Please note that this is a continuation of a series, I highly recommend that you go back and start with post 1, post 2, and post 3, if you haven’t read them already.
I don’t want the point I’m making here to get too watered down, so here’s what I mean: More efficient manufacturing techniques are driving down the costs of technology, and while consumers see those savings through paying the same amount each new generation for essentially double the processing power, tech is still essentially scarce, and will soon reach a point where it is entirely artificial scarcity, especially if electronic component recycling continues to develop. And while I’ve only discussed the processor and potato industries briefly, this phenomenon is happening within every type of market out there, more for less, but generally the consumer only sees a little savings. This has been true for things like cars for a very long time. Because of various laws, you can’t buy a car directly from a manufacturer within the United States generally, which means a new car must be bought through a dealership. Dealerships mark up the prices of cars, usually a lot. Where the cost in raw materials and labor for a car may be $9,000 American, the dealership sticker may be $20,000 American, before tax is calculated in. You pay more because of legislative protections and market opacity rather than because there is scarcity driving up the price. Which leads me to my point, once we can produce most things for so cheap that it’s practically free (and some things as free, from a consumers’ perspective) why shouldn’t we?
This is post-scarcity. We take away all of these laws that hold back the market prices from falling, make access to trivially cheap things such as food and water free, and embrace a new type of economy. The broad strokes sound scarier than they are, at least for me. It’s the specifics that tend to worry me. In a post scarcity market, people wouldn’t really buy most things, those things would come free, but what people are doing with those things and how they are using them would be completely different. Take for example the car: Today a car is something that is privately owned by a person and generally paid for by that same person. In the future, car ownership will likely look like a pointless and gaudy social fashion forma bygone era. Why? Consider the self-driving car, which is already interrupting personal transport today. Where we view driving as a very personal experience where we are in control of where we are going and our safety, a self-driving car is more like a more private bus or taxi. You get in, you tell it where you want to go, and it takes you there. It doesn’t hold the same experiential value that driving a car yourself does (I enjoy driving, though I haven’t in about 6 years), but it will likely become the primary way people transport themselves outside of buses, trains, and airplanes, because of two reasons: 1) Legal pressure: The self-driving car has already been proven to be safer than human driven car, and would potentially save thousands of lives every year. It may not happen at first, but pressure from citizens will probably slowly build up, as unnecessary accidents continue to happen because of human error, and loved ones are pointlessly lost, until a political boiling point is reached where legislation is passed to limit or even eliminate traditional cars, in favor of self-driving cars, and the safety they can offer ( a heady idea I know, when considering the reluctance legislators have today of letting self-driving cars onto the roads at all!). 2) Economic pressure: Insurance companies don’t care what you drive or how you smell, they do however care about your risk factor you present when getting behind the wheel of a car, and the less liability you or your car present to the insurance company the happier they are. So it isn’t unreasonable to imagine insurance companies giving huge discounts in the near future to self-driving car –drivers? Maybe owner is the right word. At which point, people considering which new car to buy will likely start going with the self-driving car more than they do with traditional cars, for the insurance savings alone. I realize this ignores the argument that people will never go for self-driving cars in every aspect of life, because it will diminish their autonomy. But pointing out 20th century ideals in the 21st century again, the association of driving and independence is really a value of my parents’ generation and not mine, and certainly not my younger siblings’ one either! I tend to measure my independence using other metrics, such as how much of something do I get to create on my own (such as this website), and how much of what I’m doing is a choice. So for me at least, a self-driving car presents no obstruction to my independence, assuming I still get to tell lit where to go, and I can’t see why society won’t come to embrace the same ideal (We did embrace the independence of the car, while ignoring the fact that using a car regularly makes us dependent on it and not our own two feet to go from A to B).