Sunday, 27 February 2011

Zeitgeist links

Francesc0 of the UK Zeitgeist movement occasionally sends a bunch of links in an e-mail to supporters. Here's his latest. Tipping point ahead is particularly powerful

Zeitgeist Moving Forward

Positive money - How money is created by banks
Does it matter? In a society where money seems to command our lives, I would say it does indeed.

Positive Money: One Good Cut

Tipping Point Ahead: Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip
Available in 22 languages.

Interesting repository of articles about the advances of science and technology

In Debt We Trust
All is fine in the UK. Let's keep on watching TV and consume. The future is bright.

Tame the vampire squid: Take back our banks

Corporate EUtopia - how new economic governance measures challenge democracy

Animal Feed Lobby Targets EU's Zero Tolerance Policy on GM

Deadly Medicine: FDA Fails to Regulate Rapidly Growing Industry of Overseas Drug Testing

Rachel Botsman: The case for collaborative consumption

Move Your Money campaign in the USA
We don't have to keep our money in the coffers of the big banks. In the USA, the Move Your Money campaign, launched by the influential online news source the Huffington Post, has inspired Americans to move all or some of their money into accounts with alternative institutions.
In the UK, the banking sector isn't nearly as diverse as in the States, but there are still good alternatives. Check out Triodos, the Co-operative, the Ecology Building Society, the credit unions, National Savings through the Post Office, and the exciting new territory of person-to-person lending at Zopa.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Money and motivation

I've written on this before. Money in itself is not a motivator, becuse it is only a means to an end, except that perhaps it has acquired a value of its own as we like to see it in our wallets and bank accounts. If we have enough of it we feel more secure and more content.

This contentment, though, is only there because deep down we know that money will get us the things we need and want (given that those things exist and can be provided to us).

So it is having, or potentially having, the things we need and want that motivates us. Now, however rich or poor we are, we get 168 hours a week. Lets say we spend a quarter (42) of those sleeping, that leaves us 126 hours for non sleeping activity. Apart from work, we in the developed world can spend these entertaining ourselves, learning, exercising, being with others, etc.

There is far more than 126 hours per week of entertainment available when we combine online and on air entertainment, let alone what we have stored locally on our computers, optical disks and other storage. What we seem to desire here is choice - the idea that if we want to listen to (say) Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic playing Ligeti, we can, because we have a CD of it (somewhere ...). In an RBE we wouldn't need to have this stored locally,  we'd just search for it on line and stream it, but in our current set up, the idea of choice seems to be linked to having possession of a physical thing.

The richer we are the more physical things we have, and the less time we can spend deriving any pleasure directly from each of them. We can derive pleasure form having the option of using them and we can derive pleasure, perhaps, from abstract possession, devoid of any utility.

With technology we can decouple having choice from having personal control over (possession) of a physical thing to a very large extent. The need to physically possess something is odd, though. It needs to be stored (allocated space) such that it can be conveniently retrieved, and secured appropriately to its value.

I'm going to back track in this thought process. It started from the widely held view that money stops being a motivator once you have enough of it. I've already explained why the money itself is not really a motivator at all, but only goods and services. There must be a stage beyond which someone has more choice than they can cope with. Enough CDs to listen to 24/7 till they die, along enough TV channels to watch continuously till the same fate befalls them, plus books to read, cars to drive, hobbies to indulge in.


Have a look at jericomovies contributions on Youtube about the Venus Project. Nothing fancy, but well explained and wry. He starts from standard economics ideas and argues and explains his way to TVP ideas. He has three episodes, I believe - I'm looking forward to the 4th.

I also listened to one critique of his "Supply and demand" episode, but I must say I thought it largely added to what he said.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

A critique of RBE on youtube I've been engaging with "bitbutter" on Youtube, who - to his credit - calmly and clearly makes his points about the shortcomings of the RBE idea as he sees them. No ranting and raving. Others please note!

There isn't a lot of space on the Youtube comments fields to comment in a nuanced way, so I'll try here. By the end of the 9:36 video a 6 point list has built up on the screen (with some sub points), so I'll follow that scheme.

1. "As long as human desires remain unfulfilled, a state of scarcity exists."

I haven't got much of a problem with this statement, as it stands. I just don't think it is saying much. Resources are finite (that is a given), so if the some total of 'human desires' adds up to more resources than exist, we have a problem. I assume bitbutter would argue that money is the device that would allocate the resources amongst the populus. This leads to the problem RBE-ers have with money. Suppose money were introduced across the planet today. How would it be allocated? Would we attempt to allocate it to each according to his/her needs?

The monetary as in operation system creates more scarcity. If a resource becomes more scarce, its price goes up, and more money is made by those who control that resource. Therefore increasing scarcity is good in the monetary system. In an RBE we look to minimise scarcity.

If we started from my idealised 'fair' distribution of money, how would people go about getting more? They'd have to control a resource and limit access to it (own it, in effect).

RBE-ers are talking about the scarcity that is created by the monetary system in this way, but accept that the planet has finite resources and that human desires can exceed the resources available (and they do). Economics cannot solve the problem of total demand exceeding total supply. There have to be losers. There plainly are losers, dying of disease and starvation in their millions.

2. "Needs are just wants that are felt particularly strongly". When I distinguished needs as in water, air, nutrition, warmth, from wants as in luxury goods, bitbutter responded: "Prolonging one's life is not a universal goal, nor is it a goal considered equally important by all who hold it, so it's an error to imply that such as thing as a universal human need exists." In that case, I think "needs" by my definition are in bitbutter's terms wants that arise from the desire to survive. I think this is mainly if not entirely a semantic difference, but if I say needs and wants, it presmably adds up to the same thing in bitbutter's terms.

RBE-ers are (I think, I don't speak for them all) looking to to preserve and enhance human life on this planet sustainably. That might not include living a long life at the expense of quality of life, but it faces up to the fact that the sum total of needs and wants cannot be fulfilled beyond the resources available, even though at the moment the planet's population acts as though resources can grow indefintely, like money does.

3a. "Money allows trade to happen". So it does, but an RBE is not looking to facilitate trade, just the fair and sustainable distribution of resources equitably to all the planet's inhabitants.

3b. "Money allows prices, which allows profit / loss accounting". Where would we be without profit / loss accounting? This seems self-referential. Money is a construct. Accounting (of money) is a construct around a construct. The fact that one depends on the other is not really relevant. The only thing that everything (even accounting) depends on are the life-sustaining resources of the planet. In an RBE we would "account for" how much of an actual usable resource we have. Money only represents resources (and not very well).

4. "The assumption that long term technological unemployment exists is unwarranted". I don't think bitbutter is claiming that technological unemployment is not a historical fact, and I don't think he thinks it will stop. I believe his position is that there will be more things for humans to do to fulfil (ever increasing) human desires. The RBE position is not that different. It is technically impossible to use more resources than exist to fulfil human desires, so some may have to remain unfulfilled. In an RBE, when technology is used to the maximum, there will almost certainly be things that need doing that can only be done by humans. RBE-ers hold that humans will be motivated to do those things in the same way they are motivated to do things for non selfish reasons now. 

As to things that humans may want to do, with maximised automation they will have more time and energy to do them, and provided they are sustainable (and not socially destructive), RBE-ers have no objection.

6a. "Surveys cannot take the dynamic nature of value scales into account." Nor do they want to. The value of (say) an apple does not change because its price does. I'm sorry if I'm not understanding 'value scales' correctly, but in an RBE, we look to knowing how much of necessary / useful resources we have. That is probably not easy to do comprehensively, but the total amount of money bears no relationship to the total value /utility of the resources we have available, and money does not tell us anything other than about itself. It is abstract. 

6b. "Surveys cannot feasibly take marginal utility into account". Not really sure what marginal feasibilty is, but it is a term from economics. When I look in my fridge for tomatoes, I don't take into account their marginal utility, because it isn't relevant. 

I think this point illustrates and sums up the tenor of bitbutter's position, which I think boils down to "RBE is incompatible with economics, and therefore is wrong". There's a name for this logical fallacy, but I can't think what it is. The problem is that there's an underlying assumption that economics is right. There's a great big glaring IF missing. IF economics is right then RBE is wrong. If RBE is right, economics is wrong. The assumptions on which both are built have to be tested against real world actual physical facts and evidence, not against the assumptions of a though system like economics.