We want our new city to offer a great human experience, so the entertainment options will be spectacular. Residents in the new city will also have plenty of free time for entertainment – far more free time than people have on Earth today (10 weeks of paid vacation/sick time per year – 155 weekend and vacation days per year). This will give residents plenty of time to enjoy the city’s entertainment options.
But what is entertainment? When you want to “entertain yourself”, what does this mean?The dictionary defines entertainment like this:
- the act of entertaining; agreeable occupation for the mind; diversion; amusement: Solving the daily crossword puzzle is an entertainment for many.
- something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind: The highlight of the ball was an elaborate entertainment. [ref]
In the United States, entertainment is a huge industry, representing hundreds of billions of dollars. Here are some of the major sectors in the industry:
- Movie theaters: $11 billion
- Home video: $20 billion
- Cable TV: $100 billion
- Streaming video: $11 billion
- Music: $15 billion [https://www.selectusa.gov/media-entertainment-industry-united-states]
- Books: $30 billion [http://newsroom.publishers.org/us-publishing-industrys-annual-survey-reveals-nearly-28-billion-in-revenue-in-2015/]
- Video games: $30 billion [http://www.theesa.com/article/u-s-video-game-industry-generates-30-4-billion-revenue-2016/]
- Porn: $10 billion [https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/things-are-looking-americas-porn-industry-n289431]
- Amusement parks: $16 billion [https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/REVEF71311TAXABL]
- Sports: $60 billion [https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2015/10/19/sports-industry-to-reach-73-5-billion-by-2019/&refURL=http://marshallbrain.com/mars18.htm&referrer=http://marshallbrain.com/mars18.htm#2e08e8a11b4b]
- Gambling: $100 billion [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambling_in_the_United_States]
- Broadway: $1.5 billion [https://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses.cfm?sortby=gross&orderby=desc], [https://www.broadwayleague.com/research/statistics-broadway-nyc/]
- Fireworks: $1.1 billion [https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/4/15912820/green-fireworks-environmental-impact-smoke-chemicals-military-entertainment]
- Don’t forget “the internet”: Reddit, Youtube, Vimeo and a million other websites intended to entertain and/or “kill time”.
- And “social media”: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.
- And phone apps, many of which are games and many of which are free [https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/29/app-annie-android-to-top-ios-in-app-store-revenue-this-year/]
- And all kinds of smaller stuff can be found in the entertainment sphere: Parades, fairs, parks, zoos, circuses, museums, walking, hiking, rock climbing, surfing, dirt biking, go kart tracks, beaches, boating, fishing, kayaking, golf, miniature golf, water parks, arcades, comedy clubs, dance clubs, music clubs, theaters, dinner theaters (e.g. Medieval Times), board games, playing cards, concerts, symphonies, operas, magicians, comic books, bars, sports bars, certain kinds of shopping…
People entertain themselves in all kinds of ways, and a large portion of the economy – something like $650 billion in the United States [ref] – helps people to feed their need for entertainment – to “agreeably occupy their minds”.
So how will people entertain themselves in our new city? Will there be theme parks? Concerts? Movies? Let’s explore this….
Creating a new video game
Video games are obviously a popular form of entertainment. If you look at the statistics above, the video game industry in the United States is bigger than music and movies combined. Lots of people play video games, and they are willing to pay $60 or more for a top title [http://fortune.com/2015/11/16/fallout4-is-quiet-best-seller/].
Video games are certainly popular, but they are not popular with everyone. Every human being needs food. Everyone needs housing. Everyone needs health care. But not everyone plays video games, and even the people who do play video games have different likes and dislikes. Some people like first person shooters, while others like Mario Kart.
So how will our new economy “decide” to create new video games? It is the creators of games and the players who will work together to decide.
Since its invention in 2009, Kickstarter.com has demonstrated an incredibly interesting way to fund and promote new ideas. Just about anyone on the planet who has some initiative can come up with a new idea and seek funding on Kickstarter. As an example, here is a video game from a friend of mine that raised $2.2 million on Kickstarter to fund its development:
- Planetary Annihilation – A Next Generation RTS [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/659943965/planetary-annihilation-a-next-generation-rts]
The basic idea of Kickstarter is nicely demonstrated here. The Planetary Annihilation team put together the video and the Kickstarter page to launch their fundraising campaign. Then people who visited Kickstarter could “vote” for this project by making a “pledge”. For example, if you pledged $20, you would receive the game when the team completed it. If you pledged $40, you received the game, plus early access to the beta along with the soundtrack. And so on.
The way Kickstarter works prevents a misfire. The money is delivered to the developers only if a critical mass of people sign up for the campaign. So the developers state a goal – say $1.5 million. Only if people pledge $1.5 million will any of the money be delivered to the developers. Otherwise, all of the pledgers get their money back and the game is not developed (In this case, the developers could give up, or they could try to revise their campaign and run it again).
As video games go, Planetary Annihilation was fairly small. Here is a much larger example called Baldur’s Gate:
Baldur’s Gate was developed by Canadian game developer BioWare, a company founded by practicing physicians Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk. The game required ninety man-years of development, which was spent simultaneously creating the game’s content and the BioWare Infinity Engine. The primary script engine for the game (used mainly as a debugging tool) was Lua.
At the time that the game was first shipped, none of the sixty-member team had previously participated in the release of a video game. The time pressure to complete the game led to the use of simple areas and game design. Ray Muzyka said that the team held a “passion and a love of the art,” and they developed a “collaborative design spirit.” He believes that the game was successful because of the collaboration with Interplay. [ref]
The interesting factoid in here is the “90 man-years” part. This is a lot of human time to invest in a video game. It means that the game took one full year of work from 90 people, or two full years of work from 45 people, or some combination that adds up to 90 man-years of effort to get the game out the door.
So how do we account for this kind of time commitment in our new economy, and make it available for game development? The key element here involves one resident of our new city contributing time on behalf of another resident. It is easy to imagine a central Kickstarter-like system for the new city where anyone in the city can post their new product ideas. In the case of a video game, a team of people could assemble in their ample free time and come up with a game idea and the Kickstarter page for it. They estimate that the game will take 90 man-years of time to develop. This works out to about 150,000 man-hours.
Then people look at the Kickstarter page and decide if they like the idea. If so, they contribute their time to the game on this Kickstarter-like system. So if I like the game, I contribute, say, an hour of my time to the game’s development. What this means is that I will do an extra hour of work one week (or an extra 2 minutes of work over 30 weeks, or whatever), and in return, one of the people on the game development team will be released from one hour of work. When 150,000 hours have been contributed by people like me, 90 game developers can spend one entire year developing the game. Or 45 game developers can spend a full two years developing the game, or whatever. These game developers have had their normal time commitments to the city “bought out” by other residents, and now they can devote their full effort to the game’s development for a period of time. The task allocation system distributes the developers’ normal tasks to the residents who contributed time for the game’s development.
What if, after the game is released, and another 100,000 residents want to play the game because they hear good things? They can contribute their time, and it lowers the time “paid” by everyone. The game took 90 man-years to create, and this is true no matter how many people play it. So 150,000 people initially contributed the 150,000 hours needed for the game’s development. Now 250,000 residents are playing the game, so the 150,000 hours spreads out to 250,000 people – each player only needs to contribute 36 minutes to the game’s development. The “original investors” get a “refund” of 24 minutes (contributed by the new players), because more players means that the cost of development is spread out over more people.
This same kind of system can be applied to many different kinds of entertainment: movies, books, music albums, TV shows, etc. can all take advantage of this Kickstarter-like system. The basic idea is very simple: the residents who want to create the entertainment post a campaign on the city’s Kickstarter-like system, and the residents who want to consume the entertainment contribute their time to the property’s development. The time that gets contributed “buys out” the artists’ and developers’ time, freeing up artists and developers to create entertainment full time.
Amateurs creating entertainment
Many entertainment properties on Earth are created in even simpler ways – people create entertainment in their spare time all the time on Earth. For example:
- I am writing this book in my spare time. My goal in writing it is to help humanity find a practical way to lift billions of people out of grotesque poverty, and to end the concentration of wealth that is a central cause of all of this poverty. These particular words are being edited on Monday, January 1, 2018, and I have been able to get a lot of work done here over the holidays.
- J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in her spare time [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling#Marriage.2C_divorce.2C_and_single_parenthood].
- Tom Clancy wrote his first book in his spare time [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Clancy#Career].
- Justin Bieber got his start when he posted random videos of himself on YouTube in his spare time [http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/teen-pop-star-justin-bieber-discovered-youtube/story?id=9068403], [http://www.mtv.com/news/2050131/justin-bieber-kidrauhl-pre-fame-videos-youtube/].
- There are millions of YouTube channels and web sites created by people who post things in their spare time, because they enjoy what they are doing.
- Wikipedia is largely the work of volunteers using their spare time to write and edit for the site. It is thought that 100 million volunteer hours or so have gone into the creation of Wikipedia [http://statspotting.com/angry-bird-users-can-recreate-wikipedia-in-30-days/], [https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/06/daily-chart-1].
- The idea of a “garage band” is so iconic that it is defined in the dictionary [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/garage%20band]. People in garage bands are amateurs who are playing together either for the fun of it, or with the hope of hitting it big one day. [http://money.futureofmusic.org/how-many-musicians-are-there/].
Since residents in our new city will have plenty of free time (155 days per year), this kind of amateur artistic endeavor will flourish. People will have plenty of time to pursue their creative endeavors if they so desire.
Will There Be Theme Parks?
To take an example of an Amusement Park, let’s use Disney World in Orlando, Florida. According to Wikipedia:
The Walt Disney World Resort is an entertainment complex in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near Orlando and Kissimmee, Florida. The resort is the flagship destination of Disney’s worldwide corporate enterprise. Opened on October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World is the most visited vacation resort in the world, with an attendance of over 52 million people annually. The property covers 27,258 acres (43 sq mi; 110 km2), housing twenty-seven themed resort hotels, nine non–Disney hotels, four theme parks, two water parks, several golf courses, a camping resort, and other entertainment venues. Magic Kingdom was the first theme park to open in the complex, in 1971, followed by Epcot in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989, and the most recent, Animal Kingdom in 1998. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Disney_World]
When you consider that the population of the United States is approximately 330 million in 2018, it means that about 16% of the U.S. population visits Disney World each year (it is less than 16%, because Disney World also hosts a number of international visitors). To put it another way, on average, everyone in the U.S. visits Disney World once every 6 years or so.
In terms of human time, Disney World is also amazing. Wikipedia pegs the number of employees at Disney World at 74,000 – “The largest single-site employer in the United States”. This number is a bit bloated by several interesting anomalies. For example, “The resort also sponsors and operates the Walt Disney World College Program, an internship program that offers American college students (CP’s) the opportunity to live about 15 miles (24 km) off-site in four Disney-owned apartment complexes and work at the resort, and thereby provides much of the theme park and resort ‘front line’ cast members.” This is a rather unusual way to recruit employees in the United States, and it takes more employees to manage the apartment complexes for these employees.
Does the new city for one million residents need an entertainment and resort complex that can handle 52 million visitors a year? Probably not. There are only one million people in our new city, as opposed to the 330 million people living in the United States. It is unlikely that every resident would want to spend 52 days at a Disney World-like theme park every year. But a resident might want to visit it several days a year for the following reasons:
- First, a resort like this would just be a few miles away for every resident. It would be like living in Orlando, as opposed to living in Kansas City (and needing to fly to Orlando to visit Disney World). Someone living in Kansas City cannot visit Disney world very often because of the travel time and travel cost. Someone living in Orlando could visit Disney World every day if desired.
- Second, Disney World hosts a wide variety of entertainment options in one place: rides, shows, water parks, golf courses, restaurants, hotels, boating, fishing, race car driving, movie theaters, shopping, etc. If this complex is only 15 minutes away, and it did not cost an arm and a leg to get in, people might be far more likely to visit it frequently. It is one-stop-shopping for many different forms of entertainment.
We can glean an interesting fact from the above statistics. Let’s assume that each Disney World employee in Orlando is working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. It is probably a slight overestimate, but it gives us a convenient round number of 2,000 hours of human time per employee per year:
- 74,000 employees * 2,000 hours per year = 148 million man-hours of human time per year
- 148,000,000 man-hours / 52,000,000 visitors = 2.85 man-hours of employee time per daily visit
So from our city’s perspective, if the city were to build a Disney World-like theme park, and if the theme park were staffed at a staffing level similar to Disney World, then if a resident is willing to contribute 2.85 hours of time to work at the City’s version of a theme park, this resident could then spend one day as a guest in the park.
Does this calculation “make sense”, economically? A standard one-day ticket to Disney world on July 1, 2017 costs $122.48. A 4-park “park hooper” one-day ticket costs $172.53 [https://touringplans.com/walt-disney-world/ticket-calculator-disney-world-ticket-discounts#]. This means that the resident is “getting paid” $122.48 / 2.85 hours = $42.98 to $172.53 / 2.85 hours = $60.54 per hour. Yes, it “makes sense”. The park would be originally built as part of the city’s master plan, or with a Kickstarter-like campaign (just like any of the other forms of entertainment described previously, with the hours of construction then amortized across all visitors). The park could be grown year by year with additional Kickstarter-like campaigns, just like any amusement park.
Will there be sports teams?
In the United States, sports is huge business:
- There’s the NFL, which rakes in $14 billion a year [http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2017/03/06/nfl-will-reach-14-billion-in-2017-revenue/],
- MLB at about $10 billion [https://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2016/12/05/mlb-sees-record-revenues-approaching-10-billion-for-2016/#76b6dc567088],
- the NBA at about $6 billion [https://www.statista.com/statistics/193467/total-league-revenue-of-the-nba-since-2005/],
- the NHL at about $4 billion [https://www.statista.com/statistics/193468/total-league-revenue-of-the-nhl-since-2006/].
- Then there is the Olympics, which makes billions of dollars every few years by selling the television rights and sponsorships [https://www.olympic.org/ioc-financing-revenue-sources-distribution], [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/rio-2016-olympic-games-richest-ever-usain-bolt-mo-farah-a7171811.html].
Therefore any one-million-person city in the United States has several venues:
- There is a large stadium for things like football games, baseball games, monster truck shows, very large concerts, large track and field events, etc. The Meadowlands stadium in New Jersey is typical. It has 82,000 seats and cost $1.6 billion [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MetLife_Stadium]. The Dallas Cowboys stadium in Dallas seats 80,000 and cost $1.3 billion [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AT%26T_Stadium]. These structures cost about $20,000 per seat.
- There is a smaller arena for things like basketball games, hockey games, boxing, wrestling, smaller concerts, etc. Rogers Place in Alberta, Canada seats about 20,000 people and cost $480 million [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogers_Place]. The T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas seats about 20,000 people and cost $375 million [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T-Mobile_Arena]. This is also about $20,000 per seat.
- For completeness, a typical city would have other public venues like a civic center or convention center for things like home shows, bridal shows, car shows, boat shows, RV shows, gun shows, etc. It probably also has an outdoor concert venue and/or amphitheater. And it would have some kind of performing arts center for symphonies, operas, smaller concerts, ballets, dance shows, Broadway-style productions, etc.
Since these kinds of facilities are so common In major cities (every major cities has them – even Rome had its Colosseum built 2,000 years ago to seat 65,000 people [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colosseum]), it is safe to say that these structures will be baked into the overall plan for the million-person city we are developing.
Now the question is, how will sports teams come about? If the city wants to have “professional athletic teams” made up of athletes who devote their full time to training and playing their sports, then we can use the same Kickstarter-like system. An NFL team typically has 53 players [http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1640782-the-anatomy-of-a-53-man-roster-in-the-nfl]. When we add in coaches, trainers, physical therapists, etc, let’s use a round number of 100 people for the full team.
This starts to look a lot like the level of effort seen for the Baldur’s Gate video game described above. We need 100 man-years of effort being contributed each year to support a team. We need at least two teams to have a game. Given the popularity of sports on Earth, it is easy to imagine hundreds of thousands of residents being willing to contribute several hours of their time per year to make many different sports teams possible.
But it is also possible to imagine a completely different trend arising in our new city. Rather than watching sports, residents may instead choose to participate directly in sports. Groups of residents might form their own “amateur teams”, spending their significant amounts of free time to train and practice together. In this case, there would be no need for “professional teams” at all. The whole sports vibe in our new city might be far more participatory. There would be a great many more teams this way, and it would be a lot more fun for the residents.
How will Justin Bieber make an album?
Let’s imagine that, at age 12, Justin Bieber’s clone is living in our new city. He has made some home videos of himself playing the guitar and singing. He posts the videos on the city’s version of YouTube and he becomes incredibly popular incredibly quickly as his videos go viral.
Now Justin2 wants to create his first studio album. How would he do it? He would create a campaign on the city’s version of Kickstarter. Since this is a “real” album, he wants to devote his full time to it for a full year. He needs a producer, a person to do the mixing, a band to play the music, some songwriters to do the music and lyrics, and so on. Let’s say that totaled up, this album will require 15 man-years of effort, or 25,000 man-hours of effort. 100,000 fans are happy to contribute their time, so they each contribute 15 minutes of their time to free up Justin2 and his entourage to make the album. When it is complete, the album is digitally delivered to the 100,000 sponsors. Later, 100,000 more people want to receive the album because they learn through the grapevine that it is a great album. These 200,000 total people each end up contributing 7.5 minutes of their time.
What if Justin2, or any other band, wants to have a concert? A concert will need a number of people to help with things like equipment setup, lighting, mixing, crowd control, and so on. There will also need to be time for rehearsal, choreography, etc. A Kickstarter-style campaign can easily fund the time to make a concert possible. People who contribute their time get to go to the concert.
It is easy to imagine thousands of musicians and bands in our new city. Given the discussion in the previous section, we can see that there will be plenty of venues for concerts. Bands can form in two different ways: there can be professional bands, where their work is funded through the Kickstarter-style system, and amateur bands, where band members use their significant amounts of free time to play and practice.
A band only has four or five people in it, so a band with any popularity can easily “fund” itself with tiny contributions from tens of thousands of fans.
It is also easy to imagine many more music venues arising in the new city. If you look at an article like this one [https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6221811/25-most-popular-clubs-in-united-states], you can see a number of popular small venues in the United States, particularly the House of Blues. The popularity of these venues means that hundreds of thousands of people visit them each year. It is easy to imagine a group of people creating a campaign to build different venues like this.
A general model for innovation
If you go take a look at Kickstarter.com, you can see that it opens the door to a huge amount of innovation by small teams of people. Try it: go to Kickstarter.com and click the “Explore” button to see all the different kinds of projects that are underway. It is very easy to imagine the new economy proposed in this book using a kickstarter-like process, with residents of all stripes creating new ideas and new projects constantly. In this way the city will be bursting with new products, new foods, new beverages, new housing options, new restaurants, new clothing styles, new medical procedures, etc.
Think about someone who wants to create a new bottled beverage. In the United States this would be a daunting challenge – doable, but daunting, and it would take many years for an individual to pull it off starting from scratch. In our new city, it is greatly simplified. There are already bottling lines for hundreds of other beverages. A resident would simply need to develop a recipe that people like, run a campaign to recruit fans, who then contribute their hours to get a small bottling line started. As popularity of the product grows, people would consume it in greater quantities, and the manufacturing system would adapt automatically to meet demand, like it does with any other product.
The bottom line is that our new city can develop many different kinds of entertainment, and a virtually infinite array of products, by leveraging the creativity and energy of the residents in productive ways. Our city will likely have a much higher rate of new product development than seen in capitalistic systems. Let’s explore this in a little more detail…
Understanding the Importance of Innovation
Have you ever thought about innovation and its importance to modern society? What causes innovation? What increases or decreases the rate of innovation? These questions are important to our new city, because the city will will need to innovate.
One way to examine and understand innovation is to look at what happens with human societies that never innovate. These societies seem to reach a stage – we might call this stage “good enough” – and then these societies simply stick with the status quo, sometimes for thousands of years. Here are four examples:
- Native American culture. We traditionally think of Native American culture in the way it is most commonly portrayed in movies, like the movie Dances With Wolves [https://youtu.be/d732rPkjqOU]. Native American culture did have technology. They lived in a form of housing known as the teepee [http://indians.org/articles/crow-indians.html]. They had a way to hunt for meat, known as the bow and arrow. They had ways to preserve meat, usually by drying it into jerky [http://indians.org/articles/buffalo-jerky.html]. They were able to make clothing and shoes from animal hides. They had to innovate to create teepees, arrows and moccasins, but then the innovation stopped.
- Inuit culture. The Inuit live around the Arctic circle area in what is now known as Canada. They too developed an array of technologies unique to their environment including kayaks, igloos, dog sleds, rather amazing winter clothing, sunglasses, etc. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit]. But again they reached a certain point with their technology, and then they stopped. Kayak technology, for example, is considered to be at least 4,000 years old [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kayak#History]. This technology was good enough, the Inuit used it unchanged for thousands of years.
- Afghanistan culture, aka Pashtun culture. Pashtun culture is at least 2,000 years old. It “has little outside influence, and, over the ages, has retained a great degree of purity.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtun_culture], [http://pashtuncultureandhistory.blogspot.com/2010/08/pashtun-customs-regarding-birth.html]. They hunt with slingshots, live in mud houses [https://blogs.transparent.com/pashto/housing-in-afghanistan-and-how-afghans-live/], etc. There are villages in Afghanistan today that are not that much different from a village from 1,000 years ago.
- Australian Aboriginal culture. As described in the following video, this culture basically mastered fire, and little else. This culture might be 50,000 or more years old [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indigenous_Australians]:
The strange thing, from a modern perspective, is the fact that innovation stopped in all of these cultures, and then the people continued in a stable configuration for centuries. I lived on a farm in Zebulon, North Carolina for a number of years, and on this farm I could find stone arrowheads that are 10,000 years old. The humans who created these arrowheads developed stone arrowhead technology, and then they used this same technology unchanged for thousands of years. After stone arrowheads were developed, nothing changed, because the arrows were “good enough”. Native American cultures, for example, never thought to themselves to develop guns, or lasers, or domesticated animals on farms, or glass windows for teepees, or refrigerators, or central air conditioning, or antibiotics. They arrived at a certain point where things were “good enough” to survive at some level of comfort and repeatability and, apparently, innovation simply stopped.
Even a culture like the Egyptians, who we think of as advanced because of things like the tombs and the pyramids, got to a certain point and stopped. They did figure out how to chip out stone blocks with copper chisels, move the blocks, and stack them in interesting ways. But then they stopped advancing. The Great Pyramid was built in 2600 BCE, and the Rosetta stone was created almost 3,000 years later [http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/time/explore/main.html]. Hardly any real advancement occurred in this society for thousands of years.
We might even put the former Soviet Union into this category. The USSR did have innovation. As an undeniable example: They put the first satellite in orbit, put the first dog in orbit, put the first human in orbit, had the first spacewalk, and so on. But on the consumer side, both innovation and productivity were hobbled. Famously, the USSR had just a few models of automobile, and these automobiles were difficult to obtain [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automotive_industry_in_the_Soviet_Union]:
Domestic car production satisfied only 45% of the domestic demand; nevertheless, no import of cars was permitted. There were queues for the purchase of cars and many domestic buyers often had to wait years for a new car. In the 1970s, passenger cars made by VAZ (Lada) and GAZ (Volga) were the most in demand.
We can all understand that “modern technology”, as expressed in the developed nations on planet Earth today, is nothing like this. Modern technology is constantly inventing, constantly improving, constantly searching for the next new thing. If we look at the 20th century, the number of innovations that started from zero and then advanced to widespread adoption is astonishing. Here are the top 20 technologies of the 20th century according to the National Academy of Engineering:
- Water Supply and Distribution
- Radio and Television
- Agricultural Mechanization
- Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
- Household Appliances
- Health Technologies
- Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies
- Laser and Fiber Optics
- Nuclear Technologies
- High-performance Materials [http://www.greatachievements.org/]
See also: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel [https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/innovations-list/309536/]. There was no such thing as airplanes in 1900. Now we can fly anywhere in the world at 500 MPH. And to make this possible, humans had to also create the supply chain of aluminum to build the airplanes, create a reliable worldwide supply chain for jet fuel, invent jet engines, develop air traffic control systems so the planes don’t crash into each other, build thousands of modern airports… The amount of innovation and productivity in modern society can be incredible.
What does a society need in order for this kind of advancement to occur?
- At the most fundamental level, the society needs to be “civilized”. Civilization means, among other things, that everyone in the society has agreed to follow and enforce a set of laws so that advancement can occur. The simplest example: If a farmer plants a field and then a horde of people trample the field before the seeds can sprout, or a horde descends and steals the crop when it ripens, then there is no hope. In a situation like this, of course, there are not going to be any seeds to begin with, because they will be stolen as well. No one is going to have a farm without some base level of civilization that can create and enforce laws and rules for acceptable behavior. Societal collapse can and does happen, and is increasingly common in Venezuela as starvation becomes a real threat. The whole idea of “civilization” breaks down: https://youtu.be/H77AlLzbAV4
- The society as a whole needs to understand that advancement is possible; That there is a systematic way to understand nature and derive more and more things from nature, and that there is value in new ideas. We generally think of this way of thinking under banners like “science” and “engineering” and “mathematics”.
- There needs to be a group of people – we call them scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc. today – who are good at thinking, inventing, creating and innovating. They are able to do both fundamental research and more nuts and bolts development. It turns out that the kind of people who enjoy science and engineering are not extremely common. Right now in the United States there are only 6.2 million practicing scientists and engineers [https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43061.pdf], meaning that they make up only about 2% of the U.S. population. These folks need to be protected, funded and encouraged so they are free to do their thing.
- It is easy to imagine why human cultures, in general, existed for tens of thousands of years before science really took off. Just think about it: If you are a smart kid living in a typical tribal village of 200 people, there are only 3 or 4 of these kids in the whole tribe… and there is no such thing as writing yet… and there is no such thing as math yet… and there is no such thing as education yet… and there is no such thing as eyeglasses yet… and the general tendency is toward “might makes right”, where the bigger, stronger (and often less intelligent) males are running the show because they beat up or kill anyone who doesn’t lick their boots… you are never going to get a scientific culture to arise in a tribe like that. It is impossible.
- Finally, there needs to be a way to mass produce and distribute the inventions of the smart kids.
In retrospect, it is surprising that science and technology ever became a thing. Somehow a human culture has to grow large enough that there can be a sizable group of smart kids, and writing + education needs to become a thing, and there needs to be a set of laws enforced so the bullies do not harass and kill the smart kids, and then the inventions that the smart kids create need to be celebrated and deployed efficiently. When all of this happens, we call it “modern civilization”. But that whole sequence of events seems to have been extremely rare until recently.
Imagine if Egypt had had an enlightenment and an industrial revolution in 2600 BCE. We might all be flying around in our own personal spaceships today. Mars might have been colonized 3,000 years ago, theoretically.
What will innovation look like in our new city?
But Egypt did not have an industrial revolution in 2600 BCE. Egyptians only took technology and innovation so far, and then Egyptian culture stopped advancing.
To understand how innovation can work in our new city, it might be helpful to think about this question as a starting point: What was the greatest period of innovation ever in the history of human beings on Earth? One such period occurred for a span 25 years, between 1957 or so and 1972 or so. During this 25 year period, humans went from “we have never had anything at all in space, and therefore we are not even exactly sure what ‘space’ is” to “We have human beings walking on the moon”. The timeline of firsts went something like this:
- 1949 – First human object ever to reach space [https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/explorer/bumper.html]
- 1957 – First human object in orbit [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_1]
- 1957 – First animal in orbit [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sputnik_2]
- 1958 – First big discovery of the space age, the Van Allen radiation belts discovered (we had no idea they existed, or how important they are to Earth) [https://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/van-allen-probes-spot-impenetrable-barrier-in-space]
- 1961 – First human in orbit [https://www.space.com/16159-first-man-in-space.html]
- 1964 – First pair of humans in orbit [https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-was-gemini-program-58.html]
- 1965 – First in-orbit docking of two vehicles [https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-was-gemini-program-58.html]
- 1968 – First humans orbiting the moon [https://www.space.com/17362-apollo-8.html]
- 1969 – First humans walking on the moon [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11]
- 1971 – First humans driving a car on the moon [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_Roving_Vehicle]
The level of innovation in this 25-year period of time is astounding. Nearly every single innovation required to reach the moon was invented and perfected in a period of 25 years:
- Life support systems
- Gigantic rockets
- Gigantic rocket engines ,
- Orbital mechanics
- In-orbit and trans-lunar maneuvering
- Heat shields
- Zero-G and low-G operations
- Lunar landers
- Power systems
- Lunar rovers
- Computer control systems
- Orbital and lunar communications
- Alignment telescopes
- Mission control
- Launch pads
- And so on…
All of these technologies also had to operate perfectly together, down to the tiniest details. This became especially evident in Apollo 13, when a single electronic component caused a chain of events that caused a catastrophe [https://www.space.com/8193-caused-apollo-13-accident.html]. On the Apollo 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 missions, millions of components (or their redundant backups) all worked perfectly. The whole program is stunning in this respect.
Only about 400,000 people worked on the Apollo missions [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_program], and yet they were able to accomplish all of this innovation (plus launch and support all of the missions) in an amazingly short time period. If that team of people, with that kind of momentum, purpose and drive, had been given the funding, there is no question that humans would be living on both the moon and Mars today. It is important to notice that all of this innovation happened under a government program. There was not a CEO of NASA making $25 million per year, nor thousands of executives with multi-million dollar bonus packages at NASA. There were not billions of dollars in dividends handed out to NASA shareholders, in fact there were no dividends or shareholders at all at NASA. And so on. “Capitalism” is not required for science and engineering to advance. Science and engineering are likely to go faster once we remove all of the friction and nonsense that capitalism imposes on us.
This same level of innovation and progress seen in the Apollo program will be wired into our new economy. Technology can advance on the medical front, the electronics front, the space travel front, the consumer product front, the housing front, and so on, by giving scientists and engineers the time and space to do their thing, and pointing them in the right directions. The Apollo mission had a specific goal – put men on the moon and bring them back safely – and a million sub-goals under that umbrella had to mesh together perfectly. The same kind of coordination can occur among the tens of thousands of scientists and engineers working in our new city. On the medical front, the overarching goal is to cure all human diseases. Underneath that umbrella there can be thousands of sub-goals. If we look back at Chapter 19, we set aside millions of hours per year for research and development to help this process.
There is an amazing graph that is relevant to the conversation here. It shows that we likely could have fusion power working today, if we had funded the research:
In our new city, researchers will pick a set of things that are important to the city, and “fund them” sufficiently – dedicate human time to them – in the same way the Apollo missions were funded.
Will there be monster trucks?
Will there be monster trucks in our new city? It seems like a strange question, but have you ever thought about where the monster truck craze came from in America? How did “the economy” “produce” monster trucks? It turns out that there are many different ways that innovation occurs, and these techniques will work just as well in our new economy. As an example, consider something as silly as Monster Trucks.
Where did monster trucks come from? One day there was no such thing as monster trucks, or monster truck shows in sports arenas. Then these monster trucks, starting with a truck called “Big Foot”, appeared seemingly out of nowhere. The whole craze started with a person named Bob Chandler:
Chandler thought it would be fun/cool to build a truck with huge tires, and as he describes it, he came at the whole thing incrementally over the course of a decade or so. Eventually he had created the truck called Big Foot. Once he started “car crushing” with Big Foot, the whole phenomenon exploded. Millions of people wanted to see monster trucks in action. Monster trucks and monster truck shows took off from there.
If you think about nearly every huge company in existence today, they all started as tiny little projects with one or two or three people who were trying to do something that they felt would be cool and interesting to try. Here are a dozen examples:
- Google started with two guys and a couple of computers at Stanford University [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Google#Beginning]
- Amazon.com started with one guy and a business plan – “Within two months, Amazon’s sales were up to $20,000/week” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon.com#History]
- Facebook started as a tiny project developed by a sophomore at Harvard University [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Facebook]
- FedEx started with one guy who wrote a paper in college about his idea. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FedEx_Express#Early_history]
- McDonald’s started with one restaurant owned by two brothers. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_McDonald%27s]
- “Nike, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), was founded by University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman in January 1964. The company initially operated as a distributor for Japanese shoe maker Onitsuka Tiger (now ASICS), making most sales at track meets out of Knight’s automobile.” The book “Shoe Dog” written by Knight is amazing. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nike,_Inc.#Origins_and_history]
- Apple computer started with Steve Wozniak and a very simple home computer in a wooden case [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Apple_Inc.]
- Walmart started with Sam Walton and a single store he bought in Arkansas [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Walmart]
- “The Papa John’s restaurant was founded in 1984 when “Papa” John Schnatter knocked out a broom closet in the back of his father’s tavern, Mick’s Lounge, in Jeffersonville, Indiana. He then sold his 1971 Camaro Z28 to purchase US$1,600 worth of used pizza equipment and began selling pizzas to the tavern’s customers out of the converted closet. His pizzas proved so popular that one year later he was able to move into an adjoining space.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papa_John%27s_Pizza]
- The story of Dominos Pizza is similar. Two brothers purchased an existing restaurant called Dominick’s. One brother dropped out of the business, and Tom Monaghan made it a big deal. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domino%27s_Pizza]
- Two friends named Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started Bend and Jerry’s Ice Cream. “In 1977, Cohen and Greenfield completed a correspondence course on ice cream making from The Pennsylvania State University’s Creamery. Cohen has severe anosmia, a lack of a sense of smell or taste, and so relied on “mouth feel” and texture to provide variety in his diet. This led to the company’s trademark chunks being mixed in with their ice cream. On May 5, 1978, with a $12,000 investment, the two business partners opened an ice cream parlor in a renovated gas station in downtown Burlington, Vermont.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_%26_Jerry%27s#History]
- I started HowStffWorks.com as a hobby, writing articles at my kitchen table on weekends. People enjoyed the articles and told their friends.
The point is that there are people in modern societies who say to themselves, “I would like to try ______.” So they go out and try it. They cobble together a modest amount of time and energy, and they give it a shot. In the case of our new city, they might say to themselves, “I think the city would be better if we had _______.” They could use the kickstarter-like system described above to get started. Or they might simply give things a try in their abundant spare time.
One thing to understand is the importance of failure in all of this. The 12 examples above are all nice, but there were 10X as many people (maybe more) who had ideas that failed. This is fine. It is part of the process. We should not look down on ideas that don’t go anywhere. We should celebrate and encourage people who give things a try.
How Corporations Slow Innovation Down on Earth
It is important to recognize one other factor that influences innovation and progress on Earth. It goes like this: An established corporation making billions of dollars and with a big market share often has little or no interest in innovating itself out of existence. Just think about it from a corporation’s perspective:
- Do the established “big oil” companies have any interest in “clean energy” initiatives that will put them out of business? Not when they are making billions of dollars off of petroleum products and fossil fuels. If they had had this interest, oil would have been phased out of the economy decades ago.
- Do the established cable companies have any interest in finding new, inexpensive ways to deliver internet to homes and businesses in the United States? Not when they are making billions of dollars through their established monopoly pricing techniques. If they had, they would have allowed competitors to share their lines, and would have lowered prices over time rather than raising them.
- Does a big pharma company making billions of dollars off of diabetes drugs really have an incentive to cure diabetes, or to watch some other company cure diabetes? If we as a society, or the pharma companies as research organizations, had devoted massive funding to diabetes research, the diabetes landscape today would be far different. Instead, pharma companies in the U.S. today spend more money on marketing than they do on research [https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/02/11/big-pharmaceutical-companies-are-spending-far-more-on-marketing-than-research]
- And so on…
Big corporations have a tendency to slow innovation down. As this article points out:
Economists are increasingly turning their attention to the problem of monopoly. This doesn’t mean literal monopoly, like when one utility company provides all the power in a city. It refers to market concentration in general — when an industry goes from having 20 players to having only 10, or when the four biggest companies in an industry start taking a bigger and bigger share of sales. This sort of creeping oligopoly acts much like a literal monopoly — it raises prices, limits market size and tends to make the economy less efficient.
And this article:
Here’s a story about the U.S. economy that more people are telling these days. Since the 1980s, antitrust enforcement has gotten weaker. As a result, a few big companies have managed to capture a much bigger share of the market in various industries. Technology may have helped too, by letting big companies spread their geographic reach, and by creating network effects that keep customers locked in to platforms like Facebook. Anyway, as a result of this increased market power, the big superstar companies have been raising their prices and cutting their wages. This has lifted profits and boosted the stock market, but it has also held down real wages, diverted more of the nation’s income to business owners, and increased inequality. It has also held back productivity, since raising prices restricts economic output.
And this article:
The implications of this are profound. Many of the assumptions about market economies are based on acceptance of the competitive model, with marginal returns commensurate with social contributions. This view has led to hesitancy about official intervention: If markets are fundamentally efficient and fair, there is little that even the best of governments could do to improve matters.
But if markets are based on exploitation, the rationale for laissez-faire disappears. Indeed, in that case, the battle against entrenched power is not only a battle for democracy; it is also a battle for efficiency and shared prosperity.
And this article:
This decline in dynamism has coincided with the rise of extraordinarily large and profitable firms that look discomfortingly like the monopolies and oligopolies of the 19th century. American strip malls and yellow pages used to brim with new small businesses. But today, in a lot where several mom-and-pop shops might once have opened, Walmart spawns another superstore. In almost every sector of the economy—including manufacturing, construction, retail, and the entire service sector—the big companies are getting bigger. The share of all businesses that are new firms, meanwhile, has fallen by 50 percent since 1978. According to the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think tank dedicated to advancing the ideals of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, “markets are now more concentrated and less competitive than at any point since the Gilded Age.”
Big Corporations are very difficult to compete with, they can put up roadblocks to innovation, they have huge ad budgets, they have huge teams of lawyers and lobbyists, they can stifle competition to keep prices high, etc. There are many examples through history.
As described throughout this book, the new economy will instead embrace technology and innovation. Many new innovations will reduce the amount of human time needed to do the work of the city, and everyone in the city will benefit. Once engineers invent the robot that completely automates dish washing, for example, no one will ever wash dishes again. All of the human hours spent on dish washing will disappear, and everyone in the city will benefit.
Putting it all together – The Level of innovation in the new economy
If you look at the discussion above, you can see that our new city will be an incredibly innovative place:
- The city as a whole can prioritize big research projects. Things like new kinds of medicines and medical techniques, new kinds of housing, etc., can all be supported in this way.
- Individual people can create kickstarter-like projects.
- Individual people can start projects in their spare time.
- Individuals can suggest new types of foods, beverages, clothing, etc. and they can be made as a part of the normal manufacturing process.
- And so on.
In these ways, innovation in the new economy will proceed at a more rapid pace than in capitalism. Creativity will be unhindered.