"The Ministry for the Future" is an important book, anyone up for a discussion on it in a few weeks?

I’m reading it, I’m reading it! Aaaaah! Gimme tiiime hehehe


@alberto, is this the beer you talk about in the podcast about Covenant, by any chance?

I can’t see references to monks making it on the label, but they do make Belgian beers and are from Umbria…

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No, @Alessandro. That would be:

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Ooof, and now I need to place an order. Thank you!

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Let us know :-). I don’tn drink alcohol at all, so cannot make the test myself.

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Overlapping calendars and summer schedules are somehow getting in the way of the August book club session.
I would suggest we move it to the first half of September - proposing Thursday 2 or Tuesday 7 in the afternoon. Accepting other suggestions :slightly_smiling_face:

I like Tue 7th!

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5th to 8th will be difficult for me, ideally I’d be free from the 15th onwards, or before the 5th.

But again, ubi maior minor cessat, so… :crossed_fingers:t2:

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Hello hello,

painfully aware we moved past the original dates we proposed - I would like to choose one date in the week from 25 to 29 October to set the discussion on the book. How does Friday 29 October work?

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Thinking this through a bit better:

  • we need to do this in late afternoon CET to accommodate Americans.
  • Friday evening might be difficult for the Europeans who have weekend plans.
    So, I suggest Thursday 28th, 18.00 CET (meanwhile we will be off CEST).

I feel sad reading your response. I was particularly impressed by Cory’s presentation at the sci-fi event for how he framed the issue of what methods we use to gather and distribute resources. I am certainly a big fan of nudges and behavioral economics work. And yet I was quite relieved when Brett Frischmann put out a paper about the ethical issues of Libertarian paternalism involved in nudging. Aka, that we, as choice architects, think we know what is best for others.

From my perspective, I consider what history has shown:

  • small groups of people manage to gather and share resources without using market dynamics and without over-extracting from the environment or leaving members behind.
  • scaling up this sharing system has been managed by pyramidal controls which is ineffective collective intelligence and often leads to gross disparities
  • market dynamics are offered as some sort of decentralised means of coordinating the gathering and distribution of resources
  • however, Picketty (and lived experience) show that these mechanisms are not random or even about individual effort or choice. The system generates ever greater disparity. The capitalist algorithm fails extraordinarily, and particularly in this current late stage rot.

The question I believe must be asked is what ethical solution can be created to optimize the aliveness of the life that human society depends on while minimizing human harms.

Capitalism not only doesn’t have effective means to solve that question, it actively works in the reverse. Capitalism is a rogue AI that will parasitically devour everything until nobody is left to participate. Organizations of many stripes, from foundations to corporations, are locked into contracts to optimize for financial return as a fiduciary responsibility. Wanna nudge something? Nudge the shift in that code.

If I were to write the ministry of the future, it would focus on that. Re-making organizational contracts in line with the objectives of the ministry – well being of life and future life. I would also revoke all land ownership and rewrite those contracts as stewardship documents, where ability to be in a place requires care and stewarding of the place and as part of a larger land commons. KSR doesn’t address this important root issue in the current system (property and contracts).

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Works for me.


Please advise me as to whether or not you have just done what I mentioned in my post: “I get told effectively, and often nicely, that I am backward-looking, in favor of an evil ideology, etc. If so, then what I sincerely believe such people are saying, in effect, is that they find human beings so irredeemably evil that they cannot bear to consider ways to envision a path forward for human beings - and so they must fantasize some other species to replace us.”

If so, I don’t see you proposing a solution other than to criticize the economic system which, after all, not only provides jobs for most workers, but which also funds governments, which in turn fund projects, such as this one in which we are participating…

Best wishes,
Phillip Tussing

In fairness, the Ministry in the novel is not trying to make an all-around better world, but “only” to curb GNG emissions. Some extra social justice is baked into the package to get political buy-in, like in AOC’s Green New Deal.

I see, so the old “either you are with capitalism or you think people are evil and doomed” binary. How convenient. What if there is a third way, option C, where capitalism was a useful stepping stone but not the end game? As books like Survival of the Friendliest show, capitalism has little to do with human nature. Those arguments have been ended by others, and we need not rehash them here.

I am sorry you are being so dismissive of me and my opinions. People are inclined to say that “the books that confirm my opinions confirm the truth”. That is not necessarily the case.

Capitalism as a system is of course recent. The point is that private property is built into humans. The things that one uses are “mine”, not “yours” – every child fiercely defends this distinction. In hunter-gatherer societies private property was at a minimum, but land was never owned because it was always temporary. When agricultural societies came along, 10-12,000 years ago, land was “in common”; in practice it was at the direction of community leader(s). As cities developed, the need for finance increased. First, merchants provided finance to leaders for wars and other projects, then financiers. Financiers were hated for various reasons, in part because they showed that leaders were incapable of financing their own wars, in part because they had the temerity to want their money back with interest, in part because, in medieval Europe at least, they were often Jews, because Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest, and of course no one would lend money for mothing.

That said, we still need capital for projects (and wars). This is what capitalism does. We don’t like capitalists for some of the reasons enumerated above, but they are the ones who allocate capital. To design a society or an economy without capitalists, we would have to replace those people.

It is of course possible to set up a bank to fund projects instead of capitalists. But this would have to be done very very carefully. Any political influence, for example – put aside the moral question, because this is not about corruption or lack of it – would mean that the allocation of capital would be inefficient – it means that what would be funded would be projects that friends of the bank administrators, or maybe they would be people who were initiating projects that were in accordance with goals that the administrators liked. This is a recipe for how to lose the capital of the bank. To return to corruption, the biggest problem with corruption is NOT moral – it is that it distorts capital flows so much that the bank loses money and eventually goes bankrupt.

China is a great example. The allocation of capital in that country has been to preferred recipients and to preferred projects. This has led to a disastrous situation for finance in China. Xi Jinping has noticed and is trying to correct it, but it may be too late. Yes, it has created fortunes, but the problem is NOT too much capitalism – it is too LITTLE.

Market economics is about ensuring an efficient flow of money to profitable projects. It is always flawed, because all markets partake of market failures such as pollution and other harms to people – we call these “externalities” and agree that the external cost of such harms needs to be factored into the price of the product. That said, the base insight of Adam Smith is still valid: people buy (or rent – “acquire access to”) products because they think doing so will make them happier. Each person determines their own needs, and we only mess with those choices if the negative effects of supplying those needs outweighs the value of indulging in them. Illegal drugs and child pornography and such are banned because they violate that rule.

This very literally means that, IF you observe rules around protecting people from negative effects by charging for them, and also IF you prevent or regulate monopolies (big "if"s) then any company that is more profitable must by definition be helping more people find happiness.

So then your capitalists, or your allocators of capital, should be people who are NOT thinking up what THEY BELIEVE will be good for the population; they should be people who fund the most profitable companies within these constraints, and they should let the police deal with folks whose desires fall outside of what is socially useful. Because this is the BEST way we know of to ensure that people’s OWN definition of what is good is what they are allowed to follow, instead of someone ELSE’s determination of what their well-being SHOULD be (mostly).

Now in modern times we have rising inequality, and this is not good. It means that a large and increasing part of the population does not have access to capital, so they cannot go to college, cannot start a business – they don’t go to decent schools, they don’t have decent health care.

Now schools and health care exhibit what economists call “positive” externalities – they more or less pay for themselves by the well-being they create. So the idea that these should be private goods does not make sense. Even in the US, that seeming bastion of laissez faire capitalism, we have government-financed K-12 education, and substantially subsidized higher ed, and (shshsh – this is a secret) the MAJORITY of health care in this country is paid for by the government. Probably it would make sense, from the point of view of purely technical measures of well-being and the financial benefits thereof, to increase these.

The fact that Jeff Bezos has wealth of over $200 billion is not a function of greed. He started a company which is very beneficial to the population, and its profit level shows this. That said, this figure has been hugely inflated by the Federal Reserve’s stimulus to the US economy – that stimulus has created a ton of money, which instead of inflating the value of goods and services has inflated the value of assets – stocks & bonds, real estate, etc. Not good. The stimulus checks that put money into every taxpayer’s hands were more beneficial. Unfortunately this was paid for with government debt. The Fed’s stimulus was created from nothing. I’m beginning to think the Modern Monetary Theory people have somewhat of a point: that if the economy is doing poorly, stimulus for the citizenry should be created from nothing, and then mopped up later if inflation gets too high by the Fed. They tend to get expansive about what they want to fund with this money, not all of which I agree with. But some of those projects have such strong positive externalities that sure, they do make sense – universal child care/early education, for instance.

Allocating capital needs to be done in such a way as to follow the profits (within the constraints as described). If capitalists do it or banks run by bureaucrats is not what matters – what matters is the principle of using profit (properly constrained) as your measure of well-being.

This should work for me too.

Ok, so [drum roll] the book discussion on Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future is formally convened for Thursday, October 28th at 18.00 Brussels time.

I imagine we will spend most of the time discussing economics (or rather, political economy), using the book as a springboard and a thinking tool. So, you do not actually need to have read the book to enjoy the conversation. But of course it helps, so do it if you can. The following three sources will give you an idea of Ministry’s intellectual scope:

If you are in Brussels and prefer a conversation in person, you are welcome to come to the office with me and @ivan. In that case, drop me a message.

The Zoom link below works now as registration, and on the day will work as the connection link. You do not have to register, but if you do we will get a better feel for who is coming and what people want to talk about, so we might do a better job of hosting.


Hello @alberto - I ordered the book. I come back when I read it. - regards, Martin

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The history books that I encountered didn’t naturalize property as something innate to being human. And it is certainly not something most indigenous people relate to. That some languages includes a possessive doesn’t mean all languages do, and so basing the need for property on a sense of connection or belonging feels to me like a profoundly colonialist claim. And once that misguided assumption is removed, the argument for capitalism based on property as a natural unavoidable state collapses.

Here are some books to consider, by PhDs except the first one:

But here, let me have an economist speak to the flaw of naturalization and philosophical issues:

“It’s become evident that common property regimes often fail because of the flawed assumptions about human nature that are implicit in the superstructure of modern society (mind dominates body, people are greedy and dangerous, self-interest is a natural right). We understand now, at least, that property is not a material projection of an individual’s body, but a set of variable, inclusive rights embedded in our interrelationships. Since liberalism’s argument for exclusive ownership cannot be validated metaphysically, as this article maintains, many of the assumptions behind the property law of private ownership are also invalid. Based on a mistaken metaphysical premise, our forbearers created government to protect private property; and now the private sector has virtually taken over government through the Market State, creating an untenable and dangerous situation.” ~ James B Quilligan writes in The Failed Metaphysics Behind Private Property: Sharing our Commonhood published in Kosmos Journal Spring Summer 2011 page 59