Well, we should. Some of us don’t. But we should.
But it’s also possible to argue that as a rich, post-scarcity society, we shouldn’t really care that much about whether the poor choose to work. The important thing is just making sure they have a decent standard of living, full stop, and if they choose Keynesian leisure over a low-paying job, that’s their business.
No, actually. No. It is not possible to argue this in front of anyone with a functioning brain, for more than three seconds.
Sure it is. What’s obvious here, though, is that neither Douthat nor the author criticizing him actually understand the subject under discussion.
Excuse me a moment while I run over and read Douthat’s screed.
Okay, I’m back. Douthat is clueless about the nature of a true post-scarcity economy, just as he is clueless about the implications of Moore’s Law when he says:
When economists look ahead to the possibilities awaiting our grandchildren, they often see this divide widening even further, as the digital economy delivers rich rewards to certain kinds of highly educated talent, while revolutions in robotics eliminate many of today’s low-skilled, low-wage jobs.
But it’s okay, because Laura’s argument at Ace’s joint collapses under a similar burden of failed understanding and imagination.
So let’s get that “post-scarcity economy” thing cleared up first, eh?
Huh. I was going to smack up a couple of tasty quotes that would provide a good definition of post-scarcity, but I couldn’t find any. So I guess I’ll roll my own.
A post-scarcity economy is one in which anything you want is free.
Impossible! you belch. Maybe. But maybe not. There are no physical limitations preventing the notion. If you had a magic wand you could use to turn any chunk of stray atoms into something you wanted, that would do it.
Aha! you shout. Magic wands don’t exist!
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
We’re not going to have magic wands, but there is at least a reasonable chance we will manage strong AI, full nanotechnology, and robust replication systems.
The combination of the three just might be all we need.
Consider the naysayers and their arguments:
If everything is free, then nothing has value, and without value, there can be no economy.
That’s semantics, actually. So we call it a post-scarcity society rather than an economy. Happy? Economics is an intellectual artifact. Don’t mistake the map for the territory.
Somebody will still have to work in order to produce all that free stuff for the greedy layabouts.
Well, that’s what the strong AI is for. Artificially intelligent machines could run those replicators and program that nanotech and, in fact, that’s how SF writers who think about stuff like this all the time usually get around that problem. It’s sort of a deus ex machina, but that old Latin chestnut is about as good a description of an intelligent machine as anybody’s ever come up with.
All of the hugger-mugger about how the human race will curl up and die without the goad of getting out of bed in the morning and dragging its ass down to the ditch or the office is, of course, hysterical hooey. Consider our ancestors:
The basis of Sahlins’ argument is that hunter-gatherer societies are able to achieve affluence by desiring little and meeting those needs/desires with what is available to them. This he calls the “Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate” (Sahlins, Original). This he compares to the western way towards affluence, which he terms as the “Galbraithean way” where “man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited…” and “the gap between means and ends can eventually be narrowed by industrial productivity”. Thus Sahlins argues that hunter-gatherer and western societies take separate roads to affluence, the former by desiring little, the latter by producing much. Through this comparison Sahlins also stresses that hunter-gatherer societies cannot be examined through an ethnocentric framework when measuring their affluence. For example, one cannot apply the general principles of economics (principles which reflect western values and emphasize surplus) to hunter-gatherers nor should one believe that the Neolithic Revolution brought unquestioned progress.
Got that? Boil it down, and it says that our hunter-gatherer forebears mostly laid around on their asses, except for getting up once or twice a month and running down a mammorth or something. Since that mammoth gave them everthing they wanted (they were ignorant of such things as crack cocaine, Brittany Spears MP3s, and smartphones) they essentially lived in a society free from want. A post-scarcity society, in fact. (They didn’t have much of anything we would recognize as an economy).
Humans are nothing if not infinitely adaptable. It’s a genetic thing – you would understand. Ms. Laura asks if Douthat would want his kid to grow up and live on the dole.
Would you want your kid to grow up lacking for nothing, and free to live and learn and love pretty much as he wishes?
I pick door number two, Monty!
Will we get there? I expect we will, and sooner than many realize. But we’re not there yet, so talking about a current post-scarcity society, or even an imminent one, is likely simply a matter of not knowing what you’re talking about. On either side of the issue.
You know who really, really hates the idea of a post-scarcity society? The people who want to exploit scarcity to control you and everything about you.