Sunday, April 22, 2012

Incentive Dilemma for Post Scarcity Society

I believe that the main prerequisite for transitioning to a post scarcity society is the development and implementation of automation technology at an adequately advanced enough level.  This level is one in which automation can irrigate and grow all of our crops for us, build our homes and other facilities for us, operate a transportation system that can take us practically anywhere in the world, acquire the raw resources for constructing and maintaining our infrastructure, and perform any repetitive, menial, and undesirable tasks for us.  I believe that it's possible to automate practically anything, and that we can transition to a post scarcity society before being capable of automating everything.

An advantage of having a post scarcity society is that trade, whether in the form of a monetary system or bartering, would no longer be necessary in order for anyone to get whatever goods or services they need or want, such as food, shelter, transportation, information, or any other product or service they need or desire, whenever they need or want them.  This in turn would mean that many of the problems of today's society, such as war, poverty, government corruption, and almost every type of crime imaginable - just to start with - would vanish.

A question one might consider, regarding the feasibility of transitioning to a post scarcity society, pertains to an apparent dilemma: the dependency on incentives, rewards, or compensation - such as a paycheck, for people to be motivated to achieve or accomplish the tasks that are needed in such a societal system.  I believe that not only would there be no such dilemma, but also that there are more dilemmas with our present-day system of trade.

Let's briefly consider a trivial consumer situation.  Suppose you see an advertisement for a product that you can afford and you want to get it today, so you go to the store to purchase it.  When you go to the section of the store and look for it on the store shelves, but they're sold out and won't be getting another shipment until a few days later.  A store being out of stock of a product is one kind of dilemma.  Now let's take a look at a related example.  You've decided that you want a product that you've been aware of for a while, perhaps because it's something that you now need.  This time you go to the store to purchase it, but instead of it being out of stock, it's no longer available because that product has been discontinued, which is another kind of dilemma.

Here's one more example I'd like to mention: you want to get a product, and there are a list of common features that you conceive of that you'd like to have on this product which you'd like to purchase, and you go to the store to see what they have available on the store shelves.  You find several products that have one or another feature you want, but none of them have all the features you desire.  Or, perhaps there are some products that do have every feature you desire, but they also have some undesirable features as well (e.g., you have space constraints and the version of the product doesn't conform, or it's something superficial like they don't come in your favorite color), or they don't fit into your budget because it comes with too many other "luxury" features that you're not interested in.  The point is that you're only going to find versions of products that manufacturers decide to make available to consumers.  Unfortunately, this is necessary for the market.  Companies must determine what are the optimal set of products to put on the market so they can mass produce them and make them as affordable to as many consumers as possible; otherwise, too many potential customers would not be able to afford the service of custom-designing every single instantiation of a type of product.  So here, the dilemma is that the product is not available in the way you want it.

Another situation that one might argue poses a dilemma is the fact that in order for all the tasks that need to be performed in our present-day trade and market economic system, someone has to be willing to step forward and take a job that might not be very pleasant or desirable to them.  Such an issue is probably not recognized as or considered a dilemma because we don't have a significant enough problem with filling job vacancies.  Can you imagine what would happen to society if there were no nurses, truck drivers, plumbers, teachers, janitors, chemists, police officers, garbage collectors, mechanics, lumberjacks, etc., because people didn't want to do those jobs, because everyone thought they were too dirty, unpleasant, undesirable, or difficult to do?  The potential dilemma is that if we had a problem with even one of those occupations being empty or having too much of a shortage, it would be a disaster to society.  Fortunately, we usually have enough people who are willing to take a job either because they want or need the money, or they're just looking for something to do to fill their time & keep them busy.

The reason I believe that there is no incentive dilemma for a post scarcity society, in general, is because even within a trade and scarcity-based society, there are still many people who are willing to donate things to charity and their time to volunteering for the benefit of society as a whole.  If we take this into account, even the fact that despite being within such a trade and scarcity-based society we still have people such as those who serve as volunteer fire fighters and emergency response personnel willing to risk their lives in a moment's notice, I think we would be able to see that the dilemma in question is nothing to be concerned about at all.  Because of this, we won't have to be able to automate everything; only the repetitive, menial, and undesirable tasks.  More people will be free to do what they enjoy and perform useful & beneficial tasks that they want to do.

Here are some links to learn more about volunteering:
Why Do People Volunteer?
Where do you volunteer?
Harris Polls: Americans Donating Less, Volunteering More

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