Exuberance and scarcity

An extract from Chapter 8 of the book Transcending Politics:

8. Exuberance and scarcity

Let’s set aside for the time being the subject of the previous chapter, namely the threat of an environmental meltdown triggered by reckless human activity. Instead, to start this chapter, let’s consider a different kind of meltdown, in which financial systems cease working around the world.

In such a scenario, ordinary citizens might try to withdraw cash from bank teller machines, sometime in the next few years, only to find they’ve all stopped working. The funds in savings accounts may be significantly reduced overnight. Payment requests using credit cards may be declined, causing chaos in shops and restaurants. In an atmosphere of profound uncertainty, corporations will avoid taking risks. Business contracts will be cancelled, with growing numbers of employees being made redundant. Supermarket shelves will become bare. Populist politicians and newspapers will be quick to blame bankers, businessmen, overseas cabals, the so-called “elites”, reds-under-the-bed, or whoever. Tempers everywhere will flare. Soon, people will be trying to take matters into their own hands. The few “survivalists” who have been able to hoard scarce resources will find their stashes under attack. It won’t be long until law and order breaks down.

That’s a possible disturbing future which has echoes in many past upheavals. History bears witness to a long series of financial crashes, each ugly in their own way. Simpler times saw simpler kinds of crashes, but the effects were still often catastrophic for the individuals involved.

In this chapter, I’ll explore the likely effect on future financial stability from the trend that underpins all the others discussed in this book, namely the acceleration of technological innovation. Should that acceleration make us more apprehensive about forthcoming financial crises? Or will it instead diminish the importance of money? Indeed, if economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, and accelerating technology delivers a sustainable abundance of all the basic necessities of life, where will that leave economics? Will the displacement of scarcity by abundance transform the so-called “dismal science” (economics) into an unnecessary science?

To give my answer in advance: that’s not going to happen any time soon, contrary to the apparent expectation of various techno-utopians. Technological innovation, by itself, isn’t going to free society from the risk of financial meltdowns. Instead, we’re going to need better politics: technoprogressive politics.

Lost fortunes over the centuries

One example from each of the last four centuries will set the scene for the question of: what next?

The South Sea Bubble investment craze of 1720 saw thousands of investors losing huge chunks of their personal fortunes…

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Recent Posts

Q2 sprint: Political responses to technological unemployment

Technological Unemployment v2

Q1 recap

Before sharing some details about Transpolitica focus during Q2 2018, here’s a quick update on Transpolitica activities during Q1 2018.

Transpolitica has made good progress during Q1 with goals identified at the start of this period:

Priority project for Q2

As Q2 approaches, it’s now time to put into motion the first of a series of time-limited projects to dive more deeply into some of the specific key themes of a better politics.

Each such project will involve gathering, developing, reviewing, and then disseminating the best technoprogressive thinking on a given topic.

The first project in the series is “Political responses to technological unemployment”, carried out over three phases:

  1. Up to end of April 2018: mainly writing and collecting submissions – framing analyses, thought pieces, policy recommendations, etc
  2. Up to end of May 2018: more focus on group deliberation – where are the weak points and the strong points of our collective understanding, and how can we improve our understanding
  3. Up to end of June 2018: more focus on communicating our findings and recommendations, via publications, memes, slogans, videos, etc

Note that I am using the phrase “technological unemployment” to also include “technological under-employment” and “precarious employment”. (A better choice of words could be one outcome from the project.)

Starting points for this project (to avoid people re-inventing the wheel) include:

Depending on progress, possible outcomes of the project might include a PDF research pamphlet, a video, an improved set of pages on H+Pedia, a press release, a set of slides, and/or a public event (such as a meeting of London Futurists in June and the Humanity+ Beijing event in July).

Questions that need addressing

Key to the success of the project will be the identification of the areas most in need of better understanding. These are the “major uncertainties” where we should prioritise our focus.

For the moment, it seems to me that these areas include:

  1. Potential transition mechanisms from where society is today, to a new social contract in which a citizen’s income (to give one example) is in place
  2. Possible alternatives to a citizen’s income
  3. Strengths and weaknesses of various forecasts of scenarios for the development of technological unemployment
  4. The pros and cons of various ways of raising money to pay for a citizen’s income
  5. The possible role of decentralised technologies such as blockchain in the administration of a citizen’s income
  6. The possibility of an “Apollo scale” project to drive down the costs of all goods and services needed for a prosperous lifestyle
  7. International and trans-border considerations

If you think you know at least part of the answers to the above questions – or if you think there are more important questions to be addressing – please do become involved.

To become more involved in this project

The mailing group https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/transpolitica exists to to coordinate planning and execution of Transpolitica projects. To join the group, visit this page, and send a subscription request.

(There’s also a Transpolitica group on Facebook, but with a potential impending mass exodus from Facebook, it’s more important than before to use other means for project coordination.)

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