Saturday, 23 January 2016

Wealth And Labor

In several works, Poul Anderson addresses the question: what would be the consequences for mankind if technology were to generate abundant wealth for all but also to eliminate the need for human labor?

In Drakon, SM Stirling has formulated a curious variation on this question: what would the consequences if, despite every technological advance, the dominant culture remained one that was based entirely on the subordination of the social majority by an aggressive, territorial minority? In this scenario, technology is used not to free the majority from the necessity of work but to ensure their permanent subordination.

The Final Society is an ecological paradise enjoyed by all its inhabitants but enjoyed more by its ruling elite who have become a distinct species, free, powerful and with an indefinitely extended lifespan whereas their numerous subordinates live (comfortably) for less than a hundred years and have been made incapable of either resentment or resistance.

Which set of problems would you prefer to have? The Savage in Brave New World thought that a return to the old social conflicts and deprivations was preferable to any continuation of a genetically and chemically engineered contentment.

18 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

And as you know I agree with Poul Anderson's answer to the question in GENESIS and the HARVEST OF STARS books. Ennui, despair, possibly even a self chosen extinction of the human race is more likely than not if technology has advanced so far that humans have no need to work, and are even not allowed to quarrel. Recall how some of even the New Race Draka suffered from boredom because the long peace of their Final Society left them with little to do.

I prefer the view given us by Poul Anderson in THE FLEET OF STARS, when mankind broke the smothering cocoon of a luxurious but meaningless life to break out into the galaxy. Even if that again meant competition, aggressiveness, various kinds of deprivations, social conflicts, etc. And, yes, that means I also agree with the Savage from BRAVE NEW WORLD.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Thank you, Sean. We would both like to hear from others...

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Thanks! And what is your view? Which of the alternatives described here you would consider better than the other? Even if the "better" choice was flawed.

I know you get hundreds of people reading this blog. I hope some of them will discard the well known British reserve and offer some of their own views and ideas! I'm a big boy, I can take people disagreeing with me! (Smiles)

Sean

David Birr said...

Paul:
I vote with Sean on this. And I think PA would, too.

Consider this passage from the end of "The Master Key":
"We here in this room are wild," Van Rijn said. "We do what we do because we want to or because it is right.... If you made slaves of us, you would for sure not be wise to let us near a weapon.
"But how many slaves has there been, in Earth's long history, that their masters could trust? .... And how many people today is domestic animals at heart? Wanting somebody else should tell them what to do, and take care of their needfuls, and protect them not just against their fellow men but against themselves? Why has every free human society been so short-lived? Is this not because the wild-animal men are born so heartbreaking seldom?"

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

I agree with the text you quoted from "The Master Key." A huge part of the evil done by the Draka was to genetically engineer humans to be WILLING slaves. And the same could be said of the Yildivans of Cain: THEY bred their Lugals to be instinctively, eagerly willing slaves. Which makes me wonder, was Anderson's "The Master Key" one of the "sources" which helped Stirling to write the Draka books?

We probably NEED some social conflict, competitiveness, and aggression for any kind of tolerable society.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Hi all,
I think that many of my readers are Americans!
I confused the issue by referring to BRAVE NEW WORLD. I was trying to get to the question: would you prefer to be a happy servus or an unhappy unemployed? I think we would all prefer the latter. If I was in BRAVE NEW WORLD and saw only two options, I would agree with the Savage. However, Huxley said in a Preface that there was a third option: the quest for sanity.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

While I certainly don't object to fellow Americans of mine participating here, I would hope at least as many Britons also do so. And even that her Majesty might discreetly browse here! (Smiles)

You asked: "Would you prefer to be a happy servus or an unhappy unemployed?" While I agree in preferring the latter, I wonder if it would be POSSIBLE for a servus to do anything but want to serve the New Race Draka? Because he had been BRED to be like that. Would at least some of the servi homines (thanks, Nicholas!) be able to regain their autonomy if they could somehow be blocked from sensing the pheromones emitted by New Race Draka causing them to submit to their domination?

While I will check my compy of Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD to see if it includes his Preface, I have to say I don't understand his "quest for sanity." For a servus part of being sane included accepting New Race domination. And "feral" humans, both in obscure corners of Earth/1 and Samothrace were sane. So Huxley seems unclear here.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
But Huxley was commenting on BRAVE NEW WORLD. His "sane" community would have been an enclave in the Reservation living healthily and ecologically and practicing Eastern spirituality.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Yes, you are right! My copy of BRAVE NEW WORLD includes that Huxley "Foreword." And I read the paragraph you alluded to: about the "sane" community on the Reservation.

Some of what Huxley advocates for his "sane" community seems unobjectionable to me, altho I would need to find out what is meant by "Henry George" economics. And the religion he talks also seems compatible with Christianity.

Sean

ndrosen said...

Kaor Sean!

We had a discussion touching on Henry George's economic ideas some months ago. Henry George is mentioned in THe DEVIL'S GAME as one of the people about whom Orestes Cruz's foster father spoke, so Anderson had at least heard of him. You can Google on him, or on "land value taxation", or check out his books at any decent and fair-sized library. Essentially, Henry George was a 19th century American reformer who was not a Communist. He was in favor of free enterprise, but not in favor of the rich getting richer by unjust special privilege while the poor became poorer and society was convulsed by periodic depressions. He favored a single tax on the value of land, the abolition of other taxes, and no special privileges.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen, leading modern Georgist

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Nicholas!

Yes, I think I do remember googling or discussing Henry George's ideas in the past. IF what I think I recall is correct, I thought many of his ideas hopelessly impractical and unrealistic.

For instance, HOW do you DEFINE whether a man is too rich or not? It all seems, boiled down, subjective and a matter of mere personal opinion. It would still come down to using coercion by the state to make "too rich" people less rich. And I can't agree with that. No, I would leave rich people alone as long as they did not obtain wealth by criminal means (simple example, by drug trafficking).

When it comes to economics, I favor the Austrian school (as exemplified by Ludwig von Mises) and its successors. And I think Poul Anderson would largely agree with me. Think Nicholas van Rijn! (Smiles)

I'm chagrined at not remembering how Henry George was mentioned in THE DEVIL'S GAME!

Sean

ndrosen said...

Kaor Sean!

I do not propose, and Henry George did not propose, to define whether a man is too rich; he was not the Bernie Sanders of an earlier century. If a man can make himself a millionaire by honest means, let him keep his money (I'm paraphrasing something that George wrote in SOCIAL PROBLEMS, the most socialistic of his books). However, Henry George proposed to tax the rental value of land, which, as he put it, would make few men poorer who could not afford to be made a great deal poorer without deprivation, but which would cut down on great fortunes.

Many great fortunes are built, at least in part, on land speculation, land rent collection, or other special privileges, not on building a better mousetrap, or working harder than the next fellow. Morally, a man has a claim to what he has produced by his labor, but on what grounds does he have a claim to more than his equal share of the Earth's land, which he did nothing to create?

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Nicholas!

You seem to be far more knowledgeable than I am in economic thought, as a result of which I feel compel to reply rather hesitantly to you.

I literally blew the dust off what books I have on economics to see what various writers thought of Henry George. This is what I found on pages 120-21 of Henry Hazlitt's THE CONQUEST OF POVERTY (Arlington House, 4th printing, 1976):

Perhaps I should devote at least one or two
paragraphs here to so-called "lang reform."
This appears to be the most ancient of
schemes for forcibly dividing the wealth. In
133 B.C., for example, Tiberius Gracchus
succeeded in getting a law passed in Rome
severely limiting the number of acres that
any one person could possess. The typical
"land reform" since his day, repeatedly
adopted in backward agricultural countries,
has consisted in confiscating the big estates
and either "collectivizing" them or breaking
them up into small plots and redistributing
those among the peasants. Because there are
always fewer such workable parcels than
families, and because, though each parcel
of land may be of the same nominal acreage,
each has a different nature, fertility,
location, and degree of development (with
or without clearance, grading, irrigation,
roads, buildings, etc.) each must have a
different market value. The distribution
of land can never be universal and can
never be "fair"; it must necessarily favor
a selected group, and some more than others
within that group.

But apart from all this, such a measure
always reduces efficiency and production.
From the moment that it is proposed that
property be seized, its owners "mine" its
fertility and refuse to invest another
dollar in it, and some may not even raise
another crop. It does not pay to use
modern equipment on small farms, and in
any case the owners are unlikely to have
the necessary capital. "Land reform" of
this type is an impoverishment measure.

The Henry George scheme of a 100 percent
"single tax" on ground rent would also
discourage the most productive utilization
of land and sites, and adversely affect
general economic development. But to ex-
plain adequately why this is so would re-
quire so lengthy an exposition that I must
refer the interested reader to the excellent
analyzes that have already been made by
Rothbard, Knight, and others.

Hazlitt's footnote to the above quoted paragraph
cited Murray C. Rothbard's POWER AND MARKET: GOVERNMENT AND THE ECONOMY (pages 91-100); and Frank H. Knight, "The Fallacies in the Single Tax," THE FREEMAN, August 10, 1953.

So, I have to remain uneasy and skeptical about Henry George's ideas. Because, altho he himself probably did not desire it, it still comes down to making subjective, partisan evaluations of how others own, manage, and use property. And partisan evaluations which still proposes to use state coercion to execute.

I don't know if you are aware of it, but a major cause of the economic crash of 2008 in the US was from government entities like "Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac" forcing banks and other financial institutions to make extremely dubious loans in the real estate market to persons many of whom would not be able to pay them back. The measures lenders took trying to minimize losses from these bad loans merely compounded the eventual crash.

No, my view has to be that we do best to leave real estate markets as free as possible from interference by the state.

With best regards, Sean

ndrosen said...

Kaor, Sean,

I am essentially in agreement with the first two paragraphs from Hazlitt, and I am aware of Fannie Mae and the Community Reinvestment Act, which, I agree, are at least partly to blame for the real estate bubble and subsequent crash. However, I do not believe that they are entirely to blame, the reason being that we had booms and busts in land prices before we had the New Deal, the Community Reinvestment Act, etc.

I do not agree with Hazlitt's final paragraph; I am aware that there have been criticisms of Georgism, and while not all of them are entirely without merit (some are, because the critics did not seem to grasp the ideas which they thought they were confuting), I remain a Georgist. You may wish to read CRITICS OF HENRY GEORGE, edited by Robert V. Andelson; please note that the name is Andelson with an ell, not the same as Anderson. There is also Professor Mason Gaffney's THE CORRUPTION OF ECONOMICS, although parts of that are difficult to understand to readers who don't already know about Georgism and other economic ideas. Gaffney presents the view, supported by evidence, that part of the development of neo-classical economics was not just wrong, but fraudulent; the robber barons who endowed the colleges wanted their tame economists to oppose Georgism, then seen as a major threat to the status quo.

Best Regards,
Nicholas D. Rosen

S.M. Stirling said...

It's pretty safe to assume themes and tropes from Poul's work carry over into mine -- he was an inspiration, and we corresponded and occasionally visited for many years.

Paul Shackley said...

This has turned into a good discussion.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Nicholas!

I still feel compelled to disagree with "Georgism," because ideas of his, like the 100 percent "single tax" still amounts to using state coercion on a group of persons another group disapproved of.

And I don't think referring to the Gilded Age "robber barons" of circa 1870-1900 in the US relevant this discussion. Because the writer I quoted, Henry Hazlitt, and the writers HE cited, Rothbard and Knight, wrong long after the Gilded Age. Nor can Austrian School economists like Eugen Bohm-Bawerk and Ludwig von Mises be called hirelings of the robber barons.

Btw, all this talk about single taxes reminds me of how Poul Anderson had Biocontrol using its monopoly control of the medicine the people of Unan Besar needed to stay alive as a single tax in "The Plague of Masters." Even given the archaic technology Biocontrol used, the actual cost per pill was only a "few coppers" (while they had to pay ten silvers per pill when Flandry was there).

Sean

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

And that is one reason why I enjoy reading your books--the Andersonian influences to be found in them. Plus, of course, your own originality and abilities as a writer.

Sean M. Brooks