Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Pope Francis vs. the Cure of Reason – Article by Edward Hudgins

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Categories: Economics, Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
September 27, 2015
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A young girl was recently interviewed on TV about her encounter with Pope Francis on his visit to the United States. She cried with joy as she described how he touched her on the forehead and offered a blessing. Now, she said, she might get the miracle she’s prayed for. Maybe someday she’ll be able to walk.

Who could not be moved by a crippled child who wants to be cured? But what is really wrenching is the fact that this child and so many others look to faith rather than science and reason.

Medical breakthroughs

On the same day the Pope was touching the little girl, a news story was circulating about a breakthrough in prosthetics. A brain implant has restored to a man with a robotic hand his sense of touch.

Another story in recent months documented technology that allows individuals to control their artificial limbs with their thoughts.

Some even express fears that bionic legs in the future could be so good that they will be preferred to the natural ones we’re born with.

The sightless have sought divine intersession to cure blindness since before the time of Jesus. A few days before the Pope toured D.C., a breakthrough was announced that involves applying a light-sensitive protein found in algae to the back of the retinas of eyes to, in effect, replace the rods and cones destroyed by certain diseases. The technique has been successful in mice and human tests are now coming.


This restorative treatment has welcome competition. Last month saw a man receive the first bionic eye implant.

And let’s not forget that deafness is in the process of being vanquished thanks to cochlear implants.

Free markets needed

Free markets, of course, if allowed to operate, will make what are now pricey, experimental medical technologies affordable for most, just as markets have allowed entrepreneurs to create and bring down the prices of computers, smartphones, tablets, Wifi, and all the hardware and software of the information revolution.

Handicapped individuals, like the girl who was so happy the Pope touched her, might have bright futures indeed. But they need to recognize that it is not faith that will make them whole. It is reason.

Human reason needed

It is the power of the human mind, especially in science and engineering, that has brought about the benefits of our modern world. Yet where are the parades, the speeches before Congress, and the celebrations that recognize the sources of such benefits and encourage reason and achievement as foundational values in our culture? Why do so many seek hope in faith and otherworldly miracles when real achievements—“miracles” of the human mind—are all around us? Why do so few understand that training minds and encouraging entrepreneurship is the best way to ensure a healthy, prosperous future? With all the enthusiasm we see for the Pope, where is the enthusiasm for the actual creators and achievers in our world?

Ironically, the Pope, in his economic ignorance, denounces the free market system that could cure that little girl. And he promotes draconian economic restrictions to fight hypothesized global warming, restrictions that would ensure that the poor he says he cares so much about will be with us always. The Pope—and all of us—indeed should empathize with that little girl. But he should be touting reason as the cure. This Jesuit Pope needs to read his Thomas Aquinas!

Those who are enthusiastic about the Pope’s visit because he inspires hope for a better world had better look to the real source of all our blessings: the human mind.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright, The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit www.atlassociety.org.

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Why Transhumanists Should Not Endorse the Two-Party Political System – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
September 26, 2015
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“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Extensive discussions have recently occurred in transhumanist circles on the desirable strategies, tactics, and directions for transhumanist political activity in the United States. One question in particular has stood out among these discussions: Is it a wise or prudent choice for a transhumanist, especially a prominent one, to endorse a Presidential candidate from one of the two major political parties (Republican or Democratic) and to actively work to support that candidate’s election, when that candidate has not expressed strong sympathies with the transhumanist vision of overcoming human limitations through scientific and technological progress? Some transhumanists may believe that such an endorsement would gain them influence within the political mainstream, perhaps eventually leading to advisory positions and the ability to direct political elites toward decisions that are more conducive to accelerating technological progress or removing barriers to the arrival of radical life extension.

However, this expectation is mistaken. Here I outline several major reasons why, to achieve the best possible outcomes, transhumanists should stand apart from the two-party political system. Instead, transhumanists should pursue their advocacy goals – be they policy-oriented or focused on education of the general public on emerging technologies – through their own independent organizations and voices. This approach does not rule out collaboration with other, non-transhumanist institutions and individuals, nor does it prevent one from acknowledging both the merits of certain non-transhumanist candidates’ positions and the flaws of some transhumanists’ chosen strategies. However, it is imperative to avoid the perceived compulsion to subordinate oneself to the two-party political system just because it is there.

(1) The existing two-party political system in the United States is an obstacle to transhumanism and cannot be effectively used as its instrument. The two-party system is designed to preserve the very institutional status quo which puts forth barriers to technological advancement and causes the rate of progress to currently lag far behind its potential. Both the Democratic and the Republican political machines primarily exist to protect those with political connections, who might be dislodged from positions of economic privilege by dramatic technological change and the attendant reshuffling of the social order. As such, the rhetoric of the major political parties tends to be concentrated on relatively minor differences in governance styles, personalities, accidents of history, and “hot-button” issues over which elected officials have little substantive influence (for instance, abortion, religion, and gun ownership). This is a strategy of distraction, used to keep the public focused on matters largely outside of any politician’s control, thereby leaving the dominance of today’s politically connected special interests intact by default. At the same time, the fundamental questions raised by transhumanists about possibilities for dramatically improving the human condition, deliberately go unaddressed on the campaign trail. Mainstream politicians do not wish to discuss the colossal changes that could and should be wrought by emerging technologies.

(2) Current major-party candidates would never accept transhumanism anyway. Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, or any of the others running with an “R” or “D” next to their names will not change by an iota if endorsed by even a prominent transhumanist. All of these candidates will disregard the transhumanist endorsement, each for their peculiar mix of reasons, but with a strikingly similar outcome. No matter how strongly a transhumanist endorses these actual or would-be politicians, their mainstream advisors will not let transhumanists into their circle. This is actually a compliment to the transhumanists, who stand apart from and above the political status quo. It is not the transhumanists who must bend to the political status quo. Rather, the political status quo is precisely what transhumanists must overcome in order to achieve their aims. The way to bypass the establishment’s grip on politics is not to join the establishment, but rather to shift the discussion and climate of public opinion so as to render the establishment reluctantly compelled to follow the currents of change, made possible by emerging technologies in a hyper-pluralist society.

(3) Endorsing an establishment candidate will alienate the transhumanist base. Instead, a prominent transhumanist would do much better to pay attention to and leverage the ideas and projects originating from the natural constituencies of transhumanism – futurists, researchers, technology entrepreneurs, philosophically inclined laypersons, and “digital natives” of the millennial generation. Through a bit of organization and creative marketing, a prominent transhumanist could harness the energies of these creative, talented, and industrious individuals into major intellectual, infrastructural, and public-awareness victories for the transhumanist movement. The impetus for a movement such as transhumanism – and, more generally, any ideological movement that seeks radical societal change – is precisely the lack of accommodation for that movement’s ideals in the current society. The energy of the movement’s base will be lost if they see its direction as one of sacrificing its core distinctiveness and ideals in order to fit within the mainstream political mold and to seek acceptance by political elites to whom the movement’s ideals are completely foreign. If Hillary Clinton or Ben Carson (or any mainstream candidate who comes to mind) suddenly achieved philosophical enlightenment and announced strong personal support for transhumanism, then this would be a victory for transhumanism and a sign that the candidate is worthy of serious consideration. But for a transhumanist to endorse a mainstream candidate without that kind of gesture on the candidate’s part is simply a signal that the candidate does not need to change in order to gain or retain the support of the transhumanist.

As an analogy, consider the very different fates of Ron Paul and his son Rand. Ron Paul – a libertarian and Constitutional conservative whose views are profoundly incompatible with those of the Republican Party establishment – only ran as a Republican to raise the profile of his educational efforts in favor of individual liberty and limited government. But he never endorsed one of his Republican rivals for the nomination, even after dropping out of the races in 2008 and 2012. He did not agree with the policy stances of John McCain and Mitt Romney, so he simply stood aside and continued to express his principled views. He remains highly esteemed in many libertarian and constitutional conservative circles today. By contrast, Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, thinking that this was a stepping stone to securing the Republican nomination in 2016. However, this decision alienated Rand Paul’s natural libertarian political base (which despised Romney). At the same time, Rand Paul is still far too libertarian to be accepted by the Republican elite, in spite of all of the compromises he has made over the past few years in order to appear “electable” and palatable to establishment media commentators and pollsters. As a result, he is a minor contender for the Republican nomination, quite unlikely to win or even advance his standing.

By analogy, the transhumanist movement is extremely unlikely to show even a modicum of concerted support for a particular establishment candidate – whether Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Bernie Sanders, or Bobby Jindal. (As noted above, this is also a justified outcome, since none of these candidates would accommodate the vision and objectives of the transhumanist movement.) On the other hand, an explicit transhumanist – Zoltan Istvan – has rallied many transhumanists behind his candidacy, but he can only maintain their enthusiasm in the political arena for as long as he remains in the running. Istvan has been able to garner considerable sympathies from transhumanists who are otherwise extremely varied in their political persuasions and metaphysical worldviews. However, once a transhumanist candidate is no longer running, his supporters will go their separate ways. The libertarian transhumanists will either abstain from voting or endorse the Libertarian Party nominee (as I, for instance, did in 2008 and 2012). Many of the democratic, egalitarian, and socialist transhumanists will strongly support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. A few might even favor the Green Party nominee. If Istvan stays in the race, however, many of these transhumanists will be tempted to support him until the end. Even if they do not get to cast a ballot for Istvan, they could help with activism, crowdfunding, and publicity-raising initiatives.

(4) Endorsing an establishment candidate will be seen as a defeat for transhumanism. If a prominent transhumanist advocates for the election of a particular front-runner, this will essentially be perceived as a concession to the political mainstream and the two-party system. Transhumanism only has a chance if it remains independent of the Republican/Democratic hegemony and instead continues to be an outside voice, gradually influencing politicians to change their ways – not because transhumanists have joined them, but because the evolution of society and public opinion leave them no other choice. If instead the establishment’s favored pundits get to say, “Aha! Even the starry-eyed, utopian transhumanists recognized the futility of their lofty dreams and decided to come down to Earth and join us sensible people” – then this will be seen as a major blow to visionary transhumanist ideals.

(5) Because transhumanists do not hold primaries, nothing prevents them from remaining independent voices until the end. It is understandable that, as the electoral season unfolds, both Republican and Democratic contenders would eventually drop out to support the leading candidate of their party. Transhumanists, however, are under no such compulsion. For instance, Zoltan Istvan has no rivals for the Transhumanist candidacy, and can formally remain in the race for as long as he wishes. He does not even need to have a massive fundraising base to do so. Even if he eventually ends up with $0 for campaign purposes, he could make a few statements, write a few articles, give a few interviews now and then, to stay officially in the running and in the public eye. No matter what happens at the polls, he will then be remembered as a pioneering transhumanist candidate who never gave up or gave in. This legacy could secure his place in history, much like Ron Paul’s principled, unyielding character and actions secured his.

For all other transhumanists who are not running for office, there is absolutely no need to endorse a candidate who is the last man (or woman) standing after the primary processes of the major parties are concluded. Voting should not be about backing someone whom one expects to win, but rather about expressing one’s own ideals and aspirations for superior policy decisions and outcomes.

As I pointed out in my original endorsement of Zoltan Istvan’s campaign,

In fact, much of the sub-optimal equilibrium of the two-party system in the United States arises from a misguided “expectations trap” – where each voter fears expressing his or her principles by voting for the candidate closest to that voter’s actual policy preferences. Instead, voters who are caught in the expectations trap will tend to vote for the “lesser evil” (in their view) from one party, because they tend to think that the consequences of the election of the candidate from the other party will be dire indeed, and they do not want to “take their vote away” from the slightly less objectionable candidate. This thinking rests on the false assumption that a single individual’s vote, especially in a national election, can actually sway the outcome. Given that the probabilities of this occurring are negligible, the better choice – the choice consistent with individual autonomy and the pursuit of principle – is to vote solely based on one’s preference, without any regard for how others will vote or how the election will turn out. One is free to persuade others to vote a certain way, of course, or to listen to arguments from others – but these persuasive efforts, to have merit, should be based on the actual positions and character of the candidates involved, and not on appeals to sacrifice one’s intellectual integrity in order to fulfill the “collective good” of avoiding the victory of the “absolutely terrible” (not quite) candidate from one major party, whose policy choices are likely to be near-identical to the “only slightly terrible” candidate from the other major party. While an individual’s vote cannot actually affect who wins, it can – if exercised according to preference – send a signal as to what issues voters actually care about. Whichever politicians do get elected would see a large outpouring of third-party support as a signal of public discontentment and will perhaps be prompted by this signal to shift their stances on policy issues based on the vote counts they observe. Even a few thousand votes for the Transhumanist Party can send a sufficient signal that many Americans are becoming interested in accelerating technological innovation and the freedom from obstacles posed to it by legacy institutions.

In order to preserve the desirable role of voting as an expression of genuine individual preferences, the least constructive course of action is to vote for someone just because others might, or because that person is considered by establishment media and pundits to “have a chance of winning.” Ultimately, whether a transhumanist ends up voting for a third-party candidate, a major-party candidate, or not at all, is not so important as whether that transhumanist actually voted according to his or her individual conscience and principles.

A Vision for Transhumanist Political Involvement

Given that support of the two-party system should be a non-starter for transhumanists, what is a better way? The best approach is to gradually shape the external environment to which politicians respond, instead of playing the game of politics by the rules at which establishment politicians are adept. Conventional politicians seek to get elected and re-elected and must therefore cater to multiple constituencies, often with contradictory interests and preferences. But this does not need to be the way of politics. Ron Paul, for instance, was a pioneer of the educational campaign – the use of the publicity attached to political involvement as a means primarily to spread a message and change the climate of public opinion, rather than to win office. The educational campaign is more resilient than the conventional campaign, since it does not need to be concerned with weekly poll figures or donations from special interests who seek special favors. Zoltan Istvan has also endeavored to pursue this approach through his numerous writings, interviews, and the Immortality Bus campaign. As an incredibly energetic, determined, and active individual, he has been able to attract major publicity on a minimal budget. Istvan’s educational campaign should continue for as long as possible – ideally all the way up to Election Day 2016. His continued presence in the race would give many transhumanists a compelling reason not to acquiesce to the two-party system with cynical resignation.

But, far beyond the 2016 election season, the formation of a Transhumanist Party infrastructure in the United States creates the possibility of a much longer-range strategy for influencing public opinion toward an enthusiastic embrace of emerging technologies and the imperative of technological progress. Indeed, the possibility exists to take the concept of an educational campaign a step further. Instead of having the election of candidates to office as its primary objective, a transhumanist political party – be it the United States Transhumanist Party or a State-level affiliate – should instead focus directly on education, activism, and policy recommendations. We do not so much need politicians in office with a “T” next to their names, as we need the climate of public opinion to be favorable to the vision of the future that we advocate.

NTP-Logo-9-1-2015It is with this vision in mind that Wendy Stolyarov and I formed the Nevada Transhumanist Party on August 31, 2015. (See the officially filed Constitution and Bylaws here and a searchable version here; also join the Facebook group here, as Allied Membership is open to any person, anywhere, with a rational faculty and ability to form political opinions.) While an initial impetus for this decision was to further raise the profile of Zoltan Istvan’s Presidential campaign, the long-term benefit of establishing an infrastructure for discussion and activism among transhumanists is even more important to us. The Nevada Transhumanist Party is a State-level political party unlike any other. While we support the efforts of the United States Transhumanist Party, we are also independent from it in governance and decision-making. We will not be fielding our own candidates or funding any campaigns in the foreseeable future. Rather, we will use volunteer efforts to coordinate educational events – both online and in person – and connect individuals who are interested in the possibilities made available by emerging technologies. Over time, we will build a network of support and will encourage participation by as many people as are interested. Indeed, the Nevada Transhumanist Party Constitution explicitly embraces the concept of making alliances with others to attain specific objectives without sacrificing principles or independence. We also aim to achieve the maximum possible inclusiveness in terms of party membership, receptiveness to member input, and delegation of authority to members who are interested in undertaking beneficial projects that help advance the principles and objectives expressed in the Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform. We will enthusiastically endorse any worthwhile project that is consistent with these aims. Our goal is not to win any particular election, but rather to move toward a society in which any elected official will need to respect the transhumanist vision and do nothing to impede it, in order to attain office and remain there. This allows us the luxury of a long time horizon, consistent with the long-term vision that transhumanism itself holds for our hopefully long-lived future.

If more of us reject the notion of politics as a winner-take-all horse race and replace responses to day-to-day poll fluctuations with a steady, principled effort toward securing the long-term prospects of transhumanism, then we will have won a lasting victory against politics as usual. In the process, we might just create the better world that conventional politicians keep promising, but never deliver.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

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What War and Terror Do to Principles – Article by Abdo Roumani

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Abdo Roumani
September 25, 2015
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A Young Syrian Recounts the Years in His Smoldering Homeland

Editor’s Note from the Foundation for Economic Education: War is hell. And for those living in Syria, hell is currently a way of life. Armchair statesmen and foreign policy mavens have a lot to say about these matters. Here at FEE, we advocate “anything peaceful,” but often in distant, theoretical terms.

In this article, we present the unique opportunity to hear from someone who has lived the Syrian conflict. We cannot verify all of the author’s claims, but we can offer a glimpse into the mind of someone who, though he desperately wants to cling to his ideals, struggles to maintain them as he witnesses his homeland being torn apart.

I lived in Syria for three out of the four and half years of war. I’ve never been physically harmed, even though there were several close calls. In another sense, though, I’ve come to realize this war has killed so much in me that I’ve turned into something completely unfamiliar; something that often works like a calculator.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither.”

Not a long time ago, he used to be my example. I often repeated that line to those who defended the Assad rule, to those who said that his reign was better than the chaos the country had endured from 1958 to 1970. After a catastrophic union with Egypt between 1958 and 1961, Syria had to deal with the aftermath of its failures until 1970, when the late Hafez al-Assad stabilized the country. Until 2011, Syria was very secure socially, economically, and militarily. Damascus was one of the safest cities in the world — but that was irrelevant to me. I believed in certain principles and demonized the regime that failed to live by them.

I would soon change my mind.

Over the last five years, the Syrian establishment has grown more brutal. Those reforms that were foreseeable in 2011, such as limiting the secret service’s influence and empowering political pluralism, now seem impossible. Corruption has reached unprecedented levels. The establishment’s values and propaganda have never been as exposed. And yet, my opposition to this regime has faded so much that I no longer know whether I’m learning to be pragmatic or if I’ve resigned myself, given up my former convictions, and, in the end, traded everything for temporary safety.

Last August was one of the most violent months of the war in Damascus. Once the negotiations collapsed and a ceasefire expired in the strategic border town of al-Zabadani, the rebels controlling the part of the Barada Valley that was home to Damascus’s main source of fresh water cut off water supplies to the capital. That was August 14. The next day, the Syrian military retaliated by bombarding the area, forcing those rebels to turn on the taps again.

As I browsed opposition websites, reading reports of the destruction and the number of casualties, I paused at a photograph of the bodies of three children. The picture didn’t specify whether the children were killed in the August attacks or if this was yet another horrifying image pulled from the seemingly endless archives of carnage caught on film.

They were two little boys, about seven years old, with a slightly older girl lying between them. They were dressed in vibrant colors: navy blue, pink, and yellow. Their outfits were very neat, as though they had just decided to rest for a few moments. There were no signs of trauma. They looked peaceful.

I was thinking of how their parents, if indeed they had survived the bombing, would feel about seeing their children lying dead in those clothes. Would they remember the day they bought the fabrics? Would they remember how they felt picking out something special for their children, excited to see the look of joy on their children’s faces when they brought home the surprise of a new outfit? Or were the children themselves there, carefully selecting just the right shade of yellow for a dress for the first day of ‘Eid — for a future that once seemed certain?

These children died because rebels in a small town with a tiny population cut off water supplies to millions of people in Damascus, the capital whose community embraces the patchwork of Syria’s ethnoreligious diversity, in the peak of the Middle Eastern summer, where temperatures exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s difficult to blame the army for striking the town where they happened to live. The rebels who cut off the water supplies may have done so out of frustration, but the flow still had to return, no matter the cost. The children paid with their lives.

Securing and occupying strategic locations around Damascus — especially those isolated pockets of rebel control where the only aim is to destabilize the capital, not to achieve any strategic goal — is certainly an objective I support. Darayya, which lies on the southwestern gate of the heavily populated capital and faces its most important airbase, is one example.

On August 6, the Islam’s Martyrs Brigade declared Operation Darayya’s Flames, claiming to have killed 70 soldiers on the first day, and capturing strategic buildings near Mezza Airbase. In retaliation, according to Al Jazeera, by August 17, the Syrian military bombed Darayya with 325 barrel bombs, 4 vacuum bombs, 130 surface-to-surface missiles, 375 “hell” shells, 5 naval mines, 585 artillery shells, and 75 napalms. The city’s death toll reached 33 casualties in 11 days, including a woman and 3 children. Another 60 had been injured.

The violence is unspeakable, but when we look at the big picture again, we’ll see how Damascus was subjected to rocket and mortar attacks throughout August as well. On August 12 alone, activists counted 67 mortars fired against Damascus, killing 14 civilians and wounding 70. Saving Damascus, which is also where the majority of Darayya’s citizens took shelter after their city became a war zone, takes priority.

I had to experience that personally in April 2014, when the major battle for my mother’s hometown, Mleha, began. Until 2012, I lived in and owned an apartment in Mleha, which also houses the Air Defense Administration and lies on the road linking Damascus with its international airport. Our town had a population of 25,000 at the time, most of whom fled to Damascus or to the government-held town of Jaramana after the rebels captured the larger part of Mleha and the army began to lay siege by the end of 2012. Nearly 3,000 people lived there under siege until the last week before the battle began, when most of them headed for either the capital or the neighboring towns and cities.

Shortly before the town fell to the army, on the 112th day of the battle, the pro-rebel activists in the town documented 677 airstrikes; 701 surface-to-surface missiles; 6,000 tank and artillery shells, mortars, and rockets; and 12 barrel bombs. They documented 335 rebel deaths and 50 civilian casualties. We don’t know how many soldiers were killed, but it’s usually at least double the number of rebel casualties. By the time the battle ended, the commander of the Air Defense Administration had been killed. He was the second ADA commander to be killed in one year.

We, as citizens, longed for the earlier reconciliation efforts held between the government and the rebels in Mleha. Many failed negotiations had taken place in the past two years. Once the negotiations completely collapsed, however, we had to take sides. I now had to live with the idea of supporting an army that was leveling my town. I lost relatives, friends, and my own home, yet that seemed to be a smaller cost than risking Damascus, where the people of Mleha now live.

It’s not easy to live between the details and the big picture. Sometimes it can be soul-wrenching to support the army, an institution that holds my country together but that also contains villains capable of unspeakable inhumanity. There are soldiers who torture your recently drafted brother. Sometimes drunk soldiers will abduct a minibus with your girlfriend in it, and direct the driver to a battle zone. One of them will sit next to her, with one hand holding an AK-47 and another between her inner thighs. You have to live with the story she tells you about how she was so afraid that she was sticking her face on the window, crying, trying to get away from him. You have to ignore these details in the big picture of an army that has lost twice as many soldiers as America lost in Vietnam, just to defend your country.

The biggest challenge of all is to be able to make any sense out of the concept of retaliation. It is one thing to bomb a ghost town, where just a few unlucky civilians remain; it’s a whole different thing to target the heart of an enemy stronghold just to deter them from crossing a line in the sand.

On August 15, Zahran Alloush, the head of the Islam Army, launched an offensive against strategic Harasta, which is very close to the M5 highway route linking Damascus with what’s left of Syria. The army reportedly retaliated by targeting the marketplace in Duma, Alloush’s stronghold, killing 110 people. It was a massacre in every sense of the word.

It wasn’t the use of “illegal” and “indiscriminate” barrel bombs, which tend to be the focus of reporters and diplomats even though barrel bombs don’t kill nearly as many as shells and bullets do. Rather than barrel bombs, reports indicate the regime deployed guided bombs against a location known to be crowded with civilians. If these reports are true, this would mean the attack was the worst kind of retaliation: deliberately targeting civilians just to place pressure on those who rule them.

We may never know for sure what happened in Duma, except that 110 people were killed within seconds. But if the army did deliberately target civilians, how should I react? Should I condemn the army now? And what does it mean to condemn the army or the establishment? Does it mean to take measures against them, at a time when there has been already too much pressure undermining the whole country?

I have always thought of Damascus as the Middle East’s most conservative yet most libertarian city. The question that puzzles me the most now is: How much of Damascus is worth saving?

On the one hand, some will find no problem justifying the Duma attack, or any other like it. We live in a world where “the leader of the free world,” after suffering the attacks of 9/11, reacts by signing the PATRIOT Act and invading two countries, one of which had nothing to do with 9/11.

The problem in Damascus isn’t only that it’s surrounded by radical Islamic rebels. The problem is that the frontline is inside the city, in the south, where we have the presence of the Islamic State, and in the east, where the Islam Army and its Eastern Ghouta allies operate. Not that I think these people are evil, but they certainly pose an enormous threat to Damascus’s diverse community. I don’t think any government, no matter how democratic or civil, would tolerate such a presence that close.

Yet in Damascus, I met the kind of people who tolerated the Islamists operating around us, even though their neighborhoods, just like mine, were targeted with rebel mortars. Ammar, an IT worker who helped me set up my Internet connection, detested the regime so much that he said he would prefer that the Duma rebels take over Damascus. Before he moved to Damascus for a job, he lived in Duma under the radical Islamists and didn’t seem to have any difficulties with them that he wouldn’t have had with the Syrian authorities. He was a conservative Sunni Muslim — there was nothing that they wanted him to do that he didn’t want to do himself.

As an atheist and a secularist, I find it unimaginable to live under Islamic rule. The Syrian semisecular state itself is already too religious to me. Half of my friends are Christians and half the people in my family are Shiites; I fear they will be automatically doomed once ruled by the Islam Army, Jabhat al-Nusra, or Ahrar al-Sham. It’s not only the Libya-style chaos that scares me, but also an alternative religious establishment similar to that in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps my big picture is nothing more than my own political agenda. Perhaps Ammar, coming from a religious majority, has a different big picture in mind, in which people like me are insignificant.

There are few things I know for certain now. As much as I try to balance what’s personal with what’s political, the cost is that I completely detach myself from the situation. I can’t understand how some foreign governments fail to be pragmatic when it comes to dealing with my country, as if it were personal to them. First they feel sorry for us, then they demonize us, and then they sanction us and call us terrorists — and eventually, our refugees become their biggest problem.

Abdo Roumani studied English literature at Damascus University.

This article was originally 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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Longevity Alliance Contest Entry – Video by Adam Alonzi

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Categories: Science, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
September 24, 2015
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This is Adam Alonzi’s entry for a contest sponsored by the Longevity Alliance – http://longevityalliance.org. Narration, script, and video are by Adam Alonzi. The score is by Leslee Frost.

This video includes a reference to Death is Wrong, the children’s book on indefinite life extension. Find out more about Death is Wrong, and get free PDF downloads in four languages, here.

Adam Alonzi is the author of Praying for Death and A Plank in Reason. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Read his blog here. Listen to his podcasts at http://adamalonzi.libsyn.com.

Adam Alonzi’s Interviews
Elizabeth Parrish – BioViva
Alex Zhavoroknov – InSilico Medicine
Maria Konovalenko – Science for Life Extension Foundation and Longevity Cookbook
Luis Arana – Robots Without Borders

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Nevada Transhumanist Party – Formation and Membership Invitation – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
September 22, 2015
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Mr. Stolyarov introduces the Nevada Transhumanist Party, officially registered with the Nevada Secretary of State on August 31, 2015. All individuals who have a rational faculty and ability to form political opinions are welcome to become either Nevada Members or Allied Members.

Read the Constitution and Bylaws of the Nevada Transhumanist Party.

See the official filed documents with the Nevada Secretary of State.

Join the Nevada Transhumanist Party Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NevadaTranshumanistParty/.

NTP-Logo-9-1-2015References

Website of United States Transhumanist Party
Zoltan Istvan’s Webpage
Immortality Bus Website
– “The Transhumanist Wager” – Wikipedia
– “Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager: A Review” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

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Categories: Culture, Economics, Science, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
September 21, 2015
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I have long argued that the FDA has an incentive to delay the introduction of new drugs because approving a bad drug (Type I error) has more severe consequences for the FDA than does failing to approve a good drug (Type II error). In the former case at least some victims are identifiable and the New York Times writes stories about them and how they died because the FDA failed. In the latter case, when the FDA fails to approve a good drug, people die but the bodies are buried in an invisible graveyard.

In an excellent new paper (SSRN also here) Vahid Montazerhodjat and Andrew Lo use a Bayesian analysis to model the optimal tradeoff in clinical trials between sample size, Type I and Type II error. Failing to approve a good drug is more costly, for example, the more severe the disease. Thus, for a very serious disease, we might be willing to accept a greater Type I error in return for a lower Type II error. The number of people with the disease also matters. Holding severity constant, for example, the more people with the disease the more you want to increase sample size to reduce Type I error. All of these variables interact.

In an innovation the authors use the U.S. Burden of Disease Study to find the number of deaths and the disability severity caused by each major disease. Using this data they estimate the costs of failing to approve a good drug. Similarly, using data on the costs of adverse medical treatment they estimate the cost of approving a bad drug.

Putting all this together the authors find that the FDA is often dramatically too conservative:

…we show that the current standards of drug-approval are weighted more on avoiding a Type I error (approving ineffective therapies) rather than a Type II error (rejecting effective therapies). For example, the standard Type I error of 2.5% is too conservative for clinical trials of therapies for pancreatic cancer—a disease with a 5-year survival rate of 1% for stage IV patients (American Cancer Society estimate, last updated 3 February 2013). The BDA-optimal size for these clinical trials is 27.9%, reflecting the fact that, for these desperate patients, the cost of trying an ineffective drug is considerably less than the cost of not trying an effective one.

(The authors also find that the FDA is occasionally a little too aggressive but these errors are much smaller, for example, the authors find that for prostate cancer therapies the optimal significance level is 1.2% compared to a standard rule of 2.5%.)

The result is important especially because in a number of respects, Montazerhodjat and Lo underestimate the costs of FDA conservatism. Most importantly, the authors are optimizing at the clinical trial stage assuming that the supply of drugs available to be tested is fixed. Larger trials, however, are more expensive and the greater the expense of FDA trials the fewer new drugs will be developed. Thus, a conservative FDA reduces the flow of new drugs to be tested. In a sense, failing to approve a good drug has two costs, the opportunity cost of lives that could have been saved and the cost of reducing the incentive to invest in R&D. In contrast, approving a bad drug while still an error at least has the advantage of helping to incentivize R&D (similarly, a subsidy to R&D incentivizes R&D in a sense mostly by covering the costs of failed ventures).

The Montazerhodjat and Lo framework is also static, there is one test and then the story ends. In reality, drug approval has an interesting asymmetric dynamic. When a drug is approved for sale, testing doesn’t stop but moves into another stage, a combination of observational testing and sometimes more RCTs–this, after all, is how adverse events are discovered. Thus, Type I errors are corrected. On the other hand, for a drug that isn’t approved the story does end. With rare exceptions, Type II errors are never corrected. The Montazerhodjat and Lo framework could be interpreted as the reduced form of this dynamic process but it’s better to think about the dynamism explicitly because it suggests that approval can come in a range–for example, approval with a black label warning, approval with evidence grading and so forth. As these procedures tend to reduce the costs of Type I error they tend to increase the costs of FDA conservatism.

Montazerhodjat and Lo also don’t examine the implications of heterogeneity of preferences or of disease morbidity and mortality. Some people, for example, are severely disabled by diseases that on average aren’t very severe–the optimal tradeoff for these patients will be different than for the average patient. One size doesn’t fit all. In the standard framework it’s tough luck for these patients. But if the non-FDA reviewing apparatus (patients/physicians/hospitals/HMOs/USP/Consumer Reports and so forth) works relatively well, and this is debatable but my work on off-label prescribing suggests that it does, this weighs heavily in favor of relatively large samples but low thresholds for approval. What the FDA is really providing is information and we don’t need product bans to convey information. Thus, heterogeneity plus a reasonable effective post-testing choice process, mediates in favor of a Consumer Reports model for the FDA.

The bottom line, however, is that even without taking into account these further points, Montazerhodjat and Lo find that the FDA is far too conservative especially for severe diseases. FDA regulations may appear to be creating safe and effective drugs but they are also creating a deadly caution.

Hat tip: David Balan.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

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Blame America? No, Blame Neocons! – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
September 21, 2015
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Is the current refugee crisis gripping the European Union “all America’s fault”? That is how my critique of US foreign policy was characterized in a recent interview on the Fox Business Channel. I do not blame the host for making this claim, but I think it is important to clarify the point.

It has become common to discount any criticism of US foreign policy as “blaming America first.” It is a convenient way of avoiding a real discussion. If aggressive US policy in the Middle East – for example in Iraq – results in the creation of terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda in Iraq, is pointing out the unintended consequences of bad policy blaming America? Is it “blaming America” to point out that blowback – like we saw on 9/11 – can be the result of unwise US foreign policy actions like stationing US troops in Saudi Arabia?

In the Fox interview I pointed out that the current refugee crisis is largely caused by bad US foreign policy actions. The US government decides on regime change for a particular country – in this case, Syria – destabilizes the government, causes social chaos, and destroys the economy, and we are supposed to be surprised that so many people are desperate to leave? Is pointing this out blaming America, or is it blaming that part of the US government that makes such foolish policies?

Accusing those who criticize US foreign policy of “blaming America” is pretty selective, however. Such accusations are never leveled at those who criticize a US pullback. For example, most neocons argue that the current crisis in Iraq is all Obama’s fault for pulling US troops out of the country. Are they “blaming America first” for the mess? No one ever says that. Just like they never explain why the troops were removed from Iraq: the US demanded complete immunity for troops and contractors and the Iraqi government refused.

Iraq was not a stable country when the US withdrew its troops anyway. As soon as the US stopped paying the Sunnis not to attack the Iraqi government, they started attacking the Iraqi government. Why? Because the US attack on Iraq led to a government that was closely allied to Iran and the Sunnis could not live with that! It was not the US withdrawal from Iraq that created the current instability, but the invasion. The same is true with US regime-change policy toward Syria. How many Syrians were streaming out of Syria before US support for Islamist rebels there made the country unlivable? Is pointing out this consequence of bad US policy also blaming America first?

Last year I was asked by another Fox program whether I was not “blaming America” when I criticized the increasingly confrontational US stand toward Russia. Here’s how I put it then:

I don’t blame America. I am America, you are America. I don’t blame you. I blame bad policy. I blame the interventionists. I blame the neoconservatives who preach this stuff, who believe in it like a religion — that they have to promote American goodness even if you have to bomb and kill people.

In short, I don’t blame America; I blame neocons.

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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The Fallacy of “Buy Land — They’re Not Making Any More” – Article by Peter St. Onge

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Categories: Economics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Peter St. Onge
September 21, 2015
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“Buy land — they’re not making any more!” is an old investing chestnut, and a common sense one to boot. Economically, it’s also completely false.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we make land all the time. It just doesn’t look like land.

Why? Because land’s value doesn’t come from its ability to cover up the naked earth. Land’s value comes from its economic usefulness. From the value of things that can be done using that land (Rothbard’s “marginal revenue product” of the land). And that value is, indeed, changing all the time. Economically, from a price perspective, then, we make land all the time.

Step back a moment and ask why land has value anyway. Why do people want land? Well, obviously, because you can put stuff there — including yourself — plus buildings, swimming pools, and factories.

Now, anybody who’s visited West Texas knows there is plenty of building space in the world. You could drive for hours and meet nobody. There’s lots of space for that factory of yours. But it’s not really space itself that makes land valuable. It’s location. As in, there’s only so much room in Manhattan. Or Central London.

Once again, though, it’s not the actual space that matters. It’s the access. Put a strip mall on Manhattan surrounded by crocodile-filled moats and snipers and it will have low value. The value is in access. So Manhattan is valuable because it’s easy to get to other parts of Manhattan. And it’s easy for other people to get to you. Customers, partners, and friends can all easily visit you if your apartment or office is in Manhattan, moatless and sniperless.

So if it’s the access that matters, are they making new access? Of course. They’re doing it all the time.

New highways, new exits, new streets, mass transit, pedestrian malls are being regularly constructed. These all effectively “make new land” because they offer access to existing space. They turn relatively “dead zones” into “useful zones,” or new land.

What are some of the meta-trends on land as investment, then?

First: roads. This was a bigger value-driver a generation ago in the US, as new roads made the suburbs more accessible, helping to drain many cities even as US population grew. Outside the US (Mexico, Thailand, Russia), new roads are still a big deal, and even in the US, new highways can reshape values — draining old neighborhoods and building value in new ones. The decline of cities like Baltimore or Detroit are partly thanks to those beautiful roads that redistribute access to the suburbs.

Second: population. In the US “rust belt” of declining manufacturing, many regions have dropped in price simply because people are leaving. Detroit homes for $100 is emblematic, although of course there are also political reasons some cities are so cheap — in particular, taxes and crime.

And that brings us to politics. Real estate can be cheapened shockingly quickly by taxes and crime, and those traditional drivers have been joined in recent decades by environmental politics.

Environmentalists, by taking land off the market, effectively squeeze the remaining accessible locations, driving up the price. Regions like Seattle or San Francisco are poster children of this environmental squeeze, with modest homes even in remote suburbs costing upward of a million dollars. On the other extreme, cities like Dallas or Houston have kept prices down despite exploding populations by allowing farmland to be converted to residential, commercial, or industrial use.

Beyond the access and political angles, land is also vulnerable to “network effects.” In other words, the neighbors matter. Gentrification or urban decay can be hard to predict. Even in a compact city with rising population like Washington, DC, it can be hard to predict where the middle class or rich want to colonize, and where they want to flee.

There are clues, of course — in large US cities, gays moving into a neighborhood, new coffee shops or art galleries are some leading indicators that property prices might swing up. But gentrification has it’s own mind; even in a booming city it might go into some other neighborhood. New York’s Harlem or Silicon Valley’s East Palo Alto are two very accessible locations with low prices because of perceptions of the neighbors.

So, while they’re not “making” land, they are constantly making things that affect land price: access, regulations, changing neighbors. These are the kinds of factors that make land valuable, not it’s ability to cover the earth.

And so land comes back to earth, joining boring old commodities like wheat or copper. Just as vulnerable to changing supply and demand factors.

And if you are looking for something they’re not “making more of?” Well, gold does come close – hence its appeal. They do mine new gold all the time, but the costs are high enough that gold is a very “inelastic” commodity. It comes close to “they’re not making more.”

Beyond that? Develop your ultimate resource: yourself.

Peter St. Onge is an assistant professor at Taiwan’s Fengjia University College of Business. He blogs at Profits of Chaos.
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This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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#IStandWithAhmed Tells Us Something about Public School – Article by B.K. Marcus

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Categories: Culture, Education, Justice, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
B.K. Marcus
September 17, 2015
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There’s zero tolerance for drawing outside the lines.

“None of the teachers know what I can do,” said Ahmed Mohamed of Irving, Texas.

Does that sound ominous — or does it sound like any gifted 14-year-old reflecting on his public school environment?

Mohamed is a tinkerer. He makes his own radios and repairs his own go-kart. He has a box of circuit boards at the foot of his bed. In middle school, he belonged to the robotics club, but it’s a new school year, and Ahmed hasn’t yet found a similar niche in high school.

So shortly before bedtime last Sunday, September 13, Ahmed wired a circuit board to a power supply and a digital display, and strapped the result inside a pencil case, hoping to show his engineering teacher what he could do.

Monday morning, his teacher admired Ahmed’s homemade clock. It was hardly his most sophisticated project, but more complex no doubt than anything Ahmed’s peers were doing on their own.

Ahmed’s engineering teacher admired the boy’s handiwork but added, “I would advise you not to show any other teachers.”

So Ahmed followed the advice and kept the clock in his bag — until another teacher complained that it was beeping during a later lesson, and Ahmed made the mistake of showing her his project after class. She told him it looked like a bomb and refused to return it.

A police officer pulled Ahmed out of his sixth-period class and, after questioning him in a schoolroom full of other cops, took him away in handcuffs.

“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” said police spokesman James McLellan. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

Why should this kid have to explain a clock?

“It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car,” according to McLellan. “The concern was, what was this thing built for?”

Because Ahmed is Muslim, and because Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne made national news over the summer making what have been generally interpreted as anti-Islamic statements, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has taken note. “This all raises a red flag for us: how Irving’s government entities are operating in the current climate,” said Alia Salem of the council’s North Texas chapter.

McLellan insists that “the reaction would have been the same regardless” of the student’s skin color, but the council is skeptical. Had a blonde Baptist boy brought a homemade clock to school, we would never have heard anything about it.

But is Ahmed’s treatment only a story about anti-Islamic hysteria?

“The concern was,” according to the police, “what was this thing built for?”

It was built to tell the time. It was built to impress an engineering teacher. It was built to help a talented boy find a place at his new school where he could fit in.

But it wasn’t assigned. It wasn’t sanctioned. Like Ahmed himself, the jerry-rigged timepiece doesn’t fit the expectations of the local powers that be.

The engineering teacher understood — and he warned Ahmed that no one else would. That tells us everything we need to know about the people responsible for Ahmed’s education.

B.K. Marcus is managing editor of the Freeman. His website is bkmarcus.com.

This article was originally 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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Japan Liberalizes Gene Therapy and Regenerative Medicine – Article by Alex Tabarrok

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The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
September 17, 2015
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Japan is liberalizing its approval process for regenerative medicine:

Regenerative medicines in Japan can now get conditional marketing approval based on results from mid-stage, or Phase II, human trials that demonstrate safety and probable efficacy.

Once lagging behind the United States and the European Union on approval times, there is now an approximately three-year trajectory for approvals, according to Frost’s Kumar. That compares with seven to 10 years before. …

Around the world, companies have also faced setbacks while pushing such treatments. In the U.S., Geron Corp., which started the first nation-approved trial of human embryonic stem cells, ended the program in 2011, citing research costs and regulatory complexities. …

While scientists globally have worked for years in this field, treatments have been slow to come to market. But there is hope in Japan that without the political red tape, promising therapies will emerge faster and there will be speedier rewards.

Japan is liberalizing because with their aging population treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are in high demand.

Under the new system, a firm with a gene or regenerative therapy (e.g. stem cells) can get conditional approval with a small trial. Conditional approval means that the firm will be able to sell its procedure while continuing to gather data on efficacy for a period of up to seven years. At the end of the seven-year period, the firm must either apply for final marketing approval or withdraw the product.

The system is thus similar to what Bart Madden proposed for pharmaceuticals in Free to Choose Medicine.*

Due to its size and lack of price controls, the US pharmaceutical market is the most lucrative pharmaceutical market in the world.

Unfortunately, this also means that the US FDA has an outsize influence on total world investment. The Japanese market is large enough, however, that a liberalized approval process if combined with a liberalized payment model could increase total world R&D.

Breakthroughs made in Japan will be available for the entire world so we should all applaud this important liberalization.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

* Editor’s note from the Foundation for Economic Education: There may well by a direct connection here. According to Madden, an early version of his proposal in Free to Choose Medicine was published in a booklet by the Heartland Institute, which was then translated and distributed in Japan by a Japanese free-market think tank.

For more on free markets in medicine, see Bart Madden’s article “The Pathway to Faster Cures” in the autumn print edition of the Freeman and on The Rational Argumentator.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen. 

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