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Proxima Centauri B – Painting by Wendy Stolyarov

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Categories: Art, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

wendy_stolyarov_proxima_centauri_bProxima Centauri B – by Wendy Stolyarov

Note: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of fractal art.

Inspired by the recently-discovered habitable exoplanet orbiting Proxima Centauri, this painting depicts a risk-taking space colonist/engineer overseeing the construction of a Hyperloop (with the aid of sentient drones!) in a bright, and hopefully near, future.

Inspiration:An Epochal Discovery: A Habitable Planet Orbits a Nearby Star” – Rebecca Boyle, The Atlantic, August 24, 2016

See the index of Wendy Stolyarov’s art works. 

Visit Wendy Stolyarov’s website and view her art portfolio.

Wendy D. Stolyarov is an accomplished writer, thinker, artist, and graphic designer, who brings her immense talent and capacity for innovation to The Rational Argumentator and the wider movement for the advancement of Reason, Rights, and Progress. Mrs. Stolyarov uses computer technology masterfully to produce precise, realistic, life-affirming art. She has also contributed multiple essays to TRA and designed many of the magazine’s newer logos, including its banner and the New Renaissance top hat. Mrs. Stolyarov is married to G. Stolyarov II, the Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. She is the illustrator for Death is Wrong, the children’s book on indefinite life extension written by Mr. Stolyarov in 2013. 

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Does Star Trek Boldly Go Beyond Scarcity? – Article by Frederik Cyrus Roeder

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The New Renaissance HatFrederik Cyrus Roeder
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As a long-time Trekkie (with several conventions and selfies with William Shatner) and an economist, I was more than delighted when a good friend of mine gave me the recently published book Trekonomics: The Economics Behind Star Trek by Manu Saadia.

Saadia’s highly exciting book attempts to explain the economy of Star Trek and describes the Federation of United Planets (which includes Earth) as a post-scarcity society that no longer uses money because everyone maximizes their utility by just doing what they want to do. The main driving force behind people’s behavior is vanity, not profit. He calls this economic system “Trekonomics.”

Economics Is an Intergalactic Concept

While describing a post-scarcity society, Saadia admits that there are some resources that are scarce. He mainly focuses on dilithium crystals that are the source of energy in the Star Trek universe:

Logic would dictate that near-absolute abundance has driven prices to zero on all but few strategic goods. These strategic goods are of limited use for most people anyway. I do not need a big chunk of dilithium crystals in the course of my everyday life. Matter-antimatter power plants require it, whether on board starships or on the ground, but not me. I am not in the market for it, society as a whole is.

While Saadia praises the replicator (Star Trek’s version of the universal 3D printer) as the driving force behind post-scarcity, he omits the fact that replicators (and holodecks, and warp drives needed in delivery shuttles bringing the latest vintage of Chateau Picard to your cottage on Mars) require energy in order to create food out of nothing.

If there’s a shortage of dilithium, there needs to be a market in order to efficiently allocate energy. Therefore, every individual is interested in a sufficient supply of dilithium crystals. An analogy to our world can be seen in oil dwells or nuclear power plants. While individuals rarely explore oil fields or build power plants, they do purchase their product (energy) on a daily basis.

Even if every one of the tens of billions of citizens of the Federation would act altruistically, it would be impossible to allocate energy to the projects with the highest priority. Only central planning or a market for energy can solve this.

The 24th century’s technological progress has reduced all physical resources to one: energy. Humans and aliens can nearly produce everything out of energy. This is great and probably significantly cuts down value/supply-chains, but there is still scarcity.

Price Controls in the Trek Universe

The value chain of the Federation’s economy most likely includes the following few stakeholders: dilithium explorers and miners, dilithium transporters/shippers, dilithium power plant operators, power grid operators, B2B replicator manufacturers (those replicators that replicate replicators), replicator owners, and replicator maintenance providers. 

Assuming there’s a natural monopoly in running these services, one company or institution running all of this might also be thinkable (though given our experiences with centrally managed energy supply, I would highly doubt that there’s a natural monopoly in the dilithium value chain).

Without a price for the resource energy, a single individual could deplete the Federation’s dilithium supplies by merely replicating a galaxy full of larger-than-life Seven of Nine action figures. Thus a price system for energy is crucial in order to allow consumer choice in the Federation. The only other way to solve this issue would be the creation of the United Socialist Republics of the Galaxy (USRG) and centrally plan the energy distribution. Good luck with queuing for holodeck time in that USRG!

Light-Speed, Among Other Things, Isn’t Immune to Scarcity

Dilithium seems to perfectly qualify as a private good because both rivalry (it is scarce and you need to find it somewhere in deep and hostile space) and exclusivity (it’s pretty easy to cut someone off the energy grid) apply.

While Saadia acknowledges the scarcity of dilithium, he misses several other scarce goods:

Private Property: rivalry also exists when it comes to the use of land. Imagine a beautiful cliff in Europe that gives you a perfect view of Saturn during sunset. The cliff has space for exactly one cottage. Who decides who can build and live there? Galactic homesteading is probably a feasible means of solving this problem in times of early inter-planetary exploration, but the moment the galaxy gets more crowded, a land-registry proving property rights will be necessary in order to prevent and solve disputes and facilitate the transfer of ownership.

Unique locations and goods: Saadia admits that there’s a scarcity of seats at Sisko’s restaurant or bottles of the famous Chateau Picard, but as people have overcome the idea of enjoying status, they are not interested in over-consuming such gems in the galaxy.

In trekonomics, the absence of money implies that status is not tied to economic wealth or discretionary spending. Conspicuous consumption and luxury have lost their grip on people’s imaginations. The opposition between plenty and scarcity, which under our current conditions determines a large cross section of prices and purchasing behaviors, is no longer relevant.

This reasoning comes short in explaining how people demand dinner at Sisko’s or a good bottle of wine at all, and what happens if the demand is higher than the supply. Would first customers start hoarding? Are there black markets for these non-replicated goods and experiences?

Incentives: a Terran settler on Mars craves the 2309 vintage of Chateau Picard and wants to get it delivered in light speed from the South of France. How do we incentivize the shuttle pilot (beaming wine spoils the tannins) to stop soaking in the sun in the Mediterranean and swing his body behind the helm of a shuttle? How do we compensate him for the time and energy he spent delivering the wine to the Red Planet? If vanity is the major driving force in trekonomics, one can just hope that someone sees more vanity in the delivery of this excellent wine instead of chugging it day-in day-out himself. A more realistic way of getting people to do (annoying) things is to create incentives (e.g. to pay in dilithium units).

Live long and prosper as long the central planners allow it?

Star Trek Federation is a great thought experiment on what a post-scarcity society could look like. However, there are major shortcomings such as the allocation of property rights, a price system for energy, incentivization of services, and the existence of rivalry.

A free, prosperous, and open society such as the Federation can only function with a price system in place in order to deal with the scarcity of energy. If trekonomics would really be applied in the Federation, we would see a much more repressive version of this interplanetary union forcing its citizens to work in certain professions and rationing energy.

frederik-roeder


Frederik Cyrus Roeder

Fred Roeder is the Vice President of Students for Liberty and member of the Executive Board at Young Voices. He is based in Germany.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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George Washington’s Letter to the Jews – Article by Sarah Skwire

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The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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In August of 1790, George Washington wrote a brief letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. If anything, it is more timely than ever as we continue to struggle with questions of toleration and bigotry, and of the joys and dangers of insisting on freedom of conscience in our nation and in our lives.

Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy. ~ G. Washington

Washington came to Newport for a visit on August 17th, 1790  and was addressed by Moses Seixas, one of the officials of the long-established Jewish congregation of Newport. Seixas noted that, given the grim history of the Jews, America was a particularly important place, for:

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine…

While I suspect many reader will find, as I do, the notion of being a part of the “great governmental machine” far less appealing than Seixas did, his main point remains a vital one. For a people who had been chased from their homes by persecution, forced conversions, violence, and governmental theft of their property, the American promise of toleration was an almost incomprehensible blessing.

Toleration in Rhode Island

When I visited the Touro synagogue—home of the Jewish congregation Washington addressed—last week, my tour guide reminded me that Rhode Island’s version of religious toleration was particularly impressive, even within the wider American context.

Founded by the famously ornery Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading “new and dangerous opinions,” and established by a charter from King Charles II,  Rhode Island was based on principles of complete religious toleration from its very beginning. The 1663 founding charter notes that Rhode Island is meant to be:

a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained…with a full liberty in religious concernments… our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others, any law, statute, or clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm, to the contrary hereof, in any wise notwithstanding.

Even the structure of Newport echoes the words of its royal charter. The city’s churches are not next to the statehouse, but clustered behind it, emphasizing their equality with one another and the separation between church and state.

It is hard for a modern reader to understand exactly how astonishing this promise of complete freedom of religious conscience was for the time. Perhaps the best way to think about it is that, when this royal charter was drawn up, Europe had suffered through more than 120 years of near-constant religious warfare. The death toll from that religiously motivated violence totaled somewhere between 5.6 and 18.5 million, depending on which historians you read and whether or not you count deaths caused by diseases and famine resulting from warfare.

Rhode Island must have seemed like a miracle to any 17th-century citizen. And for the Jews of Spain and Portugal, making their way to Newport via Amsterdam, the promise of such freedom must have been tantalizing and a little terrifying. Could they really trust that non-Christian religions would be included in these promises? Would they really be safe?

They would.

And the letter that Seixas read to George Washington makes that sense of security perfectly clear. Seixas did not speak of toleration and freedom as promises made in hopes of some much-desired future. He spoke of them as established truths that were in place then and there, as he was writing. “We now …behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Freedom Works

Washington’s response to Seixas and the other Jews of Newport is similarly focused on the success of the American experiment in toleration. He writes:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

The Revolution is over. The Constitution is in place. The Republic has not fallen apart in its first years. There is reason to be proud, says Washington.

More importantly, he argues that toleration is not a question of an elite extending a favor to a lower and less worthy class. Toleration is about the equal treatment of all. The Jews of Newport are not “tolerated” the way that one learns to live with a leaky faucet or a small ding on your car bumper. Their differences are tolerated because their persons are equal.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Repeating Seixas’s phrasing back to him, in words that have become a crucial part of American thinking, Washington reassures him, and all the Jews of Newport, that he and they are of one mind on the subject of toleration.

We should think, today, about that phrase that Seixas originated and Washington repeated. It makes a fine model for how we should behave in the increasingly fraught religious tensions of the 21st century.

A civil society should give to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance. That means that those of us who are already here may not use our position to persecute newcomers, nor may we use their differences as an excuse for hatred and ill-treatment. But this is a covenant that must work in both directions. To enter into a civil society, one must make those promises as well.

Old hatreds, old prejudices, and old patterns of persecution must be left on the doormat of a civil society—discarded, like a pair of muddy boots, before you come in.

Only then can we regain the pride that Seixas and Washington had in a toleration that they felt was secured. Only then can we close our letters as Washington closed his, with the conviction that now, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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For the Separation of Stadium and State – Article by David R. Henderson

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The New Renaissance HatDavid R. Henderson
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The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Jonah Goldberg about the Colin Kaepernick incident. (If you haven’t been paying attention to the NFL lately, here’s the summary: Kaepernick is a San Francisco 49er who refused, and still refuses, to stand for the U.S. national anthem.)

I had been pondering writing a similar piece myself. And then I saw his title. Darn, I thought, Goldberg has beat me to it.

Except that he didn’t.

Goldberg’s article is all about his narrow way of keeping politics out of sports: players should stand for the national anthem. Some people would see this as a way of inserting politics into sports.

That means that people who don’t like what Kaepernick did are being forced to pay for the very property on which he did it.

But how would you keep politics out of sports in a fundamental way? It would be by not forcing people to pay for sports.

You don’t have to know a lot about the 49ers or the NFL to know that local governments tax their residents and others heavily to pay for luxurious stadiums.

That means that people who don’t like what Kaepernick did are being forced to pay for the very property on which he did it. On the other hand, it also means that people who don’t like the flag-waving that goes on at NFL games are also forced to pay for the property on which that occurs.

There’s a simple solution here: actually separate sports and state. That is, quit forcing taxpayers to pay for sports.

Now that’s a solution that I will salute.

 

david-r-henderson
David R. Henderson

David Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an economics professor at the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. He is editor of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund) and blogs at econlib.org.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Where Does the Term “Libertarian” Come From Anyway? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The word “libertarian” has gained new prominence due to the strange politics of our time. According to Google Trends, its use as a search term in the US is at a 10-year high.

It’s long. It’s awkward. It always needs explaining. In America, it’s a word for both a party and an ideology. And the wars over what it actually means never end.

What I haven’t seen is a serious investigation into the modern origins of the use of the term that might allow us to have a better understanding of what it means.

Thanks to FEE’s archiving project, we now have a better idea. As it turns out, libertarianism is not a strange new ideology with arcane rules and strictures, much less a canon of narrowly prescribed belief. It predates the Libertarian Party’s founding in 1972. The term came into use twenty years earlier to signal a broad embrace of an idea with ancient origins.

To be sure, if we go back a century, you will find a 1913 book Liberty and the Great Libertarians by Charles Sprading (reviewed here). It includes biographies of many classical liberals but also some radicals in general who didn’t seem to have much affection for modern commercial society. It’s a good book but, so far as I can tell, the use of the term in this book is an outlier.

Apart from a few isolated cases – H.L. Mencken had described himself as a libertarian in 1923 –  the term laid dormant on the American scene for the following 50 years.

The Liberty Diaspora

Toward the end of World War II, a small group of believers in liberty set out to fight and reverse the prevailing ideological trends in media, academia, and government. During the war, the government controlled prices, wages, speech, and industrial production. It was comprehensive planning – a system not unlike that practiced in countries the US was fighting.

A flurry of books appeared that urged a dramatic change. In 1943, there was Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom, Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. In 1944, there was F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government, and John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

These powerful works signaled that it was time to counter the prevailing trend toward the “planned society,” which is why Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946. It was the first institute wholly dedicated to the cause of human freedom.

As of yet, no word was used to describe the ideological outlook of this group of thinkers. To understand why, you have to put yourself back in the confusing period in question. The war had entrenched the New Deal and dealt a serious blow to those who wanted the US to stay out of foreign entanglements. The political resistance to the New Deal was completely fractured. The attack on Pearl Harbor had driven the anti-war movement into hiding. The trauma of war had changed everything. The pro-liberty perspective had been so far driven from public life that it had no name.

Resisting Labels

Most of these dissident thinkers would have easily described themselves as liberals two decades earlier. But by the mid-1930s, that word had been completely hijacked to mean its opposite. And keep in mind that the word “conservative” – which had meaning in the UK (referring to the Tories, who were largely opposed to classical liberalism) but not in the US – had yet to emerge: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind wasn’t published until 1953.

In addition, Leonard Read resisted labeling the pro-freedom ideology, and for good reason. An ideological system with a name seems also to indicate a plan for how society ought to be managed and what a nation ought to strive for in detail. What he and others favored was exactly the opposite: the freedom for each individual to discover the right way through an emergent process of social evolution that never stops. There was no end state. There was only a process. They rightly believed labels distract from that crucial point.

We Need a Word

And yet, people will necessarily call you something. The problem of what that would be vexed this first generation after the war, and the struggle was on to find the right term. Some people liked the term “individualist,” but that has the problem of de-emphasizing the thriving sense of community, and the vast and intricate social cooperation, that result from a free society.

Kirk’s book on “conservatism” appeared in 1953, but this term frustrated many people who believed strongly in free markets. Kirk had hardly mentioned economics at all, and the traditionalism he highlighted in the book seemed to exclude the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, Jefferson, and Paine. The book also neglected the contributions of 20th century advocates of freedom, who had a new consciousness concerning the grave threats to liberty from both the right and left.

In 1953, Max Eastman wrote a beautiful piece in The Freeman that discussed the reversal of the terms left and right over the course of the century, and deeply regretted the loss of the term liberalism. Among other suggestions, Eastman proposed “New Liberalism” to distinguish them from the New Deal liberals. But in addition to being awkward in general, the phrase had a built-in obsolescence. He further toyed with other phrases such as “conservative liberal,” but that had its own problems.

We are Liberals but the Word Is Gone

They were all struggling with the same problem. These people were rightly called liberals. But the term liberalism was taken from them, and they were now homeless. They knew what they believed but had no memorable term or elevator pitch.

A solution was proposed by Dean Russell, a historian of thought and a colleague of Read’s who had translated many works of Frédéric Bastiat. In May 1955, he wrote the seminal piece that proposed that the term libertarian be revived:

Many of us call ourselves “liberals.” And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkward and subject to misunderstanding.

Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian.””

So there we have it: libertarian is a synonym for what was once called liberal. It meant no more and it meant no less. It is not a new system of thought, a new ideology, a new revelation of some highly rarified political outlook with detailed answers to all of life’s problems. It was proposed as nothing more than a term to describe a tradition of thought dating back hundreds of years in the West and with even ancient origins.

Liberalism = Libertarianism

Liberalism is a term that describes the general conviction that freedom is the best solution to the whole problem of social interaction. Put another way, liberalism celebrates the primacy of freedom and rejects power and central authority as both ineffective and morally corrupting.

Russell then goes into specifics. Libertarianism is “the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.”

A libertarian believes government should “leave people alone to work out their own problems and aspirations.”

A libertarian, continued Russell, “respects the right of every person to use and enjoy his honestly acquired property—to trade it, to sell it, or even to give it away—for he knows that human liberty cannot long endure when that fundamental right is rejected or even seriously impaired.” A libertarian “believes that the daily needs of the people can best be satisfied through the voluntary processes of a free and competitive market” and “has much faith in himself and other free persons to find maximum happiness and prosperity in a society wherein no person has the authority to force any other peaceful person to conform to his viewpoints or desires in any manner. In summary: “The libertarian’s goal is friendship and peace with his neighbors at home and abroad.”

Chodorov Weights In

He must have made a persuasive case. Frank Chodorov came on board, making exactly the same point in an essay in National Review, printed on June 20, 1956:

“The bottle is now labeled libertarianism. But its content is nothing new; it is what in the nineteenth century, and up to the time of Franklin Roosevelt, was called liberalism — the advocacy of limited government and a free economy. (If you think of it, you will see that there is a redundancy in this formula, for a government of limited powers would have little chance of interfering with the economy.) The liberals were robbed of their time-honored name by the unprincipled socialists and near socialists, whose avidity for prestige words knows no bounds. So, forced to look for another and distinctive label for their philosophy, they came up with libertarianism — good enough but somewhat difficult for the tongue.”

Read Comes Around

Even Leonard Read himself came around to using the term. He used it freely in his famous 1956 essay “Neither Left Nor Right.” Then in 1962, Read wrote The Elements of Libertarian Leadership. He again made the point that a libertarian is no more or less than a substitute for the term liberal:

“The term libertarian is used because nothing better has been found to replace liberal, a term that has been most successfully appropriated by contemporary authoritarians. As long as liberal meant liberation from the authoritarian state, it was a handy and useful generalization. It has come to mean little more than state liberality with other people’s money.”

A Big Tent

There you have it. The content is nothing new. It is a broad umbrella of people who put the principle of freedom first. In its inception, libertarianism included: constitutionalists, believers in limited government, objectivists, anarchists, localists, agorists, pacifists, brutalists, humanitarians, and maybe monarchists too. It included deontologists, consequentialists, and empiricists.

The term was designed to apply to everyone who was not a partisan of central planning. It did not refer to a narrow doctrine but to a general tendency, exactly the same as liberalism itself. And that liberal principle was that individuals matter and society needs no overarching managerial authority to work well.

Nor does it need to refer only to people who have a consistent and comprehensive worldview. Let’s say you want lower taxes, legal pot, and peace, and these are the issues that concern you. It strikes me that you can rightly call yourself a libertarian, regardless of what you might think on other issues once pressed.

For this reason, the endless fights over who is and who isn’t a libertarian are beside the point. There are better and worse renderings, better and worse arguments, better and worse implications, and it is up to all of us to do the hard work of discovering what those are. Whatever the results, no one can lay exclusive claim to the term. There are as many types of libertarians as there are believers in liberty itself.

To be sure, there are still plenty of problems with the term. It is still too long, and it is still too awkward. It will do for now, but notice something: the left-wing partisans of central planning don’t seem to embrace the word “liberalism” as they once did. They prefer the term “progressive” – a misnomer if there ever was one!

Does that leave the word liberal on the table for the taking? Maybe. That would be some beautiful poetry. I say again, let’s take back the word “liberal”.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

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The Fed Plans for the Next Crisis – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
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In her recent address at the Jackson Hole monetary policy conference, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen suggested that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates by the end of the year. Markets reacted favorably to Yellen’s suggested rate increase. This is surprising, as, except for one small increase last year, the Federal Reserve has not followed through on the numerous suggestions of rate increases that Yellen and other Fed officials have made over the past several years.

Much more significant than Yellen’s latest suggestion of a rate increase was her call for the Fed to think outside the box in developing responses to the next financial crisis. One of the outside-the-box ideas suggested by Yellen is increasing the Fed’s ability to intervene in markets by purchasing assets of private companies. Yellen also mentioned that the Fed could modify its inflation target.

Increasing the Federal Reserve’s ability to purchase private assets will negatively impact economic growth and consumers’ well-being. This is because the Fed will use this power to keep failing companies alive, thus preventing the companies’ assets from being used to produce a good or service more highly valued by consumers.

Investors may seek out companies whose assets have been purchased by the Federal Reserve, since it is likely that Congress and federal regulators would treat these companies as “too big to fail.” Federal Reserve ownership of private companies could also strengthen the movement to force businesses to base their decisions on political, rather than economic, considerations.

Yellen’s suggestion of modifying the Fed’s inflation target means that the Fed would increase the inflation tax just when Americans are trying to cope with a major recession or even a depression. The inflation tax is the most insidious of all taxes because it is both hidden and regressive.

The failure of the Federal Reserve’s eight-year spree of money creation via quantitative easing and historically low interest rates to reflate the bubble economy suggests that the fiat currency system may soon be coming to an end. Yellen’s outside-the-box proposals will only hasten that collapse.

The collapse of the fiat system will not only cause a major economic crisis, but also the collapse of the welfare-warfare state. Yet, Congress not only refuses to consider meaningful spending cuts, it will not even pass legislation to audit the Fed.

Passing Audit the Fed would allow the American people to know the full truth about the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy, including the complete details of the Fed’s plans to respond to the next economic crash. An audit will also likely uncover some very interesting details regarding the Federal Reserve’s dealings with foreign central banks.

The large number of Americans embracing authoritarianism — whether of the left or right-wing variety — is a sign of mass discontent with the current system. There is a great danger that, as the economic situation worsens, there will be an increase in violence and growing restrictions on liberty. However, public discontent also presents a great opportunity for those who understand free-market economics to show our fellow citizens that our problems are not caused by immigrants, imports, or the one percent, but by the Federal Reserve.

Politicians will never restore sound money or limited government unless forced to do so by either an economic crisis or a shift in public option. It is up to us who know the truth to make sure the welfare-warfare state and the system of fiat money ends because the people have demanded it, not because a crisis left Congress with no other choice.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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Markets Are Breaking Down India’s Caste System, Turning Untouchables into Millionaires – Article by Malavika Nair and G. P. Manish

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The New Renaissance HatMalavika Nair and G. P. Manish
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This year marks the 25th anniversary of liberal reforms in India that led to the dismantling of many socialist economic policies and the end of the draconian License Raj. Liberalization has changed life for many in India over the past couple of decades, although much more remains to be done. Just the middle class alone has exploded from 30 million people in 1991 to 300 million in 2014.

So this is a good occasion to tell the story of perhaps the most unexpected beneficiaries of these reforms: the rising Dalit millionaires. In recent years, many thousands of so-called “untouchables,” or Dalits, members of the lowest group in the Indian caste order, have risen out of poverty to become wealthy business owners, some even millionaires.

By taking advantage of the greater economic opportunity brought about by market reforms, these Dalit entrepreneurs provide us with an important example of the power of markets, not just to bring about economic emancipation, but to fight deeply entrenched social discrimination.

The Plight of the Dalits

The Indian caste system is an ancient and complex social order that divides society into groups based on a somewhat rough division of labor. The Dalits belong to the lowest group, below the four-tiered hierarchy of priests, warriors, merchants and artisans. Traditionally, Dalits were relegated to a life of doing “dirty” jobs such as cleaning floors and toilets or handling garbage: hence gaining the name “untouchable” as others would refuse to come into contact with them.

Since one’s caste was determined by birth, and it was impossible to switch castes throughout one’s life, being born an untouchable meant a lifetime of being trapped in a low income “dirty” job with very low social status. Marriages would only take place among caste members, and hence one’s children would be faced with the same hurdles brought by the untouchable identity, leading to systematic discrimination locked into place for generations.

It isn’t surprising that the Dalits consistently rank near the bottom of poverty statistics in an already poverty-ridden country. The term “poorest of the poor” would be an apt description of their socio-economic status in general. For decades, this made them the targets of several affirmative-action programs as well as many a politician looking to champion a cause.

While affirmative action has helped some get ahead, it has by no means been a panacea. For as long as all industry was state-controlled and subject to extensive licensing, the state effectively made all production decisions and awarded licenses to a few chosen oligarchs. This meant that opportunities for entrepreneurship and business were slim to none, and affirmative-action programs only served to redistribute pieces of a fixed pie from one to another.

Slumdog Millionaires

But there is a new heartwarming trend of entrepreneurship and self-help among Dalits since the liberal reforms in India, especially in urban areas. A visit to the Dalit Chamber of Commerce website (see also the Facebook page) reveals slogans such as “Fight Caste with Capital” and “Be Job givers, not Job seekers” as well as a spokesperson who favorably cites the invisible hand, a la Adam Smith! This voluntary Chamber of Commerce, set up in 2003 to bring Dalit entrepreneurs together, currently has 5,000 members whose enterprises jointly boast over half a billion dollars in sales revenue. The actual number of entrepreneurs in the population is much higher.

To what do they owe their success? Fascinating new qualitative research that tracks the life stories of several of these Dalit entrepreneurs reveals a common thread. The opening up of production processes to market forces created new opportunities like never before. Starting small and scraping together resources and capital, many of these Dalits now run business empires that actually provide employment to upper caste members.

There is Thomas Barnabas who was born into a family of bonded laborers, all eight of whom lived in a one-room house. Thomas recalls being thrown out of an upper caste friend’s home as a child after eating and drinking there because he was “untouchable.” They then proceeded to purify and wash the floor where he sat and threw away the dishes from which he ate.

Thomas now owns an industrial waste recycling and disposal business that has an annual sales revenue of $2.3 million and employs 200 people (including many upper caste members) outside the city of Chennai. He strove to fulfill an unmet demand for the processing of industrial waste generated by large corporations like Samsung, Dell, and Mercedes that set up manufacturing facilities in India after liberalization.

Or there is M.M. Rao, who was just one of two children to get an education in a family of bonded laborers with eight children. His family was so poor that they could not afford to buy shoes. His mother and sister were forced to walk barefoot to work in a nearby town.

Rao now owns a group of companies that specialize in construction, especially in the telecom sector, with a sales revenue of $7.4 million in 2010 alone. He was able to use his education as a civil engineer to start a small sub-contracting business laying telephone cables for large companies after the liberalization of the telecom sector. Owing to the quality of his work as well as his business acumen, he was able to grow that small sub-contracting business into what it is today.

Sushil Patil grew up in a 200-square-foot house in a slum, and his father was a laborer in a factory where he was discriminated against for his low caste status. Sushil was able to complete his engineering degree only because his father had to request the college dean to waive the fees that they could not afford to pay. He recalls, “I can never forget my father bowing before the dean, that hit me hard.” He now owns a construction and engineering company with revenues of $45 million a year. His main business is to handle the construction of power plants for major power companies. He has friends who still live in the slum that he grew up in and hopes to construct a charitable hospital that will offer medical services free of charge to the poor.

Markets Break Down Barriers

These stories constitute but a tiny sliver of many thousands, if not more. They lead us to an interesting question: how is it exactly that markets fight social discrimination? Markets work in very different ways than the obvious and visible hand of state-driven policies. While the state seeks to outlaw and abolish caste identity by making discrimination illegal, markets work in quiet and invisible ways by making caste identity irrelevant.

Competition brings about the existence of meaningful and relevant alternatives that raise the opportunity cost of discrimination for everyone participating in the market. It is in an entrepreneur’s economic interest to hire and contract with those who have the highest marginal productivity regardless of their caste identity. For if he does not, his competitor might potentially steal away profits that he could have earned. The more open and competitive a market, the more true this holds.

Once liberal reforms were put in place, they created choice and opportunity for many like never before. Market forces unwittingly brought about economic and thus social progress for society’s poorest and most discriminated against.

But can we go as far as saying the caste system has withered away? Not at all. It is unfortunately alive and well, especially in the rural areas where 68% of the population still lives, despite its being legally “outlawed” for decades.

Can we say that discrimination melts away in a market setting? Not necessarily. Anyone is free to discriminate on the basis of caste identity, even in a market. However, the greater the economic opportunity out there, the greater the chance that the cost of discrimination will be borne by the discriminator himself, not the one being discriminated against.

This is not true under socialism. When the state has a monopoly over all production and its chosen oligarchs (employers) sell to a captive market, discriminating against a certain group of people does not have negative economic consequences for the employer, but only for the ones being discriminated against. Naysayers claim that this rise among Dalits is marginal and not representative of Dalits as a proportion to the total population of the country. Some are getting ahead, but most are still left behind.

While this may be true in terms of numbers, the fact that this has happened at all is nothing short of marvelous. It’s not a coincidence that there were no Dalit millionaires emerging under socialism. It is a direct consequence of the underlying institutional setting. The Dalits exemplify the theory of the so-called poverty trap: being locked into a low-income equilibrium for generations. And yet, given a little opportunity and choice, we see many leaving a life of poverty and social discrimination behind to become well-respected business leaders and philanthropists.

Most encouraging is the recognition among them that it is the invisible hand of the market that has been instrumental for social and economic progress in their community. It is a step in the right direction for the future of classical liberalism and its role in alleviating poverty at a time when many who are more fortunate seem to be forgetting or ignoring its importance.

References

  1. The unexpected rise of Dalit millionaires: Swaminathan Aiyar
  2. Capitalism is changing caste much faster than any human being: Shekhar Gupta
  3. Defying the odds: The Rise of Dalit Entrepreneurs: Devesh Kapur, D Shyam Babu, Chandra Bhan Prasad
  4. Capitalism’s Assault on the Indian caste system: Swaminathan Aiyar, Cato policy paper
  5. 5. Dalit Chamber of Commerce website: www.dicci.org.

Malavika Nair is an Assistant Professor of Economics in the Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University. She is also an associated scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

G.P. Manish is an Assistant Professor of Economics in the Sorrell College of Business and a member of the Manuel H. Johnson Center of Political Economy at Troy University.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the authors.

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A Totalitarian State Can Only Rule a Desperately Poor Society – Article by Ryan Miller

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The New Renaissance HatRyan Miller
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I recently finished Anthem by Ayn Rand. In this short novella she tells the story of Equality 7-2521 (later called Prometheus), a man living in a dystopian collectivist society which has eclipsed the individual to such a degree that words such as “I” and “my” no longer even exist. The story is about Prometheus’ discovery of himself as an individual and of the world as it was before.

In this society babies are taken immediately from their “parents”, who were assigned to one another by the Council of Eugenics for the sole purpose of breeding, raised in the Home of Infants and then in the Home of Students, and then finally assigned their life-long profession at the age of 15 by the Council of Vocations. Everything is done for the supposed benefit of your brothers, preference is not allowed, superior ability is not allowed, and back-breaking toil is praised as such and not as a way to improve your own or humanity’s situation.

Dictatorship Means Poverty

But what is striking about this story is how accurately it portrays how the world would look under such life-throttling conditions. The Home of the Scholars is praised for having only recently (100 years ago) (re)invented marvels such as candles and glass. Since the times before the “Great Rebirth” and the discovery of the “Great Truth”—namely, “that all men are one and there is no will save the will of all men together”—humanity has, in reality, lost the progress of thousands of years and has reverted back to a time before even such basic utilities as oil lamps or clocks.

But Ayn Rand’s genius is that this is exactly what would happen to the world should it ever discover and truly act upon this “Great Truth.” Yet this is not typically how dystopian stories portray this type of society. Stories such as Brave New World1984The GiverDivergentEquilibrium, and many others, all love to show some type of ultra-technologically-advanced world in the backdrop of total or near total oppression, suppression of the individual, and enforcement of conformity.

Despite the almost total (and often drug-induced) destruction of individual will, drive, and creativity, these societies have reached unprecedented levels of technological competence. This is especially true when one considers when many of these stories were written.

In Brave New World, written in 1931, everyone has a personal helicopter, science has advanced to such a degree that mothers and fathers are no longer necessary parts of the breeding process, and everyone is kept docile and happy by the apparently side-effect lacking drug Soma.

In 1984 (published in 1949) there are two way telescreens, miniscule microphones and cameras, and speak/writes which turn whatever you say into text. In the other stories technology is advanced enough to, among other things, control weather (The Giver), give kids serum-induced psychological aptitude tests (Divergent), and to completely suppress emotions (Equilibrium). In addition to these there are countless other inventions or practices in these stories and the many others of the dystopian future genre.

Invention Requires Freedom

The question that needs to be asked, however, is who invented all these things? These marvel feats, which in the stories are often used for the end of some malevolent goal, are really all potentially awesome, or at least highly complex and complicated, inventions or innovations. Their conception and ultimate realization would have required years of thought, testing, failure, tinkering, and then success—things which all require individual ingenuity, creativity, and the incentives arising from the prospect of individual pride and gain.

Every great break-through in history was achieved by some odd-ball going against the grain or traditionally accepted view of things in their particular field. If they had done things the way people had always done them, they would never have had the ability to think outside the box and discover or create a unique solution to the problem at hand. Inventors and innovators need their quirkiness, eccentricity, social awkwardness, or will and ability to stand up to the existing order. And they need that coupled with the idea that they have something to gain.

But all of these stories, to different degrees, have built societies that destroy our differences, our emotions, our passions, our ability to think differently, and our incentives to create if were even able to.

So where do these advanced societies come from? Sure they could drink from the well of wealth created by the society that may have preceded it, but only for a while. It would eventually dry up. And without new generations of ambitious and intelligent dreamers, tinkerers, outside-the-boxers, there would be no one around to rebuild the wealth. This is the world that Ayn Rand creates in Anthem. The hopeless world without individuals.

The existence of advanced societies in many dystopian stories is reminiscent of the problem with the thinking in our world today and in the past: the thinking that things “just happen”—that innovation, invention, and progress are phenomena which occur naturally, regardless of conditions. Though the worlds portrayed in these other novels are far from desirable, the progress alone that the societies in them have reached is a reflection of this idea that most people, at least passively or unknowingly, buy into.

In reality the world would look much more like that of Anthem.

 

ryan_miller

Ryan Miller is a University of Michigan graduate, freelance translator, and aspiring blogger. He is also a Praxis participant in the September 2016 cohort.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Don’t Lose Friendships Over Politics – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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Has election season always been this rough on friendships?

So many people I know are getting into Facebook fights, Twitter wars, Instagram arguments, and Snapchat squabbles. What begins as an ideological dispute ends in bitterness. People are provoking others, demanding those who do or don’t support their candidate leave their networks, cutting ties with friends and family, and all because of political differences.

I can’t even imagine what the Thanksgiving table will be like this year!

People perceive the stakes this year to be that high. To be sure, political philosophy does matter and does carry high stakes. However, the partisan struggle for the control of the state apparatus by this or that temporary manager doesn’t matter as much as election season seems to suggest. You might be being manipulated, and friendships and families are actually too precious to throw away for transient reasons.

It’s a pity to cause permanent rifts, and so unnecessary. The people who rearrange their personal relationships for the election imagine that they are taking control of their lives. They don’t seem to realize that they are actually letting strangers control their lives – strangers who care nothing for them in a system that actually seeks to divide people so it can conquer them. To permit politics to fundamentally alter something so important as friendship is to give politicians more importance than they deserve.

Trolling and Banning

Now, of course there is a proviso here. If there is someone in your network who is deliberately trolling you, harassing you, and goading you to respond, the best possible response is to block them. Not talk back. Not engage in a tit for tat. Just quietly block, without drama or announcement, much less denunciation.

Most public people I know have blocked as many as one hundred plus people over the past year, simply because this election season has been so contentious, with the alt-right and alt-left (who oddly agree on so much) battling it out on social media. Blocking is the far better path than engaging them. Vicious back and forths on the Internet can be life-consuming and draining. People who are trying to do that to you deserve exclusion from your conversation circle.

Apart from these cases, it strikes me as pointless to hurl someone out of your life because of political differences.

First, by denying yourself access to different points of view, you risk isolating yourself from a critic who might teach you something you need to know, maybe about anything in life, but maybe even about politics.

Second, talking to people with different opinions keeps you making sense and speaking in a civil way, addressing others in a way that could persuade them.

Third, and most critically, to isolate yourself, hate others for their views, and regard people with different points of view as less deserving of dignified treatment, plays into exactly what the political system wants for you to do.

But Aren’t They Aggressors?

A counter to my point was offered by a friend of mine last year. Speaking as a libertarian, he said, he regards anyone who supports some government action – even just casually and without much thought – as wittingly or unwittingly contributing to an opinion culture that supports rising political violence. The only friends he believes deserve the time of day from him must hold steadfastly to his voluntarist perspective, else he regards them as a direct threat to his life and liberty.

Now, this strikes me as vastly too severe. The truth is that most people who support some government action do not regard themselves as violent people. They believe that they are favoring something that is good for others, perhaps fostering the better life for the community.

For example, if a person favors higher spending on public education, they believe that they are pushing for policies that are good for others, not calling for violence against taxpayers to support unworkable programs. How can you possibly persuade them otherwise if you cut off all ties?

And it’s not just libertarians who can be this way. A good friend of mine was a casual lefty and, like most from his tribe, he was dead serious about the issue of climate change. I had no idea until the subject came up over coffee. I expressed some doubt that the science was truly settled concerning all causes and effects, solutions, costs and benefits, and so on. I was actually very measured in my comments, but somehow they caused him to blow up, call me a science-denying, tin-foil-hat-wearing capitalist apologist, and then actually leave the conversation. And that was it.

I was stunned. I was merely disagreeing with him, however cautiously. But somehow, he had come to believe that anyone who disagreed with him bears some responsibility for the rising sea levels, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the gradual disintegration of the planet, even though I’ve written very little on the topic at all.

He was letting politics control his life and even determine his friendships. Both of us are spiritually poorer as a result of this friendship loss.

And consider the toxic effect the rising politics of personal identity – on the left and the right – are having on the ability of people to find value in each other. Imagine how you would make me feel if you believed my whiteness represents a continuing stain on the world order. There is no chance for any kind of engagement; after all, I cannot change my race. Or what if I believe your blackness or gayness or atheism or whatever is leading to demographic or cultural destruction – how can we possibly be civil to each other? The politics of identity is causing precisely these sorts of irrational and pointless splits among us.

What Is the Point of Friendship?

What the libertarian and the lefty I mentioned above do not realize is that they are guilty of the same error of allowing politics to invade the conduct of their lives and determine the conditions of their personal happiness. Once this kind of thing starts, there is truly no end to it.

Must everyone agree with you on every jot and tittle of your ideology to be your friend? Must there be zero tolerance for even the slightest difference in outlook, priority, application, and goal of your particular political outlook? In other words, must all your friends believe exactly as you believe?

If this is your perspective, you might consider: there is not much point to being friends and engaging in conversation with someone who has the exact same view on all things that you have. It seems rather boring. Might as well stay home and reflect on your own infallibility.

I like to think of friendship much the way we think of economic exchange. In economics, goods and services do not exchange in the presence of perfect sameness. They exchange because each party to the exchange believes himself or herself will be better off than he or she was before the exchange. It is only in the presence of unequal expectations that exchange becomes mutually rewarding.

It is the same with friendship. We need to hear different points of view. We need the insights of others. Even if we don’t accept them in total, we can still hope to understand people and the world better by considering what others have to say – with sincerity, warmth, and honesty. In other words, friendships like this help us have an open mind and keep us all humble and teachable.

Candidates Will Betray You

Neither is it a good idea to give up a friendship based on loyalty to a particular candidate. The top two contenders for the presidency have held many different and conflicting views on a huge range of political issues, from taxation to immigration to war. These people are wired to be adaptable based on the polls. To follow one or the other all the way to the point that it affects your associations is to risk compromising your own intellectual integrity.

Neither is worth that.

One of the great tragedies of politics is that it can take people who in real life would be peaceful and loyal and loving friends and turn them into bitter enemies. I’m always struck by this when I see a political rally, with face offs between backers and protesters. What exactly is gained by this? If you put these same people in a shopping mall or movie theater or restaurant, they would have every reason to get along and no reason to be screaming obscenities at each other.

We should hold on to that realization. Each of us is a human being with feelings, hopes, dreams, and a vision of a life well-lived – every single person, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or ideology. Politics should change nothing about that.

If we long for a better world of mutual understanding and peace, one way to help achieve it is to live as if it already exists. Above all, that means never letting politics get in the way of rewarding human relationships.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Criticizing Programmed Theories of Aging – Article by Reason

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The New Renaissance HatReason
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Today I’ll point out an open-access critique of programmed aging theories by the originator of the disposable soma theory of aging, one of the modern views of aging as accumulated damage rather than programming. The question of how and why we age is wrapped in a lot of competing theory, but of great practical importance. Our biochemistry is enormously complex and incompletely mapped, and thus the processes of aging, which is to how exactly our biochemistry changes over time, and all of the relationships that drive that change, are also enormously complex and incompletely mapped. Nonetheless, there are shortcuts that can be taken in the face of ignorance: the fundamental differences between young and old tissue are in fact well cataloged, and thus we can attempt to reverse aging by treating these changes as damage and repairing them. If you’ve read through the SENS rejuvenation research proposals, well, that is the list. The research community may not yet be able to explain and model how exactly this damage progresses, interacts, and spreads from moment to moment, but that effort isn’t necessary to build repair therapies capable of rejuvenation. You don’t need to build a full model of the way in which paint cracks and peels in order to scrub down and repaint a wall, and building that model is a lot most costly than just forging ahead with the painting equipment.

The engineering point of view described above, simply getting on with the job when there is a good expectation of success, is somewhat antithetical to the ethos and culture of the sciences, which instead guides researchers to the primary goal of obtaining full understanding of the systems they study. In practice, of course, every practical application of the life sciences is created in a state of partial ignorance, but the majority of research groups are nonetheless oriented towards improving the grand map of the biochemistry of metabolism and aging rather than doing what can be done today to create rejuvenation therapies. Knowledge over action. If we had all the time in the world this would be a fine and golden ideal. Unfortunately we do not, which places somewhat more weight on making material progress towards the effective treatment of aging as a medical condition – ideally by repairing its causes.

But what are the causes of aging? The majority view in the research community is that aging is a process of damage accumulation. The normal operation of metabolism produces forms of molecular damage in cells and tissues, a sort of biological wear and tear – though of course the concept of wear and tear is somewhat more nuanced and complex in a self-repairing system. This damage includes such things as resilient cross-links that alter the structural properties of the extracellular matrix and toxic metabolic waste that clutters and harms long-lived cells. As damage accumulates, our cells respond in ways that are a mix of helpful and harmful, secondary and later changes that grow into a long chain of consequences and a dysfunctional metabolism that is a long way removed from the well-cataloged fundamental differences between old and young tissues. An old body is a complicated mess of interacting downstream problems. In recent years, however, a growing minority have suggested and theorized that aging is not caused by damage, but is rather a programmed phenomenon – that some portion of the what I just described as the chain of consequences, in particular epigenetic changes, are in fact the root cause of aging. In the programmed view of aging, epigenetic change causes dysfunction and damage, not the other way around. That these two entirely opposite views can exist is only possible because there is no good map of the detailed progression of aging – only disconnected snapshots and puzzle pieces. There is a lot of room to arrange the pieces in any way that can’t be immediately refuted on the basis of well-known past studies.

There are two ways to settle the debate of aging as damage versus aging as evolved program. The first is to produce that grand map of metabolism and aging, something that I suspect is at the least decades and major advances in life science automation removed from where we stand now. The other is to build therapies that produce large degrees of rejuvenation, enough of a difference to put it far beyond argument that the approach taken is the right one. That is not so far away, I believe, as the first SENS rejuvenation therapies are presently in the early stages of commercial development. I think that, even with the comparative lack of funding for this line of development, ten to twenty years from now the question will be settled beyond reasonable doubt. Meanwhile, the programmed-aging faction has become large enough and their positions coherent enough that the mainstream is beginning to respond substantially to their positions; I expect that this sort of debate will continue all the way up to and well past the advent of the first meaningful rejuvenation therapies, which at this point look to be some form of senescent cell clearance.

Can aging be programmed? A critical literature review – by Axel Kowald and Thomas B. L. Kirkwood

Quote:

Many people, coming new to the question of why and how aging occurs, are attracted naturally to the idea of a genetic programme. Aging is necessary, it is suggested, either as a means to prevent overcrowding of the species’ environment or to promote evolutionary change by accelerating the turnover of generations. Instead of programmed aging, however, the explanation for why aging occurs is thought to be found among three ideas all based on the principle that within iteroparous species (those that reproduce repeatedly, as opposed to semelparous species, where reproduction occurs in a single bout soon followed by death), the force of natural selection declines throughout the adult lifespan. This decline occurs because at progressively older ages, the fraction of the total expected reproductive output that remains in future, on which selection can act to discriminate between fitter and less-fit genotypes, becomes progressively smaller. Natural selection generally favours the elimination of deleterious genes, but if its force is weakened by age, and because fresh mutations are continuously generated, a mutation-selection balance results. The antagonistic pleiotropy theory suggests that a gene that has a benefit early in life, but is detrimental at later stages of the lifespan, can overall have a net positive effect and will be actively selected. The disposable soma theory is concerned with optimizing the allocation of resources between maintenance on the one hand and other processes such as growth and reproduction on the other hand. An organism that invests a larger fraction of its energy budget in preventing accumulation of damage to its proteins, cells and organs will have a slower rate of aging, but it will also have fewer resources available for growth and reproduction, and vice versa. Mathematical models of this concept show that the optimal investment in maintenance (which maximizes fitness) is always below the fraction that is necessary to prevent aging.

In recent years, there have been a number of publications claiming that the aging process is a genetically programmed trait that has some form of benefit in its own right. If this view were correct, it would be possible experimentally to identify the responsible genes and inhibit or block their action. This idea is, however, diametrically opposed to the mainstream view that aging has no benefit by its own and is therefore not genetically programmed. Because experimental strategies to understand and manipulate the aging process are strongly influenced by which of the two opinions is correct, we have undertaken here a comprehensive analysis of the specific proposals of programmed aging. On the principle that any challenge to the current orthodoxy should be taken seriously, our intention has been to see just how far the various hypotheses could go in building a convincing case for programmed aging.

This debate is not only of theoretical interest but has practical implications for the types of experiments that are performed to examine the mechanistic basis of aging. If there is a genetic programme for aging, there would be genes with the specific function to impair the functioning of the organism, that is to make it old. Under those circumstances, experiments could be designed to identify and inhibit these genes, and hence to modify or even abolish the aging process. However, if aging is nonprogrammed, the situation would be different; the search for genes that actively cause aging would be a waste of effort and it would be too easy to misinterpret the changes in gene expression that occur with aging as primary drivers of the senescent phenotype rather than secondary responses (e.g. responses to molecular and cellular defects). It is evident, of course, that genes influence longevity, but the nature of the relevant genes will be very different according to whether aging is itself programmed or not.

For various programmed theories of aging, we re-implemented computational models, developed new computational models, and analysed mathematical equations. The results fall into three classes. Either the ideas did not work because they are mathematically or conceptually wrong, or programmed death did evolve in the models but only because it granted individuals the ability to move, or programmed death did evolve because it shortened the generation time and thus accelerated the spread of beneficial mutations. The last case is the most interesting, but it is, nevertheless, flawed. It only works if an unrealistically fast-changing environment or an unrealistically high number of beneficial mutations are assumed. Furthermore and most importantly, it only works for an asexual mode of reproduction. If sexual reproduction is introduced into the models, the idea that programmed aging speeds up the spread of advantageous mutations by shortening the generation time does not work at all. The reason is that sexual reproduction enables the generation of offspring that combine the nonaging genotype of one parent with the beneficial mutation(s) found in the other parent. The presence of such ‘cheater’ offspring does not allow the evolution of agents with programmed aging.

In summary, all of the studied proposals for the evolution of programmed aging are flawed. Indeed, an even stronger objection to the idea that aging is driven by a genetic programme is the empirical fact that among the many thousands of individual animals that have been subjected to mutational screens in the search for genes that confer increased lifespan, none has yet been found that abolishes aging altogether. If such aging genes existed as would be implied by programmed aging, they would be susceptible to inactivation by mutation. This strengthens the case to put the emphasis firmly on the logically valid explanations for the evolution of aging based on the declining force of natural selection with chronological age, as recognized more than 60 years ago. The three nonprogrammed theories that are based on this insight (mutation accumulation, antagonistic pleiotropy, and disposable soma) are not mutually exclusive. There is much yet to be understood about the details of why and how the diverse life histories of extant species have evolved, and there are plenty of theoretical and experimental challenges to be met. As we observed earlier, there is a natural attraction to the idea that aging is programmed, because developmental programming underpins so much else in life. Yet aging truly is different from development, even though developmental factors can influence the trajectory of events that play out during the aging process. To interpret the full complexity of the molecular regulation of aging via the nonprogrammed theories of its evolution may be difficult, but to do it using demonstrably flawed concepts of programmed aging will be impossible.

Given that the author here has in the past been among those who dismissed the SENS initiative as an approach to treating aging by repairing damage, it is perhaps a little amusing to see him putting forward points such as this one: “despite the cogent arguments that aging is not programmed, efforts continue to be made to establish the case for programmed aging, with apparent backing from quantitative models. It is important to take such claims seriously, because challenge to the existing orthodoxy is the path by which science often makes progress.” Where was this version of the fellow ten years ago?

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.
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This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license. It was originally published on FightAging.org.
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