Now more than ever it seems socially conscious people are paying attention to economics. The dismal science as it has been called has gotten me into many discussions as of late (most ending dismally). I think this is tied to the political climate of the time, and people realizing again that policies and social relations are actively influenced by economics, and vice versa. Though this has been known and discussed widely in the past (but has perhaps subsided to a comfortable apathy in the West after the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union), the idea of the intermingling of economic systems with politics and social management has usually been discussed under pretenses of a dichotomy: one or the other, black or white (or in this case, red). See: freedom or tyranny, the left or the right, capitalism or communism. But are these theories the only ones viable?
According to mainstream economics, an economic system is defined as “The large set of inter-related economic production and consumption activities which aid in determining how scarce resources are allocated.” This is an adequate definition for us to work with, and it is further refined into sectors. There is the primary sector, which takes care of extraction of raw materials. The secondary sector processes the raw materials into products, and the tertiary sector provides services with those goods, such as transportation of those goods (Zoltan Kenessey, “The Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quaternary Sectors of the Economy,” The Review of Income and Wealth (April 20, 2012)). In a phrase, it’s resource management. In the final analysis, economics, broken down, isn’t G.D.P., inflation, or even prices. Those are simply phenomenon and terms rising out of a specific economic system’s attempt to accomplish what the core of what an economy is.
Where the “big two” (capitalism and communism) seem to represent extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum, where capitalism relies on, at least ideally, a no controls competition for resources priced based on various subjective parameters, and communism relies on state-controlled relegation of wealth, there is one school of economic thought that at least attempts to strip away either side of human extremes by, well, leaving humans out of it. Perhaps more engineers than economists, the likes of Thorsten Veblen, Buckminster Fuller, and Jacque Fresco have alluded to potential new economic ways of thought and resource management theory that place importance on treating Earth as a calculable whole, where resources are tracked and divvied based on an empirical inventory of the planet’s resources, as opposed to a) price fluctuations based on easily manipulated and manufactured “demand” (i.e. advertisements) as is common in capitalism, or b) a differentially advantaged prone to human error central decision making body as has been often abused in communism. What materials are used are therefore in accordance to what’s calculated as the best use for each purpose, and what’s more, what’s calculated as most available, and with no, or as limited as possible, human subjective opinion. The theorized system has been termed by its proponents as a Natural Law Resource Based Economy. Is it possible? Is there an analog to the proposed system right now in the real world that tests its premises on a truncated scale? Well it’s fun to speculate.
A computer Operating System’s “kernel” is defined as the main component of most computer operating systems. This doesn’t provide much information about it, so we need to break it down into its specific functions. The lowest-level function of the kernel is device management, in other words, the basic input/output (I/O) of the computer. Next, it does memory management, which takes the I/O and stores it in memory to work with. It also decides how to allocate the resources to memory, and often has to work within strict limitations. Finally, it does process management, which maintains the execution of multiple processes, often in systems that can only manage a single process running at a time.
It may not seem immediately obvious, but the function of an O.S. kernel and economic system are pretty much analogous, if not identical to one another. That is, the proposed system is the kernel and Earth is the computer. Extraction of basic input is analogous to extraction of basic materials, and the others respectively analogous to the other two sectors. The key is the use of real information, and the adaption of behavior to it. Computer science possesses existing solutions to long-standing problems in economics, requiring minimal change to exactly match economic functions, and at least theoretically, there’s no reason why this computational system can’t be applied to our economic system to calculate supply, demand and resource allocation.
To reiterate, a computer takes input (raw materials), stores the relevant data in memory (processes it into output: ‘products’), and uses it to run programs (services and goods distribution). Thus, in order for a computer kernel to function as an economic system, its input must be raw materials, its memory must be products, and its programs must be economic services.
To summarize, converting a human-based global market economy into a computed-economic kernel requires a short list of changes: 1) Encoding physical inventory into data, 2) the adaptation of existing computational resource management techniques to the digitized representation of physical resources, and 3) an interface with productive facilities. This takes care of basic I/O, memory management, and conversion of that data into useful output. The only difficult item on the list could be the first; It would require a high-end data center and large-scale, active surveying and data entry. The second is already largely fulfilled by logistics management systems, which track, for example, large retail chains’ product inventory or a military’s supply chains, outside of the price system. The final change could be implemented gradually as a standard, through the already-occurring process of replacing obsolete equipment.
In fact, there is already a type of software for managing large corporations’ logistics, called “Enterprise Resource Planning”. This is a computer system with automated tools for customer service, manufacturing scheduling and testing, project management, accounting, and supply chain management. These types of systems could provide a strong basis for an economic kernel.