Paul Fernhout on Artificial Scarcity

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On 10/20/10 5:41 PM, Kevin Carson wrote:

The Internet has opened up the possibility for little guys like me
producing for the small end of the Long Tail, to make a few thousand
$$ a year in revenue and add some much needed FU money to our bank
accounts, who would have remained "mute inglorious Miltons" our entire
lives in the old days of gatekeepers.  And guess what?  Every book
I've ever written is available on torrent sites, with no discernable
loss of revenue.

This is not specifically directed at your publications, because you have put much (or all?) under a Creative Commons license. And certainly there is a value in "convenience" as well as "generosity" and "reciprocity" where some people will pay (or donate) towards something for some reasons, even if they can either legally or illegally get it for "free". There is always the argument that the people who will copy something are not the people who would have paid for it anyway (although, I think that is not totally true in our society depending on the situation, the person, and the product).

But in general, a lot of artists, writers, musicians, programmers, etc. may think, "Well, if I create artificial scarcity of my works by putting them under restrictive proprietary licenses, then I'll pull in US$1000 a year or whatever, so that's a great thing." But this ignore the consequences that if everyone does this, it makes it harder to build mashups, or improve on what others are doing (collaborating in a no-direct-communications indirect stigmergic way). So, the cost of that US$1000 for the 99% of writers, artists, etc. who will never make it big (not because of lack of talent, but just because our society would never support more than a few thousand or whatever the number highly paid artists and writers like JK Rowling etc.) is that all artists have less to draw from, and that, overall, costs go up for everyone, and overall, the cultural climate gets a chill (compared to, say, the Jazz age of people copying each other with changes).

Google's Doodle today is Dizzy Gillespie, btw:

"Together with Charlie Parker, he was a major figure in the development of
bebop and modern jazz. He taught and influenced many other musicians,
including trumpeters Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Arturo
Sandoval, Lee Morgan, Jon Faddis[2] and Chuck Mangione.[3]"

Could Jazz have happened the way it did with today's copyrights and culture surrounding that?

Further, and I'm being somewhat speculative here, the less that 1% of artists who do charge for their work but have enough capital for extensive marketing (like an alliance with a deep pockets publisher) have a huge competetive advantage. For most of the people buying licenses to content, if you are going to pay, say, US$1 for a song, would you rather spend that money on an established highly marketed artist (with lots of radio airplay, etc.) where you know what you are getting, or would you rather take a chance on an unknown? Sure, some people will take a chance, but overall, the cost of making that decision is an extra cost in time and worry above and beyond whatever your actually pay in dollars (or whatever). So, in a way, charging for stuff empowers the richest 1% by affirming their behavior.

So, focusing on the money changes the cultural climate for the 99% of writers and artists etc. in a negative way, IMHO. Programming has been moving beyond that with free and open source software. Engineers are starting to move beyond that too.

There remains the issue of how to support people who just want to give stuff away. I think a "basic income" is a simple solution to that (as are better 3D printers, more robotics, and so on).

With that said, I currently have an [ "artificially scarce" application out related to music composition] for the Android, and I feel very conflicted about it. :-) Essentially, what is most scarce about it (as far as what bothers me most right now) is that others can't help improve it if the wanted to. Although it is scarce in other ways too.

Still, on the other hand, from a "life support" point of view, pouring a lot of time into it would make the most sense if it had a ready return on that time. But I think the problem here is what is discussed in "The Seven Laws of Money" by Michael Philips, where he says:

"Do it! Money will come when you are doing the right thing."
But he also has as a corollary, "Don't expect the world owes you a living."
meaning, you may need to find another means of life support while you do
your project. [1]

The problem is, that when that book was written back in 1977, it was more feasible for the average person (especially in Western Europe, but still in the USA) to have a decent life doing fairly unskilled stuff. But now, with robotics and other automation, better design, voluntary social networks, and limited demand, and the relative erosion of the value of the minimum wage and 30 years of essentially flat wages for most jobs, the value of most unskilled labor is plummeting. So, it is harder to say, be a writer or musician in the evenings and have a day job, when the fact is, there aren't as many day jobs and the ones out there pay less and less and have worse and worse working conditions. And, as with NFL Football as the (totally unrealistic) career aspiration for so many children, it is easy to look around and say that musician or artist or writer is pulling in the big bucks, so why can't I? I predict this, following Marshall Brain's Manna ideas, is only going to get worse, as more and more things become "the information economy". There may still be jobs doing unskilled things, but they will pay even worse. And there may still be high skill jobs, but the requirements will keep rising for what you need to do (right now, you need a combination of connections, technical skill, and domain knowledge to land some good paying work, and the bar may keep going up).

Still, as in the book by Alice Plotnik, "Honk if you're a writer" there is value in good writing that can be applied in all sorts of contexts other than the next Great American Novel (or whatever). The same is true for creativity in general, musical talent, and so on -- such can be useful in many contexts.

Although in the issue of an economy transitioning to more freedom and individual decisions about how to spend time, using talents to support some repressive corporate infrastructure or scarcity-based paradigm is its own sets of ethical concerns.

So, I won't say there are easy answers, but I can say that in twenty to thirty years, one way or another, I expect the economy of industrialized countries to look very different than it does today (even without a technological "singularity") just based on the unrealized potential of what machines and better design can do now. It may take a decade or more for the implications to percolate through society related to new technology or knew knowledge, like the implications of what self-driving cars mean for eliminating a whole range of jobs, what vitamin D and vegetables/fruits/legumes and understanding the pleasure trap mean to eliminating a whole bunch of sick care jobs, what bloggers on the internet means to eliminating a whole bunch of newspaper jobs, etc.).

The sad thing about this is that we could probably make a paradigm transition now, but it may well be a decade or two of suffering and repression (including perhaps copyright police and long jail sentences) before our society as a whole transitions to an abundance paradigm. I think the paradigm shift is inevitable -- IMHO it is either choose to change our socioeconomic paradigm or choose to blow ourselves up fighting over (mis)perceived scarcity with the tools of abundance. But, even if we choose "survival with style", the big issue is how to surf that wave of change without getting drowned by it? And I won't say there are any general answers for all people, since a lot of it is carving out specific niches related to what our society is willing to support.

So, if you are over 65 in the USA, you can live frugally on Social Security. If you're of college age, you might spend twenty years is school waiting it out. If you have some government job, you might try to hold on to it. If you have some hands-on service niche, you might try to keep doing that, etc. even as one by one some profitable niches will fall by the wayside as the for-pay economy implodes like Bob Black predicted in "The Abolition of Work".

An important aspect is to see what is going on at the meta-level above, to create a sort of "quorum sensing" ability, so that as the economy continues to shift, a paradigm shift can happen when enough people realize it is time.

"Quorum sensing is a type of decision-making process used by decentralized
groups to coordinate behavior. Many species of bacteria use quorum sensing
to coordinate their gene expression according to the local density of their
population. Similarly, some social insects use quorum sensing to make
collective decisions about where to nest. In addition to its function in
biological systems, quorum sensing has several useful applications for
computing and robotics. Quorum sensing can function as a decision-making
process in any decentralized system, as long as individual components have
(a) a means of assessing the number of other components they interact with
and (b) a standard response once a threshold number of components is detected." [2]

So, open manufacturing is part of all that. Every new project moves us a bit closer to the point where, overall, our society is going to sense that some new level has been reached of social potential. And, at that point, hopefully there will be a non-violent peaceful shift (hoping) including some marathon sessions in Congress where the laws just get changed about a lot of things. [1]

That really assumes (like in James P. Hogan's Voyage from Yesteryear) that most of the people defending the status quo realize change is inevitable at some point (like when their children are printing out all their own toys), and decide there is not point slagging and plaguing and terrorizing the planet just to make their economic religion of artificial scarcity true again. For a parallel, it is perhaps the same as when women in the USA got the right to vote again (again, since they had it centuries before with various Native tribes) with whatever social dynamics was operating there to get people who had no vote the right to vote. Of course, back then, women were an essential part of the unpaid economy, so they had vast amounts of unrealized economic power. I can wonder what real power legions of the unemployed would have (other than riots which would just justify more repression and more scarcity-thinking)? It would have to be a more subtle power, something about sympathy, or family, or friendship, or creativity, or something like that -- for example, if the world is running on free software, and on open designs, then the people making that software and those designs, like the unpaid women in the 1910s, still have a lot of say in how the society is running in practice. [2]

We need someone to make the open manufacturing equivalent of this video (for engineers/artists/writers/musicians/programmers/etc. :-) sometime around 2040. :-)

"School House Rock - Sufferin' Till Suffrage"

For example, made up just now, a something to put here: :-)

""" Amendment 29

  1. The twenty-eight article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding indefinite imprisonment and torture of anyone suspected of violating copyright or advocating for free software or alternative economics is hereby repealed.
  2. All copyrights and patents are hereby declared null and void and all international treaties regarding such are hereby considered to be withdrawn.
  3. All citizens shall henceforth be given a monthly sum of fiat dollars as a basic income equivalent to one-half the previous year's GDP divided by the numbers of citizens to be funded by income taxes, property taxes, rents of public resources, fees, and other means; subtracted from this sum shall be a fee to supply universal health care to every citizen and visitor to the USA; this monthly payment shall replace all government support payments such as Social Security and all public school funding, and compulsory schooling is hereby outlawed in any State, Territory, or possession of the United States.
  4. All government decision making and communications will henceforth be done formally and in the open using publicly accessible information processing tools including structured arguments and version control.
  5. The population of the US House of Representatives is hereby set at one representative per 50,000 citizens (elected using paper ballots or by lot), who shall in turn annually select a President by random lot of those willing to serve in that capacity. The US Senate is hereby disbanded.
  6. All corporations are deemed not to be persons and not to have any rights that persons have (especially all corporations henceforth have no right to privacy in any of their operations); all owners of limited-liability for-profit organizations hereby are deemed to be fully liable for all the actions of such for-profit organizations.
  7. US citizenship shall be deemed to cover anyone on the planet Earth formally declaring at a US embassy that they are now a US citizen and subject to the rights and responsibilities of a citizen.
  8. Any running computer program able to pass the Advanced Turing test and displaying consistent behavior in adherence with emergent social norms and asking for citizenship shall hereby also be deemed to be a citizen.
  9. The US military is hereby directed to emphasize intrinsic security and mutual security in all its strategic doctrines; a Department of Peace and Abundance is hereby created with the mission to help create joy, abundance, health, education, and intrinsic/mutual security for all who wish it.
  10. etc. :-)

""" [3]

--Paul Fernhout [4]