[p2p-research] Building Alliances (basic income and entrepreneurship)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 7 04:39:42 CET 2009

J. Andrew Rogers wrote:
> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 1:53 PM, Paul D. Fernhout
> <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> So, do we need to structure our *entire* global economy a certain way
>> because Princetonians and others strongly control 0.06% of the money flow?
> No one has suggested this that I am aware of. I merely stated that
> this is highly productive capital compared to many other uses, but
> there is a saturation point.
> It is almost always the case that there is far more venture capital
> than there are innovative startups to invest it in. The real problem
> is that innovators (not people that think they are innovators, but the
> tiny minority that produce real results) are in short supply. Also it
> requires discipline and motivation as well to accomplish anything
> useful, which is also frequently in short supply.

Note, there is a shortage of investments that venture capitalists think will 
make them a lot of money. There are a huge number of good things that need 
doing for which people have no time. Big difference.

As I've talked about other times, building on Bob Black's ideas (and him on 
others'), a lot of work in the USA is related to "guarding". The innovations 
that Venture Capitalists invest in will only be the ones that can be easily 
guarded. This both limits what worthwhile projects they will touch, and it 
also influences how they will shape the resulting innovations, to promote 

   "The abolition of work" by Bob Black
I don't suggest that most work is salvageable in this way. But then most 
work isn't worth trying to save. Only a small and diminishing fraction of 
work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction 
of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, 
Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then 
being done -- presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now -- would 
satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing and shelter. Theirs was only an 
educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, 
most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. 
Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, 
managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, 
landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is 
a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his 
flunkies and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

>> There's truth to that, but a basic income bypasses most of that. Most
>> inventors are just struggling to pay living expenses. And if they don't have
>> to have a standard job to do that, they can live where rents are cheap and
>> land wide open and unzoned.
>> Very few big ideas need much funding these days beyond living expenses for
>> the developers. Some do, but not most.
> This really depends. Adequate hardware often is not cheap. For many
> areas you need to hire domain specialists which may be very expensive
> and hard to come by. Sure, you *could* do it as you describe above,
> but it would be extremely inefficient for many types of innovation.

There are several assumptions here.

The first is that we don't have lots of cheap or free hardware in the 
computing field begging to be used at this point. You can rent cloud stuff, 
for example. And most innovations don't require much of that to work on. 
Some do, but Google's still hiring. :-)

On domain experts, see, here you are back to circular reasons. You need a 
lot of money for your labor so you can pay other people for their labor. 
What if you can find a domain expert who is willing to help make free 
software? Also, many of these domain experts get that way by a huge 
investment by the state in their education. But then they want to charge for 
all that? Maybe that's how the system works, but it is ethically questionable.

You talk about "inefficient". Efficiency is always relative to some purpose 
in some context. Inefficient in what way? For whom? If there are millions of 
people working towards something, even if the whole thing is 99.99% 
inefficient (wasted time?), overall that collective effort may produce a lot 
more results that 1000 people being 100% efficient, whatever "efficient" means.

You're talking in abstractions that may evade some key issues of 
accountability. Efficient for what purpose? Efficient to whose ends?

Besides, if all the millions of people involved are having fun, is that not 
efficient to themselves?

You're looking at this from a narrow corporate-oriented profit-oriented 
view, it seems to me?

>> Can you name any such "non trival" innovations?
> Software is often only inexpensive if you are doing something many
> people have done before (and therefore "trivial"). Think FaceBook and
> Twitter.
> Many theoretical computer science innovations that are developed these
> days are exactly this type of problem, even though on the surface it
> seems like it is software and should be cheap. This is part of the
> reason it takes so many years for it to percolate into useful
> software. Everything has to scale out these days (read: massively
> parallel/distributable), which requires a perfectly matched dev/test
> environment -- expensive. Algorithms derived from new theoretical
> models mean you basically have to rewrite every piece of software that
> might use said algorithm -- a major pain.  Often, you can count the
> number of people who even grok the theory of the software on one hand
> due to various bits of theoretical esoterica that you can't just read
> up on over the weekend.  The cost of producing the first version of
> something completely new and innovative is very high. Subsequent
> copies, not so much.

You are using words like "everything has to scale". Really?

Anyway, why be in such a hurry?

There's a reason -- it has to do with profit, and interest charges, and so 
on. But if people are not doing it for money, none of those really matter, 
do they?

There may be a political power issue, but then all you're saying is a bunch 
of rich people can seize control of the future because they can put lots of 
wage slaves under the whip. That doesn't sound like a happy way to be.

Besides, what are we paying all that public money to people at universities 
for if not to do a lot of the heavy lifting on some of this and give it back 
to the public? Even though the US model for that is broken:

> Here is the really interesting thing: the cost of implementing new
> computing *hardware* is converging on the cost of implementing new
> computing *software* in terms of implementing fully functional
> prototypes.

Yes, I can see how the two are converging. Which is good news for p2p moving 
into the physical realm and open manufacturing.

>> Very few innovations require much materials. Maybe making new desktop CPU
>> foundries?
> No, designing and prototyping a new computing architecture is
> surprisingly cheap these days, a couple million if you are frugal. No
> need to make your own foundry, there are companies that specialize in
> that kind of thing if you like how things work in reconfigurable
> silicon first.

Why even that much real cash? There are millions of teenagers out there who 
may want to play with this stuff.

> Manpower is the primary expense because for bleeding edge work you
> often need extremely talented people to do work that those people have
> no significant personal interest in doing. Hardware usually comes in a
> distant second even for large-scale computing apps.

If people have no significant personal interest in doing something creative, 
maybe they should not be doing it?

Why create a society that forces people to do things they don't want to do?

What is the point of all this technology if it is just to create suffering 
among talented programmers?

> Some other industries (like pharma) have different cost structures.

Sure. There most of the money is public dollars spent at universities for 
basic research, which under the Bayh-Dole Act, the universities claim as 
their own property. Then pharma does some studies at the end (costly 
granted), and then creates "me too" drugs. There are exceptions, but that's 
most of what goes on as I understand it. We would be much better off IMHO if 
all the research including human studies was publicly funded, even if it 
meant getting half as many drugs -- but they would all be newer and better 
ones than existing ones.

>> How much is work on solar panel design really costing? In general, our
>> society has favored "big science" over "little science". But it is ofter
>> from little science where the really new ideas come.
> I know next to nothing about solar panel R&D cost structures, so I couldn't say.
>> And those ideas that do require big resources can generally gain occasional
>> access through places like university labs or incubators. Not *all*. But by
>> far the vast majority. Anything software these days.
> Generally true on the software side, we do not own any large-scale
> hardware (yet?) even though we use it a lot. 

I assume you use Google search in your research. How much is all that 
hardware it runs on costing you?

 > However, I wonder how
> many other people would have the access that we do as a practical
> matter. These are limited and expensive resources. And obviously you
> could not build a production application on these resources.

The cloud keeps getting cheaper.

Because you are thinking commercially, you feel you need to be on the 
cutting edge. But for people who are just having fun, they can be a couple 
years behind you, and still do things worthwhile to them.

So, does the world really need your cutting edge commercial work if in five 
years someone else would do it for free on cheaper hardware?

We need to disentangle you making a fortune from the world getting what it 
needs to be a happy place along with you happy within that happy world.

> The big resources required are extremely smart people that can
> reliably produce successful results. Even when just talking about
> programmers, the vast majority are pretty useless for non-vanilla
> development, which is a major bottleneck when you need to write
> 100kLoC of complex, semi-exotic code.

Sure. Better tools helps. Again, though, why the rush? Programming is 
interesting to many people. There are millions of people who might think 
that is fun someday.

As I see it, the rush is mostly about the money?

And gaining control of some intellectual monopoly to exclude others for profit?

>> I just don't see it. Almost all those "millions" you talk about are going to
>> salary, or they are paying for fancy equipment instead of hiring more people
>> or having more patience. So, a loose confederation of free individuals all
>> with a basic income could do the same.
> You aren't quite getting it, and at least in our case, we aren't
> paying for fancy equipment so it is almost all people money. Supply
> and demand is not magically solved. Let's suppose that you need a
> particular expert for a very important and valuable R&D program, and
> there are only three plausible known candidates in the entire world
> *and* they have no particular interest in working on this program, how
> do you build the necessary team?  This kind of thing actually happens,
> and people at the edge of the envelope where significant innovation
> actually occurs are in short supply.

Well, you can begin by working in a problem area that doesn't have that 
problem. :-) Or, you can be patient. :-)

Besides, if it is true basic R&D, how do you even know who the right expert 
is? Or what the right problem is?

> Also, time is costly even if we discount the financial aspect. Slowing
> things down unnecessarily slows the aggregate rate of innovation, a
> net loss. All innovations that are dependent on the current
> innovation, say some lifesaving innovation, gets kicked into the
> future indefinitely.

A net loss to whom? Skynet? :-) So, Skynet gets delayed a few years. Maybe 
we would be better off? Again, innovation to what end? Embodying what values?

Ah, lifesaving. But, with about 50,000 or whatever people dying every year 
in the USA from lack of medical insurance, I find it hard to take 
technological pleas related to profit making about caring about saving lives 
that seriously. Sure, I can see the point to medical advancement. But, if 
you really cared about that, I could say almost certainly if you focused 
more directly on some medical issue (like Vitamin D deficiency among young 
programmers spending a lot of time indoors? 
http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/vdds.shtml :-)
that you would save more lives.

> This planet is desperately short of people capable of usefully
> contributing to non-trivial R&D efforts. A million average people with
> no particular expertise cannot replace one extremely brilliant person
> with deep expertise. If this was not true, "design by committee" would
> not be pejorative.

Well, I might agree with you there. :-) Except no one is average. It depends 
on the context. What good is it to have someone who knows a lot about the 
Google search engine design if a house is on fire? Or when a child is 
throwing a tantrum?

Besides, a lot of people can learn to be good at something, if given a 
chance and they have the interest. But US business has been evolving, 
through financial pressure, to the point where it no longer invests in 
employees. Something I wrote on that:
But, it’s already been said that there is, say, a glut of PhDs in general, 
so more education in the USA may not really help all that much for everyone, 
even if it might help some specific individuals with the right aptitudes and 
interests who get exactly the right training. Part of the problem is also 
that, as in the above article, employers are less and less willing to invest 
in “on the job” training that might take many months to a year or longer; in 
our vastly competitive economy, nobody wants to invest in people who are 
harder to own than robots and other machinery. This will be another issue 
driving increased automation and increased joblessness — that spending money 
on technology may seem a more reliable investment for a firm than spending 
money on people who may change jobs. Thus, we may see more and more 
investment in machines that deskill complex tasks but less in people, 
creating a skill gap for the few jobs that remain. Still, as long as wages 
are low, and there is a lot of competition, and technology changes quickly, 
investing in one’s own education by taking on undischargeable student loan 
debt is itself pretty risky.

Still, take any 1000 kids, give them a good diet in omega-3s and organic 
food, plenty of sunshine, and keep them away from too much school, and let 
them be part of a good community on non-coercive terms with lots of 
technology around to play with if they want to, and at least a few might 
become interested in and capable of being amazing programmers. That's just a 
gut feeling, but I think it likely.

Instead, most kids are fed badly, kept out of the sun, and intentionally 
dumbed down. Related:
If your kids do badly, it does not mean that they're bad readers or anything 
else. It means they haven't been obedient to the drills the state set down 
and they're marked for further treatment later on with a mark to be excluded 
from responsible jobs. Perhaps some way is to be excluded from the colleges 
that lead to responsible jobs, in other ways from the licenses that lead to 
responsible jobs.
   This was ALL worked out. It didn't evolve by a lot of rational people 
saying we'll take this this and this from the past, then the next generation 
says we'll take this this and this. This was set down largely in a handful 
of places. Prussia was perhaps the most prominent of those places. The 
Prussian experiment leapt into the United States almost immediately in the 
1840's. Leapt into the United States; its propagandists covered the country 
here. Its backers, its financial backers set up the most important teacher 
training institutes and then financed those institutes and then no one was 
allowed to become a teacher who didn't more or less subscribe to the fact 
that experts could create a curriculum and pedagogues could administer it.
   Well, that's exactly what Horace, the Roman essayist, talked about in 
several of his essays. He said, "the master creates the lessons, the 
pedagogue (the teacher) administers the lessons." But if you find the 
teacher creating the lessons or deviating from the direction the lessons are 
headed in, you get rid of the pedagogue.
   But the people who gave us schooling, weren't these wealthy people, they 
were Utopian thinkers who believed the family and tradition were the 
greatest obstacles to making a perfect society, a utopia. Every utopia that 
survived, invents schooling, long before we had universal forced schooling 
for all these little neighborhood schools. They all invented universal 
schooling of a homogenous variety in order to reach Utopia.

If you really care about long term innovation and saving lives (as well as 
minds), maybe doing something about that first may make a bigger difference?

Anyway, I feel there are a lot of hidden assumptions woven into what you are 
outlining, which I have tried to bring into the sunlight here. That does not 
mean I think you are evil; it is just that I think you are articulating (and 
very well) a mainstream view of commercial innovation. A P2P process works 
from different assumptions and often different values.

--Paul Fernhout

More information about the p2presearch mailing list