Shock therapy, coming soon to your country

Shock therapy is a concept proposed by some economists before the Soviet union collapsed. Essentially, it’s the idea that a command and control economy should be immediately dismantled, to be replaced by market mechanisms.

Adam Smith cautioned against this, and it was a disaster in Russia. People who lack a culture of individual responsibility will not suddenly rise to personal and civic responsibility simply because there is a power vacuum. It takes time for culture to change. This is one of the reasons why I expect that retrofitting a Celebration Society to existing governments will be far more complex than simply starting fresh on uninhabited land.

What no one seems to have considered is this: the coming tsunami of accelerating automation and technological unemployment will, for all intents and purposes, BE shock therapy for those affected. When the basic social contract breaks, so too does the society begin to break.

The existing social contract has been that if one is willing and able to work, a job will be available sufficient to support a family. That has already been damaged, in large part by outsourcing. As AIs and the robots they control will be the ultimate form of outsourcing, the creaky social edifice will start to have major ruptures.

In Russia, shock therapy led to the oligarchy/dictatorship of Putin. There is no reason to think that any other country will be different. Those who somehow thought American exceptionalism extended beyond Jackson Turner’s five factors will have a rude awakening. (They really should have had it this year.)

I hope that we do not need to experience shock therapy on a widespread basis to awaken to the need for an Abundance Game. Oligarchs and autocrats generally don’t leave their countries in better shape than before. Often, the outcome is much worse.

I expect that, in this case, with rapidly advancing technological capabilities and in particular AIs, we would see the emergence of an enduring oligarchy similar to Orwell’s 1984, but far more advanced and pervasive. Recently developed technology allows emotions to be monitored non-invasively at a distance.

Soon, if nanotechnologists are correct, we will have microscopic nanite robots able to cascade through our bodies repairing damage and improving our capabilities. They could as well be used to assure total control of the individual; possibly even at the level of thought.

The history of humanity should make clear that if such capabilities exist, ruthless parties will seek to control them and thereby control everyone else. I fear that such may become our default reality if we have great social instability in the 2020s and strongmen arise to restore order. Those strongmen may be much harder to displace than previous ones.

Indeed, they might become immortal and never be displaced.
Now is the time for us to develop and demonstrate a more humane, sustainable alternative. Will we do it?

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