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23 Jul 2022

Wenger // The World After Capital

I just finished Albert Wenger’s The World After Capital, which is about exactly the topic the name suggests, a topic I think important enough to have devoted a bunch of my own time thinking and writing about here:

Wenger argues we are moving from a world where land / physical resource scarcity will no longer be the limiting factor for civilization to a world where attention is the limiting factor. Yet much of our policy and institutions are still tied to Industrial Age constraints.

He argues in this new world we should adopt policies like UBI and invest more in education and mindfulness. And we should rid ourselves of intellectual property laws.

All things in principal I agree with, but I am not fully satisfied with all of the “hows” he gives as ways to get to these “shoulds.”

On UBI, I completely agree our current wage labor system is outdated, but the 2 major criticisms I’ve heard against UBI go unaddressed:

(1) How will the many gain negotiating leverage against the few who hold the most power? As the world becomes increasingly technologically leveraged, power will sit with fewer and fewer people, and the many will be even less able to use the withholding of labor at the negotiating table to advocate for sufficient basic income. Perhaps pitchforks or boycotts will provide the leverage?

(2) I recently read an excellent argument against UBI that basically showed data that disposable income tends to get allocated by households into scarce positional goods with arms race dynamics (eg, expensive college tuitions): Getting Out of the Rat Race: Is an “Age of Leisure and Abundance” Possible?. The authors conclude it may be better to provision basic goods and services over giving citizens disposable income. I still lean towards the freedom of choice implied by cash disbursements as a policy (and maybe the authors’ conclusions are valid in our current world / informed by hangover Industrial behavior), but it is an argument in opposition to UBI I think needs to be addressed.

Likewise, while I agree with the proposal that we eliminate Intellectual Property constructs, there’s not a great argument to what to do about what I expect would be the natural immediate consequence of this policy, viz, all power would fall into the hands of distributors who would reap even more of the profits of media of all kinds if we eliminate patents and copyrights. Any argument against IP should have a good answer to this, imo.

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