The Future is Free!

Abstract: Quintessence argues that capitalism is part of a culture that is about to be followed up a new culture, i.e. DonParagon's Vision of the Future. In this new culture, the emphasis will not be on trade and financial transactions, but instead most things will be available for free. This article describes how Quintessence has reached this conclusion.

Introduction and Background

Quintessence has issued many articles in the series Optionality by Comparison. From time to time, Quintessence receives requests to compare optionality with capitalism. Quintessence's response is that, while capitalism for many is an ideology, something that they believe in, Quintessence disagrees with this. In Quintessence's view, competition policy is an example of an ideology that can be compared with optionality. But capitalism is not an ideology, rather it is a prescription for success within a certain culture. Consequently, capitalism cannot be directly compared with optionality. This article describes some of the symptoms of a culture that is dying and casts some light on what we can expect in future times.

A. The Event of the Century

The 20th century is coming to an end. Many are now analyzing events that have occurred this century, in order to rate such events. Many believe that we have sufficiently progressed into the 20th century to rate the significance of such events.

Quintessence argues that, whatever such ratings will present as the greatest event, greater things are yet to happen. Perhaps the full scale and impact of some of these events will not become immediately clear in the upcoming few years that complete the 20th century. But the future surely looks more fascinating every year.

Technological developments are progressing at such a breathtaking and often accelerating pace, that more innovation and brakethroughs can be expected in these last few years, more than all that has taken place before. Just look at the impact that innovation in biotechnology and Information Technology has on professional services such as in health, finance and communications, look at the impact of computers in education, entertainment and office work. Look at sectors such as tourism, fast food and computers itself, sectors that were insignificant only a few years ago and now provide work for huge numbers of people.

B. Why are we still working?

These sectors are commonly quoted in discussions about innovation and new technology. Interestingly, all these sectors are related to services, rather than to manufacturing, mining or agriculture. Some 100 years ago, when people tried to predict the impact of the industrial revolution, they typically focused on machines that would make human labor obsolete. They commonly predicted a future in which all the basic needs such as food, shelter, clothes, etc, would be mass-produced in abundence with only very few people involved in the production of such items. They commonly predicted a society in which the average citizen would have plenty of leisure time, seeking mainly social contacts, entertainment and spiritual development. Some regarded such a development as a dream come true, others as a dangerous path into sinn and vanity, but most saw it as an inevitable development.

Back in 1935, Albert Einstein wrote: Only a fraction of the available human labor in the world is now needed for the production of the total amount of consumption goods necessary for life. Therefore, the number of hours worked per week ought so to be reduced by law that unemployment is systematically abolished. A few years later, Bertrand Russell wrote: Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; but we have chosen instead to have overwork for some and poverty for others. Hitherto we have continued to wok as long as we did before there were machines. In this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.

Perhaps the most significant thing that has happened over the past 100 years can be identified by asking the following question: This life of having plenty without having to work for it, why did this not eventuate? Why are we still working, if people 100 years ago already saw that this was not really necessary? Yes, the most significant thing that has happened over the past 100 years or so, is the fact that so many people have been denied such a life as the result of deliberate policies of government in all its shapes and forms.

C. The Government employs us all!

Today's reality is that most people who work, are providing services of one kind or another, they are handling information in one way or another, but they are rarely busy producing any physical items. The Industrial Revolution did indeed make it possible for most physical items to be produced without much physical labor. Nevertheless, the majority of people have remained in a situation of captivity. The Industrial Revolution did not set people free, as governments all over the world took steps to push people into employment, into education, into hospitalization, into institutionalization, Government policies transformed people who had earlier been active looking after children into child care workers. Farmers who had looked after themselves for hundreds of years, became captive in a web of subsidies and social services. Obsolete factory workers kept working under policies of protection and subsidies. Trade unions played along, on the one hand increasing wages for obsolete work to levels that employers could not afford to take on new staff, while on the other hand accepting lower wages only in return for more jobs like that.

D. The Bubble is about to burst!

All this artificial creation of employment, these policies of patronage and captivity that have been implemented over the past 100 years or so, they have resulted in a bubble that is now about to burst. Let's reflect on this once more. The vast majority of people who work are now providing services of one kind or another, they are handling information in one way or another, but they are rarely busy producing any physical items. Yet, handling information and providing services are the very areas where accelerating technological innovation is commonly predicted to have the biggest impact. In the next few years, it will become rediculously clear that all these bureaucrats in their offices are just creating work for themselves and others that we can do without. The Bureaucracy has created a nightmare of a population that is kept captive and servile in fabricated employment and bureaucratic obligations. This Bureaucracy is now about to drown in its own arguments, as one artificial job after another disappears in the slipstream of technological innovation.

Of course, the Government will try and postpone these developments as much as possible. The Government will seek excuses and justifications for its bureaucratic intervention, by handing out human rights and privileges as presents to people. But all such freedoms come with law enforcement. What the Government calls freedom, is law enforcement in disguise, pouring its coercive cloak over society. Some more background on this point is given in the Appendix: The Case of Strider. Political solutions have now reached a dead end. There is no place in future worlds for those who want to remain in the past.

Instead, there are a number of long-term developments that are propelling everyone into the next century, whether they like it or not. As time goes by, better ways are implemented to detect, extract and process resources. At the same time, products offer more capability and features, yet become smaller and requiring less resources to be produced and to operate. As a result of this, the cost of resources is an ever-decreasing component of the price of virtually all products. The Industrial Revolution that started last century is still going strong and has decreased the size and importance of human labor in manufacturing and industries that produce physical items. As a result, physical items can now be produced at negligable prices. The largest price components of retail items are made up of tax, interest, licence fees, dividends and similar intangibles. At present, competition policy is braking down monopolies everywhere, while deregulation of legal barriers stimulates globalization of trade. This will further bring down production, ordering and distribution costs for most products, to the extent that such costs are becoming irrelevant compared to styling, quality, marketing and other factors that influence buying patterns.

Many services are now available on the Internet. Innovation in Information Technology has made it possible to offer such services worldwide at minimal prices. Deregulation in telecommunications and financial services combined with easy availability of computer software such as encryption tools will further stimulate access to such services. Agreements to deregulate telecommunications have been reached recently within the APEC group of countries. An agreement is expected to be reached next month within the World Trading Organization (formerly the GATT) for liberalization of financial services.

Remember the old dream of being able to use items without working for it? For as far as this is possible in a capitalist society, this dream has already come true. Prices of most services are coming down due to the developments discussed above. We can expect more of this in the future. The future is free!

D. Communications will make it happen

Today, anyone can live a modest life without dying of hunger, cold or sickness. This is not the result of social policies. Instead, it is the result of the fact that most products have become so cheap that anyone can buy them. Yet, people are not free. They are still kept captive inside this giant bureaucratic bubble.

The bubble will burst, as communications transcend national borders with increasing ease. Governments all over the world have conspired to prevent people to communicate. Radio-frequencies are licensed out to collaborators, prices of international telecommunications are deliberately kept high, all to prevent people from hearing messages that would pierce this bubble. In many countries, people are prosecuted for challenging the policies of the Government.

Yet, people are able to express their ideas more and more easily. Just look at Geocities, one of the most popular sites on the Internet with more than one million members, many with political messages. Anyone can set up a site at Geocities for free! Many sites receive emails and postal letters from people all over the world with input for their sites.

For many, it is dangerous to even send letters out of the country with information that may compromise the position of the Government. Censorship and the threat of imprisonment are still the reality in mosts parts of the world. Yet it becomes increasingly easy to circumvent local barriers.

It is becoming easier and easier to encrypt information. This makes it ever easier to send and obtain information over public telephone infrastructure and store it on public databases. The cost of international telecommunications has come down dramatically over the past few years. In Australia, calls to the USA have come down to $0.37 a minute anytime, an amount that is comparable to what Quintessence has often been paying for calls to the nearest Compuserve number. Quintessence Managing Director, Ben Mettes, spoke in a recent presentation about his involvement in a database search in New Zealand in the mid 1980s. As there was no access anywhere in New Zealand, one had to call Compuserve in Sydney, but, as it turned out, it was better to call the US directly. At that time, Ben Mettes concluded that it made both more technical and economical sense to route not just Internet calls, but all New Zealand telephone calls over US infrastructure.

Despite the clear and inescapable direction of such developments, few things have changed in the way many politicians think. When people wanted mobile phones in Australia, the police held up their introduction for months, because they did not have the equipment to intercept calls. Today, a similar thing is happening. One can now use prepaid SIM cards with an existing mobile phone. SIM stands for Subscriber Indentity Module and, indeed, the caller who uses such a card is only known to the telephone network by the details that are held on such a card. If people were allowed to buy such cards with cash, the police argues, they could make anonymous calls. Retailers who sell such cards for cash now have to collect personal details from driver's licences, passports and credit cards.

Nevertheless, Internet cafes, public phones and Internet kiosks proliferate and offer some degree of anonymity, while access to sophisticated technology becomes easier. Telephone companies still make huge profits and hang on to their monopolies. Many politicians are still trying to force domestic Internet Service Providers (ISP) to apply rigorous censorship. But all this becomes a joke, when it costs just as much to connect directly to an ISP in, say, the US. Few politicians seem to realize that for people who want to send or obtain prohibited content, it is just as easy and cheap nowadays to directly dial up an ISP in the US or any other country that allows such content. The US Government also tries to stop such developments, by restricting access to foreigners of strong encryption tools. People in the US and Canada have easy access to 128-bit encryption tools, but Australians are expected to use 40-bit encryption, which can be broken in a few hours using standard PCs. Australian company Fortify is one of many that are working on ways to circumvent such legal barriers. More about such free facilities in the article the Web is Free!, in next month issue of Optionality.

Appendix: The Case of Strider

Who is Strider? Strider lives in Humpty Doo, 30km south of Darwin and has been unemployed for nearly 20 years. He changed his name by deed poll from William Walsh to Strider and calls himself an unemployed educationalist. Strider wanted unemployment benefits but he refused to sign an agreement with the bureaucracy that he would accept a job offer. Strider calls the scheme the equivalent of slavery. He tried to bring his case to the High Court, but the case was not accepted. When asked to sign the agreement, Strider wrote on it that it was a form of civil conscription and, on top of that, that the pay rates were inadequate. His allowance was cancelled in October 1995. Strider appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal that having to enter into a job scheme was in breach of human rights, if the person does not want to work. He argued that people could be trusted to look for work and to make themselves useful. As expected, Strider lost his appeal before the Tribunal, which opens the way for him to finally appeal to the High Court.

Even if Strider were to lose his case before the High Court, he could appeal to the United Nations and claim that his treatment breaches UN declarations, possibly of economic and social rights. One of the arguments that Strider could use is that any job offered to him is likely to be a fabricated job, which is not only humiliating, but also economical nonsense. There have been many cost calculations of jobs that have been created as part of employment schemes. Many such jobs cost more taxpayers money than what would otherwise be paid in unemployement benefits. People who are instructed to carry buckets of water and empty them in the sea will be quick to protest. But when such schemes are disguised under a bureaucratic cloak, there are few people who speak out. While many have pointed out the economic nonsense of such schemes, Strider is one of the few to point at the human side.

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