Monday 2012-05-07

At a party over the weekend, I was carrying on about our robotic future, after which a friend sent me The Lights in the Tunnel.

The last Amazon review indicates that Ford sees significant roles for governments. There's certainly room for conflict: on one side gov'ts love investment, so we have stuff like deductions for robots while we also penalize companies for having workers via FICA et al. personnel taxes. However gov'ts will also protect workers, e.g. how the US goes from putting up a Statue of Liberty in 1886 to the Emergency Quota Act in 1921.

It's not super obvious to me which way gov'ts will go. However, the interactions between gov'ts seem interesting.

Cartels seem unstable -- OPEC, Kyoto, etc. provide immediate benefits to those who defect from the cartel and maintain the illusion that they are still in the cartel. A recent innovation has been the use of bank networks to enforce compliance (we blacklist your banks unless they submit to our regulatory regime), which finally defeated Switzerland. Control of those flows of capital will raise the stakes for defectors.

However, what happens when a gov't can avoid Trade? Autarky has been a pipe-dream for the longest time, however several large countries have access to enough materials to probably go almost purely autarkic.

That would be a very different world than what we have today. ;)

From the reviews, Ford seems to have a broken assumption: they view an economy like a family dinner table; there's only so much food, so when you take for yourself, you take from your brother; so having more brothers or robots is bad. That ignores how the food got there in the first place; wouldn't more people working help make more food?

To assume that the amount of work to be done is finite is to disregard a whole lot of history (all of it? ;)

Furthermore, to assume that people won't adapt seems equally naive.

However since negative adaptations may occur, I worry about gov'ts forming working cartels to control the flow of people and capital. The war that Switzerland lost spilled no blood and little ink.

Currently, I think more ink was warranted; how do we avoid/preclude ending up with a future where we wish both quantities were different?