Sunday, October 10, 2010

What would utopia be like?

   There are a lot of people unhappy with the progress, or lack of progress, Obama has made on the many economic, social and political problems he faced when he took office.  Me too, to some extent.  But that brings to mind a really tough question, or major project most likely.  Suppose we accept the fact that our present technology is powerful but has limits, that our present knowledge of economics and finance enables us to do lots of things but has limits, or in general, that we have many powerful techniques of attacking the world's problems but they all have limits.  The other major consideration in solving all these problems is that people can't get along.  Rich and poor, Democrats and Republicans, Sunnis and Shiites, Taliban and Afghans, etc. all are at each others throats.  They're all trying to optimize their own progress.
   So my question is this.  Suppose some aliens from another world sent some flying saucers here over one weekend and sprinkled an anti-conflict dust over the entire world.  When we woke up the next Monday morning, everyone in the world had lost all desire to fight with someone else over anything.  We're all just one big happy family interested in solving the world's problems and improving everyone's standard of living and happiness quotient as rapidly as possible.  How fast could we progress in achieving some such goal as this?  Would it be possible to put together a study which would answer this question to any degree of reliability?  What I'm looking for is some sort of standard to measure Obama, or any other world leader say, against.  It's clearly unreasonable to hold someone responsible for slow progress if, in this imaginary utopia, it would take a century to make substantial progress.
   I'm interested in some sort of answer even though it might be necessary to make assumptions as to how to proceed.  For example, I don't care whether you use a planned economy or just let capitalism do the job.  But I do want it to recognize real world limits.  Like there are billions of people around the world who have to have jobs which put them on the road to the same standard of living as everyone else in the world.  Like providing transportation and energy for everyone in the world will have to produce pollution of some sort.  And all other real-life limits.
    What would this utopia look like and how fast could we get there?


  1. The first thing that comes to mind of what a utopia would look like would be the equitable distribution of resources around the world. In this utopia, the oil-producing countries would share their resources with the non-oil-producing, and countries rich in agricultural resources like the United States would be able to ship those goods to arid, dry countries like Somalia. I guess that sounds pretty Marxist, but in this alien dust-covered world where we all want to get along, the essential flaw of Marxism (the inevitable greed of the leaders) would be eliminated. There are so many issues that the developing world has to tackle, but being able to receive the resources they can't produce themselves would go a long way to help those regions stabilize.

    I'm not sure how this could be turned into a standard to measure a world leader against, except perhaps their initiative toward achieving peace with the countries whose resources we vie for. Just a thought!

    - Alison

  2. Alison,
    I agree that this utopia would have to include a global evening out of resources. But what I'm interested in is How could that be done? If we just start digging coal like mad presumably the people that live around these mines would be overwhelmed with destruction of their environment. If we start drilling deep sea oil wells as fast as we can, we'd probably have lots more Gulf spills. So, how fast could we really achieve this evening out?

  3. Dad (and Alison),

    The question is hard to answer because while you've taken away one of the things that might make it hard to achieve a utopia, you haven't affected any of the motivations toward achieving it. Alison's goal is a great example: in such a world it may be that the fastest way to raise Sri Lankan standard of living is to take a piece away from everyone in the US, but motivating the 300 million citizens in the US to work to lower than own standard of living is a tough task. Greed of the leaders is only one side of the marxist problem; motivation to produce 'according to his abilities' is sorely lacking when 'from each according to his need' is guaranteed.

    In the end, I think you are better off measuring Obama against the achievements of other world leaders. How far did Gandhi take India (and how long did it take him)? How much social justice did Martin Luther King or Mandela achieve?

    As I think of the benchmarks I would measure him against, I'm struck by the longer horizons they had to operate on. Two years is a tough time period to achieve meaningful change on any major dimension.

    - Chris