[p2p-research] what to think of the market

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Aug 6 18:18:58 CEST 2009

Michel Bauwens wrote:
> On Fri, Jul 31, 2009 at 2:13 PM, Paul D. Fernhout <
> pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> Michel Bauwens wrote:
>>> As for abundance, that is indeed a strand on this list, with charles
>>> collis,
>>> nathan cravens, and many on the open manufacturing list ... it's not a
>>> perspective that I share. On the contrary, I think we will experience a
>>> powerdown and a return to more moderate material wealth, for a host of
>>> reasons to do with global warming, resource crises, etc... My perspective
>>> is
>>> immaterial abundance combined with a steady state economy that grows
>>> sustainably. Yes, this sounds utopian, but is there any other choice
>>> beyond
>>> dislocation of the infinite growth engine?
>> Sounds *dystopian* to me. :-)
> I don't see anything dystopian about living in harmony with the earth's
> resources.

What is dystopian is thinking we have a "resource crisis" other than maybe 
for helium (which nobody talks about).

Except for helium, name a resource that is in crisis and I'll tell you 
*three* technical ways to work around it. (I hope, though even one should be 
enough. :-)

Granted, we may not have the social will to implement any of those solutions.

Let me get you started.

We are running out of oil? Solar panels, wind power, geothermal power, wave 

We are running out of agricultural land? Build seasteads. Have multi-level 
hydroponic farms powered by geothermal energy. Put human wastes back into 
the fields to maintain soil fertility as we cultivate more intensively. I 
also discussed agricultural liquids produced in factories on the open 
manufacturing list.

We are running out of metals? Recycle. Use plastics. Improve non-disruptive 
mining techniques with nanotech (we've barely mined anything.) Use a lot of 
energy to mine seawater.

Actually, almost anything is solveable with enough electrical energy, and 
Nanosolar will soon solve that (or similar products). Even helium can be 
chilled out of the air, or brought back from the Moon, or created in nuclear 
processes, or recycled more carefully.

So, as I see it, you are feeding the notion that we live in scarcity despite 
all our technological possibilities, which in turns justifies using the 
tools of abundance to produce artificial scarcities. Which in turn makes a 
dystopian future (including global war) more likely.

But sure, I'm all for "sustainable development" in the sense of recycling, 
renewable energy, and so on. I've long been a fan of John Todd's work, for 

Also, I don't consider global climate change (not just warming) to be a 
serious issue for a technologically advanced society like ours. Again, for 
"Re: On Climate Change vs. the Singularity"

Again, the issue is, do we have the social will to do those things rather 
than let Southern people die from the effects of Northern CO2 pollution?

Here's the other thing that is dystopian. You used the phrase "Earth's 
resources". Humanity is a space fairing race, having landed and returned 
people from essentially another planet (the Moon) and having people live for 
long time in space stations (that's stations, plural). There are enough 
resources in space just in the solar system to support quadrillions of human 
lives in space habitats, as well as a total ecosystem that would be like 
thousands of new Earths. So, in the long term, while it may make sense on 
Earth to live lightly, in space, many bigger things are possible. So, 
implicitly, you are saying something about the future, about closing down 
obvious options, about reducing relisiency of humanity in case the Earth 
gets hit by an asteroid, about discounting human hopes and dreams.

So, that is why it is a dystopian view -- assuming resource limits in the 
face of obvious abundance.

Now, it is fair to say it would take a lot of social will to build a 
sustainable infrastructure, to avoid systemic risks of war, to rebuild our 
space program, and so on. And it might even be fair to say we no longer have 
the social will even as peer networks and so we are doomed.

Actually, while I like the sentiment here:
it also has some of the same problems about missing out on the possibilities 
of space (or other things we have little understanding on, a multiverse, 
innerspace, and so on).

Sure, let us live within our means at the present. But there is a whole 
universe out there, to the best of our understanding, empty of life -- 
should there be life elsewhere, then that poses other issues of ethics.

>> I feel it is a false choice that we either do things the way we are now, or
>> are forced to change to some lower level of technology.
> Who said so. Sustainable technology must be a higher form of technology.
> Steady state simply means that we use what we can regenerate. If we want to
> continue with the same level of material technology, that means a lot more
> smarter technology than we have now.

While I agree up to a point, what is wrong with doing more in space or the 
oceans or anywhere else if we are happy on land?

The picture painted for a lot of sustainable technology leaves out obvious 
possibilities like 3D printing or other forms of Star-Trek style recycling 
matter replicators using nantoech that may allow humans to live an energy 
intensive lifestyle without disturbing nature much.

Thermal pollution or light pollution and so on may be an issue to be dealt 
with -- but the issue is pollution, not use by itself.

One can make human developmental psychological arguments or aesthetic for 
not having too much junk. I would likely agree with them. But those are not 
the same as arguments about resource limits.

>> Just what already exist as off-the-shelf technology, like Nanosolar's
>> printed PV panels, could give us an amazing infrastructure, because energy
>> is at the heart of so many issues about sustainability. And there are so
>> many other possible energy alternatives from biofuels to wind power to even,
>> someday, fusion energy. Nanosolar type technology by itself alone is likely
>> scalable to supply all our power needs.
>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanosolar
> This is a technical issue. But most experts that I've ready seem to say the
> conversion won't work without pain. Do you have any data/studies that
> suggest, apart from a general belief in the magical power of technological
> advance, that the transition will occur without serious problems?

See the work of Amory Lovins. And the conversion is happening right now. As 
Amory Lovins says, you can do each step, and invest the benefits in the next 

Life is problems. If you have no problems, you're dead. :-)

So, it hinges on what you mean by "serious"? And "serious to whom"? And 
"serious for how long"?

Also, some of the improvements are so trivial compared to global or national 
resources as to be heartbreaking. One study (Lovins?) in the 1980s or so 
said the cost of two or so years of the Persian Gulf Deployment force would 
insulate US homes so well (and do some other things) that we would not need 
any more foreign oil from that region. I don't remember the details of that 
exact study, but that is the kind of thing I am talking about. For example, 
we know how to build homes in northern climates that don't need furnaces. 
Why is it even *legal* to build otherwise?
"No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’ "
"No furnace required: a German idea catches on in the U.S."

People have known about this for decades.

Why are their not public advertisements on 24X7 letting people know this?

Sure, maybe we'd prefer as a society to blow ourselves up than have nice 
homes. It's a choice. There are zero major technical hurdles there (though 
adapting ideas to local situations always takes some technical thought).

There are big social hurdles -- including the distribution of wealth in our 
society, with families so at the edge (including timewise) they can't make 
an investment that would save them money. And if they want to, then they 
have to navigate an unregulated market ready to scam them. Or fight 
antiquated building codes that make better alternatives illegal.

So, if you want to be despairing for *social* reasons, well, I'm right here 
with you. :-( As I see it, your response is one more reason for me to 
despair about this. But, one can still hope for better.

The fact is, there are people who make money from fighting this change, but 
there are also people who make money from making it into a crisis. It's all 
pretty straightforward technically at this point, in part from decades of 
unsung heroes doing all this alternative energy and conservation research 
(including the passive solar architect who designed part of our house).

> Look at the work of Jeff Vail for example, or at Global Guerillas, or any
> Peak Oil researcher.

Scaremongers, sorry. Or woefully misinformed. Or technological pessimists. 
Or people who like living in fear.

They are another reason to be a *social* pessimist, of course. :-(

Peak oil may be a technical fact, but the analysis of what that fact means 
in today's society is a different story. As above, it is a non-issue given 
alternatives. In any case, the reason to switch away from oil is the 
external costs of pollution to our environment and the corrupting effect of 
centralized energy systems on our politics. And it is something that, for 
those two reasons, should have happened a long time ago. It is sad it has 
taken this long.

Jimmy Carter's long ago advice:
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One 
is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation 
and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right 
to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of 
constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. 
It is a certain route to failure.
   All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the 
promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and 
the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our 
nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin 
to solve our energy problem.

Possible a tricky deal behind the scenes with giving arms to Iranians in 
exchange for keeping the hostages longer by Reagan helped kill this hope then:
"Gary Sick wrote an editorial[3] for The New York Times and a book (October 
Surprise)[7] on the subject. Sick's credibility was boosted by the fact that 
he was a retired Naval Captain, served on Ford's, Carter’s, and Reagan's 
National Security Council, and held high positions with many prominent 
organizations; moreover, he had authored a book recently on US-Iran 
relations (All Fall Down). Sick wrote that in October 1980 officials in 
Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign made a secret deal with Iran to delay 
the release of the American hostages until after the election; in return for 
this, the United States purportedly arranged for Israel to ship weapons to 

:-( :-( :-(

Still, this is all blowback for creating the Shah as a dictator and 
overthrowing Iranian democracy long ago. Karma.

> I personally think we can have a great life, but it is likely to entail some
> level of substituting immaterial for material, relationships for ownership,
> collective resources for personal ones (think public transport vs.
> individual cars, carsharing etc...)

These may all be nice, but the issue is whether we *need* them, or whether 
we *choose* them. I agree we should generally *choose* them as a form of 
voluntary simplicity. I may even agree some of this is needed in some places 
in the short term (the next decade). But you (and many others) seem to think 
we *need* them even in the long term (100 years). And that has several 
negative consequences, by feeding the artificial scarcity meme.

>> The only issue is how soon we do that or something similar. People are
>> naturally a little hesitant in seeing how well stuff works in practice
>> before they scale up. Plus, there are so many things in the pipeline, even
>> when you see a good technology, sometimes you wait to see if something even
>> better will work out (given we have centuries of fossil fuels like coal).
>> And then, there are the inevitable bottlenecks and SNAFUs and so on that
>> need to get dealt with.
>> Global climate change, while real, is possible to deal with by engineering
>> and migration. It may be expensive, and a lot of people may not want to
>> move, but we have a huge industrial base to deal with it, like building
>> artificial islands, or building new cities in the Russian heartland, and so
>> on. For example, the global defense budget (more than a trillion dollars a
>> year) is enough money at $10K per person to build new (small) homes for 100
>> million people every year. In ten years, that a billion new homes. Clearly,
>> the resources are there to solve this problem. The USA literally could print
>> several trillion dollars of fiat currency tomorrow to relocate hundreds of
>> millions of people into nice new homes or floating islands over the next
>> decade, and the USA economy and US workers would be better off for building
>> them (maybe inspired by Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion house design but with newer
>> materials? :-).
>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dymaxion_house
>> And that is even without limiting carbon emissions.
> That it can be done with financial resources, I have no doubt, but that it
> will be done is another matter. But having financial resources is another
> thing as having material resources. All calculations point out that we would
> need 4 or 5 planets to have all world citizens enjoy U.S. standards of
> living.

The US standard of living is awful, with dysfunctional communities, 
zombified children, a collapsing health care system that was not too good to 
begin with, and no social safety net. Who would want a US standard of living?

While I'm all for creating self-replicating space habitats, we can do a lot 
more on Earth than we do. Granted, and environmental consciousness to 
protect wilderness is important, to keep most of the wilderness from being 
overrun by machines like ATVs and snowmobiles and speedboats. (Though those 
have their place at the edges perhaps.)

Which study do you mean? Which resource does it point to?

The average US home consumes 1.5Kw average (roughly) which is easily 
supplied mostly locally with solar panels (. And that is with inefficient 
appliances. Industry consumes more, but there are vast amounts of land and 
ocean to collect solar power. That doesn't mean we can't use other power.

One such calculation, but solar cells are quickly getting cheaper and more 
efficient as more research is done on them:
Also, it generally makes sense to size for 80% of total load and use another 
source like biofuels and cogeneration to make up the rest.

We have solutions. We have lots of hand people who want to put in place 
solutions. It's a social thing at this point.

Still, there is a reason to wait. Technology is improving so fast now, we 
may see 50% efficient mass produced solar cells that are dirt cheap within a 

So, why do we need 5 Earths when we have thousands of times more solar power 
than we need to run our economy falling every day on this one?

Who benefits by telling you there are no ways peers can solve these problems?

>> Resources naturally substitute in a market. The market may not distribute
>> wealth well, but it certainly can create it and substitute for it (as long
>> as external costs are controlled).
>>  http://www.juliansimon.com/writings/Ultimate_Resource/
> There is nothing natural about it, and so far, it hasn't worked. 

See Nanosolar, even as it was obvious in the 1970s this is where we should 
have been investing.

> What makes
> you think it will work in the future? or more positive, what are the
> conditions that need to occur to see your ideal emerge in practical reality?

It is working now. Ignoring externalities and the centralization of wealth, 
which are serious problems.

> You have only to look at the current swings in oil prices to see the
> mechanisms are not working. 

I agree that is a big issue. But, those swings are only possible in part 
from vast amounts of untaxed digital wealth swirling about in computers, 
controlled by a relatively few people.

Still, even with that, the market is responding.

Look, the market can fail in all sorts of ways. But when it suceeds, give it 
credit. :-)

 > I think less and less people will have blind
> faith in the market and ignore the other mechanisms that need to be in
> place. Why are governments worldwide purchasing huge land for agricultural
> production, if they have a believe that the 'food market' would 'naturally'
> solve their problems?

Sure, national security issues are essential. The market can only function, 
IMHO, in a framework where externalities are considered (both postive and 
negative) and where taxes are used to redirect some wealth to social ideals 
(including to deal with systemic risks of market dysfunctions).

>> There are huge problems we face, but the global world product is about
>> US$60 trillion a year, which is a lot of money to do a lot of things. The
>> real limits are skilled labor, tools, raw materials, and energy, of course,
>> but we really, truly, still have vast amounts of all of that, and could
>> easily have more if we stopped wasting so much on various things (like
>> school, intended to keep people out of the labor force, or tobacco, or lots
>> of other junk). The issue is all about the control system, as well as
>> containing pollution, not the raw materials. Now, we may not be able to
>> resolve those social conflicts, but social conflicts are not really
>> technical limits, even as better technology may make some social conflicts
>> easier to solve (like if we just sucked carbon out of the air with some new
>> technology -- I just read about something like that the other day).
>> For me, the only variable is do we have Armageddon before we transform to
>> an amazing economy, with Armageddon perhaps driven either by accident or
>> intentionally in brinksmanship by the old guard using post-scarcity
>> technologies as weapons to prop up their artificial scarcity world view.
> I wish I would share  your optimism, both on the 'amazing economy' and on
> the easy way to get there.

It's happening.

>> Unfortunately, your sentiment contributes to the old guard's
>> justifications. :-(
> what kind of sentiment exactly, and how does it contribute to the old
> guard's ideas?

By focusing on scarcity, and a future of scarcity, you are justifying 
hoarding as well as fighting over perceived scarce resources, as well as 
keeping peer networks from being a threat to hoarders and war launchers.

>> That's not to say much of our society in general might not *choose* a
>> simpler infrastructure, including one with less obvious technology using
>> less obvious energy day-to-day. Ursula K. Le Guin describes such a
>> civilazation in "Always Coming Home". But, short of a major war, "powering
>> down" will be a choice, not a necessity, IMHO.
> Simpler structures are a sign of mastering greater complexity, this is how
> progress work, by subsuming greater complexity in a 'simplification' of a
> higher order.

Agreed, that is often the case. But it is tricky. As Manuel de Landa says:
"Certain standardizations, say, of electric outlet designs or of 
data-structures traveling through the Internet, may actually turn out to 
promote heterogenization at another level, in terms of the appliances that 
may be designed around the standard outlet, or of the services that a common 
data-structure may make possible."

> Some things will be abundant, others less. I'm suggesting quite a bit of the
> things that are abundant today, may not be in the future, and some of the
> things that are not abundant now, will be. I suggest there will be more and
> better food for more people, more possibilities to enjoy culture, friends
> and family, but less big cars, big houses, and military hardware.

All true.

> Anything that is not sustainable will go,

Do you have any idea how big and deep the Earth is? Or how big the universe 
is? :-)

Granted, the biosphere has fragile aspects. But we have no limits otherwise 
we will encounter in the next 100 years related to physical resources or 

Name anything you think is limited. Be specific. Make a list. What is in 
short supply (beyond human will. :-) How much do you want of it and for what 
purpose? Tell me, and I will (try to) suggest an alternative way to 
accomplish your purpose if you have the true desire to do it, or suggest a 
way to get a similar resource in even vaster quantities. :-)

> If you want to keep it, you must find a way to make it sustainable, and
> there's no magical wand to achieve that.

The libraries of the world have shelves after shelves of books with 
alternatives. Thousands of authors all with parts of the puzzle. The biggest 
  problem is figuring out which really work and which don't. But the 
solutions are out there. And there are some obvious solutions -- passive 
solar in northern climates, solar panels almost everywhere, intensive 
organic gardening, composting toilets, cheap networked computers, and so on.

Granted, as with free and open source software, configuring those solutions 
to your specific circumstances may take local effort. And, since few people 
are starting from scratch, it may be easier (or not) to retrofit. The world 
GDP is US$60 trillion or so a year. That is a staggering amount of money, 
energy, effort, knowledge, interaction, and so on -- and that is just the 
money economy -- the peer economy is potentially much vaster.

--Paul Fernhout

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