The Ministry for the Future, by Robinson
Saturday June 25, 2022
576 pages in 106 chapters. One from POV of the market. Another: a photon. Writing often in this style. One chapter a list of NGOs by country. Repeated references to Zürich's statue of Ganymede. Eco-fantasy from a lover of Antarctica. Largely okay with terrorism.
Here are some of the core predictions and my thoughts on them:
- The rich will start caring about poor people affected by climate
- In the book a heatwave kills 20 million people in India, jump-starting a lot of action. Certainly people would take note, but I'm not sure even this kind of disaster would catalyze global empathy.
- Eco-terrorism will lead to lots of good changes to behavior and
- People deliberately give cows mad cow disease, so people stop eating meat. Lots of planes are crashed by swarms of drones, so people stop flying. I think it's unlikely the crimes would be committed, and I think if they were it's still unlikely the changes would result.
- Agriculture will all switch to organic and it will go great.
- Everyone will switch to one privacy-first internet service.
- In the book it's called "YourLock" and it isn't clear how it works. Quantum encryption doesn't make this suddenly something people will want to use.
- Blockchain-based "carbon coin" will encourage carbon sequestration.
- The book has all fiat currency becoming blockchain-based, and also central banks issue these "carbon coins" with guarantees on their value increasing over time. The author is really jazzed about this but I don't know why it's that much better than direct compensation in fiat currency, for example.
- Modern Monetary Theory is right: You can print money without
- This probably seemed realistic in 2020. In 2022, it seems suspect.
- We're going post-capitalism.
- The author isn't super clear, in places favoring central planning that works (because of AI?) and elsewhere holding up Mondragón and unions as exemplars.
- Guaranteed jobs for all!
- Is a guaranteed job different from Universal Basic Income? (What prevents me from not turning up and just collecting the pay? If you can be fired is it a guaranteed job?)
- 10x max ratio from lowest to highest income.
- Hmm! Would this be cool?
- Global refugee passports
- This seems nice!
- At least this is sort of a plausible story for why we would use airships (to avoid burning carbon). Better story than steam-punk.
As a novel, it's not great. As a collection of ideas to think about, it does introduce a few, but it's not very convincing. It does prompt some thought. What's really going to happen?
A few quotes follow.
"For a while, therefore, it looked like the great heat wave would be like mass shootings in the United States—mourned by all, deplored by all, and then immediately forgotten or superseded by the next one, until they came in a daily drumbeat and became the new normal." (page 25)
"Ideology, n. An imaginary relationship to a real situation. In common usage, what the other person has, especially when systematically distorting the facts. But it seems to us that an ideology is a necessary feature of cognition, and if anyone were to lack one, which we doubt, they would be badly disabled. There is a real situation, that can’t be denied, but it is too big for any individual to know in full, and so we must create our understanding by way of an act of the imagination. So we all have an ideology, and this is a good thing. So much information pours into the mind, ranging from sensory experience to discursive and mediated inputs of all kinds, that some kind of personal organizing system is necessary to make sense of things in ways that allow one to decide and to act. Worldview, philosophy, religion, these are all synonyms for ideology as defined above; and so is science, although it’s the different one, the special one, by way of its perpetual cross-checking with reality tests of all kinds, and its continuous sharpening of focus. That surely makes science central to a most interesting project, which is to invent, improve, and put to use an ideology that explains in a coherent and useful way as much of the blooming buzzing inrush of the world as possible. What one would hope for in an ideology is clarity and explanatory breadth, and power. We leave the proof of this as an exercise for the reader." (page 42)
"And yet even primitive math still takes mathematicians, the rest of us being so clueless." (page 60)
"One-eight-billionth wasn’t a very big fraction, but then again there were poisons that worked in the parts-per-billion range, so it wasn’t entirely unprecedented for such a small agent to change things." (page 65)
"Indian agriculture moving into its post–green revolution is also a giant step toward independent subtropical knowledge production, achieved in collaboration with Indonesian and African and South American permaculturists, and its importance going forward cannot be over-emphasized." (page 126)
"Volatile people, you can’t trust them, that’s the thing; and they know it." (page 154)
"Demonstrations are parties. People party and then go home. Nothing changes." (page 156)
Jevons paradox (page 165)
"The capitalizing of state power now had its roots in private wealth; thus the rich and the state became co-dependents, two aspects of the same power structure." (page 211)
PIIGS (page 213)
"The War for the Earth is often said to have begun on Crash Day." (page 229)
(When a bunch of airplanes were taken down all at once by drones.)
"I don’t own my kids’ teacher, I don’t own my doctor, I don’t need to own my house." (page 248)
"The Götterdämmerung Syndrome, as with most violent pathologies, is more often seen in men than women. It is often interpreted as an example of narcissistic rage. Those who feel it are usually privileged and entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and sense of entitlement are being taken away. If then their choice gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they have ever erred." (page 298)
"Make the next political economy. Invent post-capitalism!" (page 317)
"No conspiracy theories, please, so fucking tedious those people—as if things secretly made sense!" (page 408)
"They had created and paid out trillions of carbon coins, and yet had seen no signs of inflation, or deflation, for those who held that theory; no noticeable price change." (page 420)
"This made for a kind of double standard, or rather something finally to replace the lost gold standard; they had now a carbon standard, and also the dollar to use for exchanges." (page 454)
"Setting a generous definition of a universal necessary income, guaranteeing jobs to all, and capping personal annual income at ten times that minimum amount, as they had done in many countries, had immediately crushed Gini figures down. The EU had led the way, the US and China had followed, and then everywhere else had begun to leak their most educated young people to these flatter countries, until the countries losing educated people also instituted it. Guaranteed jobs, yes, but also universal basic services, and supported social reproduction, along with infrastructure and housing construction projects, had completed the rise out of poverty at the low end of the world income scale." (page 478)
"Looking at the central bankers listening attentively to her, Mary saw it again; these people were as close to rulers of the world as existed." (page 510)