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Vladimir_M comments on "Manna" by Marshall Brain - Less Wrong

10 Post author: cousin_it 19 January 2011 06:12AM

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Comment author: mutterc 19 January 2011 02:58:49PM 6 points [-]

It's a good contrast between two types of post-scarcity economies: one where a capitalist status quo still applies (the dystopia), and one where material goods end up like open-source software does today (the utopia).

I think that's the big takeaway - you shouldn't eliminate labor scarcity without deploying some kind of new economic distribution model.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 19 January 2011 05:13:09PM *  10 points [-]

"Post-scarcity economy" is an impossible concept even in principle (assuming a human society, at any rate). Beyond a certain minimal standard of living, which is in fact quite low by today's standards, most of the things people really care about are zero-sum. They will struggle just as mightily and eagerly to wrest those for themselves no matter how cheap, plentiful, and high-quality non-zero-sum stuff gets. Moreover, habitable land is always zero-sum, which further complicates things.

For those with less ambition and/or ability, this has a twofold effect. On the one side, it benefits them because in a decently functioning polity, people's efforts to get ahead in life in the hope of zero-sum gains will result in a growing economy making non-zero-sum stuff increasingly cheap, plentiful, and high-quality. On the other hand, it is bad because some things are zero-sum but nevertheless essential for life, most notably habitable land, and people's struggle to get ahead in zero-sum efforts drives the price of these way up. This makes it necessary to work almost as hard as the most ambitious and prosperous folk to be able to afford the increasing price of lodging and other essential access to zero-sum things.

Thus in the contemporary developed world we have a situation where nobody is in danger of starving or not having warm enough clothes, but homelessness is a very realistic threat for poorer people. (As an even more striking illustration of the same phenomenon, in recent years even cell phones and computers have become affordable to many of the homeless folk.) The Manna story also illustrates the same principle accurately: the state finds feeding and clothing the unemployable masses adequately a trivial expense, but the land to house them is expensive and scarce so they have to live packed together like sardines.

Comment author: timtyler 19 January 2011 07:17:32PM 2 points [-]

"Post-scarcity economy" is an impossible concept even in principle (assuming a human society, at any rate).

How about a totalitarian government with high technology and fertility management?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 19 January 2011 07:29:36PM 5 points [-]

It doesn't matter. Whatever the institutions of this totalitarian government might look like, there will still be the usual human zero-sum struggle for status, and whatever goods (material or not) are necessary to gain status will be the object of this struggle, just like they are now. Even under the assumption (entirely impossible for a human society) that material zero-sum goods like land are distributed strictly equitably and the population is kept low enough that the amount per capita is large, status is still scarce by definition.

Comment author: timtyler 19 January 2011 08:06:23PM 6 points [-]

I don't think "post-scarcity economy" is intended to be to do with status.

The word "economy" suggests material resources to me - space/time/matter stuff.

Comment author: gwern 22 September 2011 02:52:55PM 5 points [-]

In practice, all intelligent writers of post-scarcity economies realize that status will still be scarce. Doctorow has his post-scarcity economy run almost solely on status-units (whuffies, or whatever); and I think there is a line in Bank's Culture novels somewhere to the effect that 'the Minds could give humans everything they wanted - except to matter'.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 September 2011 01:51:15PM 4 points [-]

I think its more a way to get those who talk about a post-scarcity economy to realize that people don't really care that much about material resources. Its surprising but people do indeed need to be reminded that social animal's lives are about status.

Comment author: multifoliaterose 19 January 2011 06:35:22PM 1 point [-]

I continue to find your comments really stimulating.