Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

On money, and Curiosity as the currency of the future

I grew up with Star Trek. At one point I knew a significant amount of Klingon (though I've (sadly?) forgotten pretty much all of it), and recently I've acquired all seven seasons of The Next Generation to watch all the episodes again. Having this base, it doesn't seem strange to me to imagine a future where money is obsolete and molecular nanotechnology produces food and other objects on the fly.

What is the driving force of humanity, in the Star Trek future? It is that of curiosity, that of self-betterment, and that of the betterment of humanity. "To boldly go where no one has gone before" corresponds to "seek out knowledge of all sorts and fill in empty spots on your map, for the territory is not empty." This is the noble, moral way to go, and I shall return to it in a bit. But first, a little on the current system of money.

Communism presents an attempt at fixing the obvious sickness that is present-day humanity. It is a failed attempt, but nonetheless it recognizes the problem: too many people are needlessly suffering and it doesn't seem right for the very rich, who don't need nearly all their money, to have such abundance. To make matters more disgusting, a lot of that richness comes from the exploitation and manipulation of others. This was true in the days of monarchy and aristocratic societies, it is still true today, though perhaps it's easier to get away with and truly the wealth is in more hands than before (and there's more wealth).

The major fallacy of Communism is its chief tenant: from those of ability to those of need. This implicitly assumes that those of ability will be forced to give to those in need, as in killed for refusal, and that is not a successful road in any sense. The tenant exists in nearly all forms of government, however: what do you think taxes are (partly) for?

I like the idea of the rich paying for others' welfare, and I definitely wish they did more of it. (Bill Gates is not a shining example. While I think his intent is in the right place, the actual reality of the results can't really be called admirable.) Attack me if you want and say it's because I'm relatively poor and in student loan debt, but if I end up with my desired $10 million in 10 years I bet I will still feel the same. It boggles my mind how someone can even sleep at night after buying a diamond, a shiny rock, for $25 million.

I don't like the idea of trying to force the rich to pay, however. But there is an alternative: if the rich wish to have a place in society, then they have a responsibility to contribute to society, which means coughing up. If they want to go off on their own, fine, they can buy an island and live in isolation. They can even bring their own rich buddies along with them, and form their own society with their own rules. But to participate or to have any sort of position in the Common Society (where the majority lies), the responsibility to contribute is there. What happens for failure to contribute? Denial of public services and participation in public affairs. The rich can leave, if they want.

We don't need nanotech to fix poverty, we just need concentrated efforts. Cut spending on military and you free up a helluva lot of cash for other uses. Stop forcing the agriculture industry to underproduce and we can feed Africa several times over.

I think a lot of people would desire a world where everyone had the basic necessities of food, shelter, and health taken care of without worry. Nanotech brings those by default, but we don't even need it. All that is required is a stricter bar for participating in society, because the rich do not "make money" from nothing: it is the money of society that they have captured for themselves. (There's nothing implicitly wrong with capturing value.) Wealth is not created, it is captured. The pool of wealth is a collective variable depending on the state of the society as a whole. In good economies, the standard of living is high, and there is lots of wealth to capture.

Others still ask "Why bother? Who cares about hunger and homelessness: those people are just lazy and deserve their situation." That to me is such a horrible view I'm not quite sure where to start going against it. I'm not very sure I have the capability to convince someone who already holds that view otherwise. I can criticize the oversimplification, because many homeless are mentally ill. Mentally ill people don't have the same cognitive functionality as "normal" people do. Do you blame a broken toaster for failing to properly toast bread? No, you see it mess up and you fix it. (Albeit "fix" in this context usually refers to just getting a new one, which is not what I want with humans.) Do you want to steer the world to a future without poverty, or with poverty, or do you just not care?

The final argument is that the destruction of money is coming with nanotech and intelligence enhancement. In a future where want is eliminated, money can no longer be a driving force. What will you do then, and why would you not also try to do it now? For me, curiosity has already replaced money as a driving force. Do I want money? Sure. But I want to learn far more than I want to capture wealth. And in a universe of possibilities I don't expect my curiosity to diminish in even a billion year life-span.

Can you imagine wanting to work for a billion years, day after day, all the while amassing paper/rock? Can you imagine doing it with a far superior brain that not only thinks faster but thinks better? I can't. I want to relax, to go at a pleasant pace. If it takes me 100 years to learn to draw as well as Da Vinci, so be it. Curiosity is my currency already, but for humanity to really advance it has to become the currency for others as well.

I don't mean to assault the idea of pursuing money, because currently that action symbolizes an important concept. It allows people to find what they do best in life or want to do most and be able to do it, instead of toiling in the fields like everyone else to just stay alive. Several groups romanticize further and try to put some holy light on trade or selfishness, but I don't fall for that. In any case, money allows people to attempt to do what they want. It is a tool to that end, and when used thusly I have no qualms with it. When people pursue money for the sake of money, however, when so many important problems exist, I find it disgusting. Be curious instead.

Posted on 2010-02-09 by Jach

Tags: money, morality, philosophy


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Amaroq February 23, 2010 01:26:07 AM Any producer who values his own life will leave your society and start his own where him and his fellow productive men can keep what they earn.

Then your society will collapse in on its own productive vacuum.

I think nanotech would enable everyone to be selfish. =P Since, once it gets here, nobody will need help anymore.
Jach February 23, 2010 06:20:04 AM No bridges are built by one man. Not even nanotech bridges.
Amaroq February 24, 2010 06:13:12 AM Not everyone knows how to build bridges. Those who do, and are skilled at organizing and directing workers to build them, are in the minority. (Specialization.)

You focus too much on who the producers need, and you forget that you need them.

If you don't treat them right, they'll withdraw their services. Then your society will suffer the consequences.
Jach February 24, 2010 03:54:22 PM See recent post. :) Though what I was getting at is that humanity progresses, individuals not so much. (See Calculus, Science, etc.)
Amaroq February 25, 2010 03:11:37 AM I was addressing the point where you said that the rich should pay up or be treated basically as lesser citizens.

I already read the newer post, and it doesn't address the fact that your society will collapse if you drive the productive people away.

Humanity's progress wouldn't be possible without individuals.
Jach February 25, 2010 05:36:36 AM Yeah, pay up or leave. Don't allow people who don't pay up to use public services. It's quite a simple concept. This is only while money exists, see. In the end, curiosity will rule.

Humanity's progress wouldn't be possible without individuals, DUH. Humanity isn't a singular entity. You don't need to keep repeating that useless statement. It's like if I kept stating "and individuals aren't possible without atoms!" It's useless to say it and I think the intention you want isn't what is conveyed. But it's not the individual that matters in the progress of humanity: name an individual, and imagine they refused to do something, that doesn't matter since someone else will do it eventually. Individuals aren't special from other individuals, as we're all human and have equivalent brainware.
Amaroq February 26, 2010 03:21:46 AM Thomas Edison, for one. The light bulb was only one of many things he worked on. And he was only born 163 years ago. Life could be extremely different today if it weren't for him.

He was a very special individual.

I also don't see how money will disappear. You stated that nanotech will make it disappear, and then you basically said, "Why should we wait until then to get rid of it?" What will make it disappear before nanotech is invented?

The producers can always start over from scratch if they have to leave. What will your society do if it loses them?
Jach February 26, 2010 08:26:23 AM I can produce, so I'll be sticking around. =P That's perhaps where you fail hardest: you seem to think all skilled people are going to leave or that your group is the only competent and/or intelligent group of humans.

You show an ignorance of history. Edison had tons of lower people doing significant work for him, if he had not lived things would not be different today. (Tesla was probably the better scientist anyway.)

As for getting rid of money before nanotech, you'll see.:) I'm not expecting it to, because people are overly greedy bastards.
Amaroq February 27, 2010 05:41:04 AM The only chance your society has is in convincing the skilled people that they should stick around and take their punishment for succeeding. When they hear about a society where they get to keep their riches, they'll start to wonder why they have to bleed themselves to feed their inferiors. I can only pity the ones who accept your ethics and stay.

If Edison had never been born, what are the chances that those same people would have gotten together and worked on the same things that they worked on under him?

And you say greedy like it's a bad thing. =P
Jach February 27, 2010 02:34:29 PM Man, you are completely stupid with respect to how my society would function, or any society for that matter. I can't even begin to explain because you already think the default outcome is that in Atlas Shrugged. It's like trying to talk to people about AI when their default outcome is that in Hollywood flicks.

Same people? Don't know. Same results? Very high.

Greedy is a bad thing when all you do in life is seek money. Wanting money isn't a bad thing, when you need it, but I don't really think that as greedy. Do something worthwhile instead. Once we have a way to easily mine space, that also will continue the process of destroying the entire concept of money.
Amaroq March 02, 2010 04:19:40 AM You don't have to be very smart to acknowledge that punishing success will deter success. It's common sense.

Part of your error is thinking that the amount of value in a society is static, and only flows between people. You think the rich necessarily "captured" value and someone else has been shorted.

Value is actually created and destroyed. One simple example is a glassmaker who turns something useless (sand) into something valuable (a glass vase). By doing this, he's added value to society. It has one more glass vase in it now that people can trade money for if they want it.

The same principle works for people who produce other things, such as food and electronic components. While a glass vase may not seem very valuable, in this day and age, food and electronic components and the like are very valuable, even a requirement for the society to continue operating at its current level.

Wealth is a consequence of being successful at producing things. Creating value.

If you punish producers for succeeding, there'll be no (selfish) incentive to succeed. No incentive to create much value if any at all, with any decent level of efficiency. At that point, your society will need to convince the value creators to adopt a selfless ethics, or else it will perish. But it'll still perish in the end anyway, as the producers who do stay find it harder and harder to keep up with society's increasing demands. (A lot of the producers probably went to live in the selfish society. Thus, your society will probably have to raise the demand on the wealthy to make up for the fact that it has less productive people to create values for the society and feed the money they gained in trade back into the society.)

Your society probably will end up like Atlas Shrugged, for the very same reasons that the society in that book ended up like that. It will depend on the same thing that the "moochers" and "looters" in that society depended on: That the prime movers keep working themselves to death to support it. It will depend on them adopting an altruistic morality so they'll save the society.

Meanwhile, the selfish society will prosper without anyone having to punish anyone else for being successful and wealthy. It will prosper BECAUSE the wealthy producers are rewarded, not punished, for their success. They're encouraged to keep producing. They're encouraged to continue adding value to society.

I addressed how value is added, but I forgot to give an example of how value is destroyed for contrast.

Producers take useless materials and make them into valuable things. They add to society's value. The opposite end of the spectrum is people who use up and/or destroy value without adding at least as much value back into society. The unemployed. The welfare collectors. The people who have found a way for the state to support them without having to work. They are eating the pie without putting back into it. As cold as it sounds, people who need help but who never pull themselves up out of that state are value-destroyers. If you support them, you're rewarding them for remaining in that state, and they are going to continue to drain your society (at the expense of those who do produce) until there's nothing left.

When you remove the interfering systems that hurt producers and reward the failures, reality will directly reward the producers and punish the failures. It's the best way to consistently get people to better themselves. With no safety net to catch them, the price of failure becomes very real to them, and if they value their lives, they'll pull themselves up by their bootstraps at least out of desperation.

It sounds pretty extreme and binary. But it's true. To me, it seems like you're trying to make your type of ethics/politics work by just watering it down. When you water down a self-destructive ethics/politics, it just takes longer for the effect to be fully realized.

The beautiful thing about selfishness (in the Randian sense) is that, at its extreme implementation, it still works. You're worried about people being jerks to each other? At their most selfish, people can still be perfectly benevolent to strangers (all humans are potentially valuable until they prove themselves otherwise, because of the nature of humans) as well as friends. (Yes, selfish people can have friends. And love. Two types of relationships that I suspect you don't believe selfish people can have.)

A person who defaults to being malevolent to other humans either has twisted values (doesn't know how to value / value humans / judge value correctly) or is just mentally unhealthy somehow.

As for gaining money: Depends on the process you desire to use to gain your money. I know you're familiar with this saying. Money is the root of all good. Particularly, the desire for earned money. The desire for the unearned is the root of all evil.

I don't take that saying too literally, but the desire to -make- money is a very good thing to have. If you live by the principle that all things must be earned, the very act of making money will presuppose creating value, and is therefore a good thing. (Looking at this with a collective perspective. A perspective which seems to be more convincing to you than an individualist perspective. But productivity can be justified with both perspectives. It's just not as obvious with the selfish perspective because people automatically think evil and malevolent when they think of selfishness.)

Different people, different initial conditions. The same result is less likely, and/or it's likely to take longer before the result is achieved. (For the conditions to become favorable again. The conditions being the human(s) involved and their environment and state of mind.)
Jach March 02, 2010 04:59:51 AM I'm not punishing success. But success is made by capturing the wealth of society, and if you don't give back to society, you can go leave. The concept of capturing value is one held in standard economics. Of course it's not a static amount, new wealth is of course being created, but people who become rich are just capturing a portion of it all. It's not a hostile thing.

"Repeat after me: Profit is not determined by how much value you create, it is determined by how much of that value you can capture." The glassmaker, by making glass, does not profit in accordance with how much value he created. I think you've misunderstood my basic point of economics.

Interestingly, the top 1% of people in America hold 33% of the wealth. Somehow I doubt that that 1% is responsible for creating all the useful things we use. I would bet they're extraordinary good at capturing value of things they didn't directly create using many different techniques.

Again, it's not punishing people for succeeding, it's simply saying if you're going to succeed and be in this society, you need to help society out because society helped you out. (You can't succeed in a void.) My points have gone -whoosh- over your head, you're arguing against a straw man. I mean, I could address the rest of your comment, but it's not worth it because you're on a completely different planet right now. My society would operate on curiosity anyway.

I'm glad you admit and show your admittance that you can't see beyond an Atlas Shrugged scenario for a society that's not like one you want. I'm sorry.
Amaroq March 05, 2010 06:07:32 AM "The concept of capturing value is one held in standard economics."

Christianity is pretty standard too.

You're making a couple of errors here. One, you seem to believe that value is intrinsic, when it's not. Two, you seem to believe that only money is valuable, or that its value is primary and that other things are not valuable enough to be noted.

Your view here presents both of those errors melded together to present something that's just plain wrong.

When two people trade, an item for money, it's not a capture of value by whoever got the money. It's an exchange of values.

You also seem to believe that the wealthy are indebted to society because of this capturing of yours, and that they must give back. My point here invalidates that. The wealthy didn't capture value from society. They exchanged with it, value for value.
Jach March 05, 2010 04:24:10 PM The Standard Model is pretty standard too. Let's reject all standard things as wrong! Come on, stop being stupid and read an economics book. Stop spouting your Objectivist propaganda and cite me some economics books. You're not even understanding my views, sad. You're arguing with straw men.

Value is subjective, I already wrote on that. In perfect trading, no profit is gained. Profit is gained by capturing value, because the market is not perfect.
Amaroq March 06, 2010 12:46:27 AM The point is that just being standard doesn't make something correct. Coinciding with reality does.

I think value is objective, which is different than subjective. But as long as you don't think it's intrinsic, that's good enough for the purpose of this thread.

However, for someone who holds that value isn't intrinsic, you sure seem to act like it is.

You mentioned the glassmaker not gaining a profit in accordance with the value he created. If value isn't intrinsic, then that statement makes no sense. The glassmaker values the glass vase less than a twenty dollar bill, and someone who can't make glass vases might value the glass vase more than a twenty dollar bill. When they exchange, they both win. There is no capture. Or maybe they both capture, according to each's value judgments.

When you mention perfect trading, I'm pretty sure this is related to a previous statement you made about efficient economies. But a statement about efficiency presupposes value judgments. You're trying to maximize a value and minimize a cost. Your statement about economic efficiency not letting money pool in any one place comes from an egalitarian premise. I'm not sure what value judgments you're making here, but I can tell that your main concern is redistributing wealth. From an egoistic perspective, an efficient economy with perfect trades might be a system where everyone gets to pool money and resources, in contrast with your "efficient" economy where money flows and never pools anywhere.
Jach March 06, 2010 03:54:06 AM My point is that if something is standard, it deserves attention and someone with absolutely no knowledge on the subject (such as yourself) can't simply wave it away. Then again, you're no stranger to that...

...If value is objective, but not intrinsic, what's objective about it? Where in the stars and mountains is written the value of things? Objectivity means regardless of a mind to perceive. It means something exists in the territory, not in our map. It means we should find little XML tags on atoms that say "value". Objective value and intrinsic value go hand in hand.

Oh wait, you mean Objective, meaning "subjective but following Objectivism's view." Nevermind the preceding paragraph.

Please stop, you're hurting yourself. You're picking out a tiny portion of my entire point, completely misunderstanding it, and launching into an attack on straw men. Nanotech's coming, money as we know it is not long for this world.
Amaroq March 06, 2010 08:33:34 AM I put forth a legitimate argument, and rather than addressing that argument, you pointed to Standard Economics. If it's standard, there's a reason for that, I give you that. But in cases like this, the standard was just invoked to avoid addressing the actual argument. (Argument from Authority.) If you want to invoke standard economics, I don't think it's inappropriate to want an actual argument from standard economics. Even in the form of a link to an external source. It's not quite the same as asking you to cite sources, because rather than asking you to back up your argument, I'm asking you to give an argument at all.

The difference between objective and intrinsic is kind of outside the scope of this discussion. But a value is something that a living being acts to gain or keep. The being doesn't have to have a consciousness for something to be valuable to it. A more elegant way of saying it might be to say that value describes a certain type of relationship between a (not necessarily conscious) living being and anything else. That doesn't sound intrinsic or subjective to me. But it is an objective fact of reality, that living beings pursue things, therefore I can say such values are objective. Intrinsic/subjective is a false-dichotomy.

But like I said, the agreement that value isn't intrinsic is all I need to make the arguments I'm making. Intrinsic/subjective/objective can be debated another time.

How soon nanotech is coming and even whether it is coming is debatable. But until it gets here, we're going to continue using money. A system that doesn't work for this time frame isn't a practical solution. I'm arguing that your system isn't practical for a world in which money is still in use.

Your entire post attacks the first two paragraphs of mine while neglecting to defend yourself from the rest of my post. Do you have any arguments to address the rest of my post?
Jach March 06, 2010 07:30:08 PM Addressing your entire post overall: you're giving straw man arguments. I can't address them because you're not arguing against anything I believe. You are making some pretty ridiculous statements, which I am correcting. If you really need help using Google: I figured the idea of capturing value is obvious to anyone it's explained to, I've heard it all over. If I look hard enough I can probably find a college course that mentions it as a minor detail because, well, it's minor. It's like saying the earth is a spheroid; it's a minor fact standardly held in a field.

I guess plants "pursue" the sun in the same way that mass "pursues" other mass through gravity. How you arrive at values from that I have no idea. Relationship to value doesn't follow. (Oh wait, nevermind again. You don't uses the word 'value' the same as everyone else, either, it seems.)

Nanotech is another issue, but if you want to debate the possibility of nanotech, you have to do that from within physics. Read up on some physics before you open your mouth against the possibility. As for the time frame, given we don't go extinct or have some other global catastrophe 100 years is pretty conservative. We already have nanotech, anyway, just not the type of nanotech needed to destroy money.

Your system has failed to arise from over 50 years of people advocating for it. I doubt it's going to come about in another 50 years.
Amaroq March 07, 2010 08:20:08 AM If I'm arguing against straw men, please tell me what I've misunderstood about your society. If I've misunderstood you enough, you may be able to undermine my whole argument just by clarifying yours. I'm pretty sure that I'm seeing it for what it really is though.

I was actually shown this a while back, and it addresses your whole notion of efficient economies and perfect trades. (Known as the doctrine of Pure and Perfect Competition.)

See Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics,
Chapter 10, Part 10, starting page 425, and also the section starting on page 430, which immediately follows.
(You'll have to tell me if linking is possible in comments.)

Thank you for inspiring me to read a bit about this. I'd had the pdf (that I linked) sitting around for a while and never checked it out. I don't know if you know it or not, but the economic system you've accepted operates from blatantly collectivist premises. Whereas I only saw a redistribution of wealth on the surface, I now see deeper into this sinister belief of yours than I did before.
(You're starting to amaze me with how often you advocate beliefs that are practically antithetical to my own. Are you doing this on purpose?)

A plant pursuing sunlight is different than mass being attracted to another mass by gravity. The plant is alive, and it is acting to gain that sunlight in order to sustain its life. The plant grows leaves for the sun to shine on, and it performs photosynthesis to use the sun to produce nutrients from carbon dioxide. Sunlight, soil, water, and carbon dioxide are valuable to the plant. If you don't look at those particular things in relation to the plant (or any living being), there's no reason for them to be valuable.

The practicality of a system doesn't depend on whether people have accepted it as the standard. Our nature as humans determines which system is the most practical.

You can't reject a system just because its source is obscure, for the same reason you can't use a system's popularity to assert it as the right system. If you're going to argue from authority, at least provide specific arguments from the authority.
Jach March 07, 2010 08:54:44 AM You think I want pure and perfect competition? I don't. It's a myth, in any case. The story of the guy trading the paperclip for a house shows the inefficiencies of the market. The observation is that the market isn't perfectly efficient, it's not a statement of the goodness or badness of the state of things.

You think I want redistribution of wealth? That's a very broad brush to paint with. If we're going to have taxes, then "yes" for certain values of "redistribution" and "wealth". If we're not going to have taxes, then "no". You'll have to ask more specifically if you want more specifics. Honestly I think money will be obsolete before we would get to the point where we can have a limited taxless government.

When you say things like "I now see deeper into this sinister belief of yours than I did before." it becomes perfectly clear how little you see, and how unreasonable you are.

The economic system I've accepted is one that involves no money at all. If you're curious about something, you should be allowed to satisfy your curiosity (with certain obvious restrictions). The economic systems I'm willing to accept until the majority of us get to that point are many, including ones that involve taxation. I'm more than willing to accept your laissez-faire capitalism, but it has numerous problems that need to be addressed, such as: I believe a human life to be more valuable than another human's "right" to keep a few extra dollars that he by any reasonable argument doesn't require. If we're going to go down the road of total capitalism, I foresee lots of needless suffering. I think avoiding suffering is more important than ensuring the ability for the megarich to continue being megarich, instead of just say superrich. The megarich are laughing at you right now: it's they who benefit from your system, not you. It fascinates me that so many advocates for complete capitalism are middle-to-lower-class people. In any case, I'm not against capitalism or a truly free market where everyone keeps what they make. One of my old teachers was in favor of a free market with a government to level the playing field.

The plant is alive, but it can only do what it does. Life can also hardly be said to be a quality of the plant, intrinsic to the plant. "Life" is an adjective to describe certain configurations of "non-living" atoms, that do what they are supposed to do. Plants "act" to "gain" more sunlight, but they couldn't do anything else. Matter "acts" to "attract", and it couldn't do anything else. I'm sorry, your logic does not follow. When you talk about minds, you have an argument for value, and then of course it's subjective. (Even granting that sunlight is a value for plants, it's subjective to plants, still nowhere near objective.) In any case, this is really another dispute over definitions, as you have a different definition of what a value is than the standard concept. Taboo your words. Don't use "act", "gain", "value", "life".

I reject the plausibility of your system ever coming to fruition, simply because it's had over 50 years to try, and Atlas Shrugged continues to be a best seller year after year. I don't consider it even worthy of my attention to debunk, because I believe a nanotech society is much nearer. Your society is meant for the railroad era, inside the era of money. One has already passed, the other will soon.
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