Impediments to a Post-Scarcity Future

Make Yourself by Steven Ansell
Comic by Steve Ansell

Kevin at Grinding asks some questions about the social impediments to a post-scarcity future. He looks at the legislative restraints on P2P file sharing and wonders how that mess will play out when we’re able to copy things in meat-space:

A friend of mine who collects action figures shows me a custom mod of an Optimus Prime Transformer figure. I asked him how much it bugged him to dismantle a classic figure and he smiles and tells me he just scanned the parts he needed of his old one with a 3D scanner and built most of the new one with a 3D Printer. And that’s just one example of how 3D printing is slipping into my everyday life. We’re rapidly approaching the point where duplicating Things for a fraction of the original resources is easy – and by “rapidly approaching” I mean people you know are rapid prototyping and cloning items as we speak. It’s not too much of a jump to think we’re not that far from something resembling nano-assembling – rendering ideas like “original” meaningless. We’re exceedingly close the age where “remix culture” can remix Things with nearly the ease it can remix digital media.

But how will we react? Will we put DRM on food so it can’t be mass produced? Will we attempt to limit access to production engines? Will we allow “market forces” to keep the poor needy while the top 1% don’t even have a concept of need? Will we rush out to buy iMakers that scan the net to ensure anything you’re producing isn’t a component of a copyrighted product or recipe – or that only produce “family safe” products?

Grinding: Torrenting the Future

One need look no further than the world of food for examples of how post-scarcity is already being stifled. Look at Monsanto’s strong arm tactics and how excess food is handled.

One comment at Grinding points to the fact that file sharing continues online unabated. However, ACTA could be a significant blow not only to file trading but to online freedom in general. Meanwhile, in meatspace, grocery stores are dumping bleach on food to thwart dumpster divers. There’s only so much good routing around problems can do before you must confront the fundamental problems.

The Post-scarcity Economy: What is it & how do we get there?

Jason Stoddard

EOT: Hi there, Jason. Could you please define a scarcity economy and how it might differ from a post-scarcity economy?

Stoddard: Well, I can be flip and say, “A scarcity economy is when you have to work to buy some things you want, and a post-scarcity economy is where you don’t have to work to have everything you want.”

But it hides the nuances. Right now we all think we’re living in a scarcity economy: you have to work to get money, which there never seems to be enough of, and then you have to use your money to buy stuff, which always has a price tag, and even after you buy stuff, you might wonder how your consumption is going to affect the environment. Everything is presupposed to be scarce: money, things, resources.

If you step back and look around, you might be surprised. Even today, there are point examples of a de facto post-scarcity economy; we produce so many technological gewgaws that if you’re OK with being a couple of generations back in computers or phones, your effective cost could easily be zero. Manufacturing efficiency has soared to points undreamed-of only a generation ago. Prices have cratered, even in non-constant (inflationary) dollars–and even in light of significantly higher energy costs.

Of course, these are only point examples. Nobody is going to leave their job because they can get an old computer for free. And that’s probably the primary difference between a scarcity and post-scarcity economy: the need to keep working to live. When the time comes that we’re unshackled from traditional work and income, and can have all the things we reasonably want, and not have to worry about whether or not our consumption is sustainable, we’re in a post-scarcity economy.

Edge of Tomorrow: The Post-scarcity Economy: What is it & how do we get there?
– An interview with Jason Stoddard

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