Estimate the Cost of Immortality

post by Algernoq · 2015-12-13T11:38:50.841Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 116 comments

How much money would it take to engineer biological immortality for at least half of the world's population, within 20 years, with 99% confidence?

 

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comment by brazil84 · 2015-12-13T20:39:43.107Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

How many women would it take to carry a human baby from conception to viable birth in 1 month?

comment by Sergej_Shegurin · 2015-12-21T15:14:48.224Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We all know that human pregnancy doesn't scale. We all know that some other problems do scale. So I really don't understand those 18 points to the comment. One can always think up many different analogies leading to different conclusions. Even if we ignore scaling issue, sigma of duration of pregnancy is smth like a week perhaps. However other processes like creative thinking or inventing new ideas might have sigma comparable to mean.

comment by brazil84 · 2015-12-21T17:50:50.059Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We all know that human pregnancy doesn't scale. We all know that some other problems do scale

I'm not sure what you mean by "scale." When you say that some problems "do scale," I assume you mean that there are tasks where if you double the resources thrown at them, the amount of time to complete the task will be cut in half.

If you look at large, complicated projects involving new technologies, there seem to be at least several aspects to the project: First, the creative brilliant thinking; second, actual construction, manufacturing, and assembly; and third, the small and large failures which occur along the way, which require rethinking, redesigning, and re-manufacturing various components and concepts.

It is this third aspect which concerns me. Because it appears to be an iterative process which will suck down a minimum amount of time no matter how clever you are and no matter how much resources you throw at a problem.

Not only that, there is also the problem of coordination and communication. Common sense says that this will result in diminishing returns.

Of course nobody knows just what's involved in creating practical immortality, but I think it's reasonable to hypothesize that for the above reasons it will necessarily require a good deal more than 20 years no matter how much of a priority it is.

So I really don't understand those 18 points to the comment.

Probably people thought it was cool that I made reference to The Mythical Man Month.

However other processes like creative thinking or inventing new ideas might have sigma comparable to mean.

If it were just creative thinking or inventing new ideas, I would be inclined to agree. But there is still the iterative process of engineering, building, testing, revising, etc. And there's a lot that can go wrong with a human body so presumably there are a lot of problems to solve.

comment by Viliam · 2015-12-14T08:41:02.262Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now you speak like an IT manager. :D

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-13T23:30:52.138Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

How many gold coins would it take for the Roman Empire to land a man on the moon, within 20 years, with 99% confidence?

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T16:02:19.952Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would estimate approximately

MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM ...

Is it permissible to write III^^^III ?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-15T17:04:57.184Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

At which point the weight of all this gold would probably be sufficient to start a gravitational collapse leading to a black hole.

And since the man and the moon would meet inside the black hole, PROBLEM SOLVED!

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-12-13T13:19:40.168Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

How much money would it take to engineer biological immortality for at least half of the world's population, within 20 years, with 99% confidence?

More than the entire world's GDP.

Really, though, 99 % confidence is too big of a number to be throwing around when we're talking about problems that are this hard to solve. Also, things like "how is the money being spent" matter a lot, too.

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-12-13T13:43:51.927Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do want anti-aging research to work. It's just that even a 2% chance that there's a sufficiently difficult short-term roadblock to engineering anti-aging tech would guarantee that no amount of resources could spur us to engineer biological immortality for that many people with 99% confidence in the next 20 years.

comment by turchin · 2015-12-13T22:05:32.907Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The biggest money should be spent not on research, but on lobbing, by the way.

One of the ways to do it is to change regulation which will allow to create "human brainless clones" and a technology to transfer a brain from old body to the new one. (Now both technologies are banned, and head transplants banned even on rats).

Head transplant technology is now in its infancy but large investment could make it cheap and safe.

But other large scale investments in antiaging, cryonics, artificial organs digital immortality would also help.

Creation of safe AI in the next 20 years will also solve the problem.

I guestimate 1 trillion dollars a year for all it or even less.

comment by Algernoq · 2015-12-13T11:48:24.372Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My naive linear model is that ~$400 billion research funding currently spent per year buys about 1 year increased lifespan per decade, so it would take about $4 trillion per year spent on research to stop aging, or a one-time investment of $80 trillion. For 99% confidence I'll add a safety factor of 4, yielding a one-time payment of $320 trillion, or $16 trillion per year. In other words, this back-of-the-envelope guess suggests the entire economic output of the United States would be just sufficient to discover and maintain an aging cure.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-13T13:12:39.086Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that all of the increased lifespan is due to healthcare spending. Various enviromental regulation likely increased lifespan. Our current paradigm of drug development unfortunately get's exponentially more expensive via Eroom's law. I doubt that simply spending more money in the same way produces linear progress.

I think the problem of the mythical man month also exists in research. You can't simply throw in more money. Given researchers money can often make them spend money on fancy equipment instead of thinking hard about what to do.

As far as hopes for the future of biology goes, I hope that Theranos will introduce something like Moore's law into blood testing prices. If it succeeds with that mission it's not simply because there a lot of money thrown into blood testing but because Theranos focus on producing cheap blood testing while currently the companies in the market have no incentives to test cheaply.

YCombinators turn to fund biotech companies also fills me with hope. Bikanta Nanodiamond technology that allows very high resultion imaging of anything that you can hit with an antibody fills me with hope. The promise 100X more precise cancer imaging but if their technology really works and the can do it cheap, it has application beyond just cancer because being able to image anything at high resolution will allow us to learn to tag a lot of different things with antibodies. You could tag drugs with the nanodiamonds to see where in the body the drug travels.

The fact that nanodiamonds are a solution also suggests that simply moving all research dollars to biology would be bad because nanodiamonds needed a lot of physics research to become viable. Better signal processing algorithms and AI might also further increase the precision of their imaging.

Another great biotech company founded by YCombinator is uBiome. Thanks to relatively cheap DNA sequencing they track bacteria population on skin/mouth/gut/nose and penis/vagina. At present sequencing prices their technology isn't mass market compatible but if sequencing prices continue to drop at rates of Moore's law or faster than Moore's law we will have a new area of medicine. In 20 years we might all consciously repopulate our bacteria populations.

comment by V_V · 2015-12-13T13:59:46.185Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as hopes for the future of biology goes, I hope that Theranos will introduce something like Moore's law into blood testing prices.

Isn't Theranos currently going down in flames?

because Theranos focus on producing cheap blood testing while currently the companies in the market have no incentives to test cheaply.

Why wouldn't they have such incentive? It seems that Theranos could offer prices much lower than the market price because Theranos tests were much less accurate than standard medical tests, perhaps to the point of outright fraud.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-13T21:00:52.221Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't Theranos currently going down in flames?

There a lot of money currently invested in attacking Theraros. That's no indication that the company has a problem but that it threatens established interests.

because Theranos tests were much less accurate than standard medical tests, perhaps to the point of outright fraud.

A company for that's true wouldn't lobby for the FDA to regulate their tests. Nothing that happened indicates that Theranos believes that they aren't confident that the FDA will approve their test.

Why wouldn't they have such incentive?

Prices are fixed by the Medicare reinbursement rate and other insurance companies paying that rate. Lab companies in the existing market can't win by offering lower prices than their competitors. That changes through the direct to consumer sales that Theranos is doing.
At the point where the governments believes tests can be done more cheaply they reduce reinbrusements rates. As a result the labs don't focus on developing technogy to get cheaper testing and the basic way testing is done is the same at it was four decades. They have incentives to develop better tests and tests for new things but they don't have real incentives to reduce the prices.

Theranos is completely right in their lobbying agenda of pushing for direct to consumer sales to produce a functioning marketplace and push for patients rights to see the exact results of their medical tests while asking the FDA to regulate them.

comment by V_V · 2015-12-14T10:27:23.125Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There a lot of money currently invested in attacking Theraros. That's no indication that the company has a problem but that it threatens established interests.

Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

A company for that's true wouldn't lobby for the FDA to regulate their tests. Nothing that happened indicates that Theranos believes that they aren't confident that the FDA will approve their test.

Unless they believe that they could cheat or bribe the FDA.

Prices are fixed by the Medicare reinbursement rate and other insurance companies paying that rate. Lab companies in the existing market can't win by offering lower prices than their competitors.

If a lab company could run the test for a lower cost and charge the same price as its competitors, it would make a larger profit.

That changes through the direct to consumer sales that Theranos is doing.

I don't see the rationale for this business model. If Theranos had a technology that allowed them to provide the same tests that other lab companies do, with the same quality, and at a lower cost, then Theranos would have an incentive to sell to health care providers. Even if the price is set by the buyer, lower costs would allow Theranos to make a profit.

Directly selling to patients tests that they probably don't need and they have no expertise to interpret, skipping the licensed health care system, reeks of quack medicine and is a major warning sign that their product is not good enough for medical purposes.

At the point where the governments believes tests can be done more cheaply they reduce reinbrusements rates. As a result the labs don't focus on developing technogy to get cheaper testing and the basic way testing is done is the same at it was four decades.

That would require massive collusion between nominal competitors at a worldwide level. Seems unlikely.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-14T21:55:36.679Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds like a conspiracy theory.

If you consider a companies who might go bankrupt because a cheaper competitor undercuts them in price hiring a PR team to fight against their competitor a conspiracy theory, than call it a conspiracy theory.

I don't see the rationale for this business model.

At current prices you can only sell blood tests that screen for cancer for people who have symptoms that indicate they might have cancers. If you radically reduce the costs of the blood tests you can also start to sell the tests to people who might have risk of cancer because of DNA but who show no symptoms.

As a result the Theranos is optimized for providing tests as cheaply as possible. Of course that conflicts with the business model of the established players.

Directly selling to patients tests that they probably don't need and they have no expertise to interpret

Studies consistently show that most doctors don't have real experience to interpret tests either. They get Bayes rule wrong and Bayes rule is the key to interpreting testing results. Software that can actually calculate the right probabilities has a good chance of doing a better job. Over time it can throw in a bunch of machine learning algorithms and interpret DNA to make better judgments than doctors can.

Currently a lot of people take Vitamin supplements without actually having data about their Vitamin levels. Cheap over the counter tests would change that state of affairs. Less people who have too much iron in their blood would take iron supplements as self medication. If we move from a model where the average person on the street doesn't buy a multivitamin in the health store but buys a bunch of tests and takes vitamins if there a deficiency that would be a radical improvement over the status quo and you don't need to involve doctors for that.

I don't think that the model of health where it's about having 10 minute conversations with doctors that tell you what you should do with the limited knowledge they gained in the 10 minutes is an effective model. For myself daily measurement of my lung function gave me information that a session at the doctors office didn't because the doctor only measured my lung function on a single day. For healthy living it's important to not externalize the concern for one's own body.

That doesn't mean that it can't be valuable to talk to doctors but it doesn't have to be the only action. Plurality of approaches is valuable.

Apart from that science profits a lot from a lot of people have a lot of blood values tested and the results uploaded to the Electronic Health Records. Having more testing because tests are cheaper is very valuable for that.

That would require massive collusion between nominal competitors at a worldwide level.

That's a bit like like saying the taxi industry engaged in massive collusion because it didn't invent Uber-like software itself. An entrenched industry seldom disrupts itself.

The lab companies decided to compete only based on quality instead of competing based on price. That's their business. For clinical purposes a tiny loss of test accuracy is well worth an improvement in the price (both money and blood) by one to two orders of magnitude.

In DNA sequencing shotgun sequencing was strongly opposed because it results in lower quality data. At the same time it gave multiple orders of magnitude cheaper DNA sequencing. If the DNA sequencing industry would have operated like the blood testing industry it wouldn't have radically faster than Moore's laws price improvements. If we want immortality than we need to copy the lessons we learned from DNA sequencing to other areas in biology.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T15:50:12.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Unless they believe that they could cheat or bribe the FDA.

What makes them special? Large pharma companies tend to lose billions of dollars in valuation when a promising drug fails FDA trials -- clearly, they are unable to "cheat or bribe" the FDA.

But going back to Theranos, I believe the problem they ran into is local variance: when you analyse tiny amounts of blood, two samples from the same blood draw end up with very different measurements for some quantities of interest. You just need a larger sample and that is a big problem for Theranos.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-14T21:00:58.413Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But going back to Theranos, I believe the problem they ran into is local variance: when you analyse tiny amounts of blood, two samples from the same blood draw end up with very different measurements for some quantities of interest. You just need a larger sample and that is a big problem for Theranos.

I think that's an issue but Theranos tests don't need to match existing tests in accuracy to be useful in a clinical setting.

Both blood to be drawn from veins and money are limited resources. If Theranos can mange over time to test two orders of magnitude cheaper on both resources then you circumvent the problem of local variance by testing multiple times. Testing multiple times has the advantage that you can circumvent temporal variance as well which current testing procedures don't do well. Multiple tests also give you data about the local variance and the size of the local variance is plausibly a clinically relevant number.

comment by V_V · 2015-12-14T17:55:25.422Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What makes them special? Large pharma companies tend to lose billions of dollars in valuation when a promising drug fails FDA trials -- clearly, they are unable to "cheat or bribe" the FDA.

What is your point? If Theranos is a scam, then it wouldn't be the first scam operated by overconfident people, or just people with very little risk aversion.

How could Bernie Madoff run a massive Ponzi scheme right under the SEC's nose without expecting to get caught? Well, he did it anyway, and in fact he managed to get away with it for perhaps decades, and if it wasn't for the 2007 financial crisis, I'd bet he would be still running it.

But going back to Theranos, I believe the problem they ran into is local variance: when you analyse tiny amounts of blood, two samples from the same blood draw end up with very different measurements for some quantities of interest. You just need a larger sample and that is a big problem for Theranos.

Maybe. I don't know anything about blood testing, so I can't evaluate their claims at object level. What I know is that their business consists in a product based on an alleged technological breakthrough that they were never been able to conclusively demonstrate. And they are trying to sell to non-experts who aren't able to evaluate the quality of the product that they buy.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-14T20:56:02.397Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How could Bernie Madoff run a massive Ponzi scheme right under the SEC's nose without expecting to get caught?

He didn't invite the SEC to audit him. Theranos did invite the FDA. The FDA audited them and found issues where they think Theranos has to improve and Theranos plans to improve on them. That the system working as it should.

It's not a problem for Theranos business model that they will have to add a few extra processes to raise quality. The system is working as it should.

What I know is that their business consists in a product based on an alleged technological breakthrough that they were never been able to conclusively demonstrate.

That's because you are uninformed because you believe media that tries to trash Theranos. To date Theranos got two FDA approvals.

And they are trying to sell to non-experts who aren't able to evaluate the quality of the product that they buy.

While they do plan to sell to non-experts they want the FDA to be the judge over whether they can sell the product and that also means the FDA will regulate what Theranos can write on the label of the tests.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T18:12:27.158Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is your point?

You said: "Unless they believe that they could cheat or bribe the FDA". Do you actually have any reason to think this is a likely possibility?

I don't know anything about blood testing, so I can't evaluate their claims at object level

So why did you decide to jump in and focus the discussion on Theranos?

comment by Protagoras · 2015-12-15T22:43:42.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of biological research is inherently slow, because you have to wait to observe effects on slow processes in living things. Probably the only way to get rapid research progress on immortality is with vastly superior computer models running on vastly superior computers substituting for as much as possible of the slow observing what really goes on in humans research. Though there would probably still be a lot of slow observing what goes on in humans going on in the course of testing the computer models for accuracy. Anyway, making more powerful computers, and making better computer models of biochemistry, are already areas that get huge amounts of research spending. It seems likely that still more spending would encounter diminishing returns, such that no amount of concerted effort would further speed things up very dramatically (certainly not to the level you're asking for). Though you might get the impression around here that everyone who isn't a rationalist is a death lover, in fact most people want to live longer, including very rich people, and so a lot of money gets spent on pursuing that goal; lack of progress has a lot more to do with it being hard than with lack of effort.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T16:06:34.487Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Even if the goal could be reached in 20 years, it would take much more than 20 years to empirically test that the goal had been accomplished. In the prosaic world I come from we say brain-dead stuff like "if it isn't tested it doesn't work" and feel like we understand something important when we do so.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2015-12-14T14:52:48.223Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you and I were the only people on the planet, how much money would it cost to engineer biological immortality for one of us?

Which is to say, money is the wrong currency.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-14T09:25:00.702Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would someone be able to enlighten me on what the cons of a hypothetical situation in which everyone on the planet decides to temporarily get rid of the concept of money or currency, and pool our collective resources and ideas without worrying about who owes who? I mean on paper it sounds great, and obviously this is extremely hypothetical as it's virtually impossible to get all human life on Earth to actually do that, but are there hidden cons here that I'm not really seeing?

I've not really gone into too much thought on this, it was mostly a fleeting thought, and I was curious what others thought.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-12-15T11:54:15.277Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Money (AKA the free market economy) is a way of allocating resources efficiency. The alternative - a command economy - is where some central agent decides how resources should be allocated.

By using money and buying and selling goods and services, we are already pooling our resources. The money thing is a way to decide what we should do with them, where decisions are made by people choosing to spend money on one thing rather than another.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-15T21:40:54.578Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Money (AKA the free market economy) is a way of allocating resources efficiency. The alternative - a command economy - is where some central agent decides how resources should be allocated.

Command hierachies are only one alternative to markets. Tribes and networks are two other forms.

Wikipedia for example creates a lot of value with being structured as a network.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-12-22T17:06:13.271Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Tribes and networks

WTF are these? I have never heard of them. Sounds fishy but I don't have time to definitively debunk.

Wikipedia for example creates a lot of value with being structured as a network.

Wikipedia is a ultimately a hierarchy where certain committees of high-power admins get the final say. Also, wikipedia isn't really like an economy - the product types (articles) naturally match 1-1 with the producers (experts on that subject). There aren't any intermediate products or supply chains. As a resource allocation problem, wikipedia is trivial.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-23T00:10:38.425Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

WTF are these?

I linked to David Ronfeld's paper laying out the terms.

The resource allocation that happens at Christmas is tribal in nature. People don't receive gifts because they pay money to receive a gift. They don't receive gifts because a hierachy organizes who gives whom a gift.

YCominator says that one of the biggest benefits of being a YC company is the access to YC alumni. YC alumni feel that they have a tribal obligation to help new YC company.

When programmers on stackoverflow help each other that value exchange is a network. Most of the value generated at Wikipedia get's generated through the network mode. A person thinks that contributing to Wikipedia is valuable, so they contribute. Value generated at LW get's generated through the network mode. In a lot of open source value get's generated via the network mode. Internet governance works in the network mode.

If you look at many African countries they are in a mess because their main way of value exchange is tribal. Politicians have more loyality to the clan to which they belong than they have to the hierachy of the government. If you think the only two choices are a command economies and market economies you miss the way value flow in such societies and therefore make all sorts of bad decisions.

Also, wikipedia isn't really like an economy

It produces value in a way that's different than market economies and command economies.

As a resource allocation problem, wikipedia is trivial.

It still manages to outcompete the Encyclopaedia Britannica which operates through market mechanisms where it pays people to write articles.

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-12-29T23:00:37.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It still manages to outcompete the Encyclopaedia Britannica which operates through market mechanisms where it pays people to write articles.

Irrelevant. The question at hand is how to allocate resources. Britannica is also a trivial resource allocation problem. Wikipedia gets volunteer labour for free on a massive scale, whereas Britannica has to pay. The fact that wikipedia therefore wins is nothing to do with allocation

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-23T01:47:36.832Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia for example creates a lot of value with being structured as a network.

Which fails completely when the subject is in any way political or controversial. And by fail completely, I mean produces articles which anti-correlate with reality.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-23T11:13:12.783Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which fails completely when the subject is in any way political or controversial.

I don't think it fails completely. Failing completely would mean that it's clearly worse than the alternatives.

If I have a political question such as what happened at the Paris attacks, Wikipedia provides good answers.

Is there a single market driven or hierarchical organisation that you would consider to be completely trustworthy on the topic of Racial bias in criminal news in the United States

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-15T21:03:09.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is true -- but the example as given assumes no centrally managed economy. It's just a case of everyone independently deciding to maximize paperclips.

We have moved away from a complex allocation system to a simple one. It doesn't matter if you use money -- the relevant aspect of the situation is cooperation.

Of course, I may be reading to much into "everyone decides". But I'm assuming if they all 'decide' to do something because they have a gun to their head, then the downside is obvious.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T15:44:11.253Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Lumifer is a bit heavy-handed with his name-calling, but I think his objection is basically the right one.

The market is an information processing machine that solves problems too complex to be solved by any other means we have yet tried. Our entire experience with non-money economies is a stupefying lack of efficiency. But the OP asks about getting rid of ownership, not money, and that hasn't been tried.

So I have a refrigerator with some food in it and I'm set for the next day or two eating-wise. If I don't own the food in the refrigerator, by any reasonable definition of ownership I can think of this means I am NOT set for then next day or two as anybody who can reasonably predict that at least a few people have food in refrigerators can believe that THEY are set for at least the next few hours because they can walk up to those refrigerators and take the food. Without ownership how is that avoided? And don't tell me by "politeness" or "convention," the politeness and convention you would be appealing to is that you don't take other people's stuff, i.e., you have let ownership seep back in to your system.

And beyond the food, I don't even own the refrigerator! And the good folks at the power company may conspire to make 99.99% reliable electricity for the refrigerator, but currently they do that because it pays well, so in this other system, do we have a mechanism to suggest that this will still happen?

Considering the difference in productivity between market economies and non-market economies, empirically you'd have to estimate that the market system is about as important to production as are lungs to the metabolism of land based mammals. Sure, without lungs, there'd be some way of getting some oxygen to the cells, but probably 1e-3 o 1e-6 as much or some such crazy reduction.

If you want to get rid of money, but you don't want mass starvation, pollution, diseases, dehydration, and all the other things that would occur with a cratering of production and distribution, you need to propose a system that will take its place. It is not the job of people "accepting your counterfactual" to assume that there is a reasonable one in the wings. And if people don't argue against your counterfactual proposal to replace money, they are probably just uneducated in economics.

About the only counterfactual I can guess is that humans get taken care of by a different intelligence. Whether that is machine AI, or Aliens, or cyborg slave chimpanzees and apes, I would bet dollars to donuts that our caretakers providing us with all the stuff we currently get and then some, will have something which is informationally equivalent to money in their system. No matter how smart you are, there are just a whole class of decisions which when distributed cause a system to be more efficient than when those decisions are centralized.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-16T03:36:20.560Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Whether that is machine AI, or Aliens, or cyborg slave chimpanzees and apes, I would bet dollars to donuts that our caretakers providing us with all the stuff we currently get and then some, will have something which is informationally equivalent to money in their system.

Do ants have something equivalent to money? Do your cells?

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-16T05:16:40.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ants have an economy which is massively simpler than that of monetized humans. It is also massively less adaptable than is a human economy. Their interactions are hardcoded into their DNA, optimized for an environment that has persisted for many 10s of thousands of years without a lot of change because that's as fast as their DNA and natural selection can adapt.

Cells also, nonmonetized, have a hardcoded "economy." Human adaptability exists outside this cellular economy. This is why humans who live in cold environments, for example, buy clothes and wear them instead of having grown blubber and/or fur.

Ancient humans did not have money. They had much simpler economies with a tiny tiny fraction of the total productivity of monetized humans.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T05:58:13.421Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Note: informationally equivalent. Cells certainly utilize a variety of currencies, mostly energy in various forms. I don't know ants well enough, but I'm pretty sure an anthill or a termite mound has some feedback systems which control the foraging of ants and termites.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-16T07:13:38.749Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Cells certainly utilize a variety of currencies, mostly energy in various forms.

Energy is a resource, not a currency. Cells don't trade amino acids for energy with each other.

I'm pretty sure an anthill or a termite mound has some feedback systems which control the foraging of ants and termites.

Probably, although we don't fully understand them. Also feedback systems =/= currency.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T15:46:49.577Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're not paying attention. Let me try again: INFORMATIONALLY equivalent. Do you understand what the INFORMATIONAL role of money is?

Besides, "resource" and "currency" are not mutually exclusive. Until relatively recently currency (e.g. gold coins) had intrinsic value and so was a "resource".

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-17T02:47:05.074Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you define what you mean by "informationally equivalent"? Merely writing a word in bold all caps does not grant it magical powers.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-17T03:34:56.513Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Informationally equivalent = plays a role in the flow of information within the system that is equivalent to the role of money in the flow of information within economy.

Merely writing a word in bold all caps does not grant it magical powers.

Surely it does -- it magically made you pay attention to it :-P

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-17T19:46:23.552Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Informationally equivalent = plays a role in the flow of information within the system that is equivalent to the role of money in the flow of information within economy.

Ok, I don't see how that applied to the examples in question unless you expand the meaning of "equivalent" so broadly that it becomes meaningless.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T15:55:13.776Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Another version of the starvation objection to this hypothetical is this:

Such a system would rather quickly result in large groups of people inventing ownership and protecting it by force, by threat of violence. Maybe not the first time the half-ripe tomato you don't own but which you planted is eaten by someone else before you eat it you will not sign on to this alternative. But if you manage to stay alive long enough, you will soon be trading your labor for food and be incredibly grateful that the same system which is LETTING you trade your labor for food is also setting up powerful violent incentives for others to leave you in peace with "your" food.

This is a version of my own "objection" to anarchism. Anarchy is unstable to the formation of what is, effectively, government, and the essence of government is a system that tells you what is NOT yours, what is yours, and provides powerful and violent responses to those who "disagree" with their characterization. If you are lucky, you get the American constitution, if you are half-lucky you get the Mafia in 19th and 20th century Sicily, and if your luck is lousy you get roving militias in Toyota pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back.

I await your counterfactual proposal on how to prevent the formation of a government or a militia.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-16T03:35:37.806Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

if your luck is lousy you get roving militias in Toyota pick-up trucks with machine guns mounted in the back.

Probably not. Toyota pick-ups require gasoline. Extracting oil and refining it into gasoline is a sufficiently complex process that it's impossible under the kinds of property regimes the "roving bandits" can maintain.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-16T05:21:54.584Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting hypothesis. But it doesn't align with facts, bummer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_(vehicle)

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-16T07:18:18.885Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Note that the Somali warlords don't extract or refine gas themselves, they barter for it from better organized nations. Heck, according to the article the vehicles were paid for by misguided foreign NGOs.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-16T16:17:44.492Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My vote for most valuable insight applying as much to natural fitness as to economic behavior it is this:

The most important part of the environment is the humans and what they are doing. If I and my merry band of 100 or 1000 or even 1000000 or even 1000000000 tribe members are contemplating how we should supply ourselves with food, shelter, weapons, entertainment, & c., we should first, foremost, and with great care look to use what is already developed, invented, and produced by the rest of the world. You were concerned about warlords having trouble extracting or refining oil, but you stumbled upon the reasonable assumption that obviously the Toyotas are going to come from Japan and don't need to be produced by the warlords.

Even in the US, about the single most effective source of new cool stuff yet to grace the surface of the earth, we drive Toyotas. And BMW, Mercedes, Fiat, Volvo, Hyundai etc. We get wine, cheese, movies, etc. from everywhere else. In some self-fulfilling sense, we import about as much as we export.

Could we go it alone? Sure. We'd probably be about 90% poorer. You can quibble over whether we'd only be 20% poorer or 95% poorer, but if you at all immerse yourself in a study of where stuff comes from, the expense of inventing vs copying, the benefits of mass production and massive specialization, you will absolutely unavoidably get the sign of the effect right.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-17T02:50:05.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that in the "whole world adopts anarchy" scenario the warlords wouldn't be able to use trucks. Heck, without the NGOs' money they probably wouldn't be able to use trucks.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T16:42:28.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, you don't have to do everything yourself. But trade is just one way of getting something from others. Another way is simply taking it, with force. In biology ("natural fitness"), as Greg Cochrane puts it, the usual way is "Let George do it, and then eat George."

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-16T17:37:03.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But trade is just one way of getting something from others.

Yes nice summary of the original point of the entire thread. Money (which is trade, n'est-ce pas?) is just one way of getting something.

And the argument has been can we get more of something by abandoning money. And you and I have pretty much been saying "almost certainly not, what proposal do you have that hasn't already been discredited?"

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T18:27:40.697Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Money (which is trade, n'est-ce pas?) is just one way of getting something.

Mais non, money is not "just" trade or "just" one way of getting something. Off the top of my head, money has multiple roles which include being:

  • medium of exchange (that's trade)
  • store of value
  • way of measuring and comparing the value of different goods

In particular, the last role is vital for the informational function of money.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-17T21:34:39.673Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Mais non, money is not "just" trade or "just" one way of getting something. Off the top of my head, money has multiple roles which include being:

  • medium of exchange (that's trade)

  • store of value

Which is time shifted trade. I.e. I trade a perishable good now (like my labor or a bottle of milk) for some money, I store it for a while, and then I buy something with it. I can't imagine that this is anything more than a description of what we mean when we say "store of value"

  • way of measuring and comparing the value of different goods

And how does money do that? By being used to trade for different goods, money provides a common denominator for an externalizable ranking of values. (my internal ranking of values, a 25 cent caramel is worth much more than a few $10s of bucks for some sea urchin served in some restaurants as a delicacy.

But if two of these three functions seem like something other than trade to you, enjoy.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-16T17:47:26.303Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So far not mentioned in replies to this is that there are many examples of productive organizations that do not organize around money. Two leap to mind:

  • Military. Rarely do the various units and platoons trade with the other components of the military for their supplies, nor do they bid on missions. To the extent trade occurs it is usually barter and usually outside official accepted ways of doing things.

  • Business units. Large businesses may use separate calculations of returns to determine some very macro choices between business units.

But there is essentially always some size of organization below which the subunits or individuals are not trading using money to get things done. Marketers don't bid to engineers to get the products they think they can sell. Engineers don't bid on the projects they want to work on within the organization.

Indeed the fact that firms form to avoid a whole bunch of bilateral trading is analyzed by one of the most respected economists ever Ronald Coase on the Nature of the Firm.

So another version of the answer to the OP would be that the reason EVERYONE on the planet doesn't do it is because the coordination problem without money and trade is too hard (meaning you will get a vastly suboptimal result) to do on a global scale, but it works on smaller scales. So whatever it is you want to achieve, form an organization to solve it, give them a pile of money to trade with the rest of the world, and do not require them to organize internally on a trade/money basis. If you make the organization too big, it will either organize internally using trade or it will be very ineffectual.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-15T15:59:04.747Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming everybody does what they are doing now, the situation will remain the same as it is now. In other words, people will still go to their jobs and do their work, the stores will give them stuff, and so on.

In practice everything would collapse, for the reasons implied by gjm in his comments. Namely, since the people in the store don't ask me if I have been going to my job, just as they don't do that now, that means I can get away with going to the store and getting stuff, but not going to my job. Or, even if I do go to my job, I can take a lot more stuff from the stores than I'm actually contributing by my work.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-16T14:41:17.792Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was thinking about this a bit more. In my first answer, I was talking about what would actually happen if you got rid of money. But the question implies that people are suddenly altruistic ("pool our collective resources"). The problem with this is how you decide who should do what. And it might turn out that the situation posited ("without worrying about who owes whom?") is impossible in principle. Even to keep things going as they are now, someone needs to decide what needs to be done and by whom. Someone needs to decide who should give you the things you need to survive, and how much to give you. All of that implies that someone is saying "A should give X to B" and this is just a way of worrying about who owes whom what.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-18T10:24:54.189Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, part of what I was intending in the scenario would be that everyone realizes that we could make much faster technological advances (At least, that's the theory) if we didn't bother with keeping track of who owes who. We need resources such as metals, we get them, make the MacGuffin, and continue.

I suppose the real problem with this is some form of a game-plan, determining who needs what. So I guess what I'm thinking is a system that would require some flawless AGI to determine what group needs what resource at what time, to further the general human endeavor, rather than people getting what they want/need based on how much money they can amass, which is as we know a flawed system, or people like Donald Trump would not exist, while people starve to death in Third-World countries.

But the idea would be to use some system like this to vastly accelerate our speed of technological advancement, so that we can colonize the galaxy, become immortal, and eventually figure out how the world works. However that's not to say that I'm trying to really come UP with a system, because I'm sure such systems are already postulated, but just don't work, because of the whole 'greed' thing, but yeah. My query was mainly whether there could be problems not in developing the system, but in actually enacting such a system, even if it worked as intended.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-20T13:35:35.748Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

some flawless AGI to determine what group needs what resource at what time, to further the general human endeavor

So the AGI gives out the instructions, and the humans, or some of them, say "screw that". What happens next?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-18T15:59:47.899Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose the real problem with this is some form of a game-plan, determining who needs what. So I guess what I'm thinking is a system that would require some flawless AGI to determine what group needs what resource at what time, to further the general human endeavor, rather than people getting what they want/need based on how much money they can amass,

You're re-inventing Soviet central planning.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-20T07:44:45.403Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had no idea that the communist party was a flawless AGI...

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-20T21:57:55.553Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The flawless AGI under the name of Gosplan was the limit to which the Soviet Union aspired.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-20T22:40:27.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

aspired =/= achieved.

Your comment seemed to be equating Xyrik's scenario with the Soviet system, implying that for that reason it's not desirable. I'm pointing out that the two systems cannot be equated.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-20T22:51:15.877Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that the Soviet system wanted to be like Xyrik's scenario and tried to get as close to it as it could.

The assertion that an AI would make everything hunky-dory is not falsifiable. It's just a different term for elven magic.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-20T22:58:25.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The assertion that an AI would make everything hunky-dory is not falsifiable.

Huh? Of course it's falsifiable. The entire premise of MIRI and CFAR is that this assertion is going to be falsified unless we take action.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-21T10:44:07.607Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The entire premise of MIRI and CFAR is that this assertion is going to be falsified unless we take action.

The entire premise of Xyrik's scenario is that everything will be hunky-dory. Xyrik is just making a wish, and not thinking about how anything will actually work. He might as well call it elven magic as an AGI or "everyone decides to do the right thing". There are no moving parts in his conception. It is like trying to solve a problem by suggesting that one should solve the problem.

I tried to ask him about mechanism here, but the only response so far has been a downvote.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-23T11:34:02.730Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The entire premise of Xyrik's scenario is that everything will be hunky-dory. Xyrik is just making a wish, and not thinking about how anything will actually work.

Well, to be fair, I never claimed that I had any ideas for how to actually achieve a scenario with a flawless AGI, and I don't think I even said I was under the impression that this would be a good idea, although in the case that we DID have a flawless AGI, I would be open to a reasoning that proclaimed so.

But all I was asking was what potential downsides this could have, and people have risen to the occasion.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-20T23:08:43.454Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course it's falsifiable.

Demonstrate, please.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-23T11:44:34.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Demonstrate, please.

You know, this seems amusingly analogous to the scene in the seventh Harry Potter novel in which Xenophillius Lovegood asks Hermione to falsify the existence of the Resurrection Stone.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-18T14:55:52.448Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, even apart from greed no one has postulated such a system. Money isn't a perfect way to allocate resources, but no one yet has invented a better one, even assuming that people are perfectly altruistic.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-19T02:31:38.979Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, part of what I was intending in the scenario would be that everyone realizes that we could make much faster technological advances (At least, that's the theory) if we didn't bother with keeping track of who owes who.

Except you need to keep track of who (or which algorithm if we want to be sufficiently abstract) is doing the most to contribute and being most efficient so that his success can be repeated in other parts of the system.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T15:35:00.782Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would someone be able to enlighten me on what the cons of a hypothetical situation in which everyone on the planet decides to temporarily get rid of the concept of money or currency, and pool our collective resources and ideas without worrying about who owes who?

This is called "communism". Go read Karl Marx.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-14T18:14:14.339Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If Xyrik is looking to understand the cons of such a system, Marx might not be the best place to look for them.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T18:32:26.501Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like primary sources :-) And do you think there is a chance that Comrade Xyrik will join the cause of the glorious revolution of the proletariat?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-14T13:41:13.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Free shops and online equivalents like Freecycle work for people getting rid of stuff they don't want, but not for much beyond that. For people to create complex and valuable things, such as pencils, what institutions would you have instead of self-interest, security of property, contract law, and a medium of exchange?

That is not to say that those institutions are the only possible ones, but I don't know of any others that do the job. Communes don't scale, or last. Central direction only scales up into a disaster.

comment by Simon79 · 2015-12-14T10:50:36.547Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Free riding

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-14T22:06:53.295Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that under your example, there are by definition no drawbacks.

If Ed is annoyed that everyone else has gone commie, then by definition we are not talking about your hypothetical (We didn't get 'everyone on the planet'). So we can't suppose drawbacks that involve 'someone not liking it'.

Generally speaking, a situation in which everyone freely decides to work together has no downside (except in odd cases like everyone deciding to work together to burn down all the plants on Earth).

If I were to look for a realistic problem -- other than probability, human nature, and logistics -- it would be the word "temporarily". I don't imagine that coming out of the universal accord would go smoothly.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T22:11:35.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So we can't suppose drawbacks that involve 'someone not liking it'.

How about the drawback of "starving to death"?

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-14T22:20:35.750Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is voluntarily starving to death a drawback?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-14T22:24:34.772Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Voluntarily..? They don't expect to starve to death, they just expect that while they do their meaningful conscious-expanding profound activities, someone else will muck around in the dirt planting and harvesting. Food comes from a store, dontcha know that? and without money everything in the store is free.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-15T10:07:58.236Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's nothing in the scenario described by Xyrik, or the scenario described by Tem42, that says the people involved are doing only "meaningful conscious-expanding profound activities" and neglecting the necessities of life. (Nor, so far as I know, was that the intention of Marx whom you cited as a prominent exponent of similar ideas.)

Trying to do what Xyrik describes might produce a lot of starving-to-death (1) because no one has yet come up with a coordination mechanism better than markets for deciding how much effort to put into what, and (2) because many people will not in fact want to work hard without the prospect of personal gain. But #1 has nothing to do with what you describe here and #2 amounts to considering a different more plausible scenario rather than the (admittedly unlikely) one raised by Xyrik.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-15T15:38:08.646Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's nothing in the scenario described by Xyrik, or the scenario described by Tem42, that says the people involved are doing only "meaningful conscious-expanding profound activities" and neglecting the necessities of life.

The whole point of the communist paradise is freedom from need. That, as you correctly point out, leads to an incentives problem and a coordination problem. The lack of incentives (which, I think, exists in Xyrik's scenario as the alternatives are... much less palatable) leads to people over-doing pleasant things (meaningful, profound, conscious-expanding -- or simply hedonic) and under-doing unpleasant things (e.g. mucking in the dirt). At the current level of technology a society without appropriate incentives will soon start to starve.

It works for small communities which mooch off larger societies (hippy communes, Burning Man, etc.), but convert the entire world to this system and I would recommend getting a lot of ammo and beans ASAP.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-15T15:54:37.270Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The whole point of the communist paradise is freedom from need.

Perhaps. (I'm not convinced; I can imagine someone saying "In a communist system we will all be slightly poorer because central planning doesn't work as well as markets, but it would be worth it because of the reduction in inequality" or "... because we would all have the lovely warm glow of knowing we were working together" or something. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not agreeing with those claims.)

The lack of incentives (which, I think, exists in Xyrik's scenario [...])

My interpretation of Xyrik's question was more like "Imagine that by some unspecified magic we have solved that problem, so that everyone willingly pitches in to do their bit. What are the drawbacks then?"

I agree that what we're then being asked to postulate is really improbable, and can't think of any plausible non-horrible ways to make it so, but I think the question is a reasonable one to ask anyway. (E.g., perhaps Xyrik is writing some science fiction about a hypothetical race genetically engineered to be much more willing to cooperate with one another than humans typically are, and wants to know what might happen if they tried communism.)

And I agree that if Xyrik were proposing to try this on a large scale in the real world the appropriate response would be somewhere between laughter and terror, depending on our estimation of how far s/he could actually get in making it happen. But that's not the question at issue.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-18T10:14:39.481Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That was indeed what I was proposing. Like I said, this system were to assume that somehow humans solved that problem and are all willing to pitch in. I guess that would probably take some severe altering to our brains, potentially do the point to which we're all some hive-mind, which would be a debatable downside.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-12-16T03:30:13.008Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My interpretation of Xyrik's question was more like "Imagine that by some unspecified magic we have solved that problem, so that everyone willingly pitches in to do their bit. What are the drawbacks then?"

Depends on the nature of the magic. Most of the obvious ones I can think of basically require the destruction of all individuality.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-15T17:14:42.896Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can imagine someone saying "In a communist system we will all be slightly poorer because central planning doesn't work as well as markets, but it would be worth it because of the reduction in inequality"

Using Marxist terminology, that's not communism, that's mere socialism. Communism is pretty much defined by "To each according to his need".

"Imagine that by some unspecified magic we have solved that problem, so that everyone willingly pitches in to do their bit.

I don't see this anywhere in Xyrik's comment. I am not sure that at the time of writing it he was even aware of the incentives problem.

And once you start specifying elven magic as the reason a particular problem doesn't exist, you can't have any unsolvable problems because elven magic, done.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-15T23:27:42.143Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see this anywhere in Xyrik's comment.

It's what I took this to mean:

obviously this is extremely hypothetical as it's virtually impossible to get all human life on Earth to actually do that

but maybe you understood it differently.

you can't have any unsolvable problems because elven magic, done.

I don't see any obvious absurdity about saying "suppose problem A only resolved by elven magic; then what would happen to problems B, C, and D?".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-15T23:46:34.761Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see any obvious absurdity about saying "suppose problem A only resolved by elven magic; then what would happen to problems B, C, and D?".

I do see an obvious incoherence. Xyrik's scenario was;

a hypothetical situation in which everyone on the planet decides to temporarily get rid of the concept of money or currency, and pool our collective resources and ideas without worrying about who owes who

This is a highly complex scenario, made apparently simple because the complexity is hidden inside the words. What is the problem A that is the only thing hypothetically solved? The "get rid of the concept of money or currency", the "pooling collective resources and ideas", the "without worrying about who owes who". What do these look like -- what do you see if you follow a few people around in the hypothetical world? What do these phrases mean, to be able to say, these things B, C, and D are not part of that? How can you say what would happen to them, without any description of what the elven magic actually did to produce something described by A?

The scenario is too vague for these questions to be answered.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-16T00:48:45.857Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yup, agreed, it's vague and that's bad. This seems to me an entirely different objection from "there's no point saying 'suppose such-and-such is dealt with by elven magic' because elven magic could solve all the other problems too".

comment by gjm · 2015-12-15T23:30:26.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

that's not communism, that's mere socialism. Communism is pretty much defined by "To each according to his need".

I'm not sure I understand your objection. I wasn't imagining anything other than an attempt at "To each according to his need". That might still leave many people poorer than under capitalism. (I said "all" but that was silly, and maybe that's the cause of any misunderstanding; I should have said something like "we will collectively be slightly poorer", which is what I actually meant.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T01:34:13.410Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That might still leave many people poorer than under capitalism.

Nope. The promise of communism is the satisfaction of all your needs, not just satisfaction of what we can afford to, given the limited amount of stuff/services which we have available. It is supposed to be a place of plenty, not just a place where thin gruel is shared fairly.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-16T03:11:23.573Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose you can, if you want, define "communism" so narrowly that nothing counts as communism unless it brings about an early paradise of perfect plenty. To me, that seems much too narrow a definition.

Imagine that someone tells Karl Marx that the economic system he advocates will not bring about a permanent end to all kinds of want. Which is the more likely response, supposing he believes them (of at least is willing, arguendo, to stipulate that they're right)? "Oh, then it turns out that what I've been advocating isn't communism after all" or "Oh, then it turns out that communism doesn't work as well as I hoped"?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T05:43:41.371Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose you can, if you want, define "communism" so narrowly that nothing counts as communism unless it brings about an early paradise of perfect plenty.

This is the canonical, traditional, classic, orthodox, and correct definition of communism in Marxism.

Imagine that someone tells Karl Marx...

I feel we're veering into the If my aunt had balls she'd be my uncle territory...

comment by gjm · 2015-12-16T13:11:15.308Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

correct definition of communism in Marxism

I am far from being an expert on Marxism. But my impression is that what you say is at best an oversimplification. For instance, in the Communist Manifesto I find no claim that nothing should be called communism unless it successfully offers limitless plenty to all. I do find things like this:

In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.

and this:

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

You will notice that nowhere in that second quotation does he add "3. Communists believe that they will successfully bring about an end to all forms of economic scarcity.". (So: Marx may perhaps have believed that an end to scarcity was inevitable, or something of the kind, but he doesn't appear to have thought that such a belief is a requirement for someone to be called a communist.)

I don't (of course) deny that an end to scarcity was a goal of communism. For that matter, it is (or should be) a goal of capitalism too. And Marx, fond as he was of the idea that his preferred system was a matter of historical inevitability, may well have believed -- or at least found it useful to say -- that when communism is fully implemented scarcity will be at an end. But none of that is the same as saying that if you abolish private property, social class, etc., and this regrettably fails to bring about a total end to scarcity, then what you did wasn't communism after all.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-16T16:13:06.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

First, let me point out that there is a terminological mess here. I was careful to specify that I was talking in Marxist terms which do not match terms used in contemporary Western political discourse. Note, by the way, that we are not talking about theories (one of which is named "communism"), but about forms of society.

Marxists call "communism" a particular form of future society which has never (yet) been realized. It's an aspirational form, the carrot in front of the donkey, the light at the end of the tunnel, the heaven in which the worthy will find themselves. The realized, intermediate form is called "socialism". The USSR was a socialist country.

In Western political talk, "communism" and "communist" refers to real societies like Soviet Russia and Communist (!) China, while "socialism" means a capitalist state with a generous welfare system, e.g. Sweden.

In any case, a Google search will give you lots of Marxist definitions of communism. Let me quote you Wikipedia to start:

A communist economic system would be characterized by advanced productive technology that enables material abundance, which in turn would enable the free distribution of most or all economic output and the holding of the means of producing this output in common. In this respect communism is differentiated from socialism, which, out of economic necessity, restricts access to articles of consumption and services based on one's contribution.

-

if you abolish private property, social class, etc., and this regrettably fails to bring about a total end to scarcity, then what you did wasn't communism after all.

It wasn't. The Russians, for example, who abolished private property, etc. did not call their society "communist". They called it "socialist" and said that they are only building communism.

comment by gjm · 2015-12-16T23:17:22.572Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, as I say, I am not a Marx expert, so let me stipulate that you're completely and perfectly correct in what you say about Marx's use of the word "communism". Then ... well, so what?

Looking back at the context in which the perfect-abundance-or-not question arose, it looks to me as if it was right when you said this:

The whole point of the communist paradise is freedom from need.

But up to that point, no one had been talking specifically about a Marxian end-stage perfected communist paradise. Xyrik's question was broader: what if there were no private property and everyone just did whatever was needed? Now, for sure, one implausible imaginary future in which that's the case is Marx's end-stage perfected communist paradise, but there was nothing in what Xyrik wrote to imply that particular implausible imaginary future.

And you brought in "the whole point of the communist paradise" in order to foist upon Xyrik an idea not -- so far as I can see -- either explicit or implicit in the original question, namely that our hypothetical communards would be engaged only in "meaningful conscious-expanding profound activities" to the exclusion of mundanities like growing food. I don't really see how you get there even with the assumption that Xyrik is talking about Marx's specific utopia, but without that assumption I think it's hopeless.

So, granting you literally everything you say about Marx and Marxism here, I don't see that it actually gets you near the conclusion you were trying to support.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-20T07:56:12.513Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with that viewpoint is that you assume that the only reason - or, even, the most important reason - that people work is to make money.

But our understanding of human behavior tells us that other factors like status games, feelings of personal achievement or 'having a purpose in life', and so on are equally as important, if not more important, than the money-making aspect of work. Further, something that someone considers 'work' could be considered enjoyment by someone else.

Believe it or not, many people farm or tend gardens or animals simply because they enjoy doing so. They may even give away their produce for free. I currently have several trees and I pick and give away their fruit for free. I used to have chickens and I gave away their eggs for free. Both of these I did because I enjoyed doing them, and the hard aspects of the work averaged out. Of course I am not saying that a system based on everyone doing this would be sustainable. It wouldn't. It would probably lead to food shortages. However, it offers a counterpoint to the idea that humans will always choose meditation or video games or somesuch over 'mucking in the dirt' if given the choice.

I think Xyrik's scenario is too radical but a system of universal basic income where everyone gets a minimal amount of money sufficient for survival is quite tenable and sustainable. In such a system, you don't have to work to survive, but working produces a better, more satisfactory form of survival. Experience shows that systems like these do not run into problems of food shortages (in fact quite the contrary).

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-20T22:04:45.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

you assume that the only reason - or, even, the most important reason - that people work is to make money.

No, I do not. You're wrong.

I assume that the work that people do for money is important for the society and that a lot of it wouldn't get done if people worked just for pleasure. Basically, without money you'd get too many DJs and too few plumbers. Money fixes that balance problem.

Believe it or not, many people farm or tend gardens or animals simply because they enjoy doing so.

Of course, so what? Small-scale agriculture is remarkably inefficient. Specifically, it cannot feed the current population.

that humans will always choose meditation or video games or somesuch over 'mucking in the dirt' if given the choice.

Not always. But too few people will choose mucking in the dirt and without money I'm not sure how are you going to persuade a sufficient number of people to go and do what they don't like.

Experience shows that systems like these do not run into problems of food shortages (in fact quite the contrary).

Do tell me about that experience. I'm curious.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-20T22:56:06.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, without money you'd get too many DJs and too few plumbers. Money fixes that balance problem.

Money itself doesn't fix that balance problem. It's the allocation of money. I don't disagree with the idea that some type of work is unpleasant and necessary for society so there has to be some system of incentives to make people do that type of work. I disagree with the notion that the 'communist paradise' necessarily reduces such incentives to the point that society starves and dies.

As I said, I think Xyrik's scenario (evenly dividing wealth among everyone) is too radical. But you could definitely engineer systems where people are freed from basic survival needs yet still have incentives to work for the benefit of society. I see no contradiction here.

Of course, so what? Small-scale agriculture is remarkably inefficient. Specifically, it cannot feed the current population.

Again, I already mentioned this.

Do tell me about that experience. I'm curious.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_income_pilots

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-20T23:05:54.802Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with the notion that the 'communist paradise' necessarily reduces such incentives to the point that society starves and dies.

What actually happens is, of course, a bit different. If you take money out of the picture (as e.g. the USSR, Communist China, etc. did), another currency becomes dominant. That currency is power and the society becomes reliant on just force to make things happen. Recall that being unemployed was a criminal offense in the USSR.

Basic_income_pilots

Sigh. Let me quote myself from upthread:

It works for small communities which mooch off larger societies

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-21T00:27:09.612Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sigh. Let me quote myself from upthread:

It works for small communities which mooch off larger societies

Not at all. It's clear that you didn't even look at the examples. A lot of those examples were largely self-contained. For instance, the one in Madhya Pradesh was done on a set of villages that provided their own food and necessities.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-21T02:59:31.522Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, the one in Madhya Pradesh was done on a set of villages that provided their own food and necessities.

Did they provide their own food, no trade with the outside world? I think you're mistaken.

The experiment in Madhya Pradesh provided a small unconditional cash payment to everyone in a set of villages. The outcome was entirely unsurprising -- people in those villages became a bit richer and spent that money to improve their lives.

There was some positive effect on the productivity of people in these villages -- I quote the UNICEF report:

In the tribal villages, perhaps the biggest impact of the project was to enable small farmers to spend more time and also invest on their own farms as opposed to working as wage labourers.

which is fine and is a legitimate advance. However all this is, basically, injection of a bit of capital into a very very poor village and it does not tell us much about what would happen in a more advanced society with the basic income that is, presumably, sufficient to live on.

Keep in mind that basic income is redistribution -- you need to create the wealth to start with.

comment by passive_fist · 2015-12-21T03:28:17.040Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did they provide their own food

Indeed they did. This is mentioned in the report.

In fact cash-grant villages were more likely to grow their own food than control villages. A large part of the cash grants were spent on procuring better seeds and upgrading their livestock. Cash-grant villages were also more likely to undertake productive economic activity like starting businesses.

They did undertake trade with other villages, if they wanted to.

However all this is, basically, injection of a bit of capital into a very very poor village and it does not tell us much about what would happen in a more advanced society with the basic income that is, presumably, sufficient to live on.

I think the fact that you say this hints at what may be the crux of the problem. Sure, cultural and socioeconomic differences are a huge factor, but believe it or not, 'advanced societies' do have poor people, and lots of them, and experiments like these hint that a universal basic income cannot simply be dismissed as 'eliminating incentives and leading to mass starvation.'

UBI is obviously not going to do much for rich people.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-21T05:19:11.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In fact cash-grant villages were more likely to grow their own food than control villages. A large part of the cash grants were spent on procuring better seeds and upgrading their livestock.

It's not clear that that the villagers were "more likely" to grow food for their own consumption rather than growing cash crops to sell. But if you want to dive into that level of detail, I would like to see the original report with all the data. I don't particulary trust this UNICEF report which looks a bit biased to me.

but believe it or not, 'advanced societies' do have poor people, and lots of them, and experiments like these hint that a universal basic income cannot simply be dismissed as 'eliminating incentives and leading to mass starvation.'

I'm not saying that UBI is a bad idea. I'm not saying it's a good idea, either. At this point I don't know -- I can see both good points and bad points and it's not clear to me how they will balance out in real life. I suspect the details of implementation will make a lot of difference. Those "pilots" that you mention are much too limited to draw any conclusions.

And please go easy on straw, no one claimed that UBI would lead to mass starvation. A full-blown scheme of no property, no money, etc. is likely to and that's what the "will starve" claim referred to.

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-23T11:20:07.732Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not always. But too few people will choose mucking in the dirt and without money I'm not sure how are you going to persuade a sufficient number of people to go and do what they don't like.

That's a very good point, and I hadn't thought of that. This was basically why I made the post. Although I think I was mentioning somewhere that a scenario like this would only actually work if we had some AGI that could reliably judge who needed what resources when, in order to further the overall human endeavor.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2015-12-23T14:18:50.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Although I think I was mentioning somewhere that a scenario like this would only actually work if we had some AGI that could reliably judge who needed what resources when, in order to further the overall human endeavor.

Wouldn't the AGI also need the ability to compel obedience to its diktats? Or do you imagine that everyone will do whatever it tells them to do because it must be the best thing to do?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-20T13:31:55.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What experience are you talking about in relation to a system of universal basic income?

comment by Xyrik · 2015-12-18T10:29:13.315Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The lack of incentives (which, I think, exists in Xyrik's scenario as the alternatives are... much less palatable)

Basically the idea is that everyone realizes that if we do this that we could vastly accelerate the speed at which we develop, and thus solve many of our problems such as over-population, food, etc. by spreading among the stars, after which people could once again live a more free life and create their own systems, including but not requiring a governing body.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-12-18T14:52:43.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do what? Let's suppose we abolish money this evening. What are you going to do tomorrow?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-18T16:02:46.486Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Basically the idea is that everyone realizes that if we do this that we could vastly accelerate the speed at which we develop

This seems obviously, patently false to me.

Even if you have in mind a far-reaching remaking of humanity into enthusiastic slaves of some god-like entity, I don't think that it would either "vastly accelerate the speed" or would lead to "more free life" in the future.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-18T15:19:43.467Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Basically the idea is that everyone realizes that if we do this that we could vastly accelerate the speed at which we develop, and thus solve many of our problems such as over-population, food, etc. by spreading among the stars

Yet you present no arguments why you believe such as acceleration will happen. Especially when it comes to the productions of commodieties such as food money driven markets are very efficient. The market consistently manages to kill companies that don't effectively produce goods.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-14T22:26:02.974Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh. I had assumed that "not planning for catering" fell in the "odd cases" category, but maybe I overestimate humans.

comment by mwengler · 2015-12-15T16:01:03.879Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh. I had assumed that "not planning for catering" fell in the "odd cases" category, but maybe I overestimate humans.

Its not that you overestimate humans but that you massively underestimate that amount of thought, work, and organization that results in a store of fresh healthy abundant food available for your nutrition. That complex chain involving thousands and millions of people, some producing the oil to lubricate the gears of the tractor or the delivery truck, some paving the roads, some setting standards for fuel composition and performance so that some others can build motors to drive the pieces, while still others keep accurate records of who "owns" which pieces of land so there is no confusion about who gets to harvest the food months after it is planted. It involves a bunch more things, too.

It is not that it is impossible to organize this without ownership. It is just that until you explain HOW you organize this without ownership, it is impossible to determine how such a system without ownership compares to the current one.

comment by Tem42 · 2015-12-15T21:23:37.580Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is just that until you explain HOW you organize this without ownership, it is impossible to determine how such a system without ownership compares to the current one.

To a a close approximation, the new system looks just like the old system, just without the paychecks. Assuming that workers know their value (big assumption), then the question becomes "to create the most Xyriking, should I do my job or change to a job producing Xyrikes?"

Caviar producers should change jobs; grain producers should not; salt producers should determine what exactly is meant by "temporarily" before making a decision.

Taking the hypothetical as it is given, I think it is fair to assume that no one will quit their job simply because it is unpleasant or because someone else could do it -- those don't really count as working together (or "pooling resources ... without worrying").

Human resources include skills like planning, logistics, common sense, and health and safety. Of course, it is possible that good planning skills are so limited that they must be devoted primarily to producing Xyrikes, and not keeping people healthy.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-12-15T15:53:44.054Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"not planning for catering"

It is interesting how you interpret "make sure we have enough food to not starve" as "planning for catering" X-/

comment by Sergej_Shegurin · 2015-12-21T15:04:45.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm deeply sure that this cost is far less than one trillion dollars if we put them in Cas9/CRISPR, tissue engineering, acerebral clone growing etc. I think this my website http://sciencevsdeath.com/index.html might be interesting for you.

Also, I'm glad to see people asking such great questions :)

comment by The_Jaded_One · 2015-12-15T11:59:19.936Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Success of immorality is a function of a number of variables, money being just one of them. I don't think that money alone would get you what you want in 20 years' time.

The key variable other than money is probably reforming academia. Right now academia is horrifically wasteful.

comment by John Logger (john-logger) · 2019-11-06T14:08:52.523Z · score: -1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting post, and human's immortality becomes real today after being discovered by Allen Omton and Serge Dobrow.