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Maybe it would be helpful at looking at this process as symplifying life. I guess no one wants to become poorer. But a volontary reduction of things would be a good idea, in my opinion. Life is much easier with less things to take care of. But it would also help to distribute things more equally. I think we would have enough  of most things for almost everyone, if it would not be greedily hoarded by a small greedy group of our society.

Good thing that you are bringing up this discussion.

by Fran on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 10:24:00 AM EST
I often (not as often as I should, though) marvel at how much I have, especially compared to so many others.  And I think that's the hard question -- how much would I be willing to give up if it would allow for a more just distribution of wealth?  Would I be willing to buy fewer sweaters, silly shoes, silver necklaces, music recordings, DVDs, books?  These are the luxuries in my life, and I'm sure I have many more things that I don't even think of as luxuries but which clearly are.  (Or at least it would be clear to those without them that they're luxuries.)

But would my having less really help distribute things more equitably?  I don't think so, not inherently.  It might make me feel better.  But me (or us, individually) having less stuff wouldn't necessarily mean that other people would have more, it would just mean there's less difference between us.  Maybe that's would be good, and I'd certainly be interested in arguments making that case.  But I would rather find an answer that actually makes lives better for those at the bottom.  If that answer would involve me having less, I'm all for it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:09:24 PM EST
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If you live with less, you perhaps support the rich less. And perhaps this will help everybody. As long as we continue to support the political agenda of the rich with consumerist buying habits, so long will they be in power. And perhaps no longer than that.
by bil on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 12:53:34 PM EST
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I am not sure any more that's the right way to put it. The fact is [cue in Keynes] that we don't know how to run an economy that is not demand-driven, hence consumerism.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:42:19 PM EST
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Is what we've got, in fact, running? Isn't that what we are discussing? That it's not running? Or at least not running in a way that satisfies the higher aspirations of humankind? Which may at this point include survival.
by bil on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 03:17:35 PM EST
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I agree, but we don't know wny better. If we don't consume, we get another recession like in the 1930's. That's the best of our understanding of how to "run" our economic system. It sucks.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 05:29:24 PM EST
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can we distinguish between commodities and equities, when we discuss domestic investment strategies? i'd say they represent different types of "demand", each starving consumers in ways consumers can't control.

there is no linkage between commodity and equity in fiscal policy anymore, is there?

commodity market making, processing, and distribution are centralized events far removed from consumers. since the collapse at bretton woods, paper and central bank lending rates (to purchase derivatives) dominate measures of national "wealth". G(x) nations meet to coordinate monetary policy -- military investments.

is it too fantastic to admit that the free market is or always has been an multinational command-economy? that the same planning disaters produced by the soviets and maoists are thinly veiled by 24/7 info and cryptic commentaries?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 07:59:15 PM EST
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Half of the "luxuries" in your life are necessary cultural items. What's more, they are cultural items which will soon be taken out of the capitalist economy.

The trend to publish exclusively on the internet is only going to increase until some day soon there will no longer exist any publishing 'industry'. When that day comes, we will all be richer for it, even as this industry's contribution to the GDP disappears.

This diary raises some good points about consumerism and elitism, but there is no context to them. It raises points in a vacuum of possibilities. Even the evolution of the present system is not understood well enough to discuss any of the points intelligently.

To remedy this lack of comprehension, reading Michael Goldhaber's numerous essays on The Attention Economy provides the beginnings of a solution. Which must be understood in the context of the increasing automation of everything. An increasing automation which must be viewed as both irreversible and morally good.

Without understanding present and future reality, there can be no meaningful discussion.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 04:07:17 PM EST
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I'd have to agree that, when considering even mid-term futures, increasing automation of everything absolutely must be discussed.

After all, the only reason there is a huge pool of unemployed, unskilled laborers in the developed countries to begin with is automation - those people all used to be gainfully employed pulling weeds and threading spindles and whatnot.

It's sort of hard to imagine what the structure of the economy would be when there are no non-managerial jobs in the entire manufacturing and agricultural sector.  

by Zwackus on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 07:27:05 PM EST
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Actually it's fairly easy if you've bothered to read some post-scarcity science-fiction. Not much of it around unfortunately but Elf Sternberg does an excellent job of it.

One of your misconceptions though is that managerial jobs will not be automated. Marshall Brain wrote the story Manna on the supposition that managerial jobs would be the first to be automated.

There is no technical barrier to the automation of the entire economy. Resource extraction has already been extensively automated. So has agriculture (which employs a vanishingly small fraction of people) and most of manufacturing. So has large infrastructure construction and maintenance. So has maritime shipping and rail transport. And either USPS or Fedex recently automated their entire tracking / routing chain, leaving only physical packing and delivery.

Professional services such as legal aid, medical diagnoses and medical laboratory work are also being automated. So are clerks (ATMs, self-checkout, internet) as well as real estate agents (craigslist). Even art is being automated (Brian Eno, Spore's Will Wright, many others).

Managerial services are overripe to be automated (a computer can hardly do worse than the negative contribution managers usually provide) or at least autonomized (Semco provides an excellent model of this).

The next sector to die of automation will almost certainly be either small scale construction (eg, housing) or publishing (books, movies, newscasts, journals, everything). The last to be automated will surely be design, process engineering, and research & development.

The material goods economy is slowly but inevitably moving towards a communist model. Countries open towards communism will survive the transition while countries ideologically opposed to it will perish.

The next stage of evolution of the economy is towards attention-scarcity (again I point to Michael Goldberg's The Attention Economy). Beyond this there will only remain purpose-scarcity.

by richardk (richard kulisz gmail) on Tue Feb 6th, 2007 at 11:36:40 PM EST
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I've read some of that stuff.  What I meant when I said "hard to imagine" wasn't "I simply cannot conceive of how anything would work," but rather "I have trouble imagining the whole system not collapsing in an Apocolyptic fireball before making some sort of meaningful transition."

As far as management jobs being automated, you are entirely right - presuming that we finally figure out how to make good AI.  We'll probably do it, but who knows, maybe it will turn out to be simply impossible.  I don't know, and nobody will know for sure unless it actually happens.  

I do wonder, though, if management jobs would ever be fully automated, even if possible, simply because there are people out there who like having and exercising power.  Certainly they would be, if possible, were there competitive pressures in place or whatnot, but in the sort of "transition to communism" situation you describe, those pressures would sort of be non-existent.

by Zwackus on Wed Feb 7th, 2007 at 08:24:56 PM EST
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I think my comment would fit here. Fran

If you look at the things that really make you happy ...well (me) they are not that energy expensive.

Actually, you do not need that much clothes.. or that much so and so..

You just need a good flat (which actually it turns out that the more efficiente hte better)..and some culture-relation item (phones or internet conenction or activities or books)

I think the key component to get poorer are cars and chemichals...

I am absolutely rich in every field just becuase I do not have to pay a car. I can afford very high quality  ,very low-chemciahl food, I can afford to go to discos, restaurants as much as I want.: I can travel by train as much as I want...and just the right maount of clothes...and I do not earn that much money actually

And regarding chemichals, I just do not need boxes and boxes... and I have to use it because some parts of the supermarket like fruit areas force me.. I just do not need them..

So I am not so sure we would need to be much poorer to make living sustainable... not that sure.. if you take out the car and take public transport,a nd take out chemichals as much as you can..

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Mon Feb 5th, 2007 at 01:55:04 PM EST
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