The Surreal Character Of “Progress Tax”

Those who know me – I have been arguing for a few years that the steady forward creep of desparity in international society amounts to an existential threat. This may be a very bold claim, and it is also a claim many people instantly denounce, since the very idea smacks of (paraphrasing) marxism.

I have argued that all societies may have to come to terms with implementing a sort of basic income system. Certainly Martin Ford, Marshall Brain and Jeremy Rifkin (and a few others) came to the same conclusions. I just said it like this in a Linked discussion:

am not so hot on ‘equality’ however. You seem to constantly and annoyingly prioject on me I am some kind of socialist. I am not. I understand socialism and I appreciate it, but why insist? I want two things and they are NOT by definition socialism:
1 – I am very keen on making sure that the extremely rich do not influence the political game. Wealth should never dictate policy. Those who should try this should be arrested and put in prison. It is just as immoral in my book – subverting democracy as rape, forced prostitution, falsification or terrorism.
2 – I demand minimum standards for all people – not just the rich – everyone. Poor, middle class, rich everyone. Those minimum standards should be a guaranteed and collectively organized 2000 calories of healthy food, 50m2 of clean and comfortable housing, safety, police, fire services, roads, sanitation, a modest amount of clean drinking water, a ration of electricity, decent public transportation, education dreating developed, and well-rounded citizens, and a type of medical care and dental care more or less making sure the average person lives to 70. And then some very modest basic income. And do all this with not much in bureaucratic waste.
These two are NOT socialism. To call this socialism is to call a penguin a ‘very low flying bird of prey’.

So the recurrent point for most thinkers is that either (a) we rescind democracy – which is pretty much what we see happen all around us or (b) we end up taxing those that have, or those systems in society that yield added collective wealth, and we use that wealth to give to those empowered voters that under no circumstances will be able to fend for their own human dignity by means of paid employment.

Another guy said paraphrased exceedingly nicely on SingHub today what has been eating me for years (but what I found very few people had the nerve to call, as it might be misconstrued as “pink-o filthy communist ideology“.

I’ve not read Ford’s book, but I’ve been making similar arguments for years. The industrial revolution replaced human and animal muscle power, with machine power. The end result, is that humans (and horses) can no longer find work selling their “muscle” power, where 90% of the work before the industrial revolution was muscle power. The only reason humans can still work, is because they have a brain that is a very advanced control system that still allows us to do tasks that no machine can do. But that day is nearing it’s end. AI is advancing faster than many realize, and it’s soon (only a handful of decades) going to surpassed all human ability. Once that happens, humans won’t be able to sell their brain bower to make a living.

I don’t buy the argument that humans will be needed as artists and entertainers and counselors. AIs will do those jobs better than all humans soon as well. True, they will be some of the last jobs to fall, but fall they will. Only human arrogance is preventing people from understanding this.

The only job left, will be as Asron talks about above – which be acting as investors. We will compete to see who makes to most money owning the technology. This however, will be a disaster because such a society creates instant monopolies that create inequality. We will end up with a few super rich buying out, and owning, all the machines, which will allow them to buy, and control, all the resources.

However, the economy WILL NOT COLLAPSE. The super rich will still be buying and selling to each other. I’ll sell you a new spaceship and vacation home om mars which my robot will build for you, and you sell me that underwater resort home and that Jules Vern Nautilus look-like submarine to take me there. The supper rich will use their machines to make products, and sell to each other. There will be no money in selling to the poor, so they won’t bother.

In the past, anyone born healthy had two wonderful free gifts. Their muscle power, and the brain power, both which they could trade with others to make life better for everyone. We are just machines, born into a world. The gift of the muscle power was wiped out by the industrial revolution. All the heavy lifting is now done by machines. And our last free gift, our brain power, is about to be obsoleted. We are way down that road already.

Humans will be born, with NOTHING that is of use, to other humans, unless you are lucky enough to inherent a few robotics companies, and are sharp enough, and lucky enough to keep winning the investment contest. In fact, the super rich won’t want to share the limited resources of the earth with 10 billion other humans if they can simply have it all for themselves and their 100,000 closest friends. The poor will have nothing to offer society at birth, will have no path upward. Forgot using hard work to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. The poor will be screwed. And that will be 99% of the people on the planet.

Advancing technology amplifies our ability to make the world a better place for ourselves. But it doesn’t do it evenly. The “rising tide lifts all boats” argument is nonsense. Mark Zuckerberg created a wonderful machine called facebook. The result is that we all get facebook to work for us (nice), and he gets 13 billion dollars. That’s more than a million dollars a day for every day he has been alive. Why is he worth so much? Not because of the 14 hours a day he works, but because of the work HIS MACHINE is doing for him (the facebook server farm). He built a machine to do the work for him and he’s beyond rich because he gets paid for the great work his machine is doing.

Advancing technology makes the whole word richer, but that wealth is increasingly concentrated towards the top. As AI and robotics advances, that trend will only continue. Wall Mart will replace it’s entire work force with robotics. A Wal Mart stores will just become a big, highly efficient, 24 hour a day, 365 days a year, automated vending machine. All retail outlets will become vending machines where no humans touch the products between manufacturing and delivery until the end consumer touches it. This trend of wealth moving to the top is already well underway.

Ultimately, the only solution is not silly government funded jobs. The solution is socialism. But we have a big problem because a large portion of society thinks socialism is evil. And there’s going to be great pain and suffering created before they figure out socialism of the past, is not the same as socialism when the machines are doing all the work, instead of the people.

The machines will need to operate in a capitalistic environment to maximize production efficiencies. But with the machines doing all the work, there is no advantage to humans living under capitalism. In the future, we won’t need to be motivated to maximize our productivity, because we won’t be working. We will all be retired. Our only job will be, to socialize with each other, and tell the machines what we want, and vote in our democratic society.

We do need to distribute the resources of the society evenly across all people, but to make that happen, everyone gets a fixed free income – a purple wage. The democracy will own all the resources, like land, natural resources, and energy, and lease it to the machine production system (and to us). Income from that leasing is distributed to humans equally, who then use their money to pay the machines for the goods and services they elect to have their share of the production system make for them.

In today’s society, humans are producers and consumers. Already, large amounts of all the production work is done by machines, with humans assisting. But in the not so distant future, humans will be able to retire, and become full time consumers. We will spend our time telling the machines, what we want them to do for us – just as we tell our “production system” today, what we want, by how we spend our dollars.

I can guarantee this is the future we will end up in. But because a vast majority of the population doesn’t understand they are replaceable, (and already are being replaced by the machines), they don’t grasp where we are headed. So they reject anything that looks like socialism as pure evil. We should be working to transition to such a society already. We should be doing it by replacing many of the current socialistic systems with a straight purple wage for everyone already. Tax the production system, and redistribute wealth directly instead of indirectly with systems like minimum wage laws. Make the rising tide of productivity created by the advancements in technology actually lift all boats, instead of allowing the wealth to concentrate at the top.

This is a huge and significant transformation that is going to happen society, and it’s happening because humans, as production machines, are about to be totally obsoleted (for the first time in the history of the world). Changes this large don’t happen easily. It’s going to be a rocky transition and people will die in the process. There will be much pain and suffering before we come out on the other side of this. But we will get thought it, and it will be a much better world than we have today when it’s all done.

Well, Curt Welsh, I did read all those books and I have been arguing precisely this point since 2007. And not very few people in our community care, much in the same way Americans generally don’t about the “Man-made Global Warming” debate – because they think they are so empowered and affluent and competent, they will be the last and least affected by this concept. And I am being very charitable by using these terms. The terms “antisocial psychopathic disorder at the root of our macro-economic paradigm” would be a more apt description.

A few years back I started thinking about a future, a century from now, where these things would long since be solved. I used and quoted the vision of that future extensively in my Terasem Habitat project, more or less doing my damnest best describing 2009 as it should be “if things turn out well”.

A conclusion I had was that the future is quite scary and uncertain. I emphasized this point with a doodle in February this year, describing the range of ‘futures’ where ‘we as a species persisted in a form that would make much sense to us’ (i.e. not a slave species, a pet species, mostly dead, some kind of freak race, FUBAR or a really miserable humanity) was like a series of ever narrowing pathways in an ever thicker jungle. My point was – if we want to remain human, and retain the kind of ‘human’ values that make sense to us, we will find the jungles of extinction, radical change, enslavement, irrelevance and dystopia creep up on us ever thicker and more impenetrable, and we may have to make some hard choices where we are collectively headed, to avoid ending up where in retrospect we would not have wanted going.

I even alluded to this as “the Suntzu Dilemma“. And in February this year while I visited the US I got pretty damn depressed about this.

If you are still with me, not lost in this jungle of narcissist self-reference, let me return to this idea of progress tax, and speculate on a mechanism that might emerge ‘if we are lucky’. This idea is an exercise in the surreal, clearly.

Let’s assume voters retain their power, and up until there is a Singularity we have some 5+ billion people on Earth able to exert their concerns and wants on the general political direction by vote. I knew a few people that had enough of ‘the goddamn voting crap’, especially when it concerns to “those goddamn pesky poor”, but those same Ayn Rand affectation’s don’t seem to realize that once you start with weeding out the undesirables and losers from the collective decision-making process, you end up with a ‘game of chairs’ and sooner rather than later you end up standing on the sideline too.

I think I am a social-objectivist. I think people are mostly exclusively self-interested, and when we briefly entertain empathy or charity, these behaviours tend to also be about self-interest. I don’t like charity at all, because every time I got it, I felt miserable about it, even though in all cases in the last year I benefitted immensely over it. I would have greatly preferred to pay back the generosity I received, but as I found to be one of those who can’t no matter what I do, I have found charity to be a source of shame and depression.

A future where the self-interest of ‘somewhat rational’ voters is expressed to protect against attrition caused by market competition, will direct a collective tax (eventually a one world government taxing scheme) towards taxing those sources of gain that work.

This is dangerous, as such a tax would then stifle progress. But whatever I envision, in my daydreams and speculations I can not come up with an alternative to a ‘progress tax’. So what is a progress tax, and how would it eventually evolve?

In my 2009-2109 timeline I came up with a future where progress moved in to space, and developed new sources of affluence. I think space industrialization is critical to this (we simply need so much energy there is no way we can outgrow demand with planetary sources) and I think those who will control this source of power will eventually be chased hot on the heels by a very high tax regimen.

But it doesn’t stop there. We have nine billion humans to contend with, maybe a bit more, by UN estimates. I think those UN estimates are balderdash shortsighted. Before long we’ll have mind-clones, artificial personhood constructs, we’ll have uplifted animals or even the mere recognition of protected personhood for primates and Dolphins and Ceteaceans. So whatever we do, at some point not very far from the middle of the 21st century we will have to contend with voting, nonhuman citizenship. In my 2009-2109 timeline I postulated this would escalate quickly and I still assume that in such a 2109 future (assuming the above constraints in the scenario) we’ll have a few thousand billion voters in the solar system.

Yah that’s right – these would be a few tens of millions of more or less ‘baseline’ humans, living largely in massive underground reservation mammoth caves on Earth and the Moon (the terrestrial atmosphere is a bit thick with nanoids in my version of 2109, and largely unbreathable by baselines) whereas the population of ‘enhanced’ transhuman or post human human derivates would be a good few tens of billions. The rest would be NPC’s, infomorphs, ascended servitors, Robotics, Artificial Intelligences, self-aware sprites, etc. etc.

The basic idea was then that there would be a democratic concensus on one thing – all these entities would demand, by popular election, a share of the collective abundance of the collective Solar System, it’s investments, it’s science, it’s ingenuity, it’s properties and it’s legacy.

So in essence in this version of 2109 everything is taxed. If you are a baseline human you are more or less ‘tax exempt’ and you receive a very generous stipend, much as native tribes in various colonies (such as the US, Canada, Australia, etc) do. Life was very expensive for the baseline humans, and they needed this money dearly. These remaining baseline humans were also intensely stubborn (religious, luddite, conservative, etc) and they insisted to stay ‘more or less natural’. Of course this was farcical state by 2109, as are ‘protective reservations’ equally farcical in our day and age. I am positive in such a future there would still be literal native american indian tribes living a more or less pretend (LARP) authentic existence in their climate/environmental controlled underground caves, with big wigwam tents and authentic casino’s and all.

Those that pay the progress are those that, relative to the average of empowering technologies, ‘progress’ ahead of their fellow (post)human beings. It’s basicly a tax on having stuff that makes you monetary gain. If you own an old painting, the ownership is taxed, as theoretically the ownership benefits you economically. Likewise, having cybernetic augmentations would get you taxed, as the general populations would consider these enhancements giving you a headstart over everyone else.

The major populations in this scenario were in fact human mind uploads ‘having a non stop high-speed mental ecstacy trip’ in upload heaven. I postulated that most these minds were still on Earth, locked in hypernavelstaring delerium. They were in effect the ‘plebeians’ of humanity, the massive voting useless, hundreds of billions of human-derived mindfiles playing hyper-WoW and Giga-Eve and Ultra-Second Lives at speeds sometimes hundreds to thousands of times normal human mind speed. That meant that I postulated that in my version of 2109 Earth had a massive, almost insane voter pool of very myopic, very conservative and very defensive voters. They wanted very fast servers, they wanted no lag, and they wanted continuity. Also – these voters were very weird and often quite estranged. Most of them voted by poxy (lawyers took care of their interests) as these voters ‘turned steadily more abstract’ in their byzantine virtual realms. Some of them were literal descendants of people reading this forum, i.e. many people alive in the latter 20th century (this future was a pretty optimistic rendition, very “anissimovian”) had become hypervirtual deities.

The irony was that the servers for these endeavors were burrowed down in to the plate tectonic substrate of Earth, using all delicious hot that iron down there.

Let’s end with the punchline.

As those that were relative advanced were taxed (the most sophisticated Artilects, of which there were as a result very few – tax forced most of them to downgrade) 99.999% of their gains, this tax was on Earth.

Since all taxes are a system of supply and demand (tax evasion is a dynamic mechanism) in effect taxes were less off-world. This is only natural, since the draconian tax laws of the Earth-Moon system (implemented and enforced by the Mare Tranquillitatis GooglleBank, yes that one) were less easily enforced away from this system.

The most favorable area for fats progress therefore was at the intersection of somewhat more favorable taxes (still well into the high 90% ranges) and ‘somewhat’ affordable energy and ‘rich access to mineral resources and volatiles’. The wild west of progress and yaa-haaw low tax regimens (yes, 90% ranges) I of course established as the asteroid belt.

But there is a problem with this. It was clear to me this was of course based on a dynamic pattern of travel times. So in effect taxes would eb and rize as planets and Delta Vee’s varied throughout the solar system. The wake of Jupiter was a giant arc around the solar system – fast travel beyond Jupiter was still a few months, and most tankers took years to travel in to the solar system (ice mostly) and outward (refined products, antimatter). Mercury in this story took the role of the Oil Sheiks – obscenely rich but technologically and morally challlenged; rail people traversing the shadow terminator of their planet, like Bedouin, i.e. “slow people” (lousy servers, slow minds).

Envision this future. In my storyline I assumed there had been a very, almost imperceptibly gradual singularity. Artillects had emerged, and had been locked from further progress by a massive conspiracy of lesser AI tax agencies. Those artillects trying to escape the system were left locked mucking about with very low energies and very lousy mineral assets around the outer gas giants and kuyper belt.

Please email me any comments. I realize I extrapolated rather far (I went out on a limb) here and it is all a bit contrived and political. Yes I wish I had the discipline to make a story out of this, and I did actually pen down some bits here.