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Old 09-06-2014, 07:14 PM   #41
Agemegos
 
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
The low value of labor does seem irrelevant
It's what the setting in question does have rather than being post-scarcity. It's also what would actually result from many of the tendencies that futurists ignorant of economics incorrectly suppose will bring post-scarity.

This is actually quite an important point for a lot of, especially recent, science fiction. Writers and fans who haven't thought about it very carefully suppose that advances in automation that substantially relieve Mankind of the need to work will bring universal plenty — not all of them say "post-scarcity", but some do go that far. But in a careful analysis a low or zero marginal productivity of labour is not the same thing as plenty, not by a long shot. For example, in conditions of famine owing to crop failure you often find that people are miserably poor and have no practical opportunity to do anything productive. In fact it's perfectly possible and quite common for the unemployment and starvation to occur before food becomes short, because of the lack of agricultural employment.

The case in which cheap automatics have driven down the wage rate of labour to below a socially acceptable living wage is of course not the same thing as a drought throwing agricultural workers into idleness. Nevertheless the point remains that a post-industrial economy in which the equilibrium wage rate is unacceptably low is a very different thing from, and ought not to be confused with, the absence of scarcity. The problem of automation is a very important one for modern science fiction, I think, because it doesn't look like that genie is going back into the bottle, so the future is going to have to address the problem in some way. It's my opinion that you will get more varied and more interesting results by doing the economic analysis properly, discerning the true nature of the problem, and working out (a) ways that it could play out if not successfully addressed or (b) different ways that it could be addressed and what the resulting societies would become like.

But perhaps that's radical hard social SF and not space opera, even new space opera. Oh well. We've already got a couple of hundred words about The Leisure Society on p.183 of GURPS Space.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:31 PM   #42
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Default Re: [Space] and [UT] for New Space Opera

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Originally Posted by Agemegos View Post
It's what the setting in question does have rather than being post-scarcity. It's also what would actually result from many of the tendencies that futurists ignorant of economics incorrectly suppose will bring post-scarity.

This is actually quite an important point for a lot of, especially recent, science fiction. Writers and fans who haven't thought about it very carefully suppose that advances in automation that substantially relieve Mankind of the need to work will bring universal plenty — not all of them say "post-scarcity", but some do go that far. But in a careful analysis a low or zero marginal productivity of labour is not the same thing as plenty, not by a long shot. For example, in conditions of famine owing to crop failure you often find that people are miserably poor and have no practical opportunity to do anything productive. In fact it's perfectly possible and quite common for the unemployment and starvation to occur before food becomes short, because of the lack of agricultural employment.

The case in which cheap automatics have driven down the wage rate of labour to below a socially acceptable living wage is of course not the same thing as a drought throwing agricultural workers into idleness. Nevertheless the point remains that a post-industrial economy in which the equilibrium wage rate is unacceptably low is a very different thing from, and ought not to be confused with, the absence of scarcity. The problem of automation is a very important one for modern science fiction, I think, because it doesn't look like that genie is going back into the bottle, so the future is going to have to address the problem in some way. It's my opinion that you will get more varied and more interesting results by doing the economic analysis properly, discerning the true nature of the problem, and working out (a) ways that it could play out if not successfully addressed or (b) different ways that it could be addressed and what the resulting societies would become like.

But perhaps that's radical hard social SF and not space opera, even new space opera. Oh well. We've already got a couple of hundred words about The Leisure Society on p.183 of GURPS Space.
The economic analysis (or failure thereof) that you are criticizing here seems like a bizarre straw man to me. I assume you've encountered it somewhere, but I don't think I ever have.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:31 PM   #43
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Then lets just say that your definition of post-scarcity is so different from mine that I do not believe we can usefully discuss the matter.
I find it a little odd to have someone telling a trained professional economist that they don't like the economist's definition of "scarcity" and prefer to stick with their own definition. It's kind of like telling a physicist, "I don't like your definition of energy," or an accountant, "I don't accept your concept of subtraction." I mean, it's a technical term of economic theory, and a quite basic one—the postulate of scarcity is the postulate that economizing is necessary in the first place.

And it's not just a semantic or pedantic quibble.

Imagine, for example, that we have a TL12 society. Per the Basic Set, starting wealth is $100,000, and monthly income for an Average job is $10,600. Now, take that as your starting point, assume there is all the standard TL12 tech and everything else that would logically go with it—and ask what people in that society would feel they didn't get enough of, what they would be motivated to work and struggle for, what would be the possessions of the wealthy or high status or much loved that not everyone had. If you can imagine such things, you have scarcity of those things. If you can't, then you are envisioning a society where there is no scarcity that you can see—but you also don't have a setting for much in the way of drama or adventure!

(Perhaps you want to say that "scarcity" only relates to goods and services exchanged in the market? But the market is not a universal. Most of human existence had no markets; but it still had scarcity. It just had other ways of dealing with it—gifts, sharing, obligations, shaming, kinship ties, rituals. A future society might have bandwidth so inconceivably higher than ours that it would never boil information down to simple market prices, but would always represent a thing's value as some sort of N-dimensional vector, enabling it to move things to preferred uses more effectively than markets can. But as long as things had preferred uses, there would be scarcity.)

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Old 09-06-2014, 08:32 PM   #44
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The economic analysis (or failure thereof) that you are criticizing here seems like a bizarre straw man to me. I assume you've encountered it somewhere, but I don't think I ever have.
Frederick Pohl, "The Midas Plague," seems like a starting place.

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Old 09-06-2014, 08:38 PM   #45
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Frederick Pohl, "The Midas Plague," seems like a starting place.
I don't think a story that was published in 1954 and isn't even in space can possibly meaningfully be part of the new space opera. Maybe there should be a different thread for golden age stories with dodgy economics?
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:43 PM   #46
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The economic analysis (or failure thereof) that you are criticizing here seems like a bizarre straw man to me. I assume you've encountered it somewhere, but I don't think I ever have.
I have. For example, I often have Star Trek fans tell me that the Federation has a post-scarcity economy because replicators make labour unnecessary. In the first place that's a non sequitur (my point above). In the second place, the setting of Star Trek looks nothing like a post-scarcity economy, though that it is post-poverty I readily believe.

The SFnal example of a post-scarcity economy that springs immediately to my mind is Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time.

Pohl's Midas Plague is a topsy-turvey world of inverted scarcity: you could implement something like it in post-scarcity conditions I suppose, but it seems unlikely that anyone would, and as the first story shows, it's unstable. That's more of a satirical fable than an interesting example of world-building.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:46 PM   #47
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I don't think a story that was published in 1954 and isn't even in space can possibly meaningfully be part of the new space opera. Maybe there should be a different thread for golden age stories with dodgy economics?
Well, if I were a citizen of an economy like that in The Midas Plague (or any post scarcity economy) the thing that I would do is get together with a few friends, order a lovely big spaceship with everything that bangs or whistles, and go out in it and have me some space opera.
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Old 09-06-2014, 08:48 PM   #48
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I'm going to say, though, that I don't think Felix's conversation with the control natural bartender is evidential. Yes, the bartender has his dividend, and his wife's dividend, and his control natural subsidy, and hers. But we don't know, actually, how much they are relative to his income from the bar.

That income includes not only imputed wages, but also return on investment and entrepreneurial profit. But he may well not know what each of them is. I'm self-employed and I couldn't begin to estimate what part of my earnings is wages and what part is profit. As a sole proprietor, what he sees is that at the end of the month he has a surplus (or shortfall!) of income over expenses; that's how much he's making per month. He probably has a change in the net worth of his business, but that's really pretty notional until he actually sells it. And neither the bartender nor Felix is an economist! They probably don't have that clear a concept of the distinction. (In fact, when Felix talks economics to Smith John Darlington, he counts "profits" as part of "costs," which indicates that his conceptual scheme doesn't even make the distinction.)

So the bartender might, for example, be working for less than the wages he could earn as an employee somewhere—that is, at a loss—because he likes being his own boss; that is, the wages he could earn might be substantially higher than the citizens' dividend. (The dividend subsidizes his ability to enjoy having his own small business.)

I'd also note that the share of, for example, food in the average person's expenses may be quite low. After all, for most of history, a typical household spent between 50% and 90% of its earnings on food. Now it's substantially less than that in the developed world. That free food might be only 1% of the average household's budget; and they might be earning money to pay for the rest by working at something. We don't really know.

Felix's asking "why do you go on working?" may also reflect his personality. I just saw a statistic that in the United States, around 45% of working people quit their jobs when they reach 62, the minimum age for social security; and over 95% do so at 65. I can't imagine that, not only because I don't have enough assets to feel secure in retiring this December, and not only because the 40% boost in social security for waiting five years looks pretty substantial, but because I don't really think about "retiring." Maybe the bartender doesn't either, whether for economic motives that Felix doesn't get (Felix is extremely rich, after all) or because he likes having work to do.

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Old 09-06-2014, 08:49 PM   #49
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Sure, but maybe we should talk about it as it appears in Excession, or Singularity Sky, or even Merchant of Souls rather than how it appears in Beyond the Horizon.
Fair enough. I ought to read Excession and Singularity Sky, then get back to you. I enjoyed the Barnes a lot, which I read on your recommendation.
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Old 09-06-2014, 09:41 PM   #50
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Fair enough. I ought to read Excession and Singularity Sky, then get back to you. I enjoyed the Barnes a lot, which I read on your recommendation.
Singularity Sky was, I think, Stross's first novel, and not bad, though I've enjoyed some of his later ones more. The Merchant Princes series was interesting because, though marketed as fantasy, it was actually hard science fiction where the hard science was development economics and the economics of international trade. But there were structural problems with the writing; the third novel essentially had the plot at a standstill all the way through, with the heroine stripped of all agency. I understand that Stross is bringing out both a revised version and a sequel series; they may be better. Neptune's Brood (if I've got the title right) is also about economics, focused on financial institutions, and has a classic film noir plot in an intersteller economy without ftl.

Mind you, Stross is a socialist, and I tend to think that his economics is unsound because of that; but he shows a much better understanding of capitalist institutions than almost any other socialist I've encountered, or for that matter a lot of antisocialists. So there's enough substance to his ideas that it's possible to argue interestingly about them.

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