Our media are strongly biased in favor of industry. We don’t notice that the language used for things we are expected to be interested in covers more than we usually bargain for. If we move into a house, the butcher doesn’t come ringing to make arrangements for next years meat budget. If we ‘govern’ our homes and manage our household purse we only have to deal with advertisements and of course a biased media. We can make choices that keep us healthy and maximizes our happyness and we don’t expect ruthless commecial interest to bother us. In our governments that is the norm, it -almost seems the be the raison d’être of government.
Of course every household is already in the grip of several big business conglomerates, to start with the banking system. The fear people have of the big thing called buying or selling a house plus the ability of banks to create money when an asset is given as collateral has suckered most home owners into owning a home with a mortgage. Taxes are based on that mortgage (the ‘value’ of the home), so local and national governments have a stake in high house prices, and everyone has to work to earn money to buy their mortgage. How it happened that houses used to cost a fraction of what they cost today? One is tempted to say it was the work of government. We think it is to broad a term, we want to split ‘government’ up.
There are numerous examples of how our impulse to be human, for instance our impulse to care for something, leads to economic gain through carefull framing of the economically profitable thing in terms of our impulse to care. If we don’t care we are taught to care. For instance about our economy. Like a tamagotchi we are regularly updated on its condition. Because nobody has control this makes us all feel powerless, and then we are told banker this and that will nourish our economy, kick start it like a patient in cardiac arrest. Heroic. What did it mean? Of course NOTHING. But the virtual mythical being ‘the economy’ is often referred to, we need to heed its existence, while the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer.
We earlier explained what the economy is, it is a process of maximizing the utilization of fossil fuels, a process in which humans are less and less usefull. Certainly not all humans. Accepting this is more like the definition of a problem we will here try to offer a solution. The solution consist of calling things by their name, not buching them together so that a fair discussion becomes impossible. Government and its policy needs to be recognized to serve two main goals, 1. the Demoment, the health and wellbeing of the people. 2. The Economent, meaning the maximization of cashflow.
Many people think there is only the Demoment. They think all decisions are made to improve the lives and health of the people. More jobs mean more happy healthy people, more modern products means the same. Laws to control the markets protect us from dangerous situations. The economy will grow and that is good for everyone. Many expect government to be a Demoment, even if at times it doesn’t behave as such. It is supposed to be its ultimate goal.
But if our government only cared for the health and wellbeing of us, it would move singularly aggressively towards a clean energy society. It would crush any producer of poisons that kill birds, bees, people. It would prevent long logistics chains if they mean people lose their jobs, pollution rises and knowledge (and the joy of knowing a craft) is lost. It would not let poeple go hungry as tons of food is thrown away, as loss giving activities are subsidized. It would follow a roadmap to the most happy, local oriented society with maximum ownership, minimal debt, maximal life in every corner..
We see this is not the case. We see our government for some reason slowly moves our society into a prettyfied up workcamp with the managing rich, the working consumers and the working convicts. The US has this pattern clearly, with commercial jails forming a significant part of its economy. The principles at work are economic. Economics is about maximizing the utilization of fossil fuels, for banks it is about maximizing cashflow (which increases with the utilization of fossil fuels). It seeks to put a price on everything so trade in it generates cashflow, desire to purchase a prized asset creats loans, and every move anyone makes puts more power in the hands of the banks. These in turn teach us the economy should grow, debt should be repayed, house prices should rise etc. etc. Cashflow is the deciding criterium. Not human happyness or welbeing. Right now our governments are overwhelmingly Economents.
The problem with Economents is that their purpose is 1. not to support human lives 2. Not to respect limitations of our ecosystem. Economics tells people to compete, it expects companies, corporations to do that. Why? Becuase it is inefficient, it forces companies to go into debt, it creates individuals that all need exactly the same stuff, and share very little. When there is a resource that can be exploited to generate cash flow, it is exploited with the use of fossil fuels, until it is depleted and gone. Time to move on. Recently the activity of shale gas drilling, not even profitable, boomed because it allowed banks to extend credit, increasing cashflow while devestating landscapes and polluting ground and surface water. That’s the definition of a boom, a device created by banks to generate cashflow through inflation of valuations, made to come through through bank loans.
Instead of bunching Demoment and Economent into one term, ‘Government’, misleading people about the purpose of suggested policies as producing biased indicators, we should Be very clear about which politician serves which part of government. That way we can find solutions to problems without automatically using economic principles, which cause many problems. By separating Demoment from Economent we can also allow other methods of managing assets and resource to serve the goals of Demoment. If something needs to happen like building a road, one can go for the ecnomically designed solution, expensive big companies that lobby for work and are integrated with departments, or maybe use a more spontaneous and locally originating cooperative that may not even want to get payed for building a local road.
JB Straubel talks about tesla’s battery technology, the future and potential of electricty storage.
A couple of years ago an italian researcher Rossi claimed to have build a nickel/hydrogen fusion reactor. He demonstrated it in his lab and was working on building an actual powerplant in Greece. Then things died down. His claims where refuted mainly because there was no (accepted) explanation for them. His reactor seemed to produce more heat than it should, but nobody could explain why.
The reactor gets hotter than it should..
Now a number of researchers have tested his E-cat reactor for 32 days, analized the Nickel fuel and conclude that it works. ”The researchers, analyzing the fuel before and after the 32-day burn, note that there is an isotope shift from a “natural” mix of Nickel-58/Nickel-60 to almost entirely Nickel-62 — a reaction that, the researchers say, cannot occur without nuclear reactions (i.e. fusion).” (source)
The reactor emits no radiation and produces no radioactive waste (except Nickel-62, a very stable isotope). It can be used to generate heat and electricity witout emitting CO2, NOx or other pollutants (of course the Nickel has to be mined and processed). It is interesting to learn how clean the energy is when all steps necessary for it are considered.
More info at e-cat World
Our atmosphere is warming up and we need to stop it. Around the world changes are taking place that will help reduce warming even if they’re not motivated by that explicit reason. The ambition to manage average atmospheric temperatures becomes explicit in climate targets, for instance when we say 2 degrees warming is the only acceptable limit, when greenpeace tells us that 1,5 degrees as a maximum is still achievable.
There is however a paradox. Global centrally decided and agreed upon maxima are supposed to be enforced locally. There are several ways to do that, one is by monitoring economic parameters, industry standards, so that one can either punish or reward those that do not implement changes. For example, european standards will ban superpowerfull vacuum cleaners, because they don’t need to be and it will reduce emissions. Energy standards for homes will create more energy efficient or even zero energy homes to be build and this will also reduce emissions. Goals are set for energy efficiency, emissions free energy production, phase out of highly polluting practices. It seems to work so where’s the paradox?
The paradox is in the control system that drives these changes. If we distinguish two systems, one the economic system, second the military industrial complex and police force, Their punishing power is managed by the justice system. In life, as you explore your opportunities and achieve your dreams, you can be fined, go to jail or (if you really threaten fossil fuel dominance) get bombed. If you are a country that wants to go its own way you either get bombed or some civil war gets fomented to tear you up from the inside. The economic and military industrial systems do one thing extremely well : Maintain the dominance of the fossil fuel paradigm. Why? Because billions of employees in all sectors see their livestyles depend on them ‘doing their jobs’, and growing poverty (read fossil fuel scarcity) means many people are desperate enough to forgo their own moral judgement and do any job, even if it threatens their future. Vanity and the threat of imminent ‘death’ do miracles to keep people on the bend and narrow..
The control paradox is that we are controlled by systems that do not want to go green, morover a globalist societal structure that does allow us to achieve 1,5 or 2 degree climate goals do not exist. It can only be achieved by an dominated, unstructured world. This must be the hardest thing for humans to understand, and it is a topic of great interest to me, this emergent behaviour, emergent constraints to our behaviours, about which I will write elsewhere. For now we can see the problem with reverting to a non fossil fuel dependent (and credit dependent) world, which is that it will consist of a patchwork of more or less autonomous regions. Autonomous regions do not need to cooperate, they can bifurcate in cultures, they do not come to each others aid. They can not be managed centrally.
If you want a world that deals with climate change, you have to allow it to become a non cooperative swamp. You have to allow something to happen that is the complete opposite of globalization. This is a direct result of the introduction of local energy production, making local energy consumption and production of goods and services most easy. Logistics become less necessary and global media will disappear. The global village dominated the financial markets will turn into a patchwork of local realms of influence of a few. There is no way any authority can set a global target in such an environment. The paradox is that the desired result of a global trend can not be achieved by global penalties or incentives. It can only be achieved by letting go of global coherence.
The Global Standdown
This paradox has two optional solutions one of which we wrote about some years ago, and we called it the “Global standdown”. Simply said it entails the unifying of all armies into one controling force that will then create the patchwork mentioned above. The force will not be loyal to any specific region and won’t enforce law anywhere. Countries will dissolve. It will set the rules that will force regions to go autonomous fast because it will control all fossil fuel resources and keep the use of them to the minimum as it implements rapid adoption of renewable energy sources everywhere. The production of renewables can be renewable energy powered, so as soon as that is the case the use of fossil fuels will be the privilige of this unified military force only. In a more sci fi version of the concept the world would be dominated by this military in an drone based unseen form, using displacing people as the primary means of control (as the patchwork of autonomous regions doesn’t make migation easy, and function as de facto open prisons).
We can’t reach a stable climate that supports the life evolved until 1900 if something akin to the intervention described above or the second option is not done. The advantage of creating a unified military is that there will be a positive outcome, and there won’t be chaos and limping towards the expiration of our biosphere (runaway warming as the world burns what it can scavange). It protects our technological advantage.
Desire for control over fossil fuel resources creates most if not all tensions we see in the world today
The second option is to realize a centralized renewable energy production facility that will enter/replace the current fossil fuel energy streams as if nothing happened. We may still replace fossil fuels but the key to this option is that renewable energy production takes place far out of reach of the consumers. This seems to be the strategy now used by big energy companies that like to kill off local renewable energy, lobby even for killing rooftop solar, but build utility scale renewable energy plants in deserts, under water (tidal) or in the ocean (wind farms). This could be called the ‘economic’ option. The trouble is that it is not easy in an environment shared with fossil energy producers, and it requires a struggle against the general nature of humanity that wants to own what it needs, it requires people to act like passive consumers which requires a gratuit comfort level that can only be achieved by using fossil fuels. The current fight for renewables will thus ultimately result in return to local autonomous regions eroding governments, the importance of financial markets and the market for global corporations. Simply fighting for renewables without an awareness of the paradox thus sets us on path of certain failure and chaos.
It is my opinion the first option is the best, because it creates a robust variety of cultures and styles of getting on, ensuring resilience against changes, Also as renewable energy capacity around the world reaches 100%, 200%, 300% it will enable a return to the best of what the oil glut has brought us, without the environmental downside this time. The emergence of a global Roboeconomy, celebrating differences, able to help each other (without a need for uniformness introduced by trying to maximize efficient use of fossil fuels) thrive in a clean, green automated world. One in which war is barely necessary because resources are never scarce.
We knew Titanium dioxide was photoactive. It is a photocathalyst, meaning it can build up an electric charge which can then be used by molecules in chemical reactions. Alternative the electrons can be picked up by oxygen forming O3, which is very reactive and will break down bacteria, toxic gasses, NO etc. In short, Titanium Oxide can rinse the air of pollutants found in a.o. car exhaust.
A while back we found that TiO2, which is the chemical name for Titanimum Dioxide, can be found in paint pigments you can buy in the art store, it’s non toxic, and also used in toothpaste to make it look more white. We wondered if we could make a paint that would have the air cleansing properties. We figured it would have to be water based and bring out the pigment in such a way that it would be in contact with the air. We bought Arabic Gom, (made out of camel bones?) but it turned into a covering yellowish layer over the pigment.
We hade seen several examples of ceramic tiles with TiO2 but those would be heavy and cumbersome and explensive and only usable for specific interiors. Then it struck us : we could mix it with gypsum. No idea if this would produce a working substance. Let’s google the idea (We usually (not always) come up with ideas that others have tried or investigated already).
We found a study of exactly what we are after : “Design of a Novel Photocatalytic Gypsum Plaster with the Indoor AirPurification Property” by Yu ad Brouwers out of Eindhoven University. Perfect! They set up an experiment to see what happened to NO (a car combustion pollutant) if they ran it by plaster with varying percentages of Ti2O. Their TiO2 was of one specific crystal type (there are three) called Anatase, the other two are Rutile and Brookite, this will become important later..
Four mixes and a reference mix where tested with roughly 2% and 4% TiO added to the mix (two with accelerant and two without). The mix used was anatase TiO2. NO, nitrogen oxide, a pollutant in car exhaust, was fed over a sheet of the prepared gypsum. The goal being conversion of NO into harmless HNO3.
A measurable effect can be seen to the NOx concentration (see image above). The NO however also gets turned into NO2, which is still harmfull. The experimenters measured significant amounts of NO turned into NOx or HNO3, even if some NO passed unchanged, probably due lack of contact with the gypsum.
The paper concludes that :
“The experimental results indicate that the photocatalytic oxidation is an effective indoor air purification technology. All photocatalytic oxidation experiments are carried out at ambient conditions under visible light, which shows its convenience for the indoor air purification.”
The pigment we have seems to be pure Anatase, according to the code it has with an A at the end (C 101101 A). The Iso specs say “Type A : Anatase type”. so this means the results achieved in the Yu/Brouwers study can be replicated by mixing our pigment into gypsum.
Worried which type of TiO2 we needed, Anatase or Rutile (Brookite is not sold as pigment) we looked for information about the photocatalytic effectiveness of both types of TiO2, wondering if it mattered. We found a poster (presentation of research) that gave us a precise answer.
The above graph shows that having a mix of Rutile and Anatase TiO2 has the strongest photocatalytic effect. Adding Rutile to pure Anatase pigment can increase the effectiveness by about 30%. A 50/50 mix is commercially available, it is not as cheap as the pigment though.
Our 40% TiO2 gypsum causes a noticable freshness. It would be nice to have a real measurement of the effect..
We think we could make gypsum panels which when exposed to the sun will reduce NO concentrations and remove other pollutants. We think we could add UV light to panels that are used inside (UV activates the TiO2). We think a specific surface pattern could increase the effectiveness and a TiO2 coating, so a last covering layer instead of massive TiO2 gypsum, will save money. We wonder if we could make a TiO2 active white wallpaint for indoor use (our initial goal). Lastly we wonder if adding other pigments (dye sensitization) could strengthen the effect as white paint reflects most energy. Many dies will turn light into an electric charge, with could add to the charge generated by TiO2. Lastly we think cities could increase the air quality (also in terms of germs) by painting walls with TiO2 gypsum where people will allow it.
Considering about 3 million people die each year due to air pollution and it’s the third cause of death (in Holland), there’s a case to be made for TiO2 plastered walls in places with lots of (IC) traffic. Time for an experiment?
The battle between those that want to sell and use fossil fuels and those that want to depart from that diseaster is being violently waged on the world stage. Not only wars over oil, but political movements against ugly wind turbines, climate denial, deregulation of pollution, gaging of fracking victims, the list is endless. Humanity is fighting and may succumb to it’s worst infection of all time, the desire to use fossil fuels.
But most people don’t realize the deck is stacked against everyone in a very fundamental way. Money, something banks make sure everyone needs at all time, is not neutral. It is carboncredit. Currencies are the main means to distribute fossil fuels such that the amount of currency needed to buy any item is always linked to the amount of currency needed to buy a barrel of oil, ton of coal or cubic feet/meter of gas. It may not be much, but imagne a world when one could not buy coal, oil, gasoline, gas etc. with the currency? The world would grind to a halt immediately.
The ‘carboncredit system’ as we call it, based on fossil fuels, is the only system that can function and support our modern economy. Why? Because the liquidity of the currency can (still) move about as fast as fossiel fuel liquidity where one wants to spend it. Want to mine somewhere? If you have cash in the spot you will find someone to haul your diesel there and you are in business. Want to double production? Cash will buy you what you need, because down the line that cash can buy fuel for the shovel manufacture, or coal for making the steel the shovel manufacturer needs, all because these produces recieve the currency, and the fossil fuels are available where they are.
We see how tight this relationship between our currency and fossil fuels is in the decisions of the right (who can be defined by their fossil fuel affinity). They will always free up the financial system, they will always advance fossil fuel methods. they hate creation of value without cashflow (what renewables do), and they hope the whole world is tied up in debt to assure nobody takes action to escape the carboncredit system. Some parts of the population must be jettisoned sometimes, the poor. Fine. Cut of their fuel supply. But let them grow their own? NOO!! That cuts into the fuel consumption of industrial farming.
Politically there is no way to escape this system as long as one uses the currency, Euro, Dollar, except in the case you have enormous cash reserves. Then you can spend it discretely, without interest payments or debt, and possibly build renewable energy sources with the fossil fuels the money buys, to find you become autonomous without the need for money after a while, able to offer value in units of free energy. We already wrote about how this actually puts deflationary pressure on the carboncredit system because more value floats around the system (more energy, fossil+renewables) than is anticipated by the carboncredit banks.
Selling your renewable energy for fossil fuel credit is mandatory in most places. It is also forced because the renewable energy sources like wind turbines are build with.. eh .. carboncredit. A windfarm is an enormous financial construction designed to maximize bank ownership and monetary control over the viability (existence) of the tubines. So much that they seem to expensive, while wind is the cheapest form of renewable energy! The fight will and can continue as long as fossil fuel money managed by fossil fuel banks is involved.
The renewable economy is completely different and incompatible with the present one. There’s much less cashflow for energy.There is no credit unless the energy resources are at the specific place where the credit will be used (although synthetic gas and gasoline, biofuels etc. can allow the same dynamics as we see in the current fossil fuel economy). Flash cash can’t achieve much if it arrives in a region that has a specific amount of renewable energy sources installed, because it would immediately cause inflation and people would protest against stealing of their local or imported products. There is no good way to think about a renewable based economy with concepts or even the goals of our present economy. What we see today in terms of “Economic growth with renewables” is a temporary ‘elastic’ phase we need to break out of or it will suffocate and lead to the demolition of all renewable energy sources under pressure of fossil fuel interests.
What is needed to escape this fate is a way to separate the carboncredit economy from the ‘roboeconomy’ (renewables based economy with widespread use of technology as we envision). We can only do that if we create a separate currency, managed by a separate bank, created by all the manufactureres and owners of renewable energy sources. The currency will be allocated based on the productivity (so tradeable objects) that can be achieved with the energy specific renewable energy sources, so it can drive local economic activity. We wrote about this earlier and the tax office seems to be one of the best options for distributing this new currency (we could call it the joule).
But rather than leaving it to fossil fuel interst infested governments to start up such bank it will have to be done by members of the renewable energy community. It will -not- be done by anyone else! As we wrote earlier every source of renewable energy warrants the creation of currency so that producers can purchase the energy with that currency. The only difference of this mechanism with the present economy is that renewable energy is usually local and transport has a cost which is included in the price (unlike with oil, where the waste of logistics is hidden to the consumer because the oil producer doesn’t care as long as some fuel gets sold). If useless buring of fuel had been a problem cars would have become hydbrids long ago, it is not, it’s about the cashflow.
The best way to realize this currency is using some variant of crypto cash. This requires a number of servers to track the block chain of that cash, and they can be owned and managed by the renewable energy source producers. Their management can be payed for in the currency itself (let’s call it the Joule). The central bank determines the Joule credit created with each owner of a renewable energy source. That credit can be bought or traded for goods and services by anyone that wants to use the energy, and if it is spend the credit disappears, just as is the case with bank credit. There is one difference : There is no debt. With the arrival of large battery storage facilities near industrial areas the option becomes : either buy directly or from storage at a premium (meaning the energy you get for your currency is less).
Only if there is a separate currency can there be an independent powerfull lobby to take on fossil fuels and win. It will create numerous sources of credit used by local producers instead of central credit used by remote producers, and it will make carbon credit depreciate over time until slowely regions will no longer see fossil fuel supplies. People will feel more secure owning the Joule. As we wrote before another currency, the labour currency Auro can be used to transfer it over longer distances, but it may not be possible, but also not needed to do that. Renewables and automated production mean some areas will see continuous abundance able to support the locals as well as visitors.
Money is fossil fuel and the banking system is guarding that reality with every means to their disposal. Until there is money that is renewable energy there is no real way to extract ourselves from the fossil fuel economy, but we need to as soon as possible.
Dust in the air is a problem in the city, apart from that there’s NOx, Ozone, partially burned fuels that all have negative impact on long term health. To make sure the air in house is clean one can buy a commercial air conditioner, but we figured we’d try to build one ourselves. The total cost of this build could be 100,- Euro or less.
Air quality for residential areas is not checked often, yet there’s ample reason to be interested. Next to bussy roads the air is full of toxic and corrosive gasses. Also sewage systems can vent H2S which is also corrosive. Restaurants and heating installations also produce gasses we might want to remove from the air we breath.
Smog can be invisible too..
There are standards for air quality. We’d ideally want to know exactly what quality we reach just to see if it is any use to filter at all. Clean rooms, operation theaters have normalized air quality, delivered by industrial filter machines (so no germs, no dust to mess up semiconductor fabrication). Fine particle dust, the most dangerous type, is hard to filter except with electrostatic filters. A dutch invention combines electrostatic and mist to bind particles to water and then move water out of the airstream to clean out the dangerous dust, but such machines are expensive and consume a lot of power.
We build a combination of active carbon and HEPA air filter. HEPA filters are recommended for fine dust removal. The active carbon filter is a standard unit we bought from a ‘grow shop’, who can have a surprisingly wide offering of scent removing equipment ;-). We buld a box with ventilators to house the filters. Air flow volume seems acceptable but we can’t measure it. We got in touch with a true air filter manufacturer and they will alert us when they have a real unit. Parts for this unit you can order through email@example.com on a per case basis.
Ventilators are in the top so the air and dust flow downwards into the HEPA filter…
We make a round opening in a plank that will carry the activated carbon filter that’s in a neat metal container. It already has a rough dust filter on the outside. Any carbon falling out will be stopped by the HEPA filter below. Make sure to mark the side on the filter that is the input side, or you will be blowing out dust when you remove it.
The end product can already be seen in the picture above. It can be made less noisy if the ventilator was placed after the carbon filter, inside the box. We would try to create a loose connection with the box so the noise of the ventilator would not resonate in the box..
Air filter tower, 45 x 25 cm
We used a sheet of 122 cm x 60 cm x 0.5 cm wood, the HEPA filter is 25 x 25 cm, so we cut two planks of 25 x 25, four sides (2 of 25 x 45 and 2 of 26 x 45 cm) and fitted it all together with blocks of wood. To replace the HEPA filter we need to unscrew the support rods below it. To replace the carbon filter we take the top off. If you order 10 kits at the same time we can thin of a price, ask us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Update : This design is reconfigurable, because the carbon filter holder and the ventilator holder are the same size, so you can swap them and end up with the carbon filter on top of the box. Having the ventilator inside gives the opportunity to add some sound proofing. With different side panels you could add some tubes so you can put the thing where the noise doesn’t bother anybody..
Total cost of this build is about 100,- Euro. We will ship it as a kit for 150,- with precut wood and drawings, probably with a 220 Volt AC ventilator with a little more oomp..
For some years now I have been writing about the roboeconomy, which is an economy where robots run on renewable energy, creating goods and services for free. The challenge for many in the present economy is to see how things could be free, and my conclusion is that it requires a real departure from economics as we know it, both to sxee that it is true and to make it possible to be true. To arrive at the insight will be a difficult journey for many married to economic theory, and this delays the arrival of a better society, a cleaner, healthier world, so I write about it.
Lodewijk thinks we should adapt education, to prepare young people not for the simple jobs but the more unexpected challenges. Also he would like to adapt the tax system to make sure the people losing those menial jobs can be given other opportunities. The most important motivation Lodewijk gives for creating these opportunities is that “People should remain able to benefit from our increasing wealth”. That shows he stepped to the right side of the roboeconomic dillemma. He can get his humanity award.
The dillemma we posed a while back on this site is a simple question :
Suppose we have a machine that makes everything anyone needs or wants, and it runs autonomously on renewable energy, churning out goods and services, perhaps even delivering it to people around the world automatically. Then:
Option 1. Is everyone out of a job, and can nobody afford any of these goods and services, will we all starve to death and disapear? or
Option 2. Will everything be free and will al be sharing in the wealth the machine creates.
I think that until know the first option has been dominant, being strongly reinforced by economic thinking with its competitive core believes. The Ayn Rands and other capitalists of the world show us time and time again, you can make it (and the rest can rot) if you just work very damn hard. Wall Street “Greed is good!” mantra is no caricature, It is supposed to be a source of strong individual pride for someone to make it and earn good money in our world today. How can a minister suggest we share wealth with people that are no longer necessary? That is socialist!
Breaking our economic bonds
As is tradition in matters concering personal productivity economicst chime in on the matter. In the article about Asschers remarks it says “Economists don’t agree whether automatic manufacturing costs jobs, until now new jobs have always been created mainly in the service sector. Ever since the industrial revolution people have feared job losses, like the Ludites that destoyed weaving machines in England”. Lesson one : Don’t care about the opinions of economists. The above position is perfect to paralyze the debate Asscher tries to start, it is also obvously dishonest.
Today we see renewables threaten a lot of jobs in the fossil fuel industry, but only a handfull economists have suggested these jobs will be replaced by other jobs, more of them, so we should not worry, and the fossil fuel sector should not oppose. Here, in the case of robots taking jobs, economists say we should not worry. Duh!
Other responses to Asschers ideas are predictably short sighted : Union leader “He promised to create 100.000 new jobs and now he’s talking about this!” Asscher himself propeses to change the tax system because there will be less income tax if there are less jobs. These thougths don’t show an appreciation for the opportunity that presents itself, and the reason is the classic economic basis of prevalent thinking. It’s all ‘option 1′ thinking, but Asschers remark about wealth is an ‘option 2′ thought, and this makes his remarks so significant.
The discussion above is not at all new. It started with the Ludites who where right to oppose the destruction of jobs, but also of individual productive existences. Jobs are often used as a single good thing, but they are multi dimensional. I don’t disagree with distributing the work needed to create our wealthy life into jobs or tasks for individuals to do, but we have to make a qualitative distinction instead of viewing all jobs to be equal (this impulse follows mainly from the fact that economics has made most jobs low skill and interchangeable).
First to make it possible to create a scale between automated and manual work we define a job as a group of tasks to be completed repeatedly. A doctor goes through the same protocol with each patient, a taxi driver does the same as does the baker and nailstylist, or for that matter an ATM. Jobs are a series of tasks to be completed, either by machines or humans. Many industrialists have viewed workers as unreliable machines, cognitive ergonomics and functional psychology where developed to learn more about man machine interaction and the limits of the human machine.
Automation and industrialization has been a process taking place over many centuries that have shifted tasks from man to machine. We could divide that process into a precybernetic, cybernetic and postcybernetic/intelligent (and a fourth) phase. Precybernetic is the phase in which we developed tools, like a hammer, saw, bicycle, weaving machine. All these tools and mechanisms are 100% controlled by the person using them. It requires skills to use them productively. They don’t have feedback mechanisms although a weaving machine does have guides that direct the movement of the parts. Cybernetic machines have internal parameters that guide the behaviour of the machine. They contain a feedback loop between the output and the inputs in such a way that they reduce the skills required from the operator, or they can operate automonously for long periods of time. Steam engines that keep their own pressure safe, electrical systems with internal safeguards, computer driven diagnostic systems or the simple refrigerator are cybernetic automated systems. There are very few postcybernetic, intelligent automated systems. I define intelligence as robust goal orientation. Cybernetic systems have goal orientation, but it is not robust in any way. Take the classical example of the steam pressure governor, the valve that reduces steam pressure if it is made to turn to fast by rising pressure, on only needs to tweak it a little and it stops functioning, and the boiler explodes. Intelligent post cybernetic systems would have the ability to secure the boiler in several redundant ways, like it would diagnose the functioning of the governor, signal an alert to a mechanic, be abled to fix a problem autonomously.
Dutch windmills where early cybernetic systems, directing themselves into the wind and regulating the speed of the grinding stones
Industrialization has been the process of first augmenting some humans with precybernetic tools, then replacing some human labour with cybernetic systems. Now we are slowly seeing intelligence being introduced although the goals the intelligent systems can achieve are very modest. However if an intelligent system is not able to do much more than flex a finger or grab an object, it is easier for that finger flexing or object grabbing to become intelligent. Robust goal orientation is definitely found in weapon systems, which can have physical redundant as wel as ‘algorithmicaly’ redundant control systems. A drone that keeps itself aloft, can use stars as well as gps and visible terrain to navigate, is pretty robust.
To complete the classification we can add sentient to the list, so pre cybernetic, cybernetic, intelligent or post cybernetic and sentient. What differentiates intelligent from sentient mechanisms is that sentient mechanisms aquire their own goals. They do not serve humans in any way, they ‘serve’ what they are made of, just like humans serve what they are (flesh and blood, needing food, shelter, water etc.). Those eager to meet a sentient machine, you might be disappointed, it might not have any interest in you, just like f.i. a crocodile or look at you as a resource to be exploited (just like a crocodile).
Nick Bostrom recently published a book called ‘Superintelligence’ in which he does not present a definition of intelligence, and thus loses his way in semi sci-fi conjectures that miss the elephant on your desktop or the fact we are already dealing with intelligent systems: one of them is the theory of economics combined with our human brain. For more thoughts on his book see this post (in writing).
Does the problem lie in automation?
To go back to the process Lodewijk Asscher refers to, he seems to be triggered by the conflict between option 1 and option 2, but he also seems to believe the process of job reduction through automation is in front of us, just like Nick Bostrom thinks superintelligence is something that will be developed in the future at a specific discernable moment in time. Both are here now, only not indiviualized, not easily visible.
To go back to the story of automation, another aspect to track as tasks become automated is the ability for humans to reap reward. This is where Lodewijk Asscher has exactly the right point of view, which clashes frontally with economic theory. He asks “How do people still reap the benefits of increased wealth due to automation, if they don’t have jobs.”. The answer to this question can only be found if we know more about the relation between jobs and reward. This is also where the key differentiator between the present and the roboeconomy is introduced.
Who owns our jobs?
A farmer working the land with his horses may pay 10% tax, but owns 90 % of what he produces, and can trade that in for other products and services, allowing him a wealthy lifestyle. All animals on the farm live of the land, the primary source of productivity is no human, but solar. There is a difference between handing 10% over to a government and our present reality of owing debt to banks, because the debt does not depend on how much is produced. The farmer is free and wealthy. The community will hope for the best farmer to run the farms, so intelligence is also incentivised.
If the farmer starts to use autmated systems, not much changes. He has no incentive to develop sentient or intelligent systems, because he knows what needs to be done, he is sentient and will make all his goals serve his existence. He’ll have more food for his family with less labour. He’ll need less farmhands though and those farmhands will have to look elsewhere for a fair share of the solar productive capacity of the land. If the farm hand running the hogpen would have owned the hogpen, then automation of the feeding of the hoggs would not have made a difference, he/she would simply have an easier life.
This simple example already shows that the problem does not emanate from automation, but from ownership. You could view tasks of a person as a posession, which is not wierd because we have a name for such posessions, they are called responsibilitys. We ‘have’ a job, and we ‘have’ a responsibility. Asscher says “Robots wil ‘take’ our jobs” of course they can’t, and the jobs will be taken by empoyers and given to the Robots. What the farmer owns in the example above is not only the land, houses, tools etc, but also a number of tasks that if he executes them reap him rewards.
One could say a person owns a job or set of tasks until he trades them with someone else. This would already be a major improvement over empoyers creating and destroying jobs or sets of tasks.
Now today we don’t use solar as much as the farmer does in the example, we use fossil fuels. We burn them so whatever we do with them requires us to get a new supply. If we look at tasks in jobs today (automated or not) they almost allways require fossil fuel to be executed. While we see the incroachment on jobs of automation very clearly, we less think about the encroachment on job ownership by fossil fuels. They have gone hand in hand as many automatic or mechanize tools used them, had engines running on gas, coal, diesel.
If we look at a modern job like taxidriver, we can see a skilled individual doing a set of tasks, but using gasoline or diesel all the time. This means the individual has to produce something to get the gasoline, but surprising he doesn’t, he trades his service for money, with which he can buy the gas. He doesn’t own his job, he ‘rents’ it. The rent, the payment he uses to buy gasoline is a given, just like solar to the farmer. It is ignored but it is the most important factor in the whole process of being a taxidriver.
The bove taxidriver example shows that people don’t own their tasks like the farmer, they rent them from the fossil fuel industry. This goes for almost all modern jobs. their existence has a cost in terms of fossil fuels. Their ‘owners’ are paying rent to do these jobs. The cashflow of these rents is what economists call ‘the economy’.
The history of job ‘rent’
If we look at the history of the ‘rent’ since the start of industrialization we can see that it has increased for many decades as coal, oil and gas where used to mechanize tasks. This also meant many new tasks where possible, so jobs where created for people to do them. In this period of oil glut there where plenty of jobs, because the ‘rent’ was kept very low. If you can offer more oil than can be consumed, you can set an arbitrary price, and if you control the financial system you can even do that when oil is scarce (see my writing about carboncredit).
For decades jobs where shed due to automation but there where enough ideas and opportunities to replace them. The number of ‘rent free’ jobs however fell more and more to near zero today. The banks, keen on keeping the rent system going, worked to put as many people in to debt as possible, so all had to get a job and pay their ‘rent’. This was during the boom times.
Even in the boom times employers would automate and shed jobs, because they had to make a profit in order to afford new credit to expand in a competitive economy. It didn’t occur to most of them to compensate the people layed off also because they could find another job. But in a world with less available oil, coal and gas the advantages of using a machine over a human being to do a job become more significant. They are expressed in terms of cost, but look at them in terms of the real resources needed for a moment, and you’ll see both the problem and the solution.
Fossil fuel ‘rent’ paying jobs require cashflow, leaving a visible parameter to optimize. We need ‘rent free’ jobs to lose the incentive to shed them from our economy. If a job does not require anything but the effort of an individual, and can thus be fully owned by that individual, there is only one incentive to shed the job, and that is that the product or service it creates is not desirable, or the job is unpleasant or boring to do.
The key step made above is to replace fossil fuels with renewables. We don’t usually think of them as costless or free, but that is a result of the application of economic principles and the free market to their existence. Something is free if nobody has to lose anything in order to gain the thing that is free. Fossil fuels are free in that respect. Renewable energy is free as well, and because one can pay whatever is necessary to create renewable energy sources with renewable energy, those sources are also free, as is the energy that flows from them. Of course the current economy does not allow us to do this easily, but one clear example exist : Tesla owners can charge their car for free at supercharger stations. Not because Tesla is earning money somewhere else to pay for the electricity, but because the electricty is solar, and thus free.
The Robo(eco)nomy is the economy in which productivity is automated and runs on abundant renewables, leaving for people to do what they like. So much productive capacity is free of cost that there is enough to restore the planets ecology.
So to answer Lodewijk Asscher we would say first, see that automation is incentivised by our use of fossil fuel. Second try to see how our economic system is designed to maximize the utilization of fossil fuels, and is thus an inadequate framework to solve the problem of ‘job loss due to automation in’. This means don’t ask the Soclal Economic Council (SER) for advise. Economists have no answers. Third keep your vision of “Benefiting of the created wealth by all” in an automated world, strive for option 2. Fourth : It follows we need to embrace renewable energy as our primary energy source to enter the roboeconomy.