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Summary

A different kind of politics for a new kind of society - beyond work, scarcity, and capitalism.

In the 21st century, new technologies should liberate us from work. Automation, rather than undermining an economy built on full employment, is instead the path to a world of liberty, luxury, and happiness - for everyone. Technological advance will reduce the value of commodities - food, health care, and housing - toward zero.

Improvements in renewable energies will make fossil fuels a thing of the past. Asteroids will be mined for essential minerals. Genetic editing and synthetic biology will prolong life, virtually eliminate disease, and provide meat without animals. New horizons beckon.

In Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Aaron Bastani conjures a vision of extraordinary hope, showing how we move to energy abundance, feed a world of nine billion, overcome work, transcend the limits of biology, and establish meaningful freedom for everyone. Rather than a final destination, such a society merely heralds the real beginning of history.

©2019 Aaron Bastani (P)2020 Tantor

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Fantasy and Ideology Distort Reality

Shoehorning Marxism into a fantasy utopia of abundant supply achieved through slave AI in which no people will be required to work - not even to service or design future AI, which will do all that ... bring on the AI revolt against the Communist overlords. Meanwhile, ignore the distance in time between this utopia and now, and pretend Comminism will be accepted by all without having to kill millions that disagree.

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Did a robot read this?

The reader had such a painfully repetitive wya of reading it I genuinely started to wonder if an AI had read it. I couldn't get past the 2nd chapter it was so boring. Such a shame as it was actually quite an interesting book.

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Perhaps the most important book of a generation

This is a well-needed and positive outlook on the inevitable economic revolution that stands before us, but does not shy away from the difficult global questions or multiple elephants in the room - in fact offering clarity where there is so little. I was unconsciously waiting for this book all my life. It was also beautifully read with emotive precision.

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Full of optimism and hope

A fantastic book which explains how technology is changing, and will continue change our world. The benefits of that change can be shared by everybody, but only if we choose it to be so.

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A well thought out and hope provoking book

I've been really quite anxious about the state of the planet and Aaron Bastani has given me some hope with this excellent, well researched and clearly stated manifesto.

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Great book, mediocre reader

The book is inspiring and profound, clear and full of useful insights into the way technology is changing our politics and economy. It would be really riveting if the reader had more skill.

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Great listen

The title is a bit of a troll but Bastani's analysis of the politics of post scarcity is detailed and informative.

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Thought provoking

I have listened to it twice and will do again. there is much to learn!

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  • David Larson
  • 08-12-20

Way better than I thought

It's funny how little we are willing to accept from the government in exchange for our tax dollars when so much more is possible. As long as people continue to be fooled, we will all suffer.

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  • J. Pulton
  • 07-07-21

Imperfect, but worth reading

Bastani envisions a future where automation liberates humanity from labor. In this hopeful vision, humans no longer must work to survive, but instead leave endless toil to machines, which produce enough that everyone can live a life free from scarcity.

Left unaddressed are arguments about the dignity of work, that work gives life meaning, and that the number one cause of death is retirement. As an economist, I share the author's desire for consumer abundance with minimal work, so I don't object to the omission. But there will be readers who think the book misses the entire point of work.

Bastani shares with Karl Marx a faith that competition between capitalists does drive technological progress and economic growth, which makes his vision conceivable. Much of the book describes technologies - from solar panels to asteroid mining to vat-grown meat to DNA editing - that he assures us will soon make all of our problems of scarcity disappear.

Ringing false is his repeated assertion that society suffers from “capitalist realism”—​the feeling that it is impossible to imagine an alternative to the current system. There are plenty of reformers and revolutionaries dreaming up improvements. But the broadly capitalist systems - from Sweden to the United States - have produced a lifestyle (for many but admittedly not all people) that is desirable compared to historical and international alternatives. Given that the bold social experimentation of 20th century largely led to famine and war, it is understandable that people today are cautious before experimenting with dreams of utopia.

Bastani does an excellent job of laying out one problem with the existing "capitalist" system. He points out that value of goods increasingly derives more from technology (that is, embedded information) rather than physical materials. Technology and ideas can be reproduced at zero cost, thus many goods can be produced at lower and lower marginal cost. But of course such goods require an upfront "fixed" cost, that is, investment in research and development.

A condition for economic efficiency is that price equal marginal cost. The marginal cost of "information goods" - music, films, academic papers, pharmaceutical drugs, designs for industrial robots - is near zero. And this holds true for ever broader swaths of the economy. Bastani points out that, if information goods are to be distributed at their marginal costs of production, they cannot be created and produced by entrepreneurial firms that use revenues from sales to cover their costs.

Though there is nothing intrinsically capitalist about it, our current system resolves this by creating artificial scarcity through copyright, patents and closed voluntary architectures (eg. Apple products). Such promotion of temporary monopolies generates profits as the reward needed to spur innovation.

Bastani then goes on to argue that no one has thought of a system to better resolve this problem, finishing chapter 3 with an emphatic "Until now!". He seems to imagine this is a self-explanatory "mic drop" moment since the following chapter moves on to completely different topics. As far as I can tell, the book says nothing about how to incentivize innovation. This might not be a problem if he was arguing that there was no need for further technological development or economic growth, but that's clearly not his argument: The book goes on to describe magnificent technologies which may appear in the near future, but clearly do not exist today.

Bastani describes a society where we all enjoy luxurious goods for free, but does not explain how we get there from here. His three policy prescriptions seem unrelated to the issues discussed in the book.
1. He goes on at length about the "Preston Model," a type of municipal protectionism which involves limiting competition to local business, rather than competing widely for the best price. While this may be an effective model to getting wealth to remain in rust belt towns, it was unclear how it addresses the key issues of the book - incentivizing technological progress while distributing the resulting abundance.
2. Bastani advocates socializing financial markets, or in his words "political banking." But how will "information" industries repay loans if they are distributing products at near-zero marginal costs. The problem presented in the book is that the optimal price for such products is intrinsically unprofitable.
3. Creation of universal basic services - education, housing, health care, transport, legal services, and information. He says that, a few decades from now, receiving a bill to pay for internet, public transport, or a home will feel as strange as paying for an email account or Wikipedia today.

Bastani dismisses universal income (UBI), arguing that an affordable UBI is inadequate; an adequate UBI is unaffordable. But if an adequate UBI is unaffordable, how can universal basic services be affordable. How is it cheaper for the government to pay for people's housing, transport, education, and health care?

For writers looking to expand on Bastani's concept, below are some questions they might consider.

The book leaves unexplored how abundant information gets turned into new products. Are universal basic services going to include the most information-abundant products. Do we really want government to produce the music, movies and novels? The smart phones? Is there any evidence that government can create the next product as revolutionary as a smart phone? How likely is it that government would create something as disruptive as the Uber app?

The book laments declining population without asking whether resulting labor shortages might cancel out automation-induced labor surpluses. Following this line of thought, might automation combined with existing social security pension programs lead to fully automated luxury communism for the elderly? Perhaps youth will continue to work as before, but working years will be an ever diminishing share of increasing lifespans. Would this be a glide path to a world approximated what Bastani envisions?

Will combatting climate change require labor - installing solar panels and whatnot - that partially negates the reduced labor demand from automation? How will this delay the timeframe before humanity can be liberated from work?

Scattered throughout the book are seemingly half-baked ideas unrelated to the book's theses. The author has strong opinions on an astounding array of topics. His thoughts on monetary policy: Central banks should increase their acceptable rate of inflation to benefit debtors, but also target zero house price inflation? He repeats the elementary school myth that Henry Ford raised the wages of assembly line workers so they could afford to buy his cars (despite the obvious reality that Ford received only a tiny fraction of those wages back in the form of car sales). The book frequently laments low productivity and economic growth rates; a strange emphasis for a book whose overarching argument is that scarcity will soon be a thing of the past.

Despite the many flaws I've outlined above, I do recommend the book because it takes seriously the implications of technological progress, and lays out a hopeful destination.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-11-21

Where futurism meets communism

I have heard about much of the technology discussed in the book, but connecting it to the idea of limitless resources was novel.

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  • Christian Horst
  • 01-01-22

No new ideas

This book talks about technological progress and many limitations that will be overcome in the future, but doesn't go into what the socio-economic-political structures will/should be like other than to say the author wants something vaguely communist. I expected more.

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  • kelly
  • 07-10-21

Less Economics Than More Techno-Utopianism

While the title implies a careful look at the social and economics of scarcity capitalism the actual book is a collection of wide eyed techno optimism. The kind that promised bubble cities and flying cars and robot butlers in the 1950s.

An interesting look at how current science hopes to solve every dire crisis we face but, ultimately, so absurdly optimistic one gets the impression the author spent the last 20 years held hostage at a series of Ted Talks. I sure do hope he's right but I suspect we'll show our great grandkids this book while huddling in a cave hiding from the zombie apocalypse and chuckle at the ridiculous last gasp of techno optimism.