Chapter 17 – A New Economic System: The second step is clothing

In the previous chapter we examined a new economic system that gives humanity a much better economic system for producing food. Food is interesting because everyone needs food every day, at about the same frequency, in about the same amounts. So if we create a new city, and we provide a variety of restaurants full of food as is done on a cruise ship, everyone can eat and everyone eats well. The fact that one large person eats 500 calories more per day than another small person is irrelevant on a cruise ship, and it can be irrelevant in this new city too.

We can see that the new economy proposed so far already has gigantic advantages over the capitalistic economies found on Earth today. For starters, let’s keep in mind that current capitalistic economies are where poverty and slums come from. In contrast to abject poverty, people in the new economy simply invest a small amount of their human time per person per year on food production. In return for this investment of ~200 hours per year (about 33 minutes per day, or 4 hours per week), everyone receives cruise-ship-quality food served in restaurants in virtually unlimited quantities 365 days a year. In this sense, the new economy is a miracle, especially if you are one of the billions of people on Earth today living in abject poverty (imagine going from “living in abject poverty and starving” to “I am eating cruise-ship-quality food in restaurants in return for just a few hours of my time per week” – the difference is indescribable).

But what happens in our new economy with a different kind of product, where some people want a lot of the product, while other people don’t need much at all? This is the case with clothing, so let’s take a look at how clothing can work in our new economy.

Let’s establish something important about clothing from the start – everyone in our new city needs clothing. Clothing seems to be a vitally important part of human nature. As far as we know, just about every human culture in every part of the world for the last several thousand years has used clothing in one form or another [ref]. When we look across Earth today, just about everyone wears clothes in some form or fashion. As best as we can tell, clothing is ingrained in human psychology [ref].

However, different people treat clothing in different ways. Some people are “slaves to fashion” and seem to need new clothing practically every day, while other people really could care less about fashion and are happy to wear a faded sweat shirt and old jeans that are 5 years old.

Creating Simple Clothing

Ignoring these two ends of the spectrum for a moment, we might start by asking: What would be the most economically efficient way to produce the clothing for our new city? For this, think back to how a high school or college gym used to work several decades ago:

  1. Upon arriving at the gym, a person would grab a clean T-shirt of the appropriate size, a pair of shorts and a towel from hampers near the gym entrance. Shirts and shorts came in standard sizes like small, medium, large and extra-large, and the way you knew the size of the shirt or shorts you picked up is because the size was emblazoned on the front of the shirt in large, obvious letters.
  2. You would exercise, get all sweaty, and when you left the gym you would drop your sweaty clothes and your wet towel in another hamper near the exit of the locker room. The clothing was all washed together in a central laundry facility.

This was a great system for those who don’t care about fashion. Every time you came to the gym, you had fresh, clean gym clothes to wear, and you never had to do any laundry.

In our new city, clothing could potentially work the same way. Depending on the climate, Everyone could wear shorts and T-shirts (or jeans and sweatshirts) all the time. And these shorts and T-shirts could all be completely standardized. People could also use towels and sheets that are all the same. Everything could be made from cotton that is grown for the city in the same way the food is grown. When clothing gets dirty, it all goes to a central laundry facility where everything gets washed and dried with maximum efficiency [ref], [ref].

One advantage of this system is that no one would ever need to think about clothing or laundry, and no one would need to worry about “fashion” or “style”. Another advantage is that this system would be maximally efficient in the use of human time and resources. The efficiency of clothing produced using modern farm and factory techniques is astonishing. If everyone were wearing the same thing, then the efficiency would be spectacular.

How efficient? Today on Earth nearly every part of clothing production in the modern world has been mechanized [ref], [ref]. It takes about 4 hours of human time to grow an acre of cotton using modern machinery. An acre yields 750 pounds of cotton, or enough to make about 1,800 T-shirts. The acts of ginning, cleaning, spinning and weaving the cotton are almost completely automated today, meaning that the total amount of human time that goes into making a single T-shirt is extremely low – just a few minutes [ref], [ref].

If we estimate that a person in our new economy had to contribute 20 hours per person per year to help make all of the standardized T-shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, shoes, towels and sheets needed by the city (along with producing all of the machinery that makes this efficiency possible), we would be overestimating. There is so much automation in the production of clothing that the total human time required per simple garment is minimal, even when we factor in the time to manufacture all of the time-saving machines.

It is easy to imagine a city where everyone is wearing identical, un-dyed cotton T-shirts and shorts, all laundered in a central facility, and to understand the efficiency of this arrangement. People would not need a closet full of clothing, most of which sits idle 99% of the time. They would need what they are wearing today, and perhaps what they will be wearing tomorrow. They could leave dirty laundry outside the door, and robots could come by and pick it up each night, delivering a fresh set of clothes at the same time. Households would not need washers and dryers that sit idle almost all of the time. Instead, all of the identical clothing is washed in a central facility with maximum efficiency, and no one would have to waste their individual time on laundry.

Creating Clothing Variety

But would everyone in the new city be willing to live this way, wearing identical, simple clothing? Walking down the street of any modern city on Earth today and looking at what the people are wearing tells us otherwise. Human beings seem to enjoy expressing their individuality through clothing. In the same way that people want a wide variety of food instead of a kibble diet every day, people seem to want a wide variety of different colors, different styles, different fabrics, different fits, etc. when it comes to their clothing:

  • Some people like tight-fitting black clothing made of stretchy fabrics.
  • Some like blue jeans made of thick cotton that fits loosely, and a loose-fitting cotton T-shirt.
  • Some like short skirts that are hot pink, while some prefer long dresses in sedate earth tones.
  • Some people prefer the lumberjack look, while others wear business suits.
  • And so on…

Many human beings seem to enjoy participating in the experience of shopping and fashion, and want to wear the newest styles. Some people would wear a different outfit every single day if they had a choice. For example, there is a whole aspect of clothing in modern economies today called “fast fashion”, where people buy new clothing every week [ref].

The way to address all of this clothing variability and fashion sense is to embrace it. We accept that people do like to express their individuality through clothing, so the new economy can make the production of every kind of clothing possible, in every color, style and fabric imaginable. This will increase the amount of human time involved, yes. But this is fine, because each person in the economy can choose the amount of time he/she individually wants to devote to clothing production, as we will see. Also keep in mind that we will soon be able to use modern robotic techniques, so that the amount of human time will fall nearly to zero for many types of clothing [ref] in the not too distant future.

Where do new designs and new apparel fashions come from?

Where do new designs and new apparel fashions come from? On Earth, if you think about it, the number of designers we are able to experience and the number of clothing outlets is highly limited because capitalism once again gets in the way. One way that the new economy can radically improve in the area of innovation is to open up the design process to anyone who wants to contribute. It is a big difference compared to how it is done on Earth today.

Imagine that a teenager with an artistic flair on Earth today wants to create her own line of clothing and make it available to the general public. It would be nearly impossible for her to do it because of:

  • the amount of time and money and effort needed to start a new business
  • the amount of time and money and effort needed to line up production facilities and manufacture the clothes
  • the amount of time and money and effort needed to manage inventory, and to manage the supply and distribution chains
  • the amount of friction and discord and dysfunction caused by a “competitive” marketplace. In short, with capitalism, none of the entrenched incumbents have any desire to see new competitors arise, and they will do everything they can to limit or destroy new competition.
  • etc.

Because of all of this capitalistic friction, it takes a huge amount of capital to create a new clothing line. Then getting retailers to accept the line and sell the clothes is a whole separate problem. And along the way there are also likely to be a number of ethical conundrums that arise.

Ethical conundrums? Absolutely, because a big part of clothing production on planet Earth involves capitalism’s desire to destroy the lives of as many human beings as it possibly can. Many of the clothes that people in the United States wear today are sewn together by impoverished people in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., and these people are making tiny amounts of money in near-slavery conditions in return for their human time [ref], [ref]. No thoughtful, rational human being with a conscience can condone the brutality of modern clothing production on Earth today, yet this system is nearly universal.

In our new economy, things can be radically better in every way when it comes to the creation of clothing and new clothing fashions. Let’s imagine that a designer would like to wear a new style of skirt that has never been seen before. She draws up sketches of it, and sews together a prototype. After a few tweaks and modifications, she loves it, and so do her friends. They want copies of the skirt too. This design goes into the design library for the new city. Now anyone who wants a copy of this skirt can request it, and it can be made to order. When the skirt arrives, it contains a label that credits the designer who contributed it to the design library, acknowledging her contribution.

A person who creates popular designs will become famous among the fashionable members of our new city. People will eagerly await new designs from the designer. People will create blogs/videos/magazines about the new designs they like, and the new designers as they appear on the scene. Fans will organize fashion shows where people can see the new designs on models. They will organize classes and write tutorials so that people unfamiliar with the design process can learn how to design their own clothes and submit them into the system. How do we know that all of these things will happen? Because all of this happens on Earth today. People have energy around fashion. They love fashion, they love looking at new fashions, they love talking about new fashions and new designers, they love telling their friends. These are all common human behaviors. There will simply be an explosion of this effect in our new city as we eliminate the barriers to creativity created by capitalism.

The result would be a gigantic catalog of different clothing styles and fashions from which anyone in the new city can choose their apparel. There would be far more variety than in capitalism, because many, many more people can openly participate in the process.

Understanding the “Cost” of Clothing

How much does a piece of clothing “cost” in the new economy? And how does a person “pay” for it?

The “cost” of a piece of clothing is determined by the amount of human time needed to produce it. This “cost” is “paid” by a person who wants to “buy” the clothing by contributing human time into the economic system. As a simple example, let’s say that a person wants a new T-shirt. The “cost” of the shirt includes:

  • The human time needed to grow the cotton for the shirt. We saw earlier that it takes just 8 or 10 seconds of human time to grow the cotton that goes into a T-shirt.
  • The human time needed to spin and weave the cotton into fabric, again just a few seconds because the process is so automated today.
  • The human time to cut and sew the fabric together. [ref], [ref]. This is perhaps a minute per shirt in a modern factory (with human operators, not robots). Once robots start doing this work, the amount of human time falls [ref].

Total human time to produce a T-shirt in a modern factory? 2 minutes perhaps.

What about more complicated clothing? If you watch this video on blue jeans [ref], [ref], you can see that jeans are a more complex piece of clothing compared to a T-shirt:

One pair of jeans contains 15 to 20 different cloth panels, hand sewn buttons, a zipper, studs, and complex seams. It might take 30 minutes of human time, all in, to produce a pair of fully-loaded designer blue jeans. A shirt is far simpler, as we have seen, as is a skirt or a blouse.

So imagine a person at the very highest end of the fashion scale who wishes to have a new piece of clothing every day. This is 365 pieces of new clothing per year. If each item of clothing requires 15 minutes (on average) of human time to make, it means that the person’s clothing habit is requiring 91 hours per year of human time. This works out to about two hours per week. This is the worst case scenario one can imagine when it comes to clothing, and it is only 91 hours per year of human time.

Where do these hours of human time for clothing production come from? The person who wants the clothing contributes the hours to the system. There are many, many people who will be happy with owning a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts. They will only need to contribute a few hours of their time per year to meet their clothing needs. Someone who wants a lot of clothing will simply contribute more hours to the system. The “cost” of any piece of clothing is simple to calculate: It is the cost of production as expressed in minutes/seconds of human time.

The logic here is simple. If a person wants to have an item of clothing that requires 10 minutes of aggregated human time* to produce, then the person contributes 10 minutes of human time into the system. The person might contribute the time toward directly making the piece of clothing, or the time could be contributed in another sector (like food preparation), while someone else who has specialized makes the item of clothing.

[* The term “aggregated human time” is simply an acknowledgment that there is both direct and indirect time that goes into making the shirt (or any product). Someone sewed the shirt together using human time. This is direct time spent making the shirt. The shirt is made of cotton fabric. The cloth contains some amount of human time to grow, harvest, spin and weave the cotton. The shirt is sewn on a sewing machine. Human time went into making the sewing machine, which is then apportioned across the thousands of shirts sewn on the machine. The sewing machine exists inside a factory building, which contains human time, again apportioned across millions of shirts. And so on. All of these little slices of time together add up into the ten minutes of aggregated time that go into the shirt. This ten minutes of aggregated time is the real “price” or “cost” of the shirt. This new economy is not absurd like capitalism. The price is not set by some random and arbitrary point on a “supply and demand curve”, or some other way that a capitalistic system uses to artificially inflate the price arbitrarily. See Chapter 6 for details on capitalistic absurdity in pricing.]

The Task Allocation System

The task allocation system described in the previous chapter keeps track of all of the tasks in the city that need to be done, and portions them out to the citizens of the city in an efficient and organized way based on everyone’s personal preferences. At this point there are a number of different areas where the citizens of our new city can work:

  • Growing different kinds of food (fruits, vegetables, grains, tubers, nuts, meat, etc.)
  • Transporting food to restaurants
  • Cooking food in restaurants
  • Serving food in restaurants
  • Clean up in restaurants
  • Working in small factories to produce agricultural equipment
  • Growing cotton for clothing
  • Producing different artificial fibers for clothing (polyester, nylon, rayon, etc.)
  • Spinning fibers into thread
  • Weaving thread into cloth
  • Cutting fabric for garments
  • Sewing garments together
  • Sewing shoes together
  • Working in small factories to produce garment machinery (looms, sewing machines, cutters, etc.)
  • And so on…

All of these tasks (even the simplest ones) will require different amounts of training. For example, driving a tractor, operating a sewing machine, assembling a part for a harvester, operating a power loom, cooking a steak or a cake properly, etc. are all tasks that will require some amount of training and certification. The task allocation software system can take these training times into account as well, and cross-train people in a variety of tasks based on their preferences.

You can see that the new economic model we are proposing in this book, where people contribute their human time in return for the clothing they desire, is a fantastic thing for everyone compared to abject poverty. To reiterate the advantages:

  • Everyone gets all of the high quality clothing they need. They can choose their clothing from a huge catalog of designs.
  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your supply of clothing through lack of money.
  • The idea of “unemployment” has been completely eliminated.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the clothing supply.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising clothing prices so that people are unable to afford clothing.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to clothing. In fact, robots are welcomed rather than feared in this new economic system, because robots reduce the effort needed from the one million residents.
  • The clothing production system is not wasting billions of dollars on huge executive salaries, huge executive perks, private jet fleets for executives, enormous lobbying budgets, enormous advertising budgets, enormous dividends, and so on. The people in this new economy simply make their clothing by contributing a little bit of their time as necessary.
  • There is no inequality. Everyone contributes a little bit of their time to the economy, the software task allocation system equitably allocates all of the tasks, and everyone receives the clothing they desire.

The other thing to notice is the very small amount of time needed to make clothing. Just two hours a week would be enough for a person to have a new item of clothing every day. The average person will want/need much less than that. Let’s assume that the whole million-person city will be investing 50 million hours per year in clothing production. This works out to just an hour or so in human time per week.

This new economic system in a radical improvement compared to capitalism. In addition, we have completely eliminated the sweatshops endemic to today’s fashion industry, along with gigantic amount of poverty and suffering that these sweatshops create today.

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