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An old debate.

However, now (ReadWith) DesktopManufacturing etc.

If ever I was going to start a political party it would have at its core the idea that the world desparately needs a second industrial revolution.

Hmmm .... some quick name checking on the internet makes me realise that there may already be more than one industrial revolution recorded in the 'agreed' history books. So, maybe a name change of this idea / party is necessary (before it even starts) ... but the principle is the same.


I am a deep believer in TechnologicalDeterminism. I have talked quite a lot about this in the page on SustainableCultures, so I wont repeat these here.

The bottom line, for me, is that I cannot see a way for our liberal society to survive (and get fairer) without a radical overhall and improvement of our technology. I'm not just saying let's take our existing technology and make it 'green'. This would stop us destroying the planet, but it wouldn't help our world become a fairer place.

To become a fairer world we have to either:

  • a) convince the powerful middle classes of the world to work more, do less and consume less.


  • b) have a step change improvement in the effectiveness in our technology.

I believe that a) is politically impossible, and so I intend to dedicate at least some of my life to b).

The basic goals of the IR2 party would therefore be to bring about a second industrial revolution designed to enable a fairer and environmentally sustainable global society.

The basic driving beliefs of the party would be that:

  • 1) we should all endeavour to create a fairer global society
  • 2) our societies must live in harmony with nature
  • 3) technology determines what kinds of societies are possible
  • 4) healthy politics is an essential force to fairly share the benefits of new technologies
  • 5) social liberal democracies of the European kind have been the most healthy mass political processes in history to date
  • 6) The funding and goals set for research have a big influence on what kinds of technologies are developed.

The key corrollary that would form the basis of party policy would therefore be that significant research funding should be urgently directed towards the goal of creating a fairer society that is ever more environmentally sustainable.

I guess this is the beginnigs of a manifesto ;-)


Why "work more, do less and consume less" ? What does "do less" mean ? What if robots take our jobs ? (Is there a page on RobotNation here ?) Or is the b) step about replacing human work with machines because humans won't want to work more ? Won't more work mean more pollution ?

I'd say what's important is political consciousness of technology - to have a political party that acknowledges that technology can be as important as economics or society in shaping our world, and thus that it needs to be well integrated in political thought. Now the parties that seems to pay the most attention to technology are probably the various Green parties, though I suspect they still have work to do (I tend to have a few lines of disagreement with them, especially about NuclearEnergy)


I said that I don't believe that we could convince the global middle class to work more, do less and consume less. The reasons we might try are:

Work more - because we get so much done for us by cheap labour. To make the world a fairer place(without improved technology) would mean that we'd have to do more.

Do less - without better technology it wouldn't be possible for everyone in the world to have a car and go on 2 / 3 jet engine powered flights each year - so (again without better technology) the only way to become fairer and greener is for the current global middle class to do less travelling, less moving about. Much less !

Consume less - again it's unfair that most of our consumer goods are created by labour that's so cheap that it can't afford anything like the same level of consumption. To be fairer without new tehnology we'd have to consume a lot less than we do currently.

Unfortunately I think it's highly unlikely that the global middle classes are going to be happy with such changes. Most people I know what to work less, do more and have more !!!

I agree that the green party are often the most aware of the a relationship between technology and politics. Unfortunately some environmentalists think that 'technology' is part of the problem rather than a fundamental pillar of any possible solution. Some hark back to a day gone by when the world was simpler and we live in harmony with the earth. Yeah - and we also had rampant disease, famine, feudal systems that oppressed the masses and occasional genocidal war.

The cheap shot that some throw at any technologist like me is the idea that we neglect the importance of the people in the equation. The importance of politics and culture. That is totally unfounded. Technology is just a tool designed and used by people - so people and their political culture are also a fundamental pillar of any possible solution to the world's problems. This point is so blindingly obvious that it's easy to forget to repeat it again and again. If you stop repeating it people think you don't believe it - which is ridiculous.


Basically, your argument is that people are psychologically incapable of giving up their addiction to stuff, so the only way we're going to get everyone equal is to improve technology until it creates as much stuff as everyone could possibly want.

There seem to be several problems with this view :

  • Positional goods : some stuff is valued by people simply because other people don't have it. So however much stuff you create, there's always a second dynamic increasing the rate of consumption to keep ahead of it. The result, if people don't get out of this mind-set, is a kind of PotLatch : wilful, competitive over-consumption. And perhaps a HandicapPrinciple where people signify their relative fitness by wastage.

: This isn't speculation, the first already happens among the rich. And the second is the explanation for advertising, marketing and huge swathes of modern industrial practice. (See also LuxurySector)

  • Energy : to the best of my knowledge, while stuff keeps getting cheaper in many ways, it doesn't end up consuming fewer Joules of energy to produce. Much of the dramatic increase in productivity has been bought by increasing energy consumption. We really can't keep on doing that. We don't know any sources of energy as cheap and plentiful as oil. AlternativeEnergy can keep us topped up but can't keep us in the manner to which we're accustomed and you'd like to get the other 5/6ths of humanity accustomed to. NuclearEnergy is the only possible replacement, and very likely what we're going to get. And that will come at a huge increase in risk and danger from accidents.
  • The direction of technological development is driven by those with the money to pay for it. Where you have an unequal society, technological development is not focused on "equalizing" technologies. There's a huge amount of medical research into obesity and anti-fat drugs. Not so much into helping the malnourished cope with their condition. You need an egalitarian impulse in society before technological research is focused on bringing the poor up to the state of the rich. And it's this egalitarian impulse you're hoping we can do without (because you're so pessimistic that we can achieve it.)

: Note : I think this is why the accusation of ignoring people is more than a cheap shot. You really are hoping to use technology to avoid solving the problems with people.

ps : There's nothing wrong with trying to use technology to make the world better. And I'd probably join an IR2 party which made the intelligent use of technology for this purpose a priority. But not forgetting people means not trying to do without people.


I dont dispute any of the points you've made here - but I would suggest that you haven't read my proposal above 'fairly'.

Point 1) is true - but I fear that it's 'irrelevant' in the sense that a) I'm not suggesting that it's possible to make the world equal - only that we should move to make it progressively fairer and b) most of the goods that people like you and me take to be part of a 'reasonable' level of consumption (e.g. computers, occasional air travel, even the clothes we wear) are currently produced in ways that are unfair and bad for the environment. The point is it would be impossible to make a fairer greener world with the technology we have today - even if we convinced everyone to stick to a 'reasonable' level of consumption. So the problem today is not 'excessive' consumption - the problem is average levels of consumption of the masses - the masses who don't own most of the wealth.

Banning advertising (for example) would not make computers greener or cheap clothes more expensive (indeed it may force manufacturers to compete even more on price terms squeezing the workers even more. At least 'brands' make it possible to raise prices !!).

Point 2) is about energy - I'm totally for moving towards a more energy sustainable economy. This doesn't have to mean less energy usage - just that the energy usage is in harmony with nature. We get plenty of energy from the sun - we're not short of potential supply. So point 3) is not against what I'm suggesting - it's a part of what would have to be dealt with.

Point 3) misses completely the point of my corollary after my 6 basic beliefs above. I'm advocating a massive increase in government financing of research directed towards humanitarian goals precisely because I agree that who pays for the research determines the types of technology that comes out. Furthermore I deliberately put point 1) ('create a fairer society) as point 1. The drive to make a better world for everyone has GOT to be the driving reason to act.

So, I think my biggest mistake was to ever suggest that what I was proposing was not political. After all I've proposed a manifesto for a political party with a politcal agenda that is NOT being followed today. All I meant by 'not political' was that I think many people think that the 'problem' lies in the type of politics that we have today (as in social liberal democracies ..etc...etc..) ... whereas I think the problem lies in some comparatively subtle changes to government policies.

Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that I dont think you need government to provide the impetus for humanitarian focused research that could drive a second industrial revolution. All that you need is a lot of clever people dedicating their time and energy towards this goal in a collaborative way - open source proves it's possible. Indeed, there will be many scientists around the world today who'd say - hang on we're doing that already.

So, the only detail is that I think it should be a government spending priority. In the same way that it was a political impetus that drove the extra funding and research to land a man on the moon - so too government could provide the extra ummph to get us there faster.

So of course this is about people - it's always all about people.

The point is that it can't just be about people. Making everyone 'nicer' isn't going to fix the underlying inefficiency and dirtiness of the technology we use today. Our problems are not just about culture.


Sorry if I'm wasn't fair. I'm trying to be, because I'm more interested in understanding the issues than "winning". :-) OK, so you accept politics and people are important, and I accept smart, applied investment in technology is vital. So maybe we're only quibbling over minor details of balancing the allocation of effort.

Quick responses :

1) You want everyone to have our level of consumption which you set as a baseline. But agree we shouldn't have exessive consumption. The only real question then is how do you feel so sure that our level isn't already in the exessive zone? Where is the baseline drawn? Remember all those complaints about how the Soviet economy was crap because people didn't have washing machines?

2) I hope to God you're right, and we can extract enough energy from the sun to keep us all at current levels of energy consumption. Be nice to see some figures. How much more efficient do SolarCells need to get before they can realistically replace oil? I read a scary thing sometime this year pointing out that to make highly efficient solar cells you needed to heat them to a very high temperature (to get the purity of silicon) and this basically starts to consume something comparable to the energy you can expect from it during it's lifetime. Need to check this though, because it may be a misremembered scare-story.

3) Yep, I agree. We do need the push from government to invest in alternative energy, greener and more efficient technologies. But look at the interaction of forces. Both US Republicans and Democrats get lots of money from the oil industry. Undoubtedly one of the things the oil industry gets for it's money (either explicitly negotiated or through sympathetic resonances of interest) is a lack of serious investment in alternatives to oil. And oil-friendly policies like Clinton's ExemptionOfSUVs from efficiency legislation. In turn, that money goes into election funds and helps keep those oil-friendly governments in power.

So an IR2 party couldn't just say "hey, investment in AlternativeEnergy and new technologies is nice, let's do it." It will face a range of major political fights : including an alliance of right-wing and oil-backed economists, politicians and anti-tax crusaders who'll say that a) government is stupid to go against the indications of the market by betting public money on particular technologies; and b) government shouldn't be stealing the money from people to waste on this kind of research anyway.

Basically if the IR2-party has the resolve to take on these factions, to dismantle those connections, and stand-up for the twin principles that government has both the responsibility and the wisdom to take on this role; and it has the capacity to successfully explain itself to, and win support from, the electorate, then I'm 100% there.


I'm curious as to the nature of change at this point, and how the great democratic masses see their own approach to this change. After a time, I suspect that the costs involved in maintaining the apparently unsustainable lifestyles we have now will start to increase at an exponential rate, and many of the middle class will get "priced out" of the old ways. After a while, this "threshold" should reach a point where the majority of people will be clamouring for new technology.

As this happens, will it be markets or governments that are most influential in leading the change, and in adopting the baying cries of "consumers"? In other words, will a political party be more successful in the future if it promises to investigate alternative technology for people's benefits, or if it adopts an approach that allows companies to offer it instead? Indeed, can we maintain the free market that we have now without the state of energy resources we have now, or will our economies break down if energy (and its distribution), changes fundamentally? (OK, a separate issue, perhaps.)

Are your goals more achievable if you are a company?


See also :

  • Might be interesting to compare to OffShoring/TheNextBigThing
  • OnCaptology, using technology to change people's behaviour.