I chanced across a very interesting man in early US history who seems to have envisioned a post-scarce society all the way back in 1833. His name is J. A. Etzler, and he wrote a book called “The Paradise Within Reach of all Men” that described a society without work that was fully operated by machine and powered by renewable energy. A good overview is here.
It seems like he was less of a technical guy than a fancier of science fiction, but the book is interesting in how it tries to draw from basic principles the notion that such a society could have existed back then. He thought machines would automatically work the land, make consumables, etc. There’s a lot of holes in his engineering, but so interesting insight.
He talked a length about just how much natural power is accessible on Earth. I was struck by how very close the book is to modern thought: wind power, solar concentrators and tidal power are all described in-depth in very close to their modern forms. I could actually point to VC backed companies employing his designs in several cases for example.
The scale of the forces of nature isn’t lost on him - he actually calculates the amount of horsepower the tides produce. I believe he said that oceans have “72 billion men’s worth” (!) of power. Even crazier, he talks about “floating islands” that move around the world that are completely self-contained - just like Seasteads…
Interestingly, this obscure guy got around the 19th Century intellectual scene: Thoreau even wrote a review of his book. This is where I came across another utopian, somewhat more known, but still below my radar: Charles Fourier - no relation to the Transformer. C.F.’s ideas were more widely influential than Etzler’s and can be seen as some of the first libertarian-socialist thoughts. His idea of a“Phalanstere” as a physical home for his ideology fits nicely with my previous post on architecture and social forms. It even spawned hundreds of real communes built in that fashion amazingly.
Back to Johann though, he didn’t just talk about this stuff. He raised money for a settlement near Cincinnati and also outside Pittsburgh. After these failed, he was able to raise more money still to plan a trip to Venezuela - which also ended in failure.
In the end, I think that the guys had great insight but was born 200 years to soon. We need to take this as a cautionary tale of the siren song of utopia.