Pre-collapse Economics — The Poison

This edition of ‘Monkey Logic’ is Part One of a two-part series on how to fix all the problems of the world…

As an experiment, I am also reading these essays on YouTube, let me know what you think:

Or, read on…

Pre-collapse Economics — The Poison

What’s on the other side?
The other side of what?
The other side of the slide.
The other side of the burning curtain which separates expired, tired, trashy today from pre-singularity tomorrow.
I see past the smoke and teargas.
Let me tell you what I see…

But first, a recap…
We find ourselves at a significant point of inflection. We cannot fail to see a general decay in trust across the board. Belief in truth, confidence in institutions, and faith in our fellow citizens are evaporating like spilt champagne on a summer terrace. Even money, the foundation of our consumer society is looking increasingly shaky. Paraphrasing Warren Buffet: “We’ve moved from a system where debt is repaid, to a system where debt is reimbursed.” Mr Buffet goes on to point out that we don’t know if this new system of laissez-faire money printing will work better than the old system, but he’s buying goldmines and selling banks. You can draw your own conclusions; I will give you mine for free:
Money is toast. Don’t bother looking for its value, it’s gone. Evaporated.
The only reason we still use it is that up until very recently, there was nothing better …more on this later. Countries that suggest they might like to be paid in something more tangible than bits of paper, or digital bits of bytes, get a dose of sense forcibly regime-changed into them. Just ask Gaddafi about his plan for an African gold dinar. Money, a once functional tool, has been so abused and twisted by bad faith actors that it is now a ridiculous clown of its former self. We broke it. Just like we break anything to get to the value inside.
I’m not one of those people who claim our entire economic system is a lizard run conspiracy, but I suggest that even the most propaganda riddled, blue-pill, sheep-person will concede that not all motives are pure. Not all humans are upright and honourable. They scam if they can. This is a fact. In pursuit of personal gain, people will leverage loopholes they discover in systems ostensibly built to ensure the common good. This type of person naturally gravitates towards positions of power where they can enlarge their favourite loopholes and further bend the rules. Buoyed up by a lack of push back, they begin to fragrantly break the rules and soon, the abused, bent and mangled system of law and order will cease to have any power. After this, the system will collapse, chaos will ensue, and we will be forced, at least for a while, to play by the rules printed on the box that the universe came in:

Sticks and stones. Tooth and nail.

Our current economics, for the sake of argument, let’s call it neoliberal free-market capitalism, has had a good run, but it’s approaching this collapse.
This is how things go. Human systems of governance have a half-life; they decay as they are systematically pierced by loophole spelunkers and eroded by bad-faith regulators
Laws can not long survive the relentless abrasive wind of human corruption; although some artefacts of ordinance prove more resistant to this decay than others. A wealthy Roman merchant’s fortune, buried in panic and then dug up two thousand years later, will have retained its value. This is because gold is not a made-up thing. It is real in a way IOUs and paper money are not.

Gold is shiny, which makes people want it.
Gold is rare, which means not everybody can have it.

Gold’s value comes from desirability and scarcity and its scarcity is not something artificial under the control of corrupt rulers, rather it comes from the rules of the universe. Gold is heavy. When Earth was molten most of it settled into the core beyond our greedy digging.
So if we want to find a system upon which to build longterm prosperity for our species, we need to bind our laws to something resistant to fiddling.
Could we base our new economics on gold? Probably not:

  1. Gold’s scarcity might not survive the next couple of decades of technological advancement. Gold is rare in the universe - one atom for every hundred trillion atoms of hydrogen - but there is just so much miscellaneous stuff floating around in the vastness of space, that somebody is going to bring back a big boulder of precious metals at some point in the next couple of decades; and when I say big, I mean big like Paris. One day, SpaceX, or SpaceY or SpaceZ, will drag a Trillion tons of gold, platinum, and nickel into orbit and announce that they are ready to start parachuting pre-smelted ingots directly down to your factory’s parking lot anywhere on the planet.
  2. Gold is money, but money is only one ingredient of an economic system. We don’t only need a substance to store and exchange value, we need an inviolate substrate upon which to build an entire system of economics beyond meddling.

When I say a substrate, I am talking about the rules and the board where the game of commerce is played. When I say inviolate, I mean it is impossible to make illegal moves.
‘Base-reality’ has the property that some ‘moves’ are impossible:
It is impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
It is impossible to turn water into wine - at least without a shit ton of high-tech equipment.
This is why these things are considered miracles. The substrate, the game-board that is the universe, has rules which can not be broken. Some things will always be impossible for mortals, only somebody with administrative privileges on the universe can do magic: the creator, his son, or one of his handful of upper-management gods. Compare this to the edifice of money and delegated force where we play today’s games of power. Once only the king was allowed to perform bureaucratic miracles, these were called decrees, today, with a de facto global constitution assembled from hundreds of thousands of treaties, laws, and backroom deals, there are as many kings as there are billionaires. As soon as an individual has sufficient funds, they join the crowded pantheon of gods and are able to force miracles onto the system. Minor economic deities do small miracles: bending planning laws to make sure no new houses are built in front of their villas; while really powerful oligods change demographies and confiscate wealth and health.
As an aside, this is what the right to bear arms was all about. If everybody had a gun-so the American founding fathers thought-everybody would be a little god and all the little gods together would keep the Titans in check. It turned out that there were many flaws in this plan, for a start it was enacted before aircraft carriers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and computational propaganda, but at least it was an attempt to build some ‘base-reality’ real-world resilience into the system of governance.
In summary, the laws of the universe are inviolate, but they are also crude and often come down to hitting people with lumps of reality in order to take other bits of reality off them. Human laws, even when they start off well-intentioned, always become corrupted and broken as they are hollowed out by bad faith actors pissing on the commons and looting our bureaucratic edifices for personal gain.
We need something robust and tamper-proof to stand against the relentless abrasion of a billion tricky monkeys, while, at the same time, being subtle and nuanced enough to encapsulate our instinct for fairness.
We need a new playing board immune to meddling by the players; a neutral, inviolate ‘substrate’ to provide the same governance functions as our current system, i.e. it’s laws, treaties, obligations, contracts, agreements, threats, promises…
On this ‘board’, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, capitalists, industrialists, artists, teachers, scientists, mothers, and soon, synthetic intelligences too, will, by plying their trades and taking their chosen paths through life, help our species on its journey from the caves to the stars; hopefully without the inane predictability of kleptocrat predators running off with all the goodies every few centuries and needing to have their manners guillotined back into them.

Lucky for us, I have developed a truly marvellous demonstration of such a system which unfortunately this ‘margin’ is too narrow to contain…
Details on the solution to all the world’s problems in the next issue of Monkey Logic 😉

Monkey Logic — A Light Take on the Dark Patterns of our World

Why are people so angry?
Why are people so stupid?
Why the hell did she/he/it just do that?

The answer is Monkey Logic. We are not sanguine sages or intellectual titans. We are messily evolved amalgamations of ad-hoc fixes collected over Billions of years of hard-knocks trial and error. We have high expectations for the world, but Sanity and Rationalism are human inventions. Truth does not equal Beauty. Madness, money, and monogamy are our own psycho-cultural inventions; emergent tokens; semiotic short-hand heuristics for the recurring patterns of reality-

One man’s sanity is another man’s bat-shit crazy.

- case in point, for some, my use of a gendered noun will mark me as a moral degenerate and legitimate target of whatever heinous acts the mob considers appropriate this week for infractions against its shifting and arbitrary taboos.

My wife crochets. Small baskets for keys, square boxes for change, and recently, awesome little bags perfect for when she’s baking and doesn’t have a place for her iPhone while she listens to the Joe Rogan podcast. After early skepticism and perhaps a little good-natured criticism, I converted. Last week I asked to borrow the bag - I wanted to use my wired, noise-canceling headphones to listen to the Joe Rogan podcast while hoovering. It was at this point she decided she might just have a viral hit on her hands…

She set off to set up an online store but quickly stumbled into a thread of Etsy artisans bemoaning the introduction of advertising on the platform. I shuddered when she told me. As an author, I am a long-time sufferer of Amazon’s dubious practices. I know how the introduction of advertising forces authors to buy-in or fade-out. Products stop being surfaced according to quality and popularity as creators are forced to cut further into their profits to buy visibility. It becomes a race to the bottom fueled by a constant influx of hopefuls willing to accept selling loss-leaders in exchange for making it big somewhere down the road…

Etsy, Amazon, and their like, obviously love this model. Of course they do. They are no longer limited to a cut of platform sales. When they started shaking down their ‘tenants’ for protection money they unlocked a whole new revenue source.

“Nice line in hand-made socks you have there… it would be a shame if some upstart with deep pockets and a fresh pair of knitting-needles was to move in on your turf…”

Etsy is a publicly-traded company. A very large chunk of this ‘quaint little hand made goods store’ is owned by capitalist hegemons who are far from quaint; think BlackRock and Vanguard. If you are not familiar, these are among the world’s largest and most successful investment companies. Shares are massively disproportionately owned by the richest members of society. (The wealthiest top ten percent of people own more than ninety percent of the shares).

So what we have here are the most affluent elites - the billionaire hedge-fund oligarchs - shamelessly turning the screws on the smallest most humble workers. How much can anybody make selling socks or charming crocheted bags? Not a lot, but it’s about to become a lot less. My confident prediction is that in most cases it’s going to end up being less than nothing.

The slum-lord-monopolist-kleptocrats are bulldozing the dreams of their residents to squeeze out a little more value. It is not a victimless crime. True, some platform denizens are merely playing, slumming it by pretending to be an artist. They can cope with paying a bit more each week for their hobby, but there are livings being made in these digital ghettos too. The single mum who makes a little extra money making and selling baby mittens to help pay for winter warmth will just have to knit her family thicker hats.

On the upside, it’s good news for the Klepts. If they can press just a few more drops of sweat from each of their disgusting peasant tenants, they can manage to fill their penthouse infinity pools.

Do the super-rich really need more?
Clearly the answer is no, but they want it.
Monkey Logic.

They are really good bags with universal approval from our friends, she has gifted many, but you will never find them because she’d rather languish in obscurity than capitulate to a shady protection racket.

Anyone for Rat Tartare?

The system is crumbling, bifurcating. Money is becoming irrelevant for those with it, and unobtainable for those without. Negative interest rates are the only clue we need to be certain the wheels have come of this jalopy.  Of course, normal people don’t get to borrow at negative rates, that’s only for Ultra High Networth Individuals and Corporations.

The 0.1% (aka the plutocrats, oligarchs, kleptocrats — I wish I could find a word that I like) have eaten most of the pies and are in the process of snaffling down the rest.

The rich have clearly been very bad boys and girls, just look at the charts that show where all the productivity delivered by Manufacturing Automation, Supply Chain Optimization, Fin-Tech, Digital Transformation, etc, has gone:

Productivity has doubled, while wages stayed the same.
…where did all the money go?


Oh, there it is. The rich took it all!

When I started writing my Singularity’s Children books, the world had just experienced a major ‘correction‘. The #occupy movement and the whole 1% outrage was catching fire and there was a genuine sense that with recognition of the greed that had caused the economic train-wreck, a new fairer order might rise…

…Yeah, right!

Instead, the fat-lady was propped up, pumped full of amphetamines, and persuaded to sing again; one more time.

So here we are. A decade later and the world is burning:

The top image is a fictitious weather report imagining what the weather would be like in 2050 for a 2014 French TV documentary about climate change. The bottom image is the real weather report from last week.


Somehow, we forgot that the Klepts (how about that?) ate our future, and are still busy eating the futures of our grandchildren. We became distracted with a billion memes and outraged by a million unwitting infractions against a constantly shifting baseline of fraught-to-navigate social norms.

The Klepts know it though. They use their newspapers and TV channels to distract us, but they can’t hide the side effects of their gluttony—

—the cheesy crumbs are ground into the carpet; drifts of pie and pasty packaging are building in the corners of their bedrooms. They can hear mummy’s feet on the stairs, she is coming to take the pies away. They hug their disposable convenience-store plastic bags full of junk food, and stuff their faces faster, they know it’s over and soon they will be eating rat, like everybody else.

This system is well and truly broken. We need a new one.

But we must remember that the Klepts will fight tooth and nail to discredit any promising new ideas.  (This tension is the backstory and main arc of my Singularity’s Children books.)

But why should they fight? Surely getting an early start on cleaning up all the pie-scented effluent gumming up the works will make a better world for all of us—including them. Why should they resist?

Because a preemptive managed upgrade to the system won’t help them. Even if things stay civil and they don’t all get guillotined into minced-meat to make Soylent Green, they are probably right in suspecting that the massive wealth disparity they currently enjoy will not survive a reboot. Why should they voluntarily curtail the short amount of gluttony time they have left before a hard unscheduled reboot of society robs them of their wealth and status anyway?

We need to understand that we want different things, us and them. We have different incentives. Most of us will be willing to sacrifice a little to avert a global cataclysm, but they will be asked to give up a LOT.

One thing we do have in common with the Klepts, is that, like us, most of them are not saints, and because only a saint is strong enough to act against their own interests, the leaders of our Kleptocracy will never voluntarily make the tough decisions necessary to save us all.

We are not in the same boat. They have so much more to lose. They won’t be able to put down that delicious slice of poor-person-pie. So we will need to slap it out of their hands, or soon their weakness and greed will have us all diving for bloated carion through the flooded sewers of London and Mumbai…

Rat-tartare might sound grim to you, but to the Klepts, so does the prospect of microwaved Asda vegetable pie.