Open Project to Investigate Money and Economic Systems

Deprecating OPTIMAES.info

:: Housekeeping

Just a quick note.

Currently, OPTIMAES is dormant. So I’m deciding I don’t really need two domain names for it.

Therefore, I’m allowing the OPTIMAES.info domain to expire. I’ll keep OPTIMAES.net.

If you’re looking at this blog via OPTIMAES.info, please bookmark / subscribe to OPTIMAES.net from now on.

On Basic Income

:: Basic-Income, Politics, Automation

Critique of Basic Income idea.

Worth considering. Though I’m in two minds. The basic argument against … it could give a token of money whose effect is quickly lost to inflation, while justifying removal of targeted government programs which actually give those in need sufficient. A decent BI scheme would need to avoid this problem.

OTOH … the principle of BI still seems to me to be essential as we move to a world of accelerating automation, where most people with most skills will be effectively out-competed by machines. If we don’t detach “income” from “work” in the long-run then automation is going to lead to catastrophically unequal incomes.

A New Direction

:: code, ipython-notebook, python, optimaes

OPTIMAES is, once again, stirring slightly in its endless sleep.

We have, once again, a new blog. This time a flat site made with Frog. (I decided that the infrequency of posting here made the overhead of Wordpress unnecessary.)

So I wrote a quick importer for the old posts.

All of which would be pointless if it weren’t for a more interesting announcement. I’m moving OPTIMAES to IPython Notebook.

OPTIMAES was always meant to be a project that was about public play and exploration. While Python allows that; and sharing code via GitHub is pretty public; OPTIMAES was never very visible. IPython Notebook solves that problem, allowing us to turn programs into interactive documents with dynamic graphs.

The new code will be up on GitHub shortly. And there’ll be some instructions.

Hilan on Acceleration

:: accelerationism

This was originally a comment Hilan made on my earlier Accelerationism post. But now I’m migrating the OPTIMAES blog from WordPress to Frog, comments have got lost. So repeating it here as a post.

Interesting way of putting things. Now, Phil and I in conversation considered responses to the (pro-capitalist, maybe libertarian) challenge that can be expressed like this: “to be against capitalism is to be a conservative”. This challenge can responded in three different ways that we can sketch like this:

  1. Bite the bullet and embrace a conservative discourse (trying to preserve the institutions that capitalism chews up, or the planet as we suppose it was before the arrival of Mr K.) This would amount to say that there is nothing wrong about conservatism provided that we are defending conservation of what is worth conserving.

  2. Dissolve the challenge by saying that there is not a single-track road, and to fight against the erosion of institutions by capital is not necessarily to preserve these institutions but rather to defend changing them in a different way. Religion and community institutions do certainly need to be reformed, but not simply bought up by capital. In other words, it is not about opting only between going either one way or the other in a single given line (or faster or slower) but rather to choose which road to go through – in which line to proceed. Otherwise, one just buy into the single-track vision that makes capitalism always win.

  3. To accept the challenge and respond to it by conceiving an anticapitalism that is not conservative, but rather erodes institutions faster and better than Mr K. Such a New Eroder would attack not only the institutions that capitalism attacks but also the ones that capitalism explicitly or implicitly has to defend in order to proceed in its (eroding) business. Capitalism consumes institutions but do so by being itself conservative of some other institutions it has to hold on to in order to make sure its flows. One then can defend a non-conservative anticapitalism where more institutions are being eroded (eroded in the very same sense that capitalist erodes) and more inconvenient (oppressive, unfair, suspicious or undesirable) institutions are being eroded instead (say private property, centripetal economic units, individuals understood as pockets with reliability etc.).

I think accelerationism is in the third way to react to the challenge.

But a proviso is needed from the start. Different layers of acceleration can produce different results. So, erosion of institutions leaving behind impoverished masses and greedy concentrating corporations could be a result of a level of acceleration (call it the K level). So, more acceleration doesn’t mean bringing up more destruction. Destruction could be a product of the individuals (or pockets) that are left conserved by K-level acceleration. A K+n acceleration level, in contrast, could bring up the erosion of individuals in favor of singularities (where there is no continuity in time, no mnemonic devices, no forced reliability). It could bring a different system altogether. So, to hold on to a non-conservative anticapitalism like accelerationism is not necessarily to expect more of the same, different acceleration levels could bring something altogether different.

This leaves open the path for a Noys-like criticism: accelerationism buys into the ontology of capitalism: production, registration, flows etc. This could be the case – maybe even there is no way to get rid of these things if alternative 3 above is chosen. But perhaps the capitalist terms are also terms that make sense given the K-level of acceleration. In any case, the accelerationist can argue that these terms are probably the best ones to analyze and forge the way out of capitalism. Not that a capitalist ontology has to be embraced, but rather that it ought to be embraced to fight capitalism.

And finally, something about dividuals. I believe the individuals are the ultimate territory to be preserved by capitalism. (I’m not convinced that the oedipal structures are ultimately dispensable for K either, but let us assume familism can be eroded by a surviving capitalism.) What do I take to be individuals? Basically, individuals are pockets with a credit (that is, they are pockets capable of making promises). They have to hold on to some accountable future – and to some responsibility for their past. They are not just nodes in a network, they are credible units that, say, don’t just swallow money but produce something out of it.

Individuals are, therefore, workers in a very general sense. Proletarians are individuals that input money and output an appropriate (or inappropriate) amount of labor because there is nothing else they can output. In a sense, most people are in these condition, especially if we consider how work can be extended to most of what humans live these days. Now, dividuals, whatever they are, can be individuals if that microstructure recapitulated the macrostructure they constitute. They can be credible units, workers. But these dividuals won’t erode individuals, they would rather multiply them. What can erode individuals is something akin to Simondon’s singularities (and also close to Deleuze’s singularities). These are not workers, not credible units, not pockets capable of promises but rather just glimpses of action, gestures, operations: a bath in the river, a look through the window, a chewing of a plum etc. They are maybe like patterns. Anticapitalism should try and come up with an economic structure that afford these gestures and operations that stabilize human life (or something broader). An economic system that doesn’t operate in terms of whos that are fixed, but rather in terms of mobile, flexible, nomadic agents that could be bunches of people or parts of a person but not individuals. I believe here lies (in a sketch) a genuine possibility of erosion of capital. After all, anticapitalism is supposed to be able to provide a revolution (in the sense that capital revolutionizes) against capital.

Money and Identity

:: accelerationism, netocracy, philosophy

OPTIMAES is stirring …  a couple of different conversations in the last couple of days, with Scribe, who now runs a BitCoin blog,  with Hilan and Rodrigo on revolution, inspired us to bring it back to life, at least for the purposes of capturing a discussion.

With Hilan and Rodrigo I was debating Accelerationism and the revolutionary power of capitalism.

Hilan is sympathetic to the Accelerationist claim to out-pace capitalism and beat it at its own game. But what game is that?

In my view capital’s success is in consuming institutions. It gets its energy from ingesting community. It bubble-wraps gift-giving. It erodes trust and intrinsic motivation, substituting externalized accounting and rewards systems in their place. It puts worker against worker in the competition for wages and chews thoughtlessly through the world’s finite resources. If capital is to be opposed, it’s because we value and want to defend these other systems.

But for Hilan, capital’s main fault appears to be it’s dependency on, and protection of, institutions like the nuclear family and the humanist individual. Acceleration becomes the search for and celebration of forces which will quicken their destruction (and take capital with them).

I’m not convinced. Seems to me that capital is already finished with the nuclear family, happy for women to be equal participants within the economy. I don’t see that even the humanist individual is particularly needed. Why shouldn’t the aspects of the Deleuzian “dividual” similarly participate. Isn’t a dividual simply someone with multiple bank-accounts and credit cards?

Chatting with Scribe, today, he said :

Great talk by Dave Birch at Meaning Conf a while back too. Money is coming up against some fascinating challenges now. @dgwbirch on twitter Identity and Value are about to get messy :)

Which sort of set off  a bunch of divergent thoughts in my mind. They sure are going to get messy. I suspect that ultimately money and identity are moving to become the same thing. This is a very netocratic thought, of course.  In netocracy links themselves are the most important type of wealth. And IDs are just the end-points of links.  But even before full-blown netocracy, there’s a clear connection from identity to reputation to currency. You need ID to interface with the financial system. Your reputation blurs into your credit rating. (Update : watched the video. Yes, that’s what he says.)

If money and identity merge, one challenge is how can you retain anonymity, privacy or autonomy from the major powers (governmental and private). BitCoin is perhaps most interesting as the world’s biggest experiment into that question : how much can money be detached from identity. Can there be a meaningful way of opting out of ubiquitous financial surveillance?

Scribe again :

    that's a + of bitcoin - an address can be a line of software or an international organisation or a road sensor, or a moment in time. from a tech perspective, it's not anonymous. it's more agnostinonymous.

Which brings me back to the discussion of the dividual. Anything with an address is stable enough to play a role in the capitalist network. If we can give ID to the fragments of the dividual then they can participate in capital. In fact, we would expect capital to welcome blowing the individual to smithereens to extract the extra liquidity and fungibility that such micro-chunking would enable. Unless, the “pieces” of the dividual have an instability which eludes persistent identity. But it’s not yet clear if that’s the case. Deleuzians will have to educate me in whether the notions of sameness in their discourse are immune to sophisticated biosensors that can individuate us by the gait of our walk or the tremors in our hands. A quick glance at this suggests that the dividual’s parts are very much created by addressing, within of the system of control.

So what are the attractions of Acceleration? And can it really out-compete capital at its own game without being “worse”?

To me the best-case would be if Accelerationism is a proposed cure to a certain kind of eschatological romanticism which holds that the destruction of the existing system is a prelude to building the next. If, in contrast, Acceleration is a reminder that we must build the alternatives to capital here and now, and be prepared for them run the race against it in the world as it is - that we must give them what Robert Axelrod would call “initial viability”, the ability to compete even when they are in the minority - then I see the value. OTOH, if it’s a doubling-down on eschatalogical romanticism : an arms race to build weapons even more destructive than those of capital, then why exactly do we want it? Capital seems quite capable of bringing us change and excitement. And the destruction will come soon enough.

BTW : I keep returning to Netocracy as one of the few really plausible theories of a post-capitalist society. (I’m currently reading The Global Empire) And I’m struck again by Bard and Soderqvist’s point that the netocrat is an enthusiastic Deleuzian for whom philosophical “mobilism” is not simply freedom but a strategy of economic advancement within the game. They challenge us with a vision of a world which has successfully abandoned many of the things we say we don’t like (including “capital”), while remaining far from utopian. Is Acceleration, then, nothing but the will to power of a netocratic class struggling to bring itself to dominance?

Optimaes site fixed

:: back, positive_money

If you can read this, then you already know that the OPTIMAES site has been fixed. I took my attention elsewhere over the last year or so and somehow the links (including to CSS) got broken making the site an unreadable ruin.

Thanks to WebFaction support it’s back.

I’m not actively doing anything on OPTIMAES at the moment, but don’t forget us, because that’s normally the kind of thing I find myself saying before I suddenly get inspired to start work on a project again. :-)

In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend you take a look at the Positive Money site. Not quite the same topic or stance as us. But extremely interesting. (Read their research.)


Homogeneous Societies

:: Uncategorized

Zby asks : why OPTIMAES assumes homogeneous societies where all agents play the same strategy, rather than mixed societies where different agents play different strategies. (And would seem to be more realistic.)

Answer :

The main reason for this at the moment is that it’s hard to see how different agent strategies would interact. Any kind of transaction is a property of a dyad (pair) that needs both to play their appropriate parts.

What would happen if a Gifting agent met a Barter agent? They’d end up having to adopt the same strategy if they were to successfully interact.

Another Move

:: Uncategorized

So, another move.

OPTIMAES has now left Ning for this WordPress blog.

True, I haven’t been doing much on OPTIMAES in the last couple of years, but it should at least have a decent home. Ning turned out to be flooded with spam. And now they plan to start charging. (I’m not against that per se, but I’m already paying for this hosting so might as well use it.)

Fortunately, the http://optimaes.net and http://optimaes.info URLs will continue to work, and I’m sure there’ll be another burst of OPTIMAES activity at some point soon.

Note, that I’ve tried to import blog posts from the old Blogger site and the Ning group. Unfortunately I seem to have lost dates on some of them so I’ve pretty much chosen arbitrary dates that suit the ordering I’d like to give the posts. Hope this isn’t too confusing.

Comparing Grid Worlds to Fully Connected Populations

:: results

Previously, the OPTIMAES experiment was being run, starting with 100 agents, on a grid. The grid constrains the agents so that each has only four neighbours with which they can interact. This gives relatively few opportunities for bartering or gifting. So few that bartering appeared to produce an effect that was little different from selfish isolation.

Did this mean that barter was wholly useless? Or that there was simply a bug?

To look more closely, the results of all three strategies (selfish isolationism, gifting and barter) were run in a fully connected world (ie. a world where all agents have each other as neighbour). That gives every agent 99 possible partners for gifting or bartering rather than 4.

All other parameters were kept the same. There are still 100 agents in the population and 3 resources. Although this time there are 30 rather than 10 runs of each simulation. The results shown are still the average.

What we see is that, for both barter and gifting, being fully connected seems to have a far greater impact than the strategy itself. While in both worlds, gifting does far better than barter. Both barter and gifting in the fully connected world perform better than either barter or gifting in the narrowly localized cases.

Welcome to New Members

:: back, Uncategorized

Hi to the people who just joined. If you didn’t notice the link, the OPTIMAES codebase is hosted on here on GitHub.

It’s in Python, and is a more or less complete rewrite. Currently we have selfish foragers, barter agents and gift-givers. I’m working on a new money-using agent, but haven’t yet decided the right algorithm. All suggestions are welcome.