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Will Work For Free | OFFICIAL RELEASE | 2013
Maveric Media   Nov 8, 2013   Maveric Media  
Published on Nov 5, 2013

Will Work For Free is a documentary by Sam Vallely on the subject of technological unemployment.

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A great and inspiring video - well worth the two-hour time investment - but I dispute the conclusion for the following reasons.

1. I'm not convinced that financial incentives are as fundamentally counterproductive as a motivator for creative work as the video and the studies it cites suggest. I suspect that it is rather that they work more indirectly than is generally thought, and trying to apply them directly via bonuses and the like is counterproductive because it undercuts the other sources of motivation. This is important with regard to whether and how quickly we foresee (or wish to promote) a transition to a moneyless society.

2. Also relevant in this context: it seems to me that the "unending growth" system on which market-based economies depend can be made sustainable by dematerialising economic value and by ensuring adequate money supply and modest but positive inflation. Of course it will be good if we also find ways to smooth out (rather than exacerbating) the boom-bust cycle. The only reason why quantifiable easing hasn't worked yet is that there has been too little of it, and what there has been has been offset by foolish (recession-exacerbating) austerity.

In summary: money will continue to play an essential role as a motivator a means of keeping score for the foreseeable future, and the existing financial system, while clearly under severe stress, can be restored. Its total collapse is neither inevitable nor desirable.
Edit buttons absent again. Quantitative easing, of course, not "quantifiable"...
Probably not, yet the following makes one think: What do we have to lose by giving it a try? The Mideast wars are going nowhere fast; Iraq is slowly reverting to its old ways. (Summer is coming up in Iraq- soon we'll be hearing again about car-bombs killing a hundred or so at a time. And what eventually occurs when people there are picked off one at a time for years?)

Main question IMO, is what is happening in the biosphere? We don't know.. we don't know about climate change. Did for instance climate change have something to do with yesterday's typhoon in the Phillipines? No one knows. Too many 'loose ends' for my liking.
This-- from Rick's "the Longevity Crisis"-- is sobering:

"we are still on track to add to the world the equivalent of another China and Europe by the middle of the century. Certainly, these people will, with justice, hanker after a middle class lifestyle putting enormous pressures on the global environment. Add to that the effects of climate change and it seems we are entering a very dangerous and narrow chute through which humanity must pass... We also need to avoid losing the gains in longevity we have made in the past century.
If you’re in the mood to be freaked out there’s nothing better than this recent Frontline documentary Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria. To bring up my oft quoted Orgel’s Second Rule 'Evolution is cleverer than you are' as shown in this documentary bacteria who are the true lords of the earth are busy outsmarting us. Our overuse of antibiotics and our obsessive compulsive craziness for things like antibacterial dish soap is threatening us with a surge of resistant bacteria that could reveal our seeming defeat of communicable diseases in the last century- which has added to our numbers of both young and old- tragically temporary

Contemporary analyses along the lines of the Venus Project remind me of Marxism: much of the analysis is spot on, but the proposed solutions fail to take sufficient account of human nature to be workable.

To be clear, I am in no way saying that a total collapse of the existing money-based system is impossible, nor am I saying that money shouldn't or won't be phased out eventually. Only that neither is inevitable or necessarily desirable in the short term. The money-based system can be made to work better, for a while, and this seems to me to be a much more promising option for getting through the bottleneck than pursuing an ill-defined "resource-based economy". The whole pont of money is to facilitate the exchange of goods and services without relying exclusively on a symmetrical exchange of resources. As far as I can tell, the "resource-based economy" essentially means bartering.

I can certainly agree that the biosphere is in trouble, our whole global geo-politico-econo-ecolo system is under severe stress and could collapse at any time even as a result of relatively minor shock (just think of the fuss caused by a simple volcanic eruption in Iceland a few years ago, not to mention the ongoing global economic crisis triggered by something as banal as a downturn in the Californian housing market). Unfortunately the "resource-based economy" idea appears to be even more retro than finance.
To put it another way: if the current system collapses, then we are all f***ed. To believe otherwise is dangerous wishful thinking. And as long as the system remains in place, people (at least for several years to come) are still going to be using money. Which is easier, to find ways to modify and manipulate a process that is in any case unstoppable (as long as the system persists) so that it works better, or try to stop it and replace it with something completely different and untried? I'm all for experimentation, but not when the most likely outcome is to kill the patient.
"Did for instance climate change have something to do with yesterday's typhoon in the Phillipines? No one knows."

Of course it did. Anthropogenic global warming has already led to hotter oceans, giving rise to more intense hurricanes, occurring later and later in the season. And that's just the beginning of the process by which the climate is becoming unstable, and climate change is just one of many ways in which the system is breaking down.

That's why we need to get this stuff right.
I have been, and still am, an advocate for a Resource Based Economy. It is the only long term solution that I have found to our socio-economic system.

The plan as proposed by The Venus Project has it’s flaws to be sure, as I will explain in a moment.

Peter, what do you mean when you say that it fails to take into account human nature. On the contrary, it tries to account for human nature, by adopting a systems approach to social engineering. For example, eliminating the accumulation of wealth will eliminate the possibility that one person can exert their will over another by controlling scarce resources.

Peter, you bring up another point that I feel needs clarification: In a pure RBE as envisioned, there would be no barter, or need for any trade what so ever. And this is where the plan starts to break down, but as envisioned, there would be no scarce resources. Automated production would provide everything for free. If automated production and distribution could give you anything your heart desires, then what need would there be to trade.

Now, as promised, I’ll attempt to explain where an RBE does have problems:

A pure RBE is dependant on the notion that all material resources are abundant, and that automated production and distribution has made resource scarcity a thing of the past. Someday (perhaps in the next 30 to 50 years), molecular manufacturing and advanced robotics will make that a reality. However, it is not today. While resources are still scarce, we need a mechanism to optimize the distribution of scarce resources. We need drastic changes to our current system to be sure, but the complete elimination of a trade currency is premature. There needs to be a transition plan to get us to an RBE. Just flipping the switch and expecting it to work on day one can’t happen.

One idea for that transition plan has been discussed by the members of this site quite a bit; that is to adopt a Basic Income Guaranteed, as a form of wealth redistribution as technology replaces the need for human labor. As the need labor declines, demand for goods will decline, and society as a whole will start reducing their standard of living until either starvation or revolt forces us to change course.

Think about this proposition as you read the section below: The average standard of living in any society is the total sum of that societies expendature of energy, including human labor. We can only increase the standard of living by expending more energy, or by finding a way to extract more work from a unit of energy (efficiency).

One old idea, born in the Technocracy movement 80 years ago might have merit during the transition; basing our trade currency on units of energy (only this one idea, mind you, throw the rest of Technocracy out). Instead of printing fiat currency as we do now, it would be linked to energy production. In the past currency was linked to a different resource; gold. However, this made for a poor base because gold can be horded and controlled, and it is in finite supply.

Everything we produce in society requires energy. Why not tie the price of everything to the energy required to produce it, and then only make available, units of currency equal to our energy production. Every object would be priced to the total amount of embodied energy in that object, including the cost of things like pollution, etc. If we want to consume more then we need to produce more energy, and do it cleanly. This is in fact, similar to what we really do today if you peal back all the layers of abstraction the our current financial system creates. We can’t consume more than we produce, and all production requires energy, therefore consumption (standard of living) = net energy production.

Energy credits could be paid, as we do now with currency, in trade for labor. However, as labor shrinks, becoming a smaller component of production, then the excess energy above that needed to satisfy payment for labor, would be distributed as a base income to everybody. While labor is still required, there will be a reward to those providing it, but the transition to non-labor production will not have a negative impact.

Other major changes would be needed, such as the end of debt. The use of traditional debt and interest must be eliminated. You can only spend the energy being produced. If we have debt, then a society can borrow and then spend energy units in excess of current energy production.

Another significant change, that comes with it’s own bed of thorns, would be the elimination of the free market. Prices would no longer be driven by supply and demand. They will be driven by the embodied energy in that thing. This then means some form of central planning will be required, and we all know how that idea will go over in our Capitalist controlled world.

In the end though, societies average standard of living could be increased simply by producing more clean energy. At some point, the base income provided to every person would exceed what any person could possibly consume, and automation is producing enough for everybody. It will be at this point, and only at this point that we will be able to consider a real transition to a Resource Based Economy and the elimination of all currency.
"Peter, what do you mean when you say that [RBE] fails to take into account human nature."

Good question, and I think the answer is indeed related to the flaws in RBE you have pointed out, Kelly. As you say, there needs to be a transition plan, and this is essentially what Marx also screwed up: he correctly analysed the problems with capitalism (accumulation of wealth), he envisioned a utopia, which is indeed an essential part of any progressive endeavour, but he got the transition plan completely wrong.

Basically my point about human nature is that to get people to do stuff there needs to be some means of motivating them to do it, and for the reasons I've explained, notwithstanding the evidence presented in the video, financial incentives seem to be playing an essential role in doing that currently. (If it wasn't, the initial "credit crunch" wouldn't have led to a decline in actual economic activity: the fact that it did proves that people are indeed positively motivated by the desire to acquire money, as if such proof were actually required.) Marx "trie[d] to account for human nature" as well, but he missed precisely this point: the essential and central role of money as a motivator. Take that away, and people basically stop doing things.

Re "In a pure RBE as envisioned, there would be no barter, or need for any trade what so ever" I take your point, but as you say "this is where the plan starts to break down", and this being the case there seems to be little left of RBE than a utopic vision in which resources are abundant due to automation. OK, as an idea that has value (once again, we need to envision utopias), but I still have the impression that the main focus of RBE is on a flawed and naïve transition plan rather than on the notion of technology-fuelled abundance, which is in any case not a particularly new idea.

By contrast, I find the idea of basing trade currency on units of energy as a transitional approach very interesting, and one that resonates very well with my own thinking. What I'm wondering, though, is how to manage the transition to the transition...
One consideration that may also be important in this context is that personally I don't equate "the average standard of living in any society" with "the total sum of that societies expendature of energy, including human labor". It depends a bit how you're defining "standard of living", but if we start from the (admittedly vague, arguably tautological but nevertheless promising IMO) assumption that what people really want is to be happy, then we know from countless studies that happiness only partially correlated with expenditure of energy.

What is clear, though, is that when we "spend" (it would be more physically correct to say "dissipate") energy we are increasing entropy, and this is dangerous given that our ability to maintain structure and complexity, including at the planetary scale, depends on our ability to export the entropy we generate. So I think what I really want to do with your "energy as currency" idea, Kelly, is to regard money as "a right to generate entropy". And this leads to the intriguing (for me at any rate!) thought that the EU's greenhouse gas Emission Trading Scheme (ETS), although currently rather in shambles (as a result of politically determined design flaws, rather like the euro...) could be seen as a prototype for such a currency. The generation of greenhouse gas emissions is, after all, a kind of entropy generation, and under the ETS the right to do so is tradable. Just as people can circumvent governmental fiat currency by using bitcoin as currency, if regulatory ETS-type models were to be expanded then the resulting tradable permits could also be used as currency, and this could perhaps gradually replace fiat currency.

At least, it seems like a cool idea...
One caveat to the above, though: money works essentially because it has brand value. Governments regulate it by controlling the money supply, but we trust it because we have been brought up to perceive it as having value. By contrast, ETS permits work (or at least were supposed to work) because of regulations restricting a company's right to generate greenhouse gas emissions (which for the purposes of the present discussion can be taken as a proxy for entropy generation). For this to work properly, these restrictions would therefore need to work as well as property rights (i.e. regulations and cultural habits limiting the prevalence of stealing and looting). Currently we are a long, long way from bringing about such a transition, but the above nevertheless suggests that ETS-type environmental legalisation (despite the problems) may still be the most promising game in town.

I think were on the same wavelength here. I agree with most everything you had to say. I feel compelled however, to clarify a comment you made:

“Basically my point about human nature is that to get people to do stuff there needs to be some means of motivating them to do it, and for the reasons I've explained, notwithstanding the evidence presented in the video, financial incentives seem to be playing an essential role in doing that currently.”

It’s a common perception to witness something (a desire for money), and assume that it is an atomic desire. It’s much more complex than that. It’s what I would call a compound or chained desire. People desire money, because with that, they can buy a home. They want to own a home because it gives them a sense a security, knowing it is theirs, and will still be theirs tomorrow. It may also provide a sense of accomplishment and pride, but those are easily replaced with other activities. Security is a core motivator. When you ask someone what would make them feel secure (and money can’t be one of the answers), you will likely get answers such as: enough food to eat, freedom from danger such as a place to live where I can keep my family and myself safe, good health or access to good health care should health falter, stability such as knowing that tomorrow those things will still be here for me.

If you meet all of a persons core needs, I think you will find that the desire to obtain the abstraction of those needs (money) will be reduced in importance.

The perception that people want money, rather than their core needs met, leads to an additional incorrect assumption: That work, to earn money is a required motivator, and in the absence of work people will atrophy and do nothing because they have nothing to motivate them. It’s true that for all of human history, humankind has had to toil and work to gather enough resources to survive, so I can understand why one would think it is a required element of human nature. However, there are numerous examples in recent history (last few hundred years), where our innovators, inventors, and leaders have come primarily from the wealthy class. These were people not motivated by money; they already had plenty. They were motivated by a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Therefore we do not need to place a persons security at risk in order to motivate them. Once secure, and all their needs are being met, there are plenty of other emotions that will provide the needed motivation to get up off their tail and do something fulfilling and rewarding.

I’ll make one final observation because it fit’s the conversation (not in counter to any of your comments). Many people think we need scarcity to moderate consumption. They say things like “if we have unlimited access to food” we’ll waste it and over eat, becoming fat, lazy and unhealthy. A similar argument is then made for other resource types. Again, let us turn to the wealth class for examples of how people behave when provided unlimited access to resources. How many fat rich people do you know? Surprisingly, even though they have unlimited access to food, they tend to be leaner and healthier in general than those in poorer classes. They don’t over consume food because the are secure in the fact that it will still be there tomorrow. They have evolved past this notion that you must hoard resources when they are available so that you can survive the times when they are not. The need to hoard, therefore is not human nature, it is a conditioned response to the need to survive, to feel secure.

Of course this is all just academic talk until we discover a way to transition, and perhaps (as you said) a way to transition to the transition.
Energy? Abundance? Getting there?

<b>LFTRs in 5 minutes - Thorium Reactors </b>

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As for Marx you said:

“Marx "trie[d] to account for human nature" as well, but he missed precisely this point: the essential and central role of money as a motivator. Take that away, and people basically stop doing things.”

Carl Marx never suggested doing away with money. He suggested doing away with owner/worker class structures, by making the workers also be the owners. The Soviet Union took a few of his ideas and tried to create a transition to the communist “utopia” that Marx prescribed. That transition plan was not Marx’s, and the resulting political/social structure in the Soviet Union as well China later, was decidedly not Communist, from the view of Marx’s definition of Communism. The Soviet Union actually ended up creating a Capitalist state owned Monopoly. The Capitalist social structure was very much retained. Nowhere near the idea of a worker-owned democracy of the people called for by Marx.

It’s also important to remember that when Marx wrote his critique on Capitalism, and earlier a small pamphlet on Communism, labor was very tightly coupled to production. You could not have one without the other. The world we are moving towards is very different with labor being decoupled from production, and so needs different solutions. However, there may be wisdom yet to find in Marx about how to create a transition. And we have the benefit of a failed experiment, to show us how not to do it.

An excellent book on this topic is “Class Theory and History - Capitalism and Communism in the U.S.S.R.”, by Steven A. Resnich and Richard D. Wolff; Routledge 2002.
Thanks Kelly, I think I agree with all of that, and especially the point that money is not the *fundamental* motivator, in general. So indeed "Take that away, and people basically stop doing things" is false if read as a generic statement. What I think makes it true with regard to practical, short-term (and indeed present) reality is that money has become so integral to the system as a compound/chained desire that without it people really do become somewhat rudderless. We expect to be paid for what we do, and the fact that we are getting paid for it provides a significant - if indeed indirect and to some extent superficial - part of our motivation.

Re Marx, yes I guess I have been exaggerating the extent to which Marx himself prescribed the transitional arrangements, and I fully agree about the "benefit of a failed experiment" point.

@CygnusX1 re Thorium: my instinct tells me we can do better than this, such as by vastly improving solar technology. The entropy gap between incoming sunlight and outgoing radiation is already orders of magnitude more than we need to satisfy our current energy needs. We just need to figure out a way to use it.
"Carl Marx never suggested doing away with money. He suggested doing away with owner/worker class structures, by making the workers also be the owners."

One way would be intelligence enhancement of workers.
In any case workers-as-owners still strikes me as an overprescriptive idea. Why should workers and owners necessarily be the same people? Does this mean I can't employ anyone without selling them shares of my company, or work for anyone without buying them. Totally illiberal.

Intelligence-enhancement of workers: sure, but how to organise it? And will they necessarily want it? Do I even want it, for that matter? For me it raises disturbing questions of identity. Basically I want to make a significant contribution, have some fun in the process, and hopefully live a very long time (in one form or other). Intelligence-enhancement, yes, but incremental, please. I'm happy to learn, but not too quickly or abruptly, otherwise I feel like I'll no longer be me.

Take a look at the worker owned cooperative model. The Modrogan Corporation in Spain is owned by it's workers. It's a very successful business with around 100,000 owner/workers, and over 5 billion in annual revenue. You can still be a wage employee at Mondrgan, but after a period of time are given the option to become a full member. The price of membership comes out of the wages, so no one must come up with a lump sum investment. Every member the coop gets one and only one share, even the CEO.

Think about this: Spain has over 25% unemployment. While Modrogan has seen their sales drop from the recession just like everyone else, the members have elected to take less pay during down cycles so that no member is ever laid off. It doesn't hurt that the top executives pay must be agreed to by the members, so hardly ever rises to more than 4 or 5 times that of the lowest paid position. Executives must earn their higher pay, just like everyone else.

Employee Coop's have been very popular in Europe, and are just now starting to see a surge in American companies adopting the model. Modrogan has recently partnered with United Steel Workers here in the U.S. to help start up employee owned coops.
Thanks again. Indeed I think this is a very promising model, and when I referred to the workers-as-owners idea as "over prescriptive" I guess I still had something more coercive in mind, i.e. a ban on arrangements where workers are not given that possibility.

Perhaps we can agree on this: whatever precise role Marx himself played, for good or ill, it is obvious that the general socialist movement of which communism was just one version was a much-needed correction to the ills of capitalism as fuelled by the industrial revolution, and at the same time communism in particular led to some awful dystopias. Telling someone in the Gulags that future generations would be able to benefit from the failed experiment would have been somewhat shallow comfort I imagined. Doubtless we can benefit from humanity's experiments with fascism and the Third Reich, and not *only* in the sense of ensuring that they never happen again, but in both cases there are negative lessons to be learned as well as positive. What perhaps distinguishes the two is the extent to which communism was an essentially progressive (hope-based) idea, while fascism was an essentially reactionary (fear/disgust-based) one?
"Intelligence-enhancement of workers: sure, but how to organise it? And will they necessarily want it?"

You zero in on it as usual. Will the workers want it? a minority almost certainly can be interested. One could interest a worker in 250 mg per diem of acetyl L carnitine, for starters, carnitine having gone down in price to where it is now cost effective for intelligence enhancement. Problem is, the drudgery of manual labor. To take better care of oneself yet do manual labor does not boost self-esteem. To enhance one's intelligence but to do manual labor is quite difficult. To raise one's IQ 10 points, just say, yet be a drudge 40 hrs a week on average, is frustrating in some respects-- the only true benefit is the exercise deriving from the drudgery.
However even to interest one worker out of a hundred in intelligence enhancement IMO is worth it.
It isn't merely lack of intelligence motivating one to be a worker, it's also getting pleasure now- there is the advantage of the Now. When one comprehends this, one can understand why a worker would want alcohol, tobacco, etc: to ignore delaying gratification in order to compensate for the drudgery and harshness of manual labor. Nicotine and caffeine in the proper doses, BTW, are quick-and-dirty ways to increase intelligence. Many-- perhaps the majority-- of workers compensate for lower intelligence via nicotine, caffeine; etc., and heightened awareness coming from seeing things from a different perspective.
When I first heard of transhumanism 25 yrs ago; life extension 35 yrs ago, rapture of the future was too enticing to resist. Same with intelligence enhancement of workers: knowledge of the benefits naturally has to be balanced by knowledge of that which negates/can negate. At any rate all avenues have to be explored if nothing else. (Until I learned of the importance of SF, did not grasp the subtleties of academia entirely).

"Do I even want it, for that matter?"

Now there is an ever-relevant question. BTW (since Marx is mentioned so often), reading Sarkar as well as Marx is one way to 'fill in the blanks', the puzzle).
We also need to bear in mind that the nature of work has evolved enormously since the time of Marx, and continues to evolve - which, indeed, is in fact the main theme of the video. Essentially, most forms of labour are being phased out as they are replaced by machines. Those that are not being phased out are precisely the kind of creative / cognitive tasks that people do more effectively when not worried about money or other concerns, but are simply doing it from a sense of curiosity, accomplishment, fun, and a wish to make a positive contribution.

On this, I think Kelly and I are in full agreement, and (as with my discussions with Giulio) the difference is mainly one of emphasis. There is the transition to the benign, abundance-based future that we envisage, and want, and there is the transition to the transition. To get to our utopic future we need to move away from a broken financial system to something better, but to arrive at that "something better" we need to work with the tools and the motivations we've got. We need to find better ways to internalise externalities, where the Big Externality we need to be worrying about is essentially entropy generation, while the harnessing of visible sunlight to reduce entropy locally (as in photosynthesis) needs to be rewarded.

There is so much free energy around us, Intomorrow. We just need to find better ways to incentivise people to make use of it. Taxes are horrible, a huge source of resentment, cheating and distrust, but a currency that was directly linked to "right to generate entropy", and which one would acquire by harnessing visible sunlight, could obviate the need for taxes (government would be paid, by the solar energy generators, for the services they provide, and would be accountable to them), and energy would be priced accordingly.

Clearly this kind of idea needs more work, but Kelly and the video have got me thinking...
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