Monday, 22 June 2009

Outline

Angel Economics is an alternative economic system. It is a model of how the basic elements that make up what we call 'the economy' could be arranged.

It is defined by six basic features. It is: open, participatory, democratic, non-monetary, free, and multiform. These features designate its fundamental institutions; this outline describes them. It also describes three significant characteristics (there will be many others) of Angel Economics – technological sophistication, a two-hour work day, and its civilized character – which would naturally result from those institutions.

Angel Economics is intended as an alternative to the economic system that prevails over most of the globe today – capitalism. From a multitude of perspectives, that system does not work. It is unjust, wasteful, unproductive, and primitive; it twists human beings, poisons the natural world and dismantles noble values. It is a monster.

Bringing about Angel Economics, or any other similar alternative system, would be an historic human achievement. Like other redefining transitions in our species, from coming out of the trees to landing on the moon, it would represent our becoming something greater, higher.

How to do so is another question (explored elsewhere). But ends obviously precede means. Angel Economics is a contribution to a debate about what those ends should be.

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The six defining features are discussed in outline below, followed by the three significant derivative characteristics. Here, they are introduced via contrast with today's economy. Elsewhere on this blog, they are each explored in more detail.

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1. Open - The first feature of Angel Economics is that everything is open to everybody.

In today's economy, most things are closed. Indeed this is a constitutive feature of the system. But there are a few different ways of being 'closed'.

1. One is to be privately owned. This is a legal status something has, giving the owner (and nobody else) control over the thing. The actual way in which other people are 'closed out' depends on the thing. In the case of private homes and other private premises, for example, other people are physically closed out by walls, fences and locks, and if they overstep those boundaries without the permission of the owner they break the law. In the case of a business, non-owners are closed out in a different way. Namely, they have no control over its activities, no right to its profits etc. Ownership over a text or a piece of computer code closes out others in another way again, this time by 'closing off' certain uses (copying etc).

In our economic system today, most things are privately owned. Even central national institutions like railways, power stations, water treatment plants and hospitals, which everybody uses and therefore has a stake in, are owned by a small group of individuals, with nobody else having any say in what is done with them.

2. A second way of things being closed, relates to knowledge. Most realms of knowledge, especially the more important, are available only to a very small group. Although theoretically every person has access to the entire universe of learning, practically, the situation is little different from one where information is under tight access restrictions.

Academic research, for example, is effectively closed to most people, because they do not have the necessary grounding education that would allow them to make sense of it. True, everyone is free to visit a bookshop and buy Bioinformatics: Sequence and Genome analysis, or Onto-Ethologies: The Animal Environments of Uexküll, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze. But of course practically this means very little, because people simply do not have the time needed to devote to understanding large and complex disciplines, when four fifths of their time is spent merely doing what is necessary to survive.

What applies to academic research also applies to many other areas of knowledge. The law, the political process, and of most of the activity that comprises the running of the country; personal health and what is necessary to maintain it; the arts and higher levels of culture; practical matters, from how to build, to how to cook, to how to educate a child. Most people know almost nothing about any of these areas, and as a result they have no door into the worlds that they define.

3. Another way closure occurs is through money. Because ours is a money economy, access to almost everything depends on payment. Since most people have very little money, naturally they are extremely restricted in what they can buy.

This form of closure affects an enormous variety of phenomena – objects, experiences, places, lifestyles, opportunities. And so it restricts the majority of people to an extremely cramped, circumscribed life-space.

4. A fourth system by which regions of society are closed is institutional. Society includes a large cluster of institutions, most of which have strict rules of admittance that close out most people. Professions – lawyers, doctors, architects – require long periods of education and many rounds of tests before entry to them is granted. Political institutions – councils, national government and the civil service, supra-national governmental institutions, etc – while technically open to anybody wishing to stand for election, in actual fact are closed to everyone not wired in to complex networks of power and influence. Educational institutions have entry-grade requirements; most jobs have precise and extensive previous experience requirements; all nations have citizenship requirements. And so on.

Now clearly in some cases, having boundaries that exclude people lacking training or experience is very sensible. Nobody would want to be treated by an amateur heart surgeon, flown by an amateur pilot, or live next to a nuclear reactor staffed by amateur operatives.

However, limitations on access go far beyond what is strictly necessary. (The criteria specified in non-specialist job openings, for example, are often ridiculously precise, and reflect the employer's desire to save money on training rather than any difficulty of the role). Further, in many cases the regimes regulating who can belong to an institution, which look well-motivated on first glance, in actual fact have very little justification or are based on deeper, much more dubious circumstances. (For example, having trained doctors, and rigorous paths of entry to the profession looks plainly sensible. But doctors are in large part only needed because of the medical ignorance of the majority of the population, and that is an ignorance that has been 'created' by, among many other things, the all-consuming work life most people are forced to lead). And even where it makes sense to impose exacting conditions on who can qualify for a certain position, this does not mean that the opportunity to attempt to attain those qualifications should be made difficult, as at present (for example, although it is right that becoming a civil engineer requires full accreditation, the fact that training to acquire it is beyond the means of most people has no good rationale)

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When all these are added together, it becomes apparent that the economic lives of most people under the present system are incredibly restricted. We are “free” societies only in the most formal sense. In reality, a long series of virtual walls force the bulk of the population into a wasteland, looking over the barriers toward the color and light.

Under Angel Economics, by contrast, everything is open. This basic character translates into different concrete practices in each area.

1. First, there is no private property. Large national utilities and other enterprises, land, natural resources, knowledge, industrial equipment – none of this is privately owned by an individual or group, nor is it owned by the State 'on behalf' of the population. It is owned by everybody, which is equivalent to saying that it is owned by nobody. More simply still, the institution of private property does not exist.

Now there will be some replacement rules to ensure, for example, that if I have lived in a certain place for many years, I cannot simply be thrown out by someone who has taken a liking to it. Similarly, an industrial concern that uses a set of buildings, machinery and resources, will have rights of disposal over them that can't merely be overridden by the whim of some distant claimant. However, these rules and rights will function quite differently from the institution of private property, and are always oriented towards openness. For example, all those in any way 'involved in' a factory – its workers, those supplying it resources, those using its products, those living nearby etc - will have a say over what it does, in proportion to the degree of involvement they have. So one might say that instead of walls, AE has contours. Moreover, they are contours defined by everybody democratically.

2. Second, the knowledge-environment is also far more open. To begin with, basic education delivers a far higher and broader level of knowledge than at present (because more time is available to devote to it, because there is a generally higher level of culture, because educational techniques are much improved, because many of the impediments to good education have been removed, and so on – see sections below).

Further, under AE people do whatever work they wish (see 'Free' section), so in all likelihood they will typically choose to work at a number of different jobs, in each one undertaking tasks that are stimulating and stretching, as opposed to routine and stupifying. For obvious reasons this kind of daily experience massively affects somebody's level of education and knowledge, so it is a big contributor to why individuals under AE are well-informed and capable.

There will also be a great deal more time (see 'Two-hour work day' section), for people to be able to devote to pursuing their interests, and, matching this, the institutional means to cater to them (adult education centers, training schemes, easy access schemes to different jobs, and so on).

As a whole, then, individuals generally have a high level of learning, and easy opportunity and ability to pursue inquiry into areas they do not know well. The world to them is well-lit and written in simple words.

Of course, experts, specialists, and people with long experience of particular trades all still exist, since this is necessary for anything to be executed to a professional standard, or for progress to be made in a discipline. And so there are also still very large differences in what people know, and conversely a great deal that each person does not know. What AE does, though, is simply to get rid of the economic features that produce cognitive disability, and hence insuperable boundaries to exploration.

3. Under AE there is no money, (see 'Non-monetary' section) so this huge source of boundaries on what people can do, does not exist. People are free to take whatever they need (see 'Free' section). For most people, this one step would open up their life-possibilities immeasurably.

4. AE has institutions through which people collect together to get things done, just like today – educational institutions, work institutions, government institutions, and so on.

The general rule governing these institutions is openness. So, all institutions are open to all at all times, unless there is a good reason for access to be restricted in some way. In practice, there will be restrictions on quite a few institutions, but just insofar as these serve to define their function, and only ever as a result of general agreement.

For example, an educational institution might restrict who can enter it based on what type of people it has been set up to teach. A class for young children would probably be closed to older adults (should they want to enter, for any reason) if it is felt that this is disruptive to their learning. Workplaces might restrict who can wander unannounced around their premises for similar reasons. These are very obvious, 'low level' restrictions.

Similarly obvious are what one might call 'quality' restrictions. As mentioned above, there are many jobs that are skilled, where an amateur performing them would be dangerous (an astronaut) or useless (a programmer). The training necessary for them functions in practice like a restriction, and this still exists under AE. But by contrast to today, the opportunity to undertake this training is freely available to everyone at all times, in a real way. So this is less of a wall, and more of a slope.

The basic rules and practices that define how institutions work will also function as 'restrictions' – in assessing students a teacher can't just fail anyone he doesn't like; when compiling a workplace newsletter, all departments should be given some coverage; when manufacturing ball-bearings, margins of error no more than a certain amount are acceptable. And so in some respects AE's institutions will end up looking similar to today's.

But these are the minimum necessary rules for things to work. The alternative – no rules, and therefore no institutions, strictly speaking – would actually create more barriers, because of the resulting sheer difficulty of getting things done.

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This openness would give life under AE a completely different feel. The general world around would offer the same sense of possibilities that now exists only in people's personal space (and even there it has long since been shut down for many). Where, today, a convivial atmosphere between strangers is only ever an exceptional event – at times of natural disaster, say, or at festivals – it would be part of the everyday character of existence under AE.


2. Participatory AE is universally participatory.

Because everything is open, and you are the owner of everything, you are naturally free to participate in anything.

At present most important institutions are run by a very small number of people, with the vast majority excluded from participating. Large companies, for example, might be run by ten or so managers, while their tens of thousands employees merely do what they are told. Nations are governed by an often tiny number of politicians, while the only participation that most citizens enjoy is a single vote every four or five years.

But more generally, people do not participate a great deal in the social world around them. Few people, for example, who buy a car participate in its design. Residents in an area rarely participate in its running, administration, upkeep, and beautification. The shopkeeper feels she has no business participating in the publishing company down the road; the bin-man doesn't participate when the local delicatessen chooses its stock.

The reasons for this have to do with the private basis of today's economy; the fact that most people simply have little time outside of work hours to engage in anything other than resting and enjoying themselves; the fact that power has far too extensive a reign over social life; and the more general 'closed' atmosphere that these and other features create.

Since none of these things obtain under AE, the natural inclination of people to participate in what is near, important and interesting to them will flower fully.

To give more detail, one can expect, for example, that all those who devote time to working in a particular institution will participate in running it. Beyond that, all those affected by, or interested in an institution, could also participate in its management. For example, the residents around a slate mine would presumably have a lot of input into its operations simply to ensure that the character of their local environment is well preserved. People acquiring clothes might feel inclined to participate in their design or manufacture. Any enthusiast might participate in archaeological excavations, or indeed any other scientific inquiry being undertaken by a group of people. Citizens would certainly participate in their local and national government (see 'Democratic' section).

The whole atmosphere of AE, then, would be of a busy and healthy involvement of people in the institutions of their society and locale. Where today people's lives are tightly zipped into their job, family, and a few interests, under AE everyone has the natural presumption that whatever they come across, or whatever takes their interest, is open to them. There is an ethos of collaboration.

There will be some limits to participation, for the most part identical to the limits to openness and with the same rationale. For example, suppose a group of people are collaborating together in the production of a documentary, with the work in its final stages of editing. If out of the blue, a stranger were to decide to declare their dislike of what has been done so far, and demand it to be started from scratch, this would clearly not be fair.

Fair rules of participation, though, would not be difficult to formulate, and as in the case of openness, this could be done democratically.


3. Democratic There is democracy in all areas of life.

At present, the only important institutions that are run democratically are national political institutions, and they are democratic in so impoverished a sense that it corrupts the concept.

Under AE, all areas of life are governed by democratic rules. This is necessary and inevitable because, since everything is open to everybody and everyone is free to participate in everything, the only fair way to decide what actually gets done is via democratic procedures, i.e. with all the participating individuals having an equal say.

There are a number of ways of being 'democratic', and different practical arrangements would be appropriate to different circumstances. For example, in a small design company of under 10 people, running matters 'democratically' might mean that all of the workers involved have an active part in the meetings that decide what projects it is going to pursue. Everybody is given the same opportunity to voice their judgment, the opinions are all given fair weight, and the final decision is arrived at through general consensual agreement. On the other hand, suppose a neighborhood is deciding whether it would like to open an area of land to communal gardens. The affected locale might contain many thousands of people, making a discussion in which every person voiced their opinion unfeasible, and consensus improbable. Instead, an arrangement might be followed whereby through a range of public meetings, small discussion groups, and intranet chat, all residents contributed to a brainstorming session, coming up with ideas about what to do. A special, dedicated group then formulate a range of several options that capture the different ideas. Finally a vote is taken, and the successful plan is followed. So though the concrete forms might change in different circumstances, the basic ethos of 'fairness' and of everyone having an equal say is what provides the common thread between the different implementations of democracy.

In some cases, everyone having a strictly equal say would not be fair. If, for example, an ice-cream company were deciding what flavors to produce, then, other than the workers themselves, you might expect some influence to be given to those who eat the ice-creams, those who supply the ingredients that make up the flavorings (since it will involve their work), and other people in the vicinity who are making ice creams or similar products (because it may affect what they are doing). All would have some say, but maybe not exactly the same say. Some people would be more affected by the decision than others, so some kind of weighting would be appropriate.

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In many areas of life it will be sufficient merely to let people participate in, and have a say over, those things they happen to be concerned about or involved in; i.e. participation here is a matter of inclination. There are some areas, though, which are so important that everybody should be required to participate in them. These areas consist of the matters which everybody is substantially affected by, whether or not they are aware of it. The matters included in this category would broadly be what today is taken by most to be the domain of “politics”. Such things as basic laws, the allocation of resources to different parts of the economy, decisions about how large areas of land are going to be used, big infrastructural projects, how people are educated, how the sick are treated, and so on. Of course, it is not that there is some external State or government somewhere that tells people they must participate. Rather, everyone decides on the principle that some areas are such that, if a person hasn't been involved in formulating policy about them, they can't really be said to be in control of their own life. So everyone agrees to make such participation obligatory.

In some cases (for example a proposal to construct a large reef of wave turbines, requiring millions of hours of labor and resources and potentially causing significant disruption to marine life and coastal inhabitants) the constituency of people that is significantly affected and who therefore should participate in deciding the question, may be: all those within a fairly large geographical area of the project whose labor and resources would be occupied in it (and hence not available for other potential uses); all those near the area whose lives stand to be disrupted; all those concerned with the effect upon marine life; all those groups of people, potentially anywhere in the world, who might be called upon to supply resources to the project (because their labor would be required) and also those whose lives are connected with those suppliers in some way (since, as before, labor devoted to this project is not available for other potential uses), and so on. (While strictly true that, if the chains of people affected by people affected...by people involved, were followed through to their end, then everybody would have to take part in every decision the world over; still, obviously at each degree of removal, the level of affectedness drops. Since the time available to devote to such issues is not infinite, it is the relatively more important issues that people participate in). Adding together all these various constituencies yields a group of participants probably numbering several million, possibly hundreds of millions. How would this work?

Today, the solution to the problem of how large numbers of people can make a decision is to use representation. But the parliaments of today demonstrate that it does not really work. In fact, there are many possible mechanisms by which millions of people might directly participate in coming to a decision on such an issue. One such is the following. The process is split up into two stages, a contributions- or brainstorming stage, and a decision- or voting stage. In the first stage, everybody offers their ideas, objections, proposals and alternatives, and generally discusses the issue. This can be done in electronic forums, face-to-face meetings, in publications and via other media.

Now, many ideas will overlap or coincide, some will be directly opposed to one-another, some will refine earlier suggestions, and so on, so that one can expect that all the expressed positions would be represented by, say, six or seven different concrete policy plans. The voting stage then occurs, through which one of these is chosen. Numerous modifications of this basic process are imaginable.

As well as variation in status, affected constituency and decision-procedure, there are also a great variety of levels at which collective decisions would have to be made, depending on the issue at hand. Some would have to be taken at a world level (i.e. with everyone participating), some at a regional level, some at a local level. Many would involve constituencies that are better specified in non-geographical terms: age-groups, industry sectors, medical condition sufferers, professional groups, supply-chains and so on.

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When added together, obviously the number of different forums/votes a typical person would be involved in is considerable, and the overall atmosphere of AE would be lively and stimulating. Because everyone would be a daily participant in many complex issues, and hence have a high level of public knowledge, the character of debate would be far more like that of a scientific journal than that of today's idiotic radio phone-ins and childish public chat-shows.

Most of all, general democracy simply gives people their proper dignity. It should be a scandal that 99% of adults have no say over the basic facts that determine their lives. AE simply puts this right.


4. Non-monetary. AE does not use money.

Money is among the most obvious and taken-for-granted features of nearly every economy on earth today. It performs a number of different economics functions, and AE replaces each of these with systems that work without the distortions that money brings about.

As far as most individuals are concerned, money is what enforces limits on consumption - it plays the role of an allowance. It also serves to tie consumption closely to work - roughly, how much you work and the kind of work it is, determines how much, and what, you can consume.

In AE by direct contrast, people acquire and use whatever they wish, in whatever quantity they like. Everything is free. And so there is also no link between the amount, level, or type of work performed, and the volume of consumption. Working less, or in a more humble role, doesn't entitle you to any fewer goods. Where the general maxim of today's economy might be “Only take as much as you give” (at least in theory, since there are many who take a lot and give little), that of AE is that you contribute what you can, and take what you need.

Another function of money is to provide a measure of the value of different items and activities, allowing them to be compared in this respect. Thus, a chocolate bar has a roughly similar value to a newspaper, and about 100th of the value of a room in a cheap hotel. An hour's time consulting a medical specialist is worth about the same as a newborn puppy, or as ten novels. And so on.

Since there is no money in AE, equivalences of this kind are not possible. Although this seems as though it would be completely disabling for an economy, one of the reasons for abandoning money in the new system is the idea that measuring and equating totally different things in this manner is not in fact sensible.

Things are simply not commensurable in the way that the use of money implies. It makes no sense to turn the labor of a cobbler into a number, then equate it with the number representing the labor of the journalist. They are too different. It makes no sense to assign a number to a dressing-gown and on that basis say that it is equal to a tree, or a seat at a music concert. Again, there is nothing common to them which can serve for comparison, much less a 'unit' that can form the basis of arithmetic. This foundational irrationality is the starting-point for a whole slew of further absurdities involving money (which it is superfluous to list because they are well-known). It is further true that this practice of unnaturally quantifying things is insidious, and seeps into all other areas of life. Learning or knowledge is rated quantitatively (as a test score); all manner of things, from attractiveness, to cars to music are related ordinally (meaning they are ranked); statistics are used well beyond what is sensible.

The ostensible function of money-values in our system is that they allow economic decisions to be made - such as a car manufacturer deciding to use a lower grade of rubber in its tires to lessen the cost of the final product, a government deciding what proportion of its overall budget to allocate to healthcare spending, or a software company calculating that it must sell x units of its latest data-mining program in order to recoup the money invested in its development.

AE replaces this function of money – the accounting function - with a combination of: a) the use of the natural units and measures, in each case appropriate to the specific product or industry in question (i.e. gallons of oil, lines of code, area of woodland, hours of clinical attention, etc, or composites like units of bicycles or arts programs) with no single overarching measure; b) democratic structures of communication involving all the groups and agents participating in or affected by a particular line of activity, to yield production plans, investment priorities, job lists, research guidelines etc, i.e. particular project strategies; c) information-gathering agencies, belonging to each sector (and sub-sector and sub-sub-sector) and level of the economy, which study the activity of each area and provide the data necessary for 'b)' to occur; and d) individuals using the information provided by 'c)' to make judgments about the right economic course of action.

The information agencies provide data on resources – everything from milk-cow herd numbers, to square meters of available carpets of different kinds, to tonnes of prospective- and already-refined copper; likewise for labor – the numbers of people practicing dentistry, carpentry, research on 18th century German poetry, midwifery and so on. Information is also provided on other significant economic matters: the level of demand for each item or service – both at global, regional, and other geographic levels, and as split up between different industry sectors or uses – would be important, for example. Higher-level trends and patterns, further breakdowns of groups of users for particular services and so on, would also be very useful.

This data is what would then be used, by democratic structures, to make economic decisions. Suppose, for example, that a region learns that it is not producing enough eggs: a variety of sources – bakers, restaurants, confectioners – are reporting that ideally they would use more, if available. A number of scenarios are then imaginable. One is that the region's farms simply decide to produce more. In another, the farms advise that increasing production will require diverting resources from other lines, and so a further process occurs considering these changes and their ramifications on other industries. In another, the request might prompt the farms to state that current levels of egg production are unsustainable, and that consumption patterns need to be looked at.

In each case, the channels of communication would differ.

In the first, information merely goes from the information agency to, say, the regional farm body, and from there to individual farms.

The second case is a lot more complex since farms send back information to the agency, and this then initiates multiple further lines of communication to other industries and workplaces, many of which will probably send back information regarding consequences of changes they might have to make, and so on. This kind of circulation of information would simply form part of the daily patter of AE's economic coordination, much of which would not get beyond the realm of workplaces communicating with each other, and with information agencies, in the service of planning their activities. However, if the potential alteration of production schedules were sufficiently large for a sufficiently large number of other industries (which it would probably not be, in this case of a fairly small change in egg demand, but might be if, say, a sudden large drop in output was prompted by a widespread chicken virus) the matter would come up in the regional budget forum, participated in by everyone within that region. There – after processes of consideration described in the 'Democratic' section – a decision would be come to about the new shape of production.

In the third case, the farm might initiate a discussion within a regional forum directly. Or – like today – the matter might be thought to have deeper roots, and a process of discussion through various media might be begun.

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A further function of money, or rather of the pattern of its flow, is the provision of information, which allows the co-ordination of the behavior of isolated economic agents. The classic example is where the price of something rises because the demand for it exceeds the supply, which then 'sends a signal' that more of the thing is needed. Although far more complex and sophisticated processes occur in the real world, the role that changing prices play in them is essentially the same.

Other than the various absurdities, bubbles, miscalculations, delayed responses, instances of price-rigging and so on, to which this system gives rise, the great problem is that it is one-dimensional: its 'language' is quantity, so it can only 'say' “up” or “down”. In other words it allows no precision; it communicates poorly, just as would human beings if all they were able to signal were 'stop' and 'go'. But of course humans have a far better system of communication available, namely natural language.

So the three elements outlined above replace this function of money. This means that, in the new system, economic decision are taken directly, rather than indirectly (through planning what is to be done by talking to one-another, rather than via the interpretation of the fluctuations of prices) and collectively rather than individually (participating agents communicate with each other and co-ordinate their behavior, rather than reacting, at second hand, to the effects of the actions of each other).

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Its worth noting a point about the general character of people's behavior. Although everything is free in AE, people do not for that reason go out and grab as much as they can, always choosing the most highly-produced, expensive (in labor- and resource terms) version of anything they acquire. This is simply not an impulse engendered in people by the type of society that AE would be likely to bring about. Instead, people as a general rule acquire and use what they need (which does not rule out extravagance, just mindless acquisitiveness).

The same applies to workplaces. In most cases, there are many ways of doing the same job, or producing the same product, some requiring more resources, or more scarce- or high-quality resources than others. (A table can be made from mahogany and be hand-carved, or from pine and be machine-cut). It will be a virtue of work practice, and indeed in most cases a specific job or task, to be able to select the most appropriate resources, requiring just the right level of resource- and labor-expense, not more nor less.

Now, in order for either individuals or workplaces to be able to act in this way, they have to be able to compare the different options available to them. Today, this is done via prices – a person is able to select among a series of numbers. These numbers (in theory) aggregate all the resources and labor that have been expended in the production of the item, so (in theory) when a person selects a particular option they are making a judgment about the appropriate level of these things, for their purposes.

Since under AE there is no money, this is not possible. What is available instead - provided by the information agencies - is an array that specifies, in the natural units appropriate to each, the ingredient resource-elements and labor processes involved in the production of some thing. Working with these arrays is a specialist skill or task. Just as today within businesses, 'procurement' for each input the business uses – labor and all the various resources – is the job of specialists who 'know the market' for each of these constituent products, so also under AE.

For example, suppose that a mountain-bike manufacturer is selecting the material from which the bike's frame is going to be constructed. There are many possible materials – steel, aluminium, special alloys, carbon-fiber, special plastics, materials derived from organic matter, and more – that meet the intended performance- and design criteria, and so other considerations motivate which is chosen. Today, all else being equal, the one with the lowest number (i.e. the lowest price) would be purchased. Under AE, the mountain-bike manufacturers would turn to someone (or a group of people) familiar with these materials from an economic point of view. That familiarity means that they know the array of labor and resources necessary for the production of each material, and the wider economic situation relating to them.

The 'array' means all the labor and resources that go into producing the material, from the number of hours spent mining the iron necessary for the steel, to the research work involved in the fabrication of the special plastics, to the land used up in growing the plants used for the organic-derived materials. It is an “array” because it collects together a long list of factors, probably ordered according to importance. There is no common factor among all the elements of the array that would allow it to be reduced to a single number, and indeed, many of the elements of the array (such as for example the difficulty of mining work) would not be quantitative values at all.

The “wider economic situation” means for example the other claims for the use of particular resources and whether they are more urgent or deserving, whether there are expressed desires by workers to limit the use of a particular resource because it involves unpleasant labor, the polluting and recycling potential of it, and so on. It is on the basis of all these considerations that a judgment is made.

Of course, this materials expert is themselves going to be relying upon the judgments of many thousands of other experts, each of who will have assessed the arrays of economic data relating to all the inputs to the processes involved in the production of these materials (the rubber used in the tires of mining vehicles; the computing-time used in the analysis of the subatomic properties of the special alloys during their development).

These judgments are the foundation stones of Angel Economics. They are what its 'system' most basically consists of: interlinking chains and webs of considered judgments, some made by experts, many made through democratic forums.

In the case of individuals acquiring items for their own use, the person with the knowledge and experience necessary to make the judgments, or at least outline the necessary considerations, is (what we would today call) the retailer. In the case of democratic forums such as, say, local budget meetings, the judgments of many experts from a whole number of different walks of life will need to be consulted and pooled into the debate.

The individuals do not always have to be present in person, of course, nor come up with fresh decisions for each individual case. They can issue guidelines, which effectively condense the information contained in the arrays into a size and format that is accessible and useful to other people. Moreover, the whole panoply of expertise does not have to be brought to bear on every little transaction. For the most part, habit and 'the general social knowledge' carry people along.

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Overall, the abolition of money in AE and its replacement by systems of direct, multi-dimensional communication and judgment, represent a great increase in sophistication in the system of economic control.

The abolition of money is another way of describing the abolition of exchange. There is no exchange under AE because there is no private property – exchange is the exchange of property. The replacement of money by direct communication is another way of describing the replacement of exchange with collaboration.

These changes mark a transition-point. Whereas, at low levels of sophistication, humans can get along alright either on their own or in relatively small groups (tribes, villages) that have merely 'external' relations with other groups through money, with the development of increasingly sophisticated technology, divisions of labor, social roles etc, humans become ever more integrated within a social fabric of immense complexity. Without an adequate means of economic communication, no precision in control and coordination is possible. AE supplies this means.


5. Free. People are free to do entirely what they want.

Today in most societies around the globe people are, on paper, free to choose what path to take in life. The government doesn't tell people what they must do. Nor, in advanced societies, are things so structured that children generally follow in the trade of their parents.

Nevertheless, in order to live at all they must of course earn a living by working. The problem is that for most people this necessity begins so early, takes up so much time, and its domination of the rest of their life is so complete, that as a matter of practical reality people are not free to do what they want at all. (There are other ways in which people's freedom is limited, of course – see previous sections - but this is the predominant one).

In this new economic system, by contrast, all the things you need to live are freely available, so there is no compulsion to work simply in order to survive. Instead, people engage in the work of their choice, and for the length of time that they desire.

It is also the case today that individuals tend to perform only one type of work, and also tend to work at a broadly constant hierarchical level. This is partly the result of natural limitations (humans simply do not have the capacity to become both skilled surgeons and mountaineers and sociologists and woodworkers and dance instructors etc) and differences (some have more natural ability than others and progress to the top of their profession on the strength of it).

However, natural human traits explain this pattern of work tasks only very limitedly. The economic system is responsible to a much greater degree, and in number of ways. To mention a few: the emphasis on maximizing value as the only economic concern encourages the formation of single-task jobs, inhabited by one individual, because this typically maximizes output; although such jobs typically disempower and brutalize the majority of people, that is actually an economic advantage because, as such, they can be more easily cajoled into the maximization of output; (at a less abstract level), lack of education means most people don't have the realistic chance of changing profession; for most people, finances are so tight, and free time so small, that retraining is not practical; the system is self-reinforcing, because professions are separated off from each other, meaning there is not much intermixing, and this then erects all sorts of social and personal barriers between them.

In the new system, because people are free to engage in the work of their choice, and the other present-day barriers just mentioned are largely absent, it is natural to expect that they would involve themselves in a wide variety of work. Specialization, and the prolonged pursuit of a single skill would still exist, since it is rewarding to do things well and this requires long experience and training. But specialization is compatible with a certain amount of variation of jobs, and a wide range of interests - in fact it has been shown many times to benefit from it. The kind of exclusive focus on one task by one person for most of their life, especially at the menial level, would fade away, since it is simply not a natural inclination.

*

So AE consists of the whole population voluntarily engaging in whatever work interests them. The exceptions to this are those tasks which are unpleasant or boring, which nobody would do if they could help it. Although these would be reduced to a minimum under AE (see 'Technologically sophisticated' section) to some degree they would continue to exist. These jobs still get done under AE, through a general agreement that since, if they were not done, society would simply grind to a halt, and since it would not be fair for only some people to do them, everyone benefits by taking on an equal share of them.

This is not a rule 'imposed' from the outside, or by some State – it would simply be what everyone would recognize as fair. And in any case, only a very small amount of time would be spent by each individual on these tasks, because they are shared out amongst such a large number.

*

People would likely collect into groups and common workplaces just as today, but the basis of their doing so would be very different. Today, people collect together as employees of a single owner. Organizations amalgamate huge numbers of people together because that is the end result of competition among firms – typically, the larger a company is, the greater its economies of scale, efficiency, domination of the sector and command over input prices.

Under AE, people would collect together into groups and institutions insofar as that was thought a good idea – where “good” includes criteria of efficiency and productivity, but also many other values. Some organizations would be large, but it is probable that many would be rather smaller.

Hierarchies of command would probably still exist, since there are many occasions on which this is practically necessary (think of a teacher and their pupils; an orchestra and their conductor; an expedition's leader; a project coordinator and those working on its various component parts). However, not only would such hierarchies probably be far less prevalent, but also the reason for their existence would, again, be other than is the case today – where matters of power, control, subjugation and ego play a central role.

* * *

The freedom under AE is genuine and practical, rather than limited and largely ideological as is the case today. The removal of the imperative to work in order to survive represents a step forward in civilization, away from the condition that has existed since the beginning of animal existence. The fact that people engage in their work freely and voluntarily would obviously mean, for most people, an immeasurable improvement in their daily condition of life


6. Multiform.

Society is divided up into various relatively distinct domains. Each have different governing values. For example, in science, truth is the paramount value, and the effort to discover truth in the various sectors of reality yields a further set of subsidiary values and practices (varying with each discipline) that define the sciences - repeatability by third parties, observation, clarity of statement, evidence, coherence with- and derivability from already-established facts etc. The realm of personal relations is obviously very different, characterized as it is by such values as trust, friendliness, fidelity and so on. The spheres of say, art, or combat, or education are all quite different again.

Problems occur when these values are corroded, or when the central values of one such relatively-distinct field are imported into another, and it is characteristic of today's economy that it tends to make this happen.

Consider an example from medicine. As private, profit-maximizing entities, pharmaceutical companies are forced to behave in ways contradicting the central values of the medical vocation: to try to sell as many products as possible, even to those who do not require them; to overstate the effectiveness of products, and generally engage in misinformation for commercial gain; to seek to rubbish the products of competitors; to block access by others to medical knowledge owned by the company. And so on. In other domains, the erosion of the integrity of the values that structure them is more subtle. Take grammar. Superficially, grammar consists of the rules specifying how words should be ordered. In fact, once it is recognized that grammatical elements are also basic metaphysical categories – time (tense), relation (prepositions), identity (subject) and so on - it becomes apparent that, more profoundly, the grammar governing a person's speech or writing gives expression to a philosophical world-view. The implication is that a fall in grammatical standards is actually a degradation in the depth and quality of humans' involvement in reality - the ecological connections tying humans with the world become less finely tuned and more crude. Such a fall in grammatical standards has certainly been claimed, along with equivalent changes in similar markers of what might be called existential health – morality, mental stability, attention-span and so on. The cited causes are very diverse – anything from the growth of cities (and hence 'urban culture') to television, to the decline of the church, to the influence of the 60's – but it would not be difficult to find at the root of most of them the pressures exerted by the fundamental drive to increase value-return.

At the most abstract level, the reason why this corrosion of value-domains occurs is because in a competitive market economy, society's resources will, as a matter of logic, tend over time to accrue to those entities generating most profit (therefore having most to invest, therefore out-competing rivals, therefore winning more market share, therefore generating more profit etc); but – and this is the crucial point - there is no necessary connection whatever between the values involved in maximizing profit, and those values proper to the domains through which that profit is made. Therefore the cannibalizing of these distinct domains by the imperatives of profit-maximization is an inevitability. The deeper truth of what occurs here, then, is the molding by one value-system of all others, after its own image.

(This, incidentally, goes some way to diagnosing what has been called the autistic character of most contemporary economic theory. This character is most visible, in our times, in discussions over how to reduce global warming, when the argument is conducted purely in terms of money-cost).

Under Angel Economics, value-domains retain their specific identity. In the first place, this is because there is no particular pressure – like that deriving from the competitive market – for them to be undermined. But more positively, it is because they are actively strengthened by several features of the system.

The most important of these is the use of natural units (see 'Non-Monetary' section). Money is the conduit through which the flattening of value-domains occurs, because it forces all values to be expressed in terms of a single measure. As described above, AE discards money, and instead, where resources must be measured for the purposes of economic calculation, this is done in units proper to the particular domain. The discovery and use of these units would therefore act as a constant fortification of the distinct values to which they give expression.

A second source is the voluntary nature of the transactions that occur under AE. For example, there is no 'sales effort' involving the need to maximize the customer-base for a product, and therefore erase any peculiarities that might limit its potential audience. At the other end, since those working in a domain do so of their own volition and desire, they will continually reinforce and extend its central values, just as successive generations of artists deepen and enrich their medium in its ability to bear beauty, and scientists build on the work of their co-workers extending the scope of truth.

* * *

Maintenance of the integrity of value-domains is just one aspect of the 'multiform' character of the new system. The freedom of people to engage in all the lines of work that interest them would promote 'multi-sided' human development; the removal of the value-centralizing and -concentration tendencies inherent in a competitive market would result in a far greater diversity of projects and work organizations; the effect on human geography would be similar, because of the removal of one of the main forces promoting urban concentration – settlements of lots of different sizes, with a variety of functions and a diversity of ways of doing things, would grow up; the removal of the necessity of work would also remove one of the principal factors enforcing personal conformity, and so a great flowering of character and personality types would follow, as people explore ways of life according to their own judgments of worth; technological inventions could begin to serve a far greater diversity of needs, once the imperative of profit-maximization was no longer present. And so on.

This is all in direct contrast to tendencies that can be observed today: town centers becoming identical; mass-cultural objects becoming the same the world over; species extinction; the flattening of dialects; the incorporation of subcultures; global advertising; global product roll-outs, and on and on. Uniformity is a characteristic of today's economy.

The overall picture of AE in this respect, then, is of a system that proliferates forms, just as in a complex ecosystem. In alternative language, one might say that occupation of the space of possibilities is dense, or alternatively again, that a multitude of trajectories of development is pursued simultaneously.

* * * * *

These six features define the basic structure of Angel Economics. (Its not rigorous – there is plenty of overlap between them). Of course, basing economic activity on them would have many secondary consequences. These can be imagined and explored, but there are three which it seems particularly important to mention explicitly.


1. Technologically sophisticated. Angel Economics will lead to faster, deeper and wider scientific and technological progress.

Scientific progress has been the hallmark of the past 200 years, and since this is also the period when our modern economy has matured, it is evident that it is the major source of this progress.

There are reasons to think, however, that Angel Economics will be even better in this respect, and also that the development it promotes would not suffer the negative sides that frequently attach to scientific progress today.

The first point to note, to this end, is that currently only a minuscule proportion of the population are actually engaged in any kind of scientific research or technological development – easily less than 1% - while around 80% of the population are engaged in relatively menial, repetitious work that makes no contribution whatever to the advance of knowledge or technique.

Under the new system, people are free to engage in any work they like, and since science is an enriching pursuit, one can expect that many people would engage in it once given this opportunity. Even at a conservative estimate of 10% of the population actively engaged, this is still a vast increase, the effects of which would be staggering.

Quantitative changes often lead to qualitative ones. It is certainly reasonable to expect new disciplines to emerge, and existing ones to be transformed - many disciplines today have a tiny number of researchers, quite incapable collectively of properly tackling the full extent of their field. Questions or projects which today seem as though they could not even be attempted might easily be solved, once all the steps of supporting research from combined disciplines are brought together: modeling what the first humans might have said, revealing their world-view and forming part of an evolution of human consciousness; studying and viewing chemical reactions occurring in the body in real time, making medical intervention an absolutely precise art; making habitation of the solar system, and probing deep space, an everyday affair.

A subsidiary point is that today, most of the population is practically scientifically illiterate – due, at bottom, to a simple lack of time – and that as a result, the general culture is scientifically poor. This has a severe dragging effect on progress, in numerous subtle ways (consider, for example, that one of the main reasons cited as to why electric cars have been so slow to be developed is that 'the consumer won't accept them'; or consider that the vast majority of technical improvements to inventions come not from their designers but from their users). Under Angel Economics, it is reasonable to expect that even those not actively engaged as scientists or engineers would nevertheless have a high degree of scientific literacy, simply because it is an interesting facet of culture.

The effects of this would be huge, although like all such large-scale cultural changes, impossible to predict, due to the number of variables and unknowns. But one can speculate.

i. Much social science currently functions as a means of controlling (Sociology in e.g. public policy) or manipulating (Psychology in e.g. advertising) the public, but if the findings of these sciences were generally known and internalized, the public would grow greatly in sophistication, and be able to act much more as a self-conscious entity.

ii. Degradation of the natural environment would be far less likely among a population that was generally scientifically literate, since there would be billions of eyes and ears, keyed into the processes of the natural world around them, and capable of registering and interpreting any significant change.

iii. Society could be technologically infused down to the smallest level – any science fiction fantasy can be imported here – since a technically literate public would be fully able to interact with, and tend to, such an environment.

*

The second major point to note concerns the direction and character of the scientific progress that occurs under today's system, and how this would differ in AE.

The main spurs to scientific and technological progress under the present system are: 1) the development of new products for new markets or the further exploitation of existing markets; 2) the development of tools that cut labor time and hence lower the cost of the final product; 3) the military.

1) tends to lead to extremely conservative development and limited fundamental research, for a great number of reasons (the risks of launching completely new products often outweigh those involved in making minor modifications to existing products; the fact that much fundamental research has no immediate commercial application; the just-noted scientific and technological illiteracy of the consuming public, etc); 2) is a big factor in technological change, but the fact that it is fundamentally a drive to efficiency and rationalization leaves its mark. It leads to manipulation for pre-given ends as the characteristic utilization of scientific knowledge rather than exploration of the space of possibilities; and while 3) does encourage path-breaking research and leads to spin-offs that have general application, it is obvious that the vast majority of what is done under this category has a basically destructive aim.

For obvious reasons it is difficult to say how things would look in the absence of these distortions, but there are a few points to note.

i. A different stance toward the world would be likely to grow prevalent. Using science in the service of building an overall philosophical picture of things (instead of merely as a tool of control, manipulation and engineering – useful as these are in their place), and to live in it more fully, would become far more general than they are today. Extending our comprehending reach into reality expands thereby the environments we can inhabit, experience, intellectually explore, or just glimpse – illustrative examples might be the relationship a field zoologist builds with a wolf pack; the immersion into deep space that a cosmologist achieves with the aid of a powerful telescope; the familiarity that a mathematician achieves with the landscape of numbers. These would become everyday aspects of everyone's lives, rather than the activities of a few specialists.

ii. Instead of technological applications being developed overwhelmingly due to commercial considerations (i.e. with regard to monetary value) the full range of human values could be brought to bear in determining the paths of technological development that are explored. There are endless illustrations of what this might mean in practice. At the more mundane level science could, for example, be put in the service of making urban environments and densely populated areas more beautiful, less abrasive, and perhaps more habitable to other animals. Or, devices enabling the elderly and the disabled to lead a less restricted existence, which receive relatively little attention today (compare the aids that do exist, to the sophistication of military hardware, for example) could be developed. More imaginatively, what about technologies that enhanced people's interpersonal sensitivity, allowing them better to understand and interpret each other? Or systems that help to train better ethical judgment?

iii. The two previous points relate to the direction of research, but its level can also be brought into focus. There exists today a massive reserve of undeveloped technology. Whereas, during the Industrial Revolution, practical development kept pace with fundamental discovery – as soon as trains were possible, they were made – today, due to the drag exerted by the factors noted above, the technology with which most people live their lives is achingly primitive, when measured against the vast store of fundamental knowledge possessed by the natural sciences (to say nothing of the social sciences). Consequently, one of the more obvious things to expect, with the new system, is a great period in which everyday life becomes enriched, simplified and generally put on a higher plane, through a huge wave of technological improvements. As to what these might be, an interesting place to look is science fiction, or the many 'futurology' programs of 30-50 years ago which predicted such things as buckminsterfuller-type green dome houses, personal flying machines, and instant foreign language instruction kits.

iv. A specific area that is likely to receive a great deal of attention is the mechanisation and of boring or unpleasant work, and the improvement in the quality of work that can't be mechanised. This would be a high priority since everyone would be engaged in this work - even if only a small amount – and therefore would experience the benefit of such technology keenly (in contrast to today, where those performing such work generally have no control over investment).

*

A final point concerns the imminent convergence of the biosciences, nanotechnology, and computer science/AI. This is undoubtedly the most important social development of the present time, because it will alter the premises of human life – how long we live, what our capacities are, the degree to which we can modify ourselves, the control we have over the natural world. It will also result in technological devices that are more powerful and sophisticated than anything seen before, by many orders of magnitude.

If this occurs within the present economic system, which contains so many destructive, irrational and unjust tendencies, it seems not unlikely that those tendencies will merely be enhanced. Of course, this is already beginning: the use of AI in surveillance, military hardware, border control; use of biosciences in weaponry, increased intensity of animal exploitation, in superficial techno-fixes to global warming, in medical applications that disproportionately benefit the those with a lot of money, and so on.

Under the new system, the full revolutionary potential of the advances could be harnessed. They would be far more likely to be used in a humane manner. Their use to transform humankind into something higher and less animal would have the backing of an engaged, scientifically literate and exploratory public; frivolous applications would have far less social motivation behind them.

In this connection, it is worth making a remark about Raymond Kurzweil's Singularity prediction – that we are only around 40 years from the point when human enhancement/artificial intelligence development, and their fusion with reality itself, becomes complete, with a resultant hyper-intelligence so great, that it becomes impossible for us with our limited brains to confidently imagine the trajectory of further development.

The prediction is founded on the observation that the rate of technological progress is exponential rather than linear. It seems not unlikely that some large change of economic structure such as AE represents would be necessary to maintain this trend into the future - just as, of course, economic changes have been pivotal to technological progress in the past. The addition of hundreds of millions of active minds pursuing research, and the expansion of the means and fidelity of communication between them, is exactly the kind of revolution in social fundamentals that would be capable of keeping human historical development on this track.


2. Two-hour work day

There are several factors which would lead to a great increase in leisure time under the new system, relative to today.

1. The system would not include a great mass of unemployed (in developed countries) and an even greater mass in absolute poverty (in developing countries). And so for obvious reasons, once the labor of billions more people begins to be utilized, the burden on the rest of the population would decrease proportionately.

2. The productivity of those who are in work would increase. It is obvious that, if work is boring, unpleasant, or in some other way objectionable, it will be done slowly and poorly. Under the present system, the vast majority of jobs fall under this description. Clearly, to some extent this is simply due to the nature of work, and cannot be changed. But it is just as much due to tendencies of the present system:

i. Maximizing value implies rationalization and maximizing efficiency, which in turn tend to translate into jobs involving simple routines performed by one person. Such jobs are, naturally, extremely boring, with a resulting loss of productivity. Attempts are then made to mitigate this by systems of coercion (line managers, team leaders etc) and incentives (bonuses etc). Not only is this only ever partially successful, but of course, all of these extra layers themselves represent a loss of productivity.

ii. The people in charge of constructing jobs (i.e. a set of tasks needing to be performed by an individual), and in control of their conditions (e.g. whether there are ways their unpleasantness can be lessened) are very rarely the ones actually doing those jobs. This obviously weakens the pressure to make them less onerous.

iii. Because, under the present system, you must work, on pain of starvation, and there is always at any one time a substantial level of unemployment and therefore 'demand' for work (obviously “demand” is quite an inaccurate word, given this fact that it is essentially a coercive relationship) the potential economic pressure to improve job conditions is undermined.

iv. Most jobs under the present system involve very little personal control. Lack of control itself make a job less pleasant, and removes the necessary means of improving it. But it also implies that these jobs are of a certain type, which tends to be associated with tediousness and unpleasantness.

Under the new system, where everybody does whatever work they like, clearly the level of enjoyment of work cannot fail to be transformed (as a logical truth), and along with it the average level of productivity. As a consequence, if everyone is more productive, then the hours of work required to yield a given level of output will decrease proportionately.

A supplemental point concerns those unpleasant, boring, or dangerous jobs performed by everybody (see 'Free' section). With each person having to devote only a small amount of time to these jobs, their onerousness will decrease a great deal. Further, this arrangement means there is an incentive, felt across the whole of society, to mechanize, develop labour-saving technologies, or in other ways curtail these jobs to their bare minimum. Likewise, an incentive exists also to make them more pleasant, either through introducing new technologies, or other arrangements. Over time, therefore, these jobs are bound to improve in quality, decrease in extent, and to some degree be eliminated altogether. In most instances, it is likely that this will translate into greater productivity.

3. There would be far less wasted labor. Under the current system, a great deal of labor is performed which is objectively useless, but is required by the peculiarities of the system. Advertising is a good example. It is not uncommon for as much labor to be expended on the marketing and marketing-associated aspects of a product, as on its manufacture and distribution. Advertising is an essential part of any system based on a competitive market, but the new system would have no need for it. There are many similar industries – insurance, finance, PR, many branches of law, to name a few – that together comprise a considerable part of the economy.

There are other huge sources of wasted labor. In the present system, the incentive is simply to sell, regardless of the greater social worth of the product. Consequently, the economy – and the wider social world – is saturated with junk. Junk easily outstrips the amount of useful production, probably by several times, and obviously implies an enormous amount of needless work. Since the new system includes no similar imperative, there is no reason to expect useless objects to be produced. Any trip to a junk yard, dump, or landfill site would convey that the quantity of labor this would save is tremendous.

4. The labor devoted to dealing with all the social problems that have their roots in the inadequacies of the economic system would also be a source of considerable potential saving. This includes crime and all the resources devoted to tackling it (the vast majority of crime is associated with poverty); ill health and the massive resources devoted to it (much ill health is traceable either directly or indirectly to features of the economic system); poor education standards; the degradation of the environment, and so on.

*

The combined effect of all these factors would be immense. The useful production of today's economy could probably be matched by one or two hours of labor per day per person, under the new system. Of course, it is unlikely that this would be the option most people would take, but it illustrates powerfully the greater health and productivity of the new system.


3. Civilized.

Humans are malleable. They can become refined and noble, or brutalized and coarse, and although genetic endowment plays its fair part in determining this, the environment in which they live is just as important. The present system promotes numerous forms of barbarism, across the entire cultural, and wider social field. Everyone is well aware of it, and has their own personal illustrations of the progressive debasement of humanity.

This is a tendency which has many sources, often quite subtle, but even the most esoteric can be derived from the simple fact that selfishness, mindless competition, deceit, superficiality, short-term thinking, catering to the animal instincts of man, and so on, are all axiomatic elements of the present system.

The new system promotes quite different motivations. As with the other secondary changes, the consequences of a widespread diffusion of cultural sophistication and general civilization are difficult to imagine, beyond a certain point, although one can predict certain things.

Obviously, one can expect to fade away the general trashiness, cynicism, bleakness, vulgarity, hopelessness and unhealthiness that infects most of the Western world in everything from TV to architecture to manners to bodily fitness – a brief nightmare. But, more positively, a few remarks can be made.

Ever since the beginnings of the general dissolution of organized religion and the rise of science, there has been a huge hole in the middle of human existence. We have discovered we are mere gene-repositories, or on a more fundamental level mere energy-dissipating collocations, in a pointless universe. Whether we live a happy and successful life, or decide to end it all in the next few hours - in the present cosmological perspective, is indifferent.

Of course there have been countless attempts to forge a new perspective, and no lack of profound insight. The problem is that, when this goes against the grain of the general culture, it suffers inevitable distortion, constant wearing away, confinement to a minority, and so on.

It would be childish to suggest that, under a new economic system, the riddles of existence would automatically receive solutions, like tricky engineering problems. Yet if all individuals across society were able to cultivate their inclinations to the exploration of existence, and to understanding the world, it is not difficult to see that a renewed sense of humanity's purpose might result.

Another very notable feature of those areas in which culture does thrive today, is the lack of ambition; more specifically, the lack of ambition to transcend the given mileux. At the beginning of the last century, the avante gardes of Modernism sought, in every medium of expression, to construct new languages, techniques, and a new purpose for their art forms. The fidelity to artistic truth that they maintained carried them into territory far removed from both tradition and the given human world, just as a microscope delivers us into a dimension beyond the usual restrictions of the senses. Whilst this impulse is kept alive by a scattered few, it is striking how the main line of the post-modern has become incorporated into the market economy, institutionally and normatively. Great architecture acts as geographical advertising, priming the value of certain regions and cities before full-scale investment; stellar artworks are commodities of financial speculation to the point that the content of the art itself courses with the spirit of money; fiction has largely abandoned the unyielding drive of experimentation of the beginning of the century – to do so limits its market, so is non-commercial; non-fiction is almost entirely absorbed into the academy, which has in turn become a factory for value-production; music is subject to constant capture – popular music by the recording/publishing industry, classical music by its institutionalization into a comfortable establishment, and even dance music by the club business, and manifold legal regulations.

Under the new system, where the economy consists of people pursuing the work that interests them, there is no similar tendency for the limitation and corruption of cultural forms. People dedicated to their art or craft would be able to pursue it without obstruction. So the self-transcending impulse taken up with such force by Modernism, but which has become progressively degraded, would receive new life. There are several areas, apparent even today, that lie in wait for this impulse: first, the transhuman technologies that result from the convergence of advanced biology, nanotechnology, and computer science (mentioned above); second, the proliferation of psychedelic compounds, which seem to allow humans to peer into utterly alien aspects of reality, and rise above the limitations which evolution has placed on our cognitive equipment; third, mega particle physics and mega astrophysics, which are continually revolutionizing our cosmological view. All promise to take humanity into something beyond what it has been – precisely the Modernist project. They will do so whether or not there is a change of economic environment, but not necessarily under control by values consciously chosen and pursued. The potential difference in outcome if these frontiers are explored by free individuals following their interest and sense of wonder, rather than out of a desire to make money, could be between something sublime, and something monstrous.

*

As a more general point, AE involves a degree of reconception of what 'civilization' involves. From its beginnings in the Middle East and north Africa, through the great Empires of the Chinese, South Americans and Romans, up to today's continental States, there is a great stability in the basic form of civilization, as an island of order maintained by a relative monopoly of the use of force. The maintenance of order and the general 'raising of man' involves all manner of barbaric institutions and forms of behavior, such as the litany of terrible techniques that constitute 'punishment', the great crimes that go under the name of the administration of justice, or the slavery and forced labor involved in the monuments that give civilization its physical form. The realist has looked upon all this as the necessary evil for turning a frustrated, uncomfortable wild animal into a rule-abiding, promise-keeping, truth-sensitive being.

Whatever truth there was in this perspective, it feels outdated today. The masses, over whom rule was exercised to yield order, don't exist any more. It is not that the vast majority of humanity have been turned into rational agents. But the old institutions of civilization are now responsible for far more in the way of obstruction and keeping people down, than they are a force of improvement. If most people today still live in a condition uncomfortably close to the apes, this is the fault of the tiny group who rule, not their justification.

The basic change of perspective underlying Angel Economics is the notion that people are capable today of organizing themselves, and doing so without resort to the barbaric use of physical pain, or childish notions about the need to for a 'leader' with special, semi-divine qualities. Similarly, man is now sufficiently grown up that he is capable, for example, of moderating his consumption in line with his need, and of having a sense for what needs to be done for the good of his society. These are no longer things that need to be forced upon him by some artificial system (money), or sneaked in behind his back (the "Hidden Hand"). Overall, the change is from the view that civilization is something that must be stamped down upon humanity, to one where it is something that it is possible to mutually construct. This sentiment, of course, has existed for a long time. But actually embodying it in a workable structure has not been so common. This is what Angel Economics aims to rectify.

15 comments:

  1. This is excellent stuff. I haven't read it all yet and some of I have just skimmed through. i promise I will read it all through soon.

    Couple of suggestions:
    In the section on money it might be worth mentioning that in capitalism demand for a commodity is nothing if not backed up by money however much it is needed or wanted.
    In the earlier part of the text you seem to be refering to government in angel economics. From what I read later I don't think this was intentional or I might have misread it.

    I'm not too sure about the title. Angelic has religious feel to it. I suppose Economics is less contentious.

    By the way, nice tree!

    Yours fraternally, JimN.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jim,

    Yes, it is a magnificent tree. An "Angel Oak".

    Others too have remarked on the name with a waver of an eyebrow. I can see what you mean. But to me the 'religious' note is not unwanted. Under the nonsense and mindlessness of present-day organized religion, I think there is still something valuable - a reference to a nobility of spirit, and high values. This is what 'Angel Economics' is all about - bringing these real values into the world, where currently such an impoverished notion of 'economic value' rules.

    On Government - you may not be mistaken. There is government, in the sense that people sort out what is going to happen, and occasionally this means making decisions on matters that everyone must then live by (Shall we farm this land, or should it be protected and left wild? What shall we do about people who murder? What happens when two groups disagree about the right developmental path to take?). There is not government in today's sense, of a small clique of men using a machinery of violence to to serve the interests of power and money.

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  3. I couldn't find where you describe what happens in Angel Economics in a situation of scarcity, which is the cause of the price structure in a market. In fact, when something is not scarce, it does not have a price (e.g. breathable air).

    So it seems like Angel Economics is nothing more than Anarcho-Capitalism, with the assumption that there is no scarcity for anything.

    Am I missing something?

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  4. (Sorry, overlooked the comment).

    Scarcity isn't a particular issue for Angel Economics.

    I've replied to someone else on this, but I think you're right that its not in the outline. Here would be the arrangement in line with the general structure. Suppose (for illustration) we're talking about some rare metal, highly scarce. Its needed for microprocessors, but also some medical applications, and other worthy uses.

    The use to which it is put, or the ratios in which it is supplied to each of the various uses, in this case, is something which would affect everyone the world over. So, everyone is involved in deciding the matter. A 'trust' would oversee the implementation of this decision.

    That general model is universal. Experts who know an industry sector would know the decisions taken, and would advise workplaces what to do in light of them. (Suppose a washing-machine maker were proposing to use this metal. Instead, it goes for a substitute on the basis of advice that it has been decided this isn't a worthy use of scarce resources).

    In other words, collective management of scarce resources just falls out (i.e. is a logical consequence) of the notion that you have decision communities whose members are those affected. Its one case of this.

    When scarcity is allowed to determine price in free markets (it is highly dubious that this holds, as an empirical proposition about our economy as opposed to a mere theoretical idea - I could list a million counterexamples; but it applies to some degree, so for the sake of argument) although this naturally distributes scarce resources, it does so according to the principle of who can pay. But who has the money to buy something, and what SHOULD be done with something (according to general agreement) are radically distinct.

    Another way of looking at it is to say that a system in which you say that goods have prices corresponding to how much people want them, relatively, (another way of phrasing "scarcity"), is a system in which those people are behaving as private individuals. A price is a disguised expression of a social relationship. Under Angel Economics mutual discussion and agreement (over distribution) replace prices.

    To some degree AE is a version of 'anarcho communism'.

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  5. So what I'm having trouble getting past is this concept of "decision communities".

    How is it to be determined who is affected by a given decision?

    What will be the methodology for determining who is expert enough within the community to provide valuable input in making the decision?

    What level of consensus is required before a decision can be made?

    How is the trust really more capable than a market of determining what "should" be done?

    To me, it seems that capitalism answers these questions, and does not require the use of force by a government in order to do so. I have yet see a formulation of communism that does this.

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  6. From a philosophical point of view, the most basic criterion for deciding who is affected by something, how much they are affected, and so on, is just what people say of themselves. You are affected by something if you SAY you are, if you FEEL affected. And two (or more) people decide HOW MUCH they are affected, relatively, through a process of discussion (in a broad sense of that term).

    This simple principle yields decision-communities. I (citizen of AE) involve myself in those things around me, by which I feel myself affected. Thus the new road proposed to run through my garden, obviously; but also the discussions taking place in deepest Peru about the preservation of the ancient archeological site of 'Machu Picchu' - which happens to be an interest of mine.

    There are a thousand such things in which I am involved, because they affect me. In fact, that is only a small proportion of the things which, objectively, I am affected by. But, not having infinite time, and being rational, I select those things I am MOST affected by. And I will be talking with people, in each of those groups, who operate on the same basic principle. Around every issue, every decision, there thus naturally collects a community of people, (relatively) most affected by it.

    Beyond this basic principle, the specific methodologies are a matter of (mere) detail. For example, how do people rank themselves in some kind of order, so that decision-making is practical? There are various technical procedures for going about this; they will be different for different kinds of cases. Same with the level of consensus required. (I will post on this stuff but it's a matter of priorities. There's some stuff in the 'Objections' section).

    Expertise is a slightly different question. In general, experts ADVISE decision-communities. They allow them to make INFORMED decisions. It is rare that expert-opinion automatically generates a single answer to a question. (Take climate change. Experts tell us what is happening, and what our options are in solving it. But choices and decisions still remain).

    That the 'Trust' is more capable than the market of deciding what SHOULD be done is a matter of logic (remember, this 'Trust' is just executing the decision of everyone affected). How SHOULD a rare metal be prioritised between different possible uses? Well, it is not written in the stars; it depends on what people decide. There isn't an objective answer, beyond the values, priorities, considerations etc, of people. The fair way of deciding, is to let everyone affected have a say.

    Consider the question: Should your hand be chopped off? If anyone other than you decides this (in normal circumstances), we'd think there's something pretty wrong. It's the same principle. Today, most of your life is decided by other people; and they don't have your interests in mind in the slightest; they may as well be flipping a coin.

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  7. Just to be clear on this last point.

    There are really two ways of looking at the question of how capitalism deals with questions of what SHOULD be done. On the one hand, you can look through the lens of orthodox economic theory.

    Here, everyone has a rank order of preferences. A scarce item that many people have a high preference-ranking for (say, diamonds) will have a high price. This reflects the fact that those people are prepared to sacrifice other things (with a lower preference-ranking) to obtain this item. The actual price it has is a reflection of how much people want it relative to other things; and how many people are involved in this; and how scarce the item it.

    Further, mainstream economics says that this preference-ranking is a basic model of what you VALUE. So the economy DOES reflect what people value. Prices are records of many millions of interacting preference-rankings. And hence, markets in this way make decisions about what SHOULD happen with stuff.

    Of course, every sensible economist admits things aren't perfect. There are distortions, monopolies, imperfect information, irrational behaviour and so on. But they do believe that this rough model is basically right.

    I believe it is basically wrong. Theoretically, there are some howlers; empirically, it doesn't fit the facts. I have made a decision, though, on this blog to not clutter things up with loads of economic analysis, either theoretical or empirical. The aim is to present a different system. There are a ton of other information-sources analysing economics.

    I do believe, though, that you can see mainstream economics is wrong simply by looking at the world around you, and thinking a bit. But at the end of the day, since man's intellect is limited, if the world around you looks just fine (if you live in a nice neighbourhood, eat nice food, etc) you are going to be far less motivated to pursue the theoretical analysis of the errors of mainstream economics. The basic reason something like Angel Economics has a chance of success, is because so few people are in that position; i.e. they are bitterly disadvantaged by capitalism, and hence ARE motivated to consider alternatives.

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  8. On the "should your hand be chopped off" question, you assume I have self-ownership. Is that the only kind of ownership that is permissible?

    Also, on the trust "should" issue... I think you are saying the collective judgment of a trust should decide all things. But we know that in any group of people will there will be disagreement on almost any subject, and often the individuals will have good reasons for taking the position they have taken. If their opinions are conflated into a single decision, is there not some information lost?

    What if the majority in the group is actually wrong, and their decision will cause harm? Then the minority who advocated for the right answer will not have the opportunity to be rewarded by the results that would have arisen had their advice been heeded.

    Or what if in the group, there is a minority that advocates for the wrong answer. Should they still not be free to make the decision they prefer? If the better decision will be made for them by the group, then they are 'unfairly' rewarded by its results.

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  9. On the issue of whether self-ownership is the only possible kind, I don't know whether I understand the question, as it might relate to the structure of AE.

    On error and disagreement (again, there's some discussion in the Objections section):

    One. Humans are limited. Consequently, other things being equal, decisions should be taken via discussion among many, because this provides the best chance of minimizing error.

    Two. You need to make a clear distinction between cases where we're talking about facts, where there are (in principle) clear right/wrong answers; and cases where it has nothing to do with right or wrong in a factual sense, but is rather a matter of choice, and hence value.

    In the former case, it is wise to have many people discussing the issue, because this is a good procedure to ensure you attain the right answer. But what the right answer is, how the facts are, doesn't depend on people discussing; its logically completely independent. Scientific questions are paradigmatic here. In the latter case, though, what people think/feel just IS the 'fact'. You can sometimes 'do right by people' without their input, but this is the exception. So participation/discussion is LOGICALLY required, if you're going to get the 'right' answer, in the usual case.

    Three. People will inevitably disagree. But as I say, there are lots of procedures, technical procedures (to do with consensus decision-making, voting systems, and so on) that exist to minimize the effects of this. It cannot be perfect; but what it can be is JUST - that is, people agree that the basic procedures are fair.

    Four. People can split off if they want. Angel Economics describes a system of those who agree sufficiently to do things in common. Parallel economies, underlain by different basic ways of doing things, are an open option.

    Beside this, I don't know that I understand the scenario you are putting forward in terms of people being (or failing to be) 'rewarded' for being right. Could you give an example to make it clearer?

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  10. I liked this post, very well written and thought-provoking. Myself, being a computer scientist and a former technocrat, can definitely see the potential as long as certain conditions are met.

    Technological advancement being one of the most important ones. Kurzweil may or may not be right,
    my personal opinion is that he is too optimistic with his singularity timeline, but information sciences _do_ seem at present to grow at an exponential rate and this will have immense repercussions to our future existence.
    The explosion of information availability and means to manage, create and interact with (e.g. Internet) is one of the foundations that could facilitate our ascension to a higher level.

    However, i feel that there are currently a lot of
    sociological/political/economical factors that impede this. The most important one being in my view the sorry state of affairs in education that leads to people who lack critical thought and refuse (either though prioritization/lack of time or because of instilled values about knowledge-they view it as a chore) to tap into the wealth of information that is widely available.

    This is also disregarding those who have no means to access said information. I fear that unless the masses are educated to a higher standard than today, traditional corrupting institutions of the highest caliber like religion are annihilated and the thirst for knowledge and advancement become commonplace, any form of social reconstruction will be an utopia because it will have to be initiated by the few without the urge of the many.

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  11. I couldnot read the full writeup. Due to anxiety to know what it is all about, I rushed through.

    But, still I feel what is presented is thought provoking.

    It prompts to visualise a new world that is possible.

    This requires indepth study

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  12. John,

    On Kurzweil: I agree that Kurzweil is on the whole over-optimistic, although I think critics often fail to see the big picture. Really, nobody knows if he's right, on the continuation of these exponential trends. We just have to wait and watch a bit. (You do hear people from a surprisingly diverse set of places talking about persistent exponential trends, though. In only the last month I've heard people from the solar cell industry, genomics, and on particle accelerators, refer to continuing exponentials).

    Where I think Kurzweil goes wrong, is in the specific technologies he predicts. There is a certain interpretation of how the underlying trends are going to manifest, and it is in my opinion biased towards a certain...individualism, for want of a better word. You can go over his predictions for 2009 from his earlier book 'The Age of Spiritual Machines' (http://us.penguingroup.com/static/packages/us/kurzweil/excerpts/chap9/ch9botframe.htm). I've been told that, in futurist/computer circles at the time (mid-1990's) many of these ideas were around, and Kurzweil just projected forward. It may not be that bad, but the basic point stands.

    So, yes, I thnk you've got to draw a fairly sharp distinction between the underlying trends (like computing power, say, or something like DNA sequencing cost/speed) and the social-technical form they actually have.

    (He is also way out in front of the evidence on mind/brain issues. But that's a different kettle of fish).

    On Education: Yes, this is one of a host of factors that stand in the way of anything like AE being remotely possible. The extent and depth of miseducation is staggering. (Theorists such as Ivan Illich, Paolo Friere, John Taylor Gatto, Jeff Schmidt, are excellent in illuminating the perverse nature of this). By and large, education tracks the needs of the economy - developed Western societies need efficient functionaries, avid consumers, and people who don't ask too many questions and, with some exceptions, this is what the education systems deliver. The other side of this coin is the implication for what happens if economic form mutates...I guess the trends are contradictory at the moment.

    One of the dangers, as I see it, of the coming info-cogno-biotech-nanotech revolutions, is that they are going to accentuate a trend for knowledge to be concentrated in a tiny circle of sort of 'cosmic engineers'. On the other hand, technologies will become available to much more easily overcome natural, or socially-induced limitations - the internet being a good example, but merely the first volley of the battle in my opinion. (An example - computer games are graphically immensely sophisticated today. If this were harnessed with advanced educational technique, a bit of brain science, and so on, I bet you could come up with an amazing pedagogic tool). Already this is having repercussions, and they may gain momentum. More sanguinely, one look at high-rating TV shows induces despair. I think what happens depends in part on good people trying their damndest.

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  13. We have prepared a business plan for the realistic transition in course of two decades:
    - from Capitalism to Public Cooperative Economy
    - from Democracy to Meritocracy and then to Noocracy
    - from Idealistic and Materialistic Atheism to a truly multi-cultural Public Unity and society built on the path of Truth in full conscious alignment with God's Providence
    - from Collectivism to Individualism

    We actualize such concepts as Wikinomics, Resource-based Economics, Angel-economics, Freigeld, etc.

    The new public economy will be built on the base of the Public Platform, which is an instrument for cooperative economic management, co-invention and business modelling in the conditions of complete transparency and the open exchange of ideas.

    A key component of the Public Platform is a new generation information system Web 3.0. A network of integrated community centers incorporating a variety of feasible revenue streams will be used for the smooth introduction of a new ideology and methodology in society.

    See details on the website www.thefuturenow.org. Join Facebook community.

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  14. that's fabulous book of the Software Society.Software and Economics is so good.

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