- 1 Concepts and Typology
- 2 History
- 3 Discussion
- 4 Discussion 2: Themes
- 5 Resources
- 6 More Information
Concepts and Typology
See: Abundance - Typology
- Derivative Abundance
- Massive Abundance
- Multiplicative Abundance
- Pseudo Abundance
- Psychic Abundance
- Reproductive Abundance
Golden Age Mythology
David de Ugarte:
"In hundreds of mythologies all over the world, the myth of the “Golden Age” appears again and again: a remote historical period in which humans, as Hesiod tells us,
- […] had known neither work, nor pain, or cruel old age; they had always kept the vigor of their feet and hands, and were charmed with festivals, far from all of the evils, and their death was like falling asleep. They possessed all goods; the fertile ground produced by itself in abundance; and in profound tranquility, they shared this wealth with the masses of other irreproachable men.
Surely, Plato’s insistence on the absence of social classes and State, or perhaps that of Ovid in The Metamorphosis on the absence of agriculture, has been interpreted as a idealized “memory” of the primitive community, which was nomadic and dedicated to hunting, fishing and gathering. But among the many versions, there are those that locate the Golden Age in an agricultural world. And in fact, today, when we know that settling may have had a long “communal” period, it would be fitting to date its origins to a later era and link the myth to the vindication of commonly held lands.
In any case, it was possibly the most influential political myth in Antiquity: by associating abundance with the absence of State and property, it served to present the injustices and miseries of each age as the fruit of a mythic “fall” from which Humanity would recover by abolishing private property and the State… the ultimate program of the social revolutionaries in every age.
We are well aware that primitive human societies did not know abundance. On the contrary, the study of the last groups and cultures that have maintained an economy of hunting and gathering speaks to us of systems where scarcity imposes a total subordination of the individual and their desires to the always precarious and difficult survival of the community. That’s why the myth of the Golden Age is so interesting: it doesn’t talk about a “more just” society, it talks about a society of abundance, an abundance that could only be intuited briefly when the Neolithic Revolution started to create the kind of surpluses that had been unknown until then, when the State appeared, and with it, the first public works, and the productivity of human societies multiplied for the first time." (http://english.lasindias.com/a-history-of-abundance)
The Middle Ages
David de Ugarte:
"But while Christianity continued its own evolution, the development of the first major commercial routes and European fairs would bring a new kind of popular myth that, while it wasn’t really about abundance, was at least about opulence. Then stories begin to appear about the “Land of Cockaigne” and of “Schlaraffenland.” These tales would merge as of of the second half of the sixteenth century with the stories of fabulous wealth that would follow the Castilian conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires, giving way to the stories of the “pais de Jauja” that are still told to children in Spain.
It is then, around the middle of the sixteenth century, when the lower classes of Europe begin to dream of abundance as such. It continues to be significant that this abundance appears as a “deposit” or as a “gift of nature.” Although it is an era of accelerated technological development, innovations are concentrated in sailing, war and engineering, rather than the direct production of goods. The popular classes thus understand abundance as unlimited access to meeting needs and the storehouses of an ever-more powerful crown, not as the development of capacities of their own work.
It also links this idea with the Jewish and Christian myth of paradise, a “garden” where it is not necessary to work, not even at gathering, to be sated with as much as one needs. And it shouldn’t be forgotten how far the idea and desire went that the Indies, recently discovered on the first transatlantic voyages, would be no more and no less than the earthly paradise itself. This myth became so influential after Columbus’ first stories that the Castillian crown soon prohibited those who were “of impure blood,” which is to say, the descendants of converted Muslims and Jews, from emigrating to the king’s new lands. And in fact, this association between “original cultures” and “Adam, free from sin,” would have a long run, until, two centuries later, it become Rousseau’s “noble savage,” who, still today, can be sensed behind more than a few narratives exalting the “wisdom” of indigenous peoples.
This environment at the dawn of the European expansion in the Americas would also lead, among the educated classes, to a new political-literary genre. In 1516, Thomas Moore publishes his Utopia. Utopia is not the land of abundance, it is a democratic and patriarchal country, organized as a confederation of cities in which private property doesn’t exist. But, by reviving the idea of egalitarianism and joining it with certain democratic forms, and above all, with material well-being, it would have a tremendous influence on all European political thought. That thought was fated to again encounter abundance." (http://english.lasindias.com/a-history-of-abundance)
David de Ugarte:
"Still, it wouldn’t be until early industrialization and the French Revolution that abundance reappears. Once more, it would not be from the hand of egalitarianism. In all the works of Baubeuf, there is not one reference to abundance. The first reference would not be in rich revolutionary debates, but in an external observer who describes his times with the voice of a prophet. Between 1790 and 1793, William Blake, “mad Blake,” publishes “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” For the first time, abundance appears as the result and objective of a revolutionary process.
- […] the whole creation will be consumed, and appear infinite, and holy whereas it now appears finite & corrupt.
But what’s really interesting is that he imagines the change to abundance as a leap to a whole new form of human experience, radically different from that of the world of scarcity in which
- Man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narraow chinks of his cavern.
To the extent that he understands that scarcity is alienating in itself, he imagines the transition to a new world as a change in the very way that we feel and experience the world:
This will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment. (…) If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
The world that immediately follows Blake’s book seems to point in just the opposite direction, however. The world at that time is experiencing an accelerated process of specialization and an unprecedented increase in income per capita in the first industrial nations: Great Britain and the US first, and northwestern Europe later. Around 1800, production starts to grow more than the population. Productivity, which had been relatively stable until then, takes off. Early on, it’s a consequence of the application of the new mechanical technologies and of the organization of labor: the steam engine and the factory system are expanding. Growing British power assures a certain freedom of market within their own borders and demolishes the commercial barriers of the old empires, from Spanish America to China. Economic development leads to a true blossoming of science and technology which, in turn, drive knowledge and productivity.
The productive leap is so great that anything seems possible. Abundance seems around the corner, and for the first time in human history, economic crises are not from underproduction, but overproduction. It is in this context that we should understand Marx.
Marx places abundance at the end of the historical process, as the necessary result of the evolution of productivity, which he calls “productive forces.” In his model, the history of human societies is the history of the development of their productive capacity and the moments of political and social transformation, the result of the adaptation of the political and legal systems to the needs imposed by those capacities, by those forces, defended in every historical moment by a characteristic social class committed to making revolution. For Marx, the class of wage laborers was called to “liberate the productive forces” unchained by capitalism from the restrictions that the system of private property and nation-States impose on them. The result, communism, would be a society where productivity would be developed even more rapidly, to the point of making abundance a reality for all.
Despite the monumental size of his work, Marx didn’t leave many texts dedicated to describing the characteristics of the society of abundance. From what he did leave, we can say with certainty that he was the first to imagine a society where the development of productivity would be so high that not only would make possible the end of wage labor, but also, as he writes in some reading notes, could turn work itself into “a free manifestation of life, an enjoyment of life.” The idea, which he develops in The German Ideology (1845), is that, as of a certain level of development of productivity, specialization would simply disappear, and with it, alienation, the new name for that restriction of perception that Blake already denounced.
For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
Marx would develop the idea of Blake’s “opening of the doors of the perception” and would add to his idea of a society of abundance the dream of the artistic vanguards of the beginning of the twentieth century. The human experience in a society of abundance would be, to a certain extent, an artistic experience.
The exclusive concentration of artistic talent in particular individuals, and its suppression in the broad mass which is bound up with this, is a consequence of division of labour. […] In any case, with a communist organisation of society, there disappears the subordination of the artist to local and national narrowness, which arises entirely from division of labour, and also the subordination of the individual to some definite art, making him exclusively a painter, sculptor, etc.; the very name amply expresses the narrowness of his professional development and his dependence on division of labour. In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities.
In his most famous work, Capital (1867), he points out that the development of productivity that capitalism creates “contributes to creating social time available for recreation by each and every one,” even if is through forced unemployment, and that the path towards a society of abundance, the development of productivity, leads to “appropriating” the increases of productivity in a progressive reduction of the time dedicated to produce goods:
- […] on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.
In the same book, he would return to this idea of the society of abundance as a hyperproductive society in which human capacities are such that it does not make sense to maintain a life divided between between leisure and work.
It goes without saying, by the way, that direct labour time itself cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy. […] Free time—which is both idle time and time for higher activity—has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject.
And in one of his last works, the Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), he would insist on portraying the society of abundance as a stage of socioeconomic development produced by the sustained growth of productivity in which
- […] the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.
Let’s stick with the idea that abundance opens a new kind of human experience, a “multifaceted development” of each one, because it will return in the twentieth century as the center of the ideas about abundance. But for the time being, we should underscore Marx’s emphasis on productive capacity.
His son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, ended his personal manifesto, entitled The Right to Laziness, with a simplification of this idea:
- […] the machine is the redeemer of mankind, the God who will rescue humanity from the sordidae artes of wage slavery, the God who will give us leisure and liberty.
This vision of the society of abundance as a liberation of humanity made possible by technology wasn’t exclusive to Marx and his milieu. In 1892, Kropotkin publishes The Conquest of Bread, which confronts the Malthusian narrative that sees “indefinite growth” as impossible with the same underlying ideas:
- […] the productive powers of the human race increase at a much more rapid ratio than its powers of reproduction. The more thickly men are crowded on the soil, the more rapid is the growth of their wealth-creating power.
Kropotkin, like Marx, thinks that capitalism would be succeeded by a transitional period—certainly, without a State—in which the implantation of a decommodified economy guided by the needs of people through free confederation, would assure a “good life” to everyone and would develop even more productivity, to the point of reaching abundance, that stage where humans would dedicate themselves fundamentally to “the high pleasures of wisdom and of artistic creation”:
Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity—that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold—the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.
Leaving off production for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.
Inspired by a new daring—thanks to the sentiment of solidarity—all will march together to the conquest of the high joys of knowledge and artistic creation.
Kropotkin, like Marx, thinks that little can be imagined of a society of abundance: the human experience would be so different, as would the stories that humans would tell about life, which constantly limits itself to proposing forms of organizing for the transition period. He insists that the main task to reach abundance would be to reduce the number of hours of “work considered necessary to live,” which he initially puts at five, as productive capacity is developed and the division of labor is eroded.
Surely the closest contemporary literary reference to the communities Kropotkin imagines would be those described in 1974 by Ursula K. Le Guin in The Dispossessed. Le Guin shows us a decommodified society, with deep-seated individual and egalitarian freedoms, but—because of external conditioning—basically poor, with a certain centralizing tension and without continued growth like that imagined by the “anarchist prince.” It continues to be interesting, because Le Guin approaches anarchism not from the perspective of abundance, but of egalitarianism. A similar thing would occur with the person who is usually considered the principle intellectual heir of Kropotkin, Enrico Malatesta. Malatesta, in contrast to Kropotkin, doesn’t understand the future society as the result of a possibility opened by the development of knowledge and the transformative capacities of the human race over time. He argues that anarchy is a system possible in any historical moment.
That is why he does not associate it with either abundance or technological development, which, in turn, leads him to lose the view of a more complete and complex human liberation, accepting obvious needs imposed by scarcity, like the division of labor:
- Certainly in every large-scale collective commitment there is a need for a division of labor, for technical direction, administration, etc.
And in the first half of the twentieth century, marked by the Russian disasters and two world wars, the revolutionary and egalitarian narrative would again separate from the dream of universal abundance. Trust in a horizon of abundance and its path—progress—was linked in the nineteenth century to a sense of wonder about science. But science and technology, which are associated in the 19th century with Verne’s dreams and Pasteur’s vaccinations, in the twentieth would also be associated with war gases, civilian bombings, the greatest genocides in history, and the atomic bomb.
Surely because of this, the vindication of abundance during the first half of the new century did not come from scientifist philosophers like Marx or from philosopher scientists like Kropotkin, but from the heterogeneous group of artists and critics that formed the artistic “vanguards,” surrounded by the emergence of the new political movements and marked by the vital urgencies of a society plunged into war. But above all, they are quite conscious that, after the appearance and popularization of photography, art is first and foremost a narrative about the human experience in a historical context. In the first half of the twentieth century, that means proposing a new society. The artist goes from interpreter to prophet.
What the vanguards were pushing was the importance of “multifaceted development” of the individual as a fundamental feature of any society that would proposed to advance towards “true abundance.” This is an element that would gain more and more prominence as the totalitarian development of the Soviet State and the character of its economy become more and more obvious, but also as the economic cycle begun by the period after WWII reaches its end." (http://english.lasindias.com/a-history-of-abundance)
The three factors of contemporary abundance
"Traces of abundance appear in more and more places in our lives. The tendency can be summed up today as: multispecialization, transnationality, and non-hierarchical organization of business".
David de Ugarte:
"In classical economics, starting with Adam Smith and his famous example of the production of pins, specialization is understood as part of the social effort for the improvement of productivity. That is, it was part of the road towards abundance. Dividing work into precise tasks and substitute people with machines, to the extent technological development made it possible, was the heart of the Industrial Revolution that transformed the world between the 18th and 20th centuries.
From the manufacturing to the robotic factory, the specialization of tasks not only revolutionized productivity, but also encouraged the specialization of knowledge, and just as it had never been possible to produce so much, neither had so much knowledge been developed ever before.
falansterio de ugineBut with the development of services and the massive incorporation of information technology, knowledge becomes a direct tool of production on a new scale. Production processes are confused with marketing and communication. Businesses begin to demand people with more than one specialty. What had, until then, been reserved for engineers and a few technicians, was multiplied by all of the knowledge that the new industries understand link their more and more sophisticated tools and products. Initially, this tendency, which Juan Urrutia called multipecialization, appears above all in the new technology sector that becomes consolidated in the ’70s.
But the innovation industry linked to personal computing first and the Internet later, is a very particular industry: in the US, its pioneers are openly influenced by hippy understandings of abundance, and in Europe, by a new work ethic centered on knowledge that soon will be expressed in free software.
The prophecy will begin to come true scarcely a decade later with the nascent reality of the first industry linked to abundance: free software. Connected to it is the appearance of the first businesses that break with the obsessive hierarchies of the industrial enterprise. As Pekka Himanen argued in 2000 in his famous essay about the hacker ethic, in knowledge industries, work in self-managed teams is simply more productive. Also, by that time, the Internet was already restructuring the forms of relationship. Hackers, used to equality in conversation and to working in networks like equals, practiced “flat” forms of organization based on conversation between “multi-specialized” individuals. Also, networks of relationships between peers that occur in a conversational space will tend to be transnational, limited perhaps by linguistic borders.
This incipient movement will not stay in the world of software: consulting, digital publishing, graphic design, and generally all the services that were first commercialized directly via the Internet are the natural point of departure for these first experiments of transnational communities of multispecialists, but not their destination. The development of productivity and new forms will reach the industrial world in their most radical way as the “direct economy“: small groups of friends design products, finance them with pre-sales and crowdsourcing within communities of affinity, send them to be built by the old industry (now converted to 3D printers), and distribute them through the network.
As a result, traces of abundance appear in more and more places in our lives. The tendency can be summed up today as: multispecialization, transnationality, and non-heirarchical organization of business." (http://english.lasindias.com/abundance-is-the-end-of-divisions-in-production)
Discussion 2: Themes
Abundance vs. Scarcity
For an extensive discussion, see these pages:
Abundance in User Ownership theory
"Abundance means plenty for everyone.
Abundance can occur when Competition is perfect.
So, a Mode Of Production that assumes or requires Profit cannot endure abundance, for as the society as a whole approaches success, the owners of the productive organizations that depend upon profit approach failure."
- Roberto Verzola on Undermining vs. Developing Abundance
- Beyond Information Abundance Essay: 21st-Century Political Economies: Beyond Information Abundance. by Roberto Verzola
An overview of the most important articles and essays published on the P2P Foundation blog:
- Introduction to Economic Abundance Book: Economic Abundance: An Introduction. Authored by: William M. Dugger; James T. Peach
Key Books on Scarcity
Recommended by Dougald Hine :
- In Illich's own work, Toward a History of Needs (1978) marks the emergence of a theme which runs through his later work. By focusing on "the sociogenesis of needs" (as he puts it in this article, written for the 20th anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalogue), he brings a historical perspective to the demand side of the scarcity equation.
- Michael Perelman, Marx, Malthus, and the Concept of Natural Resource Scarcity (1979).
- John Kincaid, 'Of Time, Body, and Scarcity: Policy Options and Theoretic Considerations' (1983).
- Nicholas Xenos's Scarcity and Modernity (1989).
- The Limits to Scarcity: Contesting the Politics of Allocation, edited by Lyla Mehta, is a collection due out in late 2010 which looks very interesting.