What makes a nation, a people, a lifestyle productive of wealth?
And what would living that way feel like?
By Joseph Friedlander
Note: This is a very long article
Brian Wang has written extensively on the concept of the Mundane Singularity (Singularity lite) in analogy to beverages, which does not include the full Eric Drexler-like package of programmable active nano-robots which can work virtual miracles by assembling/dissassembling/juggling atoms at will– but simply applying best practices (known to work stuff, applied with cunning and master-level skill) universally across a society as well as a mixture of rapid upgrading of technologies and infrastructure to achieve a super-growth effect.
In some articles Brian Wang has speculated on how long this can be sustained (waste heat and other pollution disposal limits and resource limits on this planet apply, but this planet is not the whole universe).
If we could colonize the entire planet with as much development as possible (environmentalist’s nightmare or at least nature lover’s nightmare, something like Trantor or Corsucant in science fiction, a largely super-urbanized world — we would have a maximum economic output Kardashev Level (or Type) 1 society.
Do the same to the Solar System and we have a max output Kardashev Level 2 society.
And if the entire Galaxy were exploited to the maximum practical extent (assuming lots of time or faster than light drive as well as the ability to do what Dr. David Criswell has termed ‘sun lifting’ mining the entire contents of stars to get at the elements and matter within to maximize economic output) we would have a maxed out Kardashev Level 3 society.
Note that the above description plays certain games with the concept– just trying to see the absolute maximum possible is unlikely to be the configuration that real-world people would choose for a pleasant life.
Manhattan may be impressive but most people would not choose to live there on lifestyle concerns. (Those who do live there trade close human access, business proximity and other opportunities for a penalty matrix — and ‘Matrix’ may be the appropriate word if you are caught in the strange virtual world of NYC government red tape — of increased housing and living costs, bad parking and transportation opportunities, huge taxes, etc.)
But if we can imagine an optimally governed super-Manhattan or Tokyo, like Dubai before the crash extended forward two centuries, or a hyper version of Singapore, we can picture it.
The key measure is not maximum urban vertical organization (huge arcologies, each an entire small city of say 100,000 people, being the mere skyscrapers of a super-city with hundreds of millions of people to get a one-city effect —
(A one city effect may be described as the economic bonus obtained when a major nation or equivalent of a nation’s population have rapid access to each other– enabling rapid transactions, turnover and rapid discovery of new business opportunities as well as easy relocation according to career needs without the penalties of long-range, arms-length relocation as most people would encounter today).
–but rather net energy and wealth and resources available to each inhabitant.
Some links to past writings of Brian Wang that touch upon the subject or a related aspect of the subject of the trendline of increasing human wealth over time, all in one place:
An implicit assumption here is that everyone would like to be wealthy (not always true—some people are content with simple living i.e. off the grid, without electricity, with a minimum of income.).
Another implicit assumption is that resources can be substituted for another over time as scarcities emerge. (Also not always true. For example, we are well past the era of ‘Peak Wood’, as I like to say to panic mongers who talk about Peak Oil. By which I really mean, ‘Peak Old Growth Climax Forest Wood’. A poor man with an axe head and a sharpening stone and some oil and a knife once upon a time could forage in a forest, whittle a axe handle from the very forest he planned to cut down, then chop down magnificent huge oak trees for free. Such wood nowadays would be hugely expensive. I have seen shrink-wrapped little pieces of wood at fairly high prices. My father drove to a lumberyard and could get a whole big 1972 trunkload of wood for that price. My grandfather could have had wagonloads of wood delivered for that price, and so on. We use particle board with glued shavings from junk wood where our theoretically poorer ancestors got better quality solid wood. .
Here is a sample of what could have been done with a (large scale) home wood workshop (specialized lathe cobbled together for the pillars)– and the forest around you–
The forest around you could be mined for housing, and wealth (My grandfather came from Russia and had a furniture business until FDR’s NRA put him out of business. His furniture frames were wood. Good solid hardwood. Once you get the carpentry down, you learn the padding, the springs and the other subcomponent arts and all of a sudden you have a business from the forest around you. Until then you can sell logs to merchants and buy your imports with that)
Would I trade my concrete house for a wood house? No, better fire safety, less draftiness– but let’s not pretend that progress is solely an upgrade. Sometimes you get a substitution instead. Particle board is not solid oak. And sometimes resource scarceness and depletion can shut entire lines of business down. But more often government can make those lines uneconomical by acts of regulation or legislation.
–which brings us to another assumption, is that the wealth that is your theoretical share is in fact yours to spend. Someone in around 1910 might pay 10% of his income in taxes. It would be very hard for a normal hard working person nowadays to legally achieve that. The sales tax alone in many places would be near that number. And because of marginal considerations (the last dollar you earn is disproportionately more valuable to you than the first because of your fixed expenses) this huge increase in lost wealth means a huge increase in FUTURE lost wealth. Imagine your theoretical future returns if you could invest another 30% of your income a year (If forced to choose, in an alternative universe, between 40% taxes and 10% taxes but a requirement to give another 10% to charity and to invest in new startups another 20%–which would be better for you?)
(Note that Marshall Savage, in The Millennial Project,
one of my favorite books, has given a great reason for space settlement– to become rich. GIVEN his postulates of sun-derived 24/7 energy, a closed cycle ecology involving a self-sufficient cooperative society with autarky (they make everything they need) net costless waste recycling by incineration, chemical reclamation and algae growth and flavor synthesis, and apparently in the book, no taxes, people would have vast income accumulation from exports (in his postulated case, large scale data processing (an analogue of the Server Sky plan but in a large server farm). Expenses low, income high, difference accumulation mounts up and over 20-40-60 years (he postulates longer life from low G conditions) with near present day technology the TYPICAL colony inhabitant would die after a long and happy life worth tens of millions of dollars. Love that vision or laugh at it, but it shows the power of compound interest– IF there is a productive place to put the money (new technology, not speculative financial instruments.) I can believe in space colonists floating in a pressurized can, but I cannot believe in investment without a firm foundation in real production.)
Another assumption not stated in the hyperwealth accumulation scenario is that people will do what is in their long-range interest. Often people are short-sighted, present oriented– mortgaging their future for ease of the present. However, those who plan ahead and grow will then economically outclass them.
Notice that I am not saying that INFINITE growth is possible– that is what the Kardashev levels imply– limits– but hugely more than we are used to. (Energy limits are sustainable as long as the sun shines, from space-based solar power for purposes of this article—so energy is not a limiting factor, ) So there are ultimate limits, and it is a race to a finish line– but it is a race, and you can’t just sit down in the middle of the track or you will get passed..
If your society is important in the world now and refuses contact with the reality that you are in an economic race (throttling economic growth for any combination of reasons– ideological, lobbying ( powerful old industry preventing new rivals from forming), zoning or simply that people who work all day don’t have time to devote to political games whereas claimants on the public purse have large incentives to do so) then don’t be surprised if a once vibrant city like Detroit turns to a wilderness 40 years later.
Another assumption is that there are no legal barriers to new technologies being born that can catalyze growth. It is not certain to me that for example if Rodney Brooks comes up with a practical $5000 robot that he will not be messed with by lawyers (liability) unions (competition) etc. All this will do is drive his sales overseas, and the trade deficit up. You can’t deny reality forever. Eventually new tech will find its way in the world. It can be in our industries or enabling new rivals that destroy our industries. But it will arrive.
Having listed a few assumptions above, let us go to a discussion of how it feels to be wealthy. In a word– normal. Not good, but not bad either.
The rule of thumb: If you’re in it, and you’re used to it, it feels normal. If you get a wealth upgrade, that’s the new normal, and you get used to it (and baseline expenses ratchet up). But getting a downgrade really hurts. (People typically start using their savings to maintain their baseline lifestyle until either the savings run out or they realize they are doing it. Most people don’t compartmentalize their money to keep track of it. Those who do get the red alert sooner, and make the needed adjustments.)
But the human capacity to enjoy wealth appears to be both nearly limitless (you can get used to almost anything pleasant—how long would it take you to get addicted to robot-cooked and served feasts every day for breakfast if they were essentially free to you?) and paradoxically, sharply limited. (Human appetites are finite because of our limited bodies– once you are full—certainly when you are full to bursting– more food has no value for you just then.
Even if you park in a huge 10 story garage full of your 1000 chosen mint-condition car models—the best cars from the last 100 years–you can only drive one car at a time. (Quibblers will hold out for a 100 story private car skyscraper garage with 10 colors of each model)
Similar analogies apply to clothing, (the wealthy already have walk in closets that resembled quality boutiques in décor and storage capacity)
On clothing, I think women would be most glad to avail themselves of hyperwealth–one 19th Century diary entry–
Oh, dear, how tiresome life is when one hasn’t an income of at least 300,000 francs!
I have a dozen gowns made, a few hats, and stop there! It’s absurd; one ought not to be embarrassed by such things. Oh, money, money! I must have it…
Remember for perspective that this is a (then) young girl of noble family with enough money to travel to (for example) Italy or France and be presented into society by the Russian Ambassador. Yet she feels the restrictions of poverty! Eventually competitions of display lead to sumptuary laws http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumptuary_law prohibiting fine clothing if the drain on society is sufficient. But with hyperwealth, what possible level of display would be necessary to trigger such laws?
One might imagine similar combinations of the human tendency to limitless desire followed by satiation in housing. (some people have mansions with swimming pools that go in and out the house, with private show caves—shades of Bruce Wayne? –Think of the Bat Boat– heck, think of Wayne Manor– with a private laboratory, workshop, helicopter pad, boat dock, VSTOL (Vertical Takeoff or Landing—Harrier like airplane) and a place built like the White House in opulance in top. I can see a place like that costing $100 million for the inhabitant of a 1000 times richer civilization.
And similarly we can imagine people designing their own houses (remember most people buy someone elses’vision of where to live). We can imagine houses custom built in the form of a spiral nautilus, or a ‘best of’ grand rooms collection that overwhelms but does not come together as a unified composition, or houses half underwater with private lagoon and observatory– really you could list a hundred visions of houses. The ultimate of this of course would be a holodeck house that changed to suit your mood.
Very few people with room to display it would not secretly like a dollhouse or model railroad, but imagine miniature architectural models of your entire downtown city, or incredible museum quality displays of zillions of different patterned marbles, egg patterns, knots, vast toy collections, (how many Bruce Wayne like characters in fiction and comics have ‘weapon lined library’ retreats) a replica Scrooge McDuck money room (with Titanium Nitride coated golden facsimile coins, but from a distance…) Of course then you would need more mansion space to put this in– -Rideable miniature railways are old news, but one can imagine a park to ride through of animated toy villagers going about their ‘lives’ and so on.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dollhouse (also furnishings and scale artifacts)
For an example of a hyperwealth style mansion of a person who literally did have a set of almost anything, look through both parts of this article with fantastic pictures—
An example of past splendorous display and sumptuous array was the Field of Cloth of Gold, a meeting place whose name symbolized the event of a meeting of two kings: Both Henry and Francis wished to be seen as Renaissance princes. Renaissance thinking held that a strong prince could choose peace from a place of strength. The meeting was designed to show how magnificent each court was and how this could be a basis for mutual respect and peace between nations who were traditional enemies. Henry and Francis were also similar figures of similar age and dashing reputations, so there was almost certainly a mutual curiosity. Each king tried to outshine the other, with dazzling tents and clothes, huge feasts, music,jousting, and games. The tents and the costumes displayed so much cloth of gold, an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, that the site of the meeting was named after it.
The most elaborate arrangements were made for the accommodation of the two monarchs and their large retinues; and on Henry’s part especially no efforts were spared to make a great impression in Europe with this meeting. Before the castle of Guines, a temporary palace covering an area of nearly 12,000 square yards (10,000 m^2), was erected for the reception of the English king. The palace was in four blocks with a central courtyard; each side was 328 feet (100 m) long. The only solid part was the brick base about 8 feet (2 m) high. Above the brickwork, the 30-foot (10 meter) high walls were made of cloth or canvas on timber frames, painted to look like stone or brick. The slanting roof was made of oiled cloth painted to give the colour of lead and the illusion of slates. Contemporaries commented especially on the huge expanse of glass, which made visitors feel they were in the open air. …The building was decorated in the most sumptuous fashion and furnished with a profusion of golden ornaments. Red wine flowed from the two fountains outside. …
Some idea of the size of Henry’s following may be gathered from the fact that in one month 2200 sheep and other viands in a similar proportion were consumed, along with roughly 1350 Crumpets and 70 jars of strawberry jam. In the fields beyond the castle, 2800 tents were erected for less distinguished visitors.
Today’s civilization produces tens of thousands of square kilometers of cloth a year-(some of that for purely industrial purposes) Indeed by one study (Textile Printing Production To Reach 32 Billion Square Meters By 2015) is envisioned to see 32 billion square meters of printed fabrics alone a year– and that itself would have been mind boggling to to previous civilizations –which had textile scarcity—and the majority of whose textile products were crude homespun. (So poor were medieval societies that often the pay of the hangman was to keep the clothing of the executed wretch). Technically speaking it would be no problem at all today to wallpaper with reproductions of great art works if that were our priority– for example one of my favorite pairs of pictures , Picture gallery with views of modern Rome by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, painted 1759.
G.P. Pannini,” Roman ruins and sculpture,” (Louvre) 1758
(Caption from Wikipedia, article about Neoclassicism G. P. Panniniassembles the canon of Roman ruins and Roman sculpture into one vast imaginary gallery
which are metapictures– pictures of galleries full of pictures for hanging in a gallery full of… pictures.
You can imagine covering your walls with printed copies of fantastic art and printed frames around them, all in cloth or wall paper, and looking from a distance indistinguishable from real hand-painted art. Think what a miracle that would have seemed before the invention of photography, digital picture reproduction and roll to roll printing techniques. Look at those two metapictures and imagine the equivalent done of a gallery of different car models or spacecraft, according to your individual taste. In the future, with intelligent AI and hyperwealth, custom design of houses and filling them with real galleries of matchless neoclassical art will be no huge problem.
We may arbitrarily think of other acquisitions that would be fun to list, but I am sure my readers can apply the exercise themselves.
(On the other end of the income scale, as long as a person is not in active pain, (from lack of food, clothing, shelter or health care) he can be very philosophical about a low income, particularly if he has internet access. (Or a good library and music collection). Many over the centuries have sought tranquility and contemplation rather than maximal income and prestige. On a lesser level, in some countries a limited kind of life is possible simply scavenging the castaway waste food and goods of ‘real’ society. This is a terrible way to live, and yet that it is possible at all is an indication of the wealth—and waste– in our larger society. It certainly is not possible in all places…)
Gerard K. O’Neill (in his book 2081) gave a vision of a hundred years into the future (now around 70 years away). He pointed out that since 1781, per capita income in real terms had increased about 10 times, and it seemed likely to increase in the future a similar amount. Similar conclusions were reached by Herman Kahn in a 1976 book.
Consider that a person now who makes 1/10th the normal amount would regard himself as quite poor, not an average person, and it is clear that there is a kind of psychic penalty for not being among your peers in earning power. Yet, assuming you had land that was not taxed away from under you—
(not a joke, government officials considering what might be a reasonable tax raise would base it on their income (making $60000 a year, they could personally afford a $1000 increase in property taxes that might take nearly all the disposable cash income of a poor rural subsistence farmer)
–without it being taxed from under you, one could support themselves despite not having competitive or ‘world class’ skills.
So we see that land and ecology is also a wealth enabler. (Much of the expense in practical space colonization is simply to provide on board equivalent of natural ecosystem supplies of radiation shielding, food, water, air.)
As we may consider what massive upgrades in wealth level would be like, we don’t need to speculate, we can open our eyes to see the reality around us–
$8,000 income– subsistence gardening, small home, no utilities
But see here for an instance of the government trying to evict a man just trying to live his life that way–
The logic apparently being, evict this man from his own land for not yielding enough taxes, then import a better class of taxpayer– nice (civil servant) work if you can get it…Of course I am certain in their mind they just regard themselves as enforcing regulations– but this gives a warning– be passed by in the economic race and you can no longer assume you will be treated neutrally—
$20000 income— small home, one room-temperature controlled, rest of the house natural temperature, no car, no TV, but computer and internet and washer and dryer, refrigerator and freezer. People with ‘bad jobs’ but in the system and on the grid.
(Consider for a moment at this income level how much of a wealth enabler the Internet is– something that was absent from nearly all lives just 20 years ago. Once only Presidents or other rulers, had instant personal news updates, the ability to watch most movies in a private screening, to hear any recording the industry put out, the ability to send unlimited private rapid telegrams, the ability to order the distance between any two buildings on earth measured (Google Earth) the ability to get aerial recon on any area on Earth (same) vast abilities in contacts and information intelligence. Jerry Pournelle’s old 1980 forecast (which I read in 1980) that by the year 2000 nearly any question you had could be answered by computer has very approximately come true. Also the ability to rapidly order library researches—to find lost quotes– to answer nagging questions– this alone is a vast amount of ‘virtual wealth’ that even the poor at this level have access to today.)
$50000 income– one functioning (not new) car, small climate-controlled home, minimal but full set of modern appliances. Disposable income is tight.
$125,000 income- what most people regard as a normal full lifestyle– occasional international travel, vacations one good car and one local car, some recreational equipment, etc
We could move upward and upward into more and more pleasant income brackets, but the reader I am sure, gets the point.
Now let us think of our mental picture of wealth from old movies–
1880s cowboy movie– they live in a small cabin, they get water from a bucket in a well, sanitation is using the pit and cover method, they may be ‘trusted’ for a suit of clothes in the city, but in the rural areas they skin buck and wear buckskin.
1920s gangster movie– the ordinary hoodlum lives in a rented room at a men’s hotel, the boss has a suite at a good hotel. Ordinary people live in a running cold-water tenement with a bathroom down the hall. They take a streetcar to work. They may listen with earphones to a crystal radio or even a tube radio.
1950s movie– now they have their own hot water apartment or small bungalow house, perhaps even a car. They have a black and white TV
1970s movie– suburban split level with semi-transistorized quick start color TV and two cars in the driveway.
2000s movie– better house, electronics and cars, but still the same (real income peaked in the 70s, but tech improvements continued).
You could say that from the 1920s to the 1950s per capita wealth doubled, and by the 70s it had doubled again. If we could only squeeze in a few more doublings, our lives would be very pleasant by todays standards. (In fact, I have written that had the USA not entered World War I or bought into Progressive era tax and regulation mindsets, avoided the bad loans of the 1920s to Europe and Latin America, we could have avoided the Depression, New Deal and World War 2 and quite possibly the Cold War as well. If so the wasted capital blown up in war or lost in unproductive pursuits had been devoted to a further two doublings of US wealth, the typical person WOULD have a flying car about now. (The usual complaint about the current offerings of flying cars is that the average guy can’t afford one) WHERE’s MY FLYING CAR?! (if you want some fun search for wheres+my+flying+car OR flying+car+avery+brooks)
This may seem like a petty complaint, but only because it is one! It however is also perhaps the most pervasive symbol of the future and its lack symbolizes the common feeling or half-realization that we have been basically cheated out of a future as good as it could have been. (On the other hand we are not grubbing for roots among post-nuclear ruins, so count your blessings!) So we have to get society’s act together to get a better future going. And you can’t get where you are going without a vision of where you are going– thus this article. The key thing is repeated geometric doublings of wealth. They make fantasies affordable (And if you doubt this– have NO doubt that you are warmed, washed, entertained and serenaded beyond the dreams of kings in earlier eras. You are probably also better provisioned than nutrition, but the king’s table would almost certainly have more quantity than yours does, and your clothes are of better fabrics, but the king had more expensive tailoring))
People accept a couple or even six or eight doublings (over the last 200 years) as part of the historical record. But another TEN doublings– to increase our per capita wealth by 1000 times– is not often thought of as a realistic goal—this would mean.even the poorest person with any income at all being a millionaire. (It is always possible to have no money– but to be working at any kind of job for much of the year is under discussion here) . For comparison, see the list of income levels listed above and multiply by 1000)
And TWENTY doublings– a million times—even the poorest being a billionaire.(see the income levels listed above and multiply by 1,000,000)
and THIRTY doublings– a billion times– even the poorest being a trillionaire. (multiply above income levels by a factor of billion)
–these levels will be described below, but let us consider for a moment Friedlander’s Law of Good Living:
There are four ways to live better:
-Increase External Effectiveness of what you spend (get more value for the same value offered)
–Increase Internal Effectiveness of what you spend (derive more value for the same input—in a strange way, this is a mirror of productivity)
Let us consider each of these with an illustrative example. Please, feel free to come up with your own..
Larry Niven had something in his 1968 book A Gift From Earth called “architectural coral”. It was genetically engineered to grow on a pressurized balloon. It dropped the cost of a no-kidding house to a few thousand dollars for the shell (presumably land, windows and utility hookup were extra). Contrast that with perhaps $30,000 today for the bare shell of a small place.
But suppose society restructured itself so a house COULD cost $5000– or even $2500. Then cost of living would drop hugely. During the real estate boom I saw the crazy prices and I remarked to my wife– “This is a delusion— science fiction 23rd Century prices with 21st Century income. If the average person can’t afford to live, it can’t be sustained.”
But with such low prices, even a person in a part time job could afford a house– as long as the government did not tax it out from under him.
Assuming those two things, a person with $20,000 a year would live hugely more comfortably. (He could add on to his house year by year)
Along those lines, what could we do with a machine such as Marshall Savage postulates, that takes cheap chemicals and sunlight and algae and sythesizes flavors, and makes home crops and meals possible (A “autofarmer” and “autochef” in the low thousands of dollars range). Store trips would be for cleaning supplies and hardware store items, but not groceries, assuming the quality was as good as store-bought food (if not, it will not be adapted).
Imagine an “autochem set” that would synthesize any of the 10,000 chemicals and substances you might need in everyday life– polishes– abrasives– hardware store stuff. (this in fact would be a parallel development of the autochef.)
or look in Google Books or the Web Archive for “MacKenzie’s Ten Thousand Reciepts.”
These are books of formulas. Imagine them in machine form, and with a machine ready to execute them, affordable to a household.
When you come right down to it, a cookbook is a chemistry book too, and even a food processor needs to be washed out, but imagine a robot joined with a cross-shifting array of vessels that can be self-cleaned (as a system whole) so you just buy cheap staple chemicals and get what you need out of it (perhaps using internet back and forth trading so people don’t make ridiculously small batch sizes. (Did you know printer ink costs $18,000 a gallon?). This might even be a source of home income over time.
Imagine a ”voicecomp’ that probably is about 10 years away (and has been for the last 30 years:) that not only does voice recognition and context understanding but can do minor programming jobs (“Please find every video containing a space launch system on this drive”) Now imagine it for the cost of a netbook.
Imagine home delivery pipes for UPS like deliveries, or better yet, a minivan sized version where you can have PRT (Personal rapid transit) private car rides or robotic deliveries (perhaps to your home chemistry business) and thus not needing a car nor needing to endure the bus. (Even with good companions, travelling the bus involves being outside for long stretches and enduring ambient weather and you can’t send stuff on the bus to your home like you can lock a trunk on your parked car)
Or look at this list of books on various home crafts/businesses from http://www.librum.us/
picking specialties at random,
shoemaking and leatherworking and clothing sewing and tailoring
woodcraft and working and carpentry
weaving (including baskets and wicker and hanging rope goods)
and imagine a fully automatic robotic version of them with robot arms also for unpacking supplies and packing output goods. (besides to actual processing)
Clearly (IF laws would be amended to permit these things and practices instead of large chains of stores lobbying to make home industry illegal as it already is on zoning considerations) there would be vast potential here for better living on a small income.
The cooperative kind of home industries where the output of one is the input of another, made possible by such debugged, fully developed “autochem” “automachinist” “autotailor” and analogous machines would make possible the kind of home industry, free commerce based world that Kevin Carson advocates in his book
The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto
Note– free pdf copies at site above but I’m sure Kevin would NOT mind you buying a hard copy…
The kind of world Kevin Carson advocates is small groups of networked (presumably computer coordinated) entrepreneurial workshops producing real output for real needs. This is the kind of industry (with more primitive equipment) that helped Italy and Japan boot up industrially (in the latter case, networked and subcontracted bicycle shops specializing in particular kinds of parts). It also frankly makes for a nice neighborhood way of life, where everybody knows everybody instead of the place just being a parking lot at night while everyone comes from widely dispersed and impersonal employers…
One huge motivation for such a networked community would be its’ robustness, and also the lack of dependence on a single employer, and just a few stores as your source of necessities.
Increase External Effectiveness of what you spend (get more value for the same value offered)
Suppose it were possible to get more for your shopping dollar. Well, basically, that’s why people go to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Their terrible, grinding efficiencies may destroy small town retailers and the like, but people go there for the price—and what we might call the ‘delegated negotiating power’. They could not negotiate as good prices with each of the 100,000 line items available– but Wal-Mart does it for them.
But that is a mundane example. Suppose you could have a shopping network application over the internet to enable shopping from many home businesses as outlined above. You need a working pair of shoes, and you have an old pair. You might send your shoes out over the pipe network, to a workshop chosen by your computer. They might repair your shoes (if need be in the Third World, if need be by robotics locally (vastly preferable in terms of both energy and close community) and get them back. Note that your own house machines might be able to do it– but only at the cost of production that could be exported. You simply do not specialize in shoes enough to be able to afford the lost production. But others do so specialize, and can meet your needs– giving you twice the value you could obtain by doing it at home.
–Increase Internal Effectiveness of what you spend (derive more value for the same input)
Consider a family hunched around a early radio in the 1920s vs. a hi-fi stereo nut in the 1950s vs. a multi-TV household in the 1980s vs a multi-computer household today. Clearly, we derive much more value for our money in home electronics. This is price deflation without income deflation. This is one way of collapsing the cost of living and increasing living standards even in a poor person without increasing taxes
Think about what it would mean if we could develop a system as portrayed in the science fiction short story and Night Gallery episode ‘The Little Black Bag” by Cyril Kornbluth.
Clearly, such a bag– realizable in my imagination only in nanotech– would blow away the health care issues of today, the whole Obamacare controversy, make all but the worst traumas treatable at home. And anything survivable at all would be a single outpatient visit. No more million dollar hospital bills.
This in fact is one of the strongest arguments ever advanced for nanotech– as an emergency measure to avoid either national bankruptcy from funding a health care system whose cash burn exceeds the economically sustainable or denial of treatments by price rationing or rationing by death committees.
A further example of getting more for less would be the autochef cutting down your food bills because it cooked only exactly what you needed on a real-time basis, and all the rotting leftovers are avoided (also being able to unplug the big pair of refrigerator/ freezer and being able to rely on freeze-dried and vacuum-stored goods because reconstituting them is a robotic chore, not a manual one)
So it very probably would be possible to live as well as $50,000 home income in that world as on $125,000 corporate salary in ours (as much net disposable income after expenses are paid) , but everything depends on the government being reasonable about things. Kevin Carson brings many examples of governments not being so reasonable. It simply makes doing business impossible except on a large corporate scale– and then we are back to the world we live in now, with all its’ problems.
So let us leave that world, and contemplate a better one.
Rule of 72 time to doubling calculator http://www.moneychimp.com/features/rule72.htm
With 3 wealth doublings—achievable in under a couple decades at 15% growth– (actually 15 years) if equally distributed, the $8000 a year person would top the $50000 one in living standards, and the $20000 a year person pass the $125,000 a year man. Unlikely? Such an increase has happened in China within the past decades, the memory of many readers.
With 10 wealth doublings– achievable in a working lifetime (50 years) at that growth rate– the at-present $125,000 a year class man could afford a small (today’s standards) –say 40,000 tons– nuclear powered ocean liner as a private living residence.
(The oceans have 335 million square kilometers. Not everyone could have one– on Earth. (What would happen is huge ocean going communities like the proposed Freedom Ship to limit ocean traffic) But at that wealth level one can imagine the space equivalent of this very easily. And at this ten doublings of wealth level, even the $8,000 person would be a millionaire. (The poorest of the world poor, with a few hundred dollars a year, would have to endure the equivalent of a McMansion and SUV one supposes) (Again, assuming unlimited 1c per kilowatt hour cheap space-based solar power to power the fuel synthesis problem– ) The funny thing is, they will still regard themselves as being poor. The newest products or designs that have cachet, that command a premium price– by the time these things trickle down to them, they will have lost their freshness. Does a slum dweller of today regard himself as rich because he has a computer? (That even wealthy households did not have 40 years ago, better than any in the world at that time in fact?) Of course not. Such is human nature. Hyperwealth will not end ‘poverty’ as people regard that. But it will certainly ease the conditions in which poverty must be endured!
Now we plan to contemplate the energy limits of our current world and of the wealth afforded by the energy levels available in a Kardashev Level 1 2 and 3 civilization. Currently we may approximate the energy used by Mankind as around 15 terawatts (15,000 gigawatt years). As one gigawatt year is about equal to a 17 megaton bomb, this shows the amazing amount of energy Mankind uses. (About 255,000 megatons or 255 gigatons of TNT equivalent per year)
But the ultimate amount of power the Earth receives from the Sun is around 174,000 terawatts vs. the 15 we do use. To achieve full Kardashev Level-1 status, we will basically be harvesting (with some probably considerable conversion inefficiencies) it all. Currently, with about 1/10000th of solar input being Man’s waste heat (geothermal waste heat is ~3 times that so don’t feel too guilty) true anthropogenic global warming in a DIRECT fashion is not really a serious issue.
Right now, global energy consumption is around 1 part in 10,000 of solar flux that intercepts Earth. For the last 100 years, global energy consumption has been growing three percent per year, which is a little more than twice as fast as population growth and about 0.7 percent slower than global GDP growth. Per capita energy consumption has been growing a little over half a percent a year also.
You can run those curves yourselves, but when Man reaches a full Kardashev Level-1 status, waste heat will be no laughing matter.
Dinkin says, there,
even if population stops growing, our waste heat level will hit the level of solar flux in less than 2,000 years. Long before waste heat surpasses the Sun in our budget, it will be a bigger problem than carbon dioxide…
When waste heat is equal to solar flux, we will have to either reflect all sunlight back into space, increase the Earth’s emissivity or pump the heat into the Earth’s core. I foresee fountains of molten salt broadcasting our heat into the sky. But economic growth will outpace our increase in emissivity by moving people and industry off Earth.
I believe Sam Dinkin is correct in forecasting massive emigration and then off-planet population growth as the ultimate global warming cure. Because, really, if you plan a Kardashev Level 2 Solar Empire, only around a billionth of the population can possibly be on Earth anyway, so turn the whole thing into a kind of national park/heritage site/wildlife preserve. Hyperwealth would let us do that. Whereas hyper-poverty, as in Africa, encourages poaching on wildlife because you have no money to buy store-bought meat… poverty is no friend of the true conservationist. Hyperwealth is. Heck, if I was a billionaire, I would be tempted to imitate Charles Foster Kane in the Movie “Citizen Kane”– ‘the biggest private zoo since Noah.’ I am sure my wife would love petting a zebra (all this assumes I had robots to clean up after the elephant, because I sure ain’t doing it 🙂 One more thing to fit on your private nuclear ocean liner I suppose…
Whereas a Kardashev Level-1 Civilization has access to 10,000 times our energy (and let us assume wealth) a Kardashev Level-2 Civilization has access not to a mere 1.74 ×10e17 watts (the 174,000 terawatts mentioned before) but a spectacular 3.83 x 10e26 watts, 2.2 billion times as much power, commanding the entire power output of the sun. (Getting the output of the high solar latitudes would be tricker than around the solar equator, but Drexler-class solar sails that can hover by sunlight could be effective light-bouncers to lower latitude orbiting collectors.)
So for a given population level, we can be 2.2 billion times richer with a solar empire ( Kardashev Level-2) than a mere Earth-based civilization (Kardashev Level-1) that uses all available solar energy, which itself would give 10,000 times the wealth of present-day civilization (assuming, as an approximation, that energy capability is the equivalent of wealth). That yields a staggering conclusion—that a solar system wide civilization would be 10000 x 2.2 billion or 22 trillion times richer than we are now! Suppose you owned the entire world. Each year you make around $72 trillion.
$71.85 Trillion PPP dollars, current prices – 2009
Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators
Suppose you pass a stubble-cheeked bum on the street and – big spender– you toss $3.27 into the bum’s begging cup. You, who own the whole world, have just demonstrated the gulf between a a solar empire ( Kardashev Level-2) and our present-day 10,000 times poorer than Kardashev Level-1 civilization. Really, toss the bum a fiver. Have you no shame?
But now consider a Kardashev-Level 3 civilization, with an entire Galaxy’s mass of stars being the multiplier of wealth. The usual multiplier given widely http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kardashev_scale
is another factor of 10e11– a hundred billion. The real number could be a factor of 1 trillion because we apparently live in quite a large galaxy.
It is a little hard to communicate just how huge a number 1 trillion is—
If we say you have around 10 trillion cells (gee, it was 50 trillion when I was going to school– someone go on a diet?)
1. Human flora – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The average human body, consisting of about 1013 (10000000000000 or about ten trillion) cells, has about ten times that number of microorganisms in the gut. …
–and another source gives 100 trillion. Since there are apparently 10 times more flora inside us than our own cells (read the article– most discovered only by DNA surveying techniques)–it would appear that we have a good fraction of a quadrillion (a million billion) cells within us. Truly, each person is a world… but the conclusion we reach now is that a full Kardashev Type 3 civilization would have the same relationship of power relative to us as a 2 kilogram dumbell to the weight of the entire Earth (13 trillion trillion kilograms)
(a factor of 22 trillion between today and a Kardashev Level 2 civilization separating the $72 trillion man and the penniless bum, and then another factor of a trillion to the Galactic level .)
Short form: It would not be a good idea for us to pick a war with a Kardashev Level 3 civilization.
However, if we are the ones who found the Galactic civilization at Kardashev Level 3, (assuming no faster than light drive) it will not be as a coherent unit (because of communications difficulties relating to the speed of light, but as a great mass of Kardashev Level 2 civilizations. If there is faster than light travel, then all bets are off, and a vast Galactic structure is possible in terms of centralized government, tax collection, and for all I know, rival Emperors and a Death Star arms race (note that I did not say this would be a good idea, just possible). I suspect, however, that human beings are not emotionally capable of dealing with each other politically in structures of that magnitude. (Many suggest that optimal human groups for governance are in the 15-500 person range). All this assumes that vast future augmentation does not take place (a sucker bet) so maybe a vast human based civilization may be possible after all– but it would display distinctly non-human characteristics if successful.
In any case, the ratio of machines to people will be a very great one. And that implies a new level of hyperwealth. (assuming people have access to the output of the machines and are not enslaved to them or simply neglected by them).
If the vision of Isaac Asimov is correct, (a story in which there was a transmat, a kind of transporter doorway that you stepped through to get to your otherworldly destination) you might have people with private residence planets, who commuted to their giga-city apartments where they did their business on a central business world (pathetic analogies to Earth history and the suburban-city divide, but these kinds of resonances occur in history again and again, because –I believe– emotionally similar situations call forth similar responses from the library of human “presets’)
With such a Galactic super-civilization with instant transmat teleportation from one end of the Galaxy to another, the question arises, how many planets would a person own? (Another way of determining the optimum population ratio– because after the Great Expansion is over, at the end, the limits to growth people will be in fashion again (although I hear some grumblings for going to Kardashev Level 4– about now…)
(We note several things in passing– yes, space colonies would be more flexible and not unaffordable, but there is one huge advantage to a planet (particularly if you can get off it whenever you want)– planets are big and have various support systems built into them (radiation/meteoroid protection with an atmosphere, gravity generation, etc) that have a hard time suddenly failing. The smaller the system, the more rapidly it can collapse…)
Realistically it would be a good idea to leave plenty of fallow space if only because a boom running into hard limits suddenly MIGHT well collapse some part of civilization, from psychological effects alone. That is why it is important to avoid it in our own age, and future ones…
With a Galaxy of a trillion stars, and potential for around a billion billion people a star (the equivalent of around 500 million people on Earth– completely sustainable), this implies 10e24 people, (assuming ordinary life like now, no uploading, mind servers, junk like that, just people in bodies). Assuming 1% are tech people (scientists/engineers) and 10% hobbyists of some sort (crocheting, design, etc) and everything is open source (please!) the amount of neat matter hacks should be utterly staggering, and all downloadable (although not necessarily all at a given place and time.) Assuming they have nanotech (heck, femottech at that point) each step up that ladder adds a quality factor of a million to the enjoyment of what is already hyperwealth. The only analogy I can give you at this level is to a children’s play I saw when I was little– the curtain parted (on an enchanted forest with what– in retrospect– must have been multi-colored reflective foil, glitter, brilliant optical effects, and all the kids just gasped in awe. It was simply dazzling. Not only will there be more wealth per capita than we can imagine, but the quality of each experience at least could be stunning beyond anything we have today.
An example– an idea I had called the “Nanofork”. Now it will come as no surprise to many that techies tend to have a weight problem, and one reason is eating a majority of your meals in front of the computer. (Ideally when looking at online pictures of your real-world food so you don’t actually have to tear yourself away to look at actual REAL life. The horror…:). Well, I was thinking, how do you keep the temperature of each bite perfectly piping hot? And the idea was, synthesize each bite from recordings right as you eat it with hot temperature (given the physics of rapid molecular assembly, heating is no problem:) Of course the next step is recording the absolute best bitefuls of the best recipes by the best chefs– they cook 1000 real pies, and the best one was this one, and the best biteful of that was this, and here it is every time. Perfect crust, consistency, texture taste. Imagine a meal consisting of 30 bites of 30 different foods, each of which (without nanotech) would take 10 pots, lids, pans etc to cook. A literal buffet of food callable on demand as you want, just as you can search for lyrics then call music as you want, by the song, today (how long ago was it that you would keep the radio going to listen for a new song you couldn’t identify in hopes of learning the name and lyrics?).
Now imagine that nanofork lasting 10 years and costing $10. You can see that even the poor or the voluntary nomad (backpacker) would love such a device, and it would improve our lives immeasurably.
Now imagine the combined efforts of a billion billion times the number of hackers/hobbyists/crafty people today, all uploading their solutions for free use (and downloading from your home ‘matter printer’ for instant availability). Literally your main activity in the day would be helping other people you had never met and never would. Altruistic– and this bread cast on the waters would be a tsunami of invention, coming to enrich you beyond measure.
My conclusion: A successful future with hyperwealth would be a fun place to be. Let’s try for it!
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.