Many fictional visions of post scarcity involve as yet undeveloped technologies but the reality is that global material abundance can be produced with current technologies.
“Let’s be clear on this. We’re not going to wake up in a magical world where iPods and McMansions grow on trees overnight. Before that can happen, every part of today’s value chain has to be overturned. Everything. Production of raw materials, transport and refining, design and engineering, manufacturing, distribution . . . even our own sense of worth. So, if today’s financial crisis is the first step, where do we go from here?
LATE SCARCITY: WHERE WE ARE TODAY
Keynesian? Marxist? With derivatives and CMOs and other abstractions propping up the value of investments, neither school of thought may be entirely valid. And with global population growth slowing, we’re going to have to re-evaluate the “good companies will be growing at 5% a year, forever” assumption that’s been the basis of corporate valuation.
We’re also already starting to see some examples of near post-scarcity. Consider computers and communications. If you’re willing to use a computer that’s a couple of years old, you can probably find a hand-me-down for free, and then happily talk to your friends around the world on Skype using free public wi-fi.
Or consider that in the last Depression, the main worry was simply getting enough food. Today, the marketplace is more worried about maintaining the marketing budgets of 170 different kinds of toothpaste than about ensuring that everyone has toothpaste. There’s a lot of padding in the system. Couple a financial crisis with this overweight, inefficient system, and you have the stage set for the first transition to post-scarcity: a comprehensive rethink of our concept of value.
TRANSITION PHASE 1: VALUE PROLIFERATION
Today, rappers sing about driving Bentleys, living in hotel-sized mansions, and drinking thousand-dollar bottles of cognac. Soon, they may be saying, “And that don’t mean shit unless you got viz and virt and rep!” We’ve already seen the beginning of this: divorce cases in which World of Warcraft’s internal currency is named as an asset; the growing importance of reputation systems such as eBay feedback; the proliferation of corporate “points” or “bux” systems that can be exchanged for real goods; the monetization of attention via friend-spamming on social networks and advertising on popular blogs. Our concept of value is expanding; it will expand even more in this phase.
Think about it. If real currency, virtual currency, corporate points, visibility, and reputation all have value, exchanges will soon crop up. Think of a FOREX (a market in which foreign currencies are exchanged) for all things we consider of value. As point examples of near post-scarcity grow and these value systems become interlocking, we’ll move beyond a single monetary value system. You’ll be able to live well under any number of value systems: reputation, visibility, network, rewards points, or even “old-fashioned” currency.
TRANSITION PHASE 2: UNSEEN GOLDEN-AGE
The second phase of the transition to post-scarcity is the scariest, but only if you look at it from today’s POV.
What’s hard to accept? Well, multiple interlocking value systems require comprehensive metrics and tracking. Read: surveillance. We...