[Quick Overview - This book introduces a new economic system that aims to eliminate all of the poverty, inequality, hunger, slums and so on found on Earth today. This new system is introduced as a thought experiment within the context of the million-person Mars colony recently announced by Elon Musk. This new system will radically improve the quality of life for the vast majority of humans living on planet Earth today.]
[Feedback and suggestions on any part of this book are greatly appreciated. Contact information is here.]
Creating a new economic system that benefits everyone
Elon Musk has announced his plan to send one million people to Mars to establish a huge new Mars colony (see Chapter 1 for details). And this is utterly fantastic – imagining a technological feat of this magnitude is a great thing for humanity. Musk has discussed the rockets, the capsules, the refueling systems and so on he plans to use to get a million people to Mars.
The thing that is interesting to me is the socio-economic-political system of the new Mars colony. This is the part that will really matter to the one million colonists once they arrive, because the socio-economic-political system will determine the prosperity, happiness, purpose, meaning, togetherness, etc. of the Mars colonists.
The socio-economic-political system of the Mars colony is fascinating because Mars offers a blank sheet of paper. Mars gives us the opportunity to imagine significantly improved social, economic and political systems that work well for all of the people living on Mars.
In this book, I am inviting you to think about the U.S. economy and the world economy as they stand today... and to imagine a new economy for Mars that is much, much better for everyone. Why? Because "the economy" has skewed to the point where is has become harmful/destructive to most people. In America, for example, Half of the U.S. is now poor or low income.
Through the forces of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the stagnation of rank and file wages, the U.S. economy has devolved to the point where tens of millions of working people are no longer reasonably able to support themselves in the United States. One recent article puts it this way:
The rich are money-making machines. Today, the top mega wealthy -- the top 1% -- earn an average of $1.3 million a year. It's more than three times as much as the 1980s, when the rich "only" made $428,000, on average, according to economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.
Meanwhile, the bottom 50% of the American population earned an average of $16,000 in pre-tax income in 1980. That hasn't changed in over three decades.
As if that's not depressing enough, living the American Dream is also getting harder to do. [ref]
Here is another take on the same idea:
In a 2010 report titled “Middle Class in America,” the U.S. Commerce Department defined that class less by its position on the economic scale than by its aspirations: homeownership, a car for each adult, health security, a college education for each child, retirement security, and a family vacation each year. By that standard, my wife and I do not live anywhere near a middle-class life, even though I earn what would generally be considered a middle-class income or better. A 2014 analysis by USA Today concluded that the American dream, defined by factors that generally corresponded to the Commerce Department’s middle-class benchmarks, would require an income of just more than $130,000 a year for an average family of four. Median family income in 2014 was roughly half that. [ref]
At the global level it is even worse. Eighty percent of the people on planet Earth today make less then $10 per day, or less than $3,700 per year [ref], [ref].
And then there are headlines like this one, which show that the economic system in use today has become completely unhinged:
We know that the economic systems in use today have become morally and ethically bankrupt. They are causing massive human suffering around the globe. The headlines above make this obvious. See Chapters 1, 2 and 3 of this book for many more examples.
What we need is a new way to think about "the economy" – a way that eliminates the economic desperation that has become so prevalent today. We need a new way of thinking especially because of the fresh waves of Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics that are coming our way.
How we got here, and where we are going
Consider how economies have evolved. In the 1700s, people did all of the work and all of the labor in the economy. In this era, it took hundreds of human hours to make a shirt, for example [ref] - humans planted the cotton by hand, harvested the cotton by hand, picked the seeds out of the cotton by hand, spun the cotton by hand, one thread at a time, weaved the cotton by hand... this is why it took hundreds of human hours to make a shirt. Over time, machines have taken over a lot of the work that people once did:
It now takes just a few minutes of human labor to make a shirt, because machines now plant and harvest the cotton, spin the thread and weave the cloth.
One backhoe can now do the work of hundreds of human ditch diggers.
In a car factory, robots can weld a car together, paint it and build the engine without any human workers.
And so on...
Now imagine the future, perhaps 40 years from now. Artificial intelligence, machinery and robots will continue advancing, and eventually they will do all the labor. Shirts will be completely created by robots, from planting the cotton seeds to sewing the shirts together.
Things should be getting economically better and better for every human being on the planet. With robots and machines doing more and more of the work, humans should be doing less and less, and the wealth created by machinery and robots should be spreading out to everyone.
What SHOULD our society look like with the robots doing more and more of the work? Eventally, every human being on the planet should be able to go on perpetual vacation – If "the economy" were working correctly for the global population, this is what should happen.The book Manna describes it this way:
Cynthia said, “It works like this. Let's say that you own a large piece of land. Say something the size of your state of California. This land contains natural resources. There is the sand on the beaches, from which you can make glass and silicon chips. There are iron, gold and aluminum ores in the soil, which you can mine, refine and form into any shape. There are oil and coal deposits under the ground. There is carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen in the air and in the water. If you were to own California, all of these resources are 'free.' That is, since you own them, you don't have to pay anyone for them and they are there for the taking."
"If you have a source of energy and if you also own smart robots, the robots can turn these resources into anything you want for free. Robots can grow free food for you in the soil. Robots can manufacture things like steel, glass, fiberglass insulation and so on to create free buildings. Robots can weave fabric from cotton or synthetics and make free clothing. As long as you have smart robots, along with energy and free resources, everything is free."
Linda chimed in, "This was Eric's core idea -- everything can be free in a robotic world. Then he took it one step further. He said that everything SHOULD be free. Furthermore, he believed that every human being should get an equal share of all of these free products that the robots are producing. He took the American phrase 'all men are created equal' quite literally."
I said, "That's what I wanted to ask about. If everything is free, then what's to stop me from demanding a 100,000 square foot house on a thousand acres of land and a driveway paved in gold bricks? It makes no sense, because obviously everyone cannot demand that from the robots. And how can anything be free? That is hard to believe in the first place."
"Everything is free AND everyone is equal." Linda said. "You, Jacob, get equal access to the free resources, and so does everyone else. That's done through a system of credits. You get a thousand credits every week and you can spend them in any way you like. So does everyone else. This catalog is designed to give you a taste of what you can buy with your credits. This is a small subset of the full catalog you will use once you arrive. You simply ask for something, the robots deliver it, and your account gets debited."
"Let me show you." said Cynthia. She opened her catalog to a page, and pointed to one of the pictures. It was clothing. "This is what I am wearing." she said. "See - it is 6 credits. In a typical week I only spend about 70 or so credits on clothes. That's why I like to wear something new every day."
"The robots did manufacture Cynthia's outfit for free. They took resources, added energy and robotic labor and created what she is wearing. It cost nothing to make it. She paid credits simply to keep track of how many resources she is using." [ref]
This is so easy to understand, and so simple – it is completely obvious that society should work this way as robots take over all of the work in society. We are headed toward a future where Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics do all of the work that human beings are doing today. Factories will be completely automated, and so will farms, retail stores, restaurants, etc. Even doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists will be automated out of their positions. It is inevitable (see this set of links to understand how quickly the future is approaching). In this inevitable future, there should be no “rich people” or “poor people” – everyone should be equal, the robots will produce everything, and everyone should get equal access to the bounty of goods that the robots produce.
Imagining a future that is much, much better for everyone
We are not yet at the point where the robots have completely taken over all of the human labor in the economy, and can produce everything for free. And here we can see the huge problem. We can see that the economic trajectory is way off course. Right now we are in the middle of the transition to robotic freedom – many things are automated, but many things still need people to move them along. We can witness this problem ourselves today by walking into any store, coffee shop or restaurant. These businesses could not exist without people filling in the jobs that are not yet automated, the jobs that still need to be done by humans to keep these businesses operating. The problem is, the people who are filling these jobs are being economically crushed.
So how do we organize an economy that is waiting for complete automation, and perpetual vacation for all humans, to arrive? And how do we do it in a way that is fair and equitable to everyone living in the society, so that everyone shares equally in the prosperity we have now, and the amazing prosperity that is coming? This is the point of the book you are reading today. This book demonstrates three things that are essential to create an equitable economy:
There must be no way for a person to concentrate wealth, eliminating the rampant inequality that is so common today.
The economic benefits of automation and robots must spread out to everyone in society.
The number of hours that people need to work should be diminishing as more and more automation and machinery keeps eliminating jobs. This book starts with a 4-day work week (i.e. 14 weeks of paid time off per year), and from there society will move to a 3-day workweek, then 2 days, then 1. See Chapter 10 for details.
Eventually, humans will not need to work at all, because everything becomes automated and everyone in society benefits equally from this automation in the best way possible.
I read a headline the other day that said, “Capitalism is collapsing, and the weird thing is that nothing is arising to replace it.” The economic system described in this book is a proposed replacement that would be better for everyone. Today's economic systems are making more than half of the people in America miserable right now (and billions more people around the world live in unimaginable misery by comparison). It is not difficult to imagine something better, and it is not difficult to imagine what the parameters of “better” would be. Think about lifting all 7 billion people on the planet up to a decent standard of living. What do people need?
Everyone needs high quality, healthy food
Everyone needs high quality, safe, secure housing, with furniture and appliances to match
Everyone needs high quality health care, and improving treatments for sickness, injury and disease.
Everyone needs high quality clothing
Everyone needs access to high quality education
Everyone needs access to high quality transportation
Everyone needs clean water and sanitation services
Everyone needs 24x7 electricity and Internet access
Everyone needs a computer and a smart phone to access the Internet
Everyone needs these things in a way that is sustainable, so that we do not destroy the planet we live on.
Everyone needs these things – this is obvious. And at the same time:
Nobody needs corrupt governments, dictatorships, executives and elites creating economic systems that deny people access to these necessities and steal resources from the citizens.
Nobody needs greedy industrialists and executives sucking off huge profits at the expense of everyone else.
Nobody needs to be forced by economic necessity into miserable, low-paying jobs while an elite few are taking millions or billions of dollars for themselves.
The idea that a single human being should make millions or billions of dollars per year is completely absurd. Let's state this, understand it, and then eliminate the possibility of it happening from the world's economic systems.
Why don't we create an economy where everyone on Earth is able to prosper, rather than to suffer? In addition, why not design this new economy so that it works seamlessly with the coming waves of Artificial Intelligence, automation and robotics – so that these waves make life better for everyone, rather than worse? The purpose of this book is to answer these questions in the context of Elon Musk's proposed million-person Mars colony, and to design a new economic system that is better for everyone.