To Boldly Go to There: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy of Star Trek

Pic: Desilu Prouctions (C)

Pic: Desilu Prouctions (C)

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Rick Webb has written a fantastic piece about the economics of Star Trek, and then speculates about whether or not we could begin to incorporate some of these notions…

“Take a mental journey for a moment with me: what if, one day, technology reaches the point that a small number of humans — say, 10 million — can produce all of the food, shelter and energy that the race needs. This doesn’t seem like insanely wishful thinking, given current trends. There’s no rational reason why the advances in robotics, factories, energy and agriculture couldn’t continue unabated for long periods of time. Of course I’m not saying they will, but rather, they could.

“So, then, take that journey. What, then, of labor? In today’s terms, a ‘healthy’ economy now is one at or near full employment. A healthy economy now is one where everyone has a job. But in our mental exercise, those jobs are actually unrelated to a healthy economy, at least from strict economic terms. Everyone’s fed and housed and tons of people simply don’t need to work. Right now, we have them working making shit we don’t need. Is that any better than them not working?

“Is there any economic proof that we need full employment to reach full satisfaction of needs? To my knowledge, there isn’t. There’s a body of economics that goes into standards of living, and the increased standard of living. And here we get to our shitty world of unabated consumerism,Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption and George Battaille’s accursed share — the inevitable destiny of all economies to eventually produce more than they need, and, thus, waste it.

“Imagine there’s some level of welfare benefits in every country, including America. That’s easy. That’s true. Imagine that, as the economy became more efficient and wealthy, the society could afford to give more money in welfare benefits, and chooses to do so. Next, imagine that this kept happening until society could afford to give the equivalent of something like $10 million US dollars at current value to every man, woman and child. And imagine that, over the time that took to happen, society got its shit together on education, health, and the dignity of labor. Imagine if that self-same society frowned upon the conspicuous display of consumption and there was a large amount of societal pressure, though not laws, on people that evolved them into not being obsessed with wealth. Is any of that so crazy? Is it impossible?

“I think that is basically what’s going on in Star Trek. I believe the federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to*.

“It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits. There is some level of scarcity — the Federation cannot manufacture a million starships, for example. This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.”

Read the rest of the post here.

*This paragraph had the following comment attached, from R. E. Warner: “This is kind of ironic, because Marx himself argued that Marxist economies must evolve from capitlaist ones. The ownership of a replicator is the proliteriat taking over the means of production, but the manufacture of the replicator will come about through capitalist efforts.”

“MAKE IT SO!”

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    What does it mean to “better” onesself? To celebrate native inspiration or to mutilate yourself by forcibly removing it?

    This is why the savages in “heartland” states like Wisconsin are able to unselfconsciously celebrate greed, racism and all manner of barbarism. To them humanity is a species of animal, and to cultivate them is to maim them.

    • emperorreagan

      Made by a magical white man in the sky!

      It’s easier to pretend that you’re not being conditioned and cultivated in eras that are fairly homogeneous.

      • http://followtheLiTcrumbs.biz/ American Cannibal

        I tried explaining this kind of homogeneous conditioning and cultivation to my dad after he told me he still expects to see nuclear powered cars on the streets “soon”. He was born in 1949, and has only ever watched teevee for all of his culture & news consumption. And when I say ‘culture’, I mean Walker Texas Ranger. And when I say news, I mean the Yankees.

        : (

      • Liam_McGonagle

        True, but as Ronald Reagan once said: “Nah nah nah I can’t hear you nah nah nah nah . . . .”

        We’re being encouraged to pursue our animal drives, so it’s a kind of cultivation that only accelerates when we deny that it’s happening.

    • Simon Valentine

      the Imperial Edition will cost extra $

      pay no attention to the feedback loop behind the curtailment

      iff don’t have it then can’t gauge or compare it ;)

      gotta h8 Heisenburger

    • Virtually Yours

      “What does it mean to ‘better’ onesself?” In the context of Picard’s quote, it simply means the ability of a society to guarantee that everyone is taken care of. Past that point, you can do what you want. Wealth and materialism would be pretty much meaningless, and you would be free to pursue your own passions in whatever form that might take, thus bettering yourself (and those around you) along the way.

      • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

        That’s great quote, and I’m sure Picard was “being sincere” in his convictions, especially in comparison to post-WW3 Earth.

        That said, this is clearly disproven as mere hubris multiple times in every iteration of Star Trek.

        • Virtually Yours

          “We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity” I think the key part of that phrase is “we work” – as in, it is an ongoing process…a journey, not a destination. There will always be challenges and obstacles, and good old human drama/nature to contend with. But they have embraced the notion of confronting these difficulties openly and honestly. As an ideal, it may not be something that we are ever able to achieve, but it is certainly something worth striving for.

          And besides, the show needed conflict or else it would have constantly been: “Look at us living in our happy little Utopia where everything is perfect and nothing ever goes wrong…”

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            But they have embraced the notion of confronting these difficulties openly and honestly.

            Section 31?

          • Virtually Yours

            They added that story-line for drama, though it also serves as a warning: even in a society which is that progressive, there will always be a need by the citizens of said society to remain engaged and aware. This is also an idea that LeGuin raised in The Dispossessed: even the colony of anarchists was susceptible to growing lax and too comfortable, at which point things began to unravel and fray ever-so-slightly at the edges. We need these reminders because they help keep us present and focused.

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            Added, true, but more like embedded and enmeshed…

            Section 31 was in the founding documents of a pre-Federation United Earth and the Federation itself.

            Given their reach, it’s not a stretch to say the whole thing collapses without a very active Section 31.

          • Virtually Yours

            “it’s not a stretch to say the whole thing collapses without a very active Section 31″ There’s that word “collapse” again…LOL :-) Perhaps you are right, though I would like to think/hope that such an organization would not be necessary for a similar-ish system to survive and thrive within our own universe (or perhaps that is just my undying optimism getting in the way of my worldview again…sigh!)

  • herzmeister

    The problem is not that it’s not possible or imaginable, the problem is always about trust.

    When I read things like “This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.”, I can only scream. Who watches the watchmen, who regulates the regulators, absolute power corrupts absolutely etc…

    And I don’t mean that from the typical market-libertarian viewpoint. Also social forms of anarchism (e.g. anarcho-communism) are inherently based on the idea of decentralization, and rightly so.

    The Star Trek universe probably is more fascist than most Trekkies would like to believe, but some of us can see through the propaganda. ;)

    • Virtually Yours

      “This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background” I don’t think the indication here is that it is being done in secret…just that the process has been streamlined to a point where it is extremely efficient. I imagine that such a system would in fact have to be transparent in order to function.

      “Who watches the watchmen, who regulates the regulators” All of these positions could be filled by sortition, and all of their actions – while in temporary positions of authority/responsibility – could be monitored by sousveillance. Both of these ideas could go a long way toward restoring trust, thus leaving us with plenty of time to both imagine and implement necessary systemic changes.

  • Simon Valentine

    i was always taught a “redefinition” of wealth when i was growing up. not so much “redistribute wealth” as “redistribute ideas”.

    a better self and better humanity is wealth. that whole “knowledge is power” stuff. never got the “it’s time to leave. you’re going to be a monk at [temple].” though. ah well. guess that’s my sightly money~

  • Daniel Gill

    if you wanted to read a real masterpiece on alternative economic systems from capitalism that actually work :

    The Gift by Marcel Mauss

    the polynesian people, and canadian first nations people, and others… for eons had an economy based on gift exchange. don’t confuse this with communism. freely given and freely earned.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_gYjQw9Bf4

    • http://followtheLiTcrumbs.biz/ American Cannibal

      Can’t wait for Burning Man 2014!!!!!!!

    • Virtually Yours

      There are certainly lots of different economic systems which have been used throughout the ages and many which have been speculated about. Finding the right one – the most equitable and efficient – is the trick and perhaps it will end up being a mixture of multiples. So I am grateful for the head’s up on this book, though I am curious when you say: “…alternative economic systems from capitalism that actually work”. That makes it sound like you don’t think Webb’s system would work, unless I am misreading your comment? Just wondering if you have a specific criticism regarding the system which he describes, or perhaps you are just saying that there are other, more practical solutions which we could/should be focusing on in the meantime…

      • Daniel Gill

        I’m not an economist but nothing will ever be better than “Do things for each other out of the goodness of your heart, brotherhood with other men, duty and so on” . Volunteering .

        I know, so sci fi

        • Virtually Yours

          Absolutely! The Golden Rule is the only thing necessary in order for civilization to exist: just be civil/don’t be a dick. Everything else is extraneous bullshit which we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by. Are you familiar with the idea of time-banks? Me thinks you will totally dig the concept :-)

  • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

    I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and imagine that the author forgot about the Eugenics Wars and World War 3. These were critical events to how Earth developed in the Star Trek mythos.

    Humans never “just got better” by imagining it. First they killed each other in record numbers in ever more awful ways. Then they started having to do that with aliens…

    Yet another fictional universe that requires immanentizing the eschaton…

    • Virtually Yours

      It’s true that he doesn’t really touch upon these issues…his focus is more on “how does this system work” rather than “how did this happen”. And it might be interesting to see him write a follow-up essay which serves as a transition between the two. But for what it is, I think he has done a great job of describing how this system would function and what the implications might be for us, as of this very moment. Is it really necessary for us to experience full-on apocalypse before we finally get our collective shit together? Perhaps that is what will happen, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start thinking proactively about setting up such a system (whether it ends up being pre- or post-disaster). But I get it…people are fearful and lazy and they are gonna probably need a jump-start to get them out of their collective comfort zone. I don’t think it needs to be so dire, though I understand why Roddenberry took that route…it’s entertaining and serves as a cautionary tale.

      • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

        At what point does model building become an obstacle to life in the present moment?

        We have the technology and resources to build a post-scarcity world RIGHT NOW. No futurism required.

        As to the necessity of apocalypse, I think it’s a forgone conclusion. The intensity of that apocalypse is about all we can mitigate at this point, and I have my doubts about that as well.

        • Virtually Yours

          Some form of model-building is necessary as groundwork for whatever action you then plan on taking. Do you have any thoughts on ZM and RBE? I have been meaning to put together a post about the lecture with Peter Joseph recently gave in Berlin. I think his ideas (via Jacque Fresco) are spot-on, so the question then becomes not “what do we need to do” but “how do we go about doing it”.

          Forgone Apocalypse…suppose that could be a decent name for a band :-)

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            Collapse (II) (2009)

            82 min – Documentary – 6 November 2009 (USA)

            A documentary on Michael Ruppert, a police officer turned independent reporter who predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter, From the Wilderness.

            Director: Chris Smith

            Writer: Michael Ruppert (book)

            Stars: Michael Ruppert

            I would have just posted the IMDB link… or where you can watch it for free on Youtube, but you wouldn’t see that post for… 12 hours, I think it is now?

            As for Zeitgeist, I’m more Moving Forward than either of the first two.

          • Virtually Yours

            Netflix describes Collapse as “an avant-garde soliloquy” and, oh…just found it on Youtube! This is gonna be depressing as fuck-all, isn’t it? Still, thanks for the head’s up…the truth is out there and it ain’t going away just because it makes us uncomfortable :-(

            I still haven’t seen the first ZM film (and have heard that I do not need to) but the second and third both have some great moments…would like to take select scenes from both and host a screening/discussion. Then again, if I were to cobble together scenes from every influential/thought-provoking doc which I have seen, it would end up being a weekend-long marathon and the following conversation could go on for weeks…LOL

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            This is gonna be depressing as fuck-all, isn’t it?

            Oh yeah. : (

            The message even breaks through the noise and (kind-of) reaches my super-conservative/libertarian family members living in the Midwest. I don’t think I’ve been called a commie by anyone since they’ve seen it…

          • Virtually Yours

            Oh, wow…in that case, perhaps it is something which I will also be able to share with my similarly-minded family. Baby steps to the elevator…

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            Of course, your mileage may vary. :)

            I also have a standing rule that I re-watch it after recommending it to anyone I think will seriously watch it. That makes for the second time this month… 8-//

            These days, I can at least geek out on the cinematography and other elements of movie magic in between the long stretches of existential dread…

          • Virtually Yours

            “in between the long stretches of existential dread…” I definitely won’t be taking a hit of pot before watching this…LOL

          • Virtually Yours

            Sorry that it took me so long to watch this and get back to you. Also, apologies for what is quite possibly the longest post I have ever composed…eek! After watching it the first time, I went back through and pulled out the things that struck me the most, both pro and con. For starters, I really loved his comment at the beginning of the film: “Thomas Jefferson said we need a revolution every generation. We’ve gotten very lazy and we’re many generations overdue for a revolution in our thinking.” Could not agree more with this assessment!

            It seems like he dismissed the idea of tidal energy rather quickly, on the grounds that salt water is extremely corrosive and because there is a net-energy cost when it comes to manufacturing machines which can withstand it. But if there were a practical way to deal with the corrosion, then it stands to reason that tidal energy could in fact become a hugely viable source. He then says that there are only two types of alternative energy which could have an immediate impact/benefit and the screen flashes up the words “Solar & Wind”, though he never goes into solar (perhaps this was an editing error?) and it seems like he only nitpicks about wind farms. I do, however, agree with him on the craziness of our current system of growing and distributing food, and the C-SPAN footage of him confronting then-CIA Director John Deutch (during a public hearing, concerning the CIA’s direct involvement with drug trafficking) was *fantastic* and I applauded along with rest of the people in that room!

            He quotes von Clausewitz (the German general and military theorist) who said that: “War is a continuation of politics by other means” and I like how he then follows that train of thought to the next logical stop by saying: “Politics is a continuation of economics by other means.” Indeed! He then talks about fiat currency, explaining that paper money is just a symbol that doesn’t mean anything, and it has no inherent value because you can’t eat it, you can’t run your car on it, etc. But then he says: “There was a time when a pound sterling [the pound] meant a pound of sterling silver. There was only so much of it; it was tangible. You can’t print it because it’s something real” and during a later point in the interview he says the following: “I am a great advocate of buying and owning gold. When hyper-inflation occurs…the only thing people will accept for goods, is gold.” And this is something that has always confounded me when it comes to the idea/concept of money: gold and silver are completely arbitrary! Just like paper money, you can’t eat them or run your car on them. They are just symbols. The only difference (as far as I can tell) is that you can print up more paper money but you can’t produce more gold and silver…there is a set amount and that is that. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are still just arbitrary symbols. If we lived on a world where there was no such thing as gold and/or silver, we would have picked something else that was rare and shiny and it would still be just as fucking arbitrary and meaningless.

            [Also, I have always wondered the following: does the gold standard even take population growth into account? Because even if you play along and pretend that gold/silver has some form of inherent meaning/value, there is only so much of it to go around. So then what happens when there are officially more people playing the game (i.e. individuals who are participating in this invisible, made up, and agreed upon system) than there is gold/silver to go around? I do agree with him, though, when he says that the whole economy is a pyramid scheme. Time to throw the Monopoly board in the trash…]

            When the director asks him about human ingenuity and problem-solving, he says: “No amount of technology or human ingenuity can possibly overcome the laws of physics. Man’s great arrogance is to believe that mankind really could become god and overturn/revoke the laws of the universe.” This just leaves me flabbergasted: what does problem-solving and ingenuity have to do with overturning the laws of physics? There are plenty of real-world alternatives/solutions for how to deal with a number of these issues, yet he is either unable or unwilling to contemplate their validity. Then, later in the interview, he seems to completely contradict himself and says the following: “The only thing we can change…is our minds. You have to believe there’s a way out of it and you’re gonna find it. This is perhaps the greatest part of the American character, is when we get pissed off and put our minds to something and we clearly understand what needs to be done and we do it. We can change things. How can you possibly say there’s no hope? Just change your mind…and stop thinking like dinosaurs.” I completely agree with all of that, but it makes me wonder why there is such a huge inconsistency on this point?

            For surviving the coming collapse, he suggests insulating your home, restoring your soil, getting a land line, collecting books on first-aid and holistic medicine, maintaining a moderate supply of fresh water and a reasonable amount of food. But most importantly, to stockpile organic (non-GMO) seeds, which he suggests could be a new form of currency in the future. Okay, so I think that those are all somewhat practical suggestions, as they could help you get through a nasty storm and/or the potential collapse of the world as we currently know it. Doing all of those things certainly could not hurt. He then says that local food production is key to survival and I would also tend to agree with him when he says: “In the new paradigm, everything will be local. Community is what will save us. You will fail as a rugged individual; you will survive as a member of a tribe or family.” Yes and yes! Buy and sell and trade and grow and share locally. I wonder if he is a fan of time-banks?

            “Capitalism, socialism, and communism need to be chucked in the trash because they are based on the assumption of infinite resources. None of them are relevant to our way of life. Not one of them recognizes that there must be a balance between growth and the resources and the planet. So forget the idea that you can have as much as you want because until mankind surrenders to the fact that it lives on a finite planet and it must have balance with that planet, with the planet’s resources, with the animal life and all the other life, there can be no happiness for anything. It’s all about getting balance back. Nothing grows forever; there is no such thing as infinite growth. Grow up and change your minds and the way you think or you’re going to perish. This will be the greatest age of evolution in human thinking that has ever taken place.” I absolutely could not agree with him more. I wonder if he is familiar with the idea of a resource-based economy? Because that pretty much sounds like what he is describing.

            Sure, there have been some oil fields which have been discovered since this film came out in 2009 but, overall, I think his message is still on point: this system won’t last forever (nor should it, given how corrupt and destructive it is) and we’ll never get back to the peak which we once enjoyed. So instead of waiting until things are too far gone down the rabbit hole of doom, why not start preparing now in ways that are practical and sane and beneficial for your local community, and not just for yourself. The trick is that you would need to be able to convince more people than not within said community and get them all on a similar wavelength in order to survive the transition phase which he describes. We need a month-long Amish Boot Camp (ABC) to help train people about what to do in any given sort of situation, whether it is a natural disaster or one that is man-made. It could be like a world-wide fire drill…

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            Sorry that it took me so long to watch this and get back to you

            No worries, good sir. Meatspace has kept me preoccupied as well. Thank you for taking the time!

            It seems like he dismissed the idea of tidal energy rather quickly…

            He then says that there are only two types of alternative energy which could have an immediate impact/benefit and the screen flashes up the words “Solar & Wind”, though he never goes into solar (perhaps this was an editing error?) and it seems like he only nitpicks about wind farms.

            Well, if I had to give an overriding theme to Ruppert’s somewhat “casual” dismissals of alternative energy sources, I suspect it’s less rooted in what would be possible for “the grid” as opposed to what’s possible for everything supporting “the grid”: planes, trains, automobiles, boats, etc. So we need to scrap probably 99% of all transportation systems ever made and start over. That remaining 1% would probably be cost prohibitive and still suffer from energy inefficiencies.

            It’s my understanding also that the alternative energy industry’s foundation is effectively the so-called “rare earth elements”. So instead of oil and coal and uranium, we’re on to new, even more “rare” and difficult substances in order to meet present energy needs.

            Maybe if Tesla had one the War Of Currents, we’d be in some kind of place to change the inertia of our energy paradigm. With the present infrastructure? As a species, I don’t believe we are ready to have “free energy”. The average consumer would just start consuming more. It’d be like Wall-E, only without the lovable robots and the charming love story.

            “I am a great advocate of buying and owning gold. When hyper-inflation occurs…the only thing people will accept for goods, is gold.”

            And this is something that has always confounded me when it comes to the idea/concept of money: gold and silver are completely arbitrary! Just like paper money, you can’t eat them or run your car on them. They are just symbols. The only difference (as far as I can tell) is that you can print up more paper money but you can’t produce more gold and silver…there is a set amount and that is that. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are still just arbitrary symbols.

            Vestiges of Ruppert’s conservatism, perhaps? He’s also a big Ron Paul fan, but I try not to hold that against him. I’m sure the average Paulbot would be horrified by his friendship with Cynthia McKinney…

            “Until you change the way money works, you change nothing.”

            I suspect the interest in a gold or silver standard is based on its longevity in the trading/commerce activities of humanity. And perhaps once upon a time, it even made sense to think about going back to the future on this one.

            But A) you’re right, still completely arbitrary and B) gold and silver have industrial uses now, so… not exactly scarce?

            Once upon a time, I had a friend from Australia I corresponded with via the internet. He told me how they’d found a gold deposit in the Outback that, if mined, would produce more gold than is presently in Fort Knox. He also said that it is guarded by the US military. I’ve never been able to verify this story, but it seems plausible given what little I’ve heard about Australia and resource discovery.

            When the director asks him about human ingenuity and problem-solving, he says: “No amount of technology or human ingenuity can possibly overcome the laws of physics. Man’s great arrogance is to believe that mankind really could become god and overturn/revoke the laws of the universe.” This just leaves me flabbergasted: what does problem-solving and ingenuity have to do with overturning the laws of physics?

            Then, later in the interview, he seems to completely contradict himself and says the following: “The only thing we can change…is our minds. You have to believe there’s a way out of it and you’re gonna find it. This is perhaps the greatest part of the American character, is when we get pissed off and put our minds to something and we clearly understand what needs to be done and we do it. We can change things. How can you possibly say there’s no hope? Just change your mind…and stop thinking like dinosaurs.” I completely agree with all of that, but it makes me wonder why there is such a huge inconsistency on this point?

            I have no way of knowing if he knew the full significance of the “just change your mind” when he said it in the interview, but he’s since gone off on something of what I guess you would call “a spiritual journey.” Within that context, I see it as perhaps more of a “mind over matter” statement. In which case, it’s certainly more sensible to wager on the laws of physics rather than expect enough of the population to have some great spiritual awakening that would prevent or mitigate collapse.

            So instead of waiting until things are too far gone down the rabbit hole of doom, why not start preparing now in ways that are practical and sane and beneficial for your local community, and not just for yourself. The trick is that you would need to be able to convince more people than not within said community and get them all on a similar wavelength in order to survive the transition phase which he describes.

            I think you’ve just boiled it down to the crux of the issue: you need a community to solve these challenges. “Think global / act local” and all that good stuff.

            The problem inherent in confronting the challenge of collapse is that there simply isn’t the time to build the grassroots activism / awareness / community / network / etc. that is needed to have any effect on a global level. Perhaps that could change. Ruppert is a fan of the 100th monkey metaphor, so I can leave a little optimism on that front. But in terms of the present mindset of your average consumer? Nah.

            I think it’s the inertia of the Western consumerist capitalist paradigm that ultimately dooms us all. I like to allow my ego to occasionally think of itself as “smart”, “clever”, or “innovative”, but I can barely meet my basic survival needs in this economy. Realistically speaking, that’s got to be upwards of 98% of humanity. Who’s got the time or energy for a revolution? And I say this as a relatively privileged individual living in a “first world economy”.

            Pay to live or go off and die the gutter (your corpse will be ticketed for vagrancy). I’ll do Mike one better and say that until you change that challenge of existence, you change nothing.

            Seriously, you can’t even dumpster dive for bagels anymore because they are being disposed of in ways to make them inedible. There goes the future of every urban/suburban anarcho-syndicalist collective…

          • Virtually Yours

            “So instead of oil and coal and uranium, we’re on to new, even more ‘rare’ and difficult substances in order to meet present energy needs” Oh shit, you aren’t kidding! A quick Google search just pulled up the following in an article from November 2013 (“A Scarcity of Rare Metals is Hindering Green Technologies”): “Thin, cheap solar panels need tellurium, which makes up a scant 0.0000001 percent of the earth’s crust, making it three times rarer than gold. High-performance batteries need lithium, which is only easily extracted from briny pools in the Andes. Platinum, needed as a catalyst in fuel cells that turn hydrogen into energy, comes almost exclusively from South Africa. In 2011…the average price of ‘rare earths’ — including terbium and europium, used in fluorescent bulbs; and neodymium, used in the powerful magnets that help to drive wind turbines and electric engines — shot up by as much as 750 percent in a year. The problem was that China, which controlled 97 percent of global rare earth production, had clamped down on trade.”

            That last sentence is particularly interesting/disturbing: how does China control ninety-seven percent of the production? Ah, here we go…from a later point in the article: “For [rare] elements where demand is expected to increase, one option is to open new mines. China currently dominates rare earth mining — in part, notes a 2011 American Physical Society report, because more relaxed environmental standards about land reclamation make it cheaper.” Also, just did some more Googling and found this in a Forbes article from June 2012 (China Leads the World in Renewable Energy Investment): “According to China’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development (2011-2015), the country will spend $473.1 billion on clean energy investments over the next five years. China’s goal is to have 20 percent of its total energy demand sourced from renewable energy by 2020.”

            Back to the article on scarcity and fears over China clamping down on trade (thus the sky-rocketing costs of these rare elements): “That’s why the Critical Materials Institute, located at the DOE’s Ames Laboratory, was created. Its mission is to predict which materials are going to become problems next, work to improve supply chains, and try to invent alternative materials that don’t need so many critical elements in the first place. The institute is one of a handful of organizations worldwide trying to tackle the problem of critical elements” These organizations should be giving monthly press conferences about their findings and we should be adjusting our rates of consumption as a direct result! I wonder if ZM’s Peter Joseph knows about these groups, since it sounds like they are starting some of the crucial work which he advocates and that will be necessary if we are ever to achieve a system/economy which is truly resource-based.

            In regards to recycling some of this material from existing e-waste: “49 million tons of e-waste are produced each year, from cell phones to refrigerators. Of that, perhaps 10 percent is recycled.” Apparently there is “32 tons of gold in all the world’s cell phones” yet “it’s actually chemically easier to separate them [rare metals] from the surrounding material in simple rocks than in complicated phones” because these metals “are incorporated in tiny amounts into increasingly-complex devices. A circa-2000 cell phone used about two dozen elements; a modern smart phone uses more than 60.” Goddamn. This is why Phonebloks are such an exciting prospect, and one can hope that the idea will catch on! (I just searched the Disinfo archives…is it possible that no one has done a post yet on Phonebloks?? That will have to be rectified…)

            “I don’t believe we are ready to have ‘free energy’. The average consumer would just start consuming more. It’d be like Wall-E, only without the lovable robots and the charming love story.” LOL…you are probably right. There would have to be unprecedented levels of education and personal responsibility…perhaps a daily average of energy use by each individual, not because they can’t have more but because they recognize why the daily average is necessary. Or some sort of grid that monitors/reports usage, to inform you when you have reached your daily limit and/or to report abuses. Am sure the Libertarians will just love that! Oh, and speaking of…

            “He’s also a big Ron Paul fan, but I try not to hold that against him” I have to admit that I was also a fan of Paul there for a while, though I tend to disagree with him as frequently (if not more so) than I agree. Legalize all drugs and release those “criminals” whose only “crimes” were non-violent and drug-related? Yes and yes! Get rid of the Patriot Act and the NSA? Please! Audit the Federal Reserve? Indeed! Bring home all of the troops asap? Go back in time and do it yesterday!!! However, his views on abortion, evolution, and the economy leave several somethings to be desired…

            “I suspect the interest in a gold or silver standard is based on its longevity in the trading/commerce activities of humanity” Right…it makes sense that we would fall back on old habits and familiar patterns as a result of our communal shortsightedness (thanks mostly to fear and laziness…) But doing the same thing over and over and then expecting different results is a consistently reliable definition of insanity, and it frustrates me to no end when people are unable/unwilling to contemplate new models of experimentation and implementation. It’s not like we lack for options…

            “I’ve never been able to verify this story, but it seems plausible” Nothing would surprise me at this point, though if it is true then I wonder why the Australian government hasn’t announced it: both the mine’s existence and the US’s occupation of it?

            “it’s certainly more sensible to wager on the laws of physics rather than expect enough of the population to have some great spiritual awakening that would prevent or mitigate collapse” Sigh…suppose you are right. Of the many things I have been accused of over the years, being sensible isn’t at the top of the list…LOL

            “you need a community to solve these challenges. The problem inherent in confronting the challenge of collapse is that there simply isn’t the time to build the grassroots activism / awareness / community / network / etc. that is needed to have any effect on a global level” The infrastructure is already there, thanks to instantaneous worldwide communication, but it would seem to be our skewed priorities that are holding us back. I would argue that we actually have plenty of time to solve all of these issues…which is to say, we have all of the time that we have been given here on this glorified hunk of spinning space debris (however temporary or eternal it may feel) and it is up to each of us – as individuals first and then as collective entities – to decide how best to manage this Moment which we have all been given.

            “I think it’s the inertia of the Western consumerist capitalist paradigm that ultimately dooms us all.” The Corportocracy is Public Enemy No. 1 – no doubt whatsoever! But it hasn’t always existed and nothing lasts forever. The question is: can we disassemble it and survive the transition process? Or, as Buzz constantly advocates, do we just walk away and find our own path? If enough people were to disconnect from the system simultaneously, you wouldn’t have to worry about chopping off the head of the beast because it would end up starving to death. That makes for a fun-sounding metaphor but what would it look like in real life? How many people would need to disconnect in order for it to make any sort of difference and what would they do in the meantime (once disconnected) for purposes of survival if they were not relying on the system in any way/shape/form? Because without a plan, they will – as you say – wind up in the gutter and that doesn’t help anyone.

            “Seriously, you can’t even dumpster dive for bagels anymore because they are being disposed of in ways to make them inedible” BOO! This is the first I have heard about this…goddamn :-(

  • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

    Also, this…

  • Ken_A1

    To the comment at the end of the article: private enterprise is excellent at finding innovative uses for (“capitalizing” upon) innovations, but the innovations themselves overwhelmingly tend to come from publicly funded research.

  • BuzzCoastin

    we already live in a post-scarcity whirled
    and no one has had a real job since the 60’s
    butt
    wee also live unable to see the present
    while always focused on the past and its paradigm

    • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

      Working on the killing floor isn’t a real job? Shit…

      • BuzzCoastin

        no
        its being a part of a machine
        a real job required human thought & skill
        today’s fake jobs are devoid of either

        • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

          if the circle of life…
          is a machine…
          then I concur

          otherwise,
          I call bullshit

          • BuzzCoastin

            modern life is a circle jerk
            directed by machines
            people dance to its rhythm
            9 2 5

          • https://twitter.com/anti_euclidean ÿ

            “modern life”
            does not exist

            please try again

    • Virtually Yours

      “wee also live unable to see the present, while always focused on the past and its paradigm” This makes me think of that PKD quote: “The Empire never ended…”

  • HowardBrazee

    How do the products get to those who need them? If the state pays for them, then the state needs tax money. The 1% don’t want to pay, and likely will still be owning the politicians. The middle class is dying out. That doesn’t leave anybody to be taxed.

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