Capitalism

The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Ability to Generate Useless Jobs

The value of your work should not be determined by your paycheck.

Share with your friends










Submit
More share buttons
Share on Pinterest

By Rutger Bregman

A great deal has been written in recent years about the perils of automation. With predicted mass unemployment, declining wages, and increasing inequality, clearly we should all be afraid.

By now it’s no longer just the Silicon Valley trend watchers and technoprophets who are apprehensive. In a study that has already racked up several hundred citations, scholars at Oxford University have estimated that no less than 47% of all American jobs and 54% of those in Europe are at a high risk of being usurped by machines. And not in a hundred years or so, but in the next 20. “The only real difference between enthusiasts and skeptics is a time frame,” notes a New York University professor. “But a century from now, nobody will much care about how long it took, only what happened next.”

Get Evonomics in your inbox

I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake.

Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?

What is “work” anyway?

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless.

They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.

Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect.

So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”

The paradox of progress

It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work.

Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless?

That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.

The irony is that technological progress is only exacerbating this crisis. Historically, society has been able to afford more bullshit jobs precisely because our robots kept getting better. As our farms and factories grew more efficient, they accounted for a shrinking share of our economy. And the more productive agriculture and manufacturing became, the fewer people they employed. Call it the paradox of progress: the richer we become, the more room we have to waste our time. It’s like Brad Pitt says in Fight Club: too often, we’re “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.”

The time has come to stop sidestepping the debate and home in on the real issue: what would our economy look like if we were to radically redefine the meaning of “work”? I firmly believe that a universal basic income is the most effective answer to the dilemma of advancing robotization. Not because robots will take over all the purposeful jobs, but because a basic income would give everybody the chance to do work that is meaningful.

I believe in a future where the value of your work is not determined by the size of your paycheck, but by the amount of happiness you spread and the amount of meaning you give. I believe in a future where the point of education is not to prepare you for another useless job, but for a life well lived. I believe in a future where “jobs are for robots and life is for people.”

And if basic income sounds Utopian to you, then I’d like to remind you that every milestone of civilization – from the end of slavery to democracy to equal rights for men and women – was once a Utopian fantasy too. Or, as Oscar Wilde wrote long ago: “Progress is the realization of Utopias.”

Rutger Bregman is the author of 'Utopia For Realists', published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. and by Little, Brown in the U.S.

Rutger Bregman is the author of ‘Utopia For Realists‘, published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. and by Little, Brown in the U.S.

This article has been translated from Dutch by Elizabeth Manton.

Originally published at World Economic Forum.

2017 May 17


Donating = Changing Economics. And Changing the World.

Evonomics is free, it’s a labor of love, and it's an expense. We spend hundreds of hours and lots of dollars each month creating, curating, and promoting content that drives the next evolution of economics. If you're like us — if you think there’s a key leverage point here for making the world a better place — please consider donating. We’ll use your donation to deliver even more game-changing content, and to spread the word about that content to influential thinkers far and wide.

MONTHLY DONATION
 $3 / month
 $7 / month
 $10 / month
 $25 / month

ONE-TIME DONATION
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.

If you liked this article, you'll also like these other Evonomics articles...




BE INVOLVED

We welcome you to take part in the next evolution of economics. Sign up now to be kept in the loop!

  • Marc Batko

    Thanks for your passion and light! Here’s a link to a Guardian article on hubris of “start-ups” https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/11/tech-innovation-silicon-valley-juicero

  • Rick Derris

    “Utopia” – by open borders? Yup, that is just working so well in the EU.

  • GaryReber

    Rutger Bregman’s article is superficial because he fails to understand the invisible structure that ties the physical structure together, and thus formulate a solution other than the basic income one he advocates that requires income redistribution, which means taking from those who contribute to the economy either through their human labor input and/or their non-human capital assets they own.

    Jobs have always provided the means for people to earn an income to support themselves and their families, whether those employed by the wealthy ownership class felt their job had any “meaning and significance” or that they even like their job, feeling it was “utterly useless.”

    Bregmen’s premise is that “technology” advances will result in a future where there will be hordes of citizens of zero economic value because jobs will be for robots. Thus, Bregmen concludes that “a universal basic income is the most effective answer to the dilemma of advancing robotization.”

    Because Bregmen does not address the invisible structure and the system of financial mechanisms that result in the creation of “technology” always owned by a wealthy capital ownership class at the exclusion of the vast majority of Americans that must rely on a job to earn an income.

    Bregmen sees redistribution as the solution – taking from productive workers and capital asset owners to provide a basic income to every citizen. Nowhere does Bregmen address the ownership structure of the future or how the invisible structure should be reformed.

    I would argue for system reform to empower EVERY citizen to acquire OWNERSHIP in the wealth-creating, income-producing capital assets resulting from technological invention and innovation – a future economy that can support general affluence for EVERY citizen. Embracing on such a future will result in millions of new job opportunities, but most significantly opportunities to create ownership participation for EVERY citizen in the viable corporations growing the economy.

    Because productive capital (the non-human means of production) is increasingly the source of the world’s economic growth it should become the source of added property ownership incomes for all. The reality is if both labor and capital are independent factors of production, and if capital’s proportionate contributions are increasing relative to that of labor, then equality of opportunity and economic justice demands that the right to property (and access to the means of acquiring and possessing property) must in justice be extended to all.

    Rather than focus on income redistribution, “bullshit job” creation, and a redistributed minimum guaranteed income that holds back technological invention and innovation, our economic policies should focus on wealth-creating, income-producing capital Ownership Creation simultaneously with the building of a future economy that supports general affluence for EVERY citizen.

    Given that there is no question that robotic technology will continue to expand the productivity and in large measure destroy jobs and devalue the value of human labor, the question that SHOULD be urgently addressed is WHO SHOULD OWN THE FUTURE TECHNOLOGY ECONOMY? Will ownership continue to concentrate among the 1 percent wealthy ownership class who now OWNS America, or will we reform the system to provide equal opportunity for EVERY child, woman, and man to acquire personal OWNERSHIP in FUTURE non-human capital assets paid for with the FUTURE earnings of the investments in our affluent technological future?

    No one should be surprised who is conscious and who has even causally observed the constant shift to non-human productive inputs in the manufacturing, distribution, and sales of products, as well as the delivery of services, that has been occurring during their lifetime. The first burst of this phenomena was the Industrial Revolution. But now we are in an age of technology sophistication that is permeating every sector of industry and our day-to-day lives.

    There’s nothing new about machines replacing people, but the rate of replacement is exponential and the result is that productivity gains lead to more wealth for the OWNERS of the non-human factor of production, but for others who have always been dependent on jobs as their source of income, there has been a steady decline to poverty-level labor incomes.

    What must be understood (which unfortunately is not understood by conventional economists) is that there are two independent factors of production –human or labor workers and non-human or physical productive capital – productive land, structures, machines, super-automation, robotics, digital computerized operations, etc.

    Fundamentally, economic value is created through human and non-human contributions.

    Also what needs to be understood is that human productivity has not advanced (our human abilities are limited by physical strength and brain power––and relatively constant), but that the productiveness of the non-human factor of production – productive capital – is the reason that private sector corporations, majority owned by the “1 percent,” are utilizing the non-human factor of production increasingly to create efficiencies and save labor costs. It is the function of technology to save labor from toil and to enable us to do things that otherwise is humanly impossible without non-human input.

    The critical question becomes who should OWN productive capital? The issue of OWNERSHIP is unbelievably overlooked by those in academia and politics, as well as by the author of this article, Rutger Bregmen. Yet we live in a country founded upon private property rights, with the American population broadly vested in this concept, owning consumer goods as well as capital assets that create wealth and produce income.

    Today, large streams of data, coupled with statistical analysis and sophisticated algorithms, are rapidly gaining importance in almost every field of science, politics, journalism, and much more. What does this mean for the future of work?

    But what about China and Asia, the place where all the manufacturing jobs are supposedly going? True, China has added manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years. But now it is beginning its shift to super-robotic automation. Thus, in reality off-shoring of manufacturing will eventually be replaced by human-intelligent super-robotic automation.

    The pursuit for lower and lower cost production that relies on slave wage labor will eventually run out of places to chase. Eventually, “rich” countries, whose productive capital capability is owned by its wealthy capital ownership class, will be forced to “re-shore” manufacturing capacity, and result in ever-cheaper robotic manufacturing.

    “The era we’re in is one in which the scope of tasks that can be automated is increasing rapidly, and in areas where we used to think those were our best skills, things that require thinking,” says David Autor, a labor economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Businesses are spending more on technology now because they spent so little during the recession. Yet total capital expenditures are still barely running ahead of replacement costs. “Most of the investment we’re seeing is simply replacing worn-out stuff,” says economist Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics.

    Yet, while the problem is one that no one can no longer ignore, the solution also is one starring them in the face but they just can’t see the simplicity of it. Instead they focus on redistributing income rather than empowering EVERY citizen to make a productive contribution to the economy and our society.

    The fundamental challenge to be solved is how do we reinvent and redesign our economic institutions to keep pace with job destroying and labor devaluing technological innovation and invention so not all of the benefits of OWNING FUTURE productive capacity accrues to today’s wealthy 1 percent ownership class, and ownership is broadened so that EVERY American earns income through stock OWNERSHIP dividends (full earnings) so they can afford to purchase the products and services produced by the economy’s advancing technology.

    None of this is new from a macro-economic viewpoint as productive capital is increasingly the source of the world’s economic growth. The role of physical productive capital is to do ever more of the work of producing more products and services, which produces income to its owners. Full employment is not an objective of businesses. Companies strive to keep labor input and other costs at a minimum. Private sector job creation in numbers that match the pool of people willing and able to work is constantly being eroded by physical productive capital’s ever increasing role. Over the past century there has been an ever-accelerating shift to productive capital – which reflects tectonic shifts in the technologies of production. The mixture of labor worker input and capital worker input has been rapidly changing at an exponential rate of increase for over 235 years in step with the Industrial Revolution (starting in 1776) and had even been changing long before that with man’s discovery of the first tools, but at a much slower rate. Up until the close of the nineteenth century, the United States remained a working democracy, with the production of products and services dependent on labor worker input. When the American Industrial Revolution began and subsequent technological advance amplified the productive power of non-human capital, plutocratic finance channeled its ownership into fewer and fewer hands, as we continue to witness today with government by the wealthy evidenced at all levels.

    People invented tools to reduce toil, enable otherwise impossible production, create new highly automated industries, and significantly change the way in which products and services are produced from labor intensive to capital intensive – the core function of technological invention. Binary economist Louis Kelso attributed most changes in the productive capacity of the world since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to technological improvements in our capital assets, and a relatively diminishing proportion to human labor. Capital, in Kelso’s terms, does not “enhance” labor productivity (labor’s ability to produce economic goods). In fact, the opposite is true. It makes many forms of labor unnecessary. Because of this undeniable fact, Kelso asserted that, “free-market forces no longer establish the ‘value’ of labor. Instead, the price of labor is artificially elevated by government through minimum wage legislation, overtime laws, and collective bargaining legislation or by government employment and government subsidization of private employment solely to increase consumer income.”

    Furthermore, according to Kelso, productive capital is increasingly the source of the world’s economic growth and, therefore, should become the source of added property ownership incomes for all. Kelso postulated that if both labor and capital are interdependent factors of production, and if capital’s proportionate contributions are increasing relative to that of labor, then equality of opportunity and economic justice demands that the right to property (and access to the means of acquiring and possessing property) must in justice be extended to all. Yet, sadly, the American people and its leaders still pretend to believe that labor is becoming more productive.

    The 400 wealthiest Americans and the other 1 to 10 percent richest Americans are rich because they OWN wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets. The disenfranchised poor and working and middle class are propertyless in terms of OWNING productive capital assets.

    Because productive capital is increasingly the source of the world’s economic growth, shouldn’t we be asking the question why is not productive capital the source of added property OWNERSHIP incomes for all? Why are we not addressing how the system facilitates greed capitalism and envy while concentrating productive capital OWNERSHIP among the 1 to 10 percent of the population?

    The change that is necessary is to reform the system to provide equal opportunity for EVERY American to acquire wealth-creating, income-generating productive capital assets on the basis that the investments will pay for themselves – and on the same terms that the wealthy OWNERSHIP class now utilizes. They are able to use the investment’s earnings to pay off the capital credit loans used to finance their investments, without having to use their own money or deny themselves consumption.

    A National Right To Capital Ownership Bill that restores the American dream should be advocated by the progressive movement, which addresses the reality of Americans facing job opportunity deterioration and devaluation due to tectonic shifts in the technologies of production.

    There is a solution, which will result in double-digit economic growth and simultaneously broaden private, individual OWNERSHIP so that EVERY American’s income significantly grows, providing the means to support themselves and their families with an affluent lifestyle. The Just Third Way Master Plan for America’s future is published at http://foreconomicjustice.org/?p=5797.

    The solution is obvious but our leaders, academia, conventional economist and the media are oblivious to the necessity to broaden OWNERSHIP in the new capital formation of the future simultaneously with the growth of the economy, which then becomes self-propelled as increasingly more Americans accumulate OWNERSHIP shares and earn a new source of dividend income derived from their capital OWNERSHIP in the “machines” that are replacing them or devaluing their labor value.

    The solution will require the reform of the Federal Reserve Bank to create new OWNERS of FUTURE productive capital investment in businesses simultaneously with the growth of the economy. The solution to broadening private, individual OWNERSHIP of America’s FUTURE capital wealth requires that the Federal Reserve stop monetizing unproductive debt, including bailouts of banks “too big to fail” and Wall Street derivatives speculators, and begin creating an asset-backed currency that could enable every child, woman, and man to establish a Capital Homestead Account or “CHA” (a super-IRA or asset tax-shelter for citizens) at their local bank to acquire a growing dividend-bearing stock portfolio to supplement their incomes from work and all other sources of income. Policies need to insert American citizens into the low or no-interest investment money loop to enable non- and undercapitalized Americans, including the working class and poor, to build wealth and become “customers with money.” The proposed Capital Homestead Act would produce this result.

    Through Just Third Way reforms, economic growth would be freed from the slavery of past savings (“old money”), while creating a domestic source of new asset-backed, interest-free (but not cost free) money and expanded bank credit to finance new capital repayable out of future savings (earnings). To ensure that OWNERSHIP of future private sector growth and newly created wealth is universally accessible to every citizen, such newly created money and credit would only be available through economic democratization vehicles, administered through the competitive member banks of a well-regulated Federal Reserve central banking system.

    Under the first tier, future increases in the money supply (“new money”) would be linked to actual growth of the economy’s productive assets, creating new OWNERS of new capital asset wealth through widespread access to interest-free capital credit repayable with future profits. The Federal Reserve would create (i.e., “monetize”) interest-free credit, with lenders adding their normal markup as service fees above the cost of money. This would establish an unsubsidized minimal rate for financing technological growth. This would provide the public with a currency backed by increasingly more efficient instruments of production, real wealth-producing capital assets, rather than unsustainable government debt.The creation of new money and credit would be non-inflationary and would simultaneously broaden purchasing power throughout the economy. To accomplish this, a key reform is a two-tiered interest policy by the Federal Reserve that would distinguish between productive and non-productive uses of credit.

    The second tier would allow substantially higher, market-determined interest rates for non-productive purposes, for which “past savings” would remain available. The Federal Reserve would be restrained from future monetization of national deficits or encouraging other forms of non-productive uses of credit, causing upper-tier credit to seek out already accumulated savings at market rates.

    Capital Homesteading would also provide through capital credit insurance a rational way to deal with risk, as well as an additional check on the quality of loans being supported by the Federal Reserve. Capital credit insurance and reinsurance policies would offset the risk that the enterprises issuing new shares on credit might fail to repay the loans. Such capital credit default insurance would substitute for collateral demanded by most lenders to cover the risk of non-payment, thus enabling the poor and others with few assets to overcome the collateralization barrier that excludes poor people from access to productive credit.

    Support the Capital Homestead Act (aka Economic Democracy Act) at http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-a-plan-for-getting-ownership-income-and-power-to-every-citizen/, http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/capital-homestead-act-summary/ and http://www.cesj.org/learn/capital-homesteading/ch-vehicles/.See the article “The Absent Conversation: Who Should Own America?” published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/who-should-own-america_b_2040592.html and by OpEd News at http://www.opednews.com/articles/THE-Absent-Conversation–by-Gary-Reber-130429-498.html.

    Support Monetary Justice at http://capitalhomestead.org/page/monetary-justice.

    Also see “The Path To Eradicating Poverty In America” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/the-path-to-eradicating-p_b_3017072.html and “The Path To Sustainable Economic Growth” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/sustainable-economic-growth_b_3141721.html. And also “Second Income Plan” at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/second-income-plan_b_3625319.html

    Also see the article entitled “The Solution To America’s Economic Decline” at http://www.nationofchange.org/solution-america-s-economic-decline-1367588690 and “Education Is Critical To Our Future Societal Development” at http://www.nationofchange.org/education-critical-our-future-societal-development-1373556479. And also “Achieving The Green Economy” at http://www.nationofchange.org/achieving-green-economy-1373980790. Also see it complete with the footnotes at http://foreconomicjustice.org/?p=9082.

    Also see “Financing Economic Growth With ‘FUTURE SAVINGS’: Solutions To Protect America From Economic Decline” at NationOfChange.org http://www.nationofchange.org/financing-future-economic-growth-future-savings-solutions-protect-america-economic-decline-137450624 and “The Income Solution To Slow Private Sector Job Growth” at http://www.nationofchange.org/income-solution-slow-private-sector-job-growth-1378041490.

  • oleg_tumarkin

    UBI might be part of the answer, but it is far from being the answer. The entire way of structuring our lives (school until you are 18, college, then work, then retirement) are becoming largely meaningless. I suspect the answer has more to do with emergence of communities of deliberate practice where people’s lives and learning and work and rest are integrated into something that creates value for the world around them. In a way we see companies like Google already attempt this in having their campus as an integrative experience for their employees with work and life and learning being integrated and not separate. It’s only a matter of time until we all find a place in structures that will support and engage us in this way. So, in a way it is UBI, but from corporations rather than countries and with a way for people to opt in and opt out

  • Andy White

    We need to wake up and start living in the 21st century, it is time to more on from the anachronistic dreams of the 20th and earlier centuries. What is happening within our lifetimes is the biggest evolutionary step in our species history since we first started to make tools, speak and use fire (changes which happened 2-4 million years ago and occured over a couple million years and took another couple of million to produce homo sapiens.).

    There is a huge restructuring of society occurring “off stage” in ordinary peoples lives around this planet whilst the stage is dominated by buffoons, tycoons and idealists/fanatics (they are the same thing). Universal Basic Income of some description or other is essential if we want to avoid “some kind of hell” – societal and civilisation collapse / genocide. In economic creating this resource creates the means to produce stable sustainable society.

  • killben

    “I firmly believe that a universal basic income is the most effective answer to the dilemma of advancing robotization”

    How do you fund this if we assume robots takes over jobs. My thinking goes like this. I work. I earn. I pay income tax on what I earn and I pay sales tax and the like when I consume. It is the ability to earn that enables me to pay those taxes. It is these taxes that will fund basic income and the like. When I do not earn as my jobs are run by robots, where is the earning to pay the taxes that enable Universal Basic Income. So where from do we get this money spigot everyone is talking about…

    • Itamar Serafim Silva

      Well, I think theyr proposal is to tax incomes provinient from robot work. Robot owners will pay for your “Universal Basic Income”.
      They fail to think on how make robot owners pay for “Universal Basic Income”.
      Robot owners will move theyr robots to India, Bangladesh or any other country.
      The solution, my friend: Don’t make babies, ’cause if you make’m they’ll be in trouble.

  • Robert Owens

    There are solutions to all the economic, social and underemployment problems we face as a society in America. The solutions involve a dramatic change in our tax system, allowing people to keep 99.8% of the wages they earn, and not having to file annual income taxes at the federal, state and local level. The solution also involves changing the banking system to eliminate payment of interest on loans. The solution also involves a Basic Income for all adult US citizens, so everyone has sufficient financial resources to be able to buy the goods and services that our nation has the capacity to produce. Read all about it at theeconomiststale.com and at TheFoundationForABetterEconomy.org !!

    • Itamar Serafim Silva

      In my point of view it is one more dose of analgesic medication: aliviates pain for a while but don’t cure any disease, don’t solve the problem.
      Human being are inherently moved by reward, so is capitalism. You mess with his reward you cause a mess.
      Today we too many people willing to work for too small share of what they produce, that’s the problem. For the market people are like bananas: the more people you have the less they worth, sadly.
      How crazy the world is, you have people paying for a root over thirty years!!! THis is insanity. Let’s not make babies, or they will be slave for all theyr lives.

  • Itamar Serafim Silva

    ” universal basic income”
    Everywhere I see people talking about this concept but they never mention demographic growth when they talk about it.
    You can think about UBI when everywhere in the World you see one or (max) two kids per family, when world population size be steadily dropping.
    To implement such thing as UBI in places where population are still growing it simply won’t work.
    The great problem is to have people willing to work for a small share of what they produce.
    You can’t fix that with utopia. Europe had theyr best time(for workers) only when family size got small for generations.
    My convictions are that by keeping families small we balance the job market in favor of the “have not’s”.

  • Jeff Atlee

    UBI is a stop gap solution. The problem is that we live in a post scarcity society with scarcity age conditioning so deep that we somehow feel a lack when many developed nations produce more food than their populations can ever consume

    • Brian H

      I don’t think we have reached post-scarcity, because, Energy.

      • The sun produces plenty of energy to meet all reasonable needs. The issues are around market incentives.

        • Brian H

          Of course, there’s no shortage of Energy in the Universe. But changing the economics of Solar, or Wind, or Nuclear, vs. Fossil Fuel requires something not captured by “market incentives”. Something which non-academics would probably just call “sacrifice”. Good luck convincing people en masse that sacrifice is the right prescription for them.

          • Hi Brian,
            There is a very real sense in which everything about civilisation is about ways in which we are able to delay gratification. A cynical view of christianity might be that it uses illusion to do so indefinitely, and that misses something profound.

            People are capable of short term restraint for long term gain, and that requires sufficient credibility that the gain is sufficiently likely to be real for the restraint to be worth it. In economic terms, the discount rate applied to future earnings.

            I am not talking about long term sacrifice.
            I am talking about everyone being able to do whatever they responsibly choose in the relatively short term (next 13 years), and the sorts of actions that are required to get us from the system we have now (which demonstrably cannot deliver) to what is possible.

            And there isn’t any particular need for sacrifice.
            We are not short of goods or services, just appropriate means of connecting the two.

          • Brian H

            We are speaking in pretty abstract terms. How do you see people’s behavior changing to effect substantial changes in their energy usage or the sustainability of their energy sources without individuals “investing” in those changes – which implies they DON’T invest in some alternative they may want – which is the “sacrifice” I abstractly referred to.

            To make it more concrete, you can buy a new SUV or you can buy rooftop solar, but you cannot afford to buy both. Obviously, millions of people investing in rooftop solar could have a big impact on future energy, as could continued investment in millions of SUV’s. Tilting the needle through policy is all well and good, but people still need to believe they freely chose the better thing to sacrifice.

            And is that what the “religion” of climate change is really all about? When climate scientists can claim their model’s are as credible as a Baptist preachers descriptions of Hell, then the fearful will “choose wisely”?

          • To make it concrete – I spent $12K to install rooftop solar 2 years ago, and $4K on an old SUV this year.
            I get the best of both.

          • Brian H

            That’s good, but you don’t elaborate on why you made these particular choices, or how you see those choices scaling to the broader, general population. Clearly, anyone that can afford to invest in rooftop solar can afford a >$4K used vehicle. So, you did choose to sacrifice something – namely the personal satisfaction and/or “social capital” that comes with tooling around town in a “better” car 😉

            In a society where we all seek to understand, or at least respect, the choices of others, how do you see this scaling? Do you think there is already sufficient peer pressure, because I don’t really see it? Do you think there will be some private or public advertising campaign to convince people that they should really sacrifice on the car to invest in solar? I haven’t seen it.

            Frankly, I think your basic assumption is false. Most people ignorantly choose short-term gain as a way to delay sacrifice as long as possible. The way I see it, only crisis motivates the populace sufficiently to embrace change. I don’t think this is “a good thing”. It’s just the way most people are… It’s the “reality”.

          • Hi Brian,
            Kind of, and it is more complex than that.
            I don’t have much money now – less than $10K.
            And all that I have (house car etc) is debt free.
            I have been thinking and planning long term, making decisions based on delayed gratification on time scales of decades, for over 40 years, that have nothing to do with religion.
            So I am not “normal” in that respect, I am well out on the edge of most distribution curves – I acknowledge that.

            Yes there is a sense where in practice most people would rather die than consciously change habits.
            I have seen that a lot in the last 7 years, since curing myself of “terminal cancer”. Lots of people have come to see me, and few have had the discipline to continue the regime I have followed. Those few who have are all alive, the rest have, for the most part, died pretty much on schedule.

            So, yes, I see that and acknowledge that.

            And I think I have a reasonable handle on why that is so, on the conditions of experience and choice and habit that make it as it is. The fundamental biology doesn’t seem to be a lot different, and there are some very real differences. I know my IQ is 160+ and I know that in the psychological literature IQ is the strongest predictor of many things – and there are broad distributions in all psychological distributions, so nothing certain there.

            We all develop context sensitive habits in life. That is one thing that neural nets do really well.

            You cannot untrain a neural net, and you can teach it to respond in a new way to a new context.

            Distinguishing such a context, and maintaining both the context and the distinction, do seem to be possibilities.

            And under stress we all revert to basic distinction sets – that is a strong biochemical system, it takes a great deal of training to over-ride it in all contexts, then to learn to cover any trace in behaviour that the over-ride has taken place, until a time and place of ones choosing.

            In terms of reality, it seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that there are two very different types of reality present.

            There does seem to be an objective reality, but we have no direct access to that. It is out there, it is complex in ways that take a long time to get any sort of reasonable handle on, and it is fundamentally unpredictable in many distinctly different classes of ways, and in different contexts, even while at the same time approximating predictability in other contexts in ways that allow us to build digital computers and atomic clocks. Understand the mathematics and logic of that is not something many people achieve and is not something taught in many schools.

            The other reality we all have is our experiential reality. What we live in day to day. That seems to be a subconsciously created model of the “objective reality” that has worked at various scales of genetic and cultural evolutionary time; and has survived our own personal life experiences and choices. So the qualia of our experiential existence seem to be a software on software thing, contained within the extremely complex piece of hardware that is a human brain within a human body. About 20 levels of computational systems, with many instances of types of system at each level, all interacting.

            The more levels of distinctions and understandings one has about the nature of this existence that we find ourselves in, the greater the range of options available to influence its future development.

            And anyone who thinks that control of such a complex set of complex systems is even possible is living in fairy land. The best any of us can hope for is some sort of influence, in an ongoing iterative process.

            That does seem to be the “reality”.

          • Brian,
            That’s why we have government. It’s their mandate to influence people towards the public good. Would you like to comment on this?

          • Brian H

            Are you saying that modern Western democratic bureaucrats and politicians are just the forward-thinking influencers we need to step in and help the masses do the sensible thing – prioritize long-term benefits over short-term costs? It could help, even if all they are capable of mustering is symbolic gestures. I expect governments to continue to be status-quo and reactionary, since that’s how they roll.

          • Well, I will be saying that this is depressing indeed but if we try to pinpoint the roots of the problems which make you and I unhappy then think whether we can suggest something in the way of a government policy that would cure the ills and if we can we will then press some buttons to generate positive impacts and then etc etc.
            We are having fun, aren’t we. Speaking seriously, I’ve made an attempt in my https://abetterorganization.org. Want to read the book? Be my guest!

  • Yes there are complex issues.

    Population size is a complex issue.
    Indefinite life extension is a complex issue.

    And if we are to hold on to the notion of money, then universal basic income seems to be a necessary part of a transition strategy from a world based in scarcity to a world of responsible abundance.

    And we have some deep lessons to learn if we wish to reduce existential risks to a minimum.

    Accepting that moral constraints are a fundamental part of complex systems is part of that.
    Accepting that respect for individual life and individual liberty are necessary universal values is part of that.
    Accepting that liberty, even within constraints, necessarily leads to exponentially expanding diversity, is part of that.

    We live in a profoundly complex world.
    Every human being is profoundly complex beyond the capacity of any human being to fully comprehend, and we can make useful approximations in some contexts.

    Accepting that cooperation is every bit as important (and exponentially more so at higher levels of complexity) as competition when understanding evolution, is fundamental to us averting the current existential crisis of capitalism.

    And to be clear, I am not promoting socialism.
    I am very clear about the value of individuals and their liberty, and those values have to be in a context of responsible action in social and ecological contexts.
    Liberty involves accepting responsibility for the consequences of action.
    Anything less than that is not liberty, it is pure fiction!