Merit vs Capital — or, why we don’t have flying cars yet, still die from cancer and fear for an apocalyptic WWIII.
I feel that many problems, both local and global, can be solved if we consider compensation in terms of merit, rather than capital. The value of merit can actually be more explicitly defined than money. This is ultimately a systems issue that can be mitigated with the proper technology.
We currently live in a Capitalism, where capital isn’t always definable in a comprehensible dollar amount — because of inflation and the relative worth of money. Here are the numbers that make sense to us in an every-day-way, at an individual’s ability to keep a roof over their head: A specialist-developer can contract at $1,000/hour while jetsetting airline status living remotely in Thailand in a luxury apartment for $1,000/month (1 hour:1 month or 0.1%); a mid-career grocery store worker at $20/hour lives in a rented room in San Francisco for $1,000/month (50 hours:1 month or 6.9%); an urban-metro city official paid $100/hour lives in a SF rental at $4,000/month (40 hours:1 month or 5.6%). However, when dollars scale to enterprise or country-level, things become less comprehensible. Such as: how the US government became trillions in debt despite being able to print money without absolutes like a limiting gold standard — or, for company acquisitions, the near-nonsensical juxtaposition of Sun Microsystems (including industry-creating Java, Solaris, etc., and acres of prime SV real estate) single-digit billion dollar acquisition, next to a Snapchat $250B IPO? At the end of the day, even corporations are prey to the psychological endpoints of hype and desperation — so, could the culprit for how money doesn’t make sense be human error?
Capital is often gauged for values based on ultimately arbitrary constructs, such as “growth” and “potential”. This is, in part due to the inefficiency in systems in being able to provide full accountability and transparency.
Proposition: Consider merit as the unit of capital, in lieu of money. What if every single action could be tracked and gauged against other actions, to be assigned a value that is as meaningful as the system can provide? Define the fundamental unit of capital in this system as merit. One way to see this is as an absolute-accountability version of a stock market that works at the actual unit level: via worker-to-worker actual productivity. Technologically, this is a straight-forward system that any decent full stack developer could build (once properly architected), but requires some amount of politics for adoption across all entities.
I want to continue the discussion with some current nadirs in the areas that matter, that a capitalism based on money (as valued by arbitrary constructs) has amounted to. What I believe we can all agree on as things that matter would be lives saved and the hours of precious lifetime freed for more meaningful things.
Technology has been stagnant because business has a limiting perspective on its potential, viz., the winning tech is the one that best harnesses consumers for numbers and growth (that can eventually be converted to dollars). I conjecture that the most common point of failure for a startup consisting of competent people is when a company tries to solve a problem without being savvy to the full monetary picture. The classic example would sound proverbial — it’s that startup with “really cool technology” that somehow disappeared. For some classes of problems, the solution may not have the proper monetary award. This is easily seen in how the Millennium Prize math problems are only at $1M bounties, when if solved, each of them would easily lead to uncountable billions in monetary returns; or, for a more everyday-example, when a teacher goes overtime to 1:1 tutor a student who is falling behind — the teacher is considered a great teacher, but is still paid at a penurious rate. In many cases, the strong AI required to reach out to a student is too great of a tech breakthrough, but is disregarded in lieu of platform-based systems that do not solve the difficult problem of actually teaching (viz., mass-lecture-videos with multiple-choice-forum-based-technologies).
Businesses surrounding technology are also created based on a time-wise super-short picture. From a realist perspective, in 5000 years, would any content we create be actually useful or understandable in a gestalt form? The 140-characters or social media photos could be as incomprehensible to a being from the future as the cave drawings of an unknown civilization would be to us. We have the ability to 3D scan endangered species at high precision — and other elements of our ephemeral culture. With data redundancy-backup, this is effectively preservation of the form of something forever. We are beings of power who reside at this point in time — imagine if you were around when dinosaurs were dying and had the ability to digitize them precisely in 3D, and you didn’t because of affordability reasons. (It’s not affordability, per se, actually—even a 1-person team with no budget could do something here.) But, we care more about sales and user acquisition in the present, fearing for the inability to reach even younger people in future advertising campaigns.
There are some absolute problems in technology, such as data transmission rates and engineering interfacing with the limitations of physics. In the first, even if a new protocol is discovered, it is usually sold as proprietary, targeting enterprises as customers for serious numbers in monetizability. In the latter, it’s simply too high-risk long-term R&D required to be considered. Hence, why we still don’t have flying cars.
However, consider a world where we had a more efficient means of ground transport than we had in the last century. We are still limited by cars and trains. The latter has an ultimate limit in location constraints, as tracks (or tubes) are required, but technology can nearly eliminate the speed limit — the common examples in Europe of bullet trains, or future-forward: hyperloop. For those suffering daily commutes: Traffic in a 2-dimensional plane or manifold suffers from both speed and location constraints. Namely, it is too easy for travel density to surpass the road area bounded by two dimensions, thus creating congestions in speed limits. Flying cars, where each car can be assigned its own vertical lanes can bring commute times to nearly instant with virtually no speed limitations if each lane is scheduled and cleared. In the San Francisco bay area alone, assuming an average roundtrip commute of 1 hour for 5 million workers, bringing commute time down to minutes (~50mile commute @ 500mph) would result in 1.3 billion hours saved per year (at 261 work days). On aggregate: That’s a lot of one’s precious lifetime that can be freed. On a personal basis, it frees that much more time daily for the things that matter.
On a rhetorical note of things that matter — why is it that we aren’t free to pursue the things that actually matter to us? Is this necessarily a rite of passage in growing up, that we accept this to be the way things are — a lifetime of drudgery where we fear actually pursuing our own dreams? In many cases, the systems make it so. In many cases, the right tech infrastructure for universal tracking and accountability could vastly improve the system. What if technology wasn’t limited by the myopia of marketing for monetization and inadequate ecosystems?
Medicine, in the USA, is fettered with bureaucracy, advertisement and insurance systems (that might be likened to heartless organ salesmen for valuing priceless human life in terms of dollars). Doctors are incentivized to perform multiple operations because the current system pays them more per operation than for the actual health of the patient. People make life or death decisions based on what they cannot afford to amend their health, such as when a patient refuses treatment for cancer knowing that the costs would be too high. Consumers, who lack medical training, are ridden with inaccurate advertisements for pharmaceuticals. Ultimately, at the end of a day, if we are disease-ridden, we are at the mercy of being able to pay off our healthcare system as the executioner. Some of us can and some of us can’t; under our current system, we accept that it is okay for the latter group to die, even though they did not commit a crime, other than being poor.
In less dire circumstances — We could all be contributing to solving cancer by using our unused computing resources for Folding@Home instead of mining for bitcoins. However, we live in a world where we accept scarcity being defined by an arbitrary construct that benefits no one in particular. What if we could accept scarcity as a construct based on meaningfulness, such as when your compute time has resulted in advances in solving global problems? Would this concept alone be as difficult as replacing (upgrading?) money with merit as a unit of capital?
From a high level overview of all classes of issues that happen that may lead to Epic Warfare, it seems that the fundamental disagreement is a subjective perspective of unfair capital for merit. It seems that any warlord would prefer sitting on piles of money, at the cost of killing countless lives. Money is still taken as a universal commerce capital, despite the way it is obtained. And, where the USA has been concerned, the modern day wars are often with countries that have resources that we covet — again, due to the inadequacies of using money as capital. Being neither a politician (nor someone considered politically-smart), I am probably going far beyond my domain—moreover, a proper discussion of this topic should amount to an entire post by itself. I’ll stop here.
This is an article written by a prolific developer-consultant who is currently negotiating the sale of her brain. She’d rather create systems that really utilize technology to teach actual concepts, with micro-modules that actually teaches the hard stuff, while conveying magic blending curiosity with art. She has been advised that the dollar amount is worth losing her freedom and idealism for because the differential is more than enough to start new ventures (that she actually cares about) from. Thus, it’s written from the perspective of a victim of the system, exasperated at all its inefficiencies — but, hopeful for things to be different.
Addendum: Quoting Melinda Gates — “That’s the magic of philanthropy. It doesn’t need a financial return, so it can do things business can’t.” Why does it have to be this way: that business can’t under current Capitalism really solve the real problems of the world, such as saving the lives of children or curing diseases?