Mankind is driven by a quest for meaning.  In modern times that has usually been expressed by choosing a career that allows the individual to realize feelings of self work through the fruits of their labor. Or, in the more mundane case, make enough money to support themselves and provide food and shelter for their families. That has always been the theory any way.

In recent years increases in productivity have been realized through such disruptive developments as artificial intelligence and robotic work forces. But such increases often overlook an important role in the economic process, that of the consumer. As productivity increases and the cost of production goes down, so does the so called barrier to entry that prevents market glut to supply excess goods. If there are not enough people that want these goods, otherwise called consumers, the the value of these goods will quickly fall to slightly more than the cost of production. Often that means that the price of goods trends toward free, as a limit.

This has been called by some the post-scarcity economy. No one really understands exactly how it is going to work. Some postulate a utopia similar to Star Trek where people pursue higher interests with little or no thought of money or salary. Others suggest a tax on robotic labor that will help fund a Universal Basic Income to provide individuals with money with which to buy goods. This is often dismissed as a mere stop gap measure until we get our minds around how a post-scarcity economy should actually work.

I think we should turn our attention back to the fundamental quest for meaning. This is the core issue from which all others derive. If we can only figure out how to help people to find meaning in their lives, whether through artistic expression, service to humankind, or expansion of the boundaries of human knowledge, we will have solved the fundamental core problem with the post-scarcity economy.

The question that remains is, can we overcome our greed and self centeredness in order to allow such a economy to flourish or are we doomed to rampant poverty in the midst of plenty? I don’t know. I barely passed economics in high school and psychology has never been my strong suit. I am a pragmatic optimist. That is to say, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

In this case, preparing for the worst primarily means to keep my eyes open for trends in the operation of society and remembering that we must all hang together or we most certainly will hang apart. We could also do with a little bit more respect for objective truth. Things are the way they are for discoverable reasons. We should believe the evidence of our senses and not the moronic assertions of people that believe that things will be the way they want them to be if only they yell long enough and loud enough. And a little basic kindness would go a long way as well.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

One More Time…

Hold on, this is going to be another mind bender.

A number of people have proposed that the world we live in is just a high resolution computer simulation. The argument sometimes goes, any civilization just slightly more advanced than we are now would be capable of creating such a simulation. Then follows a bunch of probabilistic hand waving which demonstrates that if they could, it’s likely that they have done so and consequently, as they say in poker games, if you can’t spot the sucker, you ARE the sucker. In other words, if we haven’t created such a simulation, the probability is high that this is a simulation.

So, assuming for a moment that this is the case, the next question is why? That too has been widely speculated upon. Some assert that the simulation is a tool for exploring simpler times. Others contend that it is a laboratory for studying the operation of complex societies. And others say that there is no reason beyond seeing what will happen.

I’ve got a new suggestion. What if this is a simulation where an advanced civilization is attempting to work out a benign solution to the problem of what happens to all the people when an AI takes over the world. Or maybe it is an AI that is conducting the research. Or maybe we have already ruined the environment and living in this simulated environment is the only way we have of experiencing a world outside of the claustrophobic little survival tanks we have been forced to live in. There’s a twist to the premise of The Matrix for you.

I find myself pondering these possibilities more lately. The world around me seems to make less and less sense to me. The probability of an apocalyptic scenario looms large. And the real danger is from a direction that has only recently occurred to me. As wealth gets more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and production efficiency keeps getting higher and higher, who is going to have the money to consume the products that the rich produce? You can’t eat wealth. You can only drive one car at a time, whether it is a Hundai or a Lamborghini. There is a limit to how much wealth can change your situation. And some things no amount of money can buy.

We live in a world of plenty. All of our traditional economic models were created with the assumption of scarcity and a zero sum game. The current economic game is anything but zero sum. The only thing keeping the world economy together is the shaky confidence that it will hold together, in short faith. We saw in 1927 what happens when enough people loose faith in our economic institutions at the same time. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.