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How Do We Get There?

I think every writer has a genre or subgenre that they admire, but find baffling. Like a snake charmer watching a trapeze artist. Yeah, yeah, the snakes are poisonous, but you've been handling them for years. But that flip? Those heights? That drop? That's scary.

Well, for me, one of those genres is post-scarcity SF. To my mind it's one of the most difficult to pull off. Scarcity has been a fact of the human condition for more or less ever, and once you remove it you have to figure out what it means to be human aside from that endless parade of want. Before you start chapter one. On top of that, it's damnably hard to fashion a sympathetic protagonist out of someone who has never struggled in the way we struggle in our own lives, to present someone who does not come off as a monster of privilege. My hat is off to those who can manage it, to me it seems a miraculous mid-air twist without a net.

Yet I've been thinking about it constantly, as even this morning the lead news story on the radio are about tens upon tens of thousands of jobs being vanished as a cost-cutting measure for American Airlines, who surely have not lost ten billion dollars in the last ten years due to cargo carrier and flight attendant salaries. As automation, lay offs that land in the job market like shark bites, and industrial obsolescence evaporate whole professions, let alone individual jobs, the idea of a post-work culture seems like something we must address--at least in the first world.

But here's the thing--in most (not all, of course) post-scarcity SF, the fact of post-scarcity is a given. The Culture exists. The question of how we got there might be alluded to or skimmed over in an infodump, but I have so often been left feeling like there's us here, and then SCENE MISSING, SCENE MISSING, transeconomic future humans. Like the opening credits of Enterprise--I see all the steps in the space travel evolution chart, but there's a big gap between the space shuttle and Zefram Cochrane. I am a snake charmer--I can't see how we can get so high, in such spangles, how we can fly with such daring.

I think it's a slightly less murky path in Europe than it is in the US right now. Our powers that be would rather drink cognac on a pile of our bones than even give us health care. The word "socialism" might as well be "Voldemort": it which must not be named. For a whole host of sometimes terrible, sometimes merely stupid, reasons, we are apparently going to argue about abortion, contraception (not actually the same thing!), and gay marriage until we're bartering sex, guns, and stories about how it was before the fall for potatoes and uncontaminated water. It's not even a matter of how might it evolve here, but how might it overcome the tremendous entrenched resistance to the very concept of living comfortably without a wage.

It's not even that there's not enough work for everyone--our infrastructure is falling apart. There's a lot of people in this country who'd be happy to work on a bridge, but nobody wants to pay them for it. There will be no new public works act, and one day most of our bridges and the better part of our electrical system is just going to peace out.

But you know all this.

When Charlie first asked me to post I thought immediately: oooh, I get to ask my question. There is no commentariat more perfect to present it to.

Call it worldbuilding, call it a crystal ball. But what I really want to know is: how do we get there? What's the missing scene? There are a whole mass of possibilities (and I really think most of them are: not developing a post-scarcity culture) and I want to chart some out. Barring aliens landing with manna-dispensing replicators, how do we actually progress, both technologically/economically and as a culture to the point where a job is not the measure of a man? Because the cultural bits are a thorny, thorny business. Pursuing any field without immediately applicable utility seems to be seen as a particularly baroque form of suicide these days, both in the top-level political conversation and online. And all that bootstraps and a hard day's labor will straighten you right out, punk stuff doesn't just evaporate. In a very real sense the truly rich are already living in this world, but that doesn't keep them from telling the rest of us what is and isn't real work (plumbers, I guess. That seems to be a synecdoche for "honest" labor in the current rhetoric) and a real life, doesn't keep them from propping up the idea that yes, in fact, you are your fucking khakis.

I'm a skeptic. The Diamond Age is one of my favorite novels of all time, but I make my living in the folklore mines. That story about the cauldron of plenty that is always full of food or gold or silk or wine and never goes empty? It always ends badly. The cauldron is always a trick, or a trap, or it's real and precious beyond measure and ends up in pieces on some witch's floor.

But I also grew up with Fox Mulder as my moral compass. I want to believe.

So let's play. It's like the opposite of an zombie apocalypse plan. What's your plan for outliving lack?

344 Comments

1:

"The Human mind is an infinite resource - provided you don't squamder it"

And there's your problem

The USSA seems to have trapped itself inot a self-destroying mythos (especially the Rethuglican section)
Ther are, in fact planty of resources, and enough food, even for the present world population.
Now, how do we make sure that it is fairly distributed, without lowering the living standards of, say someone living in Europe on an annual income, of say £50 000 pa???
It CAN be done - but there are those who want to level down, and those who want to steal as much of it as possible (the 0.1%) and their assistants (the 1%) and the gullible followers (about 30%)
Both sets are equally dangerous, but at the present time the latter group are the ones to watch.

As for prescriptions, I think the answer is the usual one: EDUCATION.
But, it is going to be a long. slow & difficult process.

2:

Sadly, though education may be a vital part of the solution, it appears that the 1% have already spotted this and are driving the quality down, for fear of losing the 30%. The 'teach the controversy' bunch are now trying to get climate change denialism into schools in the US.

3:

If the Singularity is the techo-New Jerusalem, post-scarcity societies are the techno-Cockaigne. Same wishful thinking, new front end.

Honestly, I don't think it can be done.

There will always be a scarcity of something (time, attention, fame, affection, peace and quiet).

Even if you expand your energy supply or ability to shape matter to your will, demand will expand to fill and exceed it. Humans (in mass) are a bottomless pit of want, expectation, desire and striving.

Unless, of course, humans change so that they no longer eternally want more. And, well, that's a different story entirely.

4:

The first thing to realise is that we will never live in a post-scarcity-of-everything world. A cornucopia machine can't make infinite amounts of (say) Venice for us all to live in. Land and human services are going to remain limited.

The second thing is that we have always lived in a post-scarcity-of-some-things world. We live in a post-scarcity world where air is concerned. We write stories about how it would be to live on a space colony where you have to pay air fees, but in reality, we can pretty much use whatever air we want, free. (We being individual people. If anyone here is a major power generation company or runs their own cement works, this won't apply.) If you live next to a sea, you live in a post-scarcity world with regard to seawater. And so on.

So we're not talking about a sudden leap - we're talking about a move along a continuum.

5:

The problem is actually pretty similar to one that we have already faced.

Back in the day, violence was at least a part time occupation for a very high percentage of the population. When a tribal society goes to war, no-one gets to sit home and watch it on TV.

These days, violence is a specialized and automated occupation. In an functioning country, all the reasonable security needs can be supplied by just 2-3% of the workforce. And you can see that dropping all the time; no-ones talking about another generation of manned fighter planes.

In itself, this has a lot of potential pathologies, maybe causing just as many problems as it solves. You can get a military dictatorship, where the leaders of the 3% take the fact they would win a straight fight with the other 97% and act on it. You can get a situation where the war available is expanded to meet the size of the population (WWI/II). You can try to apply the methods that work for the 3% to the rest of life (North Korean style communism). And if you have a strong warrior culture, there will be a lot of resistance to the idea that a life without fighting could possibly be virtuous.

Nevertheless, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, Germany and Japan exist. And to step back from day-to-day politics, the UK, France and even the USA are much more similar to them than they are to North Korea or Syria.

Maybe in 20 years time, all material needs could be similarly be met by the labour of 3% of the population.

The ways to get that wrong are actually analogous: an economic dictatorship (commonly called a technocracy), over-enthusiastic mass economic participation (consumerism). You could run everything as if it was an economy: privatise and monetise all your art, education, welfare and health. And you will have cultural problems where worth and identity is strongly tied to being economically useful.

And then you shouldn't forget the 'in 20 years' part: 1930s pacifists were wrong on about that timescale. And like the usual way of solving a rubik's cube, you have to sort these next-level problems out without permanently breaking the stuff you have already arranged satisfactorily.

Nevertheless, the possibility of success exists.

6:

Simply, a post-scarcity world will not be produced or led by the US. The USA relies on, and most of its systems depend on, scarcity. If they need to manufacture scarcity they'll do it - that's what IP law is all about, to give one example.

To me, the material scarcity problem is a distribution one not a supply one. We've had more than enough food for everyone since at least the 1960's. But the north would rather feed that to pigs than allow the south to eat, so we have famines in Africa coinciding with food mountains in Europe.

The solution there is IMO a global economy. Preferably a European-style one, and one run by humanitarians rather than economists, but regardless, once we globalise economic thinking it becomes more acceptable to economists to accept the huge tax/subsidy flows that are required to get the bare necessities of life to everyone.

How do we get there from here? I expect the global monetary system will collapse soon, and we will go through another Bretton Woods style attempt to resolve it using the current tools before moving on to something significantly different. Possibly a reality-backed measure of value rather than a fiat one, but I really don't know. And the reality could be anything - MJ, man-hours, Rai stones.

Also, one huge remaining scarcity is care workers. In the north they're usually grossly underpaid but still too expensive, while in the global south they're usually completely unpaid. The stopgap solution of using foreign workers is problematic and relies on significant global inequity.

Japan is working on robots for that, and I strongly suspect that we're within 10 years of a major robot revolution. Roomba and Asimo will hopefully be the Zx-80 level of a wave of affordable home robots. But they'll appear more as smart appliances with motion capability. Your washing machine will not just look at porn on the internet, it will have the ability to load itself. Or you'll have a "smart trolley" that brings it the washing basket, loads it, then moves the washing to the dryer. Of course, the first one will be an "aged care aid" for $10k, but watch prices fall.

Why does this matter? Demographic Transition #3: the aged care crisis. 50% of the population engaged directly in caring for the 50% who are over 60. Leaving 0% to produce everything that the other 100% need, while producing a surplus to make sure the 1% stay obscenely wealthy.

7:

I wonder if the missing scene is revolution.

Let's assume we're not jumping direct to The Culture, we're looking at a world where the prospects for the vast majority are much higher amounts of leisure time, a divorce of the concept "Work to Live" because you will get what you need to live, survive and relax provided. There will still be scarcity - no diamond encrusted bodysuits for all, no free million squares miles of prime real estate - but equally no need to work to get bandwidth, cable TV, decent food, good clothing, reasonable housing, good healthcare etc.

That can, almost certainly be done, with a bit of time and effort to create the automation for it all. Actors and pro-athletes possibly become one of the few remaining paid professions - or maybe not. Maybe everyone can try to act and amateur leagues for sport explode to let the newly leisured classes do something with their leisure time. Let's add art, writing etc. to the lists too.

There are still a lot of vested interests to overcome, even in Europe. It's hard to see them going under without a fight and the current US and probably UK model has that as a fight with the newer technologies supplanting the older ones (Bye, Hollywood studios and multiplexes, hello Netflix!) but a model where they're subsumed into the state could be generated probably.

The other way probably involves somewhere going first. Let's say Denmark (or Norway perhaps, fewer pesky treaties with EU etc. to worry about). There will, doubtless, be shock and derision but if it works, if it works well, neighbouring countries will start to look at it. People will start to migrate towards it and so on. In this model, Syria, Russia, N. Korea and the USA are probably the last hold-outs. The 3% if you like. They finally die when the plutocrats realise that they're doing OK on the pluto part but there's -racy element because there's no one around for them to exert their power over.

8:

@ajay: We can already create a nearly infinite number of Venices today. They're just not yet sufficiently similar enough to the real Venice to make living there full-time an appealing prospect.

@How to get there: jump in. While anathema to US sensibilities, the idea of a an unconditional basic income is slowly gaining traction in Europe. In Germany, we now have two major political parties that have expressed support for the idea, and while neither of these is in power at the moment, they'll probably get something like 15-30% in the next general election, making one of them a likely candidate for a coalition. Once serious discussion on the topic of UBI can be held, and maybe even an implementation set up, we're on the road towards building post-scarcity

9:

Post-Scarcity or Post-Job? There's really only one thing wrong with being unemployed and that's having no money. And a secondary result of having no food, shelter, health care and education.

A way out of that may be to solve the problem of having the state provide a safety net minimum without getting into stupid idealogical arguments about whether it's scrounging. R A Wilson talked a lot about this in the Schrodinger's Cat trilogy. One possible way route to this is via radical reform of the tax and benefits system. Simplify, automate, and introduce reverse tax so that there are just 4 bands. Below minimum wage, the gov pays you. then above minimum wage there's untaxed, low rate and high rate. And that's it. No benefits, no tax breaks, no complication. No different types of income. At that point radically automate and fire all the non-productive gov workers, accountants and tax advisors associated with the system. Aim to progressively increase the minimum wage point at which the reverse tax kicks in.

And as I write that, #8 appears.

10:

Norway possibly first. Chatting to a Norwegian a few days ago, she was (IIRC) saying that the Norwegian pension is 60% of final salary, or NOK 125,000 pa minimum. Paid for by state income from the taxes on the oil and gas revenues amongst other things, but which was started after WWII.

Norway is pretty unusual though. It's a very long skinny country: you cannot even drive a car on roads from one end to the other without either using ferries or diverting through Sweden. But at the same time, they're very keen to make sure that the country hangs together: so, in the small communities out on the Lofoten islands or up in Finnmark, the prices in the shops will be about the same as in the southern cities, despite it being several days away by sea. And by the time a town has 10,000 inhabitants, it will probably have SAS airline service.

Where Norway wins, though, is its resources. That long skinny coastline has lots of hydro electricity due to rivers rushing down the mountains. (So much so, they apparently use electricity for heating, not gas, and they can't be bothered to turn lights off. Norwegian towns are pretty brightly lit, but they have lots of house fires.) That coastline also has a lot of fish along it. And finally, that coastline also lies opposite a lot of the North Sea oil and gas fields. And yet the country has under 5,000,000 population.

So it's rich. And being rich gives you the opportunity to be sharing, because in principle, even if you share, you still keep enough for yourself. It may also help that the country has no aristocracy - yes, they have a royal family, but that's it.

And people are migrating. There are approximately 7,000 in Kirkenes up past the North Cape. Although the majority are Norwegian and Sami with some Russians (there's a monthly Russian market in town), the local reckoning is that that number includes 53 nationalities, including Thai and Somali. But again, while unemployment is so low (under 3%), there is much less tension about 'foreigners coming in and taking our jobs'.

11:

ajay and woesinger are right that there will always be scarcity of some things and there are goods so cheap (or difficult to monetize) that we apply different, non-market rules to them. Still, given those constraints, we can figure out a meaning for 'post-scarcity' - a world where almost everyone is wealthy both in leisure and in material, by our standards.

Here's a story that I'm (somewhat) worried about: A small minority (perhaps only one) uploads, sets up an idealistic, egalitarian social infrastructure with strong civil & human rights guarantees among theirselves then forks wildly and either impoverishes or renders irrelevant everyone else.

The result might look like a utopian post-singularity fantasy - for those whose world-lines thread the bottleneck.

A related, but different version: A fiercely capitalist/competitive social structure combined with uploading and perhaps downloading. Anyone that you see walking around wearing flesh is amazingly wealthy, and so it might look post-scarcity to a contemporary visitor, but for vast numbers of people living in simulation, life has just as much toil and risk-of-death as Malthus prophesized.

12:

"There will always be a scarcity of something (time, attention, fame, affection, peace and quiet)"

In my humble opinion, that's the key point. Post-scarcity doesn't mean having everything, just freedom from the most pressing material needs. In a certain sense we are already there in the developed world (perhaps most of all in the European Union, Japan, Switzerland, Norway...) and we are already monsters of privilege: one or two bad harvests mean a slight rise in inflation, not a biblical famine; war isn't something that happens every few years and sees roving bands of soldiers and marauders raping, burning and pillaging the countryside; bandits and man-eating beasts don't inhabit the woods; unemployment is really nasty but not life threatening and even being seriously ill isn't what it used to be (by the way, I don't want to start a trans-oceanic flame war, but they will take our universal, socialized health care from our cold, dead hands; and we really mean it). And perhaps the most striking aspect is that, while we take this state of things as something granted, it's incredibly recent.

I can see a bright future in which sun, wind and fusion provide relatively cheap and clean energy, robots do all the hard work, and our grandsons take for granted having a roof over their heads, a 100" TV, food and clothes, all free of charge, but some things will be scarce, some even more than today, like peace and quiet, or space, or real wood furnitures, or 'real' pets... or even good old real jobs. And above all we bald apes live in groups and will always desire love, recognition, status... even if the post-scarcity society is strictly egalitarian (and I would say that's unlikely) its members will go after fame, glory, medals and/or other marks of achievement and status, even they are lived by delegation: supporting a rock band or a football/soccer team could get even more... ehhh... intense than today, to mention just one example.

And some will find it incredibly dull and boring, of course. Suicide would probably be a scourge in a post-scarcity society.

13:

One of the issues I see is that you could make up a minimum income setup, giving people enough to at least live on. But the question is, what do people then do with their spare time and energy?

One of the complaints of people of a more right wing/ conservative hue is that people will just laze about all day doing nothing, watching tv, etc. Then their children will grow up that way and never learn to do any work.

The thing is, I can see where they are coming from. WE'll still need some percentage of the population to keep everything moving, and it is likely that such jobs would be attractive to some people who prefer a challenge or doing something interesting. Moreover a lot of people on just the basic income would spend their time doing historical research/ looking after children for friends or relatives/ studying wildlife etc etc. All socially useful things to some degree or another. That's what I've been doing in the last year, learning stuff.

But then I would expect some people to end up living slothfully in front of their television. And it is the children that it gets tricky about. You can plausibly argue that part of the problem we have now is that the new generations of elites, not having experienced a proper depression or revolution themselves, unlike their grandparents, have thrown out all the restraints and think the bad things won't happen to them. Thus, analogously, you can see that the 2nd or 3rd generation of people living on basic income or similar handouts would be inured to such social concerns and spend their time doing nothing at all. Some observers reckon this is what happens on a lot of British sink estates, where you have 3rd generation joblessness because children growing up in such households lack the desire to do anything useful with themselves.

(ok, defining useful is another argument as well)

So how do we maintain a rich vibrant culture and personal involvement in society etc. whilst removing some of the pressures to be involved in such a society?
On the other hand I don't think we would decline into a society of sloths as a whole, but there would be problems I am sure. The conservative minded folks are definitely wrong in a global sense, but kind of have a point in the more local sense.

14:

Guthrie, I would say this has been happening for several generations already: I will not go beyond the 30s, but before the war 48 hours was the usual work week, now 35-40 hours is the norm, and besides we usually start working several years older, retire several years younger, and enjoy much longer holidays. The amount of time spent working in a lifetime has been shrinking for many, many years in the developed world.

And what are we doing with that free time? Some are becoming 150 kg (300 lbs) sloths glued to their TV sets, and some are exercising their minds and bodies: jogging, reading, surfing the net... you name it. And it would seem the main variables are age, money and education: the older, poorer and less educated are far more likely to be or become TV addicts. And the inclusion of age could be misleading, because older people are generally poorer and less educated.

So, Education is apparently the key to reduce slothfulness, but a social division between ignorant, obese 'sloths' and educated, active 'athletes' seems quite likely to me.

15:

Ok assuming that post-scarcity comes about because of increasingly sophisticated automation (robot arms in factories stocked by fablabs) rather than the strong-AI nanotechnorapture I would suggest that the transition would start when people realise that the benefit problem is not going away.

Increased automation get's rid of unskilled labour which is a problem because the majority of people's jobs could be classed as this (at least in part) and becoming skilled involves an investment of time and money that you might not have if you are unemployed and living off benefits. I envision a situation where more and more people become dependent on benefits, eventually the people and government realise (in increments probably) that the problem is not going to go away by cutting benefits or arranging shelf-stacking "work experience" because the problem isn't those damn lazy proles but a lack of demand for work. Because of this significantly more investment could be put into training to the point where it is possible to live off of benefits whilst receiving a free (or perhaps loaned) degree course* with certain courses receiving more benefit grants as the needs of the country progress.

From that we get a significant portion of the workforce skilled but there aren't enough jobs to go around. The people with jobs probably won't want this state of affairs to continue because not only are they funding everyone else's lives they are funding everyone else's education/training. So they are offered an incentive: Earn as much as you do now doing what you do but only part time. By introducing benefits for all (like a Citizen Stipend of X-thousands a year for everyone) and a cap on how many paid hours a week an individual should do. That should mean that the work is spread out over a larger portion of the population but productivity and individual wage is maintained.

A day-in-the-life of this society for someone with a job would be to work ~21 hours a week, possibly flexible in one or more technical fields. The rest of the time could even be spent volunteering in fields they are interested in but no jobs are yet available (so long as it doesn't take up anyones job). For someone with no job they live a non-wealthy but comfortable life, equivalent to a modern lower-middle class. If they want to earn more they can apply for work, if there is none they could apply for training schemes that may have the promise of work after or at least increase their chances of getting work.

So to sum up:
- Automation increases unemployment of unskilled labour (and some highly skilled)
- Unemployed = increased benefit
- Benefit payments become significant economic/political issues
- Benefit program altered to focus on training in non-obsolete areas
- However there still aren't enough trained jobs to go around
- Citizen Stipend added so that all citizens get a part-time job wage (perhaps altered depending on citizens condition, family, productivity etc)
- Job hours capped so that the few jobs are spread around but noone looses out on money
- Welcome to the leisure economy.

*Assuming that the higher education industry isn't bankrupted financially and reputation wise

16:

Technically speaking, we're not all that far off. The US, for example, has shed ~5,000,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. Our manufacturing output has gone up 30% in the same timeframe.

The problems are mostly cultural. I invite all of you who haven't encountered James Holbo's demolition of David Frum's (link not embedded 'cause I'm late for work)
to read it and weep.

http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2003/11/dead_right.html

As long as some people feel that idleness is evil (and that's already been implied above, in this very thread) the idea of granting a human a stipend for existing (as opposed to being virtuous) will be anathema. Also see how often $RACE or $WEALTH or $FAITH become substitutes for "virtue".

So: first thing, fundamentalism has to go. Religion can be all kinds of things, but it usually only goes really bad when its adherents believe that their path is the only one, and everyone else has to be forced onto it. Once everyone is down with the idea of "live and let live", we'll be able to at least have the damn conversation.

17:

But you can have scarcity in post-scarcity economics.

This would be much like going hungry while your fridge is full of [edible] food. The scarcity does not happen because of fate, but because of neglect, ignorance or maybe sheer laziness.

Also, a surplus of one resource does not equate to a surplus of all resources. Bottlenecks are something that arise out of an activity -- they are not universals, they are something we observe when we are trying to do something -- they are the inflection points where if we change something we get closer to our goal, or further from it. But you need to have an ongoing activity for the activity to have any bottlenecks.

So, maybe we have plenty of energy, but we do not have enough time. Or whatever else...

(Or maybe we have "any object and/or state of being we wish for" but we have no meaningful goals -- though this sounds an awful lot like the classic writer's dilemma as opposed to an interesting story. But we can fix that! Change "no meaningful goals" to "no romantic partner", and you probably have a classic tv plot.)

18:

I'm not sure that scarcity has been part of the human condition forever --- just that last 10k years or so.

Before that, population density was constrained not by general scarcity, but by very focused scarcity --- a particular resource, or even just a resource at a particular time.

That's completely different from running at your carrying capacity constantly, where you're constantly on the verge of starvation and in intense competition with your cohorts.

Just look at most wild animals --- they're not running at the edge of scarcity, but are way back from that because of a very few bottlenecks. There's plenty of berries and salmon for bears --- except in the depth of winter. Deer normally don't starve --- wolves eat enough to keep them from approaching that line (under normal conditions).

Scarcity is a technological innovation.

19:

"So: first thing, fundamentalism has to go. Religion can be all kinds of things, but it usually only goes really bad when its adherents believe that their path is the only one, and everyone else has to be forced onto it. "

But that's not really a religious thing -- that's Modernism. The sum total of premodern fundamentalists I can think of are the Kharijite's of early Islam --- and it's quite possible that's due to my misunderstanding.

Religion has quite a history of authoritarianism -- but not fundamentalism. That's a modern heresy, an attempt to adapt religion to the totalizing instincts of Modernism. The sin here may lie with the critique. See Bruno Latour for a good discussion of the delusions of modernism, anti-modernism and post-modernism from a modernist.

20:

Post-scarcity might be a bit of a horror- if you like myth, consider the Greek gods or the fair folk: without mortal cares, they tended to stir shit up to keep themselves occupied...and with their level of resources, they stirred the pot _well_.

As for getting there...I don't think it can be done without genetic engineering- sharing resources across every human culture would require considering all human beings...including themselves...to have the same value. And who doesn't value their own kids above someone else's kids, their spouse above a random stranger, and themselves above the person they dislike the most?

In short, we would have to love each other, and love each other equally. Even the bastards. So, if you can consider how much effort it'd take to care for the wellbeing of Bernie Madoff or Dick Cheney...

21:

Just wait a while. Unchecked human populations double every 25 years or so, so scarcity will be back soon enough.

When mankind first got to North America (about 14,000 years ago), it was an age without scarcity. Giant sloths were around for the killing with hardly any effort, and an entire continent was uninhabited. In a few generations, scarcity reappeared, and eventually the people became the resource-conscious Indians of folklore.

What's happening is not a loss of scarcity, but a devaluing of labor relative to raw materials. In that respect, the future probably looks somewhat like the Middle Ages, but with niftier toys.

22:

Ummmm, you are a little wrong there - we aren't expecting unchecked human population growth and you provided no argument that it will occur. Indeed, the demographics for this century suggest otherwise, with developed countries universally going for lower birth rates.

23:

You mean that they got bored because, as well as infinite resources, they had infinite time and nothing to do with it except stir!

24:

As with others, I don't have a plan for living in a post-scarcity world because a) I don't think it will happen, and b) I don't like the thought of being a zoo animal.

That said, I do live in a post-scarcity world, in the sense that I have a nice place to live, good food to eat, and my basic needs are met. This doesn't mean that I can do that years-long voyage to see all the islands before climate change screws things up, but that's a want, not a need. And I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing.

I've previously told the story about working on an island that had switched over a few hundred years from supporting a few thousand people gathering food at the subsistence level, to having a few thousand people fed by twice-weekly shipments coming in from the mainland, and how that was causing havoc with the island's ecosystems as it flip-flopped from feeding people to feeding cattle for export, to being tended for tourists. The island itself can no longer feed the people living on it.

What has that done to the people? There have been some positivechanges. For example, I'm pretty sure that there used to be more childhood mortality. Beyond that, I don't know whether the modern islanders are any longer-lived, healthier or happier than their ancient counterparts. My guess is not. They are, however, absolutely dependent on the outside. Every winter, storms keep the supply boats from coming for a while, and shelves get empty. It's a tenuous existence.

That's my indirect answer to the question of post-scarcity. What's the cost, and who's providing my needs if I'm not doing it directly myself? Monsanto? Cargill? Exxon? ADM? The EU? Yeah, they're trustworthy all right.

It might be smart to free up Einstein to do physics, but for most people, does it make sense to sit them down in front of a screen, instead of having them tend their own land and find or grow their own food? I don't know, but possibly not. I do know that humans are generally lazy, so given a choice, most of us will sit in front of a screen until it kills us.

25:

I've been toying with the concept of a post-capitalist corporation, with the stated goal of achieving post scarcity, working in all niches with the objective to produce with the lowest possible profit margin, staffed by volunteers in all fields whose objective is to build the better X not get rich from it, in the spirit of the open source movement. Such an organization would have to start with the basics and move up Maslow's hierarchy as it colonized every level (The assumption being it would outcompete rivals who are in it for the money, which is naive as fuck, I know - I'm still working on it)

26:

I agree with all your suggestions for reasons for why Norway might be first. Something I remember hearing Sandy Toksvig saying about the Danes finally surfaced and made me think Denmark might be a good candidate too (and note, plenty of coastline etc. still apply). Denmark has a remarkably undifferentiated market. Items don't sell well if they're sold on "shiniest, newest" as a culture they're much more conformist and want the same as their neighbours. If there's a clear "this is better" line then you can get almost complete swings from one product to a different one in very short periods of time. Reports about RIM, Apple, Nokia etc. fighting for marketshare make very little sense in a Danish context.

That might be good conditions for a universal post-job singularity because the culture won't have lots of arguments about what they should have, so supplying everyone with the essentials will be smooth and easy.

I'm not of the opinion that not working equals evil, so perhaps I'm not the right person to comment on some of those ideas. But, I would venture to suggest that part of the provision to the post-job economy will be training and education. In fact it will probably have to be training and education. I rather suspect there will be enough people of a "work to live" mentality to cover the jobs that haven't been replaced yet.

And yes, it will take a major cultural revolution - I still strongly suspect tied to a real one with ballots and probably (sadly) bullets.

27:

One other problem with establishing post-scarcity- how do you, even in the context of guaranteed income, prevent people from driving themselves back into poverty through acquiring debt?

28:

When Transmetropolitan came out, the idea of matter replication in a non-post-scarcity society was considered new and daring (I'm not sure if this is because the people reading it at the time didn't read Diamond Age, or because Diamond Age came out shortly afterwards). Nevertheless, both Transmetropolitan and Diamond Age have this idea ingrained into them that DRM works (or at least, that nano-DRM is harder to break than plain vanilla bits-DRM even given widespread nano tech). If you have the nanoassembler tech and you break the DRM (or the DRM isn't there to begin with) you have something very close to post-scarcity by our standards.

This brings up another angle, though. Post-scarcity is never an absolute. Even Star Trek tries to keep some things scarce. There's a difference between what you can make out of common atomic components and what you need to make new (or simply exceedingly rare, like technetium, or hard to get from the surrounding area, like plutonium) atoms for. At the risk of overgeneralizing, we can argue that the question isn't so much one of pre- and post-scarcity but of a varying level of importance of particular types of scarcity. A middle class american has access to things that a sixteenth century king could not afford, in quantities he could not afford, in addition to a lot of things that simply could not have been built at the time in which he lived -- and he might, seeing us, consider the US middle class a post-scarcity economy; living inside it, we are more aware of how much scarcity affects us moreso than we are aware of how much better off we are than sixteenth century royalty.

This gives us a bit of a problem. We already prop up our scarcity-based economy with busy-work jobs and with artificial scarcity. We have whole economic sectors based on a rigid and unpleasant version of the Situationist's utopian unitary-urbanist vision of the city for play (Disney World and other large theme parks employ people to play static roles in uncomfortable costumes for the purpose of interactive entertainment -- something that the Situationists thought people would do all over the place in normal cities for kicks once communism made scarcity impossible). Professional musicians and professional sports players do not live the milk and honey life they probably thought they would, but those industries spring as much out of a desire to make one's living off of what one does for pleasure as they do from a desire by the populus to see evidence of the same being an actual state of affairs for a handful of lucky bastards. As real scarcity disappears, new scarcities are manufactured, and as labour in particular domains is increasingly no longer needed, domains that were previously largely voluntary leisure activities become jobs.

29:

I've always thought post-scarcity won't be so much a question of increasing support, but reducing the cost of essentials to the point that a house, or food for ten, represents pocket change. This is more or less where technology is going anyway - a sack of flour cost a whole lot more in the Middle Ages than today (I wish I could find a citation, but apparently the cost of food is a topic fraught with peril), and instead of 95% of the population being agricultural serfs, we now employ 3% of our population in agriculture.

The same sort of thing is happening in manufacturing.

I think the Next Big Thing will be decentralization of manufacturing, followed by decentralization of agriculture; if 3% of our population can feed all of us, and another 3% can make everything we need, then any one of us should logically be able to devote 10% of our time to producing our own food and household items, clothing, etc. - by the use of extensive small automation. For food production you'll need land, of course, but surprisingly little. And those of you in Europe may be surprised at this, but most of the planet's still pretty empty. If you don't have to be at work in a physical sense (or at all), Nebraska starts to look pretty nice.

Post-scarcity will just look like the Mother Earth News.

30:

I will say that the thought of an infinite amount of Venice sounds pretty nice to me. Automated masonry assembly is something I've been thinking about lately. Did you know that bricks are made from dirt? And that mortar is made from sand and lime? I can readily envision a time when the most expensive part of any house will be the floors; everything else could be essentially free - and if you can figure out how to gene-splice your way to fast-growing hardwood, you could even do that pretty cheap with a couple years' lead time.

So - find five acres, and grow your own Victorian mansion, with food for your family free of charge. Your largest expenditure may well be bandwidth.

31:

Out of curiosity, where were these "resource-conscious Indians of folklore"? Outside folklore, that is.

32:

Bamboo rather than hardwood. Already super fast growing, durable and so on.

33:

No offense to any of the contributors so far, but I can't help but the feeling Cat is asking fellow very pampered and well-groomed felines (especially including me, just being an American makes me one of those sleek kitties) what it is like for all of the ferals to live in comfy padded beds, with clean water and a bowl full of chunky meat product all the time forever and ever.

So far, Norway, maybe Denmark, has been presented. My ancestors emigrated from Norway because it was hard to make a living growing stones. I don't see why it can't go back to that. What the Gulf States? The Emirates? They are all comfortably subsidized as well. Is that paradise?

Well, the source of all that comfort is energy production. Have you got yourself an everlasting source? If not, then you have a problem. So, that's issue number one. Period.

Another theme seems to be robots. Okay. I would suggest that, so far, robots are great at specialized tasks. Not so good at generalized things. So, professions like medical doctor, lawyer, computer programmer, litigator, politician, rich hedge fund parasite, etc. seem to me prime areas for automation. So-called "unskilled" labor (take, for example a six-year-old child that picks grapes) is, as far as I know, beyond the current capacities. It is hard to find figures (google is recalcitrant on this), but I do know there is a very large serf population in America, in the millions. Like it or not, we have stoop labor. Most task throughout the world are still with stoop labor. Not just for agricultural tasks, but also for resource extraction. Until you get a robot that is really good at general tasks, the automation will be restricted. You need to work on those turbo-servo-serfs.

So far, the current model is not the post-scarcity model. As an example, American agribusiness is an anomaly, based upon that wretch Earl Butz' "grow big or get out" oil-and-natural-gas subsidized factory system. Does anyone seriously think that is a long-term option?

What's my point? I guess I don't have one. But I would remind you all that we rely a lot more on the Neolithic labor model than we imagine.

34:

I tend to agree with those who think that if we are to transition to a true post-scarcity world, it will be discontinuous with most of the existing major global nations. Like biological evolution, cultural evolution tends not to be reversible, so the "dinosaurs" must die out and be replaced by newer forms. The same will probably happen with nations.

What is truly scarce today? No shelter, not energy, not food, not entertainment. All these are available in fair abundance, with distribution and artificial scarcity blocking abundance for everyone.

While it appears "work" is in short supply right now, that is a product of the way our current system is constructed. There are plenty of tasks to do, but the money to pay for them is denied. [I fully expect this is partly to ensure that public works will become private works in the US. Welcome to the tolled and fee'd future].

35:

Do you know how much energy and carbon emission is involved in turning dirt into bricks, making concrete, and all that wonderful goodness? The building industry sure does. It's a huge drain on resources.

As for gene-splicing hardwoods, they've had that for years. It's called hybrid poplar, and it sucks as a building material, unless you spend a lot of work turning into plywood. The thing is, strong hardwoods take time to grow, because the plant has to deposit a lot of carbon in non-productive, thick cell walls, rather than out in highly productive, flimsy green leaves. It's analogous to asking the plant to bury its money under the mattress (the wood) rather than investing it for a return (the leaves), and then being surprised when its net worth grows slowly. Hardwoods do this for the same reason that people hoard cash against a bad spell--tough reserves are more useful than rapid productivity, especially if you're planning for the long term.

Finally, I'd point out that land on islands is always expensive, because land is limited, so the idea of having everyone live on little islands sounds like a recipe for generations of land ownership disputes.

Yes, this is negative, but the little point is that economics don't stop, just because you wave the self-replicating wand. We live in a 4 billion year-old room-temperature nanotechnological system, and while it makes life possible, it's a long, long way from post-scarcity. It's worth taking a bit of time looking at how life works, because it's highly unlikely that we'll be able to come up with our own room temperature nanotech system that works much better.

36:

Scarcity's a mindset -- something's scarce when I want it and can't get it -- and post-scarcity -- wanting more without giving anything up to get it -- only makes sense as a wish-fulfillment fantasy within that mindset. It's a have-your-cake-and-eat-it scenario, where we want to hang on to individual acquisitiveness and still get handed whatever we want.

A more realistic alternative is genuine reciprocal altruism, where we don't wait for a near-infinite supply of new shinies before we start giving unto others. In a way, all gift economies are post-scarcity (or at least non-scarcity) economies, where perceived needs take a back seat to the moral imperative to give. (And before anyone asks: yes, I'm one of those wacky anthropologist types.)

In those terms, all kinds of small scale communities come pretty close, in that people have their basic needs satisfied and direct their productive activity toward the community (or even toward competitive *giving*). They get there by keeping some perspective about "needs", and by encouraging community values over individual acquisition.

All it takes is people realizing they have enough stuff, producing more anyway, and then giving the excess away -- we all become Jesuses, and we're good to go. Yes, it's unlikely; but it's possible for many, many of us *right now*. If you hit enough of a critical mass of such people, you could have a post-scarcity community. If we can't do that, all the abundance in the world won't stop us from hoarding and creating artificial scarcity.

The post-scarcity society is within you...

37:

OK everyone agrees more education is a good idea, and some bastards are trying to STOP this for Ghu's sake!

Now BigHank53 @ 16 ...
Erm religion .. well, monotheisms, especially including communism of course - remember this one: No, he’s just a “Monotheist”, Kalvan wanted to say, but there wasn’t a word in the language for it.
One who respects no god but his own. We had that in my own country (time).
They are people who believe in only one god, and then they believe that the god they worship is the only true one, and all the others a re false, and finally they believe that the only true god must be worshipped in only one way, and those who worship otherwise ar vile mosters who should be killed.
The Inquisition, the wicked and bloody Albignensian crusade, St Bartholemews, Magdeburg, Badr, Sunni-and-Shia, Katyn, the Killing fields.
We want none of that here.
??

Jay @ 20
NO
The whole point is that whatever, wherever, as soon as living conditions, especially infant mortality and general health levels improve, the population growth slows, and slows down very fast.
The only brake against that is more religous bigotry - which loses out to education, provided you can get that education across.

C @ 26
Money is itself, an indication of scarcity - but I think that is a Culture aphorism?

38:

I really think the better lens of looking at post-scarcity is not one of consumption, but one of production. The evidence for any life is in the way it has altered the world through its duration – we are limited today not in what we can have, but in what we can make (if I could make anything then I could make everything I wanted to have). The important scarcity is not that of finished products, but of the tools and resources, which, when combined with motivation and a plan, can produce those finished products. The ideal post-scarcity society is not one in which there is a common trough from which everyone can fill up on their wants for food, shelter, warmth, and entertainment, but one in which every individual can feed, house, warm, and entertain themselves independently of everyone else. To use your example – the sad thing is not that no one will hire a person to fix a breaking bridge, but that most people do not have the option to go out and fix the bridge themselves.

To a large extent progress is keeping us (as the human race) on the right path – ever advancing tools allow the person who wields them to be able to create more and more value (to the extent that most of the value is created by the tools, and not by individual capabilities). The issue then, becomes access to those tools, and the road I see us taking is much closer to distributist capitalism (in which all people, upon majority, are granted private ownership of an equal and significant amount of tools to wield) than to socialism (in which the fruits of production are distributed periodically but in small amounts).

39:

I agree. Lots of people through time have come pretty close to having their needs met all the time or almost all the time.

Then along came someone with a better set of weapons and enslaved or eradicated them, at least based on the evidence from Europe's great age of exploration and colonization.

This isn't a paranoid rant about the importance of guns or whatever the newest weapon is. Rather, the point is that making a small community relatively sustainable (or abundantly sustainable) is possible in most human-habitable environments. Keeping said society from getting parasitized by psychopaths or psychopathic systems appears to be much harder. Humanity's basic responses to such parasites aren't wonderful either, because typically they involve keeping the boss parasites happy so that they'll keep the other boss parasites away. Yes, I'm in a bit of a populist mood right now.

This suggests that the way to post-scarcity isn't coming up with better productive technology, but a question of fundamentally changing government (especially the way coercion is controlled) so that it's much harder to parasitize the system by seizing control of it and/or threatening the people inside it. Not sure how you do this, either, but that appears to me to be a fundamental challenge.

40:

The ideal post-scarcity society is [...] one in which every individual can feed, house, warm, and entertain themselves independently of everyone else

What a horrible world that would be. One that denies the very concept of community, of civilisation itself.

Such a world would require the expunging of all who are unable to fulfil those requirements with no interaction with even their own family. Badly ill or too old? Tough. A small baby unable to feed yourself? Onto the junk pile with you too.

I can see the human species going extinct pretty fast. I have to hope that your actual vision doesn't match what I read.

(I'm also not sure how fans of opera, for instance, are going to be happy when the whole concept of a cast and orchestra working together no longer exists.)

41:

Transmetropolitan's nano-assemblers were DRMed but hackable, if I remember correctly (cite the story told about the suicide case that hacked theirs to produce dissassemblers), and in practice what limited them for those that owned them was feedstock.
Also, being built by the Mob may have had an effect. (",)

Clarke's 3001 had an interesting spin: a society where all needs were available from whatever dream-machine was producing things - so status relied on having handmade, crafted things, made either by you or friends. So to gain status you had to have friends who want to give you something they spent time and effort making. It's an interesting hack on our natural acquisitiveness, and also produces a kind of barter market in a society that has no obvious use for any trade.

42:

Scarcity can be abused, example Jewels.

43:

It really only requires one thing: A limitless, free (or almost free) source of energy.

44:

The key word was "can" instead of "has to". The best cooperation is one that is wanted by the cooperating parties, instead of having them be forced together. Indeed, in such 'forced' cooperations some of the parties tend to be much less forced than the others, laying the ground for exploitation.

Think of it this way – I do not have to be fiends with all of my neighbours in order to feed myself. I nevertheless am great friends with a couple of them because they happen to be wonderful people.

45:

Thought #1: Is post-scarcity the provision of every person's needs, or every person's wants? Because if it is the latter, we ain't gonna get there anytime soon. People are selfish, even fairly selfless behaviour breaks down once the popualtion gets beyond a certain size (and it's a pretty small size). Post-scarcity stories tend to get around this by making everyone selfless (either because they are, or through benign dictatorship) or having truly infinite resources -- the latter isn't going to happen until we get Krell-like abilities (and that one didn't end too well either!), and the former is either going to require a major shift in everyone's behaviour (thought-police and re-education centres, here we come!) or the benign dictatorship option (which is unlikely to happen with humans in charge -- did I hear you say Culture?)

Thought #2: Post-scarcity is achievable if we're all bland clones of each other. This is unlikely to be an appealing option to a lot of people (but that's ok because we can help that with re-education!).

Thought #3: Exactly what @39 said.

Conclusion: The main block to achieving a truly post-scarcity world appears to be human nature, and changing that is a long slow process, that would require a global effort (all it takes is one self-interested nation...) which in itself requires a change in human nature -- unless the whole process is forced on everyone, and that usually doesn't work out very well either.

I really don't want to be negative about achieving a post-scarcity world, I think it could be a wonderful place to be, but I really can't see how it is practically achievable from our current starting point as a species.

46:

What immediately sprang to mind were people winning the lottery. Scarcity is no longer an issue for them, but do their problems go away? Hell no.

Do people born to wealth not have problems? Are they completely disengaged from society not working? I have no firsthand knowledge, but I am going to say no to both. They are engaging in things that interest them. I'm sure this will be the case if we ever get to a post scarcity culture.

People will be free to pursue their real interests instead of spending 90% of their time on survival (i.e. working to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.)

The concept of poverty in the western world seems to be changing too. I saw a show recently where they interviewed a young couple that was "struggling". They were on food stamps and working multiple jobs, but their main concern was that their children wouldn't be able to play on an Xbox or travel or some other inane thing. They weren't worried about eating or having a place to live. They had cell phones and internet and cable TV and there seemed to be a lot of "stuff" on the shelves. I know this is not representative of the really impoverished. I know that there is still extreme poverty in a lot of places in the world, but many in the Westphalian culture are losing sight of what it means. They are creeping toward a post scarcity mindset.

I agree that education is the key. There may come a day in the near future when the majority of the world is educated to a basic level of reading and writing comprehension and have concepts of a global community. I doubt it will be soon, if ever, that we reach 100%, but that won’t stop the modern parts of our society from moving forward and at least pretending they are in a post scarcity culture.

47:

Greg--

I mean, I agree. I find the current American psychology completely baffling. This is why I say that I don't see how it could happen here at all. Psychology is depressing progress to an alarming degree right now. And since the Republicans have trained most of America to vote against its own interest, even to act against their own security, I am often fairly hopeless about our prospects.

48:

Agreed; I should have pointed out that being Jesus is likely to get you crucified. Resisting powerful outsiders would be key for any community to remain post-scarce (or whatever the adjective would be).

People have used a lot of strategies to attempt this, most of which are variations on "stay mobile so you can leave when jerks show up". This gets harder and harder with agriculture, imbalances in military technology, private control of land, and so on.

The good news, though, is that there isn't necessarily a correlation between how hierarchical a society is and how well it resists outside domination. Switzerland, Afghanistan, small-scale Amazonian societies, etc, etc, managed at different times to resist outside domination without developing strongly centralized authority of their own. (Of course, my examples share some other common characteristics -- like difficult terrain -- that also help; but you get the idea.)

Anyway, heteromeles, I think we agree that Cat's original "How Do We Get There?" could become the narrower, "What kind of social mechanisms would we need in order to actively prevent the creation of artificial scarcity?"

Still huge, but more manageable.

49:

I think something like Larry Nivens "The State" is the most likely transitional structure between scarcity/capitalism and post scarcity. You can a global, semi totalitarian socialist government forming after a period of upheaval and anarchy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_State_%28Larry_Niven%29

I think the population growth question is not as invalid as some may believe though. Sure birth control, but the primary reason people don't have kids today is economic constraints, it's the WHY behind taking the birth control. Remove that and the population will grow unless there is something preventing it.

50:

Here's how we get there:
1. Advance our energy production capability to the point where energy is practically free
2. Advance our material science such that our technology base do not depend on rare materials or can recycle the rare material near 100%
3. Advance our computation capability to the point where computer can automate all non-creative work done by human being
4. Make 1 to 3 runnable by small community say less than 100 people.

Then you're there, society/government will have to change but only as a side effect, so is human nature. Energy/Material/Intelligence, these are the real players, human nature/society/government will adapt to whatever level of energy/material/intelligence we have at the moment.

51:

Cat the current American strategy makes sense given that you believe certain things, after all the US did not reach a world dominating position by luck.

US capitalism is all about maximizing the incentive for the geniuses of a society, in the belief that doing that will accelerate progress and in the end benefit everyone.

One of the things that you have to believe for it to make sense is that a small number of exceptional people contribute most of the "progress" a society makes. Personally, I believe that.

It's not totally stupid, it just doesn't really get the incentives right (some forms of genius are rewarded way more the others) and has a really serious problem with old money and inheritance (richness is not really a meritocracy after the first generation). If it was not for those two things it would be a reasonably efficient system for moving society forward as fast as possible (regardless of who gets trampled).

The US is a future facing system as opposed to say European socialism which is all about maximizing the current state for the greatest number of people even if that disenfrachises the overachiever types.

Note, before people go nuts on me, I think the current US system is broken, and even if it was working by design it has the tradeoffs wrong, under emphasizing the now in favor of a future that may never be achieved

The way I like to think of it is, do you want to give everyone cancer treatment, or do you want to get the cure for cancer ten years earlier? Given that you cannot do both?

52:

I've been wrestling with this exact same concept for awhile now, in order to flesh out the details for a Sci Fi novel I want to write. I want to showcase the difference between the earth-bound civilization and our first interstallar colony, which has bootstrapped an entire economy on a new planet and is not burdened by the overpopulation 'deadweight' that Earth is.

Vastly smaller population seems a given, but I wonder: would things like greed disappear in such a civilization, or would it simply change? Knowledge and skill might become the new currency, and prestige will be based entirely off of achievement.

Scarcity will have to exist on some level though. Even if food and housing, healthcare, etc are all plentiful, the necessities of industry are generally consumed at similar levels to their extraction.

53:

Woesinger--

Heh, funny you should say that. The fourth book in my Fairyland series takes place in Cockaigne, and I plan to address some of this stuff kid-style there.

54:

Many people have pointed out here that "post-scarcity" is a bit of a misnomer because there will always be scarcity, there's only one original Mona Lisa for instance. My take on the definition isn't that there is no scarcity but rather the majority of economic interactions/regulations are concerned with distributing abundance rather than what it is now.

Also in a post-scarcity economy pretty much all generic things come either free or at negligible cost due to high productivity and automation. So if you want:

-Food
-Clothes
-Electronics
-Domestic appliances
-Medicine
-Software
-Nonspecific living space
-Copies of artwork
-Transport

You can have them in abundance. However there still has to be some way (either through money or other factors) for people to trade and receive non-generic/unique/specific goods and services like:

-Food by Chef X
-Handmade clothes
-Specific living space
-Original artwork

Which sounds like a bloody good way to live to me.

55:

Yes, education is extremely important, but as someone who left school over 15 years ago, and has spent 6 years at university, I am wondering now education in what, exactly.
More information is not enough, we need to be able to think about it usefully. As far as I can tell that has always been a problem. And the media etc nowadays don't help.

Relatedly, searching for jobs again, I see plenty of basic jobs in science that ask for a degree, but will pay you only about £16,000 a year if you are lucky. Ok if you are just out of uni, but there isn't much chance of much progression after that. Unless you specialise in something specific and not exactly scientific like quality control. An important job itself, but like the proliferation of management qualitications, prioritising management and control systems stuff over scientific knowledge isn't so great. Although I suppose its also a problem of qualification inflation, since we have so many qualified people these days.

So many that again, what sort of education do you mean?

56:

Status is an enduring human drive, and it is entirely relativistic. No matter how adequately fed, clothed and sheltered I may be, if what I have is perceived as low status, I have something to strive for.

And that status doesn't necessarily derive from anything tangible. I enjoy playing Eve Online, a multiplayer online game wherein players expend vast amounts of time and effort in order to fly the rare, pimped-out virtual spaceships, dominate the virtual markets, and engage in huge wars for virtual territory. The politicking and drama are endless, and are avidly followed by many who don't even play the game.

Our material circumstances may change for the better, but human nature remains the same, and will always provide fodder for your stories.

57:

"after all the US did not reach a world dominating position by luck"

Can you support this statement? I'd suggest that every country that has had its time as a dominating world power has done so with a great deal of luck.

What happens if Oppenheimer's guess for the yield of the first A-bomb was right (he chose the amount of dynamite in there). WWII almost certainly doesn't end in short order. To go back further, what happens if Hitler dies of his injuries instead of going into hospital with Germany apparently winning the war and comes out with it having lost. No Third Reich, no devastation of Europe, no "rescue" by America - it probably doesn't rise to power. Or further back, the French beat the English in the 1770's. No revolution against George and taxation without representation...

History has a lot of luck in it.

58:

john kurman @ 33
Energy shortage/bottleneck/scarciyt?
What's that?
Artificial photosynthesis is almost certainly less than 20 years away in large-scale commercial terms, and we do already have nucear fission to tide us over for the next hundred (assuming you can gag the bloody moronic luddites screaming "Chrnobyl!") until we really get fusion.
ENergy shortage is a failure of imagination, coupled with politicians rather than engineers controlling an engineeering problem.
Grrrr .....

MWT @ 43
Called "Sol"

59:

I hope I'm not going to be accused of using Charles as my search engine bitch, but we at Zero State are asking just that question, and providing a whole slew of possible answers. We are also beginning to implement some of them. The major groundwork will be complete by May, when we hold our first annual conference, in Munich.
http://zerostate.net/

60:

Teach the women...

More, later. I'm at work.

61:

@Eloise no I'm not going to argue about that, it's somewhat tangential to the point. I think before I would even start, you would need to define what we mean as "luck" which could take days

62:

Mr. Tingey @ 58

What a pleasant surprise. As a newb here, I really didn't expect a response, and certainly not to that portion of all things. But yes, Greg, energy is always a problem.

Last I checked we humans, like all opportunistic organisms on this here globe do have a tendency to eat right through stuff. You got seven billion on the planet, with currently one-fifth without electricity, let alone any of the conveniences and toys of the developed world.

Again, how much of our resource extraction is still done with stoop labor? Most of the rare metals in all the iStuff and other hi-tech toys is primarily dug from the ground in Africa and Indonesia by hand.

And converting all that relatively cheap food-fueled labor into mechanized labor? How much energy?

And fission? Are we even at the breakeven point with that? Or is that fissile material still mostly dug up/extracted/refined with manual labor and coal/oil fueled machines? I don't know. I'm guessing it's all still primitive.

Twenty years for artificial photosynthesis?

How about five years for this stuff?

http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-02-kind-high-temperature-photonic-crystal-power.html

63:

But you know, to the choir here, yes, I do want us to finally make it into that far future year of 2000AD, the time when all the Really Cool Stuff that I was told as a kid would be here has come to pass.

But I also recognize that the reason so much is written about the post-scarcity future is that it is uncharted territory. Want, hardship, privation, we understand this. We are familiar with this. Even pampered developed world types such as myself retain a cultural memory of tough times, of living in squalor. But, utopia? That's scary.

I for one, as a primate that experiences great joy in manipulating physical reality with my head, hands, and heart, can't want, could never want, a situation where I've got nothing to do.

But, if it comes down to that, making stuff and trading like some really pathetic hippy faire at a rock concert, trading craved beads for lanyards, that's Hell.

64:

Haven't finished reading the comments, but if I try to do that I won't get to comment for a day or two, so here goes.

@Nestor:

The Maslow Hierarchy is probably crucial to the success of any transition to post-scarcity, because, as several commenters have pointed out, people don't stop needing pursuits to occupy them just because the basic material needs are met. One possible transition phase would look like a Renaissance European royal court writ large; everybody has enough to eat and wear, but that doesn't stop the competition for other resources like gems, gold, political power, and songs being written about you.

There are some (relatively) organized groups which would probably be well-placed to gain influence in a transition to post-scarcity. Fandom, especially the more active sorts like the SCA or LARPers, wouldn't have to do much to fit in well; they're already spending much of their time in activities that would be enhanced rather than diminished by the lack of a need for jobs. But then again, organized crime, gangs, and religious cults would also have some advantages. I can see the Russian Mafia rushing into new niches in the new economy, only to discover a generation or two later that they've ceased being thugs and become role-playing gamers.

The thing about jobs is that they're an outgrowth of the Neolithic agricultural revolution, relatively recent in the evolution of humans. We've spent far more of our time, even if you're only counting Homo Sapiens Sapiens, as hunter-gatherers. Even if we assume a full-bore post-scarcity society in which anyone can get all the material possessions they need by clicking on amazon.com and carrying the delivered package in from the front door, the system doesn't have to be organized that way. Even if you don't have to pay for the things you get by working for someone else, spending time in finding what you want and getting it back to your home would engage the drives we evolved as hunter-gatherers, and prevent (at least for some people) a retreat into TV, VR, drugs, sex, or emotional drama addiction. I think that in any successful transition scenario there would have to be a spectrum of adaptations to the need to fill up time, from the simple consumer or foodie, making an occupation out of getting and using material possessions, to the creative craftsperson or artist (if there's really a difference), to the working professional who helps maintain the system.

I agree with what seems to be the consensus that the US is not going to be a post-scarcity society anytime soon, maybe never. I wonder if the common belief that post-scarcity will arise in the developed West and spread from there to the rest of the world is really likely. One thing we've learned in the last couple of decades is that an established infrastructure is often a hindrance to adoption of new technologies. It may be that Africa and the less developed parts of Asia will be able to adopt the new technical and societal changes necessary to move towards post-scarcity faster than the currently-developed nations. It may already be too late for China, and perhaps for India; maybe Nigeria and Kenya will be the leaders of the new world (check out Mike Resnick's "Kirinyaga" stories for some ideas on how that might work out.

65:

to bellinghman: These days, the remaining resource-conscious Indians are mostly in Mexico and South America. Like extremely poor people everywhere else, they don't waste much.

Luckily, some of them have gotten richer and more wasteful, but there are still plenty raising chickens in shacks.

66:

Granting the premise of the question, it's fairly obvious that any number of people and organizations are going to try to take control of the production systems that create this abundance. Some are going to be the owners and inventors of the products (trying to prevent duplicates from devaluing them (e.g. the RIAA)), some are going to have good intentions (e.g. the NSA: "You mean if I type "atom bomb" here an atom bomb comes out there?"), some will just be idealists and jerks (e.g. Wikileaks and al Qaeda), and most will be corruptible. You could engage in a lot of worldbuilding to figure out who the players are and how the conflict is fought, or just copy the IT headlines and change all the names.

67:

I think you are over-weighting the difference between "post scarcity" and now. From the perspective of the middle ages, several continents are *already* post-scarcity---they have an unimaginable (to the middle ages) plentitude of food, clothing, habitation, luxuries. And I suspect that our version of post-scarcity will arrive the same way---via a gradually decrease in scarcity that nobody even notices because they are always focused on the shrinking subset of stuff that remains scarce.

On the flip side, it's clear that some of what we have will *always* be scarce. Attention from a particular individual. Power to make changes that impact everyone else. So the talk of "post-scarcity" will always be about something in the future.

68:

A couple economist friends and I have been chewing on this notion of late- good timing. First off, I don't really like the term "post-scarcity" to begin with. It's always possible to imagine a person with such asymptotically high desires that open access to resources would start to extract something from someone's share. More importantly, we are already in a state of drawing down natural capital, and the timescale for replacing it with the often-trumpeted infinitudes of extraterrestrial resources ranges from "sure as hell not tomorrow," to "a time indistinguishable from never." Nature is scarce, and the incentives structures in a situation where the commons are degrading actual call for self-interested actors to consume it faster. In a similar vein, there's some modelling that the super-wealthy are fundamentally in the business of maintaining excessive draw rights on public resources- whether natural like minerals or land or constructed like a stock market.

Second, I'm dubious of the notion that a specific high-productivity technology, like additive manufacturing or nanofairydust, would create an era of such plenty that no one would want for anything-because we have contraindications already. Take food for one example- by all accounts, the world should be post scarcity for food- we produce adequate calories per capita, and an excess makes you sick, but the world has hungry people- because they have inadequate purchasing power. We've seen a similar situation in housing in the US during the slump- banks ended up with a rotting surplus resource- empty houses degrade alarmingly fast- simultaneous to people being rendered homeless for want of purchasing power. Ta-da, effective demand crisis.

Third, the effective freeze in wages since the seventies simultaneous to soaring capital accumulation, and the slump by slump increase in the lag between a return to full productivity and a return to full employment both suggest that technological unemployment, a myth since Ludd himself started sounding the alarm, might be real. Instead of displacing people into plusher occupations, ratcheting productivity might be kicking them to the street- and we can expect some randomness in what sector gets chewed on next.

So, all that summed together suggests that what might solve a whole basket of problems- environmental degradation, poverty, effective demand crises- and thus usher in what normally gets called "post-scarcity" is a citizen's guaranteed income paid out of a sovereign wealth fund, stocked by a steady stream of Georgian taxes (for using resources in a fashion that prevents others from using them- land, fishing stocks, etc.) and Pigouvian taxes (taxes on externalities- greenhouse gases, etc.,- some have suggested that the ability to accumulate excessive power suggests that excessive income has externalities) and a growing pool of purchased securities and maybe a mandated share offered to the common fund as the price of having a corporate charter. Georgian and Pigouvian taxes are notably free of deadweight losses, sovereign wealth funds seem to work well, you forestall effective demand crises through continuous stimulus, the commons are protected, poor people have money, and any postulated decline in the necessity of labor in the economy is smoothed. It also allows you to replace a whole lot of inefficient social spending too- like minimum wages, for instance.

As for how it starts- I think carbon taxes might be a good jumping-on point. A carbon tax is both Georgian (by extracting a natural resource you are preventing others, present and future, from extracting it,) and Pigouvian (since the emissions pee in everyone else's bath,) and there has been a pretty consistent voice in the discussion that the tax ought to be largely rebated to consumers as a method to keep the price signal around but keep folks from being paralyzed by an inability to buy gas. Well, that has all the right pieces- just use a portion of the tax to start to buy a mutual fund, and start to expand the number of resources- including constructed public ones like stock markets- that pay in. Get some of those bloodsucking high-frequency trading bots working for the fund, too. And maybe, just maybe, you arrive at a world with uniformly adequate, health-and-happiness inducing levels of income, decreased overconsumption of resources, and the whole thing is more innovative and efficient to boot without the various wage traps tying up human capital in sub-human jobs.

69:

Posting before reading comments:
"post-scarcity" is a slippery term that could use more definition. Strictly speaking it's physically impossible: there's only so much matter and energy around (let alone nearby and accessible) and the universe is running down. The ultimate future is Ragnarok, the freezing death.

OTOH, "provide for the needs of all Homo sapiens with minimal work" seems doable and something we could almost do now, especially depending on how one defined needs. The 'almost' is a tricky bit, plus we've been dependent on fossil fuels, and the alternatives will probably take regular work.

'Realistic' SF post-scarcity to me means individual allotments of matter and power, and lots of automation. There's still trade and money -- why not? it's not evil -- but no one needs to work to live.

70:

Even in a "post scarcity" society not everyone is going to live in a 10 bedroom house in 10 hectares of woodland, because there just isn't enough of it and there will never be unless the population crashes. OTOH, everyone can have a billion dollars of computing power of their very own - all they have to do is wait until the cost drops to that of a smartphone.

71:

I have a friend who makes a living telling stories to children. Another who writes edits the reviews of other people telling jokes. Another who, until recently, travelled from school to school teaching the children how awesome robots are and the basics of making them do things.

As far as many of the inhabitants of the world now, and all people from a century ago are concerned we _are_ post-scarcity. We're just not very good, yet, at using it to make us happy, rather than clawing after the latest toys.

(I'm as bad as anyone else, I _like_ toys.)

72:

I'm interested in the idea of accidental post-scarcity.

In information/IP terms, this is basically the internet. Before we realized what we were actually doing, we gave almost everyone their own data-cornucopia machine, capable of infinitely and endlessly replicating anything that can be enjoyed in data form.

Once everyone realized it, everything that has happened since can be boiled down to businesses and individuals that depend on the scarcity of IP for their living freaking the hell out (justifiably), while everyone else proceeds to ignore them and get free IP in exactly the same way that, if we all got Star Trek replicators tomorrow, we'd drive all manufacturers out of business without shedding a tear, no matter what their lawyers said.

We're still not through figuring out what this will mean in the long term, but it's pretty obvious that before the process is done, entire business models will collapse (or already have), to be replaced by entirely novel ways of generating and using IP.

I would guess that if we ever get true post-scarcity society, it's not going to be planned. It'll be some new technology that makes it possible, and is already out of the bottle before the powers that be realize what they just gave everyone.

73:

But I also grew up with Fox Mulder as my moral compass. I want to believe.

Amen, sister.

There have been a few 'primitive' societies that were pretty close to post-scarcity within the bounds of their economy, such as the Tulare indians in pre-Spanish California. Basically, edible and craftable biomass was so abundant that they didn't have to look for it, just walk around and pick it up. They were (predictably) wiped out by the forces of Scarcity, in the form of the Catholic Church, who were constantly complaining that the Tulare had no desire to come into the missions and work in exchange for food and shelter.

I suspect that we're in for a chaotic transition, with neo-Luddites (smash the machines), replicator Utopias, Makers-style economic collapse and love-among-the-ruins, industrial Police State repression, and many other possibilities as responses to the change. But I think the mechanisms of post-scarcity production will be too big an advantage to out-compete long before we get to actual post-material-scarcity, so eventually a new system which does the best job minimizing the impacts of what scarcity remains while keeping people happy will emerge. Could be a new religion/philosophy, like Confucianism in reverse.

Lots of choppy water between here and there, though.

74:

Anti-bully education programs might be the most effective educational change for a post-scarcity society, i.e., teach kids to recognize and prevent thugs (sociopaths) from high-jacking their world. Kids that aren't bullied are likelier to pursue their actual interests. My belief is that it's possible to turn any occupation/task into an art or science. Learning as play could transform post-scarcity society even more than automation and AI.

I have a slightly different view of the place of AIs in the a post-scarcity world. Imagine everyone has an up-datable AI who knows our deepest aspirations -- and then like a devoted (okay, occasionally, nagging) parent, pushes us to make it happen. One of the fears is that post-scarcity humans would lose their worth -- or their soul -- and become mindless TV-watching junk food eating machines/sloths. In my post-scarcity AI-enabled scenario, the dream still belongs to the human as does the success - the AI is only the enabler.

What's popular or pays well can change dramatically with only a few stable, well-paying, socially respected occupations still around. This is likely to get even more chaotic. The bad news is that youth won't be able to plan their future careers nearly as well as their parents could. The good news is that since you can't plan for a specific job, education can return to actually teaching how-to-learn, how-to-think, how-to-live skills. These wouldn't all be pie-in-the-sky courses -- but deeper learning about the most fundamental concepts courses. This would mean smaller class sizes, therefore more educators especially specialists within select fields - probably on a rotating basis.

I'm assuming that all societies need challenges -- In a post-scarcity world, the next challenge would be to actually get to the stars. There's a lot of work to be done and public (amateur) support/effort has already proven useful in some areas.

75:

And since the Republicans have trained most of America to vote against its own interest, even to act against their own security, I am often fairly hopeless about our prospects.

Sorry. But this is a feeling of both the hard left to the R's and the hard right to the D's. I.E. The enemy must have brainwashed the masses or else everyone would see the logic and beauty of our position.

I was at a lunch recently where the table was mostly or all R's and they all were talking about how the D's had convinced the majority to vote stupidly against their best long term interests. And I've been at gatherings of hard core D's where the same discussion takes place only in the opposite direction.

76:

against their OWN best long term interest.

77:

"luck" in the case of the current US world position.

We came out on the winning side in WWII and were for all practical purposes the only top of the heap industrialized country which did not suffer from combat on their home soil. UK and France got off without too much damage. But the USSR (well half of it), Germany, Japan, eastern Europe, etc... all got much of their civilization turned to rubble. So for 30 years we had the playing field to ourselves.

Now I'm the first to say that we (the US) jumped on the situation and ran with it. And having all those skilled tradesmen coming out of uniform at one time (what 8 million or so) made a big difference. Ditto the GI bill and college education.

78:

Not to mention having half a continent of natural resources on tap, effectively for free.

79:

oh fine I'll bite

The US was on a pretty significant upward geopolitical trend before WWII you know. Europe and The British Empire had already lost the manufacturing crown to the US before WWII.

The US for the first 150 years of it's life was an experiment in rampant, unbridled capitalism combined with political isolationism. The government primarily existed to feed the capitalist machine through educating the populace, building infrastructure, and maintaining order (which included suppressing the workers). It is true it was favored in the sense that it was geographically isolated and rich in raw materials but no more say then Brazil or India.

It simply out competed everyone else in the world economically because it's model was highly efficient. It also gifted the world with the great depression, and a fair amount of tyranny against any citizen that tried to say, form a union. It stood ideally by during the rise of Hitler.

It's not a perfect system, or even a good system, but it's a system that is a competitive system in the sense it is damn hard to compete against. Think about it as a very very efficient carnivore.

80:

Before WWII the US had competition. For 20 or 30 years after WWII it didn't for all practical purposes.

And again we took the ball and ran with it. Even if the competition had no defense for our run. Now we tend to debate if we should tell the other teams we found the ball, have a lottery to see who gets to pick up the ball, break into discussion groups to see who gets to run with the ball, maybe discuss if it is ethical to run with the ball, etc... Then look up and wonder why the other teams have gone home with a victory.

81:

I am also interested in the accidental, because that's where all the fundamental game changers come from. I've always wondered why the Singularity needed SuperIntelligent Design for it all to happen. Why not through, oh, natural selection?

At any rate, forget everything I wrote so far. Cat wants to play. Let's play!

Here's my sandcastle. I take Cat's statement "the opposite of an zombie apocalypse" to be a clue, and the answer to get to the promised post-scarcity land is exactly like a zombie apocalypse: Brains!

Mr. Tingey started with the answer, education, but here's my spin. It needs three magical things. I can only think of one, the Hairnet.

Item: When you clench a pencil in your mouth, so you use your smile muscles, you involuntarily become happy.
Item: Rats have mirror neurons. Rats engage in altruistic behaviors.
Item: People who drive cars are stupid. It's the old brain-tool extension. They become their car, big, lumbering, stupid animals.
Item: Scientists are getting better and better at deciphering brain signals.
Item: Electronics keeps on following Moore's Law to its bitter end.
Item: When pollsters interviewed Tea Party Republicans, and asked them the question "What is government good for", the respondents were visibly taken aback. It threw their thoughts right off the track. They were suddenly able to... think?

Trendy Accident: Tech wizards come up with the hairnet, a SQUIDwork of ultra-sensitive magnetic read/write sensors that can interface with a brain, and yes, it looks exactly like a kitchen worker's hairnet.

Extension: Telepathy? Oh maybe eventually, but that's quite required. nd no, I don't think we need a Borg/Conficker seven billion brain platform, although it does present possibilities. And no, we aren't talking "I think I know Kung Fu" Matrix skill transfer either. Oh, maybe some type voluntary group think? I don't know.

But something as simple as understanding by feeling, by sharing somatic experience or emotions. You, know, empathy? Would go a long way to breaking down barriers in education.

So, People can interface with each other and with machines. Who was it, Hans Moravec, who said people would be too clumsy to operate in cyberspace? I disagree. That brain-tool-extension/incorporation evolutionary mystery should allow people to be very flexible with their body image. Think shamans and pilots. So, remotely piloted robots as well. But really cool ones, fun ones, robots that do other things than kill. "What did you do today?" "I identified and sequenced 700 new viruses, virii, whatever, up close and personal". Or "I helped process a landfill! We separated out a ton of copper!" Alright, I'm done in the sandbox.

82:

One interesting exploration I've read of this is "Anti Star Trek", by Peter Frase (he's a leftist political theorist). Basically, that strongly enforced IP can create scarcity out of anything. Check it out.

http://www.peterfrase.com/2010/12/anti-star-trek-a-theory-of-posterity/

83:

I'm not worried, the market will find a solution as long as we don't interfere.

84:

As I once said on Crooked Timber, "My vision of utopia may be hopelessly optimistic or shallow, but here it is: that we may all enjoy the easy life of a Bertie Wooster, insofar as that is possible without expecting other people to play maid, cook, or Jeeves, and that if we choose anything more strenuous it is out of enthusiasm, not necessity."

I think that it is possible to get 90% of that ideal without big hand-waves about AI, nanoreplicators, or re-engineering human nature. It is pretty easy for me to imagine AI taking over most jobs without seeming even remotely human. A good strawberry-harvesting, hamburger-assembling, or truck-driving machine doesn't need any of the skills needed to pass the Turing Test yet it can replace jobs all the same.

The dream/nightmare is that 90% of all jobs can be eliminated by machines. The remaining 10% may find themselves unemployed not because their jobs are also done better by machines, but simply because the concept of paid work was washed away in the flood. It's hard to imagine from the far side of the change, where we stand.

Maybe it's just being American but I can't imagine post-scarcity arriving in any sort of planned, top-down way by benevolent government. If post-scarcity comes it will be taken, not given, much as we came to live in a world that is "post-scarcity" in terms of recorded music, despite rather than because of government action. Capitalism may manufacture the rope to hang itself with, but getting that rope to the masses will necessarily happen outside the law. I think Cory Doctorow's "After the Siege" was realistic in that it didn't see post-scarcity arriving without provoking a war to preserve scarcity.

Another interesting post-scarcity angle: what becomes of international and intergenerational debts? In a post-scarcity world these debts can be trivially paid off because issuing more currency has no effect on the real economy of consumption and production. Currency hyperinflation? Who cares! We're just nominally complying with the rules that were written in the top of the game box when we started playing. In 100 years the soundness and strength of a nation's currency may have no more bearing on the material prosperity of its people than the blessing of the Pope on its leaders.

85:

The missing scene

It isn't a scene, it's a chorus. Or a refrain: a repeated theme of repeated failure and societal collapse. Sometimes, deep collapse, right back to the invention of the brick.

And every time, we will return; only to repeat and reiterate the same mistakes, and collapse in much the same way.

Given unlimited time, improbable combinations of events can and do occur: eventually an equitable society in equilibrium with its resources will arise, persist, and survive indefinitely.

That *might* occur before the evaporation of the oceans or the expansion of the sun. With luck, something of our culture will remain for our successors... As incomprehensible imprints and outlines of artifacts, visible in the coal measures and the roofing-slates.

Realistically, I do not see an equitable society arising in an environment where anything - any resource - is concentrated in a form that allows an individual or group to seize control of it. Which is to say: equitable and sustainable societies may arise where resources are scarce, or scattered, in such a way that forces us to gather them in common and manage them for the commmon good. Further, it is necessary that this scarcity imposes such severe constraints that any society that deviates from communality and cooperation is rapidly extinguished.

It's difficult to see any society achieving technological progress in such circumstances, as there would be little surplus for education; nor would there be sufficient buffer stocks to permit risk-taking in the form of innovation.

Worse: the existence of a neighbouring tribe with the resource surpluses to support an aristocracy and military adventurism automatically dooms our egalitarian near-paupers. So this isn't 'Goldilocks, the Sceanario', it's a world of univerally-depleted resources and poverty...

...In short, a nearly-uninhabitable planet. And many, if not most, of the collapses will overshoot that 'nearly' uninhabitable.

So those missing scenes will be long, long interludes of blank pages; occasional interludes of 'Ook!', and 'Ug!', and. 'F*** Me, I didn't expect the rocks to do *that* !', and an awful lot about the lineage of inbred kings, splendid castles, wars, famines, catastrophe and blank pages again.

And, eventually, a long, long scene of dull and sensible and *very* hard-working people persisting, and persisting, and persisting in subsistence; and all the other all-too-interesting people dying out. Or killing out. Or taking out the ecosystem - but not, in the very last scene, taking it all out - and taking themseves out with it, leaving the persistently equitable people behind.

86:

@Nile - really unlikely in my opinion that a major technological civilization manages to collapse to stone age without rendering their planet permanently uninhabitable via nuclear war.

It certainly has never happened on Earth. We would know if anyone had been here before us, at least assuming they used nuclear energy, probably even if they didn't.

87:

This does remind me of the Sidney Harris cartoon.

One candidate for the missing scene is that idea that Charlie Stross appropriated from me, that someone figures out how to cure psychopathy with a contagious virus, and let's loose the virus. In other words, some of the more pernicious forms of human malevolence permanently disappear from the world.

Assuming it isn't physically possible to change human nature that much for the better, I doubt we'll get to a post-scarcity world.

My personal guess is that when we're done goofing around with fossil fuels, humanity will settle into 4,950,000 years of churning endless variations on the theme of energy-limited sustainable societies. We'll almost certainly abandon space, and disruptive technological advances will come more slowly, but will still be just as profoundly disorienting when they do hit as they have been for the last hundred years or so. The 20th Century will fade into history as a mythic time of miracles and profligate energy use, and it will ultimately show up as an often-mined layer of plastic waste deposited all over the world.

4,950,000 years? The supposed average lifespan of an endothermic species in the fossil record is 5,000,000 years. Assuming humans are average in this regard, we've got a *very* long road ahead of us. I take a lot of comfort in thinking that right now, we're most likely living in the Paleoanthropocene.

88:

I'm skipping past a bazillion comments because I'm kind of busy this week (business meetings and book copy edits, mmm!) and don't have as much time as usual to dive in.

However: it seems to me that, viewed from the perspective of virtually any pre-18th century society, those of us in the developed world are living in a post-scarcity society. (Look at how many of us have to go work as stoop labour on farms! Or doing manual labour in factories. Or sleep 30 to a room with no indoor plumbing or heating and with unglazed windows.)

This prompts some thoughts that I may pull together into a blog entry ... if I get time in the next day or two.

89:

I rather doubt that obscure long-dead fruit bats or equine ancestors had to deal with the small problem of nukes.

90:

I doubt modern civilization would collapse back further than to around 1900CE tech levels. All it takes to attain that level is a room full of paper textbooks. There will also be plenty of refined metals about.

91:

Sam @ 72
I would guess that if we ever get true post-scarcity society, it's not going to be planned. It'll be some new technology that makes it possible, and is already out of the bottle before the powers that be realize what they just gave everyone.
It's called replicators/rep-rap/fabs - as soon as the 3-d cumulative error problems are dealt with - game over. (??)

SF reader @ 74
So, what you are asking for (predicting?) is REAL education - philosophy as well as natural philosphy?

David L @ 77
And deliberately crapping on your ally who had carried the can for 2 years (by abrogating lend-lease) helped you and shat on us didn't it?
VERY few US'ians will admit to that particular piece of shitting....

heteromeles @ 87
Not buying it
We have not tried nearly enough variations yet.
As others have said, though, the problem is going to be stopping those who want to PRESRVE scarcity for their own puposes ...
Can anyone here spell "Stalin" or "Koch"?

92:

And deliberately crapping on your ally who had carried the can for 2 years (by abrogating lend-lease) helped you and shat on us didn't it?

Since this was skipped over in most US history classes please give a few details. (Most high school US history classes covered WWII to present in the last week or two of the school year. Guess how much attention was paid to the details with summer beckoning outside those windows.)

93:

How do nukes figure on a scale that includes 100 m of sea level change, mega-volcanoes, climate change from glaciers to hyper-thermals and century-long mega-Ninos dryer than we have now? Or pandemics? Or mass extinctions of a bunch of big, easy-to-kill animals that provided a lot of protein?

Oddly enough, humans have managed to survive these already. It's always fun to think that what we're facing is new, different, and more deadly. Perhaps it is. Still, I doubt it. If worst comes to worst, the ardent survivalists out there will found a new human civilization, and we'll go through it all again.

94:

Yeah, that's my best guess: late 19th-Century 'year zero'.

Despite unholyguy's apocalyptic view of nuclear war, I don't see it as exterminative - even with nuclear winter, widespread cobalt-60 contamination, and biological agents, stone age tribes in remote forested islands would survive and repopulate the planet. And that's a worst, worst case; a 'cessation of all organised human activity', to quote an apocalyptic phrase I hear in some of the more extreme (but not entirely implausible) climate change analyses.

Back to year-zero-as-1900, then, or better: Much of Coastal Africa and Andean South America is there already, so that minimum level would only be undercut by an exterminative event that levelled and starved *all* the world's cities and drove the survivors to subsistence.

I see the worst-case scenario as a century or more of subsistence agriculture supplemented by scavenging the artifacts of a collapsed industrial civilisation and reconditioning them with crude tools. As a population of draught animals is re-established, agricultural surpluses would permit the re-establishment of specialised non-subsisting crafts and trades - if, indeed, they had disappeared at all - and the re-emergence of trade.

The existence of skilled tradesmen makes it certain that some small-scale projects using steam or water wheels would be attempted - but they would likely be curios or playthings of the aristocracy, without regional trade to supply (and demand!) the machines with sufficient work to make them economically valuable.

As and when an organised society emerged - villages, rule of law, a trading population exceeding 10,000 - the recovered metal would inevitably provide a base for restarting localised steam-based industry. Smelting and metal foundries would resume as fast as *energy* permitted - but that would be rather slow if no coal measures were accessible.

That's a big consideration, three or four or forty collapse events into the future: coppiceing and biofuels do *not* provide the energy-density for a rerun of our own Industrial Revolution.

Hydroelectric power does, but that's a big step up if your initial inventory does not include servicable generators - which can only be made from scratch with tens of tons of refined copper or silver, a wire-drawing plant, forged components and bearings, heavy castings, a steel foundry, and... In short: pre-existing heavy industry.

Problem is, that late-19th Century society of recovered materials begins with a scarce resource - the salvage - which would probably be controlled by an aristocracy, or some other kind of wealth-concentrating elite.

So year zero starts with the seeds of the predecessor regime's demise embedded, germinated, and sucking out all hope of an equitable and equilibrial society. It's possible that such a society would emerge - repeated rolls of the dice! - but I wasn't joking when I suggested a timescale longer than the yellow-dwarf phase of the Sun.

The concentrated resources damn their chances, time and time again.

95:

However: it seems to me that, viewed from the perspective of virtually any pre-18th century society, those of us in the developed world are living in a post-scarcity society.

As I heard once. Most "first" world citizens of the middle 1800s had more in common with Moses day to day than with most of us living at this time in the same countries.

96:

late 19th-Century 'year zero'.

It all depends on if electrical generation can be continued long enough to make spare and new parts for generation of more electricity before the existing "supply" runs out. If not then we drop back to 1800 or so. But where is the knowledge to make the steel furnaces of none gargantuan size?

But fossil fuels are a big deal here. All the easy to get at stuff that allowed the industrial revolution in the first place are not extracted. Operating mining and/or drilling these days requires HUGE infrastructure. So hydro is likely it. With maybe electric railroads as the industrial transportation method. Of course there IS a lot of low grade coal near the surface of western KY and several western states. Slightly above burnable dirt.

97:

We will never have post-scarcity. Scarcity is inherent in the nature of life: If there were no scarcity, there would be no limiting resources, and no check on organismal survival and reproduction: all populations would be able to expand at their inherent maximal reproductive rate, with zero selective pressure. People who talk about "post-scarcity" just have limited ability to imagine what their hypothetical future selves might want, and suffer from being deprived of.

For example, a couple of years ago, I have connectivity problems, and in the course of resolving them, I was offline for ten days. I felt incredibly isolated, not only socially but by being out of touch with most of my clients. And yet my 1960 self could not even have imagined being deprived of instant communication with people in other cities and countries as an emotional state. And that's just in the course of one human lifetime's small technological changes.

98:

Got to proof read before Submit.

non gargantuan

are now mostly extracted

99:

to heteromeles: Your projection of our species' life expectancy assumes that only modern humans count toward the 5 million year average. If we use the estimated date of reproductive isolation from chimps to mark the start of our species, our species is 4 to 6 million years old, which puts a different complexion on that estimate.

Of course, we're not an average endothermic species anyway.

100:

How do we get there?

We're already nearly completely there in a lot of countries. I mean, why do you think we have a widespread expression like "First World Problems"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_world_problem

And we're gradually getting there in the other countries too.

How do we get the rest of the way?

By political fight. By struggling against the Scarcity Party, who wants to stop the steady travel towards complete post-scacity.

Education? Totally useless when the Scarcity Party shouts it down with pandering messages.

The primary tool needed to get to post-scarcity is political organisation. The ballot box, the chosen elected repesentatives are crucial in order to reach the stage where education starts to matter.

Some countries are luckier than others in the sense that it's much easier to recognize the Scarcity Party within their borders, and to vote against it.

101:

That's a good point. AFAIK, the lifespan of a species has been derived, very crudely, from when the first and last fossils recognizable as that species occur in the record. On that basis, we could go back perhaps 200,000 years ago for recognizable Homo sapiens. That still leaves 4,800,000 years or so to go. Maybe.

The interesting thing to me is that humans are still evolving furiously as we adapt to civilization. While I doubt we'll see Ringworld-style Homo speciation events on this planet, we can pretty confidently expect that, say 20,000 years from now, few if any of the current races of humanity will still exist (that based simply on examination of humans from 20,000 years ago).

102:

Start with this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-American_loan

Read it carefully. Don't skim.

103:

I am struck by the unwillingness of commentators to even engage the problem. I begin to understand, now, why it is that austerity policies are so popular, though they have failed time and again in this type of depression; many people are unwilling to even think about anything else.

I wonder if the failure to engage is a result of fear, a lack of imagination, or something else.

...more, later.

104:

Yet I've been thinking about it constantly, as even this morning the lead news story on the radio are about tens upon tens of thousands of jobs being vanished as a cost-cutting measure for American Airlines, who surely have not lost ten billion dollars in the last ten years due to cargo carrier and flight attendant salaries.

Actually. Somewhat. Yes. Aside from the inefficiencies of running a older top down 88,000 employee company with multiple militant unions and their work rules and some bad management decisions and 9/11 tossing a spanner into the mix, employee costs are one of the biggest variables at an airline. And currently AMR has one of the higher wage scales in the industry. At least for the US. Those 13,000 jobs will cut out over $1 billion annually. And yes I know it's not all a savings as some of the jobs, especially in maintenance, will be outsourced. And while I haven't read it I suspect that some of the cuts will come from dropping a lot of MD-80 flights before the new 737 and Airbus jets arrive. The MD-80s just use too much fuel. And I also suspect that many of the cuts in maintenance will come from dropping the MD-80.

And on this I do know a little. My wife works for AA, not in management, and may be on the chopping block. Unless seniority keeps her in a job.

105:

@heteromeles #87 et seq.: What are the variance, median, and mode? What shape is the distribution?

And for primates? (I seem to recall reading that primate species are shorter-lived than most.)

Secondly, humans have already comprehensively disrupted the nitrogen cycle, and ocean acifification is orders of magnitude faster than at any time in the last 5Ma. The current extinction rate is estimated at about two orders of magnitude greater than the "background rate".

What reason do we have to think that the ordinary fossil record is a good guide in changed circumstances -- in particular, through a discontinuity?

106:

I suspect this new age will always be 50 years into the future. As what I suspect as an "older fart" around here, born in 1954, I could not have imagined my life now back in the 60s and 70s.

Star Trek is here now. Well with a few exceptions. But we expect doors to open for us and we carry our communicators around in our pockets (and they do more than on the show).

We don't have to worry about running the car battery down if stuck in traffic after dark. We can't imagine a house without indoor plumbing. (My grandparents got theirs in 61 or 62.) Refrigerators don't frost up. We make popcorn without oil and a special pot. Our car tires last more than 5K miles. 5 to 10 times more. No one has to do the points and timing on a car anymore. We don't have to carry around cash or checkbooks for the most part. If I want to watch a TV show and can't be there when "it's on" so what? I call it up and watch it. Picture phones are here after being a joke in movies for 50 years. You have a heart attack and there's a decent chance you'll live. There's a choice in diapers. (Imagine plane flights with cloth diapers.)

I could go on but post scarcity will always be what we think things might be like in 50 years. And when we get there we'll just have another set of expectations.

There's a TV show from the 70s in the US called the Rockford Files. If you can see some episodes it's interesting to see how people stayed in touch without pagers or cell phones. Police asking to use your phone to "call in". Making appointments to be at a certain phone number at a certain time to coordinate. Plus the really neat clothes. :)

107:

"How do nukes figure on a scale that includes 100 m of sea level change, mega-volcanoes, climate change from glaciers to hyper-thermals and century-long mega-Ninos dryer than we have now?"

They are much much much worse. It's not very hard to sterilize the whole ball of mud forever.

108:

(Back from supper)

Two points:

1. Limitless cheap energy is not helpful. It promotes inefficiency (hey, it's too cheap to meter!) but energy comes with a price: heat pollution. Our civilization is still orders of magnitude too low powered for this to be a problem, but true limitless cheap energy would be as bad as (or worse than!) not enough energy at all -- we'd fry our planet, and the rest of the solar system isn't exactly over-burdened with human-hospitable biospheres.


2. I don't think scarcity can be abolished without altering the human condition sufficiently to abolish Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We can plausibly abolish starvation, thirst, homelessness, and curable diseases. We can work on fear of violence and social exclusion and provide education and entertainment. But once the basics are covered, we can't give everyone fame, love, self-actualization, or the other high-level needs we as human beings crave for. Because in the final analysis we're social primates, and what we want most of all is something that only other social primates can give us -- emotional validation.

109:

Okay, now that I've stopped giggling. What, you want stats here? I don't know. Given the paucity of the fossil record, I think there's a pretty enormous error bar there too, along with the usual arguments among paleontologists about, let's see, whether dinosaurs are properly endothermic and count against the average, whether basal primates act like primates or like average mammals, whether there's an "average mammal," how much change counts as a new species, ad nauseum.

The bigger point is to offer an alternative to the ZOMG WE'RE ALL GONNA DIIEEEE! that I've seen entirely too much of.

If you want to indulge in that, be my guest. I like playing with the idea that we might be stuck on this planet for millions of years, and that neither extinction nor transcendence are in the cards for humanity this millenium. It's a cynically cheerful view, is it not?

110:

Actually, based on the data we do have, it's pretty impossible to sterilize this planet when you realize how much stuff is under several kilometers of water or rock.

111:

Why not?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolitionism_(bioethics)

Things like happiness, sensitivity to stress and pain etc are mediated by a small number of alleles and the genes are common throughout the vertebrates.

112:

"like playing with the idea that we might be stuck on this planet for millions of years"

It's possible I suppose, the "Mote In God's Eye" scenario

I think after a couple of cycles we'd exhaust all the easily attainable metal ore and get permanently stuck in the late stone age.

Late stone age hunter gathers would still be far and away the nasty predator on the planet though, so barring super plagues they'd last a long long time

113:

I don't think scarcity can be abolished without altering the human condition sufficiently to abolish Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Most of the replies here seem to ignore how we humans think. Maybe not the majority of folks here but most of the middle of the bell curve. And I think it's a wiring/design/what makes us what we are issue. Not a matter of changing the education system.

114:

"[Nukes] are much much much worse. It's not very hard to sterilize the whole ball of mud forever."

How do you figure? Sterilizing things is harder than you might guess. Certainly it can't be done across the whole planet, including the deep oceans, with anything as puny as human nuclear arsenals at their historical peaks. Not even if you try to maximize penetrating gamma-emitter fallout. There's a huge yawning gulf between smashing industrial civilization and driving humans extinct, and between driving humans extinct and sterilizing the planet. It's like the difference between sending humans to the moon, sending them to Saturn, and sending them to Tau Ceti.

115:

yeah I'll retract that, killing off all the single celled organism and deep sea life would be pretty much impossible. You could probably do in all the mulitcelled land life though, and that would take quite awhile to recover from.

116:

To be fair, I don't think anyone is really talking about higher-level Maslow's heirarchy stuff when they talk about post-scarcity societies. They're strictly talking about the end of material scarcity.

Even Banks' Culture doesn't suggest a world that has cracked the higher-level Maslow stuff. In point of fact, it specifically posits that once you've completely sorted out all the material stuff, so every human can live in complete and effectively limitless material luxury, the result is a society that organizes itself around primates trying to meet all those higher-level needs. There's lots of talk about the what's become really important - the scarcity of invitations to the cool parties.

No one (or almost no one, barring the hardcore transhumanists who want to completely redefine human nature) thinks post-scarcity really means the end of "scarcity" as a concept. What it does mean is the end of scarcity of material goods, and whether it'd even be possible to get to there.

117:

A full scale nuclear war would not do more damage than the Chicxulub meteorite did.

118:

"When Transmetropolitan came out, the idea of matter replication in a non-post-scarcity society was considered new and daring (I'm not sure if this is because the people reading it at the time didn't read Diamond Age, or because Diamond Age came out shortly afterwards)."

That idea preceded The Diamond Age by at least fifty years, in written sf. In visual sf, by a bit under thirty years; I'm not sure when it became part of the Star Trek canon.

119:

I alluded to it before: how we get to post-scarcity is basically following the logic of industrial capitalism to its own obsolescence. The substitution of capital for labor improves productivity and profits (at least temporarily) for the capitalist. There is always an incentive to produce more with less labor. Machines don't strike, seek higher wages, or need pensions. They don't sleep, come to work hung over, or ever let their attention wander. Every step of production from digging ores out of the earth to distributing finished goods to stores is potentially up for automation.

But when (say) a car manufacturer can fully automate production of cars, so that no workers or managers are needed to run the robotic factories, what use have we for the executives or shareholders either? If cars can be produced without a drop of labor why should my country import those cars rather than setting up our own robotic car factories? There might be intellectual property barriers standing in the way, but again, why would my nation even care about maintaining good standing in the WTO if robotic autarky will make it more prosperous than trade?

If significant parts of industrial production prove impossible to automate this scenario can't come to pass. I wouldn't bet on that, though. If capitalists realize that complete automation would render capitalism obsolete, they might hold back -- but for once I think it's a collective action problem that works in the common man's favor.

This is a weak variety of post-scarcity, where we basically just get manufactured goods at extremely low cost. Not too cheap to meter, but cheap like tap water. A stronger version might posit also getting important services (like medical diagnostics or even treatments) from machines. It's a good bet that we never get the full Culture version where real estate, energy, and mineral resources are also effectively unlimited.

120:

A billion dollars worth of computing power? I don't think the computing power I carry around with me could have been bought for a mere billion dollars when I was born (1943.)

The cellphone is fairly basic; the calculator cost me a dollar.

121:

For a given cost computing power increases by a factor of 100x per decade, and we probably have at least another 30 years to go on that. So around 2040CE a PC should have a processing power of around 100PFLOPS, or about 10x as powerful as the most powerful current supercomputer.
Such technology is massively deflationary in economic terms.

122:

David Stockman, who was Reagan's budget director, has gone in another
direction. He's renouncing deficit-building tax cuts, calling for their
rollback.
"We've had a 30-year spree of really phony prosperity in this country,"
Stockman recently told Leslie Stahl on "60 Minutes."
Stockman derided the "anti-tax religion" of the GOP.
"Well it's become in a sense an absolute. Something that can't be
questioned, something that's gospel, something that's sort of embedded
into the catechism and so scratch the average Republican today and he'll
say 'Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts,'" Stockman told Stahl. He added, "To
stand before the public and rub raw this anti-tax sentiment, the
Republican Party, as much as it pains me to say this, should be ashamed of
themselves.".....going to get this tax cut on the top, you know, 2
percent of the population. They don't need a tax cut. They don't deserve
it."
When Stockman declares, "We're now becoming the banana republic [of] finance,"
---Jobs and the “free-market” economic system Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke says
"Companies have found that they don't need workers. they can shed workers and rely on technological advances and OVERSEAS FACTORIES to operate with a lot
fewer U.S. employees.
... from blue-collar manufacturing workers to white-collar office employees – won’t be needed as much in the future by companies that are squeezing more productivity out of the workers that remain and are shifting more jobs overseas. That means U.S. unemployment can be expected to stay high and wages low, Bernanke said.

"The best thing we can say about the labor
market right now is that it may be getting worse more slowly.”A News Item Missed by Most

...a news item missed by most.------Obama Bans Gimmicks, and Deficit Will Rise - NYTimes.comG
WASHINGTON — For his first annual budget next week, President Obama has banned
four accounting gimmicks that President George W. Bush used to make deficit
projections look smaller. The price of more honest bookkeeping: A budget that is
$2.7 trillion deeper in the red over the next decade than it would otherwise
---No serious person can deny that Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and military increases threw the country into a pattern of borrowing and borrowing that we have not escaped. When Reagan took office the national debt was $995 billion. When Reagan left office it was $2.87 trillion and climbing fast.
No serious person can deny that Bush's 2001 tax cuts and continued military increases dramatically worsened the problem. Bush's last budget year ended with a record single-year deficit of $1.4 trillion.
As the country discusses what to do about the borrowing everyone understands that restoring top tax rates to pre-Reagan levels and cutting the military budget in half would solve the problem completely. But we can't do that. We can't even discuss it.
And we all know why. It is because the Reagan Revolution transformed the country from a democracy to a plutocracy -- a country run by and for the wealthy.
Sensible and simple ideas are considered off-limits. The Congress is bought and paid for. To even bring up the idea of restoring tax rates to pre-Reagan levels and cutting military spending invites terrible consequences. The speaker risks becoming the target of the money's noise machine: Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, Fox. Smears. Humiliation. Banishment. Or the noise machine cranks up a campaign of misinformation, convincing people --especially DC people
appear, according to administration officials.

123:

In 2011, enough solar panels were produced worldwide to generate 27 gigawatts.

Given the 25 year life, this implies that a total of some 600GW of installed solar PV could be maintained at present production levels.
Total world electricity generation is some 20TW, so it would account for 3% at current levels.

However, production has been doubling every 2 years or so. If that continued for another 8 years solar would take 50%. Bloomberg estimates that within 4 years solar PV will be grid cost competitive in half of all nations

124:

A couple of commenters have touched on what turns out to be one of the most important questions: just what is post-scarcity?

In the eschatological sense, of course, post-scarcity is not possible. The laws of thermodynamics will have their say: the universe is running down. But, this is probably not relevant to human civilization. So I will set that aside, and look at realizable definitions.

Post-scarcity must at least include "no poverty." In fact, that might be a pretty good definition: enough of the basics for everyone. And, defined in that way, post-scarcity is achievable--in fact, has been in our technological grasp since 1950. It would require human population within the physical limits of production, sustainable technology, and peace.

First technological requirement, therefore: contraception and the will and ability to use it. If this is to be achieved with oppression, it implies, at least, sexual egalitarianism: a post-patriarchal world.

So one sociological requirement of a post-scarcity human civilization is a global feminist revolution.

Research into sustainable technologies is an on-going project; though much has been achieved, much remains to be done. But the will to put them into practice, globally, consistently, relentlessly: that is not there. I think it is going to take a new religion to get people to do it. That is probably the only way to get large numbers of people to do difficult, important things. If enough people believe that their lives and the lives of their children depends on taking care of the Earth then a post-scarcity world is possible.

So, a green religion.

Finally, peace. Not an end to conflict: that there will always be. But no vast outburst of destruction. The scope of destruction humans have become capable of would tax any conceivable economy. So, if the world is remain post-scarcity, there must be less violence.

Finally, peace.

So it seems one answer is one we've seen before: a technological green world.

Damn hippies. Right again.

125:

unholyguy @ 112
No
We are already into recycling large amaounts of our "waste" for practical re-use in one form or another - again the "First world" is well ahead, but the others are catching up (good!)
So that true scarcity is unlikely, unless we have a complete planet-wide collapse.
Prices (money is a measure of scarcity) may go up, but the stuff will still be avialible.
See the present spate of theft of copper in this country, and the measures now being contemplated to counteract this.
One can envisage a future, where some low-life steals valuable metal-containing cables and equipment, and is publicly dangled for their stupidity.
Indeed, quite soon, unless we are lucky, we are going to have a transport or hospital disaster caused by metal-theft.
I hope the perpetrators, if caught get the max sentence for manslaughter .....

Sam @ 116
Correct
OGH is stirrring - quite well, I admit.

d brown @ 122
The answer to that is education + publicity.
Do what the rethuglicans have done.
Proclaim the message, and keep on proclaiming it, with evidence.
Sooner or later, (you hope) the supertanker will turn.
The REAL problem is who is going to win in 2016 in the short term at least.

dirk @ 123
And how long before the existing power-generating corporates have their grasping paws ripped off the control of the (re)distribution of that distributed solar power?
Both in the US and here - where similar things are happening, because the vested interests can see it coming and are desperate to fend it off for as long as possible.

126:

I thing 'Makers' by Cory Doctorow is probably one of the best places to start. At least for really insightful speculation about much of the difficult and partly failed groundwork that will be laid before it becomes truly transformative.

127:

Broadly speaking, we have or can see us having the technology for a post-scarcity-of-material-goods kind of world, even if you have to wait a while for your new house.
The main barrier to getting there is political and cultural, which is where the authors come in. They should write us stories set in the transition period to inspire people towards a post-scarcity.

128:

To repeat what a lot of people have said, the key point is not really the metaphysics of whether there is an absolute zero of scarcity, or even the details of the technology needed to further reduce scarcity.

It is the politics of organising a society that is well adapted to those economic circumstances. One as well-adapted as Switzerland is to the existence of organised mechanised warfare.

Any technology by itself does little except make change possible. Including change for the worse (see most of the neighbours of the Swiss in the first half of the 20C).

Many of the current political problems of the USA can be traced down to being maladapted to the economics of declining scarcity. For example, the prison system that is breaking the budget is pretty clearly designed to create artificial, controlled poverty that motivates people to work hard within the system for low wages in the same way authentic poverty used to (or, in China, still does). Just without the associated mass deaths from starvation, insurgency campaigns, and so on.

The same with the health system, legal system (look how much power just being able to pay for a lawyer on retainer grants you), and so on.

The key to change, especially for early adopters, is setting up something that is clearly economically sustainable in the face of the worst the world can throw at it. While still making progress forwards; you don't want to get trapped where you are barely maintaining the status quo without scope for improvement. If only because the first external problem will cause a drastic collapse.

I think that means not traditional means-tested welfare, universal income, or maximum working hours. But a system of taxation, public works and minimum wages that encourages low-hours working as a baseline. It's currently a lot easier to employ one person at 40 hours than two at twenty. But that's a change that is within the scope of politics to make.

Everyone healthy doing not less than 30 hours, 20 next decade, 10 by the end of the century is a lot more politically sustainable that 60 then 40 then 10% of people working insanely hard. And it's certainly preferable to the creation of artificial poverty, finding bullshit jobs for 60% of people to do 60 hours a week, or the other alternatives.

129:

Good insights. In some ways a post-scarcity world would be a return to our primeval hunter-gatherer societies. It would be a matter of simply collecting the fruits of our automated industries, and our lives spent on social activities. Minus the periodic droughts, famines, etc.

130:

"Just wait a while. Unchecked human populations double every 25 years or so, so scarcity will be back soon enough."

Are you aware of world population trends for the past half-century?

131:

Is scarcity disappearing, or is it merely that each of us post-scarcity people has a hidden infrastructure of poor people supporting us, plantation style? I'd suggest the later, and I can point to a website that calculates how many people are supporting you right now.

For example, current industrial agriculture depends on a class of underpaid laborers who are deliberately kept at artificially low wages, often (in the US) through selective enforcement of immigration laws and harsh anti-union practices. There is also increasing export agriculture in poor countries, even when it disrupts indigenous food production (see Wikipedia entry on food security). Much of our technology and everyday items (see Apple and Foxconn for examples) depends on underage and underpaid labor in China. One could argue whether the US prison-industrial complex is primarily about low wage labor or not (I personally think it's more complex), but it provides underpaid labor for government work.

Regardless, middle and upper class prosperity in the US and Europe currently depends on a lot of hidden, cheap labor, and on people actively taking steps to keep that labor hidden and downtrodden. I suspect our current post-scarcity is at least partly illusory.

132:

Indeed, quite soon, unless we are lucky, we are going to have a transport or hospital disaster caused by metal-theft.

We've already had hospitals forced onto emergency backup power and cancelling operations due to theft of cabling. We've had valuable pieces of public art (Henry Moore sculptures with valuations in seven digits) stolen for scrap and melted down by the thieves (they're unsaleable as sculptures -- instantly recognizable). And several thousand hours of passenger train delays every year due to stolen signalling wires.

But my money for a real disaster is on something inflicted by spammers -- a worm infesting a SCADA system (STUXnet, anyone?) repurposed to send spam from a machine that's supposed to be keeping sewage out of a municipal water supply, for example. (Deaths from dysentery don't make headlines but they're still deaths.)

133:

Yes, "REAL" education but an updated version that emphasizes knowledge systems and how various content systems interrelate i.e., more Theory of Knowledge than philosophy, so would include the sciences, maths, arts, and social sciences.

The next big educational change might come from better identification/implementation of more effective teaching strategies. There's already been some work done within both public and private education sectors on learning styles, learning technologies and curriculum development.

Of these, learning styles is probably the least familiar concept and - according to Wiki - remains controversial mostly because of flawed research designs. The quality of some of the public domain published studies/articles on learning styles is so poor that I hope their authors abandon the field -- soon. By "poor study design" I mean lack of controls, no longitudinal studies, no discussion of confounding variables, no matching of educational content to teaching style: Ex 1 - you can't teach how to draw by talking about it, you have to show how to hold a brush, show what lines, perspective and shading are, what the variety/range of colors are, etc.; Ex 2 - you can't teach music without actually hearing sound, understanding tempo, pitch, etc.

Learning styles is not the same as learning/cognitive development issues. And most people don't know what their optimal learning style (or blend of styles) is.

134:

Water supplies are always a fun target, but the simple response is to ask everyone to boil their water until things get fixed.

The disasters that get more interesting are things like last year's San Diego blackout, where (reportedly) a single mistake by someone doing power line maintenance shut off the power to 4 million people, because every generator in the local net detected the wobbling power load and shut down too. At that point, pumps without backup generators (yes, they didn't have backup power!) went down, and a lot of sewage got spilled, along with all the problems caused by a direct loss of electricity. Even though there was no structural problem in the electrical grid, it took hours for the electricians to bring the grid back up a piece at a time.

As someone pointed out to me, solar panels on roofs wouldn't necessarily have solved the problem, because when you shut off big generators on the grid, power leaks out into the grid from solar systems unless someone cuts them off too. The power providers want people with solar panels to cut off their power too, so that electricians don't get shocked by lines kept alive by solar power leakage.

Do we need a more resilient electrical grid, perhaps?

135:

"Just wait a while. Unchecked human populations double every 25 years or so, so scarcity will be back soon enough."

Are you aware of world population trends for the past half-century?

Yes, actually. The population doubled over the last 40 years. That's a little slower than I said, but then some parts of the human population are already resource-limited.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World-Population-1800-2100.png

Ignore the projected part; bureaucracies are intrinsically optimistic.

136:

Is scarcity disappearing, or is it merely that each of us post-scarcity people has a hidden infrastructure of poor people supporting us, plantation style?

It's true that we have a lot of cheap labor hidden in the system. It's also true that, even in China, manufacturing jobs have not been growing quickly enough to absorb all of the workers displaced from the farms by mechanization. So a little of both, really.

see http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2012/02/02/why-jobs-require-cities/

137:

People stealing cables... high unemployment... new jobs as cable-watchers!

Jay, population projections have had to be revised downward repeatedly. That's not bureaucratic optimism (and some would say the bureaucracy wants to predict crisis, optimistic for its funding), that's contact with reality. The secular trend is for birth rates below replacement, even in relatively poor countries.

138:

Actually, I don't think the Mote in God's Eye is a good analogy. AFAIK, the moties are an extrapolation of Ehrlich's Population Bomb, set up so they have to breed (or die painfully), and they're so bright that they can go straight from biofuels to fusion, presumably only working from an old model of a fusion reactor. Yes, very hopeful, that.

I don't think that's what will happen to humans. We're not moties, and fusion reactors aren't that simple. I don't know what we'll go through when (or if) we hit the 10 billion mark, but I don't expect it to last very long. Whether we crash hard, or settle into a world that's all post-demographic transition (e.g. few children), that's the part I don't know. Either way, that part of the future really is an unknown country.

However, resource-wise, a lot of metal is already recycled, and absent people throwing masses of stuff into the ocean, I suspect it always will be. Gold from the Roman era is still in open circulation, for example, and the international market in recycled metals is quite volatile and fast-paced. The thing is, once someone's refined metal (especially something like aluminum) why not reuse it? It's cheaper than digging more out.

139:

Getting back to the question of how to get towards post-scarcity, there's another place where we urgently need good innovation: good governance. I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking about running stuff. The US Congress is only one of many examples.

We keep running into complex problems and solving them awkwardly, and we desperately need an infusion of innovation. Yes, there has been some work, but right now, systems have been parasitized too efficiently by monied interests, and we need to figure out ways around this.

140:

I'm not sure you can get by with recycling metals forever.

Aluminum sure, but iron and steel rust out eventually

However, it's a good point, the landfills of one civilization may well be the mines of the next.

I think eventually though some civ or other would pop some planet busters off on the way down and that would be the end of homo sapiens at least

141:

(I haven't read every post yet, but I just wanted to think this through, sorry if it's duplicated and obvious).

The way we reach Post-Scarcity:

The USA, whose power levers have been permanently seized by an oligarchy of self-interest, refuse to enact any "Socialist" (i.e. European-style socially-democratic well fare) systems. While the infrastructure at home collapses and thousands starve, they wage a series of petty wars around the globe, ostensibly under the banner of Fighting terrorism, but in truth, it's to control the last pockets of dwindling natural resources. The rest of the world puts up with this, the same way the regulars at a bar put up with the belligerent drunk buddy who is a good guy, when he's sober.

Meanwhile, China is becoming a world power and European Union gets its act together and switches over to cleaner sources of power (wind and efficient solar). China, half poisoned form bootstrapping their civilization straight from the nineteenth to the early 21st century, recognizes that they cannot continue this way or else they risk turning into the toxic cesspool that is the southern and coastal regions of North America. China adopts the cleaner technology out of necessity, and because they still have a command-economy and centralized government, it's a smooth transition. Along with the clean tech, China imports European Social-Democratic reforms and by the end of the 21st century is a flourishing Democracy.

While all this has been going in between China and Europe, the Middle East has also been sorting their shit out, with Islamic Republics slowly fighting to gain a foothold. Their biggest problem is not fundamentalists, but proxy agents propped up by the US. In spite of this, anew Coalition of Islamic republics dominates the middle East, even brokering a lasting peace treaty between Israel and Palestine.

A similar set of reforms is sweeping across Africa as well. It takes a little more time but an African Union eventually emerges.

By now, the US is a slavering beast, hungry for blood and what little oil remains. A coalition of China, Japan the EU and the Islamic Republics join forces to stop the half dozen little resource wars the US has been funding for the last half century. The US, being led by a Christian fundamentalist escalates this to WW III. However, the US's nukes are so old and in disrepair they don't work. The US fights for the better part of a decade, loosing eventually to a war of attrition.

When European-Middle Eastern coalition reach the East coast they find a burned out husk of a nation, like Somalia. The Sino-Japanese coalition finds the West Coast is in slightly better shape but not by much.

The American Resistance, a progressive coalition of a dozen desperate groups works with the Allies to write a new constitution and rebuild the country. This will take the better part of a twenty years to complete but by the end of the 21st century, the US is a flourishing Social-Democracy working in partnership with the other world powers.

By this time, technological advancements in clean power generation and maybe even nano-tech fabrication allow for a truly post-scarcity world to flourish. Religious fundamentalism is still a minor problem but as the various hot spots around the world became Socialist-Democratic, they also became secular, even if some still retained an Islamic or Christian flavor. Fundamentalism is by now recognized as an aberrant mental condition, an irrational response to an existential crisis that can be alleviated with education and a course of mild anti-depressants.

(note: in my version of a post-scarcity world, there's none of this Singularity nonsense. The Rapture of the Nerds is another manifestation of a religious impulse towards transcendence, recognized as a poetic metaphor for personal aspiration, not a workable model around which to build a functioning society).

With planet-wide cooperation and unlimited resources, humanity starts to explore the solar system, to colonize and terraform Luna, Mars and the Jovian moons and send probes to other solar systems. While no one wants for anything, there still remains the personal struggle to find emotionally gratifying work, that project that will allow one to contribute to society in a meaningful way. For some it will be creative, by producing some form of entertainment, while for other sit will be public service, the sciences or just raising a family.

142:

I get the concept of a post scarcity world, but we are way farther away from it then people think. Could we all really afford great housing/food/utilities. I mean my roommates earn average to above average incomes and they eat crap food and complain they can't afford to turn the thermostat up. If that's what white college grads can afford maybe we aren't as wealthy as we think.

A lot of the post scarcity thing comes from the idea that you can get it from the rich. This is true to an extent. But I think what the rich mostly spend money on is high end services. So they can get some famous singer to sing at their birthday party. I suppose we could redistribute this service into a concert, but there are limits and it waters it down. One famous singer can't do everyone's birthday party.

143:

I think I should make it a policy to post a link to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limits_to_growth on every post on this blog until I get banned! We have such a hard time understanding all the implications of exponential growth. Perhaps "post scarcity" actually means we find a way to continually increase quality of life without increasing resource usage or pollution generation.

Yes and +1, to post-poverty. It seems entirely reasonable to me that we can essentially provide Maslow's first layer to everyone and make a good start on level 2. So that's The 7 Noble Natural Rights of Life, Liberty, The Pursuit of Happiness, Food, Clothing, Shelter, Medical Care automatically for everyone on the planet. The only reason we don't have that now is a lack of will power.

144:

I agree that physical resource extraction places hard limits on growth.

HOWEVER (Do I need to add a <BLINK> tag to that?) economic activity does not automatically have to entail increased consumption of physical resources, and growth is a function of economic activity.

Lawyers, hairdressers, schoolteachers, cabinet-makers, philosophers, dancers, software developers -- these are all human activities where (except for the last one) output production scales with labour input and not with the volume of raw materials consumed.

(Cabinet-makers: some projects require less material and are of higher value. Programmers: infinite almost-free replication of the finished product breaks the connection between labour input and profitability. Nevertheless, neither activity requires ripping the tops off mountains in order to sustain growth in their respective fields.[*])


[*] We are used to pouring more and more energy and rare earth elements into our computers and server farms -- but we don't have to: we could in principle pour more brains into making better use of our existing resource extraction level.

145:

"Limitless cheap energy is not helpful. It promotes inefficiency (hey, it's too cheap to meter!) but energy comes with a price: heat pollution."

It also would enable limitless ecological destruction, a problem we are already facing.

"However: it seems to me that, viewed from the perspective of virtually any pre-18th century society, those of us in the developed world are living in a post-scarcity society."

Except for the people with the accents who pick the veggies and build the walls.

146:

Ahem: I posted too soon.

We have two types of labour-driven activity that aren't geared to resource extraction: services, and intellectual property. The former has outputs proportional to input labour, and isn't really a viable platform for an exponentiating economy. But the latter -- if there's a framework for monetizing IP -- can support exponential growth in "economic activity" without exponential resource extraction or labour. Okay, so I'm basically suggesting gold farming in WOW as a driver for expansion, but it provides an expansionary decoy for those people who pursue self-actualization through chasing after purple drinking vouchers (Scottish £20 notes).

147:

"economic activity does not automatically have to entail increased consumption of physical resources, and growth is a function of economic activity."

There are still only so many hours in a day.

148:

Recycling.
Potentially we could implement an economy of total, 100% recycling by a process of un-manufacturing. That is, stripping every product back to its elements. We even know how much this would cost. As a worst case, the same as manufacturing the item in the first place.

149:

Rust is iron oxide. You can obtain iron from iron oxide.

150:

Charlie @ 108:

I don't think scarcity can be abolished without altering the human condition sufficiently to abolish Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

In absolute terms this may be true; as several commenters have said, we're never going to completely abolish scarcity. But what we can and should do is push it up the Maslow pyramid. The more abstract the needs that are engaged, and the less those needs directly affect the survival of the individual, the more likely the society is to enjoy relatively widespread peace and prosperity (I know this view isn't accepted by everyone, but I think there's sufficient evidence in history and current events to justify considering it a good probability).

And the other strategy for making mostly-post-scarcity a way to improve civilization (that is, "civilizing" humanity) is to generalize the comment I made in #64 about redirecting the hunter-gatherer drives into other channels. For a lot of people, putting time and energy into getting and preparing food is a good sublimation of the hunter-gatherer drives even when they can get that food without the effort. Foodies, gourmets, amateur chefs, allotment gardeners, are all doing that, and many of them would continue to do it even if they could get well-prepared food for free.

Back in the middle of the last century there was talk of "the moral equivalent of war": some mechanism for sublimating the violent drives of (especially young male) humans in situations other than mass combat. There were suggestions of using stylized violence such as formal single combat, or hard and dangerous work in desert or arctic environments. This is another technique that might be useful to channel the more antisocial individual drives away from destructive activities.

151:

I can see how you would find the idea of getting to a post-scarcity society difficult to imagine, because if the tech exists, it won't be used like that here (in the US). Fortunately, most of the rest of the developed world is a far less nasty place. If, as looks likely, automation actually does soon start to reduce the actual number of jobs, I can see France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and the various other Western European nations moving gradually to a guaranteed minimum income, and from there moving to a post-scarcity society if the tech permits isn't actually all that big of a step. Needless to say, that won't happen in the US w/o major social change.

153:
Back in the middle of the last century there was talk of "the moral equivalent of war": some mechanism for sublimating the violent drives of (especially young male) humans in situations other than mass combat.

In Europe we have this thing called "football"

154:

A better population to resource ratio

Clean easy energy

A ubiquitous, obvious and entirely compelling ethics

Ultimately, without the last of these, any advantage from the other two will be sucked into the personal gain of whoever happens to be on top.

I would say that The Transition will need to feature these three. The first two could be relatively sudden but I can't help feeling that the last one will have to be a slow virtuous circle or promulgation and development of this ethics combined with universal education informed by whatever this ethics is.

I rather hope that the word 'optimific' features, just because it's such a fucking ace word...

155:

Actually, I think the world financial sector has taken the "Moral Equivalent of War" meme and run with it. World finances right now really do seem to be like wars, right down to the IMF trying to conquer and subdue countries with unfair banking rules as the price for "bailing them out" so they can "remain good citizens of the world economy."

And it's not as nasty as war. After all, even when big banks detonate Financial Weapons of Mass Destruction, as happened in 2008 with housing derivatives and probably will happen with student loans, not too many people die as a direct result. And certainly, being a lifelong wage slave/bondsman to pay off your debts is better than having the iron collar around your neck. Right?

156:

We should accept that there is no one size-fits-all magic strategy or even only one desired outcome when talking about a dynamic, porous system. Every time we try to reduce things to only one important rule or approach, we end up creating problems. Time to try the Rube Goldberg approach: for every 'simple' goal, we should try to think up as many possible approaches, complications and screw-ups/side-effects as possible.

For example, not every region on the planet needs the same amount of energy every single day, therefore energy sources/strategies should vary based on what best suits that particular region.
Reforestation experiments show that healthy forests are made up of many diverse types of plantings -- not just trees - and that what types of trees should be planted according to geography. See Wiki excerpt below:

"Extensive forest resources placed anywhere in the world will not always have a the same impact. For example, large reforestation programs in boreal or subarctic regions have a limited impact on climate mitigation. This is because it substitutes a bright snow-dominated region that reflects the sunlight with dark forest canopies. A study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, USA, found that trees in temperate latitudes have a net warming effect on the atmosphere. The heat that dark leaves release without absorbing outweighs the carbon they sequester.[9] On the other hand, a positive example would be reforestation projects in tropical regions, which would lead to a positive biophysical change such as the formation of clouds. These clouds would then reflect the sunlight, creating a positive impact on climate mitigation.[4]:1457"

The same openness to multiple solutions/approaches should be considered with respect to self-actualization: as long as people continue to vary genetically, in culture, personality, where they live, etc., self-actualization will continue to mean different things to different people. Maslow's hierarchy of needs in fact does accept that the progression varies across individuals with some people even jumping levels. This makes sense when you consider that self-actualization boils down to “What a man can be, he must be.”

157:

Aren't we forgetting one of the most basic needs on Maslow's hierarchy. Sex. It's right at the bottom of the hierarchy, but for men at least, supply way outstrips demand. Most "positional goods" as people put it, are just ways of acquiring sex. Since we can assume good genes are going to be divided unequally, we can assume sex will be divided unequally. Which means many men are going to resent having their resources, which they labored in order to acquire sex, diverted to pay for the lower order needs of people who obtain sex easily, while they themselves can't satisfy their lower order need for sex.

158:

*Should read "demand way outstrips supply."

159:

A quick thought on "unlimited wants" and the way they relate to "post-scarcity".

The way I see it, only those things are scarce that we are actually able to have. For instance, there is not much scarcity of flying cars or jetpacks today, because no one has actually been able to build any that work particularly well... and this goes all the way up to magic black boxes capable of creating universes for us to be gods in (for which there is also no scarcity). Scarcity-realted wants, in other words, depend not on what we have (and we we can abstractly imagine we could have), but on what someone else somewhere actually has right now. Post scarcity, therefore, means that, for any given point in time, everyone can reasonably expect to be able to acquire any single thing (or any single combination of things) that some other individual actually has. It's not about everyone having everything they can imagine.

160:

Yes

161:

I'm afraid your worst-case cost estimate is remarkably wrong; consider the difficulty of making eggs out of cake, or trees out of chipboard, or even simply crude oil out of moulded thermoplastic.

162:

Reducing chipboard to its elements is far easier than making chipboard in the first place, which requires growing a tree. Ditto thermoplastic and drilling and pumping out oil.

163:

The main post was about the transition beyond our current institutions to post-scarcity - which due to social/politial reasons could be harder than developing the technologies actually required to support a technological post-scarcity.

Some form of true post-scarcity (perhaps regulated at the personal consumption level unless agreed at a community/regional level for larger projects) where all people on Earth do not have to work for pay, or any kind of exchange, and have a very high standard of living does appear possible on the face of it. The Earth's crust contains quintillions of tonnes of useful elements; energy is plentiful (solar, geothermal, nuclear) and automation of everything significant including the fabrication of other automated systems is likely to be within mankind's capabilities. Open-source hardware (design/engineering) could be the development model, we just need to develop a proper open-source tool-chain for this like we have with software development.

Here are three methods of how it might be possible to transition to post-scarcity (perhaps!):

1) Advanced digital fabrication and closed-loop operatiopns on a small scale - think of a very advanced version of Open-Source Ecology who are thinking on a small farm-scale http://opensourceecology.org

2) Let industry compete to zero-cost (or infinitesimally small cost) through automation. The companies could be helped along by employing some open-source stuff in their operations (and even contributing to OS projects) to reduce costs in non-core areas. With companies in all industries eventually doing this to help them compete, the non-core areas from each industry could all overlap providing an alternative open-source infrastructure.

3) Intentional duplication of all key infrastructure to eventually create a parallel automated open-source economy by open-source advocates - much as was done in the software world, developing C compilers, operating system kernels, graphical desktops, IDEs and key applications. It took a long time to get that all in place but eventually it got to a stage where Linux could be a primary OS for a developer, and now users.

Then when we have a technological post-scarcity, building rockets and other launch systems will be free and we'll have the rest of the solar system to turn into useful stuff.

Interesting stuff, and will be exciting to see how it pans out!

I have been trying to distil my thoughts on this for a while at http://adciv.org

164:

Charlie @ 146
& for everyone else outside the UK
Our (English £20) drinking-vouchers are purple as well!
[ Battersea Beer Festival next week - see some of you loonies there? ]

DamienRS @149
Anti-Oxidants?
I discovered one recently (apparently already known in certain fields).
A FOOD_GRADE anti-oxidant, that restores Copper and Brass to pristine condition - would you believe ... Worcester Sauce (Lea & Perrins) - especially effective if combined with standard washing-up liquid .....

brucecohenpdx @ 150
This is the reason behind "muscular christianity (shudder) or "team games" (eeeuuuwwwww) - unfortunately they will insist on applying it to everyone, including those, like me who don't want to know in the first place.
& nestor @ 153 - unfortunately - yes
But, to be distinct from "rugby"
The first is a game for gentlemen, played by hooligans, the latter is a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen.
I mean - we once walked nto a pub, when the Barbarians were playing the S Africans, and it was on the Box - wall-to-wall piss-heads, but very large males were fighting to get out of the way to let Rhona get to the bar, because the young lady wanted a pint.
Now compare that with footie fans behaviour?

@157/158
Masturbation is the answer!
What was the question again (I'm told it makes you go deaf) ??

165:


> The supposed average lifespan of an endothermic species in the fossil record is 5,000,000 years. Assuming humans are average in this regard, we've got a *very* long road ahead of us.

Those species weren't capable of conscious self- modification, something that humans are fairly rapidly learning how to do. And learning how to do with basically bench-level, relatively cheap means that also have short-term payoff, so I don't see the learning process stopping

While the post-scarcity, post-jobs discussion is, I think, highly relevant and important for the near term, meaning decades to a couple of centuries, all bets are off for anything after that.

166:

In 2011, enough solar panels were produced worldwide to generate 27 gigawatts.

Given the 25 year life, this implies that a total of some 600GW of installed solar PV could be maintained at present production levels. Total world electricity generation is some 20TW, so it would account for 3% at current levels.

Because the sun doesn't always shine, you need to look at and compare not only power capability, but at energy or, if you will, average power over some meaningfully long length of time. Megawatt-hours or joules per year, for example. Icky coal plants run day and night, rain or shine; solar plants don't.

167:

In Europe we have this thing called "football"

But unlike the US version, in Europe it is supposed to be a non contact sport.

168:

If you take modern "progressive" thinking to its logical conclusion, you end up at not only post-scarcity, but post-inequality, post-struggle, post-violence, post-pain, post-conflict, post-unpleasant thinking, post-mortality, post-humanity, etc. In other words, what you are positing as a desirable goal is ultimately antithetical to life and is in fact a road to oblivion! I have had a taste of such a world of progress and plenty close up, and I found it to be a world of hellish banality and boredom! This probably explains the appeal of dark and anti-progressive culture among today’s children of the privileged – who wants to live in a dull Jetsons world when you can be a stylish Vampire?

Fortunately, uber-nerd extropian ideals like post-scarcity and post-mortality are as absurd as any other religion, so no one will never actually have to endure the horror of eternal life without pain or privation!

169:

"Because the sun doesn't always shine"

It does, you know.

The following sentences are of equal accuracy.

Croak!

170:

Ah yes, the "we'll not be human any more" argument.

There are a bunch of caveats to that idea:
1. It assumes that we'll have the rather enormous infrastructure necessary to do human gene hacking in a reliable way. Humans aren't as easy as dogs (due to the arrangements of genes on chromosomes), but we do have a fair amount of plasticity, at least in surface morphology (hair shapes, skin and eye colors, facial shapes, etc).
2. It assumes that someone will make enough of the genies that they can breed, or that someone will take the trouble of artificially generating children for them. Who does this make money for, again?
3. It assumes there are no ethical issues with genetic engineering of humans for things other than giving them normal lives.
4. And finally, it assumes that we haven't been doing this for the last 40,000-80,000 years. This last one is the real mind-blower. I mean, most of human evolution is now based on our culture. With culture modifying how we interact with the world we evolve at weed speed, almost bacterial speed now. None of us were born knowing how to use the internet, or chip flint, or speak English. We "inherited" those skills by learning them. Our bodies are still trying to catch up with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago.

My personal take is that gene modification will go the way cyborging has gone. A few people will try it, we'll figure out what it's useful for (and my guess is primarily getting rid of genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Huntingtons), and we'll move on.

The problem with having a kid modified with the latest techno-mods is that
a) someone has to pay, and this could be as bad as student loans. Or worse.
b) it takes a lifetime to ethically develop each design, because the experimental subjects need to live out their lives for researchers find out what the unpredicted problems are and fix them.
c) the kid might still manifest all sorts of other problems, just by chance. This is a normal issue with drugs, which is why they sometimes get pulled off the shelf years after release.
d) Given how fast technology generally advances, the child will be old tech before he or she is born.

Think about it: if we could modify humans, the research would have had to start in the 1940s or 1950s to be considered safe enough for widespread use now. (one generation, birth to old age, to find out what the problems are and how to fix them). Do you really want a 1940s era body? I mean, yes, Captain America was cool and all that, but I don't think anyone wants eight-armed girls designed for working as operators on phone exchanges any more.

171:

Scarcity affects humans and it may even exist in the post singularity world. Because of limited resources, particularly females, humans evolved to value status and to put great effort into getting status.

Of course it's not obvious how this will play out in a would where you can have just about anything you want (and if you are willing to upload, you can have anything you can imagine).

172:

Sounds kinda like Craig's List.

173:

Supplying sex for excess demand just requires either tactile interface VR, or well-designed sexbots.

174:

Actually, MMORPGs are probably a good place to experiment with post-scarcity environments. They're basically post-scarcity worlds with artificially induced scarcity.

175:

What part of "moral" didn't you get? :-)

176:

I can perceive nothing but a certain conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the commonwealth.

They invent and devise all means and crafts, first how to keep safely, without fear of losing, that they have unjustly gathered together, and next how to hire and abuse the work and labour of the poor for as little money as may be. These devices, when the rich men have decreed to be kept and observed for the commonwealth’s sake, that is to say for the wealth also of the poor people, then they be made laws.But these most wicked and vicious men, when they have by their insatiable covetousness divided among themselves all those things, which would have sufficed all men, yet how far be they from the wealth and felicity of the Utopian commonwealth? Out of the which, in that all the desire of money with the use of thereof is utterly secluded and banished, how great a heap of cares is cut away! How great an occasion of wickedness and mischief is plucked up by the roots!
--Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), Utopia

177:

I just finished reading Distraction by Bruce Sterling, which I loved, and which addresses those questions in a very satisfying way (at least to me).

178:

David L @ 167
Non-contact supposedly for the players, but its the erm "fans" erm "supporters" we're worried about ...

d brown @176
There's a very similar quote in Adam Smith about businessmen getting totgather to form "cartels" (he does not call them that, of course) to their benefit, and the detriment of customers and workmen.

One thing that amuses me (probably the only thing actually) about the "Adam Smith Institute" is that they plainly have not read Adam Smith.
Oops

179:

"Icky coal plants run day and night, rain or shine; solar plants don't."

a) Since most of the world does not have reliable access to grid electricity that doesn't matter
b) Batteries
The idea that PV is going to be mostly used in gigantic power stations is more a Western idea. The biggest impact will be Third World domestic PV

180:

" not only post-scarcity, but post-inequality, post-struggle, post-violence, post-pain, post-conflict, post-unpleasant thinking, post-mortality, post-humanity, etc. In other words, what you are positing as a desirable goal is ultimately antithetical to life and is in fact a road to oblivion!"

Well, hooray for poverty, inequality, struggle, violence, pain, war, nastiness and death.

I don't think I want to live in your ideal world - so don't try and make me.

181:

One thing that amuses me (probably the only thing actually) about the "Adam Smith Institute" is that they plainly have not read Adam Smith.

I find nothing ironic about that. Really. After all, many Christians haven't read the Bible cover to cover. Many biologists haven't read The Origin of Species. Many SF writers haven't read a physics textbook...

182:

So you're asking me which one is more moral, warfare or international finance? Sheesh, I need more coffee to answer that one. :D

183:

And, while it's not certain, still at the lab stage, there look to be several research threads that could lead to a doubling of the efficiency of PV.

I think any architest working today needs to have PV in mind when they consider the shape of the house and its roof. And it isn't obvious. Whether you install a PV system now, or in ten years from now, it's rather stupid not to think of solar power. And likewise for controlling heat from sunlight, collecting more in winter and keeping the house cooler in summer.

Instead, I see the standard little boxes. They might have the insulation and the double-glazing, but nobody is engineering the houses.

This house, built pre-1973, is the shape it is because nobody thought it mattered. Since then, there have been enough shenanigans in the energy-supply business, and enough work done on the way houses work, that better designs could be built, but nobody cares about the future.

I think that's a necessary element for a post-scarcity economy: long term thinking rather than a fixation on short term profit.

184:

Yes, but you can't make chipboard out of pools of separated elements without a process very significantly involving a tree, or eggs without a process very substantially involving a chicken. And trees and chickens are at present in a completely different category of sophisticated off-the-shelf item from forges and CNC turning centres.

185:

"Icky coal plants run day and night, rain or shine; solar plants don't."

a) Since most of the world does not have reliable access to grid electricity that doesn't matter

b) Batteries

The idea that PV is going to be mostly used in gigantic power stations is more a Western idea. The biggest impact will be Third World domestic PV

Ah, so we're talking about hundreds of gigawatts of things like this?

http://www.socialitelantern.com/About.html

186:

I don't think there is any excuse for new houses to be built without a solar water heater, and fixing brackets for PV panels to be attached later. Unfortunately AFAIK there is no standard fixing for PV installations, and installation seems to account for most of the cost of existing systems.

187:

The market is reasonably easy to estimate.
About 3 billion people who would be willing to install 1kW peak of PV panels. That's a total of 3000 GW of domestic installation. Or about 100 years worth of production at 2011 levels. There's a big market out there as the price falls.

188:

In a way, haven't conventional wars always have been financial with who could outspend who in armaments? Perhaps we should congratulate ourselves: we've evolved and no longer need a middleman (weapons).

189:

Dirk,

While I happen to agree with you on housing design, the reason that houses aren't built that way is that orienting the roofs to catch the sun makes it harder to pack as many houses (of 2 or 3 standardized designs) into the space they're developing. That's just the voice of cynicism. OTOH, getting rules like what you propose into planning code updates is fairly straightforward, if you speak up when they're revising the code every decade or so, and get a coalition behind you that makes it sound like good governance.

As for the cost, yes, installation is a big factor in PV. So are the inverter (12DC to 120 AC) and any batteries you have.

The one feature the solar companies urgently need to develop or use more widely is a "plug and play" setup that allows them to both automatically hook up to the local power grid when installed, AND to automatically cut the link to the grid when the grid goes down. I'm thinking of that San Diego blackout again. And of how a certain power company employee told me that solar wouldn't make electricity supply any more resilient, because in the event of a major outage, they'd want to shut off all the rooftop solar too, until they could bring the whole system up again. They don't want solar electricity leaking onto local power lines and causing issues for the linesmen. As I consider that remark, I'm beginning to see why that power company has so much trouble accepting rooftop solar in their service area. Sigh.

And yes, I'll bet this little bit of technology exists already.

190:

The problem I have with my house is that it's oriented East-West and the roof does not get enough sun. Inverters are well overpriced, considering a PC power supply can be had for $6. As for resilience, the main focus for domestic users is having electricity when the grid fails. Only a small battery is needed for that, and no using the electric cooker. Integrating PV, grid and electric car battery would be the ideal

191:

Just did a quick lookup on non-PV inverters, 12V to 240VAC. A 1kW module costs around $150 retail.

PV inverters
http://www.solarbuzz.com/facts-and-figures/retail-price-environment/inverter-prices

Same 1kW would be about $700.
There's quite a disparity there which is not justified by the component costs.

192:

on metals

I'm pretty ignorant of this topic, just curious, given the scenario of a collapse to stone age collapse, would a stone age culture be able to extract usable iron and bronze from our modern landfills? Or any other metal which could be worked into useful tools at wood-fire temperatures?

193:

For quite some time they could get rebar out of concrete. And copper from wiring.

194:

You'll be happy to know that aluminum melts at a pretty low temperature, and there is (to understate the case) a shitload of aluminum laying around.

Gold, of course. Copper and silver are ductile and easy to work, although not easy to melt. Lead.

195:

It's interesting how we can embrace new technology yet hang onto other (outdated) memes such rooftop design. While the article below speaks about an industrial application, there's no reason why it couldn't be adapted to individual homes.

Journal Reference:

1. Corey J. Noone, Manuel Torrilhon, Alexander Mitsos. Heliostat field optimization: A new computationally efficient model and biomimetic layout. Solar Energy, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.solener.2011.12.007

Bottom line: Alexander Mitsos and his team at MIT, working with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, have created a new design for concentrated solar power mirror arrays, based on the geometry of a sunflower’s florets. The scientists looked to an existing concentrated solar power plant – the PS10 tower near Seville, Spain – and said their new layout would increase the plant’s efficiency slightly, while dramatically reducing the amount of land needed for the mirror array.

Continuing along the rooftop theme --
Every year or so there's an article about how rooftops can be converted into green spaces - gardens actually. The benefits of such a design are: increased living space, increased gardening space, improved air and water quality (plants filter both), reduced energy consumption (because of the additional insulation layer), increased habitats for birds, insects, and reduce the total amount of warming generated by urban areas (a contributing factor in global warming). This is feasible today. In fact, it's ancient technology with no special materials that need to be 'discovered/invented'. Similarly, many trees, shrubs and plants don't need much soil or can be grown in containers so the supply of plantings already exists.

196:

I think one thing that will happen this decade is that a billion people without regular (or any) access to electricity will be getting it. That IMHO is BIG improvement in the world.

197:

"I think any architest working today needs to have PV in mind when they consider the shape of the house and its roof."

I don't know about the UK, but in the USA, most houses are not designed by architects. Rather, they are designed by speculative builders, usually to the minimum standards the law (expressed in building codes) allows. I don't believe that any US code yet incorporates such requirements, though they have been proposed.

198:

How do we get there from here? How do we obtain Abundance - Abundance such that everyone on earth has all physical necessities (and many of their physical desires as well) as a matter of course and baseline? Even assuming the tech to get there, which we largely do assume is possible, how do we need to change not just in our institutions but in our depth psychology to actually live with and enjoy such Abundance?

It is not a political problem. Notions like socialism or capitalism or any old ism do not apply as they all assume in part more status quo than such Abundance implies. How do you differentiate yourself in a world where everyone has or can have anything you do materially, where everyone can be as smart if they wish, where everyone can download the knowledge and skills you may have developed, where everyone looks as good as you and is in perfect health? Differentiation is pretty deep core for evolved chimps such as ourselves.

Here in the "slow zone" we are used to thinking in terms not only of scarcity but of relative immutability and short (current human lifetime) timescales. We judge one another and more or less must based on current actions or perceptions. What does it mean to adjust our thinking to allow the possibility that anyone can have their understanding/persona souped up to be as together and balanced as they wish? How do we change to the perspective that every person is potentially as great or greater than we can conceive when cheap ubiquitous human development and training becomes just another download or set of programs for your brain?

One of the things that must give and give quickly is artificial scarcity and notions of how to make a living that require limiting people's access to and use of technologies as they come online. We are headed into and must embrace a world where every person perfectly remembers in full fidelity everything that they encounter. We must get beyond the notion that it is "piracy" to use any/all of your extended mental contents or to share them. This problem is becoming huge. Our alternative is to attempt to literally police the mind space (extended by technology) of everyone and effectively partially lobotomize one another. Yes we need to reward creators in some way proportional to how useful/valuable others find their creations. But we cannot and must not kill our own future and criminalize everyone to do so.

How do we get to Abundance? We do not do it by force. We can't get Abundance by whining the current distribution is unfair and by force of arms seizing and redistributing. Here in the slow zone disparities of resources are actually necessary to get progress at all. We are not equal in character, intelligence, ambition, self-discipline, imagination and so on. Some day it might be possible to be more so at the high end of the scale. But that day is not today. So it is hard to see how to be honest about where we are and about what it takes to build out the tech and to find a path to where we think we would like to be.

I don't think the path forward is for a few to decide and to by force coerce the many. I think the path forward is for a vision to catch hold and for many haves to embrace that vision and work toward turning everyone into "haves". I don't think we can get their by involuntary coercion and endless finger pointing. I think one of the big dangers of this period is that the masses believe the possibilities and blame the few for those possibilities not being their current reality in deeply destructive ways.

199:
My personal take is that gene modification will go the way cyborging has gone. A few people will try it, we'll figure out what it's useful for (and my guess is primarily getting rid of genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and Huntingtons), and we'll move on.

I think you're right for the next few generations, say up 'til the middle of the next century or so. Two things can change that: increased useful lifespan and massively improved computational genomics. If people live on average 2 or 3 times our current maximum lifespan, they'll be able to wait for the results of generations-long studies to see what the effects of a particular gene modification would be. If we have really accurate and fast simulations of the entire genome, proteome, and cellular communication systems of the human body (and good models of the active systems: nervous, endocrine, and immune) that have been vetted for a few generations, long enough to be credible in predicting genetic changes, then some people will be willing to trust that the gene engineers know what they're doing without waiting for empirical results.

At some point, assuming the human race and technic civilization survive, it seems likely to me that we'll start seeing speciation events. Not the eight-armed phone operators, more likely variants for microgravity and low air pressure for living in space or on the moons of the gas and ice giants, low temperature for living in Antarctica, etc. And there are bound to be mods for faster reflexes, better memory, better spatial perception, higher intelligence (once we figure out what that is), and so on. But I don't think that will make the modified people non-human; tampering with basic human nature like emotions and inherent behavior patterns is likely to result in non-viable changes. And external mods like brain-computer interfaces will, IMO, result in much more change to the way people think and act, and will be available to many more people in smaller timeframes than gene mods.

200:

While I'm not against green roofs, the general argument for roof top solar is that it's an alternative to deep desert solar and farmland solar. Most people don't use their roofs for anything, and there are square miles of vacant roof space in in most cities, that could be usefully turned into providing some energy for that city. The current paradigm is to find public wildlands and/or private farmlands, and turn those into solar farms.

There are two issues with green roofs: weight and water. On NPR recently, they talked to someone who'd had some manufacturers put in a 600 ton (!) rooftop farm on their old office building. They were amazed the roof hadn't caved in.

Water is one metric tonne per cubic meter (dry soil is approximately one-third metric tonne per cubic meter, and plants are about 80% water), so you can actually put a lot of weight on a roof by turning it into a garden. This is a bigger consideration in earthquake country, where having that big weight high off the ground can get interesting when it all starts shaking.

Also, soil is moist, so you've got to make sure you've got a *good* waterproof liner between your green roof and the roof proper, or the whole thing rots away, and then that weight issue kicks in again.

Note that these aren't show-stoppers. It's just like rooftop solar: it's a bit more complicated than it looks, and you can run into problems if you don't understand the physics of the system you're installing.

201:

On Rooftops Solar ..things are moving, and on a news channel today I saw mention of Very Thin solar and Transparent panels ..err ,yes, well, maybe, but there is the endurance factor in the requirement that such panels - either on ROOF or as the ROOF itself can, say, withstand North East of England Storms off the coast ... the Rain EATS anything that isnt resilient around my way on the North Eastern coast of England and well, lets look at a Case Study Eh?

Once upon a time in the final buliding in which I was due to work after I'd de-commissioned various old buildings that my then University - They were Lucky to Employ Me - was using to accommodate vast numbers of Business Studies Students in the Great Business Degree Bubble of 2000.. I'd have de-commissioned the nastier sections of HELL if I could have delayed my deployment to The New Building that was a typical post brutalism concrete sectional and steel building that was infinitely adaptable by shifting partitions and ...well very like the multi story car park that existed not far away.

As an Example of the Dilbert- ness of it all .. the Staff rooms were called " Pods " ..need I say more?

So whilst I was decommissioning the Old Pharmacy buildings ... 1899 .. that we'd adopted as lecture theatres and I'd been presented with a REAL theatre ... once I'd got past the - ' A THEATRE ! ? for ME ?with stage AND lighting AND EVERYTHING? Oh JOY !' sort of thing and the Teacher Training schools Techs TAFF - it was previously owned by a Teacher Training School - had lined up before me to complain of the Death of Overtime and such like, and I'd discovered that this new found Toy of Mine was horrible dangerous due to neglect and - whisper it who dare - possible misappropriation of funds, and whilst I was drinking ghastly coffee and watching the new Building Go Up it did occur to me when that, when the New Building reached Roof Metal Clad and Bowed to meet the rainwater drainage system, that one of these days that building’s roof and the one under which I drank coffee could, on its metal water draining surface, mount any number of photo cell arrays or be replaced by Photo Arrays that were the roof, and so on .....as could the roof on that nearby multi story car park.

The thing is that whatever took place under the roof the roof itself could become a Power Collector as the Technology advanced. Simples ..all you need is a load bearing structure that could be called a roof.

Look around you and see just how many modern post brutalism buildings could hold up power collectors or be power collectors when the Tech catches up.

In the mean time the poor sods who are obliged to teach vast numbers of Chinese students are still housed in PODS whilst I took early retirement.

It’s a funny old world.

202:

Scale seems to be a recurring theme in many posts here including the discussion of rooftop solar and/or gardening. My preference is for small but widespread versus massive but fewer in number (and usu. corporate) changes simply because of the multiplier effect. Mass distribution of a small commodity usually leads to more suppliers therefore an increased likelihood niche/market segment development leading to targeted product improvements which in turn means broader applicability/adoption, and so on. The small commodity product market cycle is faster and often healthier in terms of overall economy, consumer economies of scale, etc. than large capital investment ('utility company'-style) strategies.

As for roof strength/weight bearing -- yes, this is definitely a concern and I would consult a structural engineer to check load/weight bearing strength. Keep in mind though that you don't need to completely cover the roof with soil/garden to get results. About 6-8 inches of soil for bedding plants plus a handful of containers (15-18 inches of soil) for small trees and vines would make a large impact. There are some very leafy and hardy perennial ground covers that can thrive in about 3 inches of soil. I'd be more worried about the humongous BBQs, wine fridges and solid wood deck chairs that so many home owners are now insisting on for 'decorating' their decks/patios.

Anyone who's ever had a large fish tank probably knows how to figure out whether or not their roof could support the additional weight of a rooftop garden.

http://www.african-cichlid.com/Structure.htm

I keep hoping that Vegas builds an arcology/garden terraced casino hotel (futuristic Hanging Gardens of Babylon) so that more people become familiar with this concept. Vegas and Dubai seem to be the only areas doing interesting large scale architecture these days although the The World (archipelago)project seems to have stalled.

203:

Exactly! -- " ... the roof itself could become a Power Collector as the Technology advanced. Simples ..all you need is a load bearing structure that could be called a roof."

As could asphalt paved roads once solar paint gets tested/approved.

204:

Re: our landfills as sources of metal for a post-collapse stone age world, to be worked into useful tools at wood fire temperatures.

If enough time has passed to oxidize the metal, a landfill wouldn't be a particularly good source of ore; there are too many different things mixed together. You'd be better off getting the rebar out of concrete or finding something big that was originally made out of metal (and not scavenged during the collapse). The exception are noble metals (copper, silver, gold, ...); those wouldn't oxidize. Chances are that you might have enough electrical appliances in some landfills to get a useful amount of copper out of them, but nowadays in many places that sort of stuff doesn't make it to the landfill. Bronze is extremely unlikely; that was historically a way to strengthen copper, but not much is made of bronze today. Wood fire temperatures aren't a problem. If you first burn the wood with little oxygen (in a pit, for instance) to make charcoal, you can make steel from iron oxide with only wood-derived charcoal for fuel. Despite the higher working temperature, I'd recommend steel over aluminum for low-tech toolmaking from scavenged resources.

Re: separating things to their constituent elements

The second law of thermodynamics says that unmixing things is a lot harder than mixing them. Generally, it really isn't possible to run a manufacturing process in reverse.

205:

""Adam Smith Institute" is that they plainly have not read Adam Smith.

I find nothing ironic about that. Really. After all, many Christians haven't read the Bible cover to cover. Many biologists haven't read The Origin of Species. Many SF writers haven't read a physics textbook..."

One of these things is not like the other.

That is, there is no particular reason for biologists to have read the Origin of Species, nor physicists the Principia. They should know the ideas, insofar as those ideas have stood up to testing, but there's no need to have read the initial presentation.

OTOH communities actually based around a central or holy book could be expected to have read it, and naively one might expect science fiction writers to know some science.


As for zero-energy solar houses, they're really neat, but I'm not sure they're compatible with modern urban density, with multistory houses facing in all four directions. Let alone apartment buildings.

206:

“As could asphalt paved roads once solar paint gets tested/approved. “Well, maybe ...

But first we'd have to arrange for all those roads to be repaired.

Hereabouts in my ever so middle class leafy but Tough Up North suburbs- my next door neighbours work as Bankers! and I couldnt have bought my house on my public service salary if that purchase hadnt been made Long Long ago - the last couple of Traditionally ferocious winters have carved pot holes in the road surfaces whist motor car ownership has increased exponentialy over the past 10 years ...at end of street there is a family of two adults and three children each of whom has a car and that household is on a strreet corner and does not possess a garage.. That in any case would hereabouts be used for storage...car share? HA!

Anyway the thing is that the road surface is bound to be subjected to modern wear and tear through vehicle tyres whilst the modern roof is only prone to wear by weather and is a far better candidate for Solar Power-ification ..or whatever the term might be.

207:

Re: "There is only one Mona Lisa" - just the day before that comment, finding a second Mona Lisa in the Prado made headlines (at least in Europe ...).

More towards the topic: How does a hyperdigital IP economy work - i.e. if you have a machine that can replicate the Mona Lisa on an atomic level, how expensive would it to ensure nobody does this?

208:

More towards the topic: How does a hyperdigital IP economy work - i.e. if you have a machine that can replicate the Mona Lisa on an atomic level, how expensive would it to ensure nobody does this?

Supposing for a moment that this technology were to be bought into existence not putting the Mona Lisa into a scanning machine (or whatever) would be one way of stopping people. But even if you didn't people would still (IMO) attribute virtue to the original one. The question then becomes how to you prove it is original which I suspect could only be done through having diligent records and evidence of where it had been. Antique hunters become a far more important profession at this point.

209:

There's a bunch of things here that need to be straightened out.

One is that it's entirely possible to work iron without a fire. This is how one group of Inuit entered the "Iron Age," by hammering bits off a meteor in northern Greenland and making knives out of the flakes.

As for landfills, they tend to be largely anoxic, if not toxic, so there's no particular reason for metals to oxidize inside them. It's also not going to be fun getting those metals out. This won't stop anyone from digging through old landfills, but it's going to be dangerous work.

Bronze seems to be more of a category than a specific metal. There are things like arsenic bronze, silicon bronze, and beryllium copper has also been called beryllium bronze. Think of it as a general term for copper that has been alloyed to strengthen it, and different bronzes have different properties.

The thing about metallurgy is that smelting metals requires a lot of concentrated heat. Bronze melts at a somewhat lower temperature than copper, and you need an even hotter fire to smelt iron out of iron ore (one from charcoal, or better, coke). In the archeological record, there's a link between types of pottery or porcelain made and the metal worked, because both depend on ultra-hot fires. It's impossible to smelt iron or copper without charcoal or its equivalent, AFAIK.

However, for the coming stone age, the best source for arrow heads and knife blades is broken toilets and sinks. Urban flintknappers often practice on porcelain (aka "johnstone") because it's hard, flakes well, and there's a lot of it out there. Bottles used to be great about 50 years ago, but they are getting so thin now that the glass isn't really useful.

210:

I havn't tried smelting copper in wood, but any decently draughted fire will turn the wood into charcoal anyway, and you can reach a thousand C and more in a wood powered draft furnace so forming a good bed of hot charcoal at the bottom, perfect for reducing malachite.
You are right though about iron, charcoal is the only real way of getting the right conditions, and it needs a good draft as well.

Now I have knowledge and ability to rebuild furnaces, but very few others in the UK do.

The small problem is that if you have a high die off rate, you will likely lose many of the people with technical knowledge in favour of the lucky or excessively violent. If you have a low die off rate, there may never be enough resources to go around, and endemic violence might do what it did to Pythagoras or Archimedes or whoever that was killed on a beach by a soldier.

Anyway, the main thing is to avoid a catastrophe in the first place. Unfortunately, as I discussed with a friend today, there is a lack of forwards thinking in politicians and others with power, and insufficient proper discussion of what goes on and how things are and how they should be.

211:

"s for zero-energy solar houses, they're really neat, but I'm not sure they're compatible with modern urban density, with multistory houses facing in all four directions. Let alone apartment buildings."

Solar panels are still very expensive things, more than $100 per sq metre. I would expect that when that price falls to, say, $10 a sq metre PV panels will be everywhere, on every outside surface including walls. That will happen (I guess) within 20 years.

212:

in re human genetic engineering: I suspect that this would happen first in non-Western countries. The experiments would result in large numbers of badly screwed up babies, and that wouldn't go over well in America or Europe. In China or Thailand, it might be possible. Of course, the fact that I think this might just show how little I know about those countries.

I recall reading that China started doing this sort of thing in the '90s. I have every reason to doubt the veracity of this report, but it would make an interesting novel.

213:

Huh, how come it looks like you're replying to ARCHAEOPTERYX? Anyway, I was thinking more of the heavily passive solar designs. Which are neat, but awnings and south facing windows and modulating the sun you get seems a bit irrelevant when you're on the south side of a street facing north and shaded by various tall buildings, or on the east/west side and shaded by your immediate neighbor. Not that you can't still use some techniques, and maybe turn south-side buildings around, but I get a bit bemused when I see someone talk, as I have, about some awesome house they built in Colorado, and I'm renting an apartment in Boston...

Plus all the capital tied up in old buildings that we won't be re-building right away (if ever, for the historical ones.)

214:

one generation, birth to old age, to find out what the problems are and how to fix them

Assuming the fix doesn't introduce more issues.

Anyone in the trenches of software development will quickly understand that this will be a continuous process with some possibly really bad results that don't show up for 40 years or more. That fix for digestive issues turns out to guarantee that you get dementia at age 50. Or maybe worse if it skips a generation and makes your kids sterile.

215:

Absolutely, David. Even though I'm usually negative, I was actually trying to be positive with this one.

Good thing we're so well adapted for cultural evolution.

216:

Renewable energy is not too cheap to meter, but it's cheap enough that "energy is too limited" is not a serious objection to the possibility of post-scarcity economies.

I have found a remarkable perspective on the price of electricity from conventional and renewable sources by searching Google Books for references to electricity prices of the mid 20th century. For example, according to a note in the January 1947 edition of Life magazine, residential customers in the US paid an average of 3 1/3 cents per kilowatt hour, a tremendous drop from the original 1882 Edison plant price of 25 cents per kilowatt hour. Adjusting for inflation, 3 1/3 cents in 1947 would be 34 cents per kilowatt hour in 2011.

According to Solarbuzz, a residential rooftop system including battery backup can produce electricity at 29 cents per kilowatt hour in a sunny climate. An industrial-size rooftop system (500 kw, no battery backup) in a sunny climate runs only 15 cents per kilowatt hour. The costs roughly double in cloudy climates, but that's it; total annual insolation in the continental US varies by only a factor of 2 or so, from the foggiest maritime areas to the brightest deserts. Solar electricity as we know it today would appear delightfully economical from the vantage point of the immediate post-war years. Wind power, of course, is still ahead by a mile in suitable regions -- long term contracts in Iowa are going for less than 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

Likewise, in a previous entry on this site I calculated that nitrogen fertilizer produced in 1955 cost $2200 (inflation-adjusted to 2010 dollars) per metric ton of anhydrous ammonia. Today, it would cost about $1400 to produce that same ton of ammonia using renewable electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt hour instead of fossil fuels. The reason it's not done is that ammonia from natural gas is cheaper yet, only $853 per ton in Illinois, October 2011.

Renewable electricity looks expensive compared to recent Business as Usual. Compared to Business as Usual as recently and near as 1950s America, it's surprisingly cheap. When the next doomer or Republican tells you that we'll all live in mud huts when we can't use cheap fossil fuels (either because fuels run out or environmental legislation stands in the way), ask them to estimate how expensive electricity was at the end of World War II and how much more expensive green electricity is today.

217:

Every year or so there's an article about how rooftops can be converted into green spaces - gardens actually...

Most existing (not high rise or converted industrial buildings) homes in the US have no where near the structure needed to support much of anything like this. And no matter what the studies claim there are a ton of issues with water leakage when you put anything on a typical US roof. Much of the blow back on roof top solar conversions comes from water issues. Especially down the road as you get to where you need to re-shingle. And yes I know that maybe we shouldn't use asphalt shingles but you were talking existing stock, not new construction. I think.

218:

As could asphalt paved roads once solar paint gets tested/approved.

So this paint would wear better than current road surfaces?

219:

"That fix for digestive issues turns out to guarantee that you get dementia at age 50."

Very unlikely given that the "fix" is already existing in everyone else. That's why boosting various abilities using existing alleles is not going to be too difficult, or dangerous. That's assuming the technique of precision insertion/replacement works OK.

220:

The small problem is that if you have a high die off rate, you will likely lose many of the people with technical knowledge in favour of the lucky or excessively violent.

True, of course - but remember that all these skills were invented at least once in the past. Doing it again from old books and the knowledge that it was done can't be harder than doing it in the first place.

I hadn't expected the old metal theme to go on this long, but it's worth mentioning that trial & error plus practice can do a lot for you, particularly when you've got a general idea of what you want to accomplish. (And as safe as anything involving playing with molten metal in your driveway is going to get.) I've actually got a friend who does sand casting and getting an aluminum thingy roughly the shape you want is quite easy.

Although there was the time that the scrap metal piece he added to the crucible to be melted turned out not to be aluminum but magnesium. "And a memorable time was had by all."

221:

That parenthetical remark was of course supposed to go at the after the sentence about sand casting. Darn lack of editing options.

222:

Inverters are well overpriced, considering a PC power supply can be had for $6.

PC power supplies are not even close to the same design as an inverter. And even if they were are you saying that a Porsche is just a scaled up riding lawn mower? Or a 747 a scaled up Piper Cub?

And there are some details about these cheap converters others have mentioned. They tend to NOT be sine wave output devices. And while that might work great for the hunting lodge or a battery charger on a construction site, there's a lot of stuff in homes and businesses that expect something fairly close to a sine wave.

And many do not have UL (not sure of what the EU label is) ratings. Or many seem to be fake. This is a personal observation, not backed up by any stats.

Power engineering is in many ways a bitch. Safety is a huge issue. No one wants to go back to the early days when up to 30% of linemen died PER YEAR.

There's a reason all this ready to install in a home or small business stuff cost so much. There's a lot of engineering required to make it safe, affordable, and reliable.

223:

Not that you can't still use some techniques, and maybe turn south-side buildings around, but I get a bit bemused when I see someone talk, as I have, about some awesome house they built in Colorado, and I'm renting an apartment in Boston...

Yep. Once you get out of areas that are reasonably flat and/or without many trees of much height the "orient everything for solar" is more of a cute concept than something you can use to plan for in energy production. Now for those developers that bulldoze an area flat and put up the row after row of 3 story apartments next to a big box strip mall with some multi and single family houses around could make it work. But most on the green side of things fight these developments tooth and nail.

As to me personally I am fairly certain my 1963 house would not support the weight of solar and or plants on the roof. Even if I could get my neighbors to cut down of the 100' pine trees they have that could cut my usable sunlight by 20% to 40%.

Now don't get me wrong. I think PV solar has a bright future. Especially as costs come down. But I'm not into wishful (automagical) thinking as to when it will happen.

224:

There is still no excuse for the 4x higher price of PV inverters compared to normal ones. The complexity is not that much greater, nor the component count and cost. It's like all PV stuff at present - overpriced because of small demand. Yes, 27GW of PV output per year is *small*. When production is 10x that in 5 or 6 years, at around 250GW per year, prices for full systems will fall even more.

225:

Here's an article on solar development in the Mojave Desert for those interested. The group I work with did not sign off on Ivanpah, incidentally.

226:

Here's an article on solar development in the Mojave Desert for those interested. The group I work with did not sign off on Ivanpah, incidentally.

227:

Hey Damien, look at the graph in the my post that you commented. So far, population is a pretty solid exponential function. It may or may not level off soon, in which case the levelling may or may not be permanent (sub-populations that avoid birth control may come to dominate the picture). But the data so far looks like Malthus was not so much wrong as two centuries early.

228:

Hello Cat,

Zefram Cochrane (my propeller hat is in pre-flight mode)was sponsored by a billionaire and Earth was between a few wars.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zefram_Cochrane
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Star_Trek#Eugenics_Wars_and_World_War_III

Now I must fly, some cat photos need captions!

Fritz

229:

New Scientist had an article 10th Jan revisiting Limits to Growth. It's still behind the paywall but the summary output from one of the World3 simulation runs is here
http://www.newscientist.com/data/images/archive/2846/28462101.jpg

There was a comment in the article that it's not clear if some of those curves are actually exponential and if so at what exponent. Population is particularly awkward now because we're in a transition stage and it's the sum of two large numbers. And those numbers are themselves heavily dependent on all the other factors with a bunch of long time lags. So overall birth rates are falling faster than the model predicted back in '72 but overall death rates are falling faster. The model predicts that hitting the resource limits, food creation limits or pollution limits hard will result in a pretty radical restructuring of the population size and within one generation.

The model shows highly inter-dependent factors with significant time lags. Consequently pretty much every run results in overshoot with catastrophic correction. The only question is how long it takes and how hard it crashes. Avoiding that requires active management of the processes which we should have been doing last century. And that's the kicker about exponential growth processes. The longer you leave it with your foot mashing down on the accelerator pedal, the harder it is to stop and the less runway there is left before the brick wall.

I'm afraid this makes me very pessimistic about the ~100 year future. The dates are uncertain though. I probably won't see the bad times, and my kids might not either. I can still be optimistic about the 10 year and 1000 year futures, just not the 100 year future. Scarcity is going to be the new abundance?

230:

#61 - I'd suggest that "luck" is having favourable outcomes to a number of events that might easily have have gone the other way.

231:

Nobody seems to have posted this yet, so I though I'd point out that Peter Frase (whose Anti-Star Trek was mentioned above) has a longer version of his argument in the latest issue of Jacobin:

http://jacobinmag.com/winter-2012/four-futures/

This essay specifically examines the cultural and political consequences of post-scarcity and proposes four possible paths from our current society. At the moment all signs point toward the "Exterminism" scenario, unfortunately.

232:

Erm
Post-scarcity
How do people regard the current partly artificial, partly real "scarcity" that is going to royally screw the Euro-using section of the EU, at the least?
Greece is going to default - no doubt about it.
Greece should never have been in the Euro in the first place, and if their guvmint actually collected even 2/3rds of the taxes they are owed, they wouldn't have a problem.
But they are going down.
Then waht?
Italy? Spain? Portugal?
Ireland going to a min-Bretton Woods with a revived "punt"?

And how will this affect the "short" term, i.e. the bext 10 years, perhaps 15?

233:

It might introduce a note of political sanity, not to mention democracy, in the EU

234:

You can make eggs from cake by feeding cake to chickens.

More seriously - if you design produces and services with a cradle to cradle mindset then you ought to be able to have an economy where all goods are 100% recycleable or reusable.

235:

I totally agree.
The only bottlenecks at present are energy and labour.
The latter will become a decreasing problem with automation. Energy, OTOH, is going to be a problem in the near term.

236:

As others have mentioned, it is not so difficult to reach post-scarcity in a small resource-rich area, but sooner or later the outside world interferes and breaks the balance.

Some European countries have got quite close to the idea, but depending on scarcity/cheap labour or services somewhere else, and in the process drawing immigrants that overburden the system.

However, the fact that we have got close to it at a national level, and that the system once established seems to work (and nobody is more conservative than contented people), gives me hope that if something like that takes hold on most of the world, it may well take hold on all of it, and that is, for me, the prelude for the real show, space colonization (which is where the excess population will have to go, anyway).

What most post-scarcity fiction does have is a flexible, all-powerful structure (Minds/AIs in the Culture/Polity) making sure the system keeps working. And those countries where they were/are close to achieveing the ideal there is a strong social contract, interventionist power structures (with strong participatory democracy), and socialized resources.

Just the opposite of the USA today, and the opposite of where they are trying to push the world.

Because I do not think an evolutionary leap is really necessary, but we need an egalitarian society before it can really progress to post-scarcity. Social change first, and then, if we have the technology, voila, magic.

237:

DavidL: "That fix for digestive issues turns out to guarantee that you get dementia at age 50."

Dirk: "Very unlikely given that the "fix" is already existing in everyone else. That's why boosting various abilities using existing alleles is not going to be too difficult, or dangerous. That's assuming the technique of precision insertion/replacement works OK."

No, because the effects will depend on the interaction of many, many genes, and the environment. Taking a novel allele will result in odd things happening. Now, if it's present in a significant proportion of the population, the effects might be known.

238:

But we are not talking about novel alleles

239:

Solar paint, rooftop gardens, solar roofs, solar cloth, etc. are all intended as examples of multi-tasking products. My point is that too many of today’s current energy technology solutions focus on only one power source or on only one way of getting power out of device. There’s no talk yet of energy hybrids or combinations/permutations (apart from cars) which is frankly quite stupid since probably all biological creatures get their energy (calories) from multiple sources, i.e., carbs/sugars, fats, proteins and yes – even direct sunlight. As an example, take the massive wind farm in the article that Heteromeles (225) refers to on solar development in the Mojave Desert. Why not go 3-D by interspersing the massive flat solar arrays with (solar painted/tiled) wind power to instantly increase solar power production per hectare?


ARCHAEOPTERYX 206: “But first we'd have to arrange for all those roads to be repaired.” – True, and ideally you’d use a double-purpose product. As for how durable the existing solar paint is – I don’t know. However there are resins that might be mixed in to improve this product. (I’m thinking of the resins used for granite composites that now have over 30 years of use as flooring and with which I’m personally familiar. And, yes this material really is superior to natural granite. See excerpt from Wiki below. )

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epoxy_granite

Advantages include:
* Vibration damping.
* Flexibility: custom linear ways, hydraulic fluid tanks, threaded inserts, cutting fluid, and conduit piping can all be integrated into the polymer base.
* Inclusion of inserts etc. allows greatly reduced machining of the finished casting.
* Assembly time is reduced by incorporating multiple components into one casting.
* Does not require a uniform wall thickness, allowing for greater design flexibility of your base.
* Chemical resistance to most common solvents, acids, alkalis, and cutting fluids.
* Does not require painting.
* Composite has a density approximately the same as aluminum (but pieces are thicker to achieve equivalent strength).
* The composite polymer concrete casting process uses much less energy than metallic castings. Polymer cast resins use very little energy to produce, and the casting process is done at room temperature.

Epoxy granite material has an internal damping factor up to ten times better than cast iron, up to three times better than natural granite, and up to thirty times better than steel fabricated structure. It is unaffected by coolants, has excellent long-term stability, improved thermal stability, high torsional and dynamic stiffness, excellent noise absorption, and negligible internal stresses.
Disadvantages include low strength in thin sections (less than 1 in (25 mm)), low tensile strength, and low shock resistance.[citation needed]


Dirk Bruere 211: “Solar panels ... will happen (I guess) within 20 years.” - There’s also solar cloth which could do double duty when used as awnings, drapery liners, etc.


Damien RS 213: “.. about some awesome house they built in Colorado, and I'm renting an apartment in Boston... Plus all the capital tied up in old buildings that we won't be re-building right away (if ever, for the historical ones.)” – True which is why multiple solutions that are also multi-purpose are needed. Regional climates affect which building materials are used – same thinking should be used regarding energy planning.


David L 217: “And yes I know that maybe we shouldn't use asphalt shingles but you were talking existing stock, not new construction. I think.” – Both actually. I’ll need to re-shingle within a few years. Since this will cost thousands, I want as much bang for my buck as possible. I’ve had to research this online because none of my friends/family have gone solar yet and none of the major home improvement retailers have any experience. Government information sources are pretty skimpy too.

While there is some interesting research in solar beyond panels, it’s disappointing because most solar researchers have tunnel vision: few discuss how solar roofs can be integrated into existing structures and power supplies or with other solar or alternate power sources. It’s like early 20th century entertainment – there was radio and there was the moving picture, but it took years before audio-video was combined into talkies.


David L 218: - “So this paint would wear better than current road surfaces?” I don’t know. The solar paint is a new technology however it would make sense that the manufacturers would combine it with whatever additives they’re already using to extend existing road material durability.

http://solarpowerpanels.ws/solar-power/paint-on-solar-cells-breakthrough-technology


David L 223: “... my 1963 house would not support the weight of solar and or plants on the roof.” – Solar shingles of about the same weight as regular shingles are now available but the wiring scheme is still nuts – you have to run wire from every shingle. This concept needs a lot more work.


Jay 227: Apart from medical care – which frankly is overestimated -- seniors typically use fewer resources per capita, be it food, clothing, housing, energy, electronics, etc. (That’s why they continue to be ignored by most consumer goods/services marketers.) I would check on what average age the extrapolations of energy needs are based on:

240:

Two items from today's news, relevant to this discussion:
1] Hope and a way forward.
2] Despair and a way into decline.

Comments?

241:

An interesting story from ScienceDaily (Engineers Weld Nanowires With Light) affirming that double-duty materials are possible. (Note: I've edited out several paragraphs.)

ScienceDaily (Feb. 6, 2012) — At the nano level, researchers at Stanford have discovered a new way to weld together meshes of tiny wires. Their work could lead to innovative electronics and solar applications. To succeed, they called upon plasmonics.

Promising exceptional electrical throughput, low cost and easy processing, engineers foresee a day when such meshes are common in new generations of touch-screens, video displays, light-emitting diodes and thin-film solar cells.

In a paper just published in the journal Nature Materials, a team of engineers at Stanford has demonstrated a promising new nanowire welding technique that harnesses plasmonics to fuse the wires with a simple blast of light.

In before-and-after electron-microscope images, individual nanowires are visually distinct prior to illumination. They lay atop one another, like fallen trees in the forest. When illuminated, the top nanowire acts like an antenna of sorts, directing the plasmon waves of light into the bottom wire and creating heat that welds the wires together. Post-illumination images show X-like nanowires lying flat against the substrate with fused joints.

Transparency

In addition to making it easier to produce stronger and better performing nanowire meshes, the researchers say that the new technique could open the possibility of mesh electrodes bound to flexible or transparent plastics and polymers.

To demonstrate the possibilities, they applied their mesh on Saran wrap. They sprayed a solution containing silver nanowires in suspension on the plastic and dried it. After illumination, what was left was an ultrathin layer of welded nanowires.

"Then we balled it up like a piece of paper. When we unfurled the wrap, it maintained its electrical properties," said co-author Yi Cui, an associate professor materials science and engineering. "And when you hold it up, it's virtually transparent."

This could lead to inexpensive window coatings that generate solar power while reducing glare for those inside, the researchers said.

This research was supported by the Center for Advanced Molecular Photovoltaics (CAMP) at Stanford University funded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST).

242:

Consider an interesting possibility - Islam, with the tradition of the zakat, may be a better cultural breeding ground for a post-scarcity economy that the West...

243:

The American space agency looks set to pull the plug on its joint missions to Mars with the European Space Agency.
...
Europe is now banking on a Russian partnership to keep the missions alive.

Because of all the success Russian has had with Mars missions over the years?

Oh, well.

I continue to say the best thing that NASA can do for the US and space exploration is give the space station to the EU or Russia. Let them spend the billions annually flying 3 to 6 guys in circles.

Says a big fan / proponent of space exploration who thought both the shuttle and station were huge money sinks designed by Congress.

244:

David L 217: “And yes I know that maybe we shouldn't use asphalt shingles but you were talking existing stock, not new construction. I think.” – Both actually. I’ll need to re-shingle within a few years. Since this will cost thousands, I want as much bang for my buck as possible. I’ve had to research this online because none of my friends/family have gone solar yet and none of the major home improvement retailers have any experience. Government information sources are pretty skimpy too.

Because all of these products are still basically alpha versions for sale. Where I live shingles have to deal with 30F or more temp changes in a day and seasonal changes of over 100F. And allow people up on the roof to work on them or the vents or clear off the leaves and also hold up reasonable well when our stupid 100' pines throw limbs at them. And let us do things like put in a new vent without hiring an electrician.

While there is some interesting research in solar beyond panels, it’s disappointing because most solar researchers have tunnel vision: few discuss how solar roofs can be integrated into existing structures and power supplies or with other solar or alternate power sources. It’s like early 20th century entertainment – there was radio and there was the moving picture, but it took years before audio-video was combined into talkies.

Because that integration is a bitch. I've been somewhat involved in home construction since I was 2 years old. We lived in houses we built ourselves and my dad build and remodeled houses while I was growing up as his part time job. As the general contractor / developer. Plus I earn a living working with computer systems for architects. Many of them want to design and build these integrated systems also. But just like with movies back in the day, sound recording took a lot development to get the fidelity and syncing ability to the point where you could fill a movie theater with sound people might want to hear. Movie's didn't require electronics for the visual portion. But they did for the audio. A wax cylinder with a horn didn't cut it.

We will have better systems in the future. But improvement in these things does not come overnight. It's incremental.

245:

The general reason for not integrating wind and solar is that big solar does best on big flat areas, whereas big wind does best on windy peaks and passes. They don't really overlap.

Now, when we get down to house-level solar and (potentially) wind, that's a much better fit. I'm a little bit less enamored with smallwind turbines than I was a few years ago, because windmills tend to spray debris and/or burning stuff when they fail, and parking one near where the kids play isn't as good an idea as it sounds. Still, a lot of old farms had a windmill out away from the house where it wouldn't kill anyone if it failed, and that's not a bad way to do things.

Personally, I'm fond of earthships, although I can't get my partner interested in building one. They are a much better example of integration than what we've talked about so far.

246:

Then everyone is lucky.

"#61 - I'd suggest that "luck" is having favourable outcomes to a number of events that might easily have have gone the other way."

247:

Eloise writes:

What happens if Oppenheimer's guess for the yield of the first A-bomb was right (he chose the amount of dynamite in there). WWII almost certainly doesn't end in short order.

By the time the first A-bombs were dropped, they were pretty well characterized. There were still uncertainties, but the testing was a lot more advanced than most people tend to assume.

Some aspects had been fixed a long time before that, and if final testing turned up a problem would have been inconvenient to fix. The implosion bomb explosive shell basic dimensions would have been very hard to increase, for example. But they knew from various tests (RaLa tests) how small the core imploded to with those explosive systems, and had run many dozens of implosion tests with inert cores and gotten very consistent results.

If there was still an error, the amount of fissile material at the core could have been adjusted up or down to get the results level desired. And long before they built the first test bomb, they'd determined the critical mass of Plutonium by doing experiments with a weapon-sized ball of Pu and various neutron reflectors (two of which killed people; one before the first weapon test, one a couple of years later).

They could have messed up the mathematics of the bomb yield, given implosion efficiency and the critical mass and neutron behavior, but they'd figured out the equations early on (1942) and re-re-rechecked them a bunch.

Even if yield had been a factor of 8 low (2.5 KT vs 20 KT) the military effectiveness would have been plenty for the desired application. The damage radii would have been about a factor of 2 smaller, and damage area about a factor of 4 smaller. So instead of 210,000 or so killed it's 50,000, but the central built up area of the targeted city is still flat and burning.


For the Uranium gun bomb, the margins on the initial design were so high that it was designed for 93% enriched Uranium and was successfully fired to high yield with about 80% enrichment core. These margins were huge both on predetonation and on yield / performance.

IF both designs had been duds and the physics far different than from what it was thought to be and tested to be, then yes, WW2 could have ended much uglier. The dynamics of the Japanese war cabinet were such that it took 3 hammer blows to force surrender; the two A-bombs and the Russian declaration of war.

What another month or two of time past Russia declaring, and another month of US bombing, would have done is unclear to me. The Japanese military was gearing up for a final battle on the beaches and in the hills. The Civilians wanted to surrender as-is.

248:

unholyguy writes:

They are much much much worse. It's not very hard to sterilize the whole ball of mud forever.

Killing a few hundred million people is a bunch of orders of magnitude from sterilizing the whole ball of mud forever.

Had every bomb at the megatons yield world inventory peak been a cobalt salted bomb, there wouldn't have been enough damage potential to sterilize the planet.

It's entirely reasonable to be afraid of what nuclear weapons can do. Ascribing alleged planetary sterilization is merely paranoia.

249:

On mainthread ...

I've thought about how I'd write on this topic. If you go back 1000 years (or 500, for that matter) and see what the heirarchy of needs are, and then start looking at what we've solved since then, you're left with some obvious things for the remaining scarce items.

I consider "remove any one scarcity now and see what happens" as an emminently thought-provokable story setting starting point.

Scarcity of equality... What if the poorest people in Africa improve their lot and make 1/10 of what the US average is? What if it's near parity?

Scarcity of information... We have loads of information - the Internet, Wikipedia, Google, ... But people make poor use of it much of the time. What if it becomes available to nearly everyone or everyone, in realtime, all the time?

Scarcity of energy... What if we had enough energy that metering it (other than for giant art projects using tesla coils to melt mountain ranges) made no sense? And plenty of more credible intermediate scenarios...

Scarcity of materiel... What if you could shovel crushed rock into a hopper and get fully processed raw materials out the other side of the machine? What if the machine could digest mountains and leave you cubic-kilometer sized piles of new metals and other materials every day?

Scarcity of illness... What if we figured out how to make people healthy all the time, reliably, and rapidly heal injuries?

And the related Scarcity of Death... What if one of the suspended animation technologies works, say the hydrogen sulfide biological inerting one, and we can "stop" someone who's in danger of death, then go in and fix it. People don't die of illness or injury because we can't fix their problems, they die because we can't get ahead of the rate of damage. Being able to stop the damage might be enough...

Scarcity of opportunity... What if the super-bright kid in the little village outside Dar es Salaam was consistently identified in grade school, got tutoring from MIT professors, and a scholarship to come to the states for college and grad school and a postdoc and professorship? (Good and bad things surely follow from this scenario..., as with all the others above...)

250:

BILL TAXED THE TOP 1% and it worked great! Bill's years of prosperity started with a war over taxes. When President Clinton was enacting his first federal budget in 1993, he found his "fiscally conservative" Republican predecessor had left a $290-billion deficit. He
responded by imposing substantial tax increases on the top 1 percent of
taxpayers and omitting the "middle-class tax cut" he had promised in his
campaign. That measure passed by the vote of Al Gore in the Senate.
Like now the Republican right threw a screaming tantrum, falsely
describing the tax increase as the "largest in history" (that was Reagan's)and warning that it would result in a severe recession or worse. Conservative politicians and pundits unanimously
predicted that higher taxes would mean fewer jobs and larger deficits.
They were wrong. Within a few years after the ’93
tax hike, we were enjoying full employment, shrinking poverty, rising
household incomes at all levels, greater home ownership—and the prospect
of a gigantic federal surplus. but Bush fixed all of that. Clinton left almost no deficit, and most of that was the payments on Reagan's borrowing. By the time Bush-2 was gone we were making payments on 1.7 trillions dollars. Almost all most to rich foreigners. But the Republicans loved it, it paid for tax cut to the rich.

251:

Yes, the interest on what you owe the Chinese is enough to support their military expansion

252:

Enough Q&A; we want stories!

STORYTIME!
STORYTIME!
STORYTIME!

253:

We started as Humans, changed ourselves, got it right and lived happily ever after. The end.

254:

To be fair, Clinton rode the dot.com bubble. Otherwise, I agree. The general trend is for democratic presidents (aside from Obama) to shrink deficits, and for Republicans to raise them.

Since the debt got bigger under Obama, I'm not sure whether that makes Obama a moderate republican in democrat guise (in environmental policy, for example, he's to the right of Nixon), whether his budget sucks because the economy sucked so hard for the last four years, or whether trying to fill the yawning void left by George 2 just made US finances worse than they would have been otherwise. I think there's a mix of all of that in there, but probably the economy played the driving role.

I'd also add that George II Bush didn't account for any of his war spending in his budgets, so the budget hole is actually quite a bit bigger than was it when George II handled the accounting. Had we not gone into Iraq, we'd have had money for, oh, lots of things. Rebuilding US infrastructure, working to put Baby Boomer retirement on a better footing, persecuting the subprime lenders with a properly aggressive justice department. Oh well.

255:

We are not equal in character, intelligence, ambition, self-discipline, imagination and so on.

From what I have seen, outside of the very edge cases, differences in human capabilities are fractional – one can be 10% smarter or more imaginative, but not 3x smarter, and certainly nor 1000x as smart. The order-of-magnitude differences between humans tend to be in interest (I can be 1000x times more interested in stamp collecting than you), opportunity (I can be in a position to marshall 1000x more capital than you), and luck (I can win the lottery).

This does not mean that there cannot be inequality of outcome in a fair system, just that it would be temporary and variable – I make 10x more than you one year, say, then you make 10x more than me the next.

256:

aexp @ 255
Having been a teacher - wrong.
Some people really can't do some supposedly ordinary, easy things, such as read a map, do simple multiplication, understand a quadratic equation, cook a meal, play team games.
Whereas others can, and easily.

Meanwhile I'm very suprised that no-one has picked up on my earlier reference to a remarkable advance in medical technology/help, using rep-rap/fabbing, and materials technology.
I mean: an individually tailored artificial jawbone, made out of laser-sintered Titanium powder, then plasma-coated with a bioceramic.
For your information HERE it is again
Please take a look.

257:

#246 - You're arguing that there is no circumstance in which an outcome that is favourable for $party1 is unfavourable for $party2. Consideration of 10 "double or quits" coin tosses starting at 1USD, and all won by $party1 should quickly disabuse you of that fallicy.

258:

@108 Well Mr. Stross, you certainly did hit the nail on the head with that statement. Unlimitless energy does promote inefficiency. Mankind seems geared towards inefficiency at all levels, even preferring it.

Otherwise, why do we rip up perfectly arable land upon which to build our cities and suburbs? Why are not all homes built down into the earth where a comfortable temperature can be maintained year round? Instead we spend our time trying to figure out how to heat and cool those above ground dwellings more "efficiently"? So all the talk about solar panels that so many espoused eloquently in their comments becomes relatively moot if you think of the problem with a different tact.

Computers have also become models of inefficiency. Give a programmer more memory and what might have been written in a small amount of code has ballooned into massive operating systems. Which given their size are even more prone to error. Over 20 years in the industry has shown me first hand our fine efforts at jamming more garbage onto even silicon itself then is necessary to get the job done.

Yes, I'd say generally speaking we shun the elegant solution when a hammer applied with enough force can accomplish the same problem.

A post-scarcity world simply isn't happening any time soon. Glean the comments from the above about aging infrastructure and the picture becomes gloomier still.

I'll touch briefly on politics, since as an American, I find it amusing to read the comments of those that are discussing our political system. Both parties have and continue to do an equally fine job of looting the treasury. A great many Americans are feeling the same disdain that you overseas might hold.
Personally, affirmative action is no way to elect a President. (go on, gnash your teeth, I put the words in print...)

Final Note: @250 and others: Get over Bush already, seriously, you can quote the 1.7 trillion in debt that he left, but you are being completely disingenuous/hypocritical without mentioning the current debt level under Obama. Fanaticism, it would appear, does not stop at religion but has firmly lodged itself in the realm of American politics. To state that Republicans have convinced people to vote against their interests can be equally flipped and said about the Democrats. Example abound, too many to be listed...


259:

#258 by Paras:-

#2 - Not all settlements are in areas where there are significant quantities of infertile land. Even when there are, we needed construction techniques that let us build on them before we could. For instance, structural steel, high explosive for blasting igneous rock, pre-stressed and/or re-inforced concrete...

As a species, we not only prefer, but actually need, natural daylight to thrive.

#3 - That can be laid largely at the doors of the people who "needed" GUIs because CLIs were "too hard to use".
Incidentally, earlier today I discovered that from Windoze 2000 on, there is actually a Windoze command which allows you to crash the computer!!


I'll ignore the straw man of the American politicLOL system though.

260:

For the purposes of this note I’m defining post-scarcity as a situation where all basic material needs of all people are met and where almost everyone has almost all of their (some synonym for not batshit crazy moon on a stick) wants met and everyone is getting a chance to seek self-actualisation and the other bits at the top of Maslow’s Pyramid. A situation where our lives are more often defined by hopes and interests than by fears.

I think one of the answers to how we get to a post-scarcity is equality. Not just equality of opportunity but also broadly equality of outcome. We can’t all live in Venice but we could all live in beautiful, well designed, properous cities with ample cultural and social capital. Whilst some element of scarcity is always going to exist I think by making our society more materially equal we could remove some of the drive that makes us unhappy with our material lot and therefore not able to enjoy what for many people is approaching a post-scarcity situation.


I think our concept of scarcity is driven by observing our position in the economy and noticing that it is very different from other people’s positions and could also be subject to significant and rapid change. This is threatening and drives many people to pursue material wealth or to fret about their relative material wealth.

Speaking as a Western professional I can see a huge threat implicit in the existence of lots of people who are worse off than me. One the one hand the very poor are a threat. Will they try to take my stuff from me and in the process destroy the social structures that help produce it? Will I be forced to cut my wage so much as a result of their competition for jobs that I become one of them? On the other the very rich offer a similar threat, but boxed differently. Will the rich in an effort to stay rich subvert the social structures that I rely on? Will they force me to accept lower wages and appropriate the value derived from cut throat competition between international workers to their own political rather than material wants?

As Galbraith suggested in Affluent Society we are driven to produce more economic activity through the fear that if we are not producing more we will be required to produce none and have nothing to exchange, no job, no things leading to no social worth. With greater equality of opportunity and outcome the fear of being dumped from a position of affluence to poverty would be greatly reduced.

We can then concentrate on living within the means provided for us by the ecology in which we live (and trying to expand that envelope) but also concentrate on extracting the maximum amount of happiness from that given combination of time, material, energyl and society.

261:

What if we started from a very strict set of definable goals, say, bringing third world into the first world without net environmental harm?

So, story-wise, we'd have:
A) Planet is divided between first world and (and second?) third world.
B)SCENE
C)Everything's first world, but the carbon levels (as just one example of a possible metric to follow) are the same as in A.

Would that be fool-hardy? It strikes me that a planet of first-worlder's is going to have an easier discussion about where to go from there. First world to 'better' first world and beyond.

It also strikes me that the magic bullets for this particular SCENE don't need to be so much magic as they would need to be of the smarter resource utilization (SRU heh-heh) type. Maybe the magic would be in the art of persuasion to pursue SRU?

262:

@257 I'm saying that everyone has an example of "having favourable outcomes to a number of events that might easily have have gone the other way."

Now you are counting the instances of "luck" and saying that the person who's count is higher is "lucky". Lets take two people, one of which won a coin toss 100 times in a row, the other won the national lottery for 10million. Which is luckier?

263:

The one who won 100 coin tosses, at 1 to 7.89E31 against, rather than the one who correctly predicted 6 random numbers from 49 at 1 to 1.39E7 against.

264:

It strikes me that a planet of first-worlder's is going to have an easier discussion about where to go from there. First world to 'better' first world and beyond.

I absolutely think you're right here

265:

@263 o if you went to those two people and said "which one of you is luckier"? what would they say?

266:

That depends on how well each of them understand statistics.

267:

Luck: The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events

The coin flipper's event was neither "fortunate" nor "adverse" so it was not "lucky".

"Fortunate" and "Adverse" are subjective, so luck is subjective not objective.

Many things that are attributed to chance are not actually chance events (example, a large group of Europeans sitting in the middle of North America. This was not luck, this was planned).

The whole concept is flawed. There is no luck. There is only randomness and how people react to it. There are chaotic systems. Luck is a subjective illusion, a cognitive bias.

268:

"things like last year's San Diego blackout, where (reportedly) a single mistake by someone doing power line maintenance shut off the power to 4 million people"

Is it me or does the US power distribution system seem to have a number of critical points at which a single fault can cause a major cascade failure?

It doesn't seem to be something that happens anywhere else - including huge conurbations like Tokyo. And certainly not in western Europe (that I can remember).

It doesn't seem that difficult to build in a reasonable level of redundancy and fail-safes.

Or am I missing something?

269:

Thanks, Daniel! I had some thoughts on what might fill that SCENE; I've lately been running through codecademy dot com's interactive tutorials on learning to write code. I think they're fun. Fold.it involves computer gaming for protein folding. I haven't tried it personally but it looks cool.

In parallel with our host's mentioning of gold farming, why not take it to some quasi-fictional extreme? I'd like to see a rechargeable battery made primarily from carbon that for a given mass has the same energy density as a liter of petrol. (((ooo...the implications for sprawl!))) What kind of game could be set up to crowd-source a solution? Or, if not actually reaching that particular level of performance, produces some qualitative advance? Extra nom-noms for tech that can be made in my kitchen and not a giant factory ;) Though I'm sure there's some projects you'd WANT to keep in the factory, Just In Case.

270:

"It doesn't seem that difficult to build in a reasonable level of redundancy and fail-safes.

Or am I missing something?"

Capitalism? There is no profit in redundancy. A lot of our power companies are now for profit private businesses, which has always struck me as a silly thing to do.

271:

I think half the trick is going to be convincing people that it's something that could happen, and not the least convincing bit of Star Trek the Next generation.

The other approach probably involves finding ways of making poor people scarier :-)

Invent a personal teleporter and then put the plans on the internet. When the radiation levels start to drop the survivors might be incentivised to work towards a post scarcity society...

Maybe...

272:

There is profit in redundancy if you can persuade people to pay for it.

Consumers of electricity seem reluctant to pay for the redundancy when they are offered a choice and / or providers of electricity seem willing to reduce the redundancy and therefore the increase their profits without pointing out that the redundancy has been removed.

273:

This is why there should be heavy penalties imposed on those running critical infrastructure if it fails.

274:

It's a little bit more than a lack of redundancy and fail-safes. The US grid grew out of a number of regional grids that were connected together without a lot of thought about the possible interactions. To be fair, the connections got out of hand at a time when not a lot was known about complex system failures, and the mathematical tools for modeling and simulating potential feedback and cascade failures weren't up to the task. But on the other hand, the situation hasn't changed in 50 or 60 years now, and the connections have just gotten more gnarly in that time. In that time, no one with the power to do it has been willing to spend the money necessary to fix the problem.

275:

An interesting precedent, 1st gen Christians tried for a post scarcity society, amongst themselves. Don't think scripture could be used as effective leverage, even though it's not difficult to make a case for a post-scarcity society from it, fundies like to pick and choose what's fundamental.

276:

akavan writes:

There is no profit in redundancy.

This is a very naive view of things. People paying for goods or services have expectations of levels of quality of the good or service. Failures or outages or incidents that exceed expected performance limits drive customers away. In some cases rapidly and catastrophically.

I have been at companies where the customer spend rate was an immediate leading indicator of technical failures, and was as useful for outage detection and characterization as the internal monitoring systems. That wasn't formally integrated into the health monitoring, but was certainly informally integrated, in that people were paid to watch that in realtime and they made a point of letting the operations team know right away if something went sideways.

I was a consultant for a company that eventually, after years of ignoring advice on reliability problems, had an outage that eventually caused it to go away, with over a billion dollars in loss. There is unfortunately only so much consultants can do to try and push for changes and fixes.

The folly here is that few companies are good at articulating a Service Level Agreement with their customers and internal operations teams. Done right, the SLA makes sure everyone's reliability expectations are consistent from the customer to execs to businesspeople to the architects/designers to the ops team and construction teams. Misunderstandings about reliability targets and expectations are one of the key internal and external friction points. Better to get it out in the open...

277:

Is it me or does the US power distribution system seem to have a number of critical points at which a single fault can cause a major cascade failure?

Yes. Somewhat. It is much cheaper to interconnect our grids than to build new plants. So interconnection is how the power companies deal with loads above current capacity. When you have a lot of areas that are interconnected all running at or near capacity and one of them has an event that puts a big draw on the others, you have a real chance to get a cascade failure.

Better engineering would be to build more spare capacity in each of the smaller regions. But politics and "greens" are against it. Here in NC over the last 5 to 10 years one of the big power companies wanted to build two new coal plants next to an existing one or a pair. The net effect of one plant would be about 0 in terms of power production as this new plant with scrubbers and and current pollution tech would actually allow them to such down a bunch of old small very dirty coal plants around the state. The second plant would be for new capacity over the next 10 to 20 years. After many public hearings and court fights they are being allowed to build one new plant to replace the old ones and give out discounts on CFL bulbs and such instead of the new one. But unless the economy tanks much worse than it has we look to come up short in terms of power needs down the road.

They initially wanted to build nuclear but decided it was too risky to plan on a plant that might never get approved.

My point is that in the US extra capacity is look upon as a sin by many activists. Unless it's solar or wind. But when a utility needs extra power they need something that can come online in a hurry with a big load. Boosting the output at a coal, gas, or nuclear plant is much easier, faster, know to be an option than for solar or wind.

278:

Capitalism? There is no profit in redundancy. A lot of our power companies are now for profit private businesses, which has always struck me as a silly thing to do.

Public utilities are not quite the same. In most states with a decent PUC (public utilities commission) the rate they get to charge for power to the meter is set to allow them a fixed percentage of profit. So if a redundant plant is built the cost will be folded into the rate structure. The problem is that some groups want cheaper power not matter what. Others want green/renewable power no matter what. Others want no nuclear no matter what. Plus the NIMBY. These are conflicting goals. But building a new plant "just in case" almost never has any support since the logic (flawed though it might be) is emergency power can be bought from the "grid" if needed. Trust me. The engineers and much of management would like nothing more than to have a spare plant in the local grid.

279:

What you are saying is that people in general should pay more attention to long term thinking than to short term thinking. And costs.

Agreed. If you have the time/money. Many times you don't. And many times you aren't allowed to due to external money/time pressures.

About computers. I used to develop software on minicomputers back in the 80s. We crammed a lot into our 8/16KB user space per terminal. A lot. And there were just 2 of us. But as we grew and were bought out by a huge company they gave us a staff of about 10 of their high performers so we could do more faster. Turns out we proved that less than 5% of the programmers are really any good. Because only 3 of those lasted. The rest may have been high performers at huge company but to do what we did most did not even come close. But over time the staff grew to something like 30 or 40 (I was headed out the door by then) and they were getting maybe 2 times as much product developed as when there were 2 of us. Maybe 3 times.

So companies have a choice. Come up with a hugely profitable product that can be supported by a small group of well paid wizards (Google, FaceBook, MS in the early days, etc.) or throw hardware at fair to middling programmers so bills go out on time.

280:


> I have been at companies where the customer spend rate was an immediate leading indicator of technical failures, and was as useful for outage detection and characterization as the internal monitoring systems.

I have no idea what that means, but it looks interesting. Por favor, explain more, elaborate.

281:

Re: Redundancy

Regardless of the structure of the electrical grid, it is true that capitalism generally rewards the efficient, and that efficiency is on some level incompatible with redundancy and surge capacity. For (one) example, America has just enough hospital beds and emergency rooms to handle routine business, but not nearly enough to handle an epidemic.

Surge capacity, by definition, is idle 99+% of the time. When management is under pressure to increase profits (the most common state), it tends to wind up on the chopping block.

282:

I'm late to this discussion (and then I got it into the wrong thread) but Cat's original question is what must happen to get from a scarcity to a non-scarcity based situation.
This is both a technical and a social/psychological question. There was an interesting show on PBS recently 
http://billmoyers.com/episode/how-do-conservatives-and-liberals-see-the-world/
this is based on research on worldviews by Jonathan Haidt
http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/mft/index.php
His point is that "conservatives" (and "progressives") are are trying to preserve the values most important to them, particularly what they think of as "sacred."

Post-scarcity challenges the protestant ethic: Work and the rewards of work, prosperity, are measures of virtue; non-work, and in a scarcity based world, poverty, equals immorality. The poor shouldn't be "bailed out". That encourages laziness and more bailouts. So empathy and compassion is immoral. That explains elders voting against their economic interests, because their values interests are more important to them. If both sides begin to think of the other as immoral and following the path of evil, then it becomes easier to think that it's ok to just get rid of the evil demons.

So maybe the question is not so much about technological issues, but about mindsets. Are there things that both groups hold sacred? Is there away to bridge the gap?

283:

I started to ask Charlie at the pub about his connection to Housing Works (an AIDS housing and advocacy program. His last visit to NY was a benefit for them.) That's a slight stretch, but I'm interested in his experience of "psychopaths." His novels (Glasshouse and the Toymaker in Rule 34) seem to suggest that perhaps they might be "saved."
A long time ago my wife and I lived with maybe 20 induced "psychos" - street kids. A really mixed experience: some kids came out of it, one kid tried to kill me, missed and ran away, another sent his gang to kill us because we caught him stealing from us. We talked his friends out of it, because we convinced them they were on a dishonorable errand.

So maybe the question is, even in extreme circumstances, are there ways to figure out and address other people's models of the world fast enough so accommodation instead of destruction is possible?

284:

THIS IS NOT MINE. "No serious person denies that Reagan's 1981 tax cuts and military increases threw the country into a pattern of borrowing and borrowing that we have not escaped. When Reagan took office the national debt was $995 billion. When Reagan left office it was $2.87 trillion and climbing fast.
No serious person denies that Bush's 2001 tax cuts and continued military increases dramatically worsened the problem. Bush's last budget year ended with a record single-year deficit of $1.4 trillion.

As the country discusses what to do about the borrowing the elephant in the room is that everyone understands that restoring top tax rates to pre-Reagan levels and cutting the military budget in half would solve the problem completely. But we can't do that. We can't even discuss it.
And we all know why. And we all know why. It is because the Reagan Revolution transformed the country from a democracy to a plutocracy -- a country run by and for the wealthy.
Such sensible and simple ideas are considered off-limits. To even bring up the idea of restoring tax rates to pre-Reagan levels and cutting military spending invites terrible consequences. The speaker risks becoming the target of the money's noise machine: Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, Fox. Smears. Humiliation. Banishment. Or the noise machine cranks up a campaign of misinformation, convincing people --especially DC people -- that what they see in front of their eyes just isn't so. Repeat it enough and it becomes solid knowledge."

285:

>I don't believe that any US code yet incorporates such requirements, though they have been proposed.

Some cities do, but they are the "greener" ones such as Boulder, CO.

>As for zero-energy solar houses, they're really neat, but I'm not sure they're compatible with modern urban density, with multistory houses facing in all four directions. Let alone apartment buildings.

Zero net energy commercial buildings are feasible, and well within standard construction costs. The RSF (research support facility) building at NREL is one example, and if memory is correct, construction costs were about $280/square foot. We go from freezing winters to above 100F summers here in Denver. The way the office space is arranged takes some getting used to, but some of the things I remember being very different from standard US office space were that the windows open, and that most of the workspace lighting is from actual sunlight. Unlike most offices, these guys give tours to the public.
http://www.nrel.gov/sustainable_nrel/rsf.html

>I think any architect working today needs to have PV in mind when they consider the shape of the house and its roof

Very little software exists for developers and remodelers. The one I am familiar with is called BEopt. It is made by one of the national research labs, and part of the US Department of Energy. The same DoE that the right wingers want to eliminate.

http://beopt.nrel.gov/
http://www.nrel.gov/buildings/energy_analysis.html

It is capable of modelling the energy efficiency of residences and takes into account where your house is located and the orientation. You can get weather files for most cities in the US and some of the cities with airports in other countries. Energy costs are only available for the US.
http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/energyplus/weatherdata_about.cfm

For those who might be interested in using it, all of the modeling uses American units. There is a lot of mechanical engineering and research behind it when it comes to heat flows. For simulating energy consumption, it uses historical weather data for the previous 20 years: temp, humidity, precipitation, cloud cover and other things like "how high the sun gets" being a function of latitude and day of year. If your city is overcast all the time, then PV panels might not be the best investment.

You'll make a rough drawing that represents your house and what type of spaces are in it (crawlspace, garage, living area and so on). This geometry is used to feed the simulation engines. You can include PV panels.

Some of the users include those folks who make housing developments as well as retrofitters. Some of the questions you can answer with the software includes things like "what retrofits to this house are the biggest bang for the buck?" or "what is the projected energy consumption for the houses in our planned development?"

disclaimer: I used to work there.
double plus disclaimer: version 1.2 of BEopt is written in VB6.

286:

bobH @ 283
ANd how do you use this method (can you?) on religious fuckwits, determined to kill, maim and torture for [insert name of appropriate Sky Fairy here] ??

287:

The market structure for power in the UK does tend to build in a penalty for critical failure at a wholesale level.

Having a plant fail is very expensive.

288:

@David L @277 Are you sure that nuclear is as flexible as coal and gas?

289:

Further on this - It also provides that the supply companies have to pay compensation to domestic consumers if a power outage excedes a certain duration (I think 24 hours).

290:

I think that this depends on the design of your generator sets, and any associated "test banks". It's harder to shut down a nuclear plant completely, but with the right designs I think you could deal with the "half-time kettle surge" in a Kissball match easier with nuclear.

291:

I'm at work, so I'll have to respond later, but why do you think I'm posting on a science fiction blog instead of a social policy or therapy one?
Hopefully together we're more creative than the average fuckwit.

292:

Actually, I would argue that we already live in post-scarcity world with regard to sex.

You know, it would take just a few minutes on the Internet to locate several useful phone numbers in your area, call them and then a young woman would be on the way to your home with purpose of commiting mortal sin with you...

And whatever she charges, you can well afford it...

293:

"So maybe the question is, even in extreme circumstances, are there ways to figure out and address other people's models of the world fast enough so accommodation instead of destruction is possible?"

They key is to convince everyone that the future has a place for them and they won't just be thrown on the scrapheap as surplus to requirements.

294:

heteromeles (245): "Personally, I'm fond of earthships, although I can't get my partner interested in building one. They are a much better example of integration than what we've talked about so far." -- Great functionality but needs a lot of work from an aesthetics POV. I've long fancied living in a Hobbit-house.

295:

Charlie/moderators ---

Is there any protocol that contributors should be aware of when selecting their posting names? i.e., SFReader" (292 - not me) and SFreader(me).

296:

Don't know where you live, but in most of US ladies advertising on the Internet charge rather more than an average Joe can afford. More accurately, average Joe can afford it once or twice a month. Which is hardly "post-scarcity".

297:

I think I was the first one, but I don't want to argue and will rename myself.

298:

Well. if we speak about average American Joe, I suggest you look at this table "Percentage of Men Reporting Frequency of Vaginal Sex" here
http://www.iub.edu/~kinsey/resources/FAQ.html

Apparently demand for sex is greatly overrated....

299:

The French do load-following nukes. You don't get the high efficiencies that come from running them as baseload generators, but it can be done.

Of course the French also have big interconnects with a bunch of neighbouring jurisdictions who range from nuclear-shy to nuclear-phobic. This makes load balancing their nuke heavy generator fleet a lot easier.

Regards
Luke

300:

I suspect the numbers reported reflect supply more than demand. But maybe it is just me...

301:

Around surge capacity, it isn't just surge capacity and it isn't just capitalism, it's a subset of "humans not being very good at dealing with low probability high impact events", it's what Taleb keeps going on about in his books. Our brains are really wired around seasons, things that don't happen in a regular cycle really confuse the hell out of us.

302:

Who is Taleb, and which book?

304:

This one is actually better though, thought the title is less sexy and it did not sell anywhere near as well


http://www.amazon.com/Fooled-Randomness-Hidden-Chance-Markets/dp/1400067936/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_2

305:

The technology is run by the people who run social policy. They say what will happen by controlling where the money goes. And how much money there is to be spent.
The fact is that President Jimmy Carter was working to cut energy waste and oil use. He even had solar water heaters on the Whitehouse. Ronnie Reagan whipped him with a lot of money from big oil. One of the first things he did was spend a lot of tax payer money ripping out the heaters. And stoping any thing that could cut oil and energy use.
You must have rulers who know that 2 plus 2 is 4, not 22. Or whatever they want it to be. Both the USSR and the Nazi's tried to say it was what they wanted it to be. Not what it was.
The USA is going that way by the buying of the votes of fools. Knowing what should be done will not get it done. The society is whats important.

306:

I think that's right for a lot of people, although as Greg points out @286, some fuckwits would rather kill you because <fill in their favorite god> says so. Cat, in the earlier thread, mentions Cotton Mather's disappointed longing for rapture. But, Man arranging rapture, or creating a garden of eden (post scarcity) is sacrilege. I can't wait to see what Charlie does in Rapture of the Nerds.
My initial point on how to get there from here, is without dealing with these folks, maybe you don't. Fill in what you know about the effects of future shock and the "revolution of rising expectations"

[ edited by mod to change something that looked like a tag but wasn't, no other content change ]

307:

Do you know how the load following nuclear sets deal with significant shifts in demand? UK baseload at 20GW and peak demand at 70GW (ish) implies the need to switch off most of our installed generating capacity.

The answer is probably more interconnection of the UK electricity grids with our neighbours

308:

To get there from here at least most people must agree on outcome and method, and the process shouldn't produce chaotic change. Charlie's Merchant Princes series has caught the interest of real world economists like Paul Krugman on the difficulties of introducing rapid change and destabilizing the whole society
http://crookedtimber.org/category/charles-stross-seminar/

309:

Back in the 70's I belonged to a group from a engineering school. We and students worked to get real data on homes, not hype. When the numbers were done it was clear that insulation was better than solar cost wise. Building a home that could user solar was not a bad thing, buying solar collectors was. In the mid-west USA a burm house was best. That's a house that a high dirt burm around it. In other places it would be different. In any case insulation is needed for solar. Cost wise its a lot better just to make a more efficient home with even more insulation. If its good enough, solar is not needed. If there is enough sun to cast a shadow it has usable heat. But at what cost?

310:

Re: getting there from here, the novel I find interesting is Glasshouse. If you ignore the post-singularity stuff, you have a "funny" therapeutic community. A group of PTSD'd ex-war criminals is recruited into a late twentieth century consumer society. A religion pushes them compete for status based on a point system. When pressure is increased, some actually kill violators of the norms. But eventually couples bond, groups form and rebel against the religion. War criminals are turned into law abiding citizens.

But the religion isn't very compelling, and the bishop is pretty inept at leading/manipulating his charges. In this post-singularity world, you could easily edit the disposition to believe. But then you wouldn't get a successful rebellion, or some believers would defend the religion and maybe maybe win, or cause a blowout and everyone dies. So the purpose of the exercise must have been to provoke a revolt.

So as Greg @286 asks, does this work in real life?

311:

(That's interesting. I seem to have said something @310 that triggered the the robot moderator. Well anyway... I was talking to Greg @286)

[[ Moderator: now retrieved ]]

So does "this" (responding to someone's model of the world) apply in the real world? During the Vietnam era, I was part of a group that ran "retreats" for high school students that had the goal of immunizing kids from "just following orders" by provoking them into resisting the leaders (us) of the encounter group, rather like Charlie's unethical experimenters. I don't have follow-up studies to prove it worked, but in the short term at least we got our backs put up against the wall numerous times.

At the same time my wife and I worked for a group that took in "street kids". Basically we asked them to follow the golden rule: "Act like a human being." For the most part setting that as frame, worked. Not always though - we told one kid he couldn't stay because he stole from everyone. He sent a gang to kill the last kid he stole from. We told the gang that he couldn't be trusted; he had not had our back while we had his. He and they were wrong. They left.

There are lots of conclusions that could be drawn. This was a faith-based community. Maybe GOD SAVED US.
Maybe as Taleb suggests, this was just dumb luck.
Maybe psychopaths (sorry, I'm insulting street kids) are easier to deal with than religious nuts.

Now if the religion said it was a duty to steal (er, to civilize the heathens), and whoever resisted should be killed….. that sounds like both the American colonists take on Native Americans, and the British take on Indians.

312:

Now if the religion said it was a duty to steal (er, to civilize the heathens), and whoever resisted should be killed….. that sounds like both the American colonists take on Native Americans, and the British take on Indians.

The biggest proponents of this were the Spanish and Portuguese who came to the Americas with a mandate to convert the heathens and if they resisted and/or failed to submit to "Rome" then it was OK to wipe them out. The inquisition was peaking about this time and much of this philosophy came out of it. Ugh.

313:

Are you sure that nuclear is as flexible as coal and gas?

My memories are based on an article in the local paper based on a visit to the operations center for Progress Energy here in town. Big room full of displays with weather forecasts hour to hour in their service areas, plant status and load factors, availability of external power and costs, etc...

They have new and old and very old coal, some fairly modern gas, and nuclear plants. Plus by law they have to provide an average of something like 7% of their power from renewable which they buy via grid transfers.

Bringing a plant onto the grid or bringing its load up or down is based on start up / shutdown costs, run costs, delta run costs, and how quickly things can be done.

Nuclear tends to cost the same idling or running full out so in general they run full out. But it doesn't take much to raise or lower what it supplies to the grid.

Natural gas is the most flexible. And second cheapest in terms of fuel costs. Units can come online in minutes from a nearly cold stop.

New coal is next. Old coal is the worst. In terms of costs and time to start up / shut down. Old coal tends to be run full out when they think they'll need it and and at low capacity if not.

They have models for all of this so then can tell just how much it will cost to spin up generator X at plan Y for 5 hours at Z% of full load.

314:

Just a note about grid interconnections. A non trivial number of them are done via large industrial plants. Since many of these very large plants need reliable power 24/7 they are built with connections to multiple local grids.

My father worked at a plant that could use up to 3000 megawatts at full production. Back in the 70s the power companies of the 3 grids they used signed deals with them such that it was profitable for them to spend something like $20 to $40 million to re-design their plan so they could drop their load in an hour or so by half or more plus use their internal switch yards to transfer power between the grids on behalf of the power systems. Payback was way under 10 years.

315:

People will always be scarce: demand increases in lockstep with supply. Many old old story formulas will still work.

316:

David L
Hydro-electric and pumped storage can run up to full from zero very quickly - less than a minute, I bleiev.

317:

Correct - I had a Summer placement with the then North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, part of which effectively became a VIP tour of HE plants. The "stars of the show" in the UK are the pump-storage facilities at Cruachan and Dinorwic (sp) which can run up from spinning reserve (turbines running, generators not in circuit) in 15s and cold start in 45s, and the "conventional" station at Loch Sloy which can cold start in 55s.

318:

Hydro-electric

Yep. But I don't tend to think of those. Here in NC and also in FL where Progress has most of its footprint, hydro is only a niche option. Most of NC is served by two fairly small watersheds. To me the Neuse River still looks like a big creek. Says he who grew up near where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers merged.

Hydro on anything other than very small operations requires both hills and water volume. We don't have much of either. And where we have one the other is mostly absent. And as to Florida, well it's just plain flat down there.

319:

which can run up from spinning reserve (turbines running, generators not in circuit) in 15s and cold start in 45s, and the "conventional" station at Loch Sloy which can cold start in 55s.

So I guess the don't allow fishing immediately down from the dams? Where I've been fishing below a dam they sounded an alarm go give you a few minutes to move up the bank. Before the water rose 5 to 10 feet.

(This is a memory I'd almost forgotten. Back around 1970 or so.)

320:

You misunderstand how it works.

There are two water reservoirs. During excess capacity periods when power is cheap, pumps push water from the lower reservoir to the upper. When power is short, water runs down pipes through turbines from the upper to the lower.

Since the water in the upper reservoir is pumped up there (it has next to no reliance on catchment area), there are pipes for the water to go up. And for it then to come down. Unless you want to go deep under a mountain and make an access hole into a pipe containing water under very high pressure, there's no way you could get a fishing line in.

It may share some technology with hydro, but it works on a completely different basis, being storage.

321:

In all 3 cited cases the lower reservoir is a large lake! Bellinghman is sort of correct about the low end for the PS plants. You can't actually get near the tailrace for them, not least because Cruachan's tailrace lets out in a cliffside that drops more or less straight from 1_000 feet above water level to 500 feet below it, so there's nowhere to stand except in the vehicle tunnel access for the turbine hall, at a safe height.

Sloy is a different story; its tailrace is a no fishing zone, and the road bridge over it is no parking, because it does rise 10 feet in a minute if all 4 turbines are being started together. In fact, the first time they did that, they soaked a coachload of tourists who were on the bridge! Cue a deepening and reprofiling of the tailrace channel.

322:

Which explains why in Mexico, only 9.8 % of the population are Indigenous (about 15 % Whites, most are Mestizos), in Canada, there are still 3.8 % Aboriginals, and in the US, you got a whopping 1.37 % stating SOME Native American ancestry on their Census, right?

It might be fashionable to blame everything on 'Rome', problem is the people in the Reformation were as apt for a barbeque as the Papist Scum, sometimes even more so (do I really have to remind you about Luther, Jews and witches?).

As for the Inquisition in Mexico, besides, err, 'servicing' the converts from Amerindian religions its main task was looking for converted Jews and Muslims who kept their old practices, since there was the somewhat justified suspicion that many of those were fleeing from the 'cleanliness of blood'-shit in the Iberian peninsula; the thing withe the Jews and Muslims was BTW the main impetus of the Spanish Inquisition (can you spell 'genocide'?), somewhat distinct from the Roman Inquistion, AKA Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, former domain of a Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (oy veh, we have an Inquisitor pope), where that aspect seems to be somewhat little talked about when talking about the Spanish Inquisition's cruelty to Christian heretics (a class somewhat rare in Spain).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexican_Inquisition

In retrospect, let's just say that nowhere had the Native Americans more rights than under Catholic domain; they had nearly no rights, while elsewhere...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Laws
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sublimus_Dei

Not that Spanish Royal utterances were something you could count on...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Granada_(1491)

BTW, could the guys talking about 'Celtic Christianity' and especially Pelagianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagianism

please keep in mind that most of the Reformation guys were into the more extreme forms of the opposite of Pelagianism, Total depravity,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_Depravity

while the Roman Catholic version of Total Depravity (no, not me on holiday in Italy...) is somewhat more complex, see the whole 'Good deeds' thing, which, of course, has the infamous baggage called Indulgence. That's not to say Catholics are Semipelagians, which is considered heretic, err, I'll stop quoting religious terms:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semipelagianism#Calvinism_and_Arminianism

So well, Protestants thinking the Pelagians their forebears are somewhat, err, strange.

And at last, anybody else thinking about aquatic ecosystems when dealing with this chapter of the fun that is 'if you don't want to be my brother, round your neck I will you smother' and 'We ARE Struggling Together', AKA European Christiabity?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagic_zone

If you excuse me please, I have to finish my sword to lead the Unitarian Jyhad...

323:

The initial indigenous populations in Mexico and SA were much higher though

Most of the NA and SA indigenous people were killed by European diseases, which was pretty much inevitable despite all the accusations of biological warfare. In NA the few survivors of the plagues were easy pickings.

The south which had a much higher population also suffered from disease but had enough survivors that the Europeans could not kill them all. Was not through lack of trying for sure.

324:

You misunderstand how it works.

Yes I do understand. Look up the Neuse River watershed. Or Cape Fear River watershed. They are small and mostly flat.

Do do the pumped water generation bit you need first a place to store the water and enough water to re-fill it in a reasonable amount of time without turning the water source into a mud flat downstream while re-filling. Given the slow flow of our two main watersheds in normal times, which tends to be even less during high temp summers when electrical demand is high, it just doesn't seem a reasonable power generation method for this area.

Again, around here, it's either fairly flat where there is somewhat a decent flow of water and where it gets more hilly there's just not much water flow. And building any more reservoirs is getting to be more and more politically difficult except where drinking water is concerned.

And no mater where you put a pumped water solution at some point the outflow gets into a river unless on the edge of a huge lake or ocean. And when you spin up generators of any size there WILL be a bit of a water rise.

325:

Uh, excuse me. Isn't post-scarcity economics an oxymoron?

Economics is about scarcity. Or, rather it is how to deal with scarcity as a given fact. Supply and demand balance at a particular price in the market. If you have the price, there isn't any scarcity.

The post-scarcity economy is already here, just not for everybody. So, the problem isn't how to get to the post scarcity society, but how to get more people to the post scarcity society. One, probably unacceptable, way is to reduce demand. If demand goes down, price goes down and more people can afford the post scarcity life.

So, how to reduce demand? Reduce the number of demanders. Developing countries birth rates are decreasing, it's called the demographic transformation. It looks like the best birth control method (a way to reduce the demanders), is to educate people.

What a concept!

326:

My copy of 'Club of Rome Report" put a big time scare into me. The first thing was copper, nothing big happened. Later I read Buckminster Fuller saying there were scrape yards full of copper. It cost a little more to reclaim it than to mine it. But there would be no scarcity. About 70% of the oil is still there when the well is capped. It costs more to pump it so they don't. They just yell for taxpayer help to pay for new wells.
Grover Norquist: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." And not be able to tell the rich what to do.
In May 2001 Federal reseve Bank head Greenspan said that because the first Bush tax cut didn't include triggers. that is it went forward regardless of how the budget turned out and it was "irresponsible fiscal policy." This was a time when good Americans were calling me "someone who didn't love America" and a commie for not thinking was Bush was always right. Critics of Bush's tax cut were ridiculed for saying exactly the same thing as Greenspan.
"The American economic elite is hiding its treason to the American people behind "free trade." - Paul Craig Roberts, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (2/19/09)


327:

I'm a big fan of hydroelectric power myself, but there are places that just aren't suited for it. Florida is one of them, and it sure isn't because the place doesn't get enough rain.

Let's try an experiment. Go to Google Maps, zoom in on Florida, zoom in more, and when you're close enough to pick out individual features, go into Street View. Look around and check out the horizon in all directions. See all the Flat? Notice the total lack of mountains in every direction?

And the point of this is that you can do this anywhere, and should try dropping into several random parts of the state. Florida's not a bad place, but it has the topography of a billiard table (and the vegetation of a Tarzan movie); there simply isn't the height that a decent hydro system requires.

328:

Look up the "Abominable Fancy", and you will know why we will have a very hard time pulling this off.

Otherwise, I think it's the cultural baggage of the millenia of making a virtue out of a necessity. I don't know if this is particularly American, but I do know that my (Eastern) European father was one of the hardest-working men I've ever knew, and thought there were nothing particularly good about work qua work...this might be related to my ancestors' believing that a Real Man sat around and studied Talmud all day, ideally, that the World To Come's model was the Sabbath

329:

Here in the states there are organized people who hate hydroelectric power dams. They want the water to run free and say its un-natural to stop it. They work to destroy power dams to save fish. If we live long enough, we can get the fish back. If we keep adding co2 to the sea, its life will die and then we will. As fast as its happening people alive today will see.
In my state the home owners that live around a power dam hate it when it runs. It kills game fish and makes mud flats in front of their homes. They have money, lawyers and politicians.
Pump back reservoirs have been stopped here by the not in my backyard people.
Knowing what needs to be done is one thing, getting it done is another.

330:

The initial indigenous populations in Mexico and SA were much higher though

I somewhat agree on the principle, though numbers are up to debate, as is quite a lot with pre-Columbian American populations; there were quite some population hotspots in Northern America, e.g. in the Mississippi,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippian_culture

and the Iroquois Confederation was certainly no laughing matter for its enemies.

And then, of course the immigration histories of the US and Mexico etc. differ, as do population developments, so even if the indigenous population fared better, it might be that there were more imigrants who reproduced more. Also note that when we talk about the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, Middle and Southern America are not uniform, the situations in Mexico, Peru, Brazil and the Caribbean differ, with the indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean being AFAIK nearly totally exterminated, though the local population seems to have quite some Amerindian ancestry in many cases.

Another thing is that more widespread mixing between Native Americans and Europeans might have had some influence on mortality from epidemics, even though I seriously doubt that line of reasoning justifies molesting the native beauties and beaus, err.

Complicating the whole thing of the loss of about 80 % of the Native American population is another factor that popped up when I looked for informations on the matter; the, err, population displacement coincided with the 'Little Ice Age', which might not be a random coincidence, since cold winters, cold summers, failed harvests and the general socio-economo-political niceties that follow both lead to a decline of pre-industrial populations and a certain drive to live the whole mess behind, AKA emigrate to the New World, so how much of the population decline was due to climate change, how much to European presence and how the two interacted might be somewhat problematic. As is the question who is more vulnerable to climate change, hunter-gatherers, 'primitive agriculturalist' or complex systems with interdependencies and some homeostasis like the Aztecs and their descendents, the somewhat less organized communities of Northern America might fare better since they are more flexible or worse since they have less reserve and abilities for irrigation etc., climate change might be worse in the North etc.

And then, even if they had only tried to help, the European presence would have been disastrous, first of by inciting social upheaval with the Native Americans, AKA who gets the most axe heads and hey, I can split more head with metal axe heads, second of, of course, by diseases. Which spread better in higher population densities, like when nomads travel to missions, err. As I said, it's all somewhat complicated.

Keeping all these things in mind, judging the impact of different administrations is somewhat hard, that's why I employed the somewhat crude measure of populaton ratio with Amerindian Ancestry; you could use other measures, and I guess even the Native American narrative will differ somewhat, I'm not that sure how a Tlaxcalan history of the Aztecs would look like. And then, dividing by good guys and bad guys is not only a questionable literary device, but difficult in real life, too, as I tried to explain, even the role of Christianization by the Roman Catholic Church is somewhat ambiguous, not only with the status of Native Americans, but also on a cultural front, on the one hand of course it destroyed the old religion and culture[1], on the other, at least part of the old traditions were incorporated into the new belief and thus preserved[2]:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_of_Guadalupe

Where I'm not that sure how these are going to fare with the Protestant missionaries there, who AFAIK don't like Rome much either.

http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/1212noguadalupe.html

So in the end, I'd hardly say the Spanish were worse for the Native Americans than the British or the US, since at least in some cases, the tribes fared worse after the territory switched rulers, even though that could be expected if you remember most of these territories had only a relatively weak Spanish presence:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Cherokees

(But then, talking about Texans and their fight against the Mexicans for their way of life and property, with slaves, is likely to start a little flame war. Note, calling your troops getting shelled by enemy troops, surrendering and led into captivity "Dawson Massacre" seems somewhat, err, debatable.)

And yeah, I'm tired of everybody going on the US, but I'm equally tired of anybody playing the good old 'but the buddy over there is much worse than me'.

As for brutal Christianization, the Native Americans were hardly the first to go under...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Verden

Not to forget the fun that was being a Pagan in Late Hellenism, e.g. Egypt with its Muslim Brothe..., er, Christian Monks. Where I 'm not that sure whom to prefer, being beheaded vs. being flayed alive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia#Death

But then, I heard Greeks and Romans were not always that peaceful and humanitarian either, ask the Gauls, err...

(I guess we'll leave it there.)

[1] Where one can argue if that was necessarily bad, quote Avi in 'Cryptonomicon': "As the descendant of people who were expelled from Spain by the Inquisition, I have no illusions about them, but, at their worst, the Spaniards were a million times better than the Aztecs. I mean, it really says something about how bad the Aztecs were that, when the Spaniards, showed up and raped the place, things actually got a lot better around there."

Yes, I know the numbers of human sacrifices are likely inflated.

[2] Seeing these precedents, the strange Polish preoccupation with the Virgin Mary has always fascinated me. Might be the special history of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, might be the fact the neighbouring Orthodox in general have this theotokos thing[3], but might be Zaria or Ziva were reluctant to go.

[3] One of my fellow SF fan friends is a fan of Byzanz. Don't ask any further.

331:

>Another thing is that more widespread mixing between Native Americans and Europeans might have had some influence on mortality from epidemics, even though I seriously doubt that line of reasoning justifies molesting the native beauties and beaus, err.

IIRC European women were unable to avoid miscarriages in the Peruvian highlands due to low oxygen.

332:

America was forest from coast to coast. There must have been a lot of Indians then. As the climate changed there must have been long wars of survival. Some of it is on record. By the time of European presence much of the green was sand or grass. People say that Europeans killed Indians with disease by giving them the blankets of dead killed by illness. Well in Europe people used the bedding of the new dead. It was believed illness came from bad air. Nobody knew about germs. And that's what killed most of the still living Indians.
Maybe most Indians would have died anyway. That's the way humans are. It's petty dumb to judge the 15, 16, 17 and 1800's by today's standard. Even if it makes you superior. And if it matters I am one technically. Handed down family history, not a DNA test. I don't care, so I will not pay for one.

333:

I recall seeing a claim that a significant number of people in the Southern USA would claim to have Indian blood, rather than and African ancestor. There was this idea that all it took to make you black was the merest trace of African blood.

So I'd be wary of family stories about Indian ancestry, just as I would wonder, uncomfortably, if it was true that my grandfather was really a very late arrival in his family, so much younger than his brothers or, as sometimes happened, the illegitimate child of one of his supposed sisters, raised by his grandmother.

(That was a lousy sentence)

Point it, sometimes the family story is a lie, because the truth is awkward.

334:

At the very least it seems to lower birth weight in people of mainly European ancestry, funny thing is, this also leads to higher birth weight in in lowlanders with Andean ancestry...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17556384

335:

Err, thing is, Northern America was not all forest, else the population would have been much lower.

If forest implies no agriculture, this leaves us with hunter-gatherers, who have a very low population density, leaving aside some special cases, the salmon fishers of the Pacific North West who gave us the Potlach are an example. According to Jared Diamond, hunter-gatherers are about 0,1 person per square mile, which leaves us with about 300.000 Native Americans in the USA, maybe twice that much or more with the special cases mentioned above.

Agriculture, OTOH, can sustain population one to two orders of magnitude higher than that, which leaves us with about 30 million Native Americans, where the real number of course is likely to be much lower. And then, some of the areas of the USA are not what I'd call especially suited for agriculture, though in some cases that might be thanks to past agriculture, I see your way, Anasazi..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaco_Canyon#Ancestral_Puebloans

Of course, the funs of the Little Ice Age and the upheaval that preceded the first European, see diseases, new weapons, new trade routes etc. meant most Native American communities were somewhat less sophisticated when the actual 'First Contact' happened.

336:

That might be the Melungeons, of tri-racial isolate fame, eh?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melungeon

Though as noted in the article, some of those might actually have some Native American ancestry. And then some of the Native American groups in the Southwest might have quite some Afro-American ancestry themselves, thanks to escaped slaves and, well, keeping slaves themselves...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Indians_in_the_United_States

Thing is, ethnicity is a somewhat complex issue, while most people'd stress ancestry, even with todays racialists cultural factors, socioeconomic status etc. play in. Which was not that much different in the past.

As for things swept under the carpet in the past, you know why Catholics are such a fast-growing religion? Their pregnancies last only 6 months.

OK, many of those cases involved previously engaged couple, which ofteh amounted to a 'nearly marriage with some of the benefits and without some of the grave decisions, namely financial ones, of marriage'.

337:

I think you mean southeast. The southwest is desert, and while the tribes here have a substantial interracial component, most of them are Hispanic, not black.

The interesting case actually the Chumash. Everybody thought they looked hispanic, and with the laws against Indians, they became "hispanic." If you read the older ethnographies, you'll see that the chumash were considered extinct. When the prejudicial laws against Indians were repealed in the 1970s, the Chumash tribe reconstituted itself, and now they've got a reservation, casino, and everything.

338:

"Southern USA would claim to have Indian blood, rather than and African" You are right. In fact, a well know leader in Indian rights had a DNA test and found he had no Indian DNA. BIG DEAL.
Back in the 60's I was talking to a lizard, never mind how. He said I should show him more respect because his ancestors were dinosaurs.

339:

America was forest from coast to coast.

Ah, no it wasn't. The middle 1/4 to 1/3 or so was mostly prairie.

340:

#327 and #329 - Which is why we've explained the topography of the UK pump-storage stations.

To answer the "my state is flat" argument briefly, there is a variation on HE that uses bulk flow rather than mass dropping from a height, and basically just runs the river through a culvert.

I'll now remind you that I used to work for an HE Powerco, and we found that we were getting salmon into places they'd never been before the rivers were dammed because, when we'd built a dam, we'd included a weir, fish lift or fish ladder (which depends on the size of the dam) and the salmon were migrating further upstream naturally.

341:

My sister is a Floridian*, so yes, I'm aware that it's a pretty flat state and that HE isn't appropriate, any more than it is where I live**. There is unlikely to be any single solution that works everywhere, but that just means you need to pick the right solution for your area.

*No, not native born. But she's lived there so long she's now a US citizen.

**There are roads not all that far away which are below sea level. Dutch engineers came over centuries ago to help drain our fens.

342:

Err, when we say Indian/European/Neanderthal/whatever DNA, it means that the sequence of the DNA is uncommon in other groups, but common in this one, so the presence in the DNA of an individual implies ancestry from one of these groups (or a de novo mutation, or being a statistic fluke, or horizontal gene transfer, or...).

Also note that many of these markers are not restricted to one population, they just differ somewhat in frequency. To use a deleterious mutation and not a marker (most of these are noncoding), cases of Ty-Sachs in your family don't mean you have license to call youre more obnoxious friends 'goyim', because mutations that cause Tay-Sachs are not restricted to the Ashkenasim, they are just not that common, except in French Canadians and Cajuns. In this case, the mutations differ, but I guess you get the idea. So to get meaningful results, you need multiple markers that imply origin form that group, where in individuals with mixed ancestry you expect some dissenting markers.

Then, of course, there are Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA, where it's still a matter of interpretation, but if you say you're a direct patrilineal descendent of Chief 'Walks-in-Women-cloth-when-no-one-looking' who was the first to greet Columbus, and your Y-chromosomal haplotype is one of those that supposedly never made it out of Africa, well, either there is a story about pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic trade to tell, on of your female ancestors was into 'th' dark sugar', or somebody made up a good yarn. In summary, take those studies with a few tons of salt.

Also note that in theory, it takes only one generation (child of two half-indians) for all Indian DNA to vanish.

As for the case in question, might it be this one?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_Churchill

If so, no comment on that guy.

343:

"Northern America was not all forest" Well all I can say is that maps I looked at in the early or mid 60's showed the forest going to where the water was. And dying back where it was not. Maybe I should not has said coast coast, try mostly. In the early America it was coast to coast. but for the central plans. A few hundred years earlier there was more forest I believe.
There are low lift dams making electricity. Even no lift. But king coal is cheaper in the short run. The free market is always about the short term. A still working power dam was taken out last year to save the salmon when other power became available. I wondered how much co2 the alternation power put out.

344:

Productivity has been improving for many centuries, and that is expected to continue. The assumption is that people are basically good, and will prefer a society where others are not harmed, and are happy.

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