Sunday, June 26, 2011

Response to JacobSpinney's Response

To give a quick recap, in response to The Venus Project Challenge, JacobSpinney delivered a series of critiques regarding the Resource Based Economic model. I gave a series of replies, and here is his additional response to those, which I am finally getting around to addressing:

Jacob's Response (April 2011):

Please note that I am already buried in videos that I had planned on making, which ironically, could have and probably would have addressed at least some of the arguments and misconceptions that I've been going back and forth with in responses. So rather than get too continuously caught up, I'll try to cover here what I feel are the major points, and hopefully move on with the more recently broadened aims of The Zeitgeist Movement. =)

The first point I want to address is our miscommunication on fiat currency vs. the market system itself.
Peter tried to explain how the points made against fiat currency in defense of the market system are irrelevant to the arguments put forth in Zeitgeist Moving Forward. Jacob says "this is simply untrue," and continues to explain how governments and fiat currency are the enemy. I understand, and agree on many levels. However, there is one entirely separate fundamental point that I believe we are continuously talking passed each other on, that still makes the issues of fiat currency irrelevant. With regard to the market itself, Jacob maintains the position of:

1) There is no coercion in a
true free market, that is, one without fiat currency and government regulations. Essentially, "everybody wins," or else the exchange(s) would NOT have taken place. It is completely voluntary.

While I agree that this is sometimes the case, I
fundamentally disagree with the oversimplified notion that it is always the case, from the position of:

2) Of course the exchange "voluntarily" took place, if that person's choice was to either exchange (labor, sex, etc.) or
starve! That doesn't make the exchange "fair," which brings us to exploitation, and thus coercion. In other words, simply stating that "both parties turned out better off," does not address the fact that "better off," in many cases, simply means... "not dead." Sure, everybody wins, if you want to consider that "winning." To argue that "this simply wouldn't happen in a free market because wealth would be distributed more equally," is again, irrelevant because there is nothing in the market system that guarantees anyone an equal opportunity to acquire such wealth, so members of society are still ultimately gambling for their necessities of life.

Jacob only looks at one side of the story in his example. He carves the branch into a statue and trades with you. He asks, "just because I traded my statue for something I value
more than it, does that make it coercion?" No, I agree with this. "Instead," he says, "if you simply take my statue, without contributing or giving anything in return, then it is you who are coercing me." Granted. However, these cookie-cutter examples of "voluntary exchanges" between the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker simply do not pan out in the real world! At least not anymore. So it is NOT okay for me to take his statue, and give him nothing in return. Agreed. But it IS okay for people who are born into this world, without a choice, to be denied access to resources, until they have proven that they are valuable to those who are already in control of resources?
So then at what point is it coercion? Is it considered voluntary as long as "something" is given in return, even if it's just one penny - and that person accepts it because they are in a position where they simply have no choice but to accept whatever they can get? No, you're not holding a gun to anyone's head to make that trade, at least not literally. In the real world, the "gun" is simply the lack of food and shelter. I've never advocated a system where anyone just mooches off of the fruits of anyone or everyone else's labor, and I'll admit that in the past, the free market was the best way to avoid that scenario. But the world is changing, and in still trying to avoid that scenario, we have resorted to the opposite extreme. Where people who can very easily own property or the means of production required for one's survival and/or standard of living, can coerce people into making exchanges that they otherwise would not reasonably make. The fact of the matter is, we have reached a state of technology where we can provide those basic needs to every man, woman, and child on earth without the need for human labor, and if that means that such a person could, instead of wasting his life away working at McDonald's to survive, be provided with food, shelter, and education, and spend all day reading, learning, exploring, and maybe even become an expert in a field that finds a solution to one of our current or future problems, such as a disease, then I'm all for it. Even if it means he'll be a musician, or an artist... if it means that he has no reason to steal from or hurt someone else, including me, and no one had to "pay out of pocket" to provide him with those things, then I'm all for it. At the end of the day, we are all safer and more secure in our endeavors when everyone is taken care of. I realize that this has not always been an economic possibility, but it is now. For information on how this is possible, please visit:

No, the solution - I agree - is not to "coerce" people into changing their values and/or joining the Resource Based Economy, but to continue making people
aware of these possibilities, as such awareness gives people the choice of being willing to participate and work towards it. That's it. This is not to say that market interactions, people and communities voluntarily exchanging with each other, becoming self-sufficient and digging ourselves out of this hole, could not pave the way to a Resource Based Economy, whilst contributing to commonly held knowledge and resources. But I do think that to ignore that the RBE is even a possibility, to just conclude that the free market is optimum efficiency, and that currency is the ultimate crown achievement of mankind, would be kidding ourselves.

In terms of all values being subjective, it was a verbal error on my part to say that there are "objective values," which is almost an oxymoron. What I mean to say, is that not all values are
equal, as some values are, in fact, dependent on other values. In other words, if you value spending time with your Mom, then you cannot claim that you don't value your Mom's life. If you value playing with your dog, then you cannot claim that you don't at all value your dog's health, or his ability to play. So yes, one can certainly choose not to value subsistence, so long as they admittedly renounce all other supposed values for which subsistence is required. However, a value must be chosen, and acknowledged as such, in order for any voluntary action towards it to occur, thus if one denies, or is unaware of, the relationship between their supposed values, and the life that makes those values possible, then it is only a matter of time before neither can be satisfied. It's that simple -- and verbally masturbating over the difference between an 'is' and an 'ought' doesn't change that. Of course, philosophically speaking, an 'is' does not equal an 'ought,' and an 'ought' cannot be derived from an 'is' in and of itself. However, I would think that the goal of these discussions regarding a new social system, whether it be the free market or a Resource Based Economy, is to continue human life on this planet at all, let alone in an optimal way. In that, I assume we value life, and am therefore speaking in terms of those who value life. Otherwise, if all values are equally subjective, and the world "is the way it is," not necessarily meaning that we "ought" to do anything about it, then why are we even having this discussion? In that case, I'll have to put a disclaimer on my Channel, and on my videos, explaining that they are geared towards those who are interested in continuing life on this planet, and not intended for those who are suicidal. So let's ask ourselves: What kind of society do we want to live in?

A) The water is boiling. The man is observing the boiling water. Although I cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is' in and of itself, I value life, and the life of that other person, so I will use the tools I am given to determine the most optimal path of meeting those values. By using science to determine the fact that boiling water would indeed cause significant injury or death to a living, conscious being, I arrive at the notion that I "ought not" to pour the boiling water on him or on myself. See Sam Harris' presentation on how Science Can Answer Moral Questions.

B) The water is boiling. The man is observing the boiling water. You cannot derive an "ought" from an "is," and therefore, whether or not I "ought to" scald the hell out of that innocent man who is observing the boiling water, is merely a toss-up of various possibilities. Whether or not I value his life is irrelevant, as science cannot answer moral questions.

I'm going to go with A, but good luck with B if you decide to go that route.

When Peter says "
it has nothing to do with anything on a physical or tangible level," he is talking about the
use of prices for supposed efficient resource allocation; he is not referring to "resource allocation" in general, which obviously does have very much to do with things on a physical, tangible level. When he says "the market and its sense of efficiency
assumes that the public knows what the hell they're doing," Jacob responds "it makes no such assumption." I rest my case. Peter was pointing out that our relying on the free market system for all decisions is giving it the benefit of the doubt, assuming that it accounts for scientific efficiency, as in the state of ecology, sustainability, the well-being of plant and animal life, etc. - since no one would dare rely on an economic system that doesn't take that into account. Right? No, apparently not. Jacob argues that "economics says nothing of values. It merely shines light on how to best achieve whatever those values might be." This is forfeiting the benefit of the doubt, and blatantly admitting that the free market system may very well ignore the aforementioned factors, and does not assume scientific efficiency, or sustainability, but simply that it is the most economically efficient way to satisfy individual consumer preferences - regardless of how sustainable or scientifically efficient those preferences may be. So in essence, this says that our values are independent, and the economic system is simply what we use, or rather, the interactions we engage in, to efficiently meet those values; therefore, it's the values that need to change, not the economic system. This completely ignores the fact that the values themselves are indeed influenced by the conditions of the economic system in question, due to adaptive preferences, and valuation neglect. So we do, in fact, need to change the economic system, if we expect to successfully change the values.

When I am talking about production costs, I am (obviously) not referring to "cost" in terms of price. I am referring to the total cost in terms of outlay or expenditure of time, energy, raw materials, etc. required to produce a given product. I understand that without prices, the "total resource cost" of 500 liters of oil is figuratively the same as 500L of water, or 500L of apple juice, in terms of marginal utility, because 'how much of which' should actually be used, and what it should actually be used
for, is ultimately determined by the subjective valuations of the consumers, taking all of that into account. What this argument ignores, again, is that as I stated in the 3rd video, this is not how "costs" would be ultimately calculated in the RBE - as the free market admittedly measures such costs solely on the subjective utility of the consumers, which cannot, in and of itself, serve as an accurate prognosis for sustainability or well-being. For this, we need to look at the capabilities approach that challenges utilitarianism, on the grounds that although people want to be happy, it may overlook the things we truly value, as well as fundamental inequalities. In fact, according to a Human Development Report nearly 20 years ago, "the basic objective of development to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy, and creative lives is often lost in the immediate concern for the accumulation of commodities and financial wealth." This groundbreaking approach was overlooked in the entire ~54 minute response, which instead heavily reiterated "marginal utility," in more detail.

As we know, the RBE does not use monetary prices to measure the costs of resources, but that
does not mean that oil, water, and apple juice therefore have, figuratively, the same "cost." Why? Because in a dynamic system like the RBE we would have a global database of information on all available resources, and accurate calculations as to what various products or services those resources can possibly be used for, both alone, and in combination with each other, so that we are able to determine how to most efficiently (scientifically) produce a variety of goods and services that do indeed meet the expressed individual preferences of consumers, while still taking into account the opportunities that may be gained or lost in the process. We would be able to accurately consider all available parameters and compare the various possibilities of what can be done, to what people actually want and need. In other words, we would not simply produce "the most scientifically efficient widget" using whatever possible combination of resources we have, without taking the production of anything else into account, and then say "oops, we didn't leave enough over for the other widget(s)." Determining which, or how many, resources to use for one product or service versus another, would factor in the intended functionality of the item, how many people would need it, how long it needs to last, etc. As peoples' needs and preferences change, their inputs change, consumption changes, information changes, and we adjust accordingly. It's not really that complicated - once we consider the current state of technology. In other words, it combines scientific efficiency WITH economic efficiency; it does not sacrifice economic efficiency, in favor of scientific fascism. Even though, at the end of the day, we would be consuming goods at a figurative cost of "zero" to the consumer, it is possible to continue efficiently satisfying individual needs AND preferences because we are maximizing the fruits of the aforementioned scientific efficiency, allowing us to create a relative state of abundance. Meaning, if we produce things in a more scientifically efficient and less wasteful manner, we can then afford to actually produce more of what people actually want and need, and reach true economic efficiency.

In response to the claim that producing the most efficient and sustainable products would be either too expensive for the company to make, or too expensive for the customer to buy, Jacob gives the example of a dent-proof, water-proof, shock resistant iPod that would cost $200 instead of $100. In other words, it's the customer's choice. Yes, well, I'm not talking about an ipod that would cost "$200.00." As cute as that sounds, I'm talking about one that might cost TWO THOUSAND dollars, or more. Now apply that to every product a person uses. When we're talking about a wide range of appliances and electronics that serve multiple functions, boast the
most advanced features that are technologically possible to-date (usually unheard of by us common-folk), are extremely durable, customizable, easily upgradeable, and sustainable... it's not going to cost $200.00. Period. Of course, one might ask why we should make "two thousand dollar" iPods for everyone when we don't need to, and people might prefer to be able to choose where such efficiency is applied. Perhaps on a TV, or a vehicle, or... some other device. The answer is, because we can! In the Resource Based Economy, it's not about having to choose where you want efficiency and where you don't. We can produce everything efficiently because we no longer have to produce various "affordable" models, ranging from "cheap" to "expensive," and this means much less redundancy and waste. Less redundancy and waste means we have more resources available, that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill, to continue to produce things efficiently. People only need to choose a less efficient or sustainable product when they are taking their own finances into account, and the fact that purchasing an efficient iPod would mean a less efficient something else, or vice versa.

Jacob tries to argue that if we relied solely on scientific efficiency, such as the bare biological requirements for human survival, then "the computer" would produce, for example, a mostly-potato diet, and rotating bunk-beds to "efficiently" provide sleeping quarters. (Perhaps. If we were using
Windows '98 to allocate resources...) This is either a ludicrous exaggeration to make a point, meaning he doesn't actually think that, or it is a clear and dangerous sign that society has become so far detached from genuine science for social concern, that we cannot even fathom "scientific efficiency" co-existing with personal preferences. First, I need to clarify that far too much emphasis is being placed on "the central computer," as if there is only one "i-Robot" computer arbitrarily making all decisions. No. While a network of systems and various infrastructures such as the routing of energy, water, sewage, etc. would be automated, as in many ways they are now, the "central" database of information and decision-making processes is merely a tool. In terms of production and distribution, we, the members of society, are the ones inputting ideas, inventions, design improvements, requests, etc. As such, "the computer" does not just arbitrarily "decide" to produce potatoes based on biological dietary needs, simply "keeping humans alive" as if on a feeding tube. As I also mentioned in my 3rd video, which was either ignored, or completely misconstrued, we would use the scientific method to determine the most efficient way to meet peoples' needs AND PREFERENCES. The "potato and bunk-bed" example conveniently glosses over the "preferences" part of that statement. If we would like to eat certain foods (strawberries, bread, corn, fish, etc.), we can still use the scientific method to determine the most "scientifically efficient" way (vertical farm, flat farm, where to build, etc.) to produce the food(s) in question, and thus still satisfy consumer preferences "efficiently" in an economic sense. If one would like to live in a certain kind of house, or sleep in a certain kind of bed, we can use the scientific method to determine how to most efficiently produce such a house, or such a bed, and out of what materials. Bear in mind that "engineering" and "biology" are not the only fields of "science" that we have to go by. It is probably not mentally (or physically) healthy to gag on mostly potatoes and/or sleep on rotating bunk-beds like Marines in barracks with minimal comfort, privacy, etc. All of these things need to be, and would be, taken into account. The RBE is applying the scientific method for social concern, not the scientific method for "only biological survival concern." The scientific method simply helps us figure out the most optimal ways to meet individual preferences, and simultaneously helps to ensure that our survival needs are not in short or long-term jeopardy.

While Jacob does re-explain how monopolies and cartels could not form, or at least could not last, the point that is ultimately still left unaddressed is: The fact that they won't "last" does not solve the conditions endured during the time of their existence, however long that may be, which could be completely avoided in a Resource Based Economy - to which the only response still seems to be "it can't possibly last long." Thus, the fundamental difference between what Jacob advocates, and what I advocate can theoretically be summed up in just one passive statement: "Of course there will always be fly-by-night fraudsters that are more than happy to steal your money, which is why it's a good idea to only do business with reputable companies..." Since when did this become an acceptable reality? The free market apparently has all of these long and drawn out "safeguards" against abuse. Granted, there is still an incentive for abuse, but don't worry; there are safeguards. "Don't worry. Competition will be looking over each other's shoulder." "Don't worry, their incentive to generate future profits, or their fear of a class-action lawsuit, will discourage them from continuing to sell a faulty product." "Don't worry. The transportation systems could be built, maintained, and profit shared by community members to prevent price gouging." Don't worry, without governmental regulation to enforce intellectual property, someone will eventually figure out the secret to the ever-lasting gadget... eventually." Screw that. We're done with so-called safeguards. I say, instead of "competition looking over each other's shoulders," let's look out for each other from the get-go, and have each other's back, removing the need for any such safeguards, and eliminating one of the primary causes of stress and anxiety. (Funny how we do the exact opposite, and then wonder why there's so much crime and mayhem.) Instead of relying on the pursuit of profit, or one's "fear" of a class-action lawsuit, let's all do right by each other because there is no incentive to do otherwise. Instead of relying on the notion that someone will eventually "figure out" the everlasting gadget and market it, let's just share the everlasting gadget with each other to begin with, now that we have the technological ability to design an infrastructure that allows us to do so. The game was fun while it lasted, but life's too short for the burden of relying on the rules of the game, and the supposed safeguards against abuse, especially when such reliance is no longer even necessary. It's time to move on. How one cannot see the logic in voluntarily moving towards a system where one simply does not have the incentive to BE a "fly-by-night fraudster," I'll admit, is positively beyond me, short of attributing it to a fascination or "thrill" of the game itself, regardless of its consequences. I will end with a reminder that despite our fundamental disagreements, The Venus Project is not based on force or coercion, but is an open invitation for those who are ready to proactively cooperate in using the scientific method for social concern, rather than using a free enterprise system where we all compete with each other for access to the necessities of life... for social concern...? O.o

Jacob's original criticisms (Feb-Mar 2011):
Voluntaryist Thoughts on Zeitgeist Moving Forward
Why Central Planning CANNOT Work
Economics 101 for The Venus Project: Marginal Utility

My first Responses (Mar 2011):
[1.1] Response to Jacob Spinney - Zeitgeist Moving Forward
[1.2] Response to Jacob Spinney - Zeitgeist Moving Forward
[2.1] Response to Jacob Spinney - Objective Human Needs
[2.2] Response to Jacob Spinney - Objective Human Needs
[3] RBE 101 - A New Value System