Friday, 29 October 2010

Autonomous Vans

Right on cue for my post yesterday about Google's autonomous car, I read in today's (London) Metro that 4 electric vans arrived in China yesterday having driven 13,000 km from Italy without human drivers.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Autonomous Auto

Google, whose mission is "to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful" have created a car that is autonomous, using satnav, cameras, sensors etc to operate the car in a real world driving situation. The aim of this project is to reduce collisions.

The idea that machines can do things more reliably and safely than humans is a hard one to accept, as witnessed by Ben McLeish's story about the woman who was terrified in a Docklands Light Railway train in London (trains which have been computer driven since 1987) and was only consoled when a human "driver" was put in place (he just pretended).

In an RBE, we would extend our capabilities as much as possible using technology. If this saved us doing work, we would welcome it. Why do we want to do something a machine can do. And if tech can produce cars that don't crash, can't crash, then safety laws become irrelevant.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Jobs and money circulation

If the job that someone is doing is not directly contributing to the sum total of the planet's and humanity's health and happiness, the only point of them doing it is to get money and it doesn't make sense to make someone do something that we don't really want done just so they can get money. We should preferably pay people to NOT do what we don't want done.

We could pay someone to build a wall and someone else to knock it down again. That's work for two people, so good, right? Yet obviously utterly pointless. In real life the contradictions aren't so obvious, but why pay someone to sell cigarettes and someone else to stop people smoking and another person to try to cure the ilness that smoking causes? Why make someone give up caring for their children to go and work in a fast food shop that sells unhealthy food to other children to earn money to pay the childminder they need because they're at work?

These loops are everywhere you look. Perhaps you go to work to earn money to pay for the car you need to go to work in. Perhaps you work in a shop. You need people to come in and spend money in your shop so that you can get money to spend in another shop. There's a finite number of shops, so eventually the money comes back to where it started.

You only need to hold on to the money that you need to survive long enough to purchase what you need to survive, then the money becomes someone else's and they use it for exactly the same purpose. But of course in this system not everyone has all the money they need and some have more than they need. If you don't have enough money to buy a house outright (as most people don't) you have to borrow it. You could borrow it off people who have money to spare, or you could borrow it off a bank, but either will want interest. This way the lender finishes up with more spare money and the borrower less money than he/she started with.

Don't think that the bank lends you money that people with spare money have lent to them. No, for the most part, the money that yo borrow from the bank is created specially for you out of thin air. This is how savers can have instant access to their savings whilst people can still borrow. For each loan that is made, there's more money in total, and because every loan has interest on it, the total amount of money owed is more than actually exists.

People aren't going to give their money to someone who needs it (generally speaking). They might lend it (at interest) or they might buy something. Therefore people have to go to work to make stuff for people to buy, so they can get money to buy necessities and pay back their loans. This leads to there being people whose job it is to convince people to buy things (advertisers), all just to keep the money moving.

Most of us have to work to survive and pay off our loans, but does money motivate us? It can't because it's useless unless you buy something with it. You can't buy happiness (which is what you really want) so someone tries to persuade you that you will be happy if you have the thing they want you to buy. They have to do that to get your money, but your money is useless if you don't spend it.

How does this make any sense?

The market as a system for distribution and supply/demand balancing

Following my rather rambling and unsatisfactory spiel on this subject recently, I listened in to a Zeitgeist Movement Chapter meeting on Monday Night, where similar subjects came up.

It did occur to me that money as a means of exchange works quite well, but when we weigh up that possible advantage of money against all the disadvantages, we see how important it is to devise systems that have the flexibility of money without the many disadvantages of the monetary system.

The advantages of money simply do not outweigh the fact that people are starving in this world, and dying of starvation in some cases, not for lack of food, but for lack of money to buy food, whereas in the same world people throw food away and/or eat so much food it makes them ill. Does that not badly need fixing? And the idea of people working to get money to survive even if their job is not socially constructive is bonkers too. We take a moral position on drug dealing (say) though economically it is just a job, but warmongering is socially acceptable to many.
We need to look as a planet at what work needs doing and how we can effectively and sustainably do it, not adhere to an arbitrary ruke that it doesn't really matter what you do as long as you work and you must work to survive.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Trade is seen as a Good Thing in our current monetary system, but this bears some analysis. Once a farmer (say) is able to produce a surplus of (say) wheat, he needs a way of distributing that excess wheat to those who want to eat it (as bread, say). Also, the farmer wants other goods and services for his survival and quality of life, which he can't practically pay for in wheat.

We quickly see the means of exchange function of money emerging - the value of every good and service is expressed as an amount of money. We couldn't, of course, actually work out the value of wheat by how much wheat exists, so the 'market' sets the price - what will someone pay for the wheat?

But the other function of the 'market' is a place where the farmer can take his wheat to meet people who want to buy it and while he is there he can buy some of the things he needs/wants with the money he gets from the wheat he sells. Thus originally the value of the wheat stayed with the wheat. (I'm over simplifying, but inly to make my point). The market was not only the place to buy and sell, but a distribution mechanism.

With current technology it is fairly easy to know where (say) food is wanted and where it is grown/raised. The function of our distribution system ought to be to get the food efficiently from where it is raised/grown to where it is needed for nutrition, but in fact it is following money around. Starving people do not have enough money to buy the food they need to survive and cannot take part in the trade that is supposed to make the market distribute goods and services.

Do we want to, and can we, fix this problem? The market doesn't seem to be fixing it and things like charity and fair trade, though well meant, are only scratching the surface of the problem.

The "do we want to fix this problem" question is essentially an ethical one. Is it OK that people starve to death every day? If our answer to this is "no" then we have to address whether the market and trade can ever put this right  but all the while having money enables you to get more money, there would seem to be technical flaw in the system.

If our answer is "yes", we seem to be so certain that the market/trade system is right that it becomes an end in itself, without any purpose other than perpetuating itself. Unless, that is, its purpose is more sinister - to choose who lives and who dies.

If we can (as I believe we can) abstract and solve the distribution element from trade and at a world level see where the food is and where it needs to be, we can start to apply solutions involving growing/raising the food nearer where it needs to be, and we can look at efficiency measured by how much food we can sustainably produce, rather than how much money can we make from selling it. The money that should have been the means for distributing resources has become the end - almost a resource in itself.

Growing/raising food more efficiently will mean using machines and technology, with the downside that people will be put out of work, not earn any money, and starve. So convinced are we that people's incentive to work is money, that we make it impossible for people to survive without working, and the economy creates things for people to do for wages. To a large extent we uphold the idea that it doesn't particularly matter what work people do - the point is they are working - that's what's important. But it doesn't make sense. If someone actively works in a way that wastes resources and brings inefficiency, why do we support that? It would be better to pay them NOT to do it.

Zeitgeist Movement Newsletter

Issue 2 of the Zeitheist Movement's newsletter is out, and you can download it here:

There's some very engaging writing in the articles and it's hard to cherry-pick, but one particular passage stand out more than others:

"‘the basic economic problem’ causes 34,000 people to die every day because of poverty, and forces around 3.4 billion people (half of all people on earth) to survive on less than $2 per day. How anyone can be aware of these statistics and still refuse to seek alternatives is nothing short of a disgusting and unsane [sic] disregard for human life."

The 'basic economic problem' is the theory that resources are limited (true) whilst human need/want is infinite (premise questioned by the article).