Imagine that you are looking on the internet and find a cruise that has some luxury cabins available at almost unbelievably low rates. Impulsively, you book passage. I see the same ad and book a room myself. The ship leaves from Tampa, Florida and heads southwest toward Cozumel, Mexico.
We are in the open water when a giant bright white cloud appears. It surrounds us like a tornado and lifts us up. It carries us along, faster and faster, eventually moving us so fast that light itself starts to bend. The process then starts to reverse, and light straightens out. We go slower and slower. Then we hit against something hard—a piece of land. The water starts to recede. We are carried along on the receding water for several horrifying hours with no idea what is happening to us.
Finally, we come to a stop.
None of us on the ship realize this yet, but the realities of human existence have changed. A government somewhere was testing a new type of nuclear bomb. The military of that nation was trying to build a device that would send out a special kind of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to destroy electronic devices. Many of these bombs were tested in history, starting in the 1950s. But this one had some components that had never been tested before. Sometimes, materials act differently than scientists predict in the intense heat, pressure, and gamma radiation at the center of a nuclear explosion. The scientists had hoped that the new materials would lead to a tunable EMP, one that would destroy the enemy’s electronics but not those of their own armies. But they made a tiny, tiny, mistake in their calculations. The materials didn’t act as they expected; instead, they created a momentary vibration in the space-time field. This was unfortunate for the majority of the people on the planet Earth: the vibration led to an ‘unsyncing’ of the motion of the electrons the in atoms that make up our world. They were only out of sync for a tiny fraction of a microsecond. But when the distortion ended, the electrons couldn’t find their way back into orbit around their nuclei. All of the atoms of the great majority of the planet Earth disintegrated into bosons, quarks, and mesons that will never again be atoms—let alone a planet people can live on—for the rest of time.
The people on the cruise ship were lucky, however.
The space-time distortion field was shaped like a tornado. It had powerful forces at the edges but included a calm eye at the center where almost nothing happened. We were in the exact right place to catch the calm eye in the center of the distortion. The space-time distortion sent our people, our ship, and several thousand cubic miles of ocean water back a little more than 4 million years in time. We are now in the remote past.
We have gone back to before the first humans arrived on this world.
This makes us the world’s first humans.
The First Human Societies
Since no humans have existed, no human societies have existed either.
This means that the people in our group don’t have to follow anyone’s rules about how societies are supposed to work.
We haven’t inherited a legacy of ‘national debts’ that we must repay. We don’t have to accept that we have traditional religious or racial enemies anymore, and tax our people so we can build militaries to attack them and defend ourselves against their attacks. We don’t have to make sure that the nations, corporations, and individuals who ‘own’ parts of the world are able to keep people who don’t ‘own’ from benefiting from the existence of the part of the world that belongs to them, because there are no owners. We don’t have to make sure that the imaginary lines called ‘borders’ that determine the limits of ‘nations’ are respected, because there are no borders and no nations. We don’t have to pay taxes to cover the cost of police to enforce the existing order, because there is no existing order to enforce.
We have complete freedom as to what kind of society to form. We can determine what ‘modes of existence’ we want. We can make our own rules.
The space-time wave moved us hundreds of miles from our previous location and washed us up, along with several thousand cubic miles of ocean water, deep into the interior of a continent. When the water receded, it dragged the ship several miles and tore the bottom of the ship to pieces, leaving the upper part lodged in a muddy swamp. The trauma killed more than a thousand of the people on the ship.
As soon as the ship comes to a stop, the people who were physically able to do so began working to rescue the trapped and save any who could be saved. A few of our people had medical experience. These people set up a triage center and makeshift emergency hospital on an upper deck.
People who find injured people bring them there.
A minister locates a parcel of land to use as a cemetery so we can bury the dead to prevent an outbreak of disease. For several days, all able-bodied people help with the rescue attempts and a burial party makes sure the dead are buried.
Finally, we get to a stopping point and have a meeting so we can take stock of our situation.
The social director of the cruise ship opens the meeting. She does this in part because she knows many of us—having organized the welcome party and some drinking games right after we left—and in part because no one who is in any position of authority is left alive. The ship’s captain and everyone who might claim to have authority perished in the wreck. She wants to make sure we realize she isn’t claiming to be in charge of anything: she has just come forward because no one else came forward first.
Like the rest of us, she has been digging through the rubble to try to find and help survivors. She hasn’t slept for days, she is filthy, and her clothing is torn and covered with dirt and dried blood. She thanks everyone who pitched in to help and says that this has saved many lives. She tells us she has counted and there are 1,000 survivors, including people who are injured but are expected to recover.
She says she has no idea where we are or how long it will take to get us rescued. (She has no idea we are in the past. She has been working so hard to save lives she hasn’t had time to worry about such relatively unimportant things.) She asks if anyone can shed some light on this and another woman comes to the front.
The other woman is an electronic expert who has been trying to get the ship’s electronic systems working. She has gotten everything going but hasn’t been able to reach anyone on the standard rescue channels. The GPS, satellite TV and satellite phone appear to be working but she can’t pick up any satellite signals. She had a simple battery-powered satellite finder in her luggage. She has been scanning the sky to try to find satellites, but her device hasn’t picked up any of them. She finds this very strange: there are supposed to be thousands of satellites in the sky. They seem to have all disappeared.
She is about ready to step down when she pauses to tell us something else: all of the clocks on the instruments have a reading that she can’t figure out: they read the year as ‘-4,000,000.’ She says that this might mean ‘4,000,000 BC.’ This seemed so strange that she didn’t want to mention it, but she says it is possible we are all in the remote past. She will keep trying to reach someone and get us rescued, but in the meantime, she suggests we try to make the best of our situation. We may have to stay here a long time.
Another woman comes up to the front. She is an astronomer. She tells us that the stars all appear to be out of position from where they should be. We are in an outer spiral arm of a galaxy and are orbiting the center of the galaxy at a speed of about one million miles per day. This causes the view we get of certain stars and galaxies to shift. She has calculated that the stars are where they would have been 4,002,024 years before we started on this trip. This seems to confirm the information on the clocks. It is possible we are in the remote past.
Someone jokingly says, ‘Welcome to Pastland.’ The name sticks. People start to call our new home ‘Pastland.’
How and Where We Will Live
First, I want to go over some practical realities of our existence like where and how we will live and where we will get food and other necessities of life, so you can see what we have to work with in forming societies:
We will live in our cabins on the ship for the time being. Although the extreme bottom decks of the ship were destroyed, we can still use most of the rest. The ship is sitting on land that is more or less level. People need to sleep somewhere, and people have moved back into their cabins to have places to sleep.
We ended up next to a large river with plenty of flow to turn turbines. Some of the passengers are handy with tools. They salvage the ship’s propellers and some other parts and use them to make a power plant to turn the ship’s electricity generators. Many people volunteer to help build the power plant because we really want electricity: it is hot and muggy where we are, and we want our air conditioners back on.
The ship has freshwater piping to all cabins. Some people rig up a piping system to move water from a clear spring and pump it into the freshwater distribution system. The ship’s waste treatment plant still works so, once we have water, we can use our toilets. Since we have both electricity and fresh water, we can take showers, do laundry, and even fill the ship’s swimming pools so we can swim.
The ship that went back in time with us gives us a place to live. We have water and sanitary facilities. We only need one thing that we don’t have now to sustain us: food.
The Bounty of the Planet Earth
We are very lucky to have ended up where we are. Although some people call our landing place a ‘swamp,’ some use an alternate term and call it a ‘freshwater marsh.’ Wild rice grows in this marsh in great abundance. For thousands of years before we got here, this land has had a stable and productive ecosystem, producing large amounts of rice for the benefit of its (non-human) residents.
In the spring, runoff from snowmelt on lands upriver causes the river to swell. When this happens, the water level rises above the level of the land to a depth of about a foot. This creates the perfect conditions for rice to grow. Wild rice has grown here every year for thousands of years.
Qqq wild rice here.
Late in the summer, the river flows ease and the water table falls. By early fall the water table has fallen below the level of the land and the land becomes dry. The rice ripens to a golden brown and the kernels fall off of the stalks onto the ground.
This has been happening for many thousands of years before we got here.
The wild rice never went to waste. Each year, giant flocks of ducks, geese, cranes, passenger pigeons, and other migratory birds arrived to feast on nature’s bounty. When winter came and the birds had moved on, possums, raccoons, beaver, otters, minks, muskrats, weasels, deer, elk, and other animals came to share the rice that the birds missed. In the spring when the water rose, schools of fish—sturgeon, cavefish, shiners, darters, paddlefish, sunfishes, bream, catfish, crappies, and black basses, to name a few—moved in to feast on whatever was left.
The animals didn’t always thoroughly chew the rice kernels, however, and many kernels passed through their digestive systems intact. This provided seeds for next year’s crop.
The next year, everything happened again.
This land is bountiful and produces large amounts of rice without any need for human effort. For all of history so far, this bounty has gone to other animals.
But this is going to change.
Humans have abilities that other animals don’t: we can collect the rice at the exact right time of the year and put it into granaries so other animals can’t get it. We can take the bounty the land produces for ourselves if we want. Other animals will only get any of this rice if we let them have it, either by giving it to them or by deciding not to take it ourselves.
Some people are curious about whether the land will produce enough to support us and have made some calculations.
Two of them measured the rice-growing area and determined its size: it is 1,500 acres. They have decided to call this area Pastland Farm. One person carefully measured out one square foot of land, cut the stalks on that land, removed the kernels and weighed them to get just under 1/20th of one pound per square foot, which works out to 2,100 pounds per acre, or 3.15 million pounds for the entire marsh/farm. We have 1,000 people so if we divide this rice evenly, we will have 3,150 pounds for each of us per year, or just over 8 pounds for each of us per day.
Each person needs about 2 pounds of rice per day, as a minimum, to stay alive, so we will clearly have much more than we need.
Kathy and The Pastland Farm
I want to introduce someone who will be involved in some key decisions in this book:
Kathy, a passenger on this ship, is an experienced rice farmer. Kathy was seriously injured in the wreck and has been in a coma since it happened.
When she wakes up, lying in a cot set up in our makeshift infirmary on the top deck of our ship, she thinks she is dreaming because she is imagining she is back in her childhood home. Before she even opens her eyes in this dream she is having, she knows where she is from the smell and feel of the air.
The wild rice-producing marshes of Texas have native bacteria that ‘fixes’ nitrogen, taking it from the air (which is 69% nitrogen) and turning it into a form growing plants can use. The bacteria evolved with the rice, millions of years ago, and the two living organisms depend on each other for survival. The bacteria provide nitrogen that the plant needs, and the plant’s waste products sustain the bacteria.
The bacteria impart an unmistakable smell into the air. Kathy was raised in Texas rice country and grew up with this smell. To her, this is the smell of home. Before she even opens her eyes, she knows where she is.
Not only does she know where she is, she knows what time of year it is and roughly what time of day. She can feel that the air is heavy with moisture with a powerful sun trying to bore through the mist, just as she remembers from her childhood home before a summer thundershower. She is afraid to open her eyes for fear that she will find it is just a dream.
When she summons the courage, she looks out to see the silhouette of the distant hills against the horizon she remembers from her childhood. This is the same view she got from her bedroom window on the farmhouse that used to stand on this very spot when she was growing up.
She knows this land. She can tell you what the dirt looks like and what it feels like if you take off your shoes and walk barefoot through the shallow marshes, as she did in her childhood. (She will warn you that you can’t wear shoes, because they will stick in the muck and you will lose them.) She can tell you how to locate good spots to fish in the big river and how to find the best spots for wild berries, grapes, fruits, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and other nuts in the surrounding forests. She can tell you how to find straight softwood trees for poles and very strong hickory for working into tools and other products.
She was practically raised here. Her aunt and uncle had owned the farm that had stood on this very land and her family had spent a great deal of time here. When she was very young, before her aunt and uncle had switched to hybrid rice that requires chemicals to grow, the farm raised the exact same kind of rice that grows wild here now. She helped with many tasks and knows how to raise it.
When Kathy recovers enough to attend group meetings, the rice is ready to harvest. She tells us that we have to harvest it quickly because if it gets too dry it will fall onto the ground and be impossible to collect. Some people are pretty handy with tools and have drawn up plans to build a harvesting machine with a gasoline motor and some other parts found on the ship. We don’t have any gasoline, but we did find some tanks with ethanol and we can use this for fuel (for next year, people will make more ethanol out of rice, as you will see).
Kathy says she can put the entire operation together for us because she has harvested rice before. However, she will need to ask some people with specialized skills to help her and she doesn’t feel right asking them to work for nothing. She wants the ability to pay them somehow. She knows how to make this work if we have some kind of money. She knows that the rice this land produced was ‘worth’ about $1 per pound in the future we came from. She says it would be nice if we had some kind of money so that she could ‘sell’ the rice (trade it for money) and then use the money to pay her workers.
We will look at several different types of societies in this book, based on different premises. It will be much easier to understand the flows of value and the incentives these flows of value create in societies if they use money for transactions, so I want the group to have money basically from the start.
Kathy tells us that she expects to harvest 3,150,000 pounds of rice. This will be an enormous amount, more than 1,500 tons of rice. After the harvest, it will be very hard to distribute the rice among our members as physical rice. If we had some sort of paper certificate that represents ownership of a certain fixed amount of rice, say one pound for each certificate, we wouldn’t need to weigh out rice to each person, many times over the course of a year, in order to distribute it. We can distribute the rice that the land produces by distributing these paper certificates.
We want certificates that people won’t be able to counterfeit very easily. After some discussion, one of us points out that we already have counterfeit-resistant paper certificates: the ship’s casino has a safe that contains a large amount of United States currency. This safe hasn’t been opened since the wreck because no one has had any need for United States currency. (The United States doesn’t exist yet, so its currency is basically just pieces of paper to us here.) We can use the United States currency in the safe as rice certificates, with each $1 representing one pound of rice.
Here is how it will work: after Kathy has harvested the 3.15 million pounds of rice she will put it into the only place that we have that is going to be able to hold it and keep it safe, the cargo hold of the ship. We will call this our ‘treasury.’ We will then elect a ‘treasurer’ to manage the rice, which we will call our ‘treasure.’
The treasurer will ask everyone with United States currency to turn it in to her; we don’t want anyone to start with any money. (If they don’t turn it in, they won’t be able to spend money they hide because it will not be valid currency. To be valid, it would have to be registered in the database of valid currency discussed below. This means that we don’t really have to worry if people don’t turn in their money, it just makes it easier to understand what is going on if we accept that everyone complies and does turn in their money.) She puts all the currency we have in the safe. She then takes out exactly $3.15 million out of the safe, $1 for each pound of rice in the treasury. She puts this currency onto a large table.
She scans the serial numbers of this currency into a database of registered currency. She says, ‘This money on the table is registered currency and is all the money there is in the world.’ Only people who get this money will be able to turn it in for rice.’
How We Will Distribute the Money
Before the harvest, Kathy asked various people with special skills to help her with certain tasks, and asked for laborers to come forward to help with tasks that didn’t require skills. She told them that she thinks that people who help with work need to be paid and, after the harvest, she is going to propose that all of the people who helped with the harvest get paid for what they did. She will fight for her workers and suppliers and she expects to win, because it really is in everyone’s interests that the group pay people who step forward and do work.
If workers get paid, they know that the others who did not work are not taking them for granted: we are giving them something valuable in exchange for their work. If we pay them this year, and they think the pay is enough to compensate them for their time, we can expect them to step forward happily to do the same work next year and every year after that, as long as we keep paying them.
At the meeting, Kathy is going to be very convincing and get her way: the people who work on the farm are going to get paid the same amount of money they would have made in the 21st century for doing the same work.
The value of a dollar will be about the same as it was back in the 21st century United States also; it was enough to buy a pound of fully organic, 100% chemical-free wild rice in both systems.
We will see that people can make a great many things out of rice or parts of the rice plant; people will start to make these things and offer them for sale at prices that reflect the input materials, their labor, and a reasonable profit. Because labor and material costs will be about the same as in our 2024 world, the costs of the many other products they will make out of rice will be about the same as in the 2024 world, as measured in United States dollars.
Costs of Harvesting
Humans don’t make rice.
Nature makes rice.
When we got here, the rice was already here. All we had to do was collect it.
Since we came back with an understanding of technology and a lot of parts to use to make machines, we were able to make machines that allowed us to harvest the entire crop in only a few days. Kathy knew how much money people needed for doing these things back in the 21st century and wants her people to make the same amount in Pastland. She has put together rates that lead to about the same total costs of harvesting and replanting she would have paid back in the 21st century. These costs total $500,000. There is $3.15 million in cash on the table. She is going to ask for $500,000 to pay her workers and suppliers.
Since we collect all the rice, there will be no natural reseeding. We therefore have to put some of this rice back into the ground as seeds for a crop next year. She intends to buy the rice seed (trade money for it) and she needs 200,000 pounds of seed. If we want her to make sure the same crop comes in next year, we will have to give her another $200,000 to buy the seed.
She is therefore going to ask for $700,000 of the $3.15 million that is on the table. If she gets this, she can make sure everyone who does any work on the farm or provides any supplies gets fully paid at rates that are about the same as they were in the 2024 United States, and we have enough to reseed next year so we will get the same crop next year.
Kathy makes her request. We vote on it and approve it. Kathy doesn’t like to deal with money, so she has asked one of her friends to help with the money transactions. Her friend is a professional accountant. Her name is ‘Sara.’ Sara will keep the books and make sure everyone is paid. Sara comes up to the front with a luggage cart and takes stacks and stacks of money, until she has taken $700,000 off the table and put it onto the luggage cart. Sara will make sure everyone is paid.
Sara asks to speak. She tells the group that there are two accounting terms that we need to understand if we are to understand the flows of wealth that come from the land and what the money that is left on the table represents.
This part is really important so please, pay attention. In fact, everything hinges on this being understandable:
The first is called the ‘operating profit.’
Sara says that the operating profit of the farm is the operating revenues minus the operating costs. In this case, the operating profit is exactly equal to the amount of money left on the table, or $2.45 million a year.
But this figure, the operating profit, is not really the important number we need to understand. The second number, called the ‘free cash flow’ of the farm, is far more important for the discussions that follow
To understand the free cash flow, we need to understand that there are certain people who have done important things but have not yet been paid. These people are not workers and not suppliers. They are organizers, accountants, auditors, and others who don’t do any physical work, but make sure production is organized and goes smoothly. We need production to go smoothly so we need to make sure these people get paid for what they do.
Kathy has not done any physical work. She was badly injured in the wreck and hasn’t been able to leave her bed. She organized everything on paper, made calls to round up the workers, got them to give daily reports on their activity, and had people she trusted check on them to make sure they were honest in their reports. Kathy doesn’t like to deal with numbers and has had Sara take care of all of the accounting and paperwork. Sara had to have a few computer people set up programs for her to make things work right. She also wanted to make sure that she didn’t make any mistakes in her calculations, so she had someone audit all of her figures, and sign off on the reports she gave to Kathy.
Back in the 21st century United States, certain companies kept teams of people to do the work that Kathy, Sara, the auditor, and various other people did here in Pastland. These services were called ‘management services.’ Sara says that she used to work for a management company and knows that they would have charged $50,000 a year to manage a farm this size.
Sara points out that Kathy hasn’t asked for anything for herself. But if we want to show her that we appreciate her work, we might consider giving her $50,000. If Kathy gets this money, she will pay all the people who helped her with management, accounting, bookkeeping, auditing, and other professional services out of her $50,000. If we do this, everyone who is involved in the farm operation on any level has been paid.
Sara says the second accounting term she wants us to understand, the really important one, is the ‘free cash flow.’
If we pay out the $50,000, we will be left with $2.4 million a year. This is the amount left after paying everyone who does anything related to production on the farm, including all of the professional people who didn’t do any physical work on the farm. Accountants call this the ‘free cash flow’ of the farm.
The Free Cash Flow
Humans don’t produce rice. Nature produces rice. In this case, nature produces 3.15 million pounds of rice a year which is worth, in our money, $3.15 million.
We don’t get this rice for free. We have to do work to collect it. We have to have organizers, accountants, auditors, bookkeepers, suppliers, and, of course, workers. If we pay these people for their time and set aside enough rice to seed next year’s crop, we will need to take $750,000 a year out of the $3.15 million that was put on the table after the sale of this year’s harvest.
This leaves $2.4 million a year.
We will get this money this year. Then, if we do the same thing next year, we will get another $2.4 million then. Then we will get another $2.4 million the year after. You could say that a river of money flows from the farm. Sara calls this a ‘cash flow’ because it is a flow or river of money.
Why does she call it a ‘free’ cash flow?
The reason is simple: Whoever gets this river of money is getting it for free. The people who get this river didn’t do anything to earn this money. It exists because nature is bountiful. No one here created nature. No one here made the sun shine or the rain fall. No one here put together the DNA of the rice plant or the bacteria that fixes the nitrogen. This rice exists because nature is bountiful, not because of the efforts of any human. (In fact, this rice would have grown even if there were no humans on this planet.)
Shortly, we will have discussions and an election to determine who will get this rice. (Actually, we will decide who gets the $2.4 million. People who get this money can trade it for the rice it represents.)
The people who get it are not getting it because of anything they did in production. Everyone who does anything in production has already been paid out of the other $750,000 that we took off the table. Whoever gets this money gets it for free.
This farm would produce a free cash flow in any society. The main differences between the different societies we examine in this book involve what happens to this free cash flow.
If this farm existed in a system with countries, the free cash flow would go wherever the leaders of the country wanted it to go. For example, if the leaders had good friends or supporters they wanted to enrich, they could give the farm to their friends or supporters and tell them that they owned the farm. The free cash flow would go to the owners. If the leaders wanted the money to pay for services for the people of their country, they could take it and use it to pay for services. If the leaders wanted a little bit for themselves, they could use almost all of it to pay for services for the people and keep a little themselves. If the leaders wanted a lot for themselves, they could take a lot; if they wanted it all, they could take it all. (Many kings took all of the free cash flow of all the land in their kingdoms.)
In our case, we have no country and no owners so there is no place for this free cash flow to go. We have to have meetings and make joint decisions about what will happen to it.
We can’t give it to people who have earned it because no one has done anything to earn it. It is unearned wealth. We can’t give it to people who deserve it because no one is responsible for the existence of nature and no one deserves to get rewards because nature is bountiful. Whoever gets it will not earn it and will not deserve it.
Later, when we look at the societies of the pre-conquest American people, we will see that most of them considered the bounty of the land to be a gift from nature to the people. They divided this gift among the people in some way they agreed upon in group meetings. Although there are reasons they may not want to give everyone an equal share, it is easier to understand what is happening in this system if we have a simple distribution, so lets say that, at least to start, we decide to divide this free cash flow equally.
We have 1,000 people and a $2.4 million yearly free cash flow to divide. We decide to divide this equally, giving everyone $2,400 a year.
After we divide the money, here is what will have happened:
All the people who work or do anything in production got fully paid for everything they do. This included the management team and others who did administrative work. After these people have all been paid, there is $2.4 million left on the table each year, the free cash flow. We divide this free cash flow equally: everyone in the human race gets an equal share of it.
People who don’t do anything at all in production will get an income of $2,400 a year. We will call this their ‘basic incomes.’ People who work will get their ‘basic incomes’ plus whatever they have earned from working.
A Basic Economy
You are there in Pastland.
You get a pile of cash.
Each $1 bill is a receipt for 1 pound of rice. If you want, you can get your rice directly from the treasury (which is our granary). If you do this, you can get rice for exactly $1 per pound. Most people don’t want to go to the hassle of figuring out when the treasury is open, going down with a wheelbarrow, and loading a bunch of rice.
Ordinary people look online for stores that sell rice. They go to the stores and buy there. The stores have to make profits. They sell rice for slightly more than $1 per pound. Because anyone can open one of these ‘stores,’ the stores are highly competitive and, although rice actually costs more than $1 for most people, it isn’t much more. The additional price is enough to cover the convenience of being able to buy rice close to home pretty much whenever people want in quantities that are as small as they want.
If you don’t work at all and get only a basic income, you have enough money to buy a total of 2,400 pounds of rice a year. This works out to be about 7 pounds of dry rice every day. This is a great deal more rice than you could eat. It would be enough (dry) rice to make 15 pounds of boiled rice each day.
You could not eat this much.
You would explode.
For a few weeks, however, most people live on boiled rice, because no other foods are available.
One of our people, a woman named Tanya, used to be an organic duck and goose egg farmer back in the future, before we took this trip. She buys several hundred pounds of rice and puts it out to attract ducks and geese. She puts several small plates of boiled rice in the open so that birds can see them from the sky. She then makes little trails of rice that go to nests she has built for the birds out of rice straw, in an area she can protect from predators.
Ducks and geese see the rice piles and come down to investigate. The food is much richer than food nature produces for them. (Boiling rice changes the sugars in ways that make them easier to digest.) They like the nests and spend time there. Birds have horrible night vision and have to bed down for the night; they often have a hard time finding safe places. The nests are safe (Tanya makes sure of this). They spend a lot of time there, eating the food Tanya puts out for them. They lay eggs in the nests.
The birds are basically acting as protein factories. They take in the rice, which is carbohydrates, turn it into eggs, which are mostly proteins, and then lay the eggs. Birds’ bodies are very efficient at this conversion process. (There is an evolutionary reason for this efficiency: eggs are very good food for many animals. Most of the eggs that birds lay get stolen. If they weren’t efficient at producing more eggs, they wouldn’t have enough chicks to replace them and would die out, to be replaced by more efficient birds.)
Tanya knows how to keep her egg production high. She keeps track of the amount that each bird eats and the number of eggs it lays. Birds that don’t have a very high ‘conversion efficiency’ of carbohydrates into proteins become dinner themselves. Those that lay very well remain in her flock. Those that lay extremely well may be allowed to keep their chicks and raise them, to make sure the next generation lays very well.
The ship’s internet is still working. Tanya sets up a website she calls ‘Tanya’s Organic Eggs’ and offers eggs for sale.
Now people can buy two things with their money: rice or eggs.
One man sees some wild goats and puts out some rice to attract them. Over a few weeks, he brings them closer and eventually he can pet them. A few weeks later he is feeding them daily. Some of the doe goats he feeds are pregnant; they have kids. Doe goats produce a lot more milk than their kids need. He milks them and opens a dairy where he sells milk, cream, and butter. A lot of people like these things; demand is high, and the supply is low (at least at first) so he makes a lot of money doing this. Others realize they can make money doing the same thing. After some time, several people are offering dairy products and the prices come down to the level where everyone who wants dairy products can afford them.
Wild pigs live in this area. A woman puts out some rice porridge to attract them. They love it. (Uncooked grains are very hard for pigs to digest so they generally ignore them. But the cooked rice is like a feast to them.) She puts out the porridge every night. After a week, she digs a trap, covers it with straw, and balances a bowl of porridge on some sticks on top of the trap. A pregnant sow drops into the trap and soon she has a dozen piglets and a sow.
She puts up an ad on the ship’s internet advertising that she will pick up anyone’s food waste at no cost, to feed her pigs. People start putting out their food waste for her to pick up.
Pigs are like living garbage disposals. They eat just about anything and turn it into pork. She makes a deal with a person who used to be a butcher back in the future: she will provide the live animals, the butcher can turn them into bacon, ham, pork chops, and ribs, and they will sell the meat over the internet and split the income.
A person begins to grind the rice into flour and several people start baking breads, noodles, tortillas, cakes, and cookies with the flour and selling all manner of baked goods. You can place an order over the internet and they will deliver the baked goods to your cabin door.
One person in our group, a man named ‘Dennis,’ used to own a microbrewery back in Spain. The main ingredient in beer is rice. Dennis starts making beer and selling it in one of the ship’s bars.
One of our people used to make ethanol for fuel for vehicles back in Indonesia before she took this trip. She made ethanol out of rice and understands the method: boil the rice for several days to turn it into a mash, let the mash ferment for several days until the sugars turn into alcohol, then distill the mash. After the first distillation, she gets a mixture of rice water and alcohol, called ‘saké.’ This is an alcoholic beverage that a lot of people like to drink. After the second distillation, she gets pure grain alcohol, called ‘ethanol.’
She makes both saké and grain alcohol. She sells the saké to Dennis to resell in his bar and sells the ethanol to people who need fuel, like the operator of the harvesting machine.
Wild grapes grow along the river. Several people start making wine. They sell their products to Dennis to resell in his bar. Crawdads, catfish, and lobster live in the waterways. People catch them and sell them. Various people open clubs and restaurants to serve meals and drinks. The clubs hire musicians to attract guests.
One of our people, a woman named ‘Sally,’ used to run a bank in England before she took this trip. She knows a lot of people don’t like carrying cash. They would rather just have a card and pay for everything with the card. She opens a bank here in Pastland: she will take in deposits, hold the money for the owners, and allow them to make withdrawals with cards. (On cruise ships, people use their electronic door keys for credit cards to buy things. Everyone already has a card and there are thousands of electronic card readers all over the ship.)
Initially, Sally charges very high fees. Several other people open their own banks to compete with her, driving bank fees down. You can choose to keep your money in a bank; if you decide to do this, you can decide which bank to use.
Now that we have banks, most people don’t even bother with cash: they have their incomes deposited directly into their bank accounts and pay for everything through electronic deductions over the internet or with their debit cards.
How Do We Live?
No one pays for shelter.
We all live in our cabins on the ship or in temporary shelters (tents, for people who like the outdoors and go camping) on land.
People can work if they want. There are a lot of jobs. You can work for Kathy, who runs the farm. You could work for some small businessperson. Operators of pubs and restaurants are always hiring servers; not many people last very long in that job.
Although people can work if they want to work, no one has to work to avoid death. The land produces a great bounty. We share this bounty.
Jobs in a Non-Ownability Society
Later in this book, we will look at societies where countries, corporations, or individuals own parts of planets. In some of these societies, all productive land is owned. These systems have no unowned wealth for members of the human race to divide; everything is owned and spoken for.
In these systems, the great bulk of the people (those without rich relatives or government connections to get a share of the free money) have to work to avoid death. Societies that work this way have a great many very serious problems that our society in Pastland won’t have. One of the most important is a desperate, driving, fanatical need for jobs.
If you doubt that the need for jobs leads to almost indescribably horrible problems in the societies we have in our 21st century world, all you have to do is turn on the television and listen to the politicians speaking. Politicians promise jobs and aren’t shy about the steps they are willing to take to create them. They will actively support coal and other destructive energy systems with massive subsidies to keep people working. They aren’t ashamed of this, they are proud and scream it from rooftops. They will discourage the use of non-destructive systems that might force destructive businesses to close with taxes or restrictions.
Often, politicians go even farther to create jobs. Wars always create enormous numbers of jobs. When the United States entered World War Two in 1941, the country’s unemployment rate was 15%, a dangerously high level that is associated with mass starvation; within six months, it had fallen to less than 1%. Often, politicians start wars that would otherwise not have taken place just to drive down unemployment rates. (Why did the United States fight in Vietnam? This is hard to understand unless you understand how many jobs were required to make the bombs: the United States dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were used by all parties in all of World War Two.) The ‘problem’ we call ‘unemployment’ can be so serious in group territoriality societies that people will accept destruction of the only world we have, and competitions where teams spend their time doing nothing but killing the people in other teams, just to keep people working.
People in non-ownability of land (NOL) societies would never consider a lack of jobs to be a problem. Consider our situation in Pastland: if Kathy can mechanize production on the farm, eliminating jobs, the farm will produce the same amount of rice. The same amount of money will go on the table next year as this one. But with less work, less will be taken away to pay workers, leaving more for the people to divide. Less work means a higher bounty. Since we share the bounty of the land, we all get more. We won’t beg people to create jobs and certainly won’t accept destruction of our world just to have jobs. We want as few jobs as possible in production. If there are fewer jobs, the average income is exactly the same. The only difference is that, if more work is needed, more work will have to be done (by the human race as a whole) to get this income.
Which would you rather have: an income that allows you to live fairly well if you work 40 hours a week, or the same income without any need to work and a chance to make additional money by doing things that create value?
Jobs And The Non-Ownability Society
Although our society in Pastland doesn’t need jobs to function, and people don’t need jobs to keep from dying, most people do work.
Why do they do this?
There are several reasons:
One reason is a desire for a higher standard of living. A lot of people like rich diets. I happen to be in this category.
If you want surf and turf dinners at fancy restaurants, if you want to drink in bars with live music, or if you want to see live shows, you won’t be able to afford this lifestyle on the $2,400 that you get as a basic income each year.
You will have to find some way to earn some money.
Nature provides some value for free. Everyone shares in this free value.
But some people want to consume more than their share of the free value.
They have to find a way to create additional value (turn something with less value into something with more value). They can then ‘trade’ the value they create for whatever goods and services they want using money as a medium of exchange.
Some people work for this reason: they want to live better than they can from their basic income.
Other people work because they enjoy it. Getting paid is a bonus. Of course, if you aren’t getting any basic income (perhaps from a share of the bounty of the Earth) you often can’t work in a job you enjoy because enjoyable jobs get taken pretty quickly. Many people in group territoriality societies have no income unless they work and can’t find a job they find pleasant and enjoyable. Often, the only jobs available to them are very dangerous and unpleasant. (Coal mining and soldiering, for example, are some of the ‘make work’ jobs politicians create; it can be very unpleasant to dig through dirt underground or live in fetid trenches while people are trying to kill you and try your best to kill them first.)
In societies built on non-ownability of land (NOL societies) people who would otherwise be forced to devote their time to unpleasant tasks will have an income and be able to spend their time doing things they enjoy doing. We would expect to see flowers and berry plants start to be planted along all of the paths we use, as people like spending their time making the world around them more beautiful. We would expect people to take care of the swimming holes and picnic grounds, not because they are being paid to do it, but because they want these places to be nice.
Important Takeaways from this Chapter
In this chapter I wanted to lay out some basic information that I will use to illustrate key aspects of the way different societies work.
First, I want to lay out a very simple society that will be a kind of starting society that has only the absolutely essential elements that societies need to operate. The societies that operate in our 21st century world are fantastically complex. You might expect societies built on the idea that parts of planets in general can belong to human entities to be very complex in general. Societies that are specifically designed around conflict of these owners will be even more complex.
If you want to understand a complex topic, it makes sense to start with the simplest example you can find. Figure out how its key structures work. Then, add in complexities to see how they interfere with the structures you already understand.
In this system, we, the people of the planet earth, work collectively to decide what happens to the wealth of the planet earth. So far, our system is just an informal one: we haven’t made any rules about this yet (we will in the next chapter). But this foundational element shows us that we can have a very simple system as long as we keep the human race in charge of making decisions about the human race: no other decision-maker has incentives that are closer to our own than we do ourselves. Any other system will have conflicts of interests that will need to complicated structures to resolve. We not only don’t need a complex government, we don’t need a government at all. (We can create one if we want, but it isn’t essential: none of the tasks that need to be done will require creating an organization that has the authority to ‘govern’ or ‘control’ us.)
Our world gives us wealth. No one owns this wealth (because no one owns the world that produces it) so we don’t have any natural system in place to determine what happens to this wealth. (If we had sovereign countries or owners, there would be rules: the wealth of a country belongs to that country and is administered as the leaders dictate; the wealth of owned property belongs to the owners. There is no need for decisions from the human race: if the land was within countries or had owners, these decisions would be made by others and the human race wouldn’t have any need to decide anything.)
Some of our people actually like going out to the field and working. They like to do things that make them feel they are doing things that are good and help make life better for the people around them. We want to show them that we appreciate this effort. The money on the table represents things nature gave us. No one owns this wealth but someone must decide what happens to it each year. We the people of the planet earth are the only ones who can really do this. We can have elections and vote to determine what happens to it.
We are acting in our own best interests to use part of this wealth to reward the people who help us meet our needs. If we reward them, people will be happy to keep doing the things they have been doing.
If they do, you can think of the Pastland Farm as a kind of wealth machine, a kind of automated food factory that spits out enough to easily support the entire human race each year, without us (the members of the human race as a whole) having to do anything to make this happen. The net amount of rice that is left to benefit everyone on earth is represented by the free cash flow of the farm. We, the people who get this free wealth, do nothing in return. It is a gift from nature and the world around us.
The next chapter shows what would have happened to the land and the wealth in it if we had divided our population into different teams, divided the land into parcels, given each a team into parcels, called each team with its land a country, and adopted the same rules that apply in the 21st century earth. In that system, the land would still be bountiful. But it would not be possible for the human race to share the bounty. As soon as a system like this came to exist, war risks would appear. War would become a priority and the leaders of each of the countries would have found ways to divert as much of the wealth as possible to help them prepare for and make war. They could make this happen by organizing society into ‘classes,’ where one class had to work for a living and the other class helped build things the country needed, including factories to make weapons and mines to extract the resources needed for the factories. When we look at what would have happened if we had organized our societies around these principles, the systems will evolve in very clear and easy-to-understand ways to take a certain form. You will recognize this form: it is the way the societies around you look now.
But if we don’t take the steps necessary to create GT societies, we end up with a simple NOL society. This society works in very simple ways and creates very simple and easily-understandable incentives. No one owns the land so no one owns the wealth it creates. It must go somewhere. We, the members of the human race, need food and other things that this wealth can provide. As the dominant species in this area, we have first claim on this wealth. We can take it from the animals that would otherwise get it and use it to benefit our species.
Some people want to help do things that benefit the human race. Kathy is like this. She is good at organizing. (She can’t do any actual work: she was badly injured in the wreck and can’t leave her bed.) She organizes a system to take in the wealth and put it into the granary. She would do this for nothing but we don’t want to let her do it for nothing. We want her to know that we appreciate it when people do things that help us all, so they will have incentives to keep doing them. Kathy helps us all and we want to reward her.
Later, we will see that there isn’t any way we would be able to prevent market forces from operating to determine these ‘reward schedules.’ This means
If market forces eventually come into play, here is what will happen:
The world produces wealth. No one owns this wealth. The members of the human race set aside enough to pay all of the people who help organize the activities needed to bring in this wealth and who do all of the necessary work at market rates.
People who work get the exact amount they need to compensate them for the things they do. All of the rest of the wealth the land produces is the ‘bounty’ of the land. Everyone on earth gets an equal share of this bounty.
The flows of value in the NOL society we have in Pastland are very simple. The incentive system is also very simple and easy to understand: everyone has an opportunity to do things that benefit the human race (in this case, helping bring in the wealth the land produces and making it available to benefit the human race). Those that do are well rewarded (their rewards can not be too low for the reasons discussed in the text box below). People have incentives to step forward and volunteer to do anything necessary to make this happen.
We all share in the bounty of the land. Healthy land produces a greater bounty than unhealthy land. We want the land to be as healthy as possible, not because we care about the world and want to make sacrifices, but because we are greedy and want the most money we can get. As long as the land remains healthy, our income from the land will remain high. When we start making formal rules (a part of the discussions of the next chapter) we will all understand that people who harm the land are harming the entire human race. When we start making formal rules, we will consider rules that protect the health of the land to be our highest priority.
We all get a share of the bounty at first. But people know that this is a gift that goes to them only if the people around them agree to let them have it. (We vote to divide the land’s bounty.) There are people who may be tempted when they see things that are easy to steal. Some may be tempted to take advantage of the weakness of others. But in this system, people know that the people around them don’t have to let them share in the wealth equally. If they do things that harm others, the others may decide to have two different gift schedules: one is for responsible people, who get a full share, and the other is for irresponsible people, who get a lower share. People who are very irresponsible may get no share at all. Even without any formal rules against anything at all, people will know certain things are wrong and will make people upset at them if they do them. They know they get rewards if they don’t do things that harm others. These rewards are very high and, in some cases, they are all the money they get each year. (Those who don’t work at jobs or operate profitable businesses will only get their basic incomes.) They will not want to place their income at risk so they will go to great lengths to get along with others. They will be tolerant, for example, friendly, and will not pass by people who are in need without helping.
In the next chapter, we will contrast the simple NOL society that we start with here in Pastland with societies. We will see that NOL societies are far from perfect. They have incentives that push people to do things that prevent progress and growth and resist change, even change that everyone can see makes everyone better off. (NOL societies have existed and we know that they could go and did go for immense periods of time without any change. The societies of the people of the great plains of the Americas, for example, operated according to the same principles when they were first studied by people from GT societies as they had 20,000 years earlier, when people first arrived in these areas, and this appears to be the same as the societies of the denisovans who lived 200,000 years earlier in Asia.) In fact, the basic forces of the NOL societies push them to be regressive (the opposite of progressive) and, if we keep this system long enough, we will lose all of our technology and end up living not much different than our evolutionary ancestors lived before our species evolved.
The defects of NOL societies have are fatal and will destroy this society eventually with certainty. (We will look at the reasons for this later.) That means that this is not a healthy society and can never be a practical replacement for the GT societies: it would be like trying to fix tuberculosis by infecting the patient with lung cancer. However, our group in the ancient past does not have to choose only one or the other of these societies. We can take the best of the NOL society and mix it with the best of GT societies to create a ‘best of both world’s society.’ I call a society intentionally created to mix the best characteristics of these two systems a ‘socratic society.’
Let’s go back to our thought experiment. So far, we have a very simple system with no formal rules. Let’s look at why we may want to create some rules and consider the kinds of rules we will want.