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. Food is one example, where there is more than enough produced for everyone on the planet , but politics, economics and logistics prevent fair distribution. The bottom line is that in the fundamental resources of this planet there exists many orders of magnitude more energy, raw material and biological resources than humanity requires, it is a matter of developing systems that use and distribute them more efficiently.
By employing open collaborative design, digital manufacturing and advanced automation in combination, everything we need should be trivial to fabricate and distribute — from the basics like clean water, good quality food, medicine and suitable housing, to increasingly essential material goods such as vehicles, computers and mobile phones – all the way up to purely luxury items. Decentralizing production of these things will also allow more equal access to them and sidestep many of the issues involved in distributing them. These methods could overcome nearly all significant scarcity that persists due to the economic framework we have inherited from previous eras. This isn't to say what is proposed here will happen, but that it could happen – it is feasible from a physical and technological viewpoint. It is a matter of spreading the knowledge that these things are possible and enough people choosing to work towards it.
The means for a post-scarcity society
- Do we really have the resources for this kind of society?
Civilisation boils down to four fundamentals: material, energy, information and intelligence – none of which are in short supply. It is the current inefficient methods of use (and re-use) and perceived economic restrictions that make it appear that there are significant limitations to these resources.
Specifically, using currently existing technology...
- We can provide abundant clean water for everyone on Earth.
- We can produce enough food to feed at least 80 billion people without harming the environment
- We can meet our energy needs at least ten times over using clean, renewable energy
- We can build cheap, high-quality houses in a day or two, providing shelter for the billion people currently living in slums
- We can build technology of any complexity from free open-source designs and digitally fabricate them for the price of raw materials. (And these raw materials are themselves extremely abundant.) With every year that goes by, the methods of fabrication become more decentralized (see: Fab Labs) and the open-source designs become better, making this a more attractive option.
- We can spread cheap, mobile Internet access to everyone on Earth, allowing them to connect to the world's informational and educational resources. Through open collaboration, this can network vast amounts of human intelligence, which can greatly accelerate scientific and technological progress.
- We can make free educational materials available on the Internet, providing free education of unprecedented quality to everyone on Earth
- We can organize the World's medical knowledge, so that people have access to the highest-quality medical information and advice at all times.
What does this mean for people and society?
It could provide the resources for bringing a high quality of life to those that are not currently fortunate enough to have the amenities and services of 'developed' nations. Worthy projects that really ought to happen, can happen – and in fact this applies just as much to advanced nations where there is still plenty of inequality and missed opportunities. It will not only provide everyone with the basic necessities for a decent life but give maximum opportunity for people and societies to live and prosper how they might like to.
This means different things to different people. For some it enables a life enhanced by advanced technology, able to do new things they have never been able to before, and for others it means almost the exact opposite - allowing them to lead a more basic rural life perhaps with a, more in touch with nature and older ways of living. But they can do this without worrying about a bad year in terms of yield from the land or medical care because of the advanced infrastructure in the background that they can call upon if required.
Post-scarcity almost by definition implies 'post-economic' as economics is based on scarcity. A post-scarcity society means that the basic necessities of living (and plenty more) will be available for everyone who requires it. There may well still be markets for certain items that have purposefully not been made publicly available or are rare, but for many people this will be irrelevant. It will be a choice and not a necessity to enter that market. The important point here is that for the first time the general population will be able to live comfortably without having to owe anyone else their time.
People will not have to suffer drudgery and what amounts to wage slavery during the best years of their lives. Unfortunately a large proportion of people today in both white and blue collar jobs would really rather be doing something else than the jobs they are employed to do. They feel perhaps that what they are doing is not directly relevant to their lives or is not particularly interesting and feel they are simply a cog with little control in a larger machine. Currently they have to do it to afford food, shelter and goods. A post-scarcity society enables them to have the time and space to work on things that are important to them, and to learn the skills needed to reach their goals and have room to be more creative.
One scarce resource today for people is time. In a post-scarcity culture, not having to spend the best part of the day working for a living also frees people up to spend more time with each other - something that is vital for a proper community. Both for friendship and mentoring the next generation.
However some people feel that increasing automation is a threat. A threat to their livelihoods, a threat to humanity's pride even. The reality is that automation is likely to provide in scenarios where people would prefer not to do that job. It leaves people free to be creative and industrious in activities that they want to be part of and allows for greater variety than the average working life offers today. Open design will enable people to be involved in the creation or customisation of the goods they want in a way not seen before and reverses the trend of people simply being passive consumers. Creativity is something that can give huge satisfaction to people but if not fulfilled can cause great frustration and dissatisfaction. It enables an individual to have more control over their environment and life.
More post-scarcity thinking
These links point to more post-scarcity thinking that may be interesting or useful, however please note this does not mean that AdCiv advocates all things said by these individuals!
- Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI.org). Visionary designer and engineer. The Buckminster Fuller Institute runs the Buckminster Fuller challenge, an annual contest to find a practical idea to change the world for the better using good design. A $100,000 grant is given to the winner. The Index of entries is a fascinating testament to human ingenuity and altruism. -
“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a 'higher standard of living than any have ever known.' It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival.”
“Wealth is energy times intelligence, or the manipulation of energy by intelligence.”
- The Venus Project. Visionary designer and futurist. See also his book The Best That Money Can't Buy and the documentary film about Jacque, Future by Design. He advocates a 'Resource-based economy'. -
“At the beginning of World War II the U.S. had a mere 600 or so first-class fighting aircraft. We rapidly overcame this short supply by turning out more than 90,000 planes a year. The question at the start of World War II was: Do we have enough funds to produce the required implements of war? The answer was No, we did not have enough money, nor did we have enough gold; but we did have more than enough resources. It was the available resources that enabled the US to achieve the high production and efficiency required to win the war. Unfortunately this is only considered in times of war.”
- Engines of Creation (2007 update here) and prophet of molecular nanotechnology. He describes as "engines of abundance".
(Interestingly advanced molecular nanotechnology is not actually required for an advanced post-scarcity society — which can be based on macro-scale technology that exists already. However it would likely provide unprecedented control over matter and currently unobtainable abilities in the fields of engineering, agriculture and medicine to name just three) - Author of
- sustainability of human progress. - Prominent computer scientist. He has some interesting information on his website about the
- Right Where You Are Sitting Now and The RICH Economy. - Eminent futurist, comedian, novelist and Discordian Pope. He covers the topic of post-scarcity in his essays
- human intelligence to overcome scarcity far outweighs any seeming scarcity of resources.
“"We now have in our hands — really, in our libraries — the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever-growing population for the next seven billion years."” - A economist who wrote The Ultimate Resource, a book arguing that the power of
- Marshall T. Savage - Author of The Millenial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in eight easy steps. Many abundance concepts are covered using known technology in this interesting take on the steps required to feasibly colonise space
- Agalmics, an essay on the marginalization of scarcity -
- Homebrew Industrial Revolution — a savage critique of monetary economics and a roadmap to post-scarcity through distributed manufacturing.
- Post-scarcity Princeton a general essay on post-scarcity by Paul D. Fernhout
- TED talk on abundance - he's obviously been reading AdCiv :) -