4: Incentives in Natural Law Societies

Chapter Four
Incentives in Natural Law Societies.

The Pastland Farm produces a free-cash flow of $2.4 million a year.  We have been dividing this money evenly. We don’t have to do this.  We can use this money other ways. 

We might want to acknowledge the people who are doing various things to make life better for all of us.  Some people go over to the electric generating plant, check to make sure everything is working right, and fix things when they break.  We may want to reward them for this.  Some people take care of the internet and keep it working.  Some people take care of the routers, servers, and modems. 

Some people come to the medical clinic and help people who are injured or sick.  We want these people to know that we appreciate them.  We can show this by rewarding them.  As long as we show our appreciation to them, we can expect them to keep showing up.

We have a lot of money to use for rewards.  If we want, we can allocate rewards before we divide the money.  People can nominate those who help out with various services for rewards and we can vote on them. 

We will naturally want to make sure to reward the people who do the things that are most vital to us so they will keep doing these things.  This will create a kind of incentive system: people will know that those who do things that help society can get rewards; the more important their work, the more rewards they can expect to get. 

People will look for things that benefit the human race and just do them.  If they find the rest of the people value their input and reward them, they will keep doing these things.  If they aren’t getting rewarded (because the people don’t think the things they do are important), and the work isn’t rewarding for other reasons, they will stop.  In time, many people will wind up doing a bunch of different things that benefit the human race.  People will always be looking for things they might be able to do that others will find valuable enough to reward.

Money

So we have some figures to work with, let’s say that each year we allocate about $400,000 of the $2.4 million a year free cash that flows to us to rewards for services.

In time, we will probably create a formal system to deal with common facilities and services.  We may elect a committee to meet on a regular basis, figure out our priorities, line up bids for work that has to be paid or get volunteers to work for unpaid jobs, take care of the details, and provide a budget for our approval. 

If we like the work the members of the committee are doing, we can leave everything to them.  If we don’t like their priorities, or believe they are ignoring important matters, we can replace them or simply go over their heads and vote for rewards directly to people who do things that benefit us.

The money sitting on the table doesn’t belong to the committee.  It doesn’t belong to anyone.  In natural law societies, no one owns this unearned wealth.  It is a gift from nature.  The entire group decides what happens to the wealth and gifts that flow to us that don’t belong to anyone.  If we make it clear to people who do things that benefit us that they will be rewarded, people will have incentives to anticipate the needs of the human race and find things that can make life better for the people. 

Environmental Responsibility

Natural law societies distribute wealth in ways that lead to very powerful incentives for everyone to work both as individuals and as members of society to make sure no harm ever comes to the world around them. 

Consider our situation in Pastland: when we arrived in the ancient past, the land was already healthy.  Nature created a balanced ecosystem.  If we throw it out of balance, it won’t operate as well as it does now and won’t give us as much wealth as we get now.  If we want to keep our incomes high, we will want to make sure that the system remains balanced.  We will want to make sure that no harm comes to the land or any part of nature that we depend on.

We each get $2,000 a year; this is our personal share of the free cash flow of the land.  Most of us have more income from various other sources.  Kathy gets paid for managing the farm, Tanya makes money selling eggs, Dennis makes money at the bar, and Terry makes money providing banking services, for example; others get paid the ‘rewards’ we provide for those who maintain the public electricity supply, water system, internet, and medical system.  But some people only make a small amount of money outside of their share of the bounty that we divide; others have no other incomes at all.  Some of these people are barely able to get enough to eat a healthy diet.  If production fell by even a tiny amount, their share would fall below starvation levels and they would be in real trouble.

We would expect these people to have very strong opinions about keeping the land healthy.  Any harm to the land could mean a death sentence for them.  They will obviously have powerful incentives to make sure that everyone around them is environmentally responsible.  If you do something that even has the tiniest potential to harm the land we depend on, you can expect a stern lecture.  You will be told that you are harming everyone.  (To quote chief Seattle of the Duwamish: Teach your children what we have taught our children that the earth is our mother.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth.  If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.’)

If the people harming the land don’t reform, we can expect some people to be truly dedicated environmentalists, far more motivated than environmentalists in our 21st century world, because their lives depend on the land; even a tiny reduction in their incomes could be enough to make them starve to death.

A great many different natural law societies existed in the Americas before the conquest.  Some had enormous cities, used money for transactions as we do in Pastland, had extensive markets and many goods and services available, just as we have in Pastland.  Other groups roamed the land following buffalo or other game, trading meat and livestock products for other goods at pow-wows or other gatherings, and rarely even seeing money.  But they all shared a common feature: they all considered nature and the natural world to be unownable and unowned.  They all lived on a very bountiful world and shared the bounty. 

When the first humans arrived in any area, it already had a balanced and healthy ecosystem: nature made this happen.  All they had to do to keep it producing wealth for them is make sure it remained healthy.  They all had very powerful incentives to work both as individuals and as members of society to make sure this happened.

Columbus Quotes about the People of The Land Beyond he Western Ocean

When Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in October of 1492, very large numbers of people rowed out in canoes to meet him.  He had arrived in an area with thousands of islands, each of which produced entirely different things.  (Again, for people confused by standard history books that claim that Columbus ‘discovered’ America, it is important to realize that Columbus went to tropical islands in the Caribbean Sea, not to the American continent.  Each island has slightly different features and produces different things today; this was also true in 1492.)

They came to his ship to trade.  This is very clear from the descriptions of these people in Columbus’ logs (available on the PossibleSocieites.com website). 

Columbus visited many of these islands.  He was totally amazed by the incredible health of the land.  He had never seen anything like it.  Here are his words describing several different islands sequentially:

 

‘This is a large and level island, with trees extremely flourishing, and streams of water; there is a large lake in the middle of the island, but no mountains: the whole is completely covered with verdure and delightful to behold.  The natives are an inoffensive people, and so desirous to possess any thing they saw with us, that they kept swimming off to the ships with whatever they could find, and readily bartered for any article we saw fit to give them in return, even such as broken platters and fragments of glass.

Near the islet I have mentioned were groves of trees, the most beautiful I have ever seen, with their foliage as verdant as we see in Castile in April and May.  There were also many streams.  After having taken a survey of these parts, I returned to the ship, and setting sail, discovered such a number of islands that I knew not which first to visit; the natives whom I had taken on board informed me by signs that there were so many of them that they could not be numbered; they repeated the names of more than a hundred.

I determined to steer for the largest, which is about five leagues from San Salvador [the name he gave the first island where he landed] the others were some at a greater, and some at a less distance from that island.  They are all very level, without mountains, exceedingly fertile and populous’.

 

Another island:

 

The island is verdant, level and fertile to a high degree; and I doubt not that grain is sowed and reaped the whole year round, as well as all other productions of the place.  I saw many trees, very dissimilar to those of our country, and many of them had branches of different sorts upon the same trunk; and such diversity was among them that it was the greatest wonder in the world to behold.  Thus, for instance, one branch of a tree bore leaves like those of a cane, another branch of the same tree, leaves similar to those of the lentisk.  In this manner a single tree bears five or six different kinds of fruit.

In the meantime I strayed about among the groves, which present the most enchanting sight ever witnessed, a degree of verdure prevailing like that of May in Andalusia, the trees as different from those of our country as day is from night, and the same may be said of the fruit, the weeds, the stones and everything else.

A few of the trees, however, seemed to be of a species similar to some that are to be found in Castile, though still with a great dissimilarity, but the others so unlike, that it is impossible to find any resemblance in them to those of our land.

I assure your Highnesses that these lands are the most fertile, temperate, level and beautiful countries in the world’.

 

Another island:

 

This island is the most beautiful that I have yet seen, the trees in great number, flourishing and lofty; the land is higher than the other islands, and exhibits an eminence, which though it cannot be called a mountain, yet adds a beauty to its appearance, and gives an indication of streams of water in the interior.  From this part toward the northeast is an extensive bay with many large and thick groves.  I wished to anchor there, and land, that I might examine those delightful regions, but found the coast shoal, without a possibility of casting anchor except at a distance from the shore.  The wind being favorable, I came to the Cape, which I named Hermoso, where I anchored today.

This is so beautiful a place, as well as the neighboring regions, that I know not in which course to proceed first; my eyes are never tired with viewing such delightful verdure, and of a species so new and dissimilar to that of our country, and I have no doubt there are trees and herbs here which would be of great value in Spain, as dyeing materials, medicine, spicery, etc., but I am mortified that I have no acquaintance with them.  Upon our arrival here we experienced the most sweet and delightful odor from the flowers and trees of the island.

 

The next island.

 

This island even exceeds the others in beauty and fertility.  Groves of lofty and flourishing trees are abundant, as also large lakes, surrounded and overhung by the foliage, in a most enchanting manner.  Everything looked as green as in April in Andalusia.  The melody of the birds was so exquisite that one was never willing to part from the spot, and the flocks of parrots obscured the heavens.

The diversity in the appearance of the feathered tribe from those of our country is extremely curious.  A thousand different sorts of trees, with their fruit were to be met with, and of a wonderfully delicious odor.  It was a great affliction to me to be ignorant of their natures, for I am very certain they are all valuable; specimens of them and of the plants I have preserved.

Afterwards I shall set sail for another very large island which I believe to be Cipango [Japan], according to the indications I receive from the Indians on board.  They call the Island Colba, and say there are many large ships, and sailors there.  This other island they name Bosio, and inform me that it is very large; the others which lie in our course, I shall examine on the passage, and according as I find gold or spices in abundance, I shall determine what to do; at all events I am determined to proceed on to the continent, and visit the city of Guisay, where I shall deliver the letters of your Highnesses to the Great Kahn, and demand an answer, with which I shall return.

 

Later we will examine other societies and compare them to natural law societies.  We will see that any society that shares the bounty of the land among the people who live on the land will have flows of value that generate incentives to be environmentally responsible.  Natural law societies all share the bounty of the land among the people.  They have to do this: no one owns the land, so no one owns its bounty.  The people must get together and make decisions about what to do with it.  They may not share it equally among their members, but they will share it in some way.  No matter how they share, if there is more to share everyone’s share will be bigger.  Healthy land is more bountiful than devastated land.  Everyone gains if the land is healthy.

We will see that some other societies actually have even more powerful incentives to be environmentally responsible than natural law societies.  Socratic societies, for example, operate in ways that encourage progress, growth, and mechanization of production with powerful internal reward systems.  People will respond to these incentives in ways that cause the land around them to produce more and more with less and less effort and cost.  The bounty of the land is the amount left over after subtracting enough to pay the costs.  As the total production increases (including production from factories and other facilities on the land) and costs fall, the free cash flow that represents the bounty of the land will increase.  The more bounty there is to divide, the more people will get from the land.  We will see that healthy land always produces more, at least over the long run, than destroyed land.  Socratic societies will have even stronger incentives to be environmentally responsible than natural law societies because people have stronger incentives to care for the land if they get more money from this care than if they get less.

But, for now, we are only dealing with natural law societies.  Clearly, these societies produce incentives that encourage environmental responsibility. Imagine you are in Pastland.  You see someone doing something that may harm the land of the Pastland Farm, say dumping trash there.  Are you going to be silent?  You know that either Kathy will have to pay someone to remove the trash, which involves a direct cost to you (the pay for everyone who does anything on the farm will come out of what would otherwise be the bounty of the land), or avoid farming on the contaminated area, leading to less production to sell and less money for everyone.  Of course, you will say something.  Anyone who may be tempted to harm the land will realize that their acts harm literally every single person on Earth, including themselves.  People will realize they should not harm the land.

Not all societies that are possible have incentives that encourage environmental responsibility.  Some societies have the opposite incentives: they have incentives that encourage irresponsible use of the land.  We will look at the flows of value that generate these incentives later in the book, when we look at sovereignty-based societies (which have the strongest possible destructive incentives) but, for now, I just want to go over the result.  

In his book ‘The Devastation of the Indies,’ the historian Bartolomé de Las Casas describes what happened after the Europeans arrived in great detail.  The Europeans began to take everything of value, without any regard whatsoever for the health of the land.  As the name of Las Casas’ book implies, they left nothing but devastation. 

At the time, hardwood lumber was incredibly valuable in Europe.  They weapons factories needed this to make steel.  If you want to ‘smelt’ iron, or remove it from rocks, you need to build an extremely hot fire.  Wood fires don’t produce enough heat for this, but charcoal made from hardwood does.  Europe had been making steel for more than 2,000 years and had basically eliminated all hardwood forests; with no hardwood they couldn’t make steel or more weapons. 

The islands had enormous amounts of hardwood; Spain sent armies of loggers to remove it, convert it to charcoal, and send the coal back to Europe to use to make steel.  Within a few years, the great bulk of the hardwood forests were gone.

Haiti is the native name for the island; in the Tianó language, this word means ‘the mountainous island.’  When the trees were gone, the mountains didn’t have any root systems to hold the soil in place; it began to wash away. 

Haiti has still not recovered from the destruction that took place in the late 1400s and early 1500s.  Here is a description of the condition of the environment of the island as of 2010; bear in mind that this is the exact same island that Columbus described in such glowing terms and even claimed was the ‘terrestrial paradise’ later in his life as it was far closer to what heaven must be like because it is better than any place in the part of the world where he was raised:

 

"If you want to put the worst case scenario together in the Western hemisphere (for disasters), it’s Haiti," said Richard Olson, a professor at Florida International University who directs the Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas project.

The list of catastrophes is mind-numbing: this week’s devastating earthquake.  Four tropical storms or hurricanes that killed about 800 people in 2008.  Killer storms in 2005 and 2004.  Floods in 2007, 2006, 2003 (twice) and 2002.  And that’s just the 21st Century run-down. 

“There’s a whole bunch of things working against Haiti.  One is the hurricane track.  The second is tectonics.  Then you have the environmental degradation and the poverty,” he said.  This [the 2010 earthquake] is the 15th disaster since 2001 in which the U.S.  Agency for International Development has sent money and help to Haiti.  Some 3,000 people have been killed and millions of people displaced in the disasters that preceded this week’s earthquake.

This week’s devastating quake comes as Haiti is still trying to recover from 2008, when it was hit four times by tropical storms and hurricanes, said Kathleen Tierney, director of the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazard Center.  Every factor that disaster experts look for in terms of vulnerability is the worst it can be for Haiti, said Dennis Mileti, a seismic safety commissioner for the state of California and author of the book Disasters by Design. "It doesn’t get any worse," said Mileti, a retired University of Colorado professor.  "I fear this may go down in history as the largest disaster ever, or pretty close to it.".

For this to be the deadliest disaster on record, the death toll will have to top the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed more than 227,000 and a 1976 earthquake in China that killed 255,000, according to the U.S.  Geological Survey.

While nobody knows the death toll in Haiti, a leading senator, Youri Latortue, told The Associated Press that as many as 500,000 could be dead.

"This was not that huge of an earthquake, but there’s been a lot of damage," he said.  "It’s the tragedy of a natural disaster superimposed on a poor country.".

 

The above passage was written in 2010, a long time ago in terms of environment disasters in the devastated lands of the Caribbean.  Since then, things have only gotten worse.  There is no hope in sight.  The trees are gone; the soil needed to hold new trees is gone, the land is devastated.  It would take many centuries of good stewardship to get to a stable place; the type of societies that dominate the land now just don’t have any forces that push toward this kind of care.

Other Places

We know from history that people who had natural law societies—including the people of the pre-conquest Americas—took truly incredible care of the land around them.

In fact, they kept the land in such good repair, and so close to its natural state, that many people from the societies that conquered these lands have claimed that the lands couldn’t have possibly even had people on them.

They think that destruction is a part of human nature.  If people lived on these lands, in immense numbers for long periods of time, the land would be destroyed.  Since the land was not destroyed, they claim that humans could not have actually lived in the Americas, at least not in any numbers or for any length of time.

The book ‘Forensic History’ goes over the tools that we use to date artifacts and the evidence we have of a very long period of human habitation in the Americas.

We now have access to scientific tools that tell us that large numbers of people lived in the Americas for very long periods of time.

Natural law societies work in ways that provide very real material benefits for people who take care of the land and keep it healthy.  The evidence we have tells us that these incentives made a difference.

Personal Responsibility

Our group in Pastland has a natural law society, at least as long as the moratorium lasts.  No one owns the land, so no one owns the wealth it produces.  We use part of this wealth to reward/pay people who help bring in the wealth of the land; this leaves the free cash flow, the money value of the bounty of the land.

We have been using part of the free cash that flows from the land to reward people (pay them) for services that benefit everyone.  After we pay them, there is still a lot of money left over.  We have been dividing this money among our members.

So far, we have been dividing it evenly.  I started with this particular distribution of the ‘leftover money’ because it is simple.  But we don’t have to divide the leftover money evenly. 

We may decide to cut the amounts that go to certain people.  Some people may do things that reduce the quality of life for us and some may even do things that cause harm to us.  Say that there is a person in our group who picks up things that don’t belong to her and she sees laying around, and then keeps them.  We may have people who get into arguments that disturb the peace and quiet, or that stay up late into the night with loud parties that disturb the sleep of those who go to bed early.  We can let these people know that we don’t like their behavior in several ways.  We may start by simply talking to them and telling them that their behavior bothers us.  If this doesn’t work, we may decide to take action by accessing some sort of fine against them for actions that bother us and taking this fine out of their share of the distribution of wealth.  We can cut their share of the distribution of wealth from the land, in order to provide incentives for them to consider the feelings of the people around them and act in socially responsible ways. 

It is important to realize that this particular option for encouraging social responsibility is not available in all possible societies.  Sovereignty-based societies, for example, consider everything to belong to someone; there are free cash flows, but this money doesn’t flow to the community of humankind and isn’t available for the people to distribute.  (In systems where the land is owned, everything the land produces, including its free cash flow, belongs to the owner.)  In sovereignty-based societies, people who weren’t born rich or don’t have a steady job that can be garnished to get the money don’t really have anything to lose from socially irresponsible behavior.  (In some cases, their lives are better if they commit crimes and go to jail, because jail is a better home than they can have any other way.  I have known people who have robbed stores and then sat in front of the store waiting for the police, because it is the only way they could get enough to eat.)  In natural law societies, there is wealth to divide among the people.  People know that if they do things that harm others, the others may vote to reduce their share.  In natural law societies, people all have something to lose for acts that harm the people around them.  

In our case, most people have two incomes: one comes from the money they earn; the other from their share of the unearned wealth the land produces (its free cash flow).  But many people don’t have earned income at all, and many people only get small amounts other than their share of the bounty.  These people have very powerful incentives to make sure they don’t cause problems for others and don’t do anything that may even have the appearance of dishonesty. 

 

Examples

The first day Columbus met the people of the islands of the western hemisphere, Columbus described them this way in his logs:

 

They are very gentile and without knowledge of what is evil, nor do they murder or steal.  Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better or gentler people.  All the people show the most singular loving behavior and they speak pleasantly.  I assure Your Highnesses that I believe than in all the world there is no better people nor better country.  They love their neighbors as themselves and they have the sweetest talking the world and are gentle and always laughing.

 

The most prolific writer of the period, Bartolomé de Las Casas, described them this way:

 

All the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.  And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity.  They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome.  These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world.

They possess little and have no desire to possess worldly goods.  For this reason they are not arrogant, embittered, or greedy.  They are very clean in their persons, with alert, intelligent minds.  Some of the secular Spaniards who have been here for many years say that the goodness of the Indians is undeniable.

 

Columbus had an occasion to see how incredibly honest people could be: Columbus had made a friend on the island of Haiti, a man of great respect in the community named ‘Guacanagari.’ Columbus referred to him as ‘the king’ because of the deference that others showed to him.  On the 17th of December, Columbus told Guacanagari that in seven days it would be Christmas, the most important holiday for his people.  Guacanagari then arranged a feast and celebration in honor of Columbus and his men, to be held as his home on Christmas day.  Columbus accepted the invitation and they arranged to meet on Christmas at Guacanagari’s home.

Columbus then went out exploring but was determined to return for the Christmas celebration Guacanagari had arranged.  

On December 24, Columbus was on his way from the other side of the island.  He had been up for two days straight and was very tired.  He had put a sailor on watch and went to bed.  The sailor who was in charge was apparently also very tired.  He put a cabin boy in charge of the wheel (‘tiller’) and went to bed himself.  At midnight, the ship hit a sandbank.

Here is the description of the event from the official logs of the voyage:

 

December 24, 1492:

Navigating yesterday, with little wind, from Santo Tomas to Punta Santa, and being a league from it, at about eleven o’clock at night the Admiral went down to get some sleep, for he had not had any rest for two days and a night.  As it was calm, the sailor who steered the ship thought he would go to sleep, leaving the tiller in charge of a boy.  The Admiral had forbidden this throughout the voyage, whether it was blowing or whether it was calm.  The boys were never to be entrusted with the helm.

The Admiral had no anxiety respecting sandbanks and rocks, because, when he sent the boats to Guacanagari on Sunday, they had passed to the east of Punta Santa at least three leagues and a half, and the sailors had seen all the coast, and the rocks there arc from Punta Santa, for a distance of three leagues to the E.S.E.  They saw the course that should be taken, which had not been the case before, during this voyage.

It pleased our Lord that, at twelve o’clock at night, when the Admiral had retired to rest, and when all had fallen asleep, seeing that it was a dead calm and the sea like glass, the tiller being in the hands of a boy, the current carried the ship on one of the sandbanks.

If it had not been night the bank could have been seen, and the surf on it could be heard for a good league.  But the ship ran upon it so gently that it could scarcely be felt.  The boy, who felt the helm and heard the rush of the sea, cried out.  The Admiral ordered him and others to launch the boat, which was on the poop, and lay out an anchor astern.

The master, with several others, got into the boat, and the Admiral thought that they did so with the object of obeying his orders.  But they did so in order to take refuge with the Nina, which was half a league to leeward.  The Nina would not allow them to come on board, acting judiciously, and they therefore returned to the ship; but the Nina’s boat arrived first.  When the Admiral saw that his own people fled in this way, the water rising and the ship being across the sea, seeing no other course, he ordered the masts to be cut away and the ship to be abandoned.

The master, who was also the owner, of the Admiral’s ship was Juan de la Cosa of Santofia, afterwards well known as a draughtsman and pilot, lightened as much as possible, to see if she would come off.  However, as the water continued to rise, nothing more could be done.  Her side fell over across the sea, but it was nearly calm.  Then the timbers’ opened, and the ship was lost.  The Admiral went to the Nina to arrange about the reception of the ship’s crew, and as a light breeze was blowing from the land, and continued during the greater part of the night, while it was unknown how far the bank extended, he hove her to until daylight.  He then went back to the ship, inside the reef; first having sent a boat on shore with Diego de Arana of Cordova, Alguazil of the Fleet, and I’edro Gutierrez, Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber, to inform Guacanagari who had invited the ships to come on the previous Saturday.

His town was about a league and a half (4 miles) from the sandbank.

They reported that he wept when he heard the news, and he sent all his people with large canoes to unload the ship.  This was done, and they landed all there was between decks in a very short time.  Such was the great promptitude and diligence shown by Guacanagari.  He himself, with brothers and relations, were actively assisting as well in the ship as in the care of the property when it was landed, that all might be properly guarded.

Now and then he sent one of his relations weeping to the Admiral, to console him, saying that he must not feel sorrow or annoyance, for he would supply all that was needed.  The Admiral assured the Sovereigns that there could not have been such good watch kept in any part of Castille, for that there was not even a needle missing.

He ordered that all the property should be placed by some houses which the king placed at his disposal, until they were emptied, when everything would be stowed and guarded in them.  The king and all his people wept.  They are a loving people, without covetousness, and fit for anything; and I assure your Highnesses that there is neither better land nor people.  They love their neighbors as themselves, and their speech is the sweetest and gentlest in the world, and always with a smile.

‘Your Highnesses should believe that they have very good customs among themselves.  The king (Guacanagari) is a man of remarkable presence, and with a certain self contained manner that is a pleasure to see.  They have good memories, wish to see everything, and ask the use of what they see’.

 

Columbus was commanding the Santa Maria, the supply ship for the voyage.  The Santa Maria was far larger than the other ships, and laden with many very useful things.  Most of these things would have been worth enormous amounts to the natives.  When Columbus was trading for these things, the people offered large amounts of gold and skeins of cotton (as valuable as gold at the time to Europeans) for these things.

When they had an easy opportunity to steal them, they declined.

Not so much as a needle was missing.

You and I were born into societies where the great bulk of the people of the world have nothing unless they can get jobs.  If they don’t work, they die, regardless of the amount of wealth around them.  People in these societies are not rewarded for being personally responsible.  In fact, they often must act irresponsibly just to avoid death: if you don’t have a job and have no rich people to give you charity, you must either steal or die.  The need to steal is so common that many people don’t even get upset when people steal from them:  it is a common part of life and something everyone in business must simply account for: it will happen, and we all know it. 

Because theft, deception, and trickery are so common, we all know that we are never really safe in the societies we were born into and which we live in now.  People in dire circumstances are behind the shadows of each tree, like ants sweeping the ground for crumbs, waiting to swoop in on any target of opportunity.

This is not the case in all possible societies.  Some societies work in ways that generate flows of value that the people as a group may distribute among their members as the group sees fit.  Our group in Pastland has $2.4 million left—the free cash flow of the farm—that we can divide any way we want.  We want to encourage people to do things that benefit us, so we use part of this money to provide rewards that encourage people to step up and do things that benefit the human race.  Some people will find things that we like.  If we want to keep having these things, we may give them some of the bounty of the land as a reward, to encourage them to keep doing these things.  But we have such enormous amounts of income that, after we pay people who do these things enough to make sure they keep doing them, we have $2 million left.  We can divide this money among our people. 

If everyone is acting responsibly, it makes sense to divide it evenly.  But if some people are acting irresponsible, it wouldn’t make sense to give them an equal share.  We may come up with a process of some kind to determine a kind of schedule of offenses.  People who violate the rules can be given a hearing and, if the hearing officers conclude that the offense was intentional, they can be fined.  This will always reduce the quality of their lives because, as long as the fines are not more than their share of the bounty, they will always be able to afford to pay them.  (In sovereignty-based societies, most offenders can’t be fined because they have nothing to use to pay the fines.  All we can do in this case is put them in jail, which is often a better place to live than they would be living otherwise, so they actually can improve their lives by committing crimes.)    

You could say that this system pays everyone to be responsible.  In our case, people are paid in money, but all natural law societies have flows of value that must be distributed in some way among the people, so all natural law societies pay or reward for being responsible.  If people are rewarded for certain behaviors on a consistent basis, starting at an early age, they become programmed to think about the consequences of their actions.  People may see something they want lying around that they know belongs to others.  They may have it, but if they realize that they may easily suffer much more than they gain from the object if anyone ever finds out they have it, they will ‘have a feeling’ that it is simply not the right thing to do.  Their feelings—actually the ingrained responses of their minds that result from the known relationship between responsible behavior and rewards—will push them to do the responsible thing, whatever they think it is. 

Later we will see that we can actually use mathematical analysis to determine the strength of incentives that push toward personal responsibility in different societies.  We will see that some societies have very powerful incentives that encourage personal responsibility, some have weaker incentives, some have none at all, and some even have incentives that discourage personal responsibility.  We will see that natural law societies have very strong incentives that encourage personal responsibility, but they aren’t the strongest possible.  (Socratic societies, discussed later in the book, have much stronger incentives pushing toward social responsibility, because of rapid increases that drive up the bounty of the world; if the world is more bountiful, there is more to divide and people have more to gain from personal responsibility.)  But, although it is possible to have ‘personal responsibility incentives’ that are stronger than those in natural law societies, natural law societies have extremely strong incentives to come to understand the rules and act properly.  We can see from the historical records that these incentives really did exist in these societies when they dominated the western half of the world.

Columbus was amazed at the honesty of the people in the new world, as the excerpts from his logs presented above show.  Others expressed the same amazement:

The official historian of the Spanish Crown during the time that Columbus was alive was a Dutchman named ‘Peter Myrtar.’ Myrtar was very impressed by the honesty of the people of the lands he studied.  He studied the people and came to the conclusion that there is something about the idea of sharing the land and the things the land produced that led to this behavior.  Here are some quotes from his official report on the people of the new world, called ‘Orbo Novo’ (The New World):

 

It is proven that amongst them the land belongs to everybody, just as does the sun or the water.  They know no difference between meum and tuum, that source of all evils.  It requires so little to satisfy them, that in that vast region there is always more land to cultivate than is needed.  It is indeed a golden age, neither ditches, nor hedges, nor walls to enclose their domains; they live in gardens open to all, without laws and without judges; their conduct is naturally equitable, and whoever injures his neighbor is considered a criminal and an outlaw.

 

He goes on:

 

They know neither weights nor measures, nor that source of all misfortunes, money; living in a golden age, without laws, without lying judges, without books, satisfied with their life, and in no wise solicitous for the future.

 

Bartolomé de Las Casas was the most prolific writer of the time.  Here he describes these same people:

 

Of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people most devoid of wickedness and duplicity; they are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome.  These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world.

 

What about these same lands now? 

You can find many descriptions of the changes that occurred in the first few years after the arrival of the Europeans in the book Forensic History.  They show that the Europeans made a dedicated effort to wipe out the old social order and replace it with a new one on the European model.  They succeeded.  The payments that went to responsible people are no longer being made; they haven’t been made for centuries.  The Europeans needed lumber very badly to make charcoal for steel.  Haiti, the first island they settled, was densely forested and the Europeans clear cut it.  The Europeans took the gold and other metals and then abandoned the useless hulk that remained.  The Europeans decimated the native population, generally by enslaving them and working them to death.  By 1540 there weren’t enough natives left to fill the Christian need for slaves, so the Europeans began bringing in both white slaves (purchased from European prisons) and black slaves (captured and enslaved from Africa) to finish raping the lands.  Once the land had been denuded of anything valuable, the slave masters basically abandoned it.  They left the descendents of the white and black slaves they had imported; these people interbred with the native people that remained to create the racial mixture we see on the island of Haiti today.  (DNA studies show that a large percentage of the people of Haiti have ancestors of all three races.) 

These people did not have anything to work with: the ecosystem that had supported the natives, and that early European arrivals had marveled at, no longer existed: all resources valuable to the outside world were gone. 

The former masters who abandoned this island did leave these people with something however: they left them with an administrative system based on the principles of sovereignty, as accepted in Europe.  These people had an entirely different foundation to build on than the people who lived before them. 

How did things turn out?  You can get some idea from the next quote.  This quote is from the United States government’s travel advisory website, for the exact same island described in the above passages, the one with no ‘murder or theft’ (according to Columbus) where ‘their conduct is naturally equitable, and whoever injures his neighbor is considered a criminal and an outlaw’ according to Myrtar, where ‘these people most devoid of wickedness and duplicity of all the infinite universe of humanity’ reside.    

 

Reconsider travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest.  Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common.  Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and often spontaneous.  Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.

Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport.  The U.S.  Embassy requires its personnel to use official transportation to and from the airport, and it takes steps to detect surveillance and deter criminal attacks during these transports.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in some areas of Haiti.  The Embassy discourages its personnel from walking in most neighborhoods.  The Embassy prohibits its personnel from:

Visiting establishments after dark without secure, on-site parking.

Using any kind of public transportation or taxis.

Visiting banks and using ATMs.

Driving outside of Port-au-Prince at night.

Traveling anywhere between 1:00 a.m.  and 5:00 a.m..

Visiting certain parts of the city at any time without prior approval and special security measures in place.

If you decide to travel to Haiti:

Avoid demonstrations.

Arrange airport transfers and hotels in advance, or have your host meet you upon arrival.

Be careful about providing your destination address in Haiti.  Do not provide personal information to unauthorized individuals located in the immigration, customs, or other areas inside or near any airports in Haiti.

As you leave the airport, make sure you are not being followed.  If you notice you are being followed, drive to the nearest police station immediately.

Do not physically resist any robbery attempt.

 

Social Responsibility

What is the most irresponsible thing someone could do in a social situation?  How about this: the person could organize a gang to use murder and terror to either drive off or kill all people who are not in her gang from a part of the world, then claim that part of the world belongs to her and her gang, without sharing with anyone else.  That seems like a very simple description of the idea of a ‘country.’

You and I were raised in a crazy world.  The schools in our world today teach children that their highest allegiance is not to their race, not to their culture, not to nature, not to the world around them, but to their country.  They are taught that the greatest heroes in history where the ones who organized the mass murder events called ‘wars’ that led to their ‘country’ existing.  Children are raised to believe it is not just acceptable, but admirable to be willing to kill others and inflict terror on any who threaten the interests of their country. 

Our group in Pastland has passed a moratorium.  For the time this moratorium is in effect, we have a natural law society.  The primary law of this society—we may call it a ‘prime directive’ if we want to use Star Trek terminology—is that no one may organize to use violence to create a country.  We have only one offense that is so serious that we will not allow any who commit it to remain among us:  you may not organize for violence to force others to accept a country.  Anyone who commits this offense will be evicted from orderly society and sent to live in the wild.  Since individuals sent to live in the wild will almost certainly not be able to survive, this is effectively a death sentence. 

Everyone who might consider organizing for mass murder or terror against others will realize that she can’t possibly gain from this.  Either she will be caught early and punished or, if she can organize a gang and start murdering, be wiped out by the great majority, that will do everything it can to prevent the success of this takeover. 

We may understand how hard it would be to break away from a community like this and form a country if we consider that the societies in the Americas existed for at least 10,000 years without anyone successfully creating a country.  Almost certainly, people tried to do so.  People are self-interested.  This is true in any society.  Self-interested people want more for themselves.  Any distribution of wealth that favors any individual or small group will effectively grant ownership rights for that individual or small group.  This violates our prime directive.  It is the one activity we can’t allow. 

Of course, over the course of 10,000 years, a lot of people would try to find some tricky way to make the others accept that they had special rights to the land.  People trying to get more for themselves can be very clever.  But the fact that this didn’t happen over the course of 10,000 years tells us how hard it is to do it.  How are you going to react if someone tries to trick you into accepting she has special rights to a part of the world in Pastland?  Even if she can convince you of this, she won’t be able to get these rights unless she can trick the majority of the people.  If this were easy to do, surely someone would have been able to do it in the enormous period of time that people lived in the Americas.

The book Forensic History deals with this issue from a wider perspective.  Forensic evidence tells us that humans have been on Afro-Eurasia for 350,000 years.  Countries leave very clear artifacts.  We know when these institutions first came to exist because, as soon as countries appeared, the special artifacts that are associated with countries appeared.  We can’t find any of these artifacts going back more than 6,000 years.  This tells us that humans existed on the Afro-Eurasian landmass for at least 344,000 years before the first group was able to form the first successful country.  (We will see, when we look at sovereignty-based societies, that once one successful country exists, the country-based system spreads very rapidly and conquers additional land.)  This means that, for more than 98% of the time humans lived on the Afro-Eurasian landmass, the people there were able to successfully resist all attempts to create countries. 

As we will see shortly, the ideas of sovereignty and countries can spread extremely quickly once they take hold.  But the point here is that there will be almost universal resistance to the very ideas that the societies we have now encourage and foster.  The idea of fighting, killing, and committing terror to force the majority of the people of the world to accept special rights for the minority would be seen as the wrongest of all possible wrongs.  Nothing could inspire more guilt in the heart of someone raised in a natural law society than the idea of doing the things that are fostered and encouraged in sovereignty-based societies.  Nothing would be more likely to lead to action by the authorities and condemnation by all of the people than advocating murder and terror to gain special rights for minorities at the expense of the majority.  (No country in the world includes a majority of the people of the world; this means that all activities that are designed to advance the interests of countries are designed specifically to benefit minorities at the expense of the majority.) 

Natural law societies naturally foster three very important kinds of incentives:

 

1.  Incentives to do things that keep the land healthy and environmental clean.

2.  Incentives to be personally responsible and honest.

3.  Incentives to be responsible socially (essentially, to not organize for murder and terror). 

 

Later, we will see that we can actually follow the flows of value that lead to these incentives and quantify them with objective numerical analysis.  We can calculate the strength of these incentives.  Although natural law societies don’t have the strongest possible incentives in all of these areas, these incentives are extremely strong, easily enough to ensure that natural law societies will have three very positive attributes:

 

1.  The people in them will take excellent care of the environment around them.

2.  The people in them will be generally extremely honest and personally responsible.

3.  The people in them would feel that the land around them did not and could not belong to anyone.  Although they may want to have special rights for their particular group, tribe, clan, or family, they will realize that any attempt to act on this desire is the wrongest of possible wrongs.  This doesn’t mean that there will never be conflicts over who has rights to land.  It does mean, however, that any such conflicts will be relatively minor relative to the highly organized, toughly planned, and massively funded events that we call ‘wars’ in the world today.  In sovereignty-based societies, war is an unmanageable problem: the forces pushing toward war are so strong that no amount of effort by the masses that are harmed by wars will prevent them from existing.  Natural law societies are not totally peaceful societies but they have very powerful incentives that push toward negotiated, rational, and reasonable solutions to disputes and, within the context of these societies, we would expect a general condition of peace to exist among the people as a whole, with any disputes that did happen being small enough to be manageable by the great majority of the people, who clearly do not benefit by letting minor disputes grow into large-scale conflicts. 

 

Other Incentives

The introduction compared the societies that we have in the 21st century world with a disease.  This disease has a great many symptoms.  The primary symptoms are:

 

1.  War.

2.  Environmental destruction.

3.  Extreme levels of personal irresponsibility, dishonesty, corruption, trickery, and organized and intentional deceit.

 

Are these the worst symptoms of this disease?  That is a value judgment.  The disease has many symptoms, and some would claim that others are more serious.  One example in this category includes the exploitation of more than half of the population, the female half, by the minority population.  (Males make up less than half of the world’s population.) 

This problem stems from the fact that the great majority of the people of this system (the non-owners) get nothing from the land unless they work.  Women have the babies and have to provide care for them for the first few years.  (The males of some species can produce milk from their chest nipples; this is not true for humans; only females produce milk so only females can nurse babies.)  Because sovereignty-based societies almost always have far too few jobs for the workers who need them, and a large number of people must therefore be unemployed, employers must make a lot of very quick decisions when considering job applicants: when choosing between a male and an equally qualified female, the employer knows that the male is not going to give birth and bring a baby to work; this may happen for the female.  (In fact, just to have a stable population, nearly every female must have at least one child.)  It becomes a simple decision: hire the man.  Since no members of the working class have an income without a job, and a very large percentage of the women will not find jobs, the system must create some sort of institution that grants women and their babies some sort of income and some protection.

A system has developed that considers females to belong to males.  A girl is the responsibility of her father until he ‘gives her away’ to another man, who will be her husband.   I have always found it strange to be surrounded by people clamoring to be possessions: the girls all wanted to ‘get married.’  Why?  If we look at it logically, it doesn’t make sense.  Doesn’t everyone want freedom?  Who wants to belong to someone else?  If we understand the pressures on females, we can see that it makes sense.  Their choice is to either compete with men on a playing field that is so sloped toward men that women can’t really hope to compete, or become the property of some man, preferably one with a job. 

Later we will look at socratic societies.  We will see that these societies divide the bounty of the land among the people of the land. The more bountiful the land, the more there is to divide.  Since these systems create incentives that lead to very rapid increases in the productive abilities of the productive facilities (land and factories), these systems will be extremely bountiful and have enormous amounts of wealth to distribute among the people.   Women are people.  They get a share.  Children are also people.  The community of humankind will have a stream of income from the land.  We can use it to make sure that all children will have a high quality of life and the same opportunities.  This is not the responsibility of the particular woman who gave birth to the baby in a socratic society.  Everyone shares the wealth of the land. 

In such a system, it will be possible to have true equality between the sexes.  In sovereignty-based societies, this equality can never exist: again, it is structurally impossible.

What about natural law societies?  In these societies, as long as there was food, children ate.  Women that were nursing or in later stages of pregnancy were not excluded from distributions of wealth, even though they may not have been able to work as long and as hard as men in their same age group.  The record shows that women in natural law societies had certain freedoms that women do not have in sovereignty-based societies.  For example, the records show that women were not considered to be the property of their husbands.  They could make their own sexual choices.  The records also show a much greater percentage of female political leaders in natural law societies than in sovereignty-based societies.  (You can find many of these records on the PossibleSocieties.com website.  One important source was Hernando De Soto’s 1537-1541 expedition through the southeastern part of North America.  Since this happened before the great plagues that devastated this land, the area visited was densely populated.  The authors on this trip note that many of the groups were matriarchal, with women in charge of important decisions.) 

If we accept this evidence, we can see that the inferior status of females in the societies now in place is not due to any quality of human nature.  It is related to the structures of society. 

We could go over a long list of differences in the incentives of natural law societies and sovereignty-based societies.  Different societies distribute the wealth the land produces entirely differently.  Natural law societies use this wealth to reward social, personal, and environmental responsibility.  We would therefore expect to see high degrees of responsibility in these areas.

The Bad, and the Ugly

We were born into societies with some serious problems.  In a sense, the societies that we were born into (‘sovereignty-based societies’) are the opposite of natural law societies.  These societies accept that absolutely everything associated with the world is ownable.  Humans can own the mountains, the rivers, the forests, the air above our land (governments sell air rights and rights to use each section of the electromagnetic spectrum); there is nothing about the physical world that doesn’t belong to whatever group claims to own it and then builds institutions to enforce their ownership rights.  Natural law societies take the opposite perspective, accepting that nature and the natural world around us doesn’t belong to us, not as individuals and not as groups of any description.  They don’t allow any institutions that enforce or even accept any ownability by humans of any part of the world.

These are both extreme systems.  Extreme systems of any kind always have certain limitations.  One obvious problem with extreme systems is flexibility.  The extreme system accepts no exceptions.  It is absolute.  Our rule in Pastland says that no one may own, and no institutions may be created to protect ownership while the moratorium is in effect, period. 

What if we want exceptions?  We can have them, but we have to either wait until the moratorium is over or vote to repeal or modify the moratorium.  As long as the moratorium is in effect, there are no exceptions. 

All of the people in our group are from the 21st century.  We are used to certain things that were a part of all 21st century societies.  For example, all 21st century societies accepted the idea of housing built on land.  The housing was either owned by the countries that built it (which may then assign the housing to individuals), by corporations, or by individuals.  It was owned by some human entity.  We are living on the ship.  If you have ever been in a cruise ship cabin, you will know that even the large and deluxe cabins are tiny.  They have to be for the ships to make money: they need to pack in as many cabins as they can.  We have an entire world outside of the ship.  A lot of people love working with their hands and would love to build houses, either for themselves or for others to use as homes.  But we have an absolute prohibition against any ownership or ownability, or any institutions that grant any person or group any rights of ownership or ownability.  

Natural law societies in the pre-conquest Americas appeared to have been based on beliefs.  Beliefs are guesses about things that we can’t fully determine with objective scientific analysis.  The people who lived in the Americas appeared to have believed that nature, or perhaps some spirit being that was in charge of nature, had certain desires and intentions for the human race.  The human race was supposed to treat the world a certain way.  We didn’t have exact instructions about this, so we had to guess.  They guessed that we (the members of the human race) were supposed to treat nature and the world around us with respect.  Nothing could be more disrespectful to nature than to claim that it existed for our own personal pleasure and that the things nature created belonged to us.  They wanted people around them to treat the world with respect and made rules against treating the world as a possession; they wouldn’t accept institutions that allowed people to treat the world around them as a possession.

Our group in Pastland has gotten to the same rule system, but we got there a different way.  We didn’t start with guesses about the intention of some spirit or spirits that we guessed were in charge of nature.  We saw that accepting certain kinds of ownability led to conflicts.  We didn’t want these conflicts.  We didn’t have time to sort through the different kinds of ownability that were possible and find the ones that caused problems.  We didn’t want the conflicts and, without a full understanding of the different kinds of ownability, the only way we could avoid these conflicts was to ban all ownability. 

There are certain things that we will want and need over time that we could easily have if we accepted some ownability, but that we won’t have if we don’t accept any ownability at all.  There are certain limitations that all societies based on the absolute prohibition of ownability must have.  Later, we will examine some societies that allow exceptions and see that, if we allow exceptions, we can have the things we need and want without the problems that come from absolute ownability.  But before we look at these other societies, we need to explore the limitations of the absolute system that will be in effect during the term of the moratorium.  We have seen that this absolute system definitely has certain advantages that the absolute ownability systems (systems I will call ‘sovereignty-based societies’) don’t have.  Let’s now look at the disadvantages that this system has that the absolute ownability systems we left behind in the 21st century do not have:

The Lack of Constructive Incentives

Some societies work in ways that cause people to get large amounts of wealth if they can do things that make the planet more productive or if they can create new technologies or machines that can turn the super-abundant materials in the Earth into goods like solar panels, computers, televisions, smart phones, steel for bridges, skyscrapers, cars, trucks, and other things that make our lives easier.

 

The most abundant material on the Earth’s crust is silicon dioxide, another name for ‘sand’ and ‘rocks.’ These happen to be the things that the silicon wafers that run your smart phone, the silicon wafers of the screen, the silicon wafers of the LED lights that illuminate the screen, and all other working parts of the smart phone are made of.  Literally, your smart phone was once as dumb as a rock because it was a rock.

 

Our 21st century world has these flows of value.  You can see the result all around you.  The cities have luxury steel and glass skyscrapers that allow people to live in what poets of the past described as paradise, high in the clouds with all manner of luxuries at their disposal.  We have devices that can produce electricity that allows us to turn night into day, to keep our homes comfortable in the coldest winter or the hottest summer, to talk to people on the other side of the planet in real-time video calls, to get on planes and travel to the other side of the world in a few hours.  People involved with the creation of these structures, goods, and services, clearly make money doing them.  Somehow, the system they live in transfers value to them in some way that encourages them to provide more and better structures, goods, and services. 

If it weren’t for the other problems of these societies (including the risks of war, the pressures to destroy the world to create jobs, the hatred and fear they foster, and the fact that they virtually enslave the great majority of the people for the benefit of various minorities), life would be getting better for everyone at an incredible rate.

Natural law societies don’t even allow the structures needed to have these things.  Even if they did change the rules to allow these facilities to be built, people would have to make investments in time, money, skills, and other things that we collectively call ‘capital,’ to cause these things to exist and provide value to the people.  Natural law societies don’t have any natural flows of value that encourage these investments.  So, even if the people of a natural law society were to change their rules to allow these structures, chances are that people wouldn’t make the investments needed to have efficient and smoothly running factories (to make things like solar panels, smart phones, air conditioners), or build high quality housing, or do the other things that bring such benefits in the societies that you and I inherited from past generations. 

In fact, most natural law societies not only don’t encourage investments that would lead to progress and growth, most of them actually prohibit these investments.  The foundational beliefs of natural law societies conflict with the idea of altering the world in any way.  They discourage (and, again, often prohibit) making changes that have the potential to improve the world with the same veracity that they discourage changes that harm the world.

This means that true natural law societies—pure ones that don’t ever make any exceptions to the absolute prohibition of humans to own parts of the world—are likely to be stagnant for incredibly long periods of time.  They may go thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years without any real progress or any structures that improve the quality of life and advance the standard of living of any of the people within these societies.  In fact, as we will see shortly, without some sort of incentives to create things of value, even a group that starts with great advantages—as does our group in Pastland—will eventually revert to the most extreme level of primitiveness.  Let’s consider why this happens.

Reversion to Primitiveness

Our group in Pastland brought back a lot of wonderful things from the future.  We have the ship itself, made mostly of steel (an item that doesn’t normally exist in nature and has to be manufactured by humans).  We have computers, the generators and solar panels we use to generate our electricity, refrigerators to keep our food from spoiling, machines to help us sow the seeds and harvest the things the land gives us, radios, televisions, telephones, and the internet. 

We have these things now, but they aren’t going to last forever.  When they break, we won’t have parts to fix them.

The ship is made almost entirely of steel.  If steel gets exposed to oxygen from the air, it starts rusting immediately.  Steel parts have to be protected by paint or they will rust to nothing.  We didn’t bring paint with us from the future.  A lot of paint was scraped from the ship in the events related to the time warp and many parts of the ship are already rusting.  Within a few decades, structures that were once thick enough to drive a tank across will be thin enough to poke a hand through.  Within a few generations, the floors and walls of the ship will be paper-thin and the ship will be so dangerous that we won’t be able to live there anymore.

We will have to move out onto the land.

If we still have an absolute prohibition on ownability and prohibit any alterations to the land, we will have to live in temporary structures like the teepees that the American natives in this area used before the first European people arrived.

When we arrived in the past, we had electricity produced by generators and solar panels.  We had a great many products that used electricity to operate.  These items have moving parts.  Generators have rotors that turn on bearings, and bearings eventually wear out.  Eventually our generators will break, and we won’t have the parts to fix them.

When the last of our generating devices fail, all our electrical devices will become useless.  All the data that was on hard drives will be lost forever.  If we have no paper factories, we won’t be able to write any of this information down and will have to pass it down to future generations verbally.  It won’t take long before the great bulk of the information about how to make things that we brought back from the future will be lost.

We will have babies: we don’t need any technology or factories for this; no investments are required.  Have sex and babies will come.  We have plentiful food; even without machines to collect the food, we will all have plenty to eat.  Babies will have good nutrition and grow up healthy. 

Before modern birth control methods came into existence, the average woman gave birth about 8 times in her life.  If half of the babies survived to breeding age themselves, the population would double in a single generation.  (Four offspring would be alive and ready to reproduce from the original couple.) 

If the population doubles every generation, it will increase by a factor of 32 every century and by a factor of more than 1000 every 200 years.  We don’t need technology for population to grow.  All we need is food and we have plenty of that. 

The human population of the earth will grow.  We will spread out across the land.  Children will hear the stories of all of the wonderful things that people used to have, like giant ships that sailed the oceans, computers that stored vast amounts of data, and refrigerating devices that provided wonderful treats like ice cream on the hottest days.  In time, children will start to think of these stories as nonsense; stories told by adults for some unknown reason that really have no relationship to anything real or important.

They will stop believing these things.

Parents will not waste time telling their children stories that they don’t believe themselves.  All of the information we brought back from us from the 21st century will be forgotten.

In later chapters we will see that it is possible to build societies that are almost identical to natural law societies, but have structures that allow people who want to build factories to do so, provided they agree to follow strict rules designed to protect the planet from harm and provided they agree to share the free cash flows the factories produce (once they have been completed and are in regular operation) with the human race.

We know that it is possible to have societies where factories exist.  We know this because we came from societies that worked in ways that not only allowed factories to exist, they encouraged factories to exist.

But we won’t have factories if we are strict about our prime directive and absolutely prohibit ownability or institutions that protect ownability of any kind.  To have factories, people have to be able to own rights to flows of value that factories produce, with their ownership rights protected by some sort of institutional structure. 

 

We will look at this issue in detail later but here is a brief description of the reason: to invest you must agree to forgo the benefits of having wealth for a very long time.  It often takes decades and sometimes takes centuries for investments to pay off.  Obviously, no rational person would forgo the benefits of having wealth for a century because no person lives longer than a century: it would not make sense for a wealthy person to suffer her entire life, and not use her wealth, so that she could have more wealth after she is dead.  We will see that certain ownership structures make it highly profitable, both over the short and long-term, to make extremely long-term investments, even investments that won’t generate returns for many decades.  This happens because if you own rights to the investment, and the investment is progressing, you can either sell or borrow against the investment to fund current expenses.  For this to happen, you must own specific rights; otherwise, you have nothing to sell.

 

This doesn’t mean that people won’t make things in natural law societies.  They can be highly productive systems and can produce a great many things.  They just won’t make things that are complicated enough to require a factory to make.  We may have some pretty fancy jewelry.  People can make clay pots and tiles and fire them into ceramics; all they need is a kiln that can be made out of clay, used to fire the products (using deadfall timber that can be collected without harm to the forest), and then turned back into clay, if the people don’t want the kiln to continue to exist. 

Some metals can be worked without smelters, refineries, or factories: copper, gold, and sliver, for example, are all soft metals and can be hammered into thin sheets, drawn into wires, and otherwise worked with hand tools to make many different items.  People in natural law societies had ceramics; they had lots of jewelry, they had copper cooking tools and various items made of gold, silver, and other soft metals.  We can have these things in Pastland, without allowing anyone to own any part of the world.

But we won’t have any additional refrigerators, television sets, paint, or any items made of steel; we won’t have cars, ethanol engines, jets, or bullet trains.  If we can make an item by hand, we can have it; if we need factories to make it, we can’t have it. 

Why Does this Matter?

If we keep the natural law society, we will eventually wind up living much as the American native people lived when Columbus first arrived.  It is true that they had a good relationship with the land and didn’t have the most serious of the wars that we have today, wars where groups of people use all the resources of their ‘countries’ to make weapons to get other groups of people to accept that their country is the owner of a part of the world.

But we will live in primitive ways.

Our population will grow.

Perhaps we had birth control technology when we came back from the future, but we won’t have any factories to make more of these devices and, when we run out, our population will begin to explode.

But our production methods will remain very primitive. 

The chart below shows what happens to the population of a group that starts at 1,000 and grows at an average rate of 3% per year (about three children per woman that survive to breeding age).  Note that after 40 generations, or 1,000 years, the population would be above 1 billion, the 2020 population of the Americas.  After another 6 generations, the world would have more than 8 billion people, higher than the population as of 2020 when I write this.

There will come a time when there isn’t enough food to support more babies.  But the babies will keep coming.  Eventually, the people in the natural law societies will have to take desperate measures to deal with the problem.  Most of these measures are too horrible for us to even think about.  (Infanticide, the killing of babies at birth, was common in some natural law societies that existed in the past; others engaged in human sacrifice.)

 

Generations

Years

population

0

0

 1,000

2

50

 2,000

4

100

 4,000

6

150

 8,000

8

200

 16,000

10

250

 32,000

12

300

 64,000

14

350

 128,000

16

400

 256,000

18

450

 512,000

20

500

 1,024,000

22

550

 2,048,000

24

600

 4,096,000

26

650

 8,192,000

28

700

 16,384,000

30

750

 32,768,000

32

800

 65,536,000

34

850

 131,072,000

36

900

 262,144,000

38

950

 524,288,000

40

1000

 1,048,576,000

42

1050

 2,097,152,000

44

1100

 4,194,304,000

46

1150

 8,388,608,000

 

Later, we will look at societies with the advantages of natural law societies combined with the advantages of sovereign ownability societies.  These ‘hybrid’ systems will have powerful incentives that encourage people to invent, innovate, invest, and find new and better ways to do things.  They will also have incentives to create machines and factories, including factories that make birth control devices.  We know from recent experience that if people have access to birth control and can plan pregnancies, they tend to choose small families, with an average size that is slightly smaller than the size required to keep populations stable.  As a result, these hybrid societies could have stable population and rapidly growing production, leading to universal prosperity, which will be combined with powerful incentives pushing toward social and environmental responsibility.

But natural law societies will almost certainly never have factories capable of making birth control devices.  Their populations will grow until they reach the maximum that the food supply in any given area will support.  Then we would expect a horrible cycle, with good years leading to health and prosperity and bad years leading to massive starvation.

A Fatal Flaw

In the end, the lack of constructive incentives will be a fatal flaw for natural law societies and cause them to disappear. 

Why? 

Eventually, someone somewhere will come up with another system.  Almost certainly, the people who look for some other system will not be able to discover the hybrid systems discussed later in this book, as people need technology and a certain skill set to understand the hybrid systems.  Our technology will not last; the skills needed to understand the hybrids existed in the 21st century but will be lost over time if we keep the natural law society in Pastland, and all records of the past history needed to understand the required systems will be lost when the last of our hard drives stop working.  Almost certainly, when the other system comes, people will not accept the principles of natural law societies and simply make a few well-designed exceptions that allow ownability in certain areas.  Almost certainly, people will decide that they are the owners of some part of the world and have the right to use it as they wish.  Almost certainly, the ‘other systems’ that will one day compete with natural law societies will be the types of societies this book calls ‘sovereignty-based societies.’ 

Once a group has this other type of society, that group’s production will grow, and its technology will advance.  The people in this group will be raised to believe that the land belongs to the ones who ‘claim’ it (as Columbus ‘claimed’ the Americas for Spain) and then build institutions to protect and enforce their claims. 

The owners of the land will get all of its wealth.  People who can come to control bountiful land will get its bounty.  In systems that use money for transactions, the bounty of the land is represented by the free cash flow of the land.  People who take land will get free money.  The more bountiful land they take, the more free cash will flow from the land to them.  They will all have incentives to take as much land as they can. 

Once these societies start in any area, they will expand outward, in the same way that the colonies that landed in the western hemisphere started in small areas and expanded outward.  The expanding sovereignty-based societies will take the best land first.  The people with natural law societies who still live on this land will be little more than a nuisance to the expanding sovereignty-based societies: they will not have weapons, they won’t have technology, and, most importantly, they will have a culture that has never experienced the large-scale, well organized wars that are an inherent part of sovereignty-based societies.  The people in natural law societies won’t be able to remain on the land.  If they don’t agree to move away on their own, the people with the expanding sovereignty-based societies will simply exterminate them. 

The expanding sovereignty-based societies will face competition, but not from those with natural law: people with other ‘countries’ will fight them to gain control of the best land.  These fights will be brutal and vicious, with enormous numbers of people in the competing countries dying to gain priority for their particular ‘country.’ 

As a strategic measure, the countries will have to take even the less desirable land: if they don’t, competing countries will take it and use it as a base to launch attacks on the more desirable land.  The expanding countries will eventually take everything.  Nothing will be left unowned and unownable.  Natural law societies may exist for a very long time.  But they will eventually disappear.

This is an important observation for our group in Pastland.  If we can accept that the natural law societies are temporary, and will eventually disappear anyway, we might as well use our technology, our skills, talents, and the other advantages that we have to figure out something better and put it into place while this is easy for us to do. 

What else is possible?

To understand this, we really need to understand the features of societies that accept ownability.  Let’s take a mental trip—a ‘thought experiment’—and see if we can figure out aspects of societies that accept ownability that we can incorporate into the simple natural law societies we started with to create a sound system that can meet the needs of the human race indefinitely into the future.