Dreamtime Drama

After a record two feet of snow this weekend, my area (DC) has another 5-9 inches coming tomorrow.  My street hasn’t been plowed, and likely won’t be until next week.  So this might seem one of those “stories to tell your grandkids.”  Except, well, we have water, power, heat, tv, internet, plenty of food, and no more than the usual work to do.  Not exactly a disaster story for the ages.

This is of course one of the prices we pay for being dreamtime richies – stories about our suffering just aren’t going to elicit much sympathy from our distant descendants.  We can hardly get worked up about them ourselves.  The far future may, however, be fascinated to gawk at our freaky facades, ginormous growth, strange scenarios, and bizarre beliefs.  We are history’s circus; which circus wonder are you?

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  • http://amckenz.googlepages.com Andy McKenzie

    The weather men are eerily excited about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpxiCxO5k0g&feature=player_embedded (1:30 video)

    • http:/www.jackchristopher.com Jack Christopher

      Bad weather makes weathermen seem more important.

  • Aron

    Please jump in your time machine, and give a dollar to the freakish and ugly ‘bag of mostly water’.

  • Andrew C

    Isn’t it possible that standard of living will continue to improve such that our descendants will think our winter storm stories are terrible?

  • Robert Koslover

    Glad to hear you are well-stocked with provisions.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    “Isn’t it possible that standard of living will continue to improve such that our descendants will think our winter storm stories are terrible?”

    Agreed. When we hear about some horrible natural disaster in the 19th C., we put ourselves into their shoes and freak out, even though the people of that time may have thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad being without food and water for a few days — at least there’s no marauding bands raping and pillaging everyone like there used to be during orderless times!”

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  • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

    Oooh, I’m the one who talks big about helping other far away people, but in reality just has a great time trying to seem smart and nice in order to attract impressive friends and partners!

    Dreamtime Tropes – Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

  • phane

    Unless future tech ends up being pretty disappointing, the people of 2500 will be most blown away by how slow we are. Even at low estimations of computer power growth, a $1 device could still emulate a human at 1000 times our speed. Nevermind how we deal with snowstorms, they’ll probably be baffled that we got anything done.

  • Psychohistorian

    So, I can see that we’ve got high growth rates and whatnot, but doesn’t it seem highly likely that we will be relatively impoverished compared to our future descendants? Even if the world becomes more Malthusian – which I still think is rather unlikely – the common stock of technology should still improve quite dramatically, particularly electronics and biotech. Sure, our tales of woe will not compare to those of a century past, but we are still likely to be objective paupers by the standards of ten generations hence, even if we’re relatively well off for the times.

  • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

    Psychohistorian: Per capita wealth grows when population growth cannot keep pace with economic growth. Robin thinks the upper limit of population growth in the future will be very fast (as fast as we can construct capital in fact), so incomes will fall as low as they can go.

    • Dan

      But even today Africa is definitely not in a Malthusian trap. In 30-50 years some of the countries will be developed, and those that aren’t will be upper middle income at least. We will obviously hit limits, but why would our descendants not be able to control their population growth, we see it all already voluntarily and culturally. It can also be enforced authoritarianly if needed.

      Also would anybody be required to work? If so what incentives will there be to become a Ph.D or specialist for example. After all my income would be subsistence, so I won’t bother I will just become a subsistence farmer then…(or energy/matter gatherer or whatever)

      Also I can ensure that myself or my descendants if i don’t survive is spectacularly (relatively of course) rich by buying a modest amount of indivisible equities in resources and real estate now.

    • http://www.edwardgaffney.com Edward Gaffney

      Your argument assumes that economic growth at the societal level exists independently of technology and input growth at the per capita level.

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  • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

    “why would our descendants not be able to control their population growth, we see it all already voluntarily and culturally. It can also be enforced authoritarianly if needed.”

    Unlikely it could be restricted in the long run – those inclined to choose growth will eventually outnumber and take over those who choose stagnation.

    “Also would anybody be required to work?”

    Because otherwise they won’t be able to eat (buy their electricity and pay for their hardware).

    “Also I can ensure that myself or my descendants if i don’t survive is spectacularly (relatively of course) rich by buying a modest amount of indivisible equities in resources and real estate now.”

    You could, but your descendants will either be few in number and irrelevant, or will divide this wealth among their many members.

    • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

      Or have it redistributed by government among the many who do breed.

    • Dan

      “Unlikely it could be restricted in the long run – those inclined to choose growth will eventually outnumber and take over those who choose stagnation.”

      I agree but the controlled group will not necessarily stagnate, individuals will have enormous incentives to maintain their high per capita wealth, also lesser individuals means less coordination problems and will enable them to act more effectively in collectively leveraging their resources to protect their societies way of life.

      “Because otherwise they won’t be able to eat (buy their electricity and pay for their hardware).”

      Of course work will be required, but WHY would anyone do any interesting if the reward is only subsistence, there is no real ROI in purchasing an education or specialty, might as well become a subsistence farmer then… or more likely work the system to receive my meager subsistence ration.

      The modern specialist economy and the resulting rapid progress we are seeing is the result of enormous surpluses, something like the Information economy is impossible in Robin’s Malthusian world, em’s or no em’s.

      The static stagnant group will be the one that can’t control their population growth and fall into the Malthusian trap.

      “You could, but your descendants will either be few in number and irrelevant,”

      Money/Wealth also votes. I would in effect control my descendants numbers to maintain a minimal per capita wealth, this will allow them the “luxury” of education etc. making them smarter. Combine that with the significant resources of the Trust which could be leveraged to gain more resources allowing more growth etc.

      Smaller, Smarter, Better Coordination, Significant Resources and the ability to effectively leverage it to grow. More power etc.

      Far from stagnant, out competed and irrelevant.

    • Psychohistorian

      those inclined to choose growth will eventually outnumber and take over those who choose stagnation.

      This is ultimately what I take issue with. It’s a huge and unfounded assumption that large groups of people will systematically choose large families over higher individual wealth, even when they become geographically dispersed and begin to make up a large portion of the population. There simply isn’t evidence that this phenomenon will occur. It hinges on the assumption that reproductive culture is principally hereditary and is stable in the very long run (i.e. tens or hundreds of generations). Existing evidence rather directly contradicts this, as I understand it.

      Even if you look at the subpopulations in the US that do have high fertility, I am reasonably sure that most of their children are, on average, as well off or better off than their parents. I’d also be surprised if their fertility doesn’t decline in direct proportion to their cultural assimilation over the generations.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    I had a whole series of posts just a few months ago on future poverty, which I linked into from this post. Yet most comments on this short post are speculating about why ever would I posit such poverty? Are my readers so very random and lazy that they are unlikely to have read my prior posts and too lazy to follow a link? Almost makes you want to give up on blogging n write books – I’ll bet book readers rarely write to complain about the last chapter being poorly supported because they didn’t bother to read the first chapter.

    • Psychohistorian

      I may speak for only myself, but I’d suspect your readers are aware of your theories but thoroughly unconvinced by them. Positing a new theory based on a less-than-credible old theory will draw fire towards the old theory.

      It might not be as personally satisfying as, “My readers are stupid,” but it certainly explains the evidence.

      • michael vassar

        Count me as aware but unconvinced. That doesn’t justify posting as if unaware.

        BTW, Robin, if you think we are so entertaining to future generations, does that greatly up your belief that we are in a simulation?

    • http://www.edwardgaffney.com Edward Gaffney

      Many of your readers disagree with your conclusions and continue to do so. You are a self-confessed contrarian. Do you seek only discourse with other contrarians? Insulting non-contrarians certainly seems to indicate that you do.

    • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

      give it them on a t-shirt.

  • Dan

    Robin, most of the discussion was on your previous posts… which I have all red..

    Ok to be fair you did ask us what “which circus wonder are you?” which nobody seems to have answered… so here:

    Nothing is fundamentally weird in our society, we have high growth because there is so much stuff lying around to exploit. We have bizarre beliefs because the brain is product of messy evolution and malfunctions easily… not because we are rich. (Want to see poor tribes bizarre beliefs and rituals? It doesn’t even compare)

    Yeah sure there is some really freaky things that people may point back to that is unique. But their own era and all preceding ones will have their own unique little quirks as well that will stand out.