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Utopia just in real time
on October 10, 2002
The Best That Money Can't Buy - Beyond Politics, War, and Poverty. In the context of these troubled times, the title itself seems the epitome of Utopian thinking. Within these pages, however, are not the meanderings of well-intentioned dreamers, but straight-forward analyses of, and solutions to, many of the troubles that continue to plague the world, in spite of - and often, under the present scarcity-oriented distribution system of advantage, because of - the vast technological achievements of the modern age.
Even the term Utopian rankles Fresco, who sees stagnation in the notion of a civilization that feels it has "arrived" at some sort of ultimate state of being. Rather, The Best That Money Can't Buy takes Utopia beyond an unattainable (and undesirable) dead end to an exciting, dynamic, and perpetual quest not for perfection, but for the next step in social development, pulsing with all the vitality of the unquenchable human spirit. The Best That Money Can't Buy takes all the most admirable, humane hopes and aspirations of humankind, dovetails them with known and developing technologies, and comes up with a comprehensive design for the future that surpasses any that have been offered thus far. Fresco's work doesn't just break new ground; he fuses it into glass viaducts to provide fresh water to the whole world.
Fresco's unique, streetwise background in behavioral science eminently qualifies him to identify the roles of culture and physical environment as shapers of much of humanity's past and present situation - and the surest footing for establishing a new direction for civilization, based on manageable data and enhanced communication, rather than the vagaries of philosophical remnants of an age of ignorance, scarcity, and superstition.
Fresco even takes into account the tendency of some humans to establish a pecking order of advantage by, for the most part, taking them out of the loop when it comes to making decisions based on their inevitable prejudices, psychological limitations, and an inherent lack of a sufficient knowledge base to render objective decisions that favor all members of society equally. Instead, Fresco leaves the arrival at (not "making" of) decisions to computers. An intimidating prospect to some, no doubt, until one considers the major roles computers play in things like landing jetliners safely or transporting one's messages across thousands of mile.
Particularly notable is Fresco's prescription for a new incentive system based on personal achievement and satisfaction, rather than on the shallow, socially divisive, and ultimately environmentally disastrous value system based on a ceaseless quest for exclusive access to ever more consumptive material possessions. The environmental impact (or lack of) under Fresco's proposed "resource-based economy" is profound, as are the social benefits. Producing the highest quality, most durable goods for common use by all not only guarantees the most efficient allocation of natural resources and energy, but has the potential to eliminate the vast majority of social ills born of the inequities of distribution so highly touted by champions of the present monetary system as one of its chief motivators of "incentive
A resource-based economy, as envisioned by Fresco, transcends the need for property and proprietary "rights" that present monumental roadblocks to cooperative endeavor. One need only consider the millions lost to the AIDS epidemic due to the refusal of pharmaceutical companies to allow the affected nations to develop their own, more affordable treatments; or the 13,000 who die each day from water-related diseases while private industry privatizes access to fresh water, to realize the inherent failures of the present property-oriented system to meet the basic needs of the human family
Any new line of thinking is bound to find its detractors in those who have found a measure of advantage in the current social arrangement, or even those who haven't, but remain culture-bound due to societal pressures and influences - especially those who hold onto the archaic notion that money is a viable instrument for rewarding contributive effort and distributing goods and services on the basis of whomever "deserves" them. Fresco's proposals are certain to raise the eyebrows, if not the hackles, of anyone who holds onto the notion of the "dignity" of work - a dignity which business, above all other spheres of human activity, has always been willing to forego in the name of faster production and expanded sales. Indeed, much of the psychological stress we see today is the aftershock of seeing one's usefulness rendered impotent by advancing technology.
The net effect of the Machine Age has been to elevate humans beyond the drudgery of arduous, dangerous work. Fresco simply extends this trend to the next level. While Fresco's work may appear threatening in its tendency to strip the human animal of its functionality, the trend is not of his making - but the proposals to manage technological change for maximum social benefit with minimal environmental damage are.
Good fences don't make good neighbors. They make selfish and uncooperative ones that in this age, where even one's thoughts are subject to copyright, can be a detriment to the information sharing essential to human betterment and progress. Fresco's thinking is not only out of the box; it's not even in the same warehouse. He cuts through the dilatory and inhibitive system of proprietary "rights" and leads the reader into an oft-mooted, but hitherto unrealized, distribution system in which all are not simply offered a chance for a leg up at someone else's expense, but afforded an equal footing simply because it's there for everyone.
The Best That Money Can't Buy is not for the faint at heart - but then, neither are the inevitable challenges of an increasingly complex world. Humankind can simply sit idly by and let a handful of elitists direct technology for their exclusive benefit, or they can themselves be the pioneers of a culture in which no one, and everyone, is elite. Perhaps bold works like this will dissipate some of the fog of scarcity thinking and embolden, and empower, more people to reach for that next level of understanding.