Categorized | Science, Society

Rethinking Economics


In the circle of freethinkers, it is common to question religion and government as some of the many things that are commonly taken on faith. What I find to be less common, however, is a critical analysis of monetary economics, which is pretty much the fundamental mechanism that is running the world today. I think that it is of utmost importance that we revisit economics with a fresh perspective, given the many different failures that the traditional model has been spitting out these past few years.

The foundation of modern economic models dates back to a time when self-interest, utilitarianism, and profit maximization were the basic assumptions underlying human behavior. However, recent sociological studies have relentlessly shown over and over again that these facets of ‘human nature’ simply do not explain enough about new phenomena that are emerging.

For example, nobody could have predicted the rise of Free and Open Source Software volunteerism a few decades ago. This community violates all of the old rules of economics by volunteering precious time to do sophisticated work on projects which are just given away to the public.

Another thing that the old model failed to take into account is the exponential growth of technology. In the past, as technology progressed and people were displaced from their jobs, it wasn’t too difficult to learn a new skill from which one could earn a living. Nowadays, however, automation has penetrated the marketplace so deeply that people are having trouble looking for things to do in order to survive, especially since technology moves so fast that what one may be studying now could be obsolete in just a few years. The glaring problem here is the direct conflict between employed human labor and technological advancement. Given the primary profit incentive of business, this means that people will continually be laid off and experience difficulty in sustaining themselves due to the creation of new automated machines.

This exhibits a crucial flaw in the system, wherein technology, whose purpose is actually to free humans from drudgery, becomes a problem for the common worker. Therefore when we apply new technologies, businesses end up with greater capacities for productivity, while consumers are left behind with smaller capacities for consumption because of job loss. Therein lies the paradox of having much to offer but not being able to give it simply because the people cannot pay for what they need.

Surprising as it may sound, the current state of technology is actually advanced enough to allow for a virtually complete automation of the basic industrial processes required to sustain human life. This means creating an abundance of goods so high that putting a price tag on them just wouldn’t make any sense. This could spell the emancipation proclamation of all mankind from the paradigm of “labor for sustenance” and possibly the end of money itself. At this point, I would like to introduce the concept of a resource-based economy, wherein the necessities of life are provided to people for free, without the need for employment.

Naturally, a critical thinker would respond with many different questions to this kind of proposal, which is a good thing. Some of the common questions posed deal with the timeless debate of “nature vs. nurture”. However, as can be seen from the links I have provided above, the human species does have a capacity to change and learn to be sociable. Another common question that arises deals with motivation. Simply put, what would motivate humans to do anything if they were provided all of their basic needs without a price tag? The answer is simple: stuff they like. Sure, some people would argue that most people would just lie around all day having fun. But is there really anything intrinsically wrong with that? It’s not going to be as if nobody will ever do science or develop technology as if those were terribly boring activities. There wouldn’t be any problem with someone just lying around for months at a time, although I’m pretty sure that that person would eventually get bored with inactivity and wind up looking for something to do.

Now there are probably tons of other issues that are unresolved in your mind, such as those of how to deal with property, government, crime, etc. Why wouldn’t there? This is a huge fundemantal shift of perspective from mainstream economics and having these questions in mind is simply an indicator of a skeptical, cautious, and healthy mind. However, in the interest of avoiding a tl;dr post, I shall leave you with some links that will hopefully cover a lot of your questions:

The Venus Project – an organization that advocates the implementation of a resource-based economy
The Zeitgeist Movement – the activist arm of The Venus Project; concerned primarily with spreading awareness of these issues (Here are the Philippine Chapter’s Facebook group and page)

I invite you all to join the movement. Like FF, it is open to people from all nationalities, religions, and walks of life, and also highly values reason and science as important tools for learning about our world.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.