[p2p-research] Fwd: 20 Theses against green capitalism

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Tue Aug 11 03:36:18 CEST 2009

Michel Bauwens wrote:
> I'm not sure that the higher productivity leads to unemployment really is
> that radical of the limitation you think it is.
> I'm not talking about the structural/cyclical crises of overproduction, but
> more fundamentally. Each time such a crisis of mass unemployment was
> predicted, it was resolved (beyond a structural presence of say 5%
> unemployment).

Things are the same until they are different. :-)

Automation and better design are changing the nature of the landscape.

You mentioned elsewhere that AI was promised decades ago in 10 years, and 
while that was off, right now, we are surrounded by applications that would 
have been considered AI decades ago (winning at chess like with Deep Blue, 
answering the telephone like with speech recognition, acting like a 
librarian via Google, driving a car across the country and navigating in 
traffic, identifying faces in connection with operating a gun, and many 
other things like that) but because computers can do them, they are no 
longer considered AI. AI is always what computers can't do. :-)

Anyway, while your fact is true, I interpret it differently, because of the 
advance of AI, Robotics, and better design. I interpret it as more 
historical than predictive. The fact is, in the USA, there has been little 
growth in real wages in thirty years, and we have seen a net loss of eight 
million jobs over the past few years even as productivity and output has 
gone up.

> First, needs are socially determined, and the system makes sure that people
> keep wanting the new iterations, keeping the machine running. 

I feel we are near or past saturation on that. Another factor has been a 
growing environmental consciousness. There has also been a growing 
spiritual/social consciousness as "voluntary simplicity". There has also 
been changes in habits recently in relation to the downturn. There is also 
increasing resistance to advertising, better media literacy, and a move to 
an internet where advertising works differently. So, I see change here to.

 > Second, the
> immaterial needs evolve as well, and materially secure people evolve
> post-material needs. 

Sure. Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

> The productivity growth from the material economy, can
> be used to 'fund' the immaterial servicing and sharing. 

As far as providing free time, sure. But the amount needed is very low -- 
graduate student stipend low. And computers are now cheap tools. And the 
internet is a cheap library. So, it has become a low bar.

 > That it doesn't work
> is a political/social problem, i.e. neoliberalism has deliberately severed
> the connection and social contract that allowed to use the proceeds from
> higher productivity, to fund labour, and therefore these new social needs.
> If you look at countries with mass unemployment, there are much less an
> expression of people not having material or immaterial needs, on the
> contrary, they are huge and unmet, but exclusively a problem of the
> unavailability of the social surplus.

Sure, another way to see is it, those countries are undemocratic (even, more 
and more, the USA, with rising illiteracy and a politics of fear).

> But I think that despite the different analysis, we nevertheless agree in
> the solution, i.e. the basic income, which is exacly a stream originating in
> the rich material economy, to fund the immaterial sphere.

Agreed, to the extent that people depend on the market (and I expect as time 
goes by, people will be more and more able to meet their needs outside the 
market from a free commons or from local production like 3D printing or a 
gift economy between peers (local or global).

> I of course also disagree that issues like global warming, and the massive
> relocation that you describe as a solution, are the type of 'easy' solutions
> that you expect them to be. On the contrary, even in a just society, they
> would still be very difficult problems to solve, let alone in a
> dysfunctional class society that is geared to the benefits for the few.

I agree they are not easy psychologically or politically. The same has been 
true when dams are built. What happens to the people who lose their way of 
life or their community (social network)? Money or relocation does not 
really compensate oftentimes. When one person pays the costs, and another 
gets the benefits, that is a tricky social issue. But, again, it is not a 
*technological* issue. It is not a *resource* issue. There are plenty of 
places to relocate even entire communities and lots of wealth in the world 
to do it. It is a social issue, and even a spiritual issue (cutting a people 
off from the spirit of their land). But who talks about global climate 
change as a social issue? People seem to focus on other aspects.

> And the kind of technological miracles that you expect, like space habitats
> and the like, are generations away, there is not an inch of possibility that
> they could solve any of our current problems. 

First, hope can make a big difference. If people know that any resource 
problems are easily solveable even sixty years away (three generations), 
that totally changes many current political arguments. Sixty years is easily 
within the lifetime of children now.

Secondly, we could be launching seeds to build space habitats next year (to 
the moon, as a near place, but ultimately to asteroids). Seriously. These 
seeds would be the size of a space shuttle and would be mini-factories that 
would grow from local resources like a plant seed. Here is a NASA study 
about the feasibility of that, from back when NASA had a backbone and the 
USA had an innovative president:
What follows is a portion of the final report of
a NASA summer study, conducted in 1980 by request of newly-
elected President Jimmy Carter at a cost of 11.7 million dollars.
The result of the study was a realistic proposal for a self-replicating
automated lunar factory system, capable of exponentially
increasing productive capacity and, in the long run,
exploration of the entire galaxy within a reasonable
timeframe. Unfortunately, the proposal was quietly declined
with barely a ripple in the press.
What was once concievable with 1980's technology
is now even more practical today. Even if you're just skimming
through this document, the potential of this proposed system
is undeniable. Please enjoy.

It would be hard to do this as a crash program. People would die pushing to 
build launching rockets that would fail explosively. The first seeds would 
fail undoubtedly. Thousands of engineers would collapse at their desks from 
heart attacks from the stress of impossible deadlines. When the seeds 
worked, most of the early habitats would become deathtraps for any early 
visitors. Like a trip to "the New World" it would be a one way voyage for 
most. Maybe millions of people would die over the next decade or two trying 
to make this work as soon as possible as a crash program. But we could try. 
We have thousands of ICBMs (rockets) that could be converted to help with 
this project, just sitting there, ready to launch today. And after ten or 
twenty years of such disasters, we'd start seeing successes. It would 
probably not cost more than a trillion dollars a year for a decade or two to 
see a huge success. That is about 1% of the world GDP. That is the US 
defense budget plus interest on the deficit (also mostly defense related). 
That is the amount of money expected to flow into charities over that time 
period. Seriously, if these were species threatening issues that you 
outlined, to not do this would be incredibly foolish, even costing tens of 
trillions and millions of (volunteer) lives.

Again though, this is, in that sense, a social problem, not a technical 
problem. If the problems were as dire as so many people (Peak Oilers) paint, 
then even if there was only a 10% chance of success, we should do this.

We could do the same for seasteading (but with much more success as the 
problem is easier).

So, these would be *social* miracles in space or the sea. Not technological 
ones (even if we still need breakthroughs and better designs to do this more 
easily an cheaply). We knew enough in the 1970s to start these projects. We 
did not because of lack of vision and a diversion of social investment to 
things like the Vietnam war and other wars plus lots of other nonsense 
"investments" by our society.

Note, I'm not in favor of doing things in such a way with such an Iraq-level 
of casualties (even if they were all volunteers unlike Iraqis killed by 
sanctions and the invasion), even though there would likely be millions of 
people who would volunteer to have jobs building space habitats on these 
terms even if the early casualty rate was 90%. I think we can do this more 
safely in other ways, at a slower pace, that may get us there faster in the 
long run and have better results.

But here is the point -- my proposal to spend tens of trillions of dollars 
with millions of casualties no doubt shocks you. It shocks me. But, we can 
casually on this list talk about the entire economy collapsing and billions 
dying from climate change and social collapse. Ironic, is it not? My 
proposal sounds monstrous, to give people a chance to sacrifice for 
something very meaningful, but the meaningless death and suffering a 
thousand fold larger of people without hope descending into global disaster 
somehow seems acceptable? Even, inevitable? Even just a logical consequence 
of the externalities of the market (systematic risk being an externality). 
So, to do this thing not may actually be the greater monstrosity than to 
worship the status quo or to take a head-in-the-sand gloomster approach to 
"resource depletion" (if there was such a thing on any short time scale, 
except maybe for Helium, which nobody talks about).

Anyway, that proposal is just to shock you out of complacency. :-)

Here is a paper my wife and I wrote in 2001 about how to do this in a 
peer-to-peer way on a shoestring and with the greatest safety (using 
advanced simulation tools): :-)
   "A Review of Licensing and Collaborative Development With Special 
Attention to the Design of Self-replicating Space Habitat Systems"

I don't think politically we are advanced enough to do this as a species in 
a straightforward way, sadly. So, peer-to-peer is an alternative. We are 
advanced enough for that, and that is a good thing, a great thing, a 
wonderful thing.

Here is what such things might look like:
   "L5: First City in Space" preview"

Although zero-gravity might be easier to build, but would require drugs or 
genetic changes or a liquid breathing approach to work. Example image:

Still, frankly, I feel our needs are easily met today on Earth using 
off-the-shelf sustainable technology, so there is no need for such a crash 
program anyway. :-) Unless one was worried about social issues. :-(

So, to be clear, even if I can outline such plans, I don't think we really 
*need* them if we get our act together down here on Earth. But, they may 
still be fun to do, anyway. And they may inspire a certain kind of hope, at 
the very least as an easy refutation to the doomsters.

Again though, if I can outline a fairly straightforward way to deal with 
global climate change as well as other existential threats to human physical 
survival, that costs only about as many lives than a major war, and only 
costs 2% of our gross world product, and has a fairly good chance of 
success, are these problems really very "serious" in the context of our 
species survival? They're just social problems...

 > We need radically different
> kinds of technological dreams, that are geared towards the need of the
> majority of the population, the farmers for example, and not transhumanist
> escapism.

Sure. I agree, as above. And escapism may misdirect resources from other 
possibilities. One trillion dollars spent in the USA could probably 
transform so many US houses that they would not need to have furnaces or air 
conditioning, and replace many cars on the road, thus solving much of the US 
imported oil problem. I think the best reason to go into space is that we 
are happy down here on Earth, and want to spread that happiness around. :-)

To be clear, what I have outlined is not transhumanism, which has more to do 
with altering the structure of humans, not duplicating Earth-like 
surroundings elsewhere physically. It may be risky, but it could be done by 
the humans of today. (Well, taking drugs to resist bone loss in zero-G might 
be transhumanist in the way taking insulin is, but it is optional anyway as 
we could build rotating habitats for gravity.)

--Paul Fernhout

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