Podcast: Zenna interviews Noah Schoeppl

Talking about utopias. What might it be like? In this 24 minute podcast, Noah talks with @zelf about his philosophy he calls “practical idealism”, discusses the notion of “cyber peace” and ways to get there, starting small and moving outward from there, and how AI might fit into it all.


Hi, Noah – Very interesting. I am an economist, and I think your view of what economics is about is largely shaped by the views of the majority of economists who (as with most fields) have not deeply thought about what their field is about, and so have an excessively narrow view. This doesn’t matter so much for many areas, but it matters a great deal in economics.

Economics is not at all about money – actually money itself is useless. This is obvious – you cannot eat it or live in it or drive it or play with it. Money is only valuable because it is possible to exchange it for things that are actually useful. Moreover, we often have a very limited idea of what those things are. The things we want are not just consumables or extras in the vast majority of cases: if you look at what people spend their money on, it is easy to see that housing is the largest item. Other large items are transportation, education, health care, clothing and food – none of these are extras. In fact, if you look at what people want in any kind of clear way, it is obvious that these go back to the things that are mentioned in any first-year psychology course under the heading of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. These begin with physiological needs such as housing and health care; on the second level are about security needs; on the third level revolve around the need for love and belonging; fourth level “esteem” or respect and self-respect; the fifth is creativity and self-expression. Whatever people want are some combination of these needs. For most people most of the time, their focus is on creating a “nest” of love and belonging which fulfills their need for companionship, creating and fostering children, and caring for loved ones.

By and large, the great majority of environmental problems around consumption are not associated with what people want, but with the industrial processes by which those products are produced. Since people are focused on their direct needs, they are less concerned with processes. Moreover, they want to use their available resources to obtain as much of their desired life as they can, so cost is a big factor, and this can drive processes.

So it seems to me there are several takeaways: one is to educate people to be more concerned with the ways in which the products they use affect the world around them and on how they can push suppliers to make products in more environmentally friendly ways. This is starting but needs to progress a lot more, and schools are a great place for this to happen. The second is to sensitize children from birth in love for nature. Unfortunately this is currently headed in the opposite direction, as we are increasingly isolated from nature in our technology and controlled indoor environments. Schools also need to help here, although families are the most important. And then from a more directly economics point of view, environmental costs of industrial processes need to be made part of the price of goods, so that price signals reflect actual costs. Rather than regulation it is better to tax environmental damages, so that companies can use the least costly means to reduce the damage they cost.

So there is a political component, but also a major educational component, and an underlying economic thrust to these measures.