock on music. There are plenty of people (I’m one of them) who pay for things even though they don’t have to, because I know that rewarding effort is how you get more of the things you like. Robert Reich in this instance is fighting against the tide of history. It’s not been shown to be effective in any real way.

One final word. You might be able to take down Uber because they are for-profit. You cannot and will not take down the next app because it will be a grinder-like app that allows people simply to offer and accept open seats in vehicles going where they are going. That is where the demand is, and where the supply is wasted. That trade will continue in the absence of Uber and other profit-making companies.

…which is and was the point I’ve been trying to make.

Facebook status and resulting argument summarized and backdated for the blog. UBI replaces “dole” in the original post. UBI is what I meant at the time but hadn’t stumbled across that concept then, or hadn’t applied that label to the concept.