We know the problems, dangers, and unsustainability of our current economic system, but what would an alternative system look like? If we were to create a global economy based on modern scientific, technical, and sociological knowledge, how would it differ from the current free-market dog-eat-dog game we all have to play?
What is the single, prime cause for all of these social illnesses: poverty, war, environmental unsustainability, corruption, crime, financial crashes, unemployment, crippling debt, and, by extension, countless secondary problems that nevertheless result in unquantifiable, anonymous, everyday human agony? There are of course many interrelated causes, ones that diminish and support each other by virtue of the mind-boggling number and variety of interactions we experience as humans every second of every day. But there is one human concept that sits right at the source of all this. It hides in plain sight, holding a familiarity so dull and ubiquitous it has taken on almost religious acceptance, as if it is an intrinsic element of existence itself. It is money.
Money is at the heart of our society because it helped to create it in the first place. The need for money was created as soon as that first someone had the idea of spending his days growing food for his community, in exchange for the promise that his neighbour would cut trees to make him a shelter, who in turn did so because he was promised by another neighbour to make the tools for him. This network of promises was the most profound revolution of thought since language. It allowed for the division of labour, and freed fortunate minds from the obligation of hunting and gathering, building shelter and fetching water, so they could spend time thinking and inventing and reinventing technology. Generation upon generation redefined its surroundings and powers through technology, and from the Earth's perspective it took us a blink of an eye to transcend from cave men to space men.
The computer you are using was created by the imaginations, decisions, and boldness of thousands of people, past and present, each breakthrough a culmination of previous masterpieces, previous life's work. The same goes for every piece of technology you come across, even your clothing. It is technology that makes your life long and livable. It keeps you warm at night, it keeps your food hot and your water clear, it keeps your mind stimulated and your body strong. Technology is the way we extend ourselves beyond our natural capabilities. It is an agent of freedom. Money, on the other hand, should be simply a servant of technology, but now the servant is very much the master. People have learned to play the money game too well, and anyone can see that the current economic paradigm is socially, environmentally, and ethically unsustainable. When a society places value on a concept that is designed to restrict, the society itself will be a restriction.
What would predictably happen now would be for me to illustrate the modern free-market economy and how it has infiltrated every aspect of our world, how it has essentially removed national boundaries and ideologies, neutered and corrupted politics, placed imaginary quantities ahead of real lives, real work, real natural resources. But you already know that. Then would, from you, come the equally predictable criticism that we are essentially doomed to live in either stone-age egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies, or a global super-economy that affords luxury and privilege to those that have money and ignores those that do not, because nobody has any realistic alternate system that could replace the current broken one. Well, here it is. A true alternative.
It's called a resource-based economy, and it works via two main procedures: full automation of as much labour as technically and feasibly possible, and automated resource distribution based on objective, scientific analysis. Imagine it's the year 2030, and this economy is fully implemented on a global scale. If you love your work, work. If you don't, do something that you love. And don't worry about not having any money to buy anything, because if you go to the supermarket for food, you can just go in, get whatever you need, and leave. Because all the food arrived at the supermarket shelves by automation, nobody will ask for a wage for their troubles (if you find this far fetched, don't -- in an age of supercolliders and spacecraft, an automated food/manufacturing/service infrastructure is very basic, and in fact not far away from what we already have). Go home and your electricity and gas are provided to you, not by a company competing for market share by raising or lowering prices but by a simple computer calculation based on population, pollution, and the carrying capacity of the Earth, and certainly not by responses to the telemarketing employee you used to speak to.
In fact, the telemarketing employee found his work to be a waste of his talent, and is now pursuing his dream of making music. He isn't worrying about a record deal, because all music is unlimited and free to download and play, as is all art and entertainment. No adverts, theft, or copyright. Just the free, natural exchange of songs, films, TV shows, art, novels, games, and sports, which keep us talking, thinking, and dreaming.
And don't worry about getting ill or teaching your children -- education and health and social care are provided by people whose job is their reason to get up in the morning, not their obligation to. Government budgets and guidelines are nonexistent because government, in the current traditional sense, is nonexistent. A traditional government's main functions are to pass laws, set budgets, and declare war. The latter two are now obsolete, because since everything is provided, as a right to every individual, there is no inequality to fuel conflict or resource acquisition. That leaves the question of law.
Law is a society's balance between freedom and security. As a society, we used to have the freedom of killing each other. Then it was decided that this is a freedom we could go without, because the misery it caused outweighed this lack of security. The same is true of smoking, having aerosols that output CfCs, drunk driving, and so on. These are laws that are effectively social guidelines that accompany technology, and are clearly very important. But here's the problem -- politicians, wherever they each may fall in the true or corrupt, noble, or selfish spectrum, have very little technical experience or capabilities. This is why the political establishment has to hear an endless external cacophony from doctors, teachers, scientists, and other professional organisations, demanding certain decisions be taken -- because, however much legislative power the political establishment has, it only makes decisions based on technical information from people who know what they are doing. Why not remove the middle man? Have a fully transparent, decision-making group of technicians who make direct, democratic, scientifically sound, responsible decisions, free from corruption or restrictive budgets, similar to the peer-review system of scientific papers today. This is not a political system. It is not left or right. It is rational, objective, scientific thought. No longer will there be a two-horse race, or the towing of the party line, massive futile protests or prisons overcrowded with people who had to break the law to survive. These are all relics of a time where there wasn't enough to go around. All that really matters now is technical feasibility, and if you knew what was truly, technically possible right now, you wouldn't believe it.
Technological unemployment is already pushing us further and further towards automation. Our current global economy could function with a tiny fraction of the global workforce -- of course, the only reason it doesn't is because the whole system runs (barely runs, that is) on millions of irrelevant jobs, not to mention endless consumption of goods and resources. It doesn't encourage this so much as it requires it. We could, right now, embrace the technological inevitability and have all essential services completely automated, save for a small, rotating number of stewards who work a few hours a week to make sure the machines are in order and up-to-date. And to those who think that nobody would work for others for free -- consider the millions of hours of voluntary work that people are doing right now, in addition to their hard, long working weeks. Never underestimate the power of the human spirit when it is free to express its passions. Just head over to Wikipedia to see that happens when you give people the opportunity and honour of simply serving their neighbours rather than their corporate superiors. Of course, this new resource-based economy will not be perfect, but it will be more up-to-date, more relevant, and far more socially, economically, and environmentally aware than the current model, which incidentally was dreamt up back in the seventeen hundreds.
And if there's any part of you that thinks that if all necessities were provided and all unwanted work eliminated then the human drive and spirit will grow bored or selfish, take a look back at how values change. Roman families used to watch gladiators tear each other apart. We used to behead our criminals and keep slaves. In the same vein, people of the future will look back on the idea of admiring the acquisition of money and wealth for oneself as similarly barbaric. Their values will be based on creativity, humour, intelligence, love, and selflessness, and their high statuses will be reserved for those who help, inspire, save, educate, and elevate the most people, instead of those who have the most dollars sitting uselessly in their banks.
Every so often, a generation is born in a time where the pressure to change overwhelms the comfort of the status quo, where public consciousness is awoken and aligned for a few timeless moments, carving out a brand new world for itself, before humming back down to sleep again, satisfied. This century, it will inevitably happen once again, but this time on a global scale. This article was written to encourage the conversation a lot of us want to have, to try to tell people that the future is whatever they want it to be. Humans are masters of the world because they are masters of change. They build, spread, and demolish empires. They make wonders, they abolish slavery. They take half a century to go from a medieval tzar society to the first people in space, or from mass racial violence to electing a black president. They come together to do truly magical things. It's time to stop complaining about the problem and start talking about the solution, and a true, permanent solution is a resource-based economy.
For further reading, search for the works for polymath and economic theorist Jacque Fresco.
Gabriel Harry is a master's student in mathematics.