Post Scarcity

How many lives lost in competition for scarce resources.

Every living thing survives by exchanging energy. Most plants in a benign exchange with the sun. Most others by killing and consuming all around them.

We with higher sentience live mostly in fear. Some of us recognize our fear and work to control its negative effect on our actions. In less aware souls, fear is the motivation for most of our behavior but goes unrecognized.

Fear is not just about food. Far more generalized and insidious than that, so many actions around us are perceived as a threat.

My neighbor seeks to build on a field next door to me and destroy my peace. The “professional” recommendation is to get hold of the land by fair means or foul. The man on my bumper in the winding country lane seeks to get there before me, and risks both our lives in his mad scramble to do so. One pointless meme threatens another to take hold of minds and hearts and doubtless the reverse is true.

And in less enlightened days I did the same.

Struggle. All is competition. All ends in violence of a sort, even if only symbolic.

A director of Barings is said to have produced a paper to then British Prime Minister David Cameron which claimed to solve scarcity. Or at least monetary scarcity, which counts for quite a lot.

Abolish inheritance he said. All true “wealth” on this planet is locked in the land. The land produces food, shelter and minerals. Every resource we need to survive.

Let people collect assets during their lifetime and pay no taxes. Let them build their pointless anthills and enjoy them, but on their death take those precious assets back for the good of the commonwealth.

Use that re-distribution to provide plenty for all. No shortages he said. No failing national health service, no lack of cash for any of our needs.

Was he right? Were his figures correct? It is likely we will never find out. We are far too fearful for such radicalism and such dreams have lead in the past to monsters and dystopia.

But the idea can not be wrong. One rocky little planet and it belongs to us all. The smash and grab we have allowed to take place is no less than monstrous.

And our universe? Infinite and with every resource we could need or dream of. Will we allow the same pillage and greed to rule when we escape the confines of our small planet and insignificant solar system?

Doubtless we will, if history teaches us anything.

Survival of the fittest was foisted on us by blind evolution. Fear begat greed and greed begat violence. It need not always be thus had we but the will to change.


  1. This kind of insight has been understood for centuries.

    Thomas Paine argued for a citizens dividend. Taxing the haves would compensate the have-nots for the privatization of land that happened with the enclosure movement and the equivalent land grab in the colonies.

    Adam Smith understood that one couldn’t have a free society with high inequality. Then again, that was understood by Aristotle millennia earlier. It doesn’t take a genius to grasp such a simple truth.

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  2. In 2010 Warren Buffett and Bill Gates initiated The Giving Pledge. It is a campaign to encourage extremely wealthy people to contribute a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of May 2019, the pledge has 204 signatories, either individuals or couples, from 22 countries.

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    1. A good initiative. I always shy away from making points which look “political”. What a ghastly word. But I suppose that is what my post is. I am 64 and for much of those 64 years the penny didn’t really drop. The simplicity of it. We behave the way we do because that is the way we evolved. Leading straight back to morals and objectivity. I have no real practical solution – the chap from Barings clearly does. I have a horror of violence so “Marxism” is the very antithesis of the way I feel. Armed and violent revolution – god forbid. I am, I suppose an idealist, that is probably all I can say about myself. But there again, wanting a better world and plenty for all is not such a bad goal.

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    2. That could be good in theory. But it comes with a whole host of problems in practice. It is not clear that it is a net gain. For all the wealth donated, the very creation of a plutocracy requires socialism for the rich where the benefits are privatized while the costs externalized. High inequality is also stressful, even to the rich, and destabilizing.
      This is seen with the Gates Foundation. In one case, the Gates Foundation donates money to offer healthcare to the very local population that is being poisoned by the factory that is helping to create some of the income for the Gates Foundation. Would those people prefer to have healthcare when poisoned? Sure. But would they prefer to not be poisoned in the first place? Most definitely. There is the rub of philanthrocapitalism.
      This isn’t necessarily to blame the philanthropic side of it, in terms of good intentions. But the danger is that the philanthropy is used to hide immense harm to the public good. The deeper problem is that such vast inequality destroys a free society, something understood by many in the past but that has become obscured.
      There is no example of a high inequality society in all of history that didn’t eventually collapse or erupt into violence, although war and revolution can be effective ways of either redistributing wealth or leveling it all out. Throwing a fraction of that stolen wealth back to the poor won’t ease the societal stress, populist outrage, and public unrest. See the work of Keith Payne, Kate Pickett, Richard Wilkinson, Peter Turchin, Walter Scheidel, etc.
      Here is one difficulty. The American public is far to the left of the ruling elite.
      This includes being to the left in opinion about high inequality.
      “Polling has shown that the American public has zero tolerance for high inequality. So, why do we have such high inequality without any populist revolt to threaten the plutocracy? It’s because the American public has been lied to with corporatocratic propaganda. Most of the citizenry simply does not know how bad it has gotten, just as most don’t know they are part of a majority. Everything that the public is told is carefully framed and all debate is tightly controlled. The specific lie in this case is the claim that inequality is small when it is actually large (Christopher Ingraham, Wealth concentration returning to ‘levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties,’ according to new research; ). In fact, it is immensely larger than public polling shows most Americans think should be allowed (Dan Ariely, Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don’t Realize It); & Chuck Collins interviewed, U.S. Public Opinion Favors Bold Action to Address Rising Economic Inequality). Why is it that the elites of both parties and all of the corporate media conveniently forget to tell the public this inconvenient truth?”
      “We are now going a step further toward the cliff edge with taking that conflation and further conflating it with philanthropy, what some call philanthrocapitalism. Those like Bill Gates also are heavily involved in lobbying. And the crony connections are vast across the public and private sectors. They represent a powerful component of the growing deep state that overlaps with the intelligence agencies and military-industrial complex.”
      ” “Big Philanthropy is definitionally a plutocratic voice in our democracy,” Reich told me, “an exercise of power by the wealthy that is unaccountable, non-transparent, donor-directed, perpetual, and tax-subsidized.”
      “This was not previously a minority position. If you look back to the origins of these massive foundations in the Gilded Age fortunes of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, their creation was massively controversial, Reich said, and for good reason.
      ” “A hundred years ago, there was enormous skepticism that creating a philanthropic entity was either a way to cleanse your hands of the dirty way you’d made your money or, more interestingly, that it was welcome from the standpoint of democracy,” Reich told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “Because big philanthropy is an exercise of power, and in a democracy, any form of concentrated power deserves scrutiny, not gratitude.”
      “Both Teddy Roosevelt and union leaders like the AFL-CIO’s Samuel Gompers decried the creation of the Rockefeller Foundation. Roosevelt’s presidential opponent, William Howard Taft, criticized legislation that would have enabled the foundation as “a bill to incorporate Mr. Rockefeller.”
      “Our era has not seen similar skepticism, despite the wealth inequality that serves as the precondition for such massive foundations. Though perhaps it is returning.”
      Catherine Flowers, founder of Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE):
      “Hookworm is a 19th-century disease that should by now have been addressed, yet we are still struggling with it in the United States in the 21st century. Our billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates fund water treatment around the world, but they don’t fund it here in the US because no one acknowledges that this level of poverty exists in the richest nation in the world.”
      Daniel Drezner’s The Ideas Industry (pp. 62-5):
      “While the rise in inequality has been concentrated in the United States, it also reflects a more widespread, global phenomena. Whether the cause has been globalization, the rise of finance, the economics of superstars, or the ineluctable laws of capitalism is irrelevant for our concerns. What does matter is that both wealth and income inequality are on the rise, and there are excellent reasons to believe that the concentration of wealth at the top could increase further over time.
      “As the inequality of wealth has increased in the United States, so has the inequality of contributions to political life. Survey data show that the wealthy are far more politically informed and active than the rest of the public. […] The effect of economic and political inequality on the Ideas Industry is profound. On the one hand, rising income inequality and declining income mobility have bred dissatisfaction with the state of the American Dream. Since the start of the twenty-first century, poll after poll has shown that Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction.
      “The most profound impact of rising economic inequality is on the supply side of the Ideas Industry. The massive accumulation of wealth at the top has created a new class of benefactors to fund the generation and promotion of new ideas. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find a profile of a billionaire that does not also reference an interest in ideas.
      “Twenty-first-century benefactors are proudly distinct from their twentieth-century predecessors. The big benefactors of the previous century set up foundations that would endure long after they died. While many plutocrats had ideas about the purpose of their foundations, most were willing to trust the boards they appointed. […] Foundations set up by J. Howard Pew and Henry Ford also wound up promoting ideas at odds with the political philosophies of their benefactors.
      “This century’s patrons adopt a more hands-on role in their engagement with ideas. Echoing billionaire Sean Parker, they largely reject “traditional philanthropy—a strange and alien world made up of largely antiquated institutions.” To twenty-first-century plutocrats, the mistake of past benefactors was to delegate too much autonomy to posthumous trustees. A new set of “venture philanthropists” or “philanthrocapitalists” has emerged to stimulate new thinking about a host of public policy issues. In contarst to the older foundations, these new entities are designed to articulate a coherent philosophy consistent with a living donor’s intent. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network have developed a large footprint in significant areas of public policy.
      “Most of these new philanthropic foundations are obsessed with the “three Ms”—money, markets, and measurement. Potentially game-changing ideas are like catnip to plutocrats. […] The eagerness to please benefactors affects both the content and the suppliers of the ideas. […] In the Ideas Industry, thought leaders fiercely compete to get on the radar screen of wealthy benefactors.”

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      1. Love all of it and your points are beautifully made. I was tempted to say the same thing to Ron in much briefer and simpler terms. As an idealist and utopian I long for the Culture (Ian Banks).


      2. The formatting of my comment seems to have partly disappeared. There is supposed to be spaces in between the paragraphs, links, and quotes. Oh well.

        Chomsky made a good point about the propaganda model of news. What is taken was conventional wisdom can be stated in sound bites. But to challenge those assumptions requires detailed analysis and evidence-based argument, often including the introduction of new ideas and frames of thinking.

        This is a near impossible task in the corporate media and mainstream political debates. That is what makes a blog such a lovely place for alternative views. Anyway, I don’t have to worry about being invited as a guest on a MSM news show.

        The prediction of violence and such is simply going by precedence of history. That is the argument made by Walter Scheidel. It’s what happened to every high inequality society so far. And the US is the highest inequality of any society in the world at present or in the past. That isn’t to say we couldn’t peacefully reform the system from within. But no one apparently has ever accomplished this feat.

        Still, it’s worth trying. But before we can reform, we have to realize and acknowledge there is a problem. We haven’t gotten to that point. The ruling elite are continuing to lie to us about the inequality. And the public remains ignorant on the matter. Meanwhile, the stress and outrage is getting worse. If it isn’t resolved soon and quickly, I don’t see how this ends well.

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      3. I would emphasize one thing about philanthrocapitalism. It helps explain why it’s more dangerous than old school philanthropy. Consider again the example I shared. The Gates Foundation is not simply charity for the needy. It’s a highly profitable organization.

        When the Gates Foundation gives vaccines away, it uses the companies it is invested in. Those companies increase their profits and so the Gates Foundation profits. This brings more money into the foundation. That then can be applied to other investments and projects. How could that be a bad thing?

        There are two problems. The Gates Foundation has an incentive to push the products of its own invested companies. So, they may give away a vaccine for free, but that vaccine doesn’t work without some other product that has to be purchased. So, they get to look good at the same time they are forcing the individuals or countries getting the ‘charity’ to pay for some other product.

        We have to keep in mind that the Gates Foundation is divided. Those working in investments are entirely separate from those working on philanthropic projects. This means the stated purpose of the foundation does not apply to the investments. This is why the foundation can simultaneously be killing a population by investing in a factory spewing out poisons and be trying to save the lives of the people dying from those very same poisons.

        That is the schizoid disconnection that is far from limited to philanthrocapitalism. It is seen all throughout our society. All that philanthrocapitalism does is make this soul sickness impossible to ignore. But at the same time, it makes it very hard to understand. The left hand knows not what the right hand is doing. It’s the same basic dissociation that makes the elite disconnected from the public and disconnected from reality on the ground, the same dissociation that keeps the public ignorant.

        It’s also why we have so little chance of avoiding violence, social unrest, collapse, war, or whatever. We can’t deal with the problem we can’t see. The division is not only organizations but, more importantly, in the human mind. Derrick Jensen discusses this splintering of the mind a lot in his early work. It’s the psychological mechanism that allowed a Nazi doctor to experiment on Jewish children at work and then come home to play with his own children. That is simply an exaggerated form of Bill Gates starting a foundation that simultaneously kills and saves lives.

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  3. “Had we but the will to change…” Wow! It’s been a while since I’ve read and I started here. Thank you for the reminder to stay focused on adding to the stream of life as opposed to following blind ambition. I wish more people would think along these lines. Great post.

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    1. I know that my views will be reviled by some. And of course I will understand the way they feel. Everything I have written sounds like the politics of envy and greed and dissatisfaction. The untermensch seeking to overthrow the ruling class.

      And yet that is not so. While I am in no sense a believer in the Christian Religion I nonetheless take the words of the historic Jesus as “gospel”. Good news. Jesus was for sharing, for the relief of the poor and the sick. The meek shall inherit the earth.

      I suppose you could say that I was born into the “ruling class” whatever nonsense that is. White, upper middle class, protestant. Educated at the best schools and university with a job in a top law firm and then one of the top banks.

      But at heart, I always felt the way I do today and if it had not been for a terrible sense of insecurity from the earliest age I would probably have followed a very different path. More priest than politician, had I not felt such terrible fear I might have made a different way through life.

      Better? Or worse? I really can not say. And I am dubious about labelling the good and the bad these days.

      But I see a world in torment. I see billions living in abject poverty. I see persecution and violence, hunger and illness in every part of the globe. From the homeless and the winos on the streets of London to the political prisoners kept in torture centers. From the hungry of Africa to the refugees and victims of insane ideology in the middle east.

      And I see the destruction of a beautiful planet. Covered by factories and pollution. Trashed, perhaps irretrievably.

      Whose fault is it?

      Evolution and an absence of awakening. And absence of general enlightenment. Who listened to the words of Jesus or the Buddha? Who follows Brahmin or any other man made deity with more than lip service?

      There are good people in the world for sure. But those people by very definition are not the shakers and rainmakers. The meek will not inherit the earth unless they are given a very big helping hand. We need radical change in our economies and our societies. And most of all in our thoughts, our goals, our aims, our priorities.

      We need change. We need it urgently. And peacefully.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We will find out way. We’ve had a great many philosophers, sages, living Sons of God, prophets, etc. There is a shift taking place in our collective soul and I genuinely believe we are awakening to our interconnectedness.

        Am you and I dreamers?

        Definitely, but so were the likes of Gandhi, MLK Junior, Prince Sidhartha, etc. If they had been alive in 2020 I have no doubt they would be blogging and adding value to the minds of readers. We are blessed to be in a time when humanitarian thoughts can be shared globally with the click of a button.

        We must tackle these questions and urge our children to do better than we did. It is ignorance and ignorance alone that we must overcome. As we learn to love each other and care for our planet we are slowly inching towards what some would call a utopian dream.

        That excites me.

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      2. I very much hope so – and of course we must find our way personally as well as collectively. Those men are my heroes – we must emulate their vision and there perseverance. Ignorance, yes indeed. The opposite of enlightenment. Most of our species is stuck in the thorned thicket of Darwinian evolution and few yet see the necessity to change. You are absolutely right – we must continue to blog and to spread our utopian dream. Good to hear from you again. Anthony

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  4. “Instruments are available today that would benefit all in the long run, through faster growth, more rapid poverty reduction, and less inequality. It would be a serious mistake not to make use of them.”
    —excerpt quote by FRANÇOIS BOURGUIGNON, a professor emeritus at the Paris School of Economics.

    “Pushing too aggressively for economic equality can run the risk of decreasing economic incentives. However, a moderate push for economic equality can increase economic output, both through methods like improved education and by building a base of political support for market forces.”
    —Rice University; Dean, Elardo, Green, Wilson, Berger.

    I can appreciate your viewpoint on this subject, since you spent so much time in the financial world, and we must acknowledge that the lack of concern for scarcity, especially by those unaffected by it, is an unfortunate reality. There are others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who engage in philanthropy and other types of investment using their wealth for the general good, and while they may be in the minority, it’s important to acknowledge such efforts as we ponder what might help us to solve these issues. The Rice University study seems like a place for a sound beginning, and I hope your observations in this post might eventually become less ubiquitous.

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    1. The picture at the head of this post is of dead soldiers boots in the churchyard of an ancient Norman church in St Margaret’s Bay on the Kent Coast near Dover. The scene of massive fortifications and gun emplacements from time immemorial.

      Why is it that soldiers have to die? Why is it that we need soldiers at all? What business have we pillaging oil in the Middle East or yet again interfering in Afghanistan, a death trap for the unwary for so long.

      War and conflict are so utterly pointless, so meaningless, degrading and unnecessary.

      There are of course reasons for war other than economics but in the end it all boils down to the need to survive. And to survive better and more surely than anyone else.

      Odd, is it not that so few have heard the words of Christ, the Buddha and innumerable others over the years.

      Incentive is an interesting word in this context and economic incentives take us right back to the heart of the problem. Perhaps we should set ourselves other goals which would require different incentives. There is no great glory in “growth” since human appetite can never be satisfied. Growth is all part of insatiable desire. The desire for more and ever more. The Buddhists hungry ghost walks the earth with a mouth and neck too narrow to satisfy its enormous appetite.

      Rather than growth we need less. Less people, less carbon in the air less hungry mouths to feed and clothe and doctor. Growth will never get us anywhere. More roads encourages more cars. More airports encourage more travel. More business encourages more appetite and more consumption.

      7 billion people – we might thrive better with 1 billion or less.

      Less people, less commerce but greater quality. Less trashy consumerism, greater wisdom, more respect for what actually matters in life. I may sound eccentric but so few people think in the radical terms necessary to reform our global society. Economists trot out the same old stuff for centuries. Same old, same old. But the heart of the problem is never recognized or dealt with.

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