Ever since we shifted from a hunter/gatherer society & established economies we have been slowly abstracting the concept of “value.” Value is an idea, itself, (which is already one level of abstraction), and over the millennia we have been compounding the levels of abstraction of what the idea “value” is.
Case in point.
Currency was created solely as a way to maintain debt. Pre-currency societies kept tabs on debt through memory. Memory being the fallible thing that it is, means that there’s a lot of room for error. But even here, debt is already an idea; the idea that you owe me X because I did Y. It’s a powerful idea, none the less. People hate feeling obligated by emotional debt. There’s a fantastic example of how a group used emotional debt to leverage increase “donations” to their cause.
Hare Krishna is a cult group that would send their followers out into the world to ask for donations. Predictably their numbers were quite low until they used an ingenius level of applied psychology: the uninvited gift. The Hare Krishnas would give passers-by a single flower as a “gift” and without exception they would refuse accepting it back. This created a psychological debt in the mind of the person (or as con-artists call them, a “mark”). Not wanting to carry this psychological weight with them, the mark would try to give the flower back. When the Hare Krishna refused, the mark’s 2 choices are to live with the debt, or literally pay it off.
When Hare Krishnas implemented this tactic, donation rates went through the roof.
You can see this in other areas of life from marketing, to relationships, and all manner of everyday activities. Once you start looking for it, you can find it everywhere. (Ever hold the door for someone yet they still reach out and touch it? I think it’s a symbolic gesture motivated by their feeling of being in your debt. It’s as if to say, “I don’t need you doing this nice thing for me! I’m perfectly capable!” Run your own experiment. Hold the door for people, and you’ll notice they reach out and touch the door almost every time.)
As groups of people grew ever-larger, the system of interpersonal memory became ineffective at keeping track of who owed whom what and voila: currency is born. It’s a physical representation of an idea relating to interpersonal obligation.
Thus began the concept of wages. I agree to work X hours for Y amount of Z currency. I’m providing a service for pay. I trade time for money.
The problem with this approach, though, is you (as an employee) never get more time. If you want more money, you are limited by the amount of time you have to trade for it. This creates a ceiling of how much money you can earn.
What most people never (in their whole lives) realize is that “money” is an idea anyway. It’s not real. It’s an abstraction. It’s not the object that’s valuable, it’s the idea that’s valuable.
Here’s an example.
My dad recently went to a thrift shop and saw a busted (but cool) radio controlled plane. The shop was asking $10 for it. Dad offered $5, and they settled on $7. After taking the plane home, and opening it up, he found a rare motor that’s worth significantly more than $7. It was always there, but neither person 1) knew it was in there which means 2) they didn’t know how much it was worth. Had either person known that piece of information, it would have increased the value of the object.
The people who are brilliant recognize that “value” is capable of being uncoupled from time and effort. No longer do they trade time for money (wages) they recognize how they can provide value to people (profits). Providing value is infinitely scale-able which means there’s no upper ceiling to the wealth and money you can create with that approach.
Never in the history of humankind has there been such a powerful tool available to almost every human being on the planet that can do that for you, and you’re using it right now: the internet.
The internet can be in all places at all times (a luxury I’m not afforded) and can scale infinitely. If I figure out how to sell one thing once on the internet, I can figure out how to sell a million things in the same time. With this approach, my ability to provide value is uncoupled from the time it takes to create it. I put the effort in once, and sell it millions of time.
For so long we’ve been told our worth as a person is directly tied to how hard we work. This is unbelievably effective at keeping people ensnared in the (false) belief that they need to trade their time for money, and if they don’t they’ll starve to death.
This is why the machine revolution is simply terrifying to most people.
If machines can do all our routine manual labor jobs (ie: industrial revolution), our routine personnel jobs (data entry & robocalls), that leaves precious little room for human expertise: non-routine creative thinking jobs. These are the ones people get paid a *lot* of money for because nobody (or thing) else can do it.
With Google’s “Deep Mind” defeating the world’s best GO player, this is the beginning of the end for what we thought were human-only realms. If computers/robots/machines are soon able to fill the last bastions of human-centric occupations, our ways of thinking about money, wages, and how we provide for basic human needs must radically change on a fundamental level, or experience the discomfort that results from acting on beliefs that aren’t in alignment with reality.
Ever walk barefoot through your living room at night believing the coffee table is somewhere over there? You walk as if it’s not right in front of you (because of your belief) but reality insists on reminding you it’s in charge and your pinky toe pays the price.
Architect and designer Buckminster Fuller recognized the need for a complete and total change in how we think about value, jobs, and providing human needs.
“It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting the high technology from weaponry to livingry”
We absolutely must recognize that we can unlink income from work if we want the technological revolution to go as smoothly as possible. It can be a time of unbounded human freedom and celebration. To get there is going to require destruction, however. Either of our ideas, or the planet.