Post Scarcity Civilisations
If resources were unlimited, everything would be free. Cars would be free just as gumballs would be free. And because everything is free, then NOTHING would have value. There would be no prices. Just “stuff.”
What Is A Post Scarcity Society?
“Post Scarcity” is basically a utopian ideal of economists. It means everything is free because things are no longer scarce. Matter of fact the entire study of economics would be unnecessary in a world where resources were unlimitedly plentiful and not scarce. But to really wrap your brain around the concept of “post scarcity” you have to understand what it really means.
You can kind of imagine this if you’ve ever seen Star Trek where they have the replicator. As a child you might say, “Well I’d replicate a ton of diamonds and be rich!” But the problem is there is no “rich” or “poor” in a post-scarcity economy. The diamonds have no value because they can be replicated ad-infinitum, just like everything else. Again, NOTHING would have value, NOTHING would have a price. Matter of fact in a TRULY 100% post scarcity economy, you wouldn’t even have money, because, what would you buy? Everything is free. 1
This episode examines the concept of a civilisations and economies in which very little scarcity exists and in which production of goods requires so little labor that most basic needs can be met at little or no cost.
Scarcity refers to the basic economic problem, the gap between limited – that is, scarce – resources and theoretically limitless wants. This situation requires people to make decisions about how to allocate resources efficiently, in order to satisfy basic needs and as many additional wants at possible. Any resource that has a non-zero cost to consume is scarce to some degree, but what matters in practice is relative scarcity.
In a hypothetical world in which every resource—water, hand soap, expert translations of Hittite inscriptions, enriched uranium, organic bok choy, time—was abundant, economists would have nothing to study. There would be no need to make decisions about how to allocate resources, and no tradeoffs to explore and quantify. In the real world, on the other hand, everything costs something; in other words, every resource is to some degree scarce.
Money and time are quintessentially scarce resources. Most people have too little of one, the other, or both. An unemployed person may have an abundance of time, but find it hard to pay rent. A hotshot executive, on the other hand, may be financially capable of retiring on a whim, yet be forced to eat ten minute lunches and sleep four hours a night. A third category has little time or money. People with abundant money and abundant time are seldom observed in the wild.
Even resources that we consider infinitely abundant, and which are free in dollar terms, are scarce in some sense. This is another way of stating the maxim, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Take air, for example. From an individual’s perspective, breathing is completely free. Yet there are a number of costs associated with the activity.
It requires breathable air, which has become increasingly difficult to take for granted since the industrial revolution. In a number of cities today, poor air quality has been associated with high rates of disease and death. In order to avoid these costly affairs and assure that citizens can breathe safely, governments must invest in methods of power generation that do not create harmful emissions.
These may be more expensive than dirtier methods, but even if they are not, they require massive capital expenditures. These costs fall on the citizens in one way or another. Breathing freely, in other words, is not free.2
Murray Bookchin And Post-affluence
Bookchin’s central argument runs as follows. The last three decades, and especially the late 1950s, mark a technological turning point that negates all values and social programs of previous history, by making possible an era at once materially abundant and virtually free from toil. Young people, realising this, have begun to adopt a whole new lifestyle, eliminating all the repressive attitudes and hierarchical institutions previously necessitated by scarcity and the need to work.
A new vision of what society could be like is making the toil and renunciation of present-day society increasingly intolerable to people of every class, especially the young. Riots, crime, and other forms of rebellion by the declasses who intuitively reject the values, forms, aspirations, and institutions of the established order become chronic. Simultaneously, the destruction of the natural environment by a hierarchical society threatens to destroy the entire “biotic pyramid” on which human life depends.
Bookchin looks to a massive popular revolution, somewhat like an extended version of the French upheaval of May, 1968, to emerge from these contradictions. Neighbourhood assemblies, stimulated by dropout youth, would thereupon take over direction of society on a decentralised basis. People would leave the cities and factories to found autonomous, face-to-face communities in the countryside, which would become the new unit of society.
They would be carefully adapted to the local ecology, and would utilise new, small-scale automated technology to provide for the needs of the community while eliminating toil. Human beings in the process would not only become free, but would become rounded members of a rounded society, fulfilling their desires in all realms of life.
Bookchin’s argument superimposes a revolutionary dialectic on a number of themes that were “in the air” during the 1960s. These ideas were reflected in many of the bestsellers of the period. The idea that we live for the first time in a society where the problem of material scarcity has been largely overcome was popularised in J.K. Galbraith’s The Affluent Society.
The idea that in response, youth have developed a new lifestyle that is completely transforming society received wide circulation in Charles Reich’s The Greening of America. The threat of ecological disaster has been increasingly borne in upon public consciousness since the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Post-Scarcity Anarchism is an attempt to integrate this matrix of ideas into the tradition of left-wing anarchism.3
Social Inequality: Why does inequality exist in society?
Social inequality refers to relational processes in society that have the effect of limiting or harming a group’s social status, social class, and social circle.
Areas of social inequality include access to voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, the extent of property rights and access to education, health care, quality housing, traveling, transportation, vacationing and other social goods and services.
Apart from that it can also be seen in the quality of family and neighbourhood life, occupation, job satisfaction, and access to credit.
If these economic divisions harden, they can lead to social inequality. The reasons for social inequality can vary, but are often broad and far reaching. Social inequality can emerge through a society’s understanding of appropriate gender roles, or through the prevalence of social stereotyping.
Social inequality can also be established through discriminatory legislation. Social inequalities exist between ethnic or religious groups, classes and countries making the concept of social inequality a global phenomenon. Social inequality is different from economic inequality, though the two are linked.
Social inequality refers to disparities in the distribution of economic assets and income as well as between the overall quality and luxury of each person’s existence within a society, while economic inequality is caused by the unequal accumulation of wealth; social inequality exists because the lack of wealth in certain areas prohibits these people from obtaining the same housing, health care, etc. as the wealthy, in societies where access to these social goods depends on wealth.
Social inequality is linked to racial inequality, gender inequality, and wealth inequality.4
Is Post Scarcity Possible?
Post scarcity or post-scarcity describes a hypothetical form of economy or society, often explored in science fiction, in which things such as goods, services and information are free, or practically free. This would be due to an abundance of fundamental resources (matter, energy and intelligence), in conjunction with sophisticated automated systems capable of converting raw materials into finished goods, allowing manufacturing to be as easy as duplicating software.
Even without postulating new technologies, it is conceivable that already there exists enough energy, raw materials and biological resources to provide a comfortable lifestyle for every person on Earth. However even a hypothetical political or economic system able to achieve an egalitarian distribution of goods would generally not be termed a “post-scarcity society” unless the production of goods was sufficiently automated that virtually no labour was required by anyone. (It is usually assumed there would still be plenty of voluntary creative labour, such as a writer creating a novel or a software engineer working on open-source software.)
There are some exceptions to this usage of the term. Anthony Giddens, for instance, uses “post-scarcity” to refer to a set of trends he sees in modern industrialised nations, such as an increased focus on “life politics” and a decreased focus on productivity and economic growth. Giddens acknowledges that the term has also been used historically to mean a literal end of scarcity.
The term post-scarcity economics is somewhat of a misnomer because scarcity is a defining feature of modern economics. Quoting a 1932 essay written by Lionel Robbins, economics is: “the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.5
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