The Venus Project
| It doesn't stop|
at the water's edge
The Venus Project is an organisation that promotes architect Jacque Fresco's vision of the future, which involves an economic structure known as a "resource-based economy." Basically it's stock-standard central planning, except with computers!
In their own words
The goal of the Venus Project is to create a representation of how society could be designed, if it was built using the economic theory of a "resource-based economy." This entails doing away with capitalism, socialism, and communism; jobs are made irrelevant in favor of automating tasks using technological solutions. It also entails ending the use of money, instead distributing resources using scientific principles. This would allow society to arrive at decisions about how resources should be distributed, rather than merely making arbitrary decisions.
Some of the claimed benefits of such a society are:
- The vast reduction or potential elimination of a dependency on oil and other unsustainable energy sources in favor of alternative and sustainable energy.
- The reduction or elimination of the primary incentive for criminal behavior with the removal of the money system, thus vastly reducing crime rates.
- The elimination of elitism from human society and simultaneous removal of the influence of ideology from human behavior (and yet they still claim with a straight face that they aren't utopians).
The Venus Project can be divided into two halves. The first half is a fairly standard claim that central planning is more efficient and fairer than capitalism. This argument should be fairly familiar to anyone who's studied Soviet communism, although the Venus Project seems to think they've found the way to fix that system's crippling problems and make it work. You see, they've taken the fallible human element out of the equation, and instead, there will be computers. With sensors. And they will decide everything. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the point where things get vague. Let's hear it from the horse's mouth:
Who makes the decisions in a resource based economy? No one does. The process of arriving at decisions in this economy would not be based upon the opinions of politicians, corporate, or national interests but rather all decisions would be arrived at based upon the introduction of newer technologies and Earth's carrying capacity. Computers could provide this information with electronic sensors throughout the entire industrial, physical complex to arrive at more appropriate decisions.
The above seems to ignore that the quantities of supply and demand for resources would still apply in very practical ways, and the computers can't tell people what they must demand. Thus, part of the economic decision making must be resigned to the humans who do demand supplies. This surely includes what foods they want, and supplies for recreation, right? And the Venus Project also proposes that humans will still do work, and can choose what they want to work on and pursue. These are economic decisions.
The demand side of the equation includes human decisions, but so does the supply side, even if it is somehow entirely automated by computers. Because, as anyone with even a basic knowledge of computers could tell you, someone has to program them. And unless we somehow develop a hard AI, the people who program the computers will have to make decisions. Given that we have scarce resources, the central planning computer needs to have a way to prioritize between millions of competing desires. How important are cars relative to fridges? How big should these fridges be? How often do they need to be replaced? Should we make more fridges or more fridge factories so we can make even more in the future?
The Venus Project doesn't have an answer to any of these questions. Or even designs for robots to accomplish every mundane task, which seem essential to the scheme. But they can tell you what the "architectural design center" will look like! Also, there will be hovercars!
Even on a conceptual level, the Venus Project's program is not revolutionary. Chile under Salvador Allende attempted to implement a cybernetic system to manage the new socialist economy, known as Project Cybersyn (short for "cybernetics synergy"). Designed by British management cybernetics theorist and former United Steel executive Anthony Stafford Beer, Cybersyn would have used a network of computers and telex machines to come to cybernetically-sound decisions for the economy, resource management, and allocation of goods and services. Similar projects were conceived by the Soviet Union and East Germany, but never implemented. While the system had a snazzy, high-tech control room that looked like it was lifted from Star Trek, it soon found itself plagued by the very same bureaucratic problems it was intended to solve, though it was famously used to thwart a strike by truck drivers in Santiago in 1972. It will never be known how well the system would have worked in the long run, though, as Augusto Pinochet shut it down after his coup in 1973.
A common talking point from Jacque has something to do with his dislike of "money". He wants there to be "no money". This notion seems confused in several ways. Let's take a look at how the Venus Project would look the same with money as without money.
It's in the computers. They have to make decisions somehow, because there is scarcity. Jack likes to say there "won't be scarcity", but then goes on to say that decisions are made relative to the "carrying capacity of the earth". That's scarcity.
Anyways, coming at it from the other direction, where there is money, it's simple to make the same system. The money is digital, and no one works for money, they simply get a steady income. Similar to today, where some items are very cheap (five cent candies!) everything in this hypothetical world is likewise cheap, because of robots. Can an individual order an interstellar spacecraft from their local robo delivery service? Presumably, yes. So you just never run out of money.
And if we get too close to "the carrying capacity of the earth", then some things will indeed be expensive enough that you might need to save a few months of income to purchase it.
It seems that the Venus Project would need to be similar to the above thought experiment. They just don't want you calling it "money". Some day far in the future, a society may even get close to this. Lots of taxes, lots of money handouts, lots of robots. Far enough in the future, and those robots may nearly be able to "eliminate scarcity". It'll be great. But The Venus Project doesn't have a realistic plan for getting us anywhere near there.
The Venus Project's actual plan to achieve its aims:
- Phase One: Build a 21-acre research facility.
- Phase Two: Produce documentaries and, eventually, a feature film to promote the movement's aims.
- Phase Three: Build an experimental research city to act as a test run. This city will include a theme park designed to both entertain and educate people about their plans... hey, wait a minute, this is basically Walt Disney's original plan for EPCOT, isn't it? Build an experimental city of the future!!!, then build a theme park to lure people in — genius!
Relationship with the Zeitgeist Movement
Around 2008, Peter Joseph, creator of the conspiracy documentary Zeitgeist, discovered Jacque Fresco and the Venus Project and liked what he saw, aligning his budding Zeitgeist Movement with the organization (calling it "the activist arm of the Venus Project") and endorsing it heavily in the sequel Zeitgeist: Addendum. However, the Zeitgeist Movement's preoccupation with conspiracy theories and assorted grassroots libertarian/communal/anarchist projects alienated many people who had been involved in the Venus Project beforehand, including Fresco and co-leader Roxanne Meadows, who feared that the organization's aims were being muddled and that Joseph and the Zeitgeist Movement were trying to marginalize them and steal their ideas. By 2011, this had produced a formal split between the Venus Project and the Zeitgeist Movement, with Fresco and Meadows claiming that Joseph didn't understand the Venus Project's goals and Joseph countering that Fresco's plan (particularly the big feature film) was unrealistic and that efforts towards a "resource-based economy" were better spent elsewhere.
In short: the people who wanted to elevate humanity above greed, pettiness, and the lust for power ultimately succumbed to it themselves. Despite all their talk about eliminating money and private property, Fresco and Joseph both ultimately wanted to control the movement, and rather than compromise and arrive at decisions about how the movement's resources would be allocated, they both tried to make arbitrary decisions about its direction.
- Entry #64 in the Venus Project FAQ, "Who makes the decisions in a resource based economy?"
- Entry #28 in the Venus Project FAQ, "How would one choose a home?" Excerpt: "For instance, a man and woman may visit an architectural design center and sit in front of a clear hemisphere approximately six feet in diameter."
- Entry #45 in the Venus Project FAQ, "But, what if someone wanted to go out into a remote area, far from the cities?" Excerpt: "For remote traveling, we propose air cars that propel the vehicle about 4-6 feet off of the ground and are propelled by a ring vortex."
- Morozov, Evgeny. "The Planning Machine: Project Cybersyn and the origins of the Big Data nation." The New Yorker, 13 October 2014 (recovered 5 April 2015).
- Beckett, Andy. "Santiago Dreaming: The forgotten story of Chile's 'socialist internet'." The Guardian, 8 September 2003 (recovered 5 April 2015).
- Or not.
- Aims and Proposals
- The Original E.P.C.O.T. Project
- "Why did The Venus Project part ways with The Zeitgeist Movement?"
- "The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement splitting up." The Resource Based Abundance Economy