By Enrique Lescure
Recently, I had the opportunity to read this article published on the Qetema website. I found it both interesting and unnerving, as it clearly defines one of the persisting problems with “the RBE spectrum”. I struggled with myself regarding whether or not I should reply to the article in question – but have decided positively so after voicing my concerns with the young people I have talked with inside the Qetema group. They asked me to write this article, and since I’ve already criticised the notion that Greece could become “the world’s first RBE nation”, I thought it would be fair to provide a more elaborate and formal criticism of the idea.
The Short notes (TL;DR)
On Resource Based Economics
~ We do not know whether a RBE would work or not.
~ Many RBE followers seem to believe that their proposed system is a sort of console cheat mode for economics.
~ RBE;ism ultimately bears an uncanny resemblance to pre-marxian forms of communism.
~ For many reasons, Greece is ill-suited to become a Resource Based Economy.
~ For many reasons, turning a country into a RBE in 48 hours is insane.
~ Examples of autarkies
On Resource Based Economics
The Earth Organisation for Sustainability does not and have never identified itself as an organisation promoting what Jacque Fresco coined as a “Resource Based Economy” (RBE). What our goal is, is to investigate the opportunities for how to establish sustainable management of the Earth’s resources, and we are curious on the long-term prospects for the application of a transition to post-monetary socio-economic systems. You can read about our research and transitioning proposals here.
The main difference between us and the majority of the organisations promoting what they call “RBE”, is that we remain very skeptical of any claims and want everything to be measured, verified, applied, tested and criticised. Many of the organisations promoting the RBE concept are however claiming that the world can be switched to a RBE almost instantaneously and with little to none negative effects.
Also, a RBE would not only solve all sustainability problems and social problems, but would prevent most accidents from happen, eliminate most diseases, make most people happy and create an abundance for everyone, so high that resources almost wouldn’t have to be measured.
Much of this heralds from Mr. Fresco himself, who generally promotes his concept through focusing on the many claimed positive effects of a post-transition society. It should be noted that Fresco – before he promoted the Resource Based Economy concept – pioneered a concept called Sociocyberneering, and there he used more technical and narrow terms (which I personally find more agreeable since it makes it easier to understand what his organisation wanted to achieve, but which I understand do not serve to attract as many followers).
What then is a RBE?
If you ask a dozen or so RBE followers, you will know less of what a RBE is than before you asked. You will probably hear
about it being “the right thing since the Earth belongs to everyone, not a select few”, and be presented Gimp-rendered image files with quotes by old Native American chieftains. You will hear about Tesla and free energy from vacuum. You may hear of spirituality and Yoga. You may hear of living in communes and veganism, and of banking conspiracies. You may even hear that Jesus did not exist and that RBE is a return to the faith in the pagan mother goddess. You may hear of the flower of life, of promoting arts and poetry and culture.
However, one thing which soon comes clear when it comes to RBE followers (who mostly are young people with idealistically glowing eyes), is that they truly view the RBE concept as a manifestation of everything that is good, righteous and expresses their identity. RBE can be three different things to three different indivduals, but needless to say it will solve all the problems of the Earth, all injustices and do away with them within a few months (Jacque Fresco said something akin to a decade in his Stockholm lecture).
So the main issue is, what does Jacque Fresco claim that a RBE is?
The answer can be shortly summarised as: A computer-administered planned economy.
The system would work in a manner that there is a global computerised system that monitors the total amount of resources on Earth. From that, Fresco assumes that there would be more than enough resources for everyone to live like a millionaire today (surveys by organisations such as the Club of Rome, the Footprint Network and other environmental organisations beg to differ), and that all that is lacking is sufficient planning. The Venus Project has to my knowledge never conducted a planetary survey, which makes me curious on how they have established that the level of resources is sufficient to establish a RBE.
Needless to say, the EOS agrees with TVP that a global planetary survey of resources is necessary, but we believe the way in which TVP messages their concept has created several unintended problems. By focusing on attractive 1950’s style retrofuturism and on inventions rather than the surveys and the physical information, TVP has ensured that they will not for the foreseeable future be accepted in academia. On the other hand, they (and TZM, which in many ways are making themselves even more problematic) gain followers within the precariat – young people from developed nations or from middle class background who have a trouble entering the more and more perilous and uncertain environment of the labour market. The RBE concept provides escapism and a vision of an alternative world.
In many ways, the RBE movement cluster is a cybernetic-age equivalent of the Utopian Socialist movement of the first half of the 19th century. The similarities are too many for it to be a co-incidence, and can be listed below here:
* An emphasis on the vision of a society where all problems are solved.
* A belief in philosopher kings (Tesla posthumously, a cult of personality around leading RBE figures).
* A mixture between pseudo-scientism (a fetischisation of science) and beliefs in alternative science (while Fresco has never claimed to support free energy, PJ Merola of The Zeitgeist Movement has purged high-ranking TZM members who’ve contested alternative cancer treatments).
* A willingness to move away from established society and form communes.
* An unwillingness to organise stable movements or commit full-heartedly to the projects, inside emphasising liquid organisation and positive emotions.
* A belief in that RBE:ism is a recipe to create a society where all ills are immediately cured, and that we under a RBE could both live in an earthly paradise but also provide everyone with basically everything they want.
With this, I am not saying that RBE:ism as a concept is doomed, but that these six features inside the RBE movement are the main things that hampers it and virtually ensures that it continues to see much noise but little actual activity. An emphasis on positive emotions, arrogance and the deification of individuals serves to limit the scope of followers and make them ineffectual.
If you have read the article published on Qetema detailing Greece, they claim that Greece has a third choice apart from the knife and the gun seen in the picture above, and that is to switch towards a post-monetary system immediately, claiming that any adverse effects will be smaller than the false choice exemplified. This would mean that Greece totally would forego money and instead move towards a RBE where all resources are administered directly and managed in a rational scientific manner. The author of said article claims that this would create a better life for the Greek people and also showcase exactly how well a RBE would work.
I would counter these claims by pointing out the main problems here below, starting with a historical argument, moving towards a structural one and finishing with providing examples of economies with roughly the same level of natural resources as modern-day Greece, which either by ideological reasons or by economic reality have undergone a transition towards an autarchic, self-sustainable management of their resources.
Greek History for the last 3000 years
The earliest civilizations emerged around the Eastern Mediterranean. During the Bronze Age, Crete was a centre of trade and commerce in the Mediterranean, providing a hub where resources could be traded. In many ways, civilizations such as Crete, Egypt and the Sumerian states where resource-based economies, in that food and raw material management was centrally planned by theocratic governments. However, due to human overexploitation of fragile East Mediterranean eco-systems and probably natural disasters as well, a collapse occurred during the end of the Bronze Age, leading to depopulation and a massive loss of complexity.
The Greeks did eventually recover enough to create the civilization of Classical Greece. This recovery did not occur because that Greece as a region recovered economically. It was largely deforested, with eroding soils and unable to feed its own population (which for obvious reasons was smaller than today’s Greek population). Thence, from the 8th century BCE and onward to Alexander the Great, the Greeks colonised the shores of the Mediterranean sea, competing with the Phoenician trade networks and acted as middlemen between the various cultures populating the coastlines. If the Greeks had been land-bound and utilised their own resources, their population would have shrunk, and we would today not have known of Athenian philosophy and culture.
During the 15th century, Greece was overrun by the Ottoman Empire, and was ruthlessly exploited. The Greek cities turned into villages, the peninsula was plagued both by tax collectors and highwaymen (who were considered, and often were to an extent, Greek patriots fighting for the liberty of the Greek farmers, reduced to serfs under Turkish rule).
When Greece emerged as an independent nation in 1830, it found itself with a very poor economy and little in terms of infrastructure. The country almost immediately went bankcrupt, and has suffered several more defaults during the relatively short history since the Battle of Navarino guaranteed Greek independence. Left on its own and without any externa support, modern-day Greece would have resembled neighbouring Albania in wealth. What guaranteed that Greece would develop into the 40th largest or so economy of the world was largely the interests first of Great Britain and France, which saw the geostrategically important position of Greece visavi Turkey and Russia, and then of the United States, which largely subsidised Greece during the Cold War.
While Greece undoubtly has resources, it does not have enough resources to supply its current population within its borders. The article claims that the oceans, in this case the Aegean, contains “abundant resources”. The truth is that the eco-systems of the sea are on their way to collapse faster than the eco-systems on land, and most of them are in a state of terminal decay. Now the article writers can claim that Greece can supply itself in terms of aquaponics, kelp farms and solar energy, but to create such facilities require technology and knowledge which would make Greece dependent upon trade, and thus exporting the food they have to obtain technology. Otherwise, they would have to produce the technology internally, but that would reduce their ability to produce food which is needed to sustain the population (I advise the RBE:rs to play the excellent text-based game Stalin’s Dilemma).
RBE if applied on a national level.
If a RBE would be applied on a national level, it would mean that all food production, industrial production and infrastructure would have to be centrally managed, at least during the transitional time. Since Greece lacks the computational power to move towards a cybernated system, that would mean that the current Greek bureaucracy (and the Greek political leaders) will be tasked with managing the economy and making decisions on guesstimates. This would create bottlenecks of inefficiency and also mean that a lot of people will lose the control and/or ownership of resources – leading either to emigration or to political resistance.
Also, Greece is very much a service-based economy (tourism), which is not accounted for (or as much needed) in a RBE. Therefore, a large part of the Greek economy will cease to exist.
There are currently several economies of the world which to a lesser or larger degree are managing their national economies according to principles where they measure resources and needs, and where the state rather than taxing off the population are making their revenue by exporting resources.
The two best examples of the current day world are North Korea and Cuba. I will focus on Cuba, since North Korea is largely directed towards using their resources to feed a bloated conventional military force, thus neglecting food production (in a country already ill-suited to produce food) and thus causing repeated famines.
It could be said that Cuba, on the other hand, is not aiming to embargo itself, but have partially been victimised by a recently lifted embargo by the United States. On the other hand, many aspects of the Cuban economy are not functioning overtly well, and the country lacks access to spare parts and modern technology. On the other hand, however, Cuba is today self-sustaining when it comes to food production, though ordinary Cubans do not experience an abundance of food.
If a Greek transition towards an autarchic economy with focus on self-sustaining food production is established, and we say that it is “successful” in regards with providing people with food, housing, power, medicine and other necessities, it would most likely resemble Cuba – which has a living standard that is considerably lower than modern Greece (even post-crisis), but on the other hand offers people more social security (on a considerably lower level).
It is theoretically possible to create a cybernated society managing its own resources within a limited geograhic territory on the planet. However, claiming that a “RBE” can violate the laws of physics and be applied with the same results in Greece as in the United States is populism at best and delusions at worst. Countries are of different size, have different environmental and geographic characteristics. It can be claimed that the larger a country is, the more educated its population is, and the smaller it is, the more resources would be available for every citizen.
That of course ignores the fundamental truth that we – as humans – cannot separate our countries from the planet. We are all into this together, and we all must transition together.
However, the EOS strongly discourages any at all attempt to convert a state into a cybernated economy tomorrow.
Firstly, we have not tested cybernated economics on any grand scale yet, or be able to attest to the positive and adverse effects of the implementation.
Secondly, we believe that the best road towards transition is an organic one, characterised by the emergence of holonic networks that share their successes and failures according to Open Source-principles and with a broad variety of different methodologies that allow us to access why experiments succeed and fail.
The RBE:ists currently are generally delving into a state where they choose to ignore relevant studies regarding history, the world’s resource base and problems encountered in transitions and with human reactions, instead preferring to draw a blank slate over all our experiences and listen to the encouraging words of gurus and visionaries.
It is my conviction as one of the founders of EOS and the organisation’s current director that our road must be one where the burden of proof lies on our shoulders that our transition models work, that we must meticulously test our alternatives on local settings and with computer simulations, that we must seek and find compromises and that the best road forward is one that is inclusive but also transparent and firmly rooted in empirical science.
Currently, RBE:ism is sorely lacking in all these regards, and that is but one of the reasons why we do not call ourselves a RBE:ist movement.