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Monthly Archives: March 2013

Badges

One of the most solid and enlightening findings from modern psychology is the extent to which people are tribal. It does seem that 80% of human behavior is used for social signalling. Most of what we do and say has little rational content, and is mostly intended to signal belonging to a tribe or some subset of it. Even most linguistic behavior, and languages themselves, are little more than badges of tribal membership.

Not to say that’s a bad thing; you can’t make bricks without clay, evolution works with what’s available, and human brains were selected for sociability for a reason. But we happen to live in the post-Enlightenment, and the general assumption is that people are rational. Of course if people were rational they would agree in most issues, yet they don’t. That’s a priori very hard to understand. The typical answer to the paradox is that some people are evil. Which does explain some of it, but doesn’t really solve the problem, in fact it makes it worse by exacerbating conflict.

Everything makes much more sense when you understand that 99% of disagreement is due to people’s brains being tribal. The basic model is that people are hard-wired to choose a team, stick in it, and defend it no matter what. In the same way as there is a critical period for language learning (a vast majority of people are physically incapable of properly learning a foreign language after infancy), there probably is also a critical period for tribe-choosing. If you are a leftist after age 30, you will probably stay there no matter what. Ditto for everyone else. I just happened to stumble upon news of new Pope Francis I kissing the feet of some Muslim teen criminal in a detention center. Of course Catholics, some of which I’ve personally seen arguing for the nuking of Mecca and for expelling foreign criminals from the country, are defending the Pope’s “infinite charity” or whatever. Why do people even go all the way to Rome and cram into the Piazza di San Pietro just to cheer at a white blob the can’t even see in the distance? Well, they’re Catholic. That’s all that matters.

Every tribe (or “thede”, I still prefer tribe though)  has its own set of shibboleths that signal membership. The Catholic Church has a very smart structure, so they can adjust the shibboleths in a top down fashion. For all the talk of the Church as the quintessentially old and inflexible institution, its centralized structure means it can rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. See how quickly they turned left after 1962, denying everything they used to believe in for millennia, without altogether collapsing.

Most tribes though are more decentralized, and rely on consensus shibboleths, which makes it much harder to change and adapt. In the worst case you get an arms race of new shibboleths racing for supremacy, i.e. the leftist singularity. In most cases though you just get old, stale, rotten arguments repeated for decades without any further thought. See Libertarianism. They just go on sputtering the same old crap.

Say the talk about the minimum wage. Libertarians today are organized around three shibboleths: Minimum wage is bad, free trade is good, open borders are good. If you disagree with these, or try to analyze them with any level of detail, you get kicked out of the tribe. Which means you don’t get hired at George Mason University. And that’s bad. They pay pretty well at GMU. And they provide free bubbles where even borderline autists can get hot chicks and raise a bunch of children.

I understand the old argument against the minimum wage: some people just aren’t very productive, which means they won’t be hired for the minimum wage, which means they won’t get experience so they will never become productive. Fair enough. You know, abstract arguments can go on and on and on, and you can even argue that anal sex is cool because snails are hermaphrodite. But let’s come back to concrete reality for a moment. There’s tons of arguments for a minimum wage. First there’s the fact that some employers are just evil. Just read Wal Mart is losing revenue because they are having trouble staffing their supermarkets. And they are saving wages from present employees by make them work only the hours deemed necessary by management. How much money is Wal Mart making? How much money do the Waltons have? How much land does as person need?

Then there’s the argument that free competition doesn’t really exist, private exploitation does, it is very likely that people could be hired for peanuts, coerced/manipulated/brainwashed into going on forever in a semi-slavery situation. Anyone who has been in business for any amount of time knows that wages, like any other prices, have nothing to do with productivity or cost. Prices depend only on bargaining ability. The same way as there are rip-off prices everywhere in the market, employers could and would rip-off employees by any means they could get away with. In China the routinely kill annoying workers in the coal mines. In Japan they round up homeless bums, drug them with amphetamines and lock them in mountain camps to dig tunnels.

But I don’t think that’s the real rationale for a minimum wage. The fact is that having people work for peanuts does make economic sense, but from a societal standpoint, it’s unseemly. Inequality is a fact of life, in fact one of the most real and stable facts of life. But it’s unseemly. People don’t want to live in the same society as people who earn less than, say, 10 bucks an hour. Poor people suck for tons of reasons, they tend to be stupid, crass, dress badly, have bad hygiene, but beyond all, poor people remind you of where you come from, and where you might go to. People deny HBD because in some part of their brains, they know regression to the mean is true, and poor people remind you of the phantom of downward mobility. HBD-denial and the war on poverty aren’t about helping the poor. Eradicating poverty means you won’t become poor yourself.

Abolishing the minimum wage means that, in a worst-case scenario, you might be forced to work for less than a legal minimum for a not so unseemly lifestyle. And that’s fucking scary. Anxiety is bad for you.

Federico says that the minimum wage is an elite conspiracy against resilient (antifragile is a stupid word as is Taleb) communities autonomy. Well there’s something to it, but how much? Of course any government will try hard to disrupt any independent organizations in their jurisdiction. Government didn’t allow private corporations until 200 years ago. But anyway, any community wanting to train their people in any job aren’t having trouble with the minimum wage. Are the Amish paying minimum wage to their teenage carpenters? Are the Feds messing with Hasidic kids helping in the family store? There’s tons of loopholes. It’s not about that. The people like the minimum wage. It’s comforting.

I personally don’t see the benefit of having people working for peanuts. If someone really is incapable of producing more than 8 bucks an hour, and doesn’t have family or friends to give them a black market job, I’d rather not have him in the workplace. I just don’t want to see the guy. I don’t want to be taught of his existence. It’s unseemly. People don’t want to live in reality. They want to live in Lake Wobegon.

Beyond Bias

There’s a lot of talk out there on the decline of civilization, and how it shows clearly in a lower rate of technological progress, the general quality of public discourse, etc.

Well of course I also think that Western Civilization is in serious decline. Hell, that’s what the whole blog is about. But to say that no progress at all has been happening in the last decades would be overdoing it. That’s simply not true. As bad as some science is becoming (Global warming etc.) researchers worldwide, and especially in the Evil Empire of USG, are churning out good stuff. As Falkenstein said a while ago, reading modern cognitive science does make you feel smarter than the ancients.

I think what’s been advancing the most is the Science of Stupidity. Cognitive science has been booming in the last years, and it shows. Fuck Pinker, but people like Haidt or Gazzaniga have been doing really great stuff about how the mind works. And while Yudkowsky is a bit of an ass, Robin Hanson’s writings have made me understand a lot of things that I didn’t before. The sheer amount of cognitive biases in people’s thinking is just staggering. Yet true.

You see, what’s most stupefying about the world is not the sheer amount of stupid people, but the sheer amount of stupidity per se. I get the biological reasoning behind dumb people, genes selection and all that. But what makes no much sense is all those dumb ideas thrown away by people who should know better. That used to bug me to no end. Now I know better, thanks to Hanson and others. I wouldn’t say it’s made me happier, but I am much more at peace with the world now. Most of the time.

But sometimes I just can’t help it. The New York Times just put a goddamn op-ed saying that fag marriage is natural because, you see, snails fertilize themselves. Or something like that. Oh yeah and cherry trees have two sets of gametes in each flower. Does it matter? Even if all carbon-based living beings were heterosexual and monogamous, some astronomer would come up and say that some systems have dual stars ergo dudes should be able to marry and adopt pretty boys.

I did lose faith in most intertribal dialogue a long time ago. Now it seems that it’s biologically determined. Funnily enough, liberal insanity is as much a part of HBD as the racial gap or the IQ distribution. Nydwracu is trying to base neo-reaction on our newly acquired understanding of human group psychology. I propose the first tenet to be: stop talking to leftists. It’s no use.

Lee Kuan Yew drains your brains for short term gain

Et tu, Harry?

The paper, which projects 6.9 million people by 2030, charts the country’s strategies in managing a shrinking and ageing population.

A question on Japan’s ageing society during the dialogue triggered the discussion.

Mr Lee noted how Japan refused to take in migrants and that led to the situation it is facing today.

Mr Lee said: “So I see a nation reduced to half in 20 years, and if it still continues with the same policy, reduced to a further half, and eventually, it is all over!

“To have a nation, you must have people and you must have young people to be able to drive the economy and young people buy the products — all these gadgets and fine dining — and if you don’t have that, and you refuse migrants as the Japanese do, you will just dissolve into nothingness! I think before that comes, they may change (their) policy.”

A question on China’s one—child policy was also raised during the dialogue.

Mr Lee said China is headed in the wrong direction with this policy as a shrinking and ageing population will mean assets, such as property prices, will go down.

“Property prices will go down, assets will go down. There is no younger generation to put the pressure up so I think it is heading towards the wrong direction,” said Mr Lee.

He added Singapore is in a similar position with its low total fertility rate but the difference is that Singapore takes in migrants to make up for the numbers.

Mr Lee pointed out that authorities here maintain a “certain quality of control” and that is one reason why he feels other emerging ASEAN economies are unlikely to surpass Singapore anytime soon.

Mr Lee said: “They will make progress but if you look at the per capita they have got, the differences are so wide. We have the advantage of quality control of the people who come in so we have bright Indians, bright Chinese, bright Caucasians so the increase in population means an increase in talent.”

How many bright Indians and bright Chinese are there, Harry? Surely they are not infinite. And what will they do in Singapore? Well, engage in the finance and marketing rat-race and depress their fertility to 0.78, wasting valuable genes just so your property prices don’t go down. Singapore is an IQ shredder.

And using Japan as a bogeyman. Japan has 120 million people. How many bright Chinese and bright Indians is Japan supposed to take in to offset their demographic decline? 10 million? Do they exist in those numbers? And what then? Would they show any allegiance towards the Japanese nation? Of course not. But what does he care? What’s important is those property prices. And fine dining! Hey, didn’t he have a chat with Tyler Cowen last year?

And China is wrong to restrict fertility! Of course, why on earth would China think that 1.3 billion people are enough? The fact that it doesn’t have enough water or energy to cater for them surely means something? But not to Lee Kuan Yew. For all his sham rhetoric,  Singapore migrants are mostly low wage laborers. Who would build his condos if China restricts fertility?

Lee Kuan Yew is widely admired because he had the guts to stand for his tribe, the southern Chinese people in Singapore, and build a fine country for them. But that didn’t last. Because the real tribe of southeastern Chinese isn’t their people. It’s the Money God.

Bitcoin 1984

I confess I knew little about bitcoin, and had little interest, until I saw Nick Land call it “essentially an experiment in Austrian monetary theory”. Cool idea. I got excited too. No inflation! Then I recalled that I didn’t believe in Austrian economics anymore.  I’m a Mannian.  I believe everything is politics. And I also believe in Jim A. Donald, that ever greater leftism is the fundamental arrow of political time.

Somebody put it more succinctly, decades ago.

First law of O’Sullivan: Any institution that is not explicitly right wing will become left wing over time.

Now let me check… is the Bitcoin Foundation explicitly right wing?

No, it is not. So it surely follows that, with enough time, the Bitcoin Foundation will be swallowed by the ever growing Cathedral behemoth, and bitcoin itself will eventually be found a use to promote Cathedral causes.

A commenter at Nick Land’s spells it out:

I don’t think this is true. My disagreement with Moldbug’s thesis is twofold:
1. I don’t think it is totally implausible that a bitcoin changer might implement satisfactory Know Your Customer procedures and thus be a legitimate ‘money transmitter’ under FINCAN regs.
1a. The bitcoin community may voluntarily do this themselves. The nature of bitcoin — transactions are secure because they are publically broadcast — lends itself to bitcoin users voluntarily maintaining a blacklist of bitcoins known to have passed through wallets known to be owned by e.g. child pornographers.

I am not very aware of how bitcoin works, but another commenter, at Moldbug’s, explains it further:

> These requirements will increase and expand to other parties over time, until bitcoin, not actually being anonymous in the first place due to an extremely naive cryptographic design, becomes the most non-anonymous currency around.

This. This is what will happen. The government already hates 100$ bills and 20$ bills. The government will be able to issue “bitcoin-backed” “fractional reserve” loans, and confiscate bitcoins if needed; maybe they’ll force people to use bitcoin software that accepts new issues of bitcoins. But they certainly won’t make bitcoins actually anonymous.

Bitcoins are like 20$ bills whose serial numbers are recorded at almost every transaction. You get bitcoin #1234 from your employer it’s later confiscated from a drug dealer, so the police ask you where you spent it. If you had spent it at the laundromat or the donut shop or the train station, that would be a matter of public record. If you had given it to your buddy for fixing your bike, where it went from him would be a matter of public record.

Suddenly piracy really does fund the drug trade: anyone who buys an unlicensed DVD from a street vendor runs the risk of having to explain where they spent that bitcoin when it reaches a drug dealer, because no one wants to give bitcoins that can be traced to them to drug dealers.

So I take it bitcoin’s can be reliably traced back to their users. So first you blacklist child pornographers, then drug dealers, then wife beaters, then racists, then misogynists, then homophobes, and eventually all heterosexual white men.

People are getting reeled up about the USG shutting down bitcoin, and whether that would succeed, or the backslash from the uber-smart hacker heroes would eventually expose the USG incompetence and cause the collapse of fiat money. Cool story bro.

May I ask why would the USG want to shut it down, risking a hacker backslash, when it can just co-opt it? Bitcoin can be nationalized and put to use to the benefit of the Cathedral. In the name of fighting discrimination and all things nasty. “Alternative, non-traceble virtual currencies will arise!” you might say. Oh but then the USG will really shut them down. Crash them mercilessly. You surely can’t tolerate a currency used by child pornographers, can you?! There you go.

The common people, now willfully ignorant of what bitcoin is and means, will be made to known about it, and mobilized to have an opinion on why bitcoin is superior, why all moral people must use government bitcoin, and why we have always been at war with Eastasia. For details on how they’ll do so, check out Moldbug’s latest.

She really just said that

A while ago I had the mother of all chats with Nick Land in our local classy bar in Shanghai.

It felt like we just reached the singularity just by ourselves. Might have been the whisky though. Yeah it probably was that.

Perhaps because I’m shy, but I tend to overcompensate the awkwardness of meeting strangers by talking too much. And the usual reaction to someone who just doesn’t shut up is agreeing and letting me talk. I guess it’s also me being the junior partner, i.e. I talk more mundane stuff that he can relate to. It’s easier for the conversation to go on by me talking about China, than not Nick Land talking about Deleuze and Gattari, or the nature of time.

Still today we had a pretty even-handed debate, on tribalism and the singularity and expat life and all that. We actually reach several end points where no further debate was possible. When you start talking on macroeconomics you know there’s little real data to throw around, and although speculating with scotch is fun, it’s seldom productive.

There’s tons of posts to be written to elaborate all we talked about, but it was all quite abstract and can wait really.

He did ask me to write about one of our most salient disagreements, which is about the political theory of Moldbug, i.e. Neocameralism. Or Formalism, or whatever.

Now I was a late comer to the Moldbug party, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but the idea of Neocameralism is to abolish democratic politics, and actually politics qua power conflicts at all by formalizing the power structure on any polity through a corporate form. The people with actual political power becoming shareholders, and investing their power in a sovereign CEO who would rule by his own discretion, only to answer to the shareholders. All non-shareholding citizens would be absolutely deprived of power or freedom of political speech, and any attempt to subvert the state is to be answered through The Machinegun.

I talked about Neocameralism as been all but debunked, and even Moldbug himself doesn’t talk much about it anymore. Nick Land was startled, and asked for clarification. Is Neocameralism debunked?

Well, isn’t it? Isn’t it patently absurd from the face of it? I don’t have the time nor the energy to back to browsing Unqualified Reservations and check out the comments threads, where smart commenters like Vladimir or TGGP showed how political societies simply don’t work like that. Moldbug was fond of raising the examples of Singapore and Dubai.

Well there’s the issue about Singapore and Dubai being city-states. City states by definition are not countries, nor really independent. They are parasitic nodes that live off the money of the surrounding countries. Normally it’s because of lower taxes, or a better financial system. That’s by definition not scalable. Singapore doesn’t live off the wealth itself generates. Singapore is a low-tax shopping mall. But mostly it is an investment fund. It manages the money of the SE Asia Chinese community, which are the dominant market minority of each country around. Which also happen to be shitholes without a functioning financial system. Of course Singapore wasn’t easy, and to attract all that capital it does offer top-notch services.

This also requires total political stability; you don’t want your money managers you trust to change because of spurious political arrangements. And yes Singapore has a very tight political system where dissent is strongly discouraged. You don’t get machine gunned, but if you protest, the government takes you to court for slander, and the court imposes a fine that bankrupts you, so you shut-up. Of course this only works because Singapore is not an enemy of the Cathedral, else the CIA will just fund the guy in aeternam so he keeps on protesting. It is a pretty smart system.

But of course Singapore is not stable because of its political arrangements. That’s only part of it. The greater part of it is that: life is pretty good for citizens, and people are very conscious of the superiority of their polity. They just have to look around, see how they are surrounded by Indonesia and Malaysia, shitholes where their ethnic cousins are discriminated against. So there’s a strong emotional component to Singaporeans obedience. The system is well set, but that is never enough.

As I see it, the great following that Moldbug acquired was because of his quintessentially programmer idea of having a STABLE system. A secure system immune to destabilization from outside. The idea, which I read explicitly stated at Anomaly UK is that all that’s wrong with democratic politics is the result of the fight for power, i.e. if the power was fixed and unchangeable, the people wouldn’t fight for it, and all problems would be gone. Political instability is THE thing to fix.

Well good luck with that. You can’t abolish politics. It’s like greed. Or the sex drive. It’s a basic human instinct. Of course you can set up a structure that minimizes the conflict that the will to power generates. The same way that monogamous marriage minimizes conflict for sex. But that doesn’t mean that married people don’t fuck around. Or that business people scam their associates.

Human institutions were set up to control basic human instincts, and they do that by harnessing the controlling power of the social fabric. You need a society to make norms stick. Marriage used to work, because if you reneged on your vows the village would ostracize you and your family. Until recently, all international business was done by ethnic communities who could count on each other to uphold their word. You need cohesion.

In the same way, a power structure to be stable needs cohesion. Of course having a smart system helps. But if the power holders are at each others throats, the system won’t last. We used to have kings. Then parliaments. Then limited suffrage. Then universal suffrage for all males over 25. Now in Ecuador they gave the right to vote to 16 year old kids! Why? Because the incumbent feared losing the election and knew he could count on the stupid children his schools are pumping out.

All political change is about elite infighting. All of it. All revolutions, coups, civil wars, all were about some small power holder wanting the place of the big power holder. How is Formalism going to change that? It can’t. The cohesion of the power holders is not something that you can buy or design. It’s a cultural trait. It’s not about money, or interest. Believe it or not, many or the elites don’t care about money. They don’t even care about power.

Beyond Singapore, is it thought that one of the best examples of a solid power structure is that of the Communist Party of China. It’s huge, it’s been through a lot, and it has the extremely tough job of managing 1.3 billion of the smartest people on earth. Yet here they are, proudly censoring the internet and filling modern megalopolis with hammers and sickles. The elite is also making massive amounts of money and they have no intention of loosening their hold on power or wealth. You’d think that the CCP is perfectly invulnerable to any democratic threat.

Well look at what the richest woman of China has to say to the official media of the official enemy of her homeland:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57572227-10391709/did-she-really-just-say-that-xin-on-democracy/

Yes, oh yeah she said that. This Chinese billionaire just throw her whole nation and political system under the bus, and said, to the everlasting delight of that insufferable puritan busybody hag, that what the Chinese nation craves, is democracy. Not civil rights, or liberties, mind you. Democracy. And nobody even asked her! Look at the interviewers, who look like they just won at the lottery. She said it! Wew!

Well let me make clear that what she said is pure horseshit. What Chinese people crave is money, and welfare, and perhaps the hanging of all those corrupt billionaires such as herself. Nobody gives a shit about democracy. But this billionaire bitch did throw a grenade on her own countries polity. A huge pile on shit on the system that gave her her fortune. This woman right now is a shareholder in a moldbuggian Formalist system. She has all the incentives in the world to support it.

So why did she say that? Why did she willingly threw a dagger into the stable system? Because she wants to be cool. She wants status. You might say she wants more power, and perhaps there’s something to it. But I think she just wants to feel better with herself, to feel equal to her cool American friends in her support for socialjustice.

See, there’s always an n amount of bitches (and assholes) like this in any elite. It doesn’t matter how stable your system is, if the culture is against it, the same elite will fracture and attack the system. It’s not a matter of incentives. The thing about power is that you can’t just assume that people with power will want to conserve it. Or will want more. Some will hold to it like it’s all they have. Some will crave more and more power and will fight for it consequences be damned. Some others will willingly trade power for other social goods.

Kingdoms were stable when the King was power-thirsty and sought to accumulate power in his person. But then other Kings went soft and were used by their family or associates. Or some annoying eunuch who learned how to manipulate it. The only way for power to be solid is for people to want power. The problem is you never know who is going to want it.

Here we have someone who wants power: Sheryl Sandberg. This bitch has made billions in her career, has the spotlight for working at a trendy place like Facebook. She could just relax and funnel money to the Republican party to keep her taxes down. But no, what does she do? Right a book on how bossy women are natural leaders, and how the US needs a women president Right Now. Like… herself, for example.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50142538n

For all the talk on the problems of HBD denialism, blank slatism, demotism, wishful thinking, how are those systemic problems at all? US elections have been analyzed, computerized and optimized in such an efficient way that the elections pretty much turn out in any way the Democratic campaign wants them too. The media parrots the official line without even having to force them. For all purposes, the USA, the same as China, is a tightly run plutocracy with negligible popular input.

The reason we have blank slatism or welfare is not that the people force it through the ballot. We have it because the elite has constant infighting, and eventually they always end up relying on the people. They might rely on the mob’s physical strength, like in the old days,  or just as a rhetorical point. Nobody wants to be a nasty bully anti-common people. And that’s because blank-slatism is the only narrative we have.

Neocameralism, or any different political arrangement is not going to work until the elite stops using demotism as a means of gaining status. And that won’t happen because HBD is taboo, and for good reason.

The Singularity is here

The leftist singularity has arrived. Maybe not the political singularity, the bloodbath that Jim predicts for when leftists lose any status-whoring objects to compete around. But the sociological singularity has just arrived.

See Steve Sailer’s insane find of Microaggressions. Power, privilege and daily life. Whatever people say, social science has advanced a lot in the last decades. And leftist indoctrination has also proceed apace. What you get from that are a generation of very sophisticated leftists. They were taught inequality is bad, and should be protested. Well now they have developed a very fine sense for inequality, and they can find it in every small detail of their life. Oh yeah. Power and privilege pervades the world. It’s not about social justice anymore. Any single deviation from inequality at any dimension, on any scale, is to be detected and analyzed.

But how can you live like that? Your focus is 24/7 on how to detect the smallest slight against your equality of status. Which also means that you have to be totally self-conscious, all of the time. Say, this one:

“You can do [x]. It’s not that hard.”

I have an invisible physical disability. I hear this from teachers, friends, and parents when I try to tell them about my ability level

Well if it’s fucking invisible how is anyone supposed to know? Oh, but that level of thinking would require empathy. And you can’t have that if you’re constantly searching for power imbalances. Singularity-level leftism means you don’t have mental resources available for that. Analyzing your and everyone’s status, and how every social interaction assumes some status or another. That must be really tiring.

Can it get worse than that? I don’t think so. This is the endpoint. This people will grow, and once a critical mass of un-empathic status leveler drones is achieved, society will collapse for lack of cooperation. Or they’ll die off of depression from not having their albino-transexual-deaf-mulatto uniqueness recognized. It’s the end.

Demanding work

Foseti asks What to do? i.e. what should we (people who understand that society is going to hell and why) do to prevent/palliate/fight the collapse.

It’s a good question. But it’s so 2012. Or 2010 maybe. As bad as dysgenics/balkanisation/moral collapse is, the sense of urgency has been totally replaced by the new Big Story. Which is the automation, and the Neo-Luddite panic that is sweeping all over the punditsphere. You know something is Big when Half Sigma just won’t shut up about it. The guy really has a good smell for what topics are popular. I guess that being a Jew on NYC will do that for you.

Of course the new automation economy is a bigger news story than The Fall. Everyone can see how automation might affect them personally, so there’s a general panic mood floating around. Even Razib had a gloomy post on it.The Fall is a metaphysical concept, it normally happens slowly, and hey we can all think of ways to profit from it. But if Skynet is happening we are all screwed. People are scared, there’s talks of Butlerian Jihad around. All of which is justified. Factories are getting robotized, and good software is making many office workers irrelevant. I helped introduce labor saving software in an old office, and kicked out a bunch of fat ugly proles. It felt good. Now I’m in the other side of the business, and I’m scared too. Sorry proles, I didn’t mean it.

But the fact that present stuff is getting automated doesn’t mean that eventually everything will be. We have to start thinking in making other stuff. It’s hard to change production models, or relations of production as Marx called them. Extremely hard. For all I know it might be impossible. But other ways of making stuff do exist. So we better start thinking on it.

Go to Japan, and enter any convenience store. It’s full of weird food and snacks and gadgets, and they all change every month. There are huge industries producing weird stuff, say rose-flavored Kit-Kat or 10x magazines for every teenage subculture. Agriculture is generally a small plot, family affair, and tons of labor goes into making every process more artisanal and high quality. Seriously, the quality focus and labor intensity of the food industry in Japan is insane.

See, there’s shitloads of stuff to do. They do it. But we don’t do any of that. Why? Because we don’t need them. The Japanese don’t need a different Kit Kat flavor every week, nor to do fix robot rails by hand, neither they need 10 cute co-eds in every McDonalds.  Nobody *needs* that.

But they do demand it. They feel very strongly that they need all that stuff. So they go and buy it. Of course it’s all an evil plot, fed by an immense advertising monopoly, which tells people to buy, and what to buy. See the myth of Japanese quality. People there just won’t buy foreign stuff. They eat their outrageously expensive 70% fat beef before actual Australian meat. They actually buy Japanese smartphones before Samsungs (which are cheaper and way better). There’s a long lasting theory about English education in Japan being horrible because the government doesn’t want the people to go abroad and buy foreign stuff. It certainly helps nourish a huge translation and publishing industry.

People are used to a consumption pattern, and over time they feel it’s natural. They get pissed if they can’t have all that stuff. So it gets done, and people buy it, and the money moves around, so there are jobs for everyone. Pretty inane, inconsequential jobs for the most part. You could argue that it’s subemployment, producing trivial, frivolous stuff, and employing armies of people to dupe the populace into consuming them. But it is also undeniable that the average quality of products in Japan is very high, and that having access to all that contributes to a higher quality of life.

Japan not only has a lot of jobs, it consistently overworks its people. Japan invented karoshi, and 200+ overtime hours a month is quite a standard affair. What are they producing with all that labor? Well not that much. Japan’s workplaces are famously inefficient. Paperwork is eerily stagnant since the 50s, company meetings happen daily and last for hours, and late night male-bonding with the boss is also common. As good as Japan was always with electronic hardware, the IT era has passed them by, and the Japanese IT industry is famously backward. Do you know any good japanese piece of software besides videogames? Well me neither.

If Bain Capital or some other US vulture come over and put its heart to it, they could rationalise any Japanese company and cut the labor force by 50% with no effect on output. But nobody wants that to happen, because the Japanese economy is based on consumption. Lots of it. For all the fame of thrifty Asians who save and export, but exports are only around 15% of the Japanese economy. Japan’s economy is based on using loads of labor to produce a lot of high quality weird stuff and push/bully/shame people into buying it. It was quite a shock to myself, but you really get to understand Keynes. Japan works because the country has successfully manipulated the people into a particular kind of consumerism. It won’t matter how much stuff robots produce, if the people are primed to buy ‘human quality’, or whatever buzzword they pump out to get the economy moving.

It’s funny, because most of the solutions, to the coming economic/societal crisis in the West are based on abandoning consumerism towards a more rational, frugal life, i.e. lower incomes are ok if you don’t buy so much stuff. The left is pushing hard for extending welfare into a universal Basic Income. With Open Borders.  Just think about it for a second. Ok stop shivering.

And the mood in the right is getting quite medieval actually. Talks of inequality bringing back the old patron-clients network of Rome, or feudal society where the masses would be employed in serving the property owners. The aspies at GMU talk about it like it’s no biggy. But think about it. Today’s inequality is orders of magnitude greater than Rome. How many servants does Warren Buffet need? Want? I guess Larry Ellison wouldn’t mind having a 15 year old Thracian slave girl making his laundry. But most rich people would rather have Miele appliances and be left alone.

A more frugal life is a choice I have made personally, but if all society went that way it would bury the economy for good. I agree that the benefits of scale are way past the point of diminishing returns, and further scaling of industrial production might be  positively harmful. A move towards smaller, more labor intensive enterprises might mean smaller communities in less dense urban settings. All high IQ populations are losing numbers, so that’s a factor too. But that doesn’t meant that people should stop consuming. Until we find a way to raise IQs so we can all design our own robots and forgo status-whoring, or the singularity devours us all, the only solution to over-supply is matching it with (picky) over-demand.

Either that, or Marx is back.