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Chapter 10: The Abundance Era

For countless millennia the main driving force for human progress had been the Curiosity Paradigm. Thanks to this paradigm humanity gradually learned about the world, and could then put its knowledge to use earth's resources for its purposes.
As humans developed more sophisticated tools, demand for these tools grew as well. But when the tools reached a certain level of complexity the paradigm could not deliver. Without a coordination mechanism for scarce labor and resources, the paradigm could only produce a small fraction of the tools society wanted. Progress ground to a halt, likely resulting in social strife and crises.
And so a new paradigm was needed. A paradigm that could coordinate the use of scarce labor and resources at scale. That is where the Scarcity Paradigm came in. This paradigm did not replace the Curiosity Paradigm — it supplemented it. It allowed people to come together and produce the goods and services that society needed. This was made possible through the most powerful coordination mechanism known to humanity — money.
This mechanism got refined over the centuries. As it improved, scarce resources and labor could be used more efficiently. Science and technology progressed. Production chains expanded and could scale to include thousands and later even millions of people. With the growth of economic activity, larger swaths of the population could enjoy greater prosperity.
But while the Scarcity Paradigm was fantastically effective in dealing with scarce labor and resources, the same could not be said for resources that are abundant. Because the paradigm was based on value exchange, there was no way to capture the value of public goods. At the same time it was not possible to create effective feedback loops for negative externalities.
And yet, this was not a concern throughout much of the Scarcity Paradigm's long history. For most of that time the effect of public goods and externalities on the economy was marginal. But that began to change with the advent of the Digital Age and the introduction of abundant goods. These goods exponentially increased the effect of negative externalities. They also exposed the massive inefficiency stemming from the inability of the paradigm to create a business model for public goods. No matter the magnitude of the impact on society, people could not benefit from producing these goods.
The incentive to produce exponential externalities, and the disincentive to produce public goods, lead to crises throughout the economy. These were greatly exacerbated by the crisis of trust in sensemaking institutions. With technological progress the crises grew in magnitude. Then, the advent of AI technology put the world on a path to dystopia and societal collapse.
And so once again a new paradigm was needed. A paradigm that could create effective feedback loops for public goods and negative externalities, and individual–public interest alignment. This is what the Abundance Paradigm achieves.
The paradigm eliminates the adversarial relations inherent in the Scarcity Paradigm. Here too the new system doesn't replace the Scarcity Paradigm but rather supplements it.
It creates a mechanism that can value impact based on community consensus, thus incentivizing people to work for the public interest and maximize their impact on society. Through this mechanism the paradigm can form the infrastructure needed to tackle society's challenges.
This is done by creating a structural advantage for work that benefits the public interest. If before it was profitable to make products with negative externalities this will no longer be the case. Because of the paradigm's effective feedback loops for externalities, the economic and reputational cost for such products outweighs the benefits. Those who produce such goods will have trouble finding partners and customers, who won't want to hurt their prospects in the abundance economy.
The paradigm creates feedback loops on the one hand, and alternative business models that are aligned with the public interest on the other. This comprehensive solution can thus help restore public trust in sensemaking, and incentivizes journalists to work on exposing those who do the most harm to society. All the while the system promotes journalistic integrity and discourages all forms of dishonesty.
The dynamics created by this paradigm allow society to effectively deal with externalities. It creates a new coordination mechanism for work that benefits the public interest. Through this mechanism people can come together to address crises of any scale. The more impact the solution can generate the more incentive there is for people to come together and create that solution. The coordination mechanism, and the effective feedback loops that it generates, can thus prevent society’s slide toward dystopia and put us on a path toward an Era of Abundance. An era where resources are used efficiently to maximize their benefit for society.
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Because we’re so deeply immersed in the dynamics of the Scarcity Paradigm, it’s hard for us to even imagine what the Abundance Era would be like. We still have a very vague notion of how alignment between individual–public interest manifests itself in the world or the benefit for superalignment. So let’s consider how the Abundance Era would be different.
Let’s start with science; in the Scarcity Paradigm there is little to no benefit to conduct research for the public good. If it’s fundamental research, there is no way to patent it and therefore impossible to monetize it. While lots of research is done in the corporate sector, such R&D is meant to maximize profits, not impact on society. In the current system, unless you can secure generous grants from some government agency or corporations, you won’t be able to do research for the public interest.
In the Abundance Paradigm however the incentive is to create the most impact. This means that whatever research benefits the public interest the most is, by definition, the most profitable work to pursue. This dynamic works regardless of the nature of the research. Since there is no need to patent the work, and everything is made in the public domain, the focus can purely be on maximizing impact.
The other benefit of having everything in the public domain is that anyone can collaborate or build on the research of others. Everyone in this system knows that if others build on their work they’d still get rewarded based on their level of contribution. This means that no one needs to worry about others “stealing” their work or ideas in this system. Such dynamics foster an environment of openness and cooperation. It allows everyone to freely publicize their ideas and look for collaborators.
Everyone also wants to be as accurate as possible with their research. The system incentivizes people to verify the accuracy of scientific findings since that benefits the economy and the scientific community. Such a feedback loop helps keep everyone honest and removes any benefit to distorting or manipulating data for short-term gains.
What’s more, when the individual and public interest are aligned, people look to solve the most meaningful and challenging problems. In the abundance economy this leads to the greatest impact on society as well as the greatest potential reward for contributors. All people want to contribute to this effort since everyone is aligned with the public interest and because contributing to an impactful project has economic benefits in the abundance economy.
The dynamics of this process seem so straightforward and commonsensical that we forget how different this is in the current system. In the Scarcity Paradigm there is no benefit to contribute to the public good. Putting anything in the public domain means that you cannot benefit from it. Meanwhile, others can use your work for their benefit with no compensation to you.
In such an environment everyone must guard their work from others, and so collaboration is difficult or even counterproductive. Since funding for scientific work comes from grants, the incentive is to do not what has the most impact on society but what's most beneficial to bureaucrats or politicians. Showing that the work is meaningful often just means making sure it's visible. Magazines and publications too don't care as much about impactful research as they care about what would sell the most papers. The focus then is on producing sensational pseudo-scientific reports to attract views, not benefitting society.
Moreover, since people have no economic incentive to replicate results, there is a much greater chance to get away with publishing junk science. By the time anyone catches on to the ruse people already moved on to the new shiny object. The result is an environment where much of scientific work has little substance or value to society. There are lots of contradictory findings which are rarely replicated, and the public can’t make sense of the data it is presented with. Is there any wonder then that large parts of society lose confidence in science altogether?
So the Abundance Era will fundamentally transform science. It will motivate people to collaborate and seek the most impactful research for society. This immense scientific output will then be completely free for the public to access and for anyone to build on.
The potential growth in science and technology that such an approach will bring is astounding. We are likely to see breakthroughs in fundamental physics, advances in medicine that benefit society at large, and sustained improvements in any area where people can make a positive impact.
And that is just the beginning. The Abundance Era will bring about a new digital revolution. With the economic incentive to produce work in the public interest, anyone would be able to make a living from developing open source software.
Even proprietary software companies would have an economic incentive to open source their code. This is likely to generate a lot more revenue for the company. The company would benefit from the impact of its apps on society, and also profit when others build on top of these apps or integrate them with other apps. It would also accelerate development of software, as anyone in the world would be able to contribute to the effort. What’s more, not only will companies benefit from the impact of open-sourcing their code, but every developer and contributor working for the company will benefit according to their own contribution to the process.
Since the incentive is always to make the greatest impact, development will focus on whatever software empowers people the most. Couple that with a structure that fosters collaboration and building on the work of others, and it's clear why we can expect to see an explosion in tech that benefits all of humanity like we've never seen before.
Instead of apps that work in isolation, as we have today due to Scarcity-based business models, we would see deep integration and abstraction throughout the software ecosystem. The goal would be to empower people and make their lives easier — unlike the current practice of putting barriers and limits for the end user to allow monetization.
Access to limited resources such as bandwidth, storage and compute power would still cost something. Yet, there would be a constant incentive to make improvements to the infrastructure; to make these resources more efficient and abundant, thus reducing their cost. Meanwhile, access to any open source software will be completely free for all, since that is the most efficient use for abundant resources.
In the Digital Age we had a vicious cycle where crises reinforced one another and multiplied. The crisis of trust in news media allowed other crises to build on each other and spiral out of control, putting humanity on a path to dystopia. In the Abundance Era we will have a virtuous cycle where abundant systems work synergistically; advances in science lead to improvements in tech. These in turn will allow more contributors to develop systems that empower more people and communities. The people can then have more impact throughout the ecosystem, and so on.
Of course, there is nothing new about different sectors in the economy contributing to one another. The fundamental difference in the Abundance Era though is that all of this will be done for the public good; everyone will be able to freely use and build on these advances. What's also new is that, because of the effective feedback loops for externalities inherent in the system, everyone without exception would benefit from this virtuous cycle.
Feedback loops for externalities ensure that no one will be harmed by the goods produced, but how about financial harm? If an innovation harms someone's employment then we haven't truly solved the individual–public interest alignment problem. Then we would still have adversarial relations, as people would oppose innovation that harms them financially.
The way to think about this issue is as follows: in the Scarcity Paradigm there is a limited number of jobs available for people. Sometimes innovation results in new businesses and employment opportunities. At other times innovation eliminates jobs. This can result from AI, automation, or other technological disruptions of industries. With advances in AI and automation, we are likely to see an acceleration in jobs eliminated. Meanwhile, the prospect of new jobs to substitute those lost remains elusive.
In the Abundance Paradigm the dynamics are completely different. Because any work that benefits the public can be monetized, there is never a shortage of work available. So when innovation eliminates the need for some work, there is still an abundance of other work to do, while everyone benefits from the increase in labor use efficiency. Any person who is doing work that is obsolete will simply move to another project, since they won’t be tied to a particular job.
One way to think about it is that each person can select work from a nearly-infinite list of "projects." If some projects become redundant, the person can simply add more projects to their to-do list. Such a system gives people the most freedom and flexibility to choose the type and amount of work they like, thus promoting self-fulfillment.
Because work is plentiful, there would be little benefit for anyone to compete with others for the same work. Cases where some individuals take away work from others would likely be rare. And so we get a paradigm where any innovation benefits society without harming anyone financially, allowing individual–public interest alignment.
This paradigm will show its full potential with the emergence of aligned AI (and later, aligned AGI). We already know the massive potential AI has in accelerating scientific research and innovation. We also know it can enhance human capabilities beyond belief. But these capabilities can only be fully realized if the AI system is aligned with the public interest. Otherwise, the potential harm of the AI to society, when in the hands of powerful interests, can easily outweigh any benefits. With AGI the consequences can be outright catastrophic.
But in the Abundance Era the problem of AI alignment can finally be resolved. With AI working in the public interest, we will get tremendous growth in human capabilities. We will also see cascading improvements, streamlining and acceleration throughout the economy, leading to global mass abundance. What's more, aligned AI will be able to improve the Abundance mechanism itself. It would allow greater capacity and granularity in impact evaluation, thus leading to exponential growth in all areas of the economy.
The Abundance Era will certainly greatly increase the proliferation of public goods. No less important however is the potential to improve how common goods are produced and shared. Since common goods are naturally scarce, the question is how they can be used in the most efficient way.
In the current system, every community, city and even country is competing with others over scarce resources. There may be some benefit for one municipality to coordinate common goods use with others, but for the most part the tendency is toward competition. The problem is not merely that those who have more economic power end up with more resources, or that common goods are not distributed equitably. It is also that such dynamic leads to inefficient resource use, resentment and adversarial relations.
When the tendency is toward competition for resources on the global scale, the result is perpetual conflicts that at times flare up into wars. Such conflicts can arise between neighboring countries, but they can also be more regional and even global in scale. Here too we see countries forming bigger geopolitical blocs, but the general orientation tends to be adversarial with other blocs. In other words, countries can join into large geopolitical blocs, but this dynamic can never result in one unified bloc. This is not merely because some countries may prefer not to join the unified bloc, but because the system only works when blocs compete for resources. If there is no competition over resources, there is also no use for the bloc. This is the same logic as there being no use for a defense pact if all countries are included in it; a defense pact would only work if there is an external enemy.
The Abundance Era will see the rise of a new group dynamic — a dynamic that would work at every level, from small communities to the global scale. Instead of competition over resources we will see superalignment for more efficient use of common goods.
How would this new dynamic manifest itself? Let’s take for instance public infrastructure; in the Scarcity Paradigm every town wants to invest in infrastructure that benefits its people. Even then there are all sorts of competing interests within the town that would want the infrastructure to benefit themselves over others. If local government stands to benefit from advancing the interests of some constituents over others this can create a conflict of interests.
The incentives here are misaligned. Developers only care for the profit they make, it doesn’t really matter to them where they place the infrastructure or who gets to benefit from it. The administration should be motivated to provide funding for equitable infrastructure, but in reality has perverse incentives; it may want to benefit its political base over others. It may also want to benefit political donors or supporters. What’s more, constituents have little say in the process. They may have a vote once in a while, but it is not easy to keep up with every plan and proposal made by the local government.
And then there is the issue of cooperation. When each municipality only prioritizes its own interests, it tends to compete with others. There is little motivation to see how resources can be put together toward creating greater impact, and no effective mechanism to build cooperative relations. In fact, a town may use resources to put other municipalities at a disadvantage so that it can get a larger share of commerce, thus growing at the expense of others.
In the Abundance Paradigm the incentive is always impact maximization. There is no central authority that would distribute funding or dictate policy. Instead, anyone can propose a common goods project and communities can reach consensus on the value of such a project. Since the incentive is always to maximize impact, there is no point to try and benefit any special interest groups. After all, these interest groups cannot manipulate the consensus mechanism in their favor anyway. This means that any proposal that favors some over others instead of producing the most impact would only reduce the value of the proposal, and is thus counterproductive.
In the case of public infrastructure, maximizing impact directly translates to proposing solutions that create the most value for the ecosystem. Does this mean only providing everyone with the same access to resources? Not necessarily. This may be one way to increase impact but it is not necessarily the most effective way. Unlike public goods, common goods are not inexhaustible; there are tradeoffs involved in how these resources are distributed. Since the goal is to maximize impact, it may be prudent to allocate more resources toward those who are more effective at producing impact. This only works because of Individual–Public interest alignment; since all are interested in maximizing impact, everyone would want resources going where they can create the most impact. This approach also motivates everyone to do their best and contribute the most they can to the public good.
When it comes to pooling resources together, here too the Abundance Paradigm will have a clear advantage. The system's superalignment principle allows anyone to propose projects where common goods are designed to benefit more than one ecosystem (or municipality). The impact will then be evaluated within each municipality, and each municipality will provide funding to developers in its native currency. In turn developers will provide public infrastructure that benefits all participating municipalities. Such an approach would lead to more efficient use of resources, and likely greater impact on each of the communities.
No less important, the impulse toward cooperation over competition in the Abundance Era will transform how communities, cities, and even nations relate to each other. Instead of competing over limited resources, groups will instead have a lot more to benefit from joining forces. This tendency will lead to more harmonious relations, a greater benefit to all members in the communities, a substantial upgrade in resource efficiency, and a meaningful reduction in the potential for conflicts and wars.
By resolving the individual–public interest alignment problem the Abundance Paradigm will bring about a fundamental shift in human relations and understanding. The Scarcity Paradigm's inherent adversarial relations made it impossible for society to agree on a common truth. That’s because when people have an economic incentive to withhold information from the public, and even provide misleading information, there is no way for society to agree on the facts. But when individual and public interests align, everyone has the incentive to provide the most complete and accurate data to the public. At the same time no one benefits from misleading others or withholding data.
And so this common understanding acts as the foundation to a new economy. An economy where anyone can contribute to the public good and be rewarded accordingly. And where every contribution to the public good, or to public knowledge, builds and expands on previous contributions. We can then have an ever-expanding body of knowledge that is available to the public in its entirety. This body of knowledge encompasses everything from science and medicine to history and current events; allowing people to make sense of the world around them, and to grow and refine their understanding over time.
So every contribution empowers the whole ecosystem, while everyone has an incentive to maximize their impact, thus ensuring the most efficient use of both scarce and abundant resources. This powerful coordination mechanism then works for both scarce and abundant resources.
Even more so, the mechanism creates superalignment at every level of human organization; in this system people and groups always have a stronger incentive to align their interests and cooperate for the greater good, rather than fighting over resources.
The coordination mechanism created by the Abundance Paradigm therefore allows everyone to live self-fulfilling lives and incentivizes them to maximize their impact on the world. It creates consensus among the public around a vast and ever growing body of knowledge that all can trust and build on. And it creates alignment between individuals and groups on how to use scarce resources in a way that is most efficient and contributes the most to the public good. All these will put us on a path to ever greater prosperity and universal abundance.