Come The Em Rev
China on Friday unveiled a shake-up of the way land is seized for redevelopment. … Land seizures over the past decade have been central to the rapid modernization of hundreds of Chinese cities, which in turn has been one of the main drivers of the nation’s economic growth. But they also have been the source of often-violent conflicts, especially in the past year, as huge volumes of stimulus funds have gone into building projects. Post
Rich stable nations, comfortable and safe on top of the global game, feel little inclination to consider big disruptive changes. The price they pay for internal peace is the steady accumulation of Olsonian veto groups, who can block big changes. Stable inflexible institutions seem acceptable when change is slow and life seem good enough.
This frustrates rich-nation would-be-rebels like me who see our business, legal, political, etc. institutions as far from optimal. Such rebels want to explore big changes, but must either: 1) accept only tinkering around the edges, 2) move to a place more willing to make changes, or 3) wait for crises where larger changes might fly.
So what crises loom? In the US we can expect the long foreseen budget “train wreck” within a decade or two. This must be addressed by huge tax increases, spending decreases, or both. Foresighted politicians are positioning their blame and solutions for that crisis. Since we spend so much on military and medical benefits, I’ve wondered if we’ll consider “Med is a waste, cut it way back” or “Let the world defend itself, cut our military.” Alas, neither seems likely.
In two to five decades, the US will probably start to take seriously global competition from big fast growing nations like China or India. The US might then consider adopting policies credited with growing those nations fast, though national pride may block that. Foresighted advocates will position their credit and solutions for that crisis.
But if you lust after huge institutional change in long-rich nations, if you long to say “come the revolution,” you might wait three to fifteen decades for the “em rev“, the whole brain emulation revolution. The em rev is my best guess for the next “singularity” scale change, like the farming or industrial revolutions, each of which sped world growth rates by more than a factor of a hundred, within less than a previous doubling time. We now double in fifteen years, so within a few years an em-econ could double monthly!
Achieving such rapid growth will require huge rapid changes in economic organization, and supporting changes to business, legal, and political institutions. The new em-econ will probably concentrate in a few dense locations with the most compatible capital and institutions. Locations vying to be one of those centers may be open to big institutional change, and the actual first centers will likely have relatively supportive institutions. So if you have a favorite radical change you’d like the world to consider, you might give some thought to how your change could support a local em rev.
Now an ambitious dictator, especially an em dictator, may have the power and flexibility to quickly make whatever changes the em rev needs, even if that harms other existing local interests. So the real question is what other institutions could also quickly discern and approve needed changes, while less harming those who happen to stand in the way.
While the em-econ should have be felt most everywhere, it would concentrate at first in a few most em-dominated places. Those places would have a huge demand for computing hardware, for fast talk between that hardware, and for energy and cooling to support that computing and talk. Imagine the computing hardware now concentrated near major financial markets, but on a much larger scale.
The em-econ would likely take over and dramatically reorganize some major city centers, replacing humans with increasingly human-hostile temperatures, vibrations, radiation, collision dangers, free chemical densities, etc. Imagine a hot bustling dangerous factory. Those centers would seek very rapid growth in local power and cooling, perhaps via fusion power and huge pipes pumping hot water far out to sea. Nearby air and water may be severely “polluted” by current standards.
To support an em-econ, institutions must first and foremost enable very rapid change. Waiting years for regulatory review or lawsuits, or even months for firm or city council negotiations, is completely unacceptable. If humans are to have a say in key decisions, they must make fast decisions or delegate to fast agents.
To discourage grab-from-humans scenarios, human and em property, investments, etc. should ideally be protected via exactly the same institutions, so that a threat to one is plausibly a threat to the other. And if ems are to be treated with near human respect, we’ll need huge changes in common rules like one person one vote, which em copies are responsible for which crimes, what are acceptable labor and marriage contracts, etc.
Three big institution changes seem to me promising em rev candidates:
Firm: Raiders – If we lower barriers to taking over firms, and let takeovers happen very quickly, public firms could quickly adapt to changing conditions. Internal futarchy might also help.
Law: Private – With a basic legal structure that lets parties commit to their own legal rules and procedures, ems could adopt much faster legal procedures and explore the space of more em-suitable laws.
Politics: Futarchy – The vote on values part can be slow and accountable to a wider world of nervous slow marginals, while the bet on beliefs part could rapidly approve needed changes.