I was reading “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” tonight, and there’s a bit in there about how the androids take books from libraries on earth and smuggle them to the space colonies on Mars in order to make a bunch of money. Philip K Dick could imagine space travel being fixed by technology, and this technology would solve issues of getting to Mars, but he didn’t expect the issue of getting books to Mars to be solved much simpler by things like the internet or e-books. But the thing people often miss is that technological problems are often solved in much more elegant but unexpected ways. Philip K Dick of course wasn’t trying to predict the future. He was trying to tell a story about human nature and relationships.
The replicator is probably not the way food problems will be solved. Or problems in general. 3D printing might becoming common place, and it certainly looks like it will these past couple of years, but it will not solve all problems of commerce. If you go back 60 years, you’ll hear the modernists exclaiming how mass production was going to do the exact same thing. George Jetson only worked 8 hours a week, because with daily luxuries so cheap, why would anyone work more? Then people figured out that mass manufactured objects sometimes suck and the standard for what is “good enough” changes as more resources become available. A simple toy is just not good enough for a kid who as seen a walking talking animatronic teddy bear. In many ways we already have a post scarcity society. This fellow made a toaster from scratch. and it cost him 60,000 and 6 months. That same toaster can be bought for about 10 quid at your nearest appliance shop. If that’s not practically post-scarcity, I don’t know what is.
Hybrid car owners use just as much gas as their carbon-fuel buffet attack squad brethren because they can afford it. Better gas mileage simply means they will travel farther for the same amount of gas.
If you go back 100 years, the richest of the rich didn’t have nearly the technology at their hands that even the poorest of the poor have today(applies to industrial countries only). If you go back even 15 years, the luxury car phones of Wall Street big wigs looks pitiful next to the cheapest smartphone. Post-scarcity doesn’t become a reality because human nature is built on consumption to it’s highest point. In a scarce world, you eat as much as you can because you don’t know when your next meal is. There are now more people dying from obesity than malnutrition globally. The issues of food scarcity aren’t technological, they’re political and social.
Money makes people happier, up to to a point. That point is around 70,000 dollars a year, or middle class. This obviously wasn’t the tipping point 50 years ago, so what changes? People’s perceptions. Barring real issues of safety and health (and those are legitimate issues for many people), a lot of discomfort with “poverty” is social perception. It feels bad to be making less money than someone else, especially if you think you’re smarter, or a better person. If you perceive someone as a peer and they do better than you, it makes you feel bad, and in democratic society, everyone is a peer, even if they aren’t really. As big a shitheads as many CEOs are, they’re in the 77-98 percentile of IQ scores. They’re rich for a reason. So the issue here isn’t really that there is a certain level of wealth that people need to achieve, but rather a perception of their own wealth and achievement. If you grew up on a farm, surrounded by farmers, you probably didn’t feel to bad about becoming a farmer. It’s partially through the bombardment of modern media and fantasy laden success stories that bend people away from that. This of course has both good and bad effects.
The point I’m trying to make here is that a technological gizmo isn’t what is going to give us a post-scarcity world or fix all our problems or ease our social ills. We’re already in a post-scarcity world in many ways but it isn’t going to change the age old desire to consume.