Archive for July, 2014

Why Religion Matters in a Post-Scarcity World

July 26, 2014

This will be last on this for a while. I’ll write more when I think of things.

Why religion matters:

  • Religion gives us meaning.
  • It gives us something to do and focus on.
  • It teaches us to love each other and be nice to each other.

In a world where scarcity is everpresent, religion teaches us to have compassion on each other and help each other out. Read the Bible if you don’t see it for yourselves. Even the Israelites, under strict commandment to obey the Law of Moses, had laws given to them that demanded they help the poor. For instance, people who had fields had to leave some of their harvest on the ground for the poor to eat, and had to allow people passing by to eat from their trees or their fields (although they couldn’t pack anything away.) What a wonderful society that would be if those were actual religious obligations!

Christianity expanded upon Jewish charity. Jesus taught the rich man to sell all he has and give it to the poor before entering into the ministry. Jesus ate with the poor and the rich. He had one of his apostles collect money and give it to the poor. Jesus was a walking primitive walk-in clinic. In the epistles, we read countless times exhortations to take care of the widows and the orphans, to help the poor. In fact, in Acts we read of Ananias, who sold his house to give the money to the church so that the church could help the poor, but he kept some back and lied about it. God didn’t like that at all, so he struck him dead. That gives a hint to all Christians about how important charity is to God.

That’s all well and good, and is totally applicable in an economy with scarcity. I mean, this is the grease that keeps the economic engine running. When people get pushed out of the economy, religious people should be there to help them get back in, feed them, clothe them, heal them, and do whatever it takes to make them whole again.

What about a post-scarcity economy? What many people don’t realize is that Christianity is really designed for a post-scarcity economy. We look forward to millennial times, when the earth will be changed such that we won’t have weeds. We’ll cover our buildings with precious gems and metals, we’ll make our streets out of the most precious things during this time. Why will the earth change? We don’t know exactly, but I feel a large part will be because our attitudes will be different. We’ll actually care about each other and go out of our way to help each other. Maybe we won’t have weeds anymore because we’ll all work together to completely eradicate them. Maybe we’ll have gems on our buildings and streets because our economy grows and grows and grows until making gems isn’t a big deal.

Without religion, what purpose is there? Why go out of your way to help someone who falls by the wayside? What meaning do you have in the things you build with your hands or the things you own or the things you give away? Everyone needs something to give themselves and their actions meaning. I believe we should make it a point to make it our religious obligation to help one another and see to their needs as much as our own. We should make that priority #1 in everything we do. I truly believe that if we focus on helping each other, all the problems we have will be solved. If people can’t solve their own problems, then people who can will show up to help them solve them. Isn’t that the kind of world we want to live in?

I think we are wise when we examine closely the life Jesus had. He had everything. He could do everything. And look how he decided to spend it! Do you think maybe the two are connected somehow — that without the attributes of Christ in our very character, we simply can’t enjoy a post-scarcity existence? I believe so.

More on Basic Income…

July 25, 2014

Some of the assumptions that people put into the idea of Basic Income is that there are certain people who simply can’t figure out how to make enough money to survive. When you think about this, it is a dehumanizing thought and reeks of the attitudes that Southern slave owners had.

How much work does it take to produce enough food to feed your family, a roof to shelter them, and clothes to wear? In a modern economy, the answer is, “Not very much.” In the future we are rapidly approaching, the answer is going to be, “Even less than last year.” There are people who are able to make ends meet and live in major urban centers spending a fraction of what you think minimum wage should be. They do it because they spend what little money they get on the things they actually need, and they stay out of debt.

What would someone need to do in a hypermodern, super-productive economy to make enough money to take care of all their basic needs for an entire year? Let’s say that today, you can get by, not comfortably, but you can get by, on $30,000 a year. If you think this is too little, you really don’t know how the rest of the country lives, nor do you even begin to understand what the rest of the world lives like. That’s enough money to keep yourself and your 5 kids and your wife fed and clothed and sheltered. (Remember, no debt, no luxuries like cable TV.)

What happens when food becomes even more cheap due to modernization, GMO, research and development, and improvements in processes that reduce the number of people needed to work the fields? Why, food gets cheaper. A lot cheaper. In fact, in the US, we are trying to artificially boost the price of food because if we didn’t, we’d fear that all the farmers would go out of business. It’s an absurd idea, but one that has taken hold. It’s why we have a Farm Bill that gets passed every once in a while. The money ends up in the pockets of people who would never farm in the first place because they always figure out a way to get money. Kill the farm bill, allow imports and exports, and the price of food will drop like a rock tomorrow. Thousands of farmers would go out of business, and their farms would be bought up by those who are extremely efficient at growing food and have made a science and a career out of making the right choices for food production and quality. Allow them to profit on their efficiency, and pretty soon we have mechanized farms that can be replicated almost anywhere. Food will practically become free.

Housing? The cost of building is expensive only because of all the pointless regulations cities impose on builders. Get out of the city and see for yourself how cheap it is to build a perfectly comfortable home that is mostly off the grid. If people simply moved out of the cities, these prices would drop as well. You’ll note that many people living far from civilization use double-wides. The homes were manufactured and then transported to the site. Why? Because it’s much cheaper than bringing all the materials and workers out to the site and doing it there, for obvious reasons. Let’s keep this ball rolling, and you’ll see the cost of housing fall even more.

Clothing? Today, our clothing is increasing manufactured by automated processes. Clothing is ridiculously cheap if you buy off-brand out-of-fashion clothing. You’ll note that that’s all that’s left for the clothing industry. The brands can’t compete on quality of material, so they compete on fame. People buy $100 jeans not because it costs $100 to make them but because people want them. If you look hard enough, you can find great jeans for $5. Heck, you can even wear second-hand clothing for almost free. People are giving away their clothing they no longer want to wear anymore.

So over time, if we free the economy and let mechanization and automation take course, and let the market do what it does best, the prices of everything will drop. It takes $40k in 2014 to get by. It’ll take $20k in 2030. It’ll take $10k in 2040. And $5k in 2050.

What will it take to earn that much money? The sky is the limit. A few years back, I was working at an aging startup which was on its last legs. I watched as a pointless company with no plan for real monetization got snatched up for a billion dollars. It was disheartening. I mean, some kid made a company where people upload photos, and it’s a billion dollars! I watch YouTube videos and there are people on there who have made videos that get watched and they quit their jobs to keep making videos. How much does it cost to make a video verses how much money do they make? When the entire world’s population is watching YouTube, you only need a tiny fraction of that to watch yours to make enough money to feed your family.

What happens when all the wealth gets into the hands of a few wealthy people? What do you think they do with money in the first place? If they burned it, it would increase the value of the remaining money supply. If they stick it in their mattress it would do the same, at least until they decided to spend it. If they put it in a bank or an investment account, they bank moves it to other companies that need money to grow and it gets spent anyway. Really, even though they make a lot more money than you and I, they are still looking for ways to make more money, and when they stop, their money is still working whether they realize it or not.

So come up with something! Anything! If it’s standing outside of an area where shoes need to be polished and polishing those shoes, it will be enough to make enough money to feed your family. Or spend some time thinking up a crazy idea for a video people will watch. Or a business idea you can pitch to investors. Or anything, really! Find a way to benefit someone, and you’ll find a way to make money.

If we ever reach a point where robots do everything, what will be left for humans to do? Why, be creative, of course! Find out better ways to make robots, or better robots, or new things that robots can make.

The fashion industry is a good example of what happens when manufacturing is no longer a consideration. There are millions of people making money that are connected to the fashion industry. They can have millions more move into their space. They need all kinds of help and will hire anyone who can do something that a machine can’t yet. And in the end, if that’s only imagining something new and different that enough people will like (and if manufacturing is free, then maybe “enough” is 1 person) then there you go.

So prices are falling. Opportunities for creativity are expanding. We won’t work in a factory anymore — we’ll be telling those factories what to build.

Basic Income, and other nonsense

July 24, 2014

I’ve been looking into the economic philosophy behind the basic income. Some keywords might be automation, the singularity, Manna, etc… I’ve decided that it is all bunk, based on ideas that are half-cooked and misinformed.

We have been through this before. We’ve been doing this since the moment someone decided to put a stick into the ground to help plow their field.

The argument for basic income goes something like this: We need to guarantee everyone a basic, livable income because robots and computer programs are taking over our jobs. We should be able to afford it, because we’re super-duper rich now, and it will help free people up to do what they should be doing: being creative!

The problems with these kinds of argument are many.

One, jobs are not disappearing, or at least, not for the reasons you think they are. This is a difficult concept to fully grasp, but it is the same argument for free, global trade and free and open markets. It is actually the same arguments for the free interchange of ideas in academic and free / open source software communities. The basic idea is this: People should be free.

When people are free to act in an economic context, they will always help the economy grow, provided they pursue noble adventures such as feeding their family, clothing themselves, and finding a nice place to live that isn’t a disaster area. I am confident when I say this. I am also confident that a dividend of the economic growth they are responsible for will end up in their pockets. That’s just how life works.

Those who believe the machines will take over our jobs are forgetting some very fundamental things. First, why do we have machines taking over people’s jobs in the first place? And second, what really happens when they do? The answer to the first question is that people are greedy. They will always try to do those things that give the best benefit to themselves and those they care about. The answer to the second is that everyone’s life improves, provided that they follow basic moral directions such as “don’t murder” and “don’t steal” and “don’t lie”. (Sounds familiar?)

Let’s “follow the money” and see what happens when a company decides to fire it’s million-person workforce, hire a thousand engineers, and put them to work installing a million machines to replace the million factory workers. Let’s be cold and heartless about it, and not try to be politically correct to make things sound nicer than they are.

What happens is the following:

  • A million low-skill and low-paid workers lose their jobs. They are never, ever going to get those jobs back. Sorry. Sucks to be you.
  • A thousand high-skill and high-paid workers get jobs that appeared out of thin air. Where do they come from? Given that there isn’t an army of unemployed engineers, they have to be trained. Where do they get trained? In the school of Real Life and Hard Knocks. 1,000 new people need to join the engineering profession and begin the process of becoming master engineers. Where does that 1,000 come from? Why, there’s a million unemployed people over there eager to do anything to make money! So we have 999,000 people left to employ.
  • The company makes billions.
  • The company spends billions. Or rather, they spend some of it and then invest the rest in a bank account, the stock market, etc… The owners of the companies and the executives, naturally, get to determine how large sums get spent. Even the things that get spent on pointless luxuries go somewhere. Cavier comes from fish. Someone has to raise the fish, collect the eggs, prepare them, package them, transport them, and finally sell them to the rich. And then someone has to prepare and serve it. That money all ends up in the pockets of some worker somewhere. Let’s say some of it ends up paying for machines or robots or other executive’s pockets. Follow the money, eventually it is turned into someone’s wages. The point is this: There is new demand for luxury goods, and there needs to be more people in that industry. Some of the factory workers that were laid off get to work in this growing industry.
  • Let’s talk about investments. The company decides to use some of the profits for R&D, meaning they need scientists and researchers and more engineers. Where do they come from? That new demand stresses those industries, and so there is incentive for more people to join that industry. More laid off workers are employed there in one capacity or another.
  • The rest they send off to investment banks on stocks or just to cool its heals in a low-yield investment such as a bank account. Where does that money go? It goes into the pockets of people trying to start new companies or expand existing ones, and willing to either take a risk or promise to pay back interest. What do they do with that money? They buy things and hire people. More workers get employed.

The point of this exercise is that when you “follow the money”, you see that in a capitalist economy, it all ends up back in the pockets of the low-income low-skill workers. When you hire a high-skill, high-wage worker, that creates a vacuum that creates an opportunity for a low-skill low-wage worker. When you buy something, it creates demand which requires more economic output which eventually translates to opportunities for low-wage low-skill workers.

Low-wage, low-skill workers can work in careers that will gradually translate them into high-wage, high-skill workers. Or they can stagnate because they are pleased with their position until the next economic disruption comes around that causes them to rethink their economic strategy.

This is how the US went from hunting fish and deer to the most advanced economy in recorded history all in the matter of a few hundred years. This is how we will continue to grow and grow and grow, overcoming every economic challenge by letting the free market do its thing.

Now, the question on your mind should be, “Why aren’t we doing this now? Why is unemployment so high, why are we not hiring more people, etc?” The answer is blazingly obvious: We aren’t doing this right now! We live in a perverse economy, and economy that rewards bad behavior and punishes good behavior. Right now, there is no incentive for any company to invest in America. All the capital in America is diverted to where it is needed most, places where it will get the highest rate of return. Right now, that is not the US! That’s why China and Europe are doing better: We’re sending our cash over there because we want to earn more money!

How do we get back to a non-perverse economy? Why, one part limitation on government, and one part religion. Limiting government puts power back into the hands of regular folks, and creates an environment where capital will flow back to our country. Lower taxes, reduced regulations, no more favoritism, etc, because these things all stifle rather than encourage independent action. Religion is there to pick up the pieces when it fails individuals.

The idea, in my mind, that during this time of economic disruption, that there will be starving parents with starving kids is utterly absurd to me. Churches like mine are more than ready and able to feed these families. We can also help the father navigate this new economy. That’s because we bring people together, people who know what works and people who don’t, the rich and the poor. The rich in the church want to share their wealth because that’s what Jesus wants them to do. They work hard to make sure they get the most bang for their buck and also put a personal touch on it.

We are experiencing problems today because we have forgotten how important religion is to the common man. It used to be that we had independent communities of charitable people who would work together to help each other out, but now that atheism is sweeping our country, we are all left to fend for ourselves with whatever resources we have, with little incentive to share our surplus with one another.

On a final note, I want to share with you my understanding of the eventual Zion that our church would like to establish. In Zion, there are no poor or rich: all are the same. Not because we are all carbon copies of each other and we each own and eat the same things, but because rich and poor is a stupid way to group people. In Zion, the bishop figures out the best way to help people who are not very productive become productive. He draws on the people in the community and their expertise. In Zion, people own stuff and are expected to make profit with it. With the profit, they feed their families and pass the surplus on to the bishop to help the poor become rich. Do you see why there are no poor or rich in Zion? You may make the distinction between those with surplus and those without, but even then, with the careful eye of the bishop, no one will be under-served or forgotten.

As an example of what Zion could be like, consider the recent story that appeared in one of our church’s General Conferences. A young mechanic was put out of work from his auto repair shop. He had nowhere to turn and couldn’t find work. After exhausting all of his resources, he turned to his ward and asked the bishop for help. The bishop was ready to help with rent payments and food and such, and the other members got to work trying to figure out how to help him create his own opportunity, even going so far as to investigate possible alternative careers. In the end, they decided together that maybe opening an auto repair shop in another location that was under-served was a viable option. But where to raise the capital? One member let the man use his barn. Another member had some of the necessary equipment. Another member knew how to do advertising and marketing and helped to spread the word and get the business off the ground. Another knew how to do accounting and legal things and helped the man navigate that. Before long, he was the proud owner of an auto repair shop.

Do you see the difference between this model of community helping each other, and the model of writing a check to everyone each month? The former brings people together in a common goal of each other’s well-being. Want and necessity drive people to bond more closely. The latter reduces people to a number, and separates people from each other.

In fact, one thing basic income people never talk about is what happens if everyone decides to stop working altogether? That is the issue we had in the USSR and other socialist systems. What happens when people don’t try their very best or don’t pay particular attention to producing something really want? The answer is economic ruin. You can take a burgeoning economic powerhouse of a country, flush with natural resources and a workforce eager and ready to do anything and everything to make each other’s lives better, and reduce it to the miserable conditions we found in East Germany and the USSR in a matter of years if you employ the same methods they used. Basic income was one of those methods.

Please, don’t be ignorant about basic economics and alternatives. Please don’t fall for the same trap that many nations fell for a hundred years ago! It took nearly a century to dig themselves out of that hole. Why would you want to fall back in?