2001-07-31

Agalmics

Having read Robert Levin's short 1999 paper Agalmics: The Marginalization of Scarcity some time ago, and again today, I've found it intriguing both times.

Here are some comments on the paper.

Robert says:

Variants of the "free enterprise" model have produced wealth and plenty on a vast scale. Political systems based on involuntary interaction, such as those of the Soviet Union and various Third World nations, have not been nearly so successful at meeting the needs and desires of their citizens as have systems which emphasize freedom.

I would contend that these other systems are not intended to meet "the needs and desires of their citizens", at least not as we would normally interpret such a statement, and so using such a criterion for their success doesn't apply. Non-free societies exist to provide increased benefits to a certain class of people at the expense of another class of people. The first class might be a dictator, a ruling family, a political party, or some other group. The remainder of the populace is considered from a utilitarian perspective: what must be done in order to maintain the state of increased benefits to the primary group. In such a system, you could consider the primary group "citizens" and the secondary group "subjects". With those definitions, the criterion you use can be applied to determine how successful the system is at meeting its objective(s). Of course, those of us who live in semi-free socities such as the U.S. would consider the system in question a failure; but, it has only failed when measured against the success criteria of our system.

Robert says:

1. It is transfinite. Economic... so I can give you one without appreciably diminishing my supply.

The abstract good under discussion need not be discrete, so "give you one" is a bit misleading.

Robert says:

3. It is self-interested. ...recognition and often in indirect economic benefit.

It seems to me that the coupling of an economy with an algamia in this way is likely the natural state of both. Algamias operate in parallel with economies. This is probably required as long as life essentials use scarce resources. And, of course, personal time is expected to always be scarce (unless you are Frank Tipler or a far-out futurist), so there should always be at least that one scarce resource on which to base an economy.

Robert says:

6. It is decentralized and non-authoritarian. ...Authoritarian systems remove personal incentives for agalmic behavior.

As long as there is access to the outside world, where agalmic activities such as free software development are going on, the authoritarian government may foster a desire in the populace to participate in something bigger than themselves since they are less likely to get recognition (the main coin of agalmias) within their national system.

Also, consider the long history of agalmic behavior in the sciences. Mathematics and science have long been pursued without direct economic benefits to the individual. Yet even in non-free societies scientific and mathematical breakthroughs have come at great personal cost (time, blood, sweat, tears) and then been given away.

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