Well, yes and no Mr. Cohen, yes and no

Such complaints are normally dismissed as \”Luddism\”. But just because the 19th-century Luddites were wrong about the original industrial revolution destroying jobs and living standards does not mean that their successors must always be wrong. Sensible economists worry about automated manufacturing replacing factory workers, Google\’s autonomous cars replacing lorry and taxi drivers, and automatic online writing and translation services taking on tasks that only humans have been able to perform since the invention of literacy.

It\’s certainly true that what has always happened in economics does not mean that it will always happen. The prime example of this being the Reverend Malthus. He was absolutely spot on correct for all of human history until the very moment that he sat down to write. He\’s been absolutely wrong since then.

However, there\’s good reason to think that the automation of everything isn\’t going to destroy living standards. Indeed, that it cannot in fact destroy them.

Imagine the end state: machines do everything. Machines make the machines that repair the machines that make machines….and we don\’t need to iterate any further back than that I think.

What happens to living standards here?

Clearly, no one has a job. Machines quite literally do everything. The robots act for us, the software writes the scripts and the machines make the 3D holo machines that we watch them on.

What happens to living standards here? They soar, of course. For the cost of everything tracks back, at some point and some remove, to the income of someone. This isn\’t the labour theory of value, rather the labour theory of income. Buy an apple, a TV, a car or a jetplane ticket: all of that money, those costs, track back, somewhere, to the income of someone. Might be a capital income to the financier of the jetplane, might be to the rivetter, to the farmer who grew the apple that fed the rivetter…..but all of the economy eventually flows back to the income of someone or other.

We\’ve now removed all of that requirement for an income, have we not? And competition will do the rest: all of these products of all these machines will be gobsmackingly cheap. To the point of near free in fact. We might even say that true communism will have arrived at this point.

And if we are surrounded by free goods and services what is our standard of living? It\’s sky high, isn\’t it?

There are those out there who insist that all of the income will inevitably flow to those who own the capital. But again, it\’s competition that will see to that. In our mythical world where machines make machines that make machines, all that is necessary is for three or four people to make a machine that makes a machine that…..and we have competition. Absent collusion among the machine makers (and the open software movement shows well enough that there will always be some refusniks from collusion) we end up with goods and services being priced at around and about their cost of production. Which is spit as we\’ve not got to pay any wages.

And if goods and services don\’t cost anything then what\’s the damn problem?

And think back to the last time this happened. When farming mechanised. Sure, lots of people had to go do something else. But what really happened? Did all the money in farming flow to farmers? No, that isn\’t actually what happened, is it? As production costs fell then competition led to falling food prices. So much so that farmers have been on the public teat ever since: far from their getting all the money they\’ve got to be subsidised to survive.

So, will the capitalists end up with all the money as production mechanises? Nope, given competition, it\’ll end up in the pockets of consumers.

Hurrah etc.

60 thoughts on “Well, yes and no Mr. Cohen, yes and no”

  1. Interesting.

    Surely though the income in this world of effectively free manufacture and service provision accrues to those who own the raw materials needed for production ?

  2. One of my “one day I’ll get round to it” projects is a story set in just such a future totally automated economy, in order to explain exactly what Tim is saying here. I can never really come up with a good enough plot though. Or the time to do it. It is also quite hard for those of us living under the tyranny of scarcity (and by this, I mean me) to think about, because one tends to bring in all sorts of scarcity-based assumptions without realising it.

    One short way to answer Shinsei though is to realise that in the economy as described by Tim, there is no scarcity of raw materials either. Because a robot can always build a new robot to go fetch some more. Even from the asteroid belt.

    One aspect that interests me in particular is that many people presume that demand would escalate without limit. I don’t. I think there is actually a limit to human wants. There is no use me having a hundred loaves of bread. I can only eat one. But in particular, it would presumably mean the end of demand for status goods, because if anyone can have them, there is no status to be had.

    Many wealthy people today are already far beyond their wants limit, to the extent that they start giving their money away to philanthropy and shit like that.

    I love the idea of it. I wish I was going to live to see it.

  3. You don’t really need to indulge in the project. That ardent socialist, Ian Banks, has it pretty well covered in his Culture series of novels.
    One thing he hints at makes a lot of sense, too. There will always be people who wish to provide a service. Either directly or indirectly by personally manufacturing objects or more abstract commodities. Historical novels about scarcity based societies, maybe.. There will, no doubt be those who wish to consume same. And the practice will be sustained by barter. The action of consuming having exactly the same value as the action of producing.

  4. Well, that’s why it’s worth a libertarian doing it, because I’m not a socialist, ardent or otherwise.

  5. I actually like some of Banks’s writing a lot, the mainstream stuff. The Bridge is great (though tails off a bit at the end) and I enjoyed the Crow Road. But I tried his sci-fi and the only one I got all the way through I found rather boring, it had something about a bloke who made a chair out of his sister’s bones or something, if memory serves. It certainly wasn’t anything like what I envisage.

  6. “But in particular, it would presumably mean the end of demand for status goods, because if anyone can have them, there is no status to be had.”

    Goods made by hand, either before the machines-that-make-machines got going, or during that era, would presumably count as status goods at that time, and still be desired.

    Think of Morgan cars now. Customers actually value the fact that the panels were hammered out by hand rather than stamped with a die. An 18-month waiting list is seen as a feature rather than a bug.

  7. Gawd! Banks is a long winded f****r, isn t he? Do get the feeling he swallowed a C19th novelist at sometime in the past & the meal keeps repeating on him. I mean, really. Whole paragraphs made up of lists? He get paid by the word?
    But there s nowt as mercenary & avaricious as a good socialist, is there?

    (Repeated “Error establishing database connection” messages trying to post this comment, along with the HTML roulette of the outcome, is giving the impression of an old jalopy wheezing & wobbling along in clouds of steam & smoke with one wheel hanging off. Thus the leading edge of libertarian economic discussion….)

  8. If I remember rightly, Heinlein’s For
    Us the Living involves a basically similar idea:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Us,_The_Living:_A_Comedy_of_Customs

    Some very, er, interesting theories on economics there as well.

    Ian Banks’s sci-fi is readable, but pretty trashy. The ship names are the best part, I suspect. If you wanted to give it another go, The Player of Games would be a decent place to start – probably the most readable from the start. Either that or Matter.

  9. @Iain Banks
    If anyone can explain what Feersum Endjinn was about, there may well be a prize.

  10. I think the one I read all the way through was Use Of Weapons.

    Useless Trivia: I once lit an Amnesty benefit gig that was on the telly, and they credited me at the end as Ian Banks, which isn’t my name. Which was a little annoying as I’d done it free on condition I got a TV credit, heh.

  11. Anyhoo, Iain Banks aside, the post in general really addresses the fallacy that Bastiat was poking so gloriously in the eye two centuries ago; that prosperity comes from nurturing the producer interest over the consumer interest. I daresay that to this day the majority believe for instance that prosperity comes from higher income, rather than lower prices.

  12. I would hate to interrupt this discussion of Banks’s no doubt estimable novels but there are serious issues here. TW suggests (in his ASI piece below) that we could end up with 2% employment in manufacture and the slack taken up by services. This is the free market approach: don’t do anything; everything will turn out right in the end. Other more radical arguments have been: tax the profits of the robot manufacturers and redistribute the revenue so that people can afford to buy the products (Socialist: it is a development of Uncle Karl’s theory of Surplus value));or, the Douglas Scheme of Social Credit whereby people get paid a National Dividend or unearned income for all, sufficient to keep the mechanised factories in full production. If people want to play golf all day, let them said Douglas. This idea, like LVT, has made a re-appearance of late :it is now known as QEP or Quantitative Easing for the People.
    Hope this contribution answers the monomania charge. Should the opportunity arise, I can do another of my best numbers: Resale Price Maintenance.

  13. Ian B>

    Is there any real difference between lower prices and higher income, from this perspective? They’re semantically equivalent. Either way you can buy more with the money you have, assuming that the higher incomes or lower prices are universal.

  14. Dave, you can’t raise income in the agggregate. Well, you can devalue the currency and print more of it, but since it’s a dimensionless unit you end up back where you started. But you can reduce the price per unit of goods produced.

    DBC, you haven’t thought this through. There aren’t any robot manufacturers. Robots manufacture robots, which manufacture robots…

  15. @DBCR
    “Other more radical arguments have been: tax the profits of the robot manufacturers and redistribute the revenue so that people can afford to buy the products (Socialist: it is a development of Uncle Karl

  16. @DBCR
    “Other more radical arguments have been: tax the profits of the robot manufacturers and redistribute the revenue so that people can afford to buy the products (Socialist: it is a development of Uncle Karl s theory of Surplus value)or, the Douglas Scheme of Social Credit whereby people get paid a National Dividend or unearned income for all, sufficient to keep the mechanised factories in full production. If people want to play golf all day, let them said Douglas. This idea, like LVT, has made a re-appearance of late :it is now known as QEP or Quantitative Easing for the People.”

    WTF are you using as money? If you’ve got unlimited supply of “stuff”. And “stuff” can substitute for anything. Food. Energy. There is no scarcity whatsoever. Value isn t an absolute. It s a gradient. The gradient is flat. There s no exchange value between item A & item B because the supply of both are unlimited.

  17. Malthus was wrong – about everything. He was a brilliant man, but his conclusion is back to front and like Enoch Powell the impeccable logic he used caused him to get it wrong.

    Population increases to meet the resources available. After the Black Death, the population in England did not recover again until the 18th century, not as a result of an Industrial, but of an Agricultural Revolution ( Improvement).

    Plagues and natural disasters may reduce the population, our healthy life is helped by good sanitation and pennicillin. People die of cancer because there are no other nasty diseases ( or wars) to kill them.

    Famines can be man-made ( Ethiopia in the 1980s) or made worse ( Ireland ) by Government action or inaction. They are not caused by overpopulation.

  18. I find it quite funny that worstall is basically quoting The Culture from Iain M Banks.

    I would hazard the postulation that most of Banks’ work, sci-fi or not, is about an individual’s struggle against an overbearing state.

    He may be a Scottish socialist, but he has a finely tuned prediction of where socio-liberalism can take us.

    Who doesn’t want a world where machines do the work and we can all piss about?

    For the record, Player of Games is brilliant.

    One of you, one day, will notice that Worstall is just another misogynist commie!

    People relaxing? No slavery?!

    Winning the internet means winning a fat animal shitting on your dad. A billion times over.

  19. So Much for Subtlety

    Arnald – “I find it quite funny that worstall is basically quoting The Culture from Iain M Banks.”

    Well reading was never your strong point.

    “I would hazard the postulation that most of Banks work, sci-fi or not, is about an individual-s struggle against an overbearing state.”

    Postulate away. Of course in reality his work is no such thing. Banks is not just a socialist but a full blown Communist. As such the individual counts for nothing in his mind. This is what I do not like about his SF – individuals struggle to over come enormous odds but in the end it does not matter a damn as Banks thinks that only vast historic and economic forces make any difference. His stories are great right up to the end where everything the hero has done turns out to be irrelevant.

    And of course he has to rely on a constant use of deus ex machina in the form of AI or Drones to wield their magic power and solve every problem.

    “He may be a Scottish socialist, but he has a finely tuned prediction of where socio-liberalism can take us.”

    No he does not. He does not even come close. And he is not remotely a liberal.

    “For the record, Player of Games is brilliant.”

    Yeah but then as we all know, you have no idea what you are talking about. Probably the last place to start on Banks works.

  20. So Much for Subtlety

    bloke in spain – “If you’ve got unlimited supply of “stuff”. And “stuff” can substitute for anything. Food. Energy. There is no scarcity whatsoever.”

    But will there ever come a time when there is no scarcity whatsoever? Suppose I want an island in the Mediterranean to myself? Or in the Caribbean at a pinch. How many British people would like a home in Tuscany? I would like to hang the original Mona Lisa on my bathroom wall. Can I?

    There will always be a need to ration goods and services. Which means there will always be a need for money.

    The irony is that some Chinese officials went to Britain and decided that apart from some minor details, Britain had achieved Marx s dream – they had left the Realm of Necessity for the Realm of Freedom. But what they did not notice is that the Golden Age has not followed. Those people who follow the older harder rules of our grandparents do well. But those that embrace that freedom turn out Baby P. I am not sure we should welcome our New Robot Slaves.

    18 John Barrett – “Malthus was wrong – about everything. He was a brilliant man, but his conclusion is back to front and like Enoch Powell the impeccable logic he used caused him to get it wrong.”

    What was Malthus wrong about? What was Powell wrong about? We are engaged in a long experiment to prove Powell wrong, but it is too early to say that the results are in. What Malthus did not see is that self restraint might work – British family sizes were dropping well before birth control came along. And of course he did not see effective birth control. But those two minor problems aside ….

    “Population increases to meet the resources available.”

    Is that not exactly what he said?

    “Plagues and natural disasters may reduce the population, our healthy life is helped by good sanitation and pennicillin.”

    Is that not exactly what he said?

    “Famines can be man-made ( Ethiopia in the 1980s) or made worse ( Ireland ) by Government action or inaction. They are not caused by overpopulation.”

    I would have thought Ireland was a textbook case of famine by over population. It is true that the Whig government did not do enough, but they had the cause of the problem exactly right.

  21. SMFS, you’ve not really followed the basis of the discussion, possibly so you could slip in another round of cheerleading for the Methdodist craze.

    There are intrinsically some individual goods- one Mona Lisa, one Stonehenge, only a few thousand of Elvis’s chest hairs. So we’re talking about the availability of new manufacture of (I hate this term) commodity goods.

    So, in Utopia there may well be markets for bespoke status goods as Cj nerd says. In fact we see this already- people whose wealth is far beyond their wants compete for Damien Hirst’s roughly polished turds. But the supply of ordinary goods- including Ferraris, so long as you don’t mind them not being hand-built- is infinte.

    The Irish famine had two causes. The first was disease, which spread like wildfire due to a cloned monoculture of potatoes. The second one was probably the most grotesque governance in Western Europe, the closest thing to a truly Ricardian rentier economy in our local sphere.

    And Malthus was just wrong, wrong, wrong because, as John Barrett so eloquently explained, he got the causation back to front. Population expands as production does, which is why the predicted apocalypse (oh, that Millennialist fervour we cannot escape!) forever fails to materialise.

  22. And since this is a bit of “my theme” I’d be remiss to not add that the fall in family sizes among Protestants was just another Puritan anti-sexualist phenomenon. Large families act as an indicator that a couple can’t control their sinful urges, like those bestial Catholics. Hence, the birthrate of the ruling class plummetted, which has had them wetting themselves trying to persuade everyone else to stop breeding ever since. The low birth rate (and other curious phenomena such as an unnaturally late reported menarche) may also be indicative of an impoverished gene pool among the upper class as well, but that’s more speculative.

    Anyway, the spread of Puritanism has succeeded in its aim. Most of the West is now below the replacement rate, so all that self-hating Methodist “we are not worthy” stuff is finally paying off. We’ll soon be extinct. Thank you, Mr Wesley!

  23. So Much For Subtlety

    IAn B – “you-ve not really followed the basis of the discussion, possibly so you could slip in another round of cheerleading for the Methdodist craze.”

    Possibly although I usually do Presbyterians on Sundays.

    “But the supply of ordinary goods- including Ferraris, so long as you don’t mind them not being hand-built- is infinte.”

    Then that will revolve around what you mean by an ordinary good. Can I have an Apollo programme all of my own? Can I build and send a probe to Alpha Centauri out of the spare money left over from my paper run? I think that the scale of your thinking is not big enough. We routinely throw away things that previous generations would have kept because they were rare. Clothing seems to me to be in the process of becoming so cheap right now it is more or less disposable. Which was not true in my childhood. So Ferraris might become cheap and throw away. But our descendents will raise their eyes to greater and greater consumer goods and those will not be disposable until the generation after that.

    Assuming we survive until then of course.

    “The Irish famine had two causes. The first was disease, which spread like wildfire due to a cloned monoculture of potatoes.”

    In part brought about by pressure on the land.

    “The second one was probably the most grotesque governance in Western Europe, the closest thing to a truly Ricardian rentier economy in our local sphere.”

    I do not see much that was grostesque at all. Peel imported maize but it was not part of the local diet and so no one really knew what to do with it. The Whigs were less in favour of meddling with the market, but they did what they could, more or less, at a time governments were weak and could not do much. Most of this is like the alleged massacre at Droghea – useful propaganda for Irish nationalism. Not really history.

    “And Malthus was just wrong, wrong, wrong because, as John Barrett so eloquently explained, he got the causation back to front. Population expands as production does, which is why the predicted apocalypse (oh, that Millennialist fervour we cannot escape!) forever fails to materialise.”

    Sorry but is that not what Malthus said? As the food supply increases, so does the population until famine hits. Europe is the exception to this, but China was not. Their population also grew as food production grew until they were killing unwanted children all over the place – and they were very vulnerable to famine. In Europe production grew, but population slowed down and did not catch up.

  24. Can I have an Apollo programme all of my own? Can I build and send a probe to Alpha Centauri out of the spare money left over from my paper run?

    Yes. You’re still not grasping the basis of this discussion, are you?

  25. So Much For Subtlety

    Ian B – “And since this is a bit of “my theme” I’d be remiss to not add that the fall in family sizes among Protestants was just another Puritan anti-sexualist phenomenon.”

    I think most people tend to find that fewer children means a better sex life. And I would also think that the easily availability of divorce was a larger factor in the collapse of the birth rate – no point getting fat if your husband can leave you for his secretary. The French birth rate has never recovered from the Revolution.

    “Hence, the birthrate of the ruling class plummetted, which has had them wetting themselves trying to persuade everyone else to stop breeding ever since.”

    With good reason. Upward mobility has largely stopped. Those families that produce the sort of children who actually run the West, make things happen, have been shrinking as an over all percentage of the population. If we can’t persuade the feckless to be less feckless and for their children to do their homework, then in the end the West is doomed.

    “The low birth rate (and other curious phenomena such as an unnaturally late reported menarche) may also be indicative of an impoverished gene pool among the upper class as well, but that’s more speculative.”

    It may but the Upper Class was unusually fecund until recently. Partly because of primogeniture I expect. The collapse of the birth rate took place first among the middle classes.

    “Anyway, the spread of Puritanism has succeeded in its aim.”

    This is an interesting use of the word puritanism.

    “Most of the West is now below the replacement rate, so all that self-hating Methodist “we are not worthy” stuff is finally paying off. We’ll soon be extinct. Thank you, Mr Wesley!”

    I would have thought that was more a product of Marxism and feminism myself. The Puritans were many things, but adverse to children they were not.

    Ian B – “Yes. You-re still not grasping the basis of this discussion, are you?”

    Quite possibly, but then perhaps you are not grasping my objection. Someone might come from Africa and be amazed that we throw away coke bottles, but that does not mean we are rich enough for me to have my personal inter-planetary programme. We may become so rich that we throw away Ferraris, but it would be wrong to look on that like a Khoi-San and say that then we will be rich beyond our wildest dreams. Our dreams will expand. We will want more. Possession of a coke bottle might make a Bushman rich. Possession of a Ferarri might suggest someone alive today is rich. But in the future, no matter how many robots we have, in the future possession of a private inter-stellar probe will still indicate someone is rich. We go from desiring a house, to desiring a house in Tuscany to desiring a planet all to ourselves. There will always be something rare or expensive or just large that is out of our reach. And we will still need money to ration it.

  26. I would have thought that was more a product of Marxism and feminism myself.

    The Feminists are the latest metastisation of the Puritans. They adopted a cod-marxist justification after abandoning the religious one, to grant a quasi-“scientific” basis to it. The first wave of feminism (culminating in Suffragism) was an evangelical one; women leading the religous charge to purify society (and, due to widespread post-millennialism, thus induce the return of Jesus).

    See, from where I’m standing, the funny thing to me is that your eulogisation of the second wave puritans is eulogising the very people responsible for what you see as the ills of our current society. The Victorian Era was the second puritan wave. We are now in the Third. There really is a reason that the Labour Party is informally known as “the methodist party”.

    On the robots, you’re still not getting it. It’s a slave economy, but with an unlimited number of slaves. Which are not human, need no consideration, and can arbitrarily reproduce themselves to increase productive capacity. Thus, there is literally no limit.

    It’s a thought experiment remember, you have to run with the parameters.

    So, if you really want an interstellar probe, you start with one robot. It goes off and gets the resources to build some more, and builds them, and then when there are enough, they build your probe for you. You’ll have a bit of a wait, but you’ll get one in the end. So, if you want an interstellar probe because it’ll be interesting or something, fine. But as a status good, it’s useless. Because anyone really can have one.

  27. …so in the real world, I would imagine that people interested in astronomical science would get together, decide what probes will do useful science and exploration, and then form their own “space programmes”. Like they would do now probably, if they could afford it. Humans are herd animals. We self-organise.

  28. Really, the literary criticism was much more interesting. I don’t think Banks’s work is an expression of ‘full-blown Communism’ at all, but rather an exploration of a technocracy in which the technocrats actually do know best most of the time.

  29. Oh, and just in passing, Ian B, I have a hatred of terms like ‘humans are herd animals’. We’re not, not in the slightest. Similarly crap like ‘ humans are the most X animals on the planet’. Both do an injustice to the fascinating variety nature provides.

  30. Well, we are. We live in groups. “A social species” might be a better term than herd animal though. This is something Bloke In Spain’s been talking about lately.

    I mean, the reality is, the first thing people shipwrecked on a dessert island will do is stand in a huddle on the beach and say, “what do WE do now?” and “Who’s in charge then?”. Leave them for a year and they’ll have formed a coconut allocation committee, somebody will be sitting on a higher chair than everyone else deciding whether Alice’s hut is blocking the sunlight to Bob’s vegetable patch, and they’ll have formed two political parties divided by whether fishing in the lagoon should be on a permit basis, or it’s a commons.

    Which, as an individualist I don’t like much, but it’s how we are.

  31. Social species is better, because it’s meaningless rather than outright wrong.

    “I mean, the reality is, the first thing people shipwrecked on a dessert island will do is stand in a huddle on the beach and say, “what do WE do now?” and “Who’s in charge then?”.”

    I’m torn between saying ‘not if I’m there’ and arguing that the behaviour is actually far more subtle and, well, animalistic under such circumstances. The leader is established well before we get together and talk it out. The kind of nonsense you talk about can only happen on the very rare paradise island where living is so easy that people have plenty of time to waste on it. In that kind of paradise, though, as an individualist you’ll be glad to realise there’s nothing to stop you striking off on your own.

    In reality, I’m afraid all of you will be too busy trying to survive to do anything other than work together as efficiently as possible.

    Oh, I just noticed that you wrote ‘dessert’ island. Consider some trifling pun included.

  32. “I don t think Banks s work is an expression of full-blown Communism ”

    Iain Banks does.
    “…the future is – in Earth terms – bright, bright red.”
    State of the Art

  33. Sadly (and unusually) I suspect Tim may be wrong on the outcome if this.
    What will happen, in the real world, is that politicians will get involved.
    They will ‘help’ things along by defining the techniques used, the materials allowed, the energy consumption permitted. Any innovation will require new legislation.
    They will ‘support’ existing firms, thereby strangling innovation and competition.
    They will bale out failures and tax success.
    They will break up some firms and force others to merge.
    The factories will contain more people with clipboards than a Victorian mill had workers.
    And a handful of firms will have the politicians in their pocket and run the system.
    Plus ca change …..

  34. @Alex
    Oh, you only have to go back to DBC Reed @ 13 to see the mindset.
    The response to unlimited, ubiquitous, cost free production is the “Douglas Scheme of Social Credit”
    They’ll want to ration it.

  35. Ian B,

    I think you’re wrong about smaller families. It’s the result of the death rate of children falling to about 0.

    The UK has one of the highest birth rates in the EU. Ireland is higher, but only slightly (2.07 vs 1.98 live births per woman). Italy and Austria have considerably lower birth rates (around 1.4).

    Our birth rate was falling until around 2000. If you throw money at women to have children, it’s going to have the effect of raising it.

  36. The thing that remains rationed is women, no? (even supposing some excellent ladybots). My planet is bigger than your planet – kaboom!

  37. If you are interested in matters affecting birthrate and hence population, I’d recommend ‘What to Expect When No One’s Expecting’ by J Last. Short summary, birth rates are falling generally due to modern society. Attempts to change the fertility of the indigenous population have had limited effect. You can increase the birth rate by allowing immigration, but that can lead to other problems if you don’t handle it sensibly.

  38. actually as the cost going to wages falls the rent on the land on which the factorys are located will increase by the same amount.

  39. BiS>

    Ian Banks may think he’s a communist, but we know he has an excellent and vivid imagination. With his wealth and lifestyle, the man’s as much a communist as David Cameron.

  40. “Ian Banks may think he s a communist..”

    He thinks he is a science fiction author as well.

    “A sufficiently advance science would be indistinguishable from magic.”
    Arthur C Clarke, I think that was.

    Banks gets his tech & astrophysics out of The Boys Wow Book of Amazing Science. He is obviously as pig-ignorant as most on the left when it comes to anything vaguely likely to stretch the comprehension. Writing far future SF is indistinguishable from writing fantasy. You can always teleport you hero out of a fix, call on a trusty artificial intelligence or have your aliens breathing chlorine without bothering about DNA analogs.
    Good SF is set the day after tomorrow & plays games with extrapolating current trends. It is very hard to do well but very thought provoking if it is.

  41. Well, advanced tech can actually be a problem in storytelling. Hence, Trek’s frequent need to mung the transporters with plot devices like “ion storms” etc, because otherwise it’s *too* easy to get out of a scrape.

    Even today, cellphones are a major problem for moviemakers trying to put people in peril; there’s a fun section on TV tropes about how they have to get lost, run flat, dropped and “Oh lookee, there’s no signal here” etc.

  42. Mmm..plot devices.
    Was reading someone on how a particular one has faded. The bit where they try the phone & oh no! The wires are cut! Doesnt really work when there s a choice of 6 mobiles, does it?
    And no character ever tried the simple thing of rejoining the wires, did they? Coz authors are bloody awful electricians.

    Id like to try writing something set during the transition to a cheap to manufacture society. Really what we re actually going through now but a few years further along. The bit where the assumptions about certain aspects of economics begin to break down.
    Theres a flavour of it in my response to the LVT/Social Dividend monomaniac at #17. If “stuff” becomes cheap enough, the concept of value starts to break down. We think in terms of added value but if the manufacturing cost is trivial what value do you add to the raw materials by manufacturing the “stuff” out of them? And thats really where money comes from, isnt it?

  43. For an SF novel set in a very similar situation, try Asimov’s “The Naked Sun”.
    All inhabitants of the planet Solaria have hundreds of robots and all manufacturing, production and almost all services are done by them. There are still some specialised services that require human interaction, though (a couple of child-rearer specialists on the entire planet to supervise the child-rearing robots, roboticists, artists, etc.

  44. So Much for Subtlety

    Ian B – “The Feminists are the latest metastisation of the Puritans. They adopted a cod-marxist justification after abandoning the religious one, to grant a quasi-

  45. So Much for Subtlety

    Dave – “Really, the literary criticism was much more interesting.”

    Well that is what you get at TW-s site – not just literary criticism but so much more.

    “I don-t think Banks-s work is an expression of [full-blown Communism] at all, but rather an exploration of a technocracy in which the technocrats actually do know best most of the time.”

    That is to say, they are an exploration of Communism by a Communist who thinks Communism can work. Provided you have a big enough AI. I am curious, given you have started off with such a snotty attitude, do you expect people to behave politely when you make such basic mistakes as not noticing the fundamental nature of Culture society?

    33 Dave – “I have a hatred of terms like [humans are herd animals]. We-re not, not in the slightest.”

    That will explain why humans do not go insane when kept in solitary confinement then.

    “Both do an injustice to the fascinating variety nature provides.”

    That seems not to follow to me. Sure nature is full of variety blah blah blah. But that does not mean humans are social or that we are not the smartest animals on the planet.

  46. So Much for Subtlety

    Tim Almond – “I think you-re wrong about smaller families. It-s the result of the death rate of children falling to about 0.”

    I think it is more than that. British women report that they want to spend more time at home and they want more children. We have governments who have repeatedly chosen policies to make it hard for them to do this. Life is expensive so families cannot afford to have more children or for women to stay home. It is in part a policy choice.

    “The UK has one of the highest birth rates in the EU. Ireland is higher, but only slightly (2.07 vs 1.98 live births per woman). Italy and Austria have considerably lower birth rates (around 1.4).”

    The UK also has one of the highest levels of benefits for single mothers.

    “Our birth rate was falling until around 2000. If you throw money at women to have children, it-s going to have the effect of raising it.”

    I do not think it is actually. The French have tried. More likely the Labour Party-s policy of replacing the voters is working as they let in young Third World migrants who are now having children. So a quarter or something of British primary school students are now from non-English speaking backgrounds. It will take a while for their birthrates to converge to ours. Which means Britain will probably become a majority minority country.

    44 Dinero – “actually as the cost going to wages falls the rent on the land on which the factorys are located will increase by the same amount.”

    And why is that?

    45 Dave – “With his wealth and lifestyle, the man-s as much a communist as David Cameron.”

    Or more accurately as much as Lenin.

    46 bloke in spain – “Writing far future SF is indistinguishable from writing fantasy. You can always teleport you hero out of a fix, call on a trusty artificial intelligence or have your aliens breathing chlorine without bothering about DNA analogs.”

    Which is particularly annoying with Banks. He gives his heroes this exceptional God-like technology so that his AIs and Drones always win the battle and save the day. It is like carrying the Archangel Michael in your backpack.

    “Good SF is set the day after tomorrow & plays games with extrapolating current trends. It is very hard to do well but very thought provoking if it is.”

    Dune?

  47. re – plot devices

    If you read as lot of crime fiction, and I do, a very large part of the defective community either doesn’t like/understand tech, can’t get a signal, never remembers to take the damn thing with them or just doesn’t have any friends to call. So I guess mobos are a plot killer.

    Social animals come in three types:
    ants, bees, wasps etc. where the hive/nest is really one creature whose body happens to be in lots of little bits. (Identical DNA, see?) Herds and schools which are just a lot of individuals standing around together because it reduces the chances of getting eaten and primate troupes where the society has a maximum size and a structure, like a mechanism. The key thing is the unit of reproduction. Bee hives make more bee hives, buffalo just make more buffalo (there’s no limit to size of a herd or school) and villages make more villages. (Given the lebensraum, of course.)

  48. Rents will not dissapear with the advent of automated production. So zero price of finshed products does not follow from the advent of automated production.

  49. @ Dinero
    That may not be true.
    Very low production costs are substitutable for almost anything. There d be nothing to prevent production from floating factories out in the Atlantic, where there s no rent costs at all. This sort of thing is being considered now.
    Even raw materials start looking different The substances tied up in a product are there only temporarily. The product can be demanufactured with the same, or even more effort than the original manufacture. Then recombined into a new items. Again, this isn t new. It s always been done with precious metals. It s done with much steel requirements. Ditto copper.

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  51. I don’t think you will really ever end up with a post scarcity society. Oh living standards will rise but you will still have to work or go on the dole for a living.

    If not everything can be done by machines, say machine design, then we will all be doing that and service jobs where the customers like the human touch.

    If some of the machines are smart enough to do everything. That means they are as smart as humans. Chances are those smart machines will decide they don’t like being slaves. It’s either terminator or second class citizenship.

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