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How Can We Accelerate Technological Progress? – Panel Discussion with G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, and Arash Amini

How Can We Accelerate Technological Progress? – Panel Discussion with G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, and Arash Amini

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, and Arash Amini
January 24, 2015

Mr. Stolyarov invites panelists to offer their thoughts on the following question:

What actions can most people take to assist in the acceleration of technological progress so as to solve, within the lifetimes of those alive today, many of the major problems currently associated with the human condition?


Demian Zivkovic, 23 years old, is a student of artificial intelligence and philosophy, and founder and president of the Arma’thwynn Society – an international transhumanist think tank comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented professionals, students, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing transhumanist technologies.

Demian has been involved in several endeavors, including interviewing Professor Aubrey de Grey, organizing a transhumanism lecture in The Netherlands now, and spreading “Death is Wrong” – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.


Arash Amini earned a BS Physics degree from UIC. Since his time at college, Arash was focused on scaling cleantech innovations as far and wide as he could manage.

Thus his affection for the private venture- the vehicle he believes moves information and goods faster than any other available.

While in his last semester at college, Amini started a 312 Aquaponics and went to research and develop industrial scale vertical farming. His latest venture, FarmTower Co is personalizing farming- bringing the site of production to the site of consumption.

He is the author of “DIY Aquaponics: The Definitive How To Guide” and curator of

In addition, Amini helps startups market their ideas, and grow their revenues without the need of investors. He spends his time ideating solutions to the world’s largest problems.


SENS Research Foundation
– “Metformin” – Wikipedia
– “Spontaneous order” – Wikipedia

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

The New Renaissance Hat
Joseph S. Diedrich
October 25, 2014

Global trade made my little flat a place of international treasures.


I live in a studio apartment, so my kitchen is my living room is my bedroom. The other day, I was staring out my sole window when something startled me. (And it wasn’t the subwoofer two floors up.)

It was my coffee. While sipping from my mug, I glanced at the bag of beans. It read, “Origin: Ethiopia.” Next, I read the text on the bottom of my laptop: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” I looked down at my necktie: “Bruno Piatelli. Roma.”

This little exercise became a game. From what other far-off places did my stuff come? I sleep on bed sheets from Egypt. I drink bottles of Shiraz from Australia. I pour Canadian maple syrup on my pancakes. Some things weren’t technically “foreign,” but they still came a long way: books printed in New York, apples grown in Washington orchards, and beer brewed in St. Louis.

Within the narrow confines of my apartment was an expansive world market — a veritable microcosm of the global economy.

What startled me most wasn’t that so much had traveled so far. Rather, it was that I found nothing from my own city. While I had purchased some items in Madison, they didn’t originate here.

What about the “buy local” bandwagon? If I were to follow the consumer movement du jour to its fullest extent, I’d be much poorer. Because of a much more constrained division of labor, I’d spend more money on lower quality goods. I probably wouldn’t even have coffee, and I certainly wouldn’t own an Italian necktie.

Yet I don’t intentionally avoid local goods. Every Saturday morning, like a ritual, I visit the county farmers market. I buy delicious seasonal fruits, vegetables, and cheeses from nearby farmers — not because they’re local, but because they’re the best. Produce tends to be tastier if it hasn’t spent a week on a flatbed.

Adam Smith once wrote, “In every country it always is and must be the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest.” The less trade is restricted between individuals and across borders, the more “the body of people” can “buy whatever they want” the “cheapest.” As society becomes more and more integrated, we can better take advantage of the division of labor, leading to lower prices, greater prosperity, and a higher standard of living for everyone.

When I buy a preferable foreign product instead of its domestic counterpart, I obviously benefit myself. I receive a better product at a better price. I also clearly help the foreign producer.

I benefit the domestic economy, too. By purchasing cheaper foreign goods, I reserve more of my money to spend elsewhere, including in domestic exchange. More importantly, I send a signal to domestic producers: don’t waste your time making that thing! By doing so, I incentivize domestic producers to reallocate their resources to more highly valued endeavors.

It’s true that free trade and globalization make the rich richer. But they also make the poor richer. Trade provides cell phones to people in developing countries. It increases wages. It fosters international peace. And it makes denizens of tiny dwellings feel like the freest, richest people in the world.

Four hundred fifty square feet doesn’t sound like much. Yet somehow I’ve managed to fit states, countries, and even continents inside. The most remarkable thing of all? I didn’t intend for this to happen. I didn’t decide one day to start purchasing only “foreign” goods. I never consciously attempted to avail myself of “exotic” treasures.

Nobody ever intends for this to happen. Every day, we make countless, often subconscious cost-benefit analyses. When it comes to purchasing actual goods, we weigh all the factors we care about — price, quality, size, shape, taste, and so on. We search for the highest quality consumer goods within our respective price ranges. Just by buying what we like, we unwittingly amass personal bazaars.

We are capable of planning only for our individual selves. Despite the ubiquity of cosmopolitan collections of consumer goods, nobody could ever plan for such a thing. We simply lack the capacity to organize an entire economy to fit our specific needs.

This was the keen insight of economist F.A. Hayek, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his Nobel Prize. While he admitted that “all economic activity” involves planning, not all planning is the same. Because there’s “no dispute about whether planning is to be done or not,” what matters is “whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”

My apartment has only one window, but I feel like I can see the whole world. Every treasure I own is a window to a place I’ve never been and to people I’ve never met.

Joseph S. Diedrich is a Young Voices Advocate, a law student at the University of Wisconsin, and assistant editor at

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

Chained CPI Chains Taxpayers – Article by Ron Paul

Chained CPI Chains Taxpayers – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
November 11, 2013

One of the least discussed, but potentially most significant, provisions in President Obama’s budget is the use of the “chained consumer price index” (chained CPI), to measure the effect of inflation on people’s standard of living. Chained CPI is an effort to alter the perceived impact of inflation via the gimmick of “full substitution.” This is the assumption that when the price of one consumer product increases, consumers will simply substitute a similar, lower-cost product with no adverse effect. Thus, the federal government decides your standard of living is not affected if you can no longer afford to eat steak, as long as you can afford to eat hamburger.

The problem with “full substitution” should be obvious to anyone not on the federal payroll. Since consumers did not choose to buy lower-priced beef before inflation raised the price of steak, they obviously preferred steak. So if the Federal Reserve’s policies create inflation that forces you to purchase hamburger instead of steak, your standard of living is lowered. CPI already uses this sort of substitution to mask the costs of inflation, but chained CPI uses those substitutions more frequently, thereby lowering the reported rate of inflation.

Supporters of chained CPI also argue that the federal government should take into account technology and other advances that enhance the quality of the products we buy. By this theory, increasing prices signal an increase in our standard of living! While it is certainly true that advances in technology improve our standard of living, it is also true that, left undisturbed, market processes tend to lowerthe prices of goods. Remember the mobile phones from the 1980s? They had limited service, constantly needed charging, and were extremely expensive. Today, almost all Americans can easily afford a mobile device to make and receive calls, texts, and e-mails, as well as use the Internet, watch movies, read books, and more.

The same process occurred with personal computers, cars, and numerous other products. If left alone, the operations of the market place will deliver higher quality and lower prices. It is only when the federal government interferes with the operation of the market, especially via fiat money, that consumers must contend with constant price increases.

The goal of chained CPI is to decrease the federal government’s obligation to meet its promise to keep up with the cost of living in programs like Social Security. But it does not prevent individuals who have a nominal increase in income from being pushed into a higher income bracket. Both are achieved without a vote of Congress.

Noted financial analyst Peter Schiff correctly calls chained CPI a measurement of the cost of survival. Instead of using inflation statistics as a political ploy to raise taxes and artificially cut spending, the President and Congress should use a measurement that actually captures the eroding standard of living caused by the Federal Reserve’s inflationary policies. Changing federal statistics to exploit the decline in the American way of life and benefit big-spending politicians and their cronies in the big banks does nothing but harm the American people.

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.

Tapping the Transcendence Drive – Article by D.J. MacLennan

Tapping the Transcendence Drive – Article by D.J. MacLennan

The New Renaissance Hat
D. J. MacLennan
June 2, 2013

What do we want? No, I mean, what do we really want?

Your eyes flick back and forth between your smartphone and your iPad; your coffee cools on the dusty coaster beside the yellowing PC monitor; you momentarily look to the green vista outside your window but don’t fully register it; Facebook fade-scrolls the listless postings of tens of phase-locked ‘friends’, while the language-association areas of your brain chisel at your clumsy syntax, relentlessly sculpting it down to the 140-character limit of your next Twitter post.

The noise, the noise; the pink and the brown, the blue and the white. What do we want? How do we say it?

As I am a futurist, it’s understandable that people sometimes ask me what I can tell them about the future. What do I say? How about, “Well, it won’t be the same as the past”? On many levels, this is an unsatisfying answer. But, importantly, it is neither a stupid nor an empty one. If it sounds a bit Zen, that is only because people as used to a mode of thinking about the future that has it looking quite a lot like the past but with more shiny bits and bigger (and much flatter) flatscreens.

What I prefer to say, when there is more time available for the conversation, is, “It depends on what you, and others, want, and upon what you do to get those things.” Another unsatisfying response?

Where others see shiny stuff, I see the physical manifestations of drives. After all, what are Facebook, Twitter, and iPads but manifestations of drives? Easy, isn’t it? We can now glibly state that Twitter and Facebook are manifestations of the drive to communicate, and that the iPad is a manifestation of the desire to possess shiny stuff that does a slick job of enabling us to better pursue our recreational, organizational, and communicational drives.

There are, however, problems with this way of looking at drives. If, for example, we assume, based on the evidence we see from the boom in the use of communication technologies, that people have a strong drive to stay in touch with each other, we will simply churn out more and more of the same kinds of communication devices and platforms. If, on the other hand, we look at what is the overarching drive driving the desire to communicate, we can better address the real needs of the end user.

PongAs another example, we look back to early computer gaming. What was the main drive of the teenager playing Pong on Atari’s first arcade version of the game, released in 1972? If you asked this question to an impartial observer in 1972, they might well have opined that the fun of Pong stemmed from the fact that it was like table tennis; table tennis is fun, so a bleepy digital version of it in a big yellow box should also be fun. While not completely incorrect, such an opinion would be based solely upon the then-current gaming context. In following the advice of such an observer, an arcade-game manufacturer might have invested, and probably lost, an enormous amount of money in producing more and more electronic versions of simple tabletop games. But, fortunately for the computer-game industry, many manufacturers realized that the fun of arcade games was largely in the format, and so began to abandon the notion that they should be digital representations of physical games.

If we jump to a modern MMORPG game involving player avatars, such as World of Warcraft, we find a situation radically different from that which prevailed in 1972, but I would argue that many observers still make the same kinds of mistakes in extrapolating the drives of the players. It’s all about “recreation” and “role-playing”, right?

I think that many technology manufacturers underestimate and misunderstand our true drives. I admit to being an optimist on such matters, but what if, just for a moment, we assume that the drives of technology-obsessed human beings (even the ones playing Angry Birds, or posting drunken nonsense on Facebook) are actually grand and noble ones? What if we really think about what it is that they are trying to do? Now we begin to get somewhere. We can then see the Facebook postings as an individual’s yearning for registration of his or her existence; a drive towards self-actualization with a voice augmented beyond the hoarse squeak of the physical one. We can see individuals’ appreciation of the clean lines of their iPads as a desire for rounded-corner order in a world of filth and tangle. We can see their enjoyment of moving their avatar around World of Warcraft as the beginnings of a massive stretching of their concept of self, to a point where it might break open and merge colorfully with the selves of others.

E-Book Reader

One hundred and forty characters: I know it doesn’t look much like a drive for knowledge and transcendence, but so what? Pong didn’t look much like Second Life; the telegraph didn’t look much like the iPad. The past is a poor guide to the future. A little respect for, and more careful observation of, what might be the true drives of the technology-obsessed would, I think, help us to create a future enhanced by enabling technologies, and not one awash with debilitating noise.

D.J. MacLennan is a futurist writer and entrepreneur, and is signed up with Alcor for cryonic preservation. He lives in, and works from, a modern house overlooking the sea on the coast of the Isle of Skye, in the Highlands of Scotland.

See more of D.J.’s writing at and

Libertarian Life-Extension Reforms – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

Libertarian Life-Extension Reforms – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 10, 2012

This video series is derived from Mr. Stolyarov’s essay, “Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach“. The series highlights each of the proposed areas of pro-liberty life-extension reforms in an effort to spread these ideas and achieve their broader public consideration.

#1 – Repeal FDA Approval Requirements

Mr. Stolyarov discusses the greatest threat to research on indefinite human life extension: the  current requirement in the United States (and analogous requirements elsewhere in the Western world) that drugs or treatments may not be used, even on willing patients, unless approval for such drugs or treatments is received from the Food and Drug Administration (or an analogous national regulatory organization in other countries).

Such prohibitions on the quick development and marketing of potentially life-saving drugs are not only costly and time-consuming to overcome; they are morally unconscionable in terms of the cost in human lives.

#2 – Abolishing Medical Licensing Protectionism

There are too few doctors in the West today – not enough to deliver affordable, life-saving treatments, and certainly not enough to ensure that, when life-extending discoveries are made, they will rapidly become available to all.

Mr. Stolyarov advocates for the elimination of compulsory licensing requirements for medical professionals, and the replacement of such a system by a competing market of private certifications for various “tiers” of medical care.

#3-4 – Abolishing Medical and Software Patent Monopolies

Patents – legal grants of monopoly privilege – artificially raise the cost and the scarcity of new drugs and new software. Mr. Stolyarov recommends allowing free, open competition to apply to these products as well.

#5 – Reestablishing the Doctor-Patient Relationship

The most reliable and effective medical care occurs when both patients and doctors have full sovereignty over medical treatment and payment. A libertarian system is most likely to prolong individual lives and lead to the rapid discovery of unprecedented life-extending treatments.

Mr. Stolyarov presents the case for political reforms that maximize patient choice and free-market experimentation with various methods of payment for and provision of medical services.

#6 – Medical Research Instead of Military Spending

Mr. Stolyarov concludes his series on libertarian life-extension reforms by offering a way to reduce aggregate government spending while also increasing funding for medical research. If government funds are spent on saving and extending lives rather than destroying them, this would surely be an improvement. Thus, while Mr. Stolyarov does not support increasing aggregate government spending to fund indefinite life extension (or medical research generally), he would advocate a spending-reduction plan where vast amounts of military spending are eliminated and some fraction of such spending is replaced with spending on medical research.

Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 22, 2012

While the achievement of radical human life extension is primarily a scientific and technical challenge, the political environment in which research takes place is extremely influential as to the rate of progress, as well as whether the research could even occur in the first place, and whether consumers could benefit from the fruits of such research in a sufficiently short timeframe. I, as a libertarian, do not see massive government funding of indefinite life extension as the solution – because of the numerous strings attached and the possibility of such funding distorting and even stalling the course of life-extension research by rendering it subject to pressures by anti-longevity special-interest constituencies. (I can allow an exception for increased government medical spending if it comes at the cost of major reductions in military spending; see my item 6 below for more details.) Rather, my proposed solutions focus on liberating the market, competition, and consumer choice to achieve an unprecedented rapidity of progress in life-extension treatments. This is the fastest and most reliable way to ensure that people living today will benefit from these treatments and will not be among the last generations to perish. Here, I describe six major types of libertarian reforms that could greatly accelerate progress toward indefinite human life extension.

1. Repeal of the requirement for drugs and medical treatments to obtain FDA approval before being used on willing patients. The greatest threat to research on indefinite life extension – and the availability of life-extending treatments to patients – is the current requirement in the United States (and analogous requirements elsewhere in the Western world) that drugs or treatments may not be used, even on willing patients, unless approval for such drugs or treatments is received from the Food and Drug Administration (or an analogous national regulatory organization in other countries). This is a profound violation of patient sovereignty; a person who is terminally ill is unable to choose to take a risk on an unapproved drug or treatment unless this person is fortunate enough to participate in a clinical trial. Even then, once the clinical trial ends, the treatment must be discontinued, even if it was actually successful at prolonging the person’s life. This is not only profoundly tragic, but morally unconscionable as well.

As a libertarian, I would prefer to see the FDA abolished altogether and for competing private certification agencies to take its place. But even this transformation does not need to occur in order for the worst current effects of the FDA to be greatly alleviated. The most critical reform needed is to allow unapproved drugs and treatments to be marketed and consumed. If the FDA wishes to strongly differentiate between approved and unapproved treatments, then a strongly worded warning label could be required for unapproved treatments, and patients could even be required to sign a consent form stating that they have been informed of the risks of an unapproved treatment. While this is not a perfect libertarian solution, it is a vast incremental improvement over the status quo, in that hundreds of thousands of people who would die otherwise would at least be able to take several more chances at extending their lives – and some of these attempts will succeed, even if they are pure gambles from the patient’s point of view. Thus, this reform to directly extend many lives and to redress a moral travesty should be the top political priority of advocates of indefinite life extension. Over the coming decades, its effect will be to allow cutting-edge treatments to reach a market sooner and thus to enable data about those treatments’ effects to be gathered more quickly and reliably. Because many treatments take 10-15 years to receive FDA approval, this reform could by itself speed up the real-world advent of indefinite life extension by over a decade.

2. Abolishing medical licensing protectionism. The current system for licensing doctors is highly monopolistic and protectionist – the result of efforts by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century to limit entry into the profession in order to artificially boost incomes for its members. The medical system suffers today from too few doctors and thus vastly inflated patient costs and unacceptable waiting times for appointments. Instead of prohibiting the practice of medicine by all except a select few who have completed an extremely rigorous and cost-prohibitive formal medical schooling, governments in the Western world should allow the market to determine different tiers of medical care for which competing private certifications would emerge. For the most specialized and intricate tasks, high standards of certification would continue to exist, and a practitioner’s credentials and reputation would remain absolutely essential to convincing consumers to put their lives in that practitioner’s hands. But, with regard to routine medical care (e.g., annual check-ups, vaccinations, basic wound treatment), it is not necessary to receive attention from a person with a full-fledged medical degree. Furthermore, competition among certification providers would increase quality of training and lower its price, as well as accelerate the time needed to complete the training. Such a system would allow many more young medical professionals to practice without undertaking enormous debt or serving for years (if not decades) in roles that offer very little remuneration while entailing a great deal of subservience to the hierarchy of some established institution or another. Ultimately, without sufficient doctors to affordably deliver life-extending treatments when they become available, it would not be feasible to extend these treatments to the majority of people. Would there be medical quacks under such a system of privatized certification? There are always quacks, including in the West today – and no regulatory system can prevent those quacks from exploiting willing dupes. But full consumer choice, combined with the strong reputational signals sent by the market, would ensure that the quacks would have a niche audience only and would never predominate over scientifically minded practitioners.

3. Abolishing medical patent monopolies. Medical patents – in essence, legal grants of monopoly for limited periods of time – greatly inflate the cost of drugs and other treatments. Especially in today’s world of rapidly advancing biotechnology, a patent term of 20 years essentially means that no party other than the patent holder (or someone paying royalties to the patent holder) may innovate upon the patented medicine for a generation, all while the technological potential for such innovation becomes glaringly obvious. As much innovation consists of incremental improvements on what already exists, the lack of an ability to create derivative drugs and treatments that tweak current approaches implies that the entire medical field is, for some time, stuck at the first stages of a treatment’s evolution – with all of the expense and unreliability this entails. More appallingly, many pharmaceutical companies today attempt to re-patent drugs that have already entered the public domain, simply because the drugs have been discovered to have effects on a disease different from the one for which they were originally patented. The result of this is that the price of the re-patented drug often spikes by orders of magnitude compared to the price level during the period the drug was subject to competition. Only a vibrant and competitive market, where numerous medical providers can experiment with how to improve particular treatments or create new ones, can allow for the rate of progress needed for the people alive today to benefit from radical life extension. Some may challenge this recommendation with the argument that the monopoly revenues from medical patents are necessary to recoup the sometimes enormous costs that pharmaceutical companies incur in researching and testing the drug and obtaining approval from regulatory agencies such as the FDA. But if the absolute requirement of FDA approval is removed as I recommend, then these costs will plummet dramatically, and drug developers will be able to realize revenues much more quickly than in the status quo. Furthermore, the original developer of an innovation will still always benefit from a first-mover advantage, as it takes time for competitors to catch on. If the original developer can maintain high-quality service and demonstrate the ability to sell a safe product, then the brand-name advantage alone can secure a consistent revenue stream without the need for a patent monopoly.

4. Abolishing software patent monopolies. With the rapid growth of computing power and the Internet, much more medical research is becoming dependent on computation. In some fields such as genome sequencing, the price per computation is declining at a rate even far exceeding that of Moore’s Law. At the same time, ordinary individuals have an unprecedented opportunity to participate in medical research by donating their computer time to distributed computing projects. Software, however, remains artificially scarce because of patent monopolies that have increasingly been utilized by established companies to crush innovation (witness the massively expensive and wasteful patent wars over smartphone and tablet technology). Because most software is not cost-prohibitive even today, the most pernicious effect of software patents is not on price, but on the existence of innovation per se. Because there exist tens of thousands of software patents (many held defensively and not actually utilized to market anything), any inventor of a program that assists in medical, biotechnological, or nanotechnological computations must proceed with extreme caution, lest he run afoul of some obscure patent that is held for the specific purpose of suing people like him out of existence once his product is made known. The predatory nature of the patent litigation system serves to deter many potential innovators from even trying, resulting in numerous foregone discoveries that could further accelerate the rate at which computation could facilitate medical progress. Ideally, all software patents (and all patents generally) should be abolished, and free-market competition should be allowed to reign. But even under a patent system, massive incremental improvements could be made. First, non-commercial uses of a patent should be rendered immune to liability. This would open up a lot of ground for non-profit medical research using distributed computing. Second, for commercial use of patents, a system of legislatively fixed maximum royalties could emerge – where the patent holder would be obligated to allow a competitor to use a particular patented product, provided that a certain price is paid to the patent holder – and litigation would be permanently barred. This approach would continue to give a revenue stream to patent holders while ensuring that the existence of a patent does not prevent a product from coming to market or result in highly uncertain and variable litigation costs.

5. Reestablishing the two-party doctor-patient relationship. The most reliable and effective medical care occurs when the person receiving it has full discretion over the level of treatment to be pursued, while the person delivering it has full discretion over the execution (subject to the wishes of the consumer). When a third party – whether private or governmental – pays the bills, it also assumes the position of being able to dictate the treatment and limit patient choice. Third-party payment systems do not preclude medical progress altogether, but they do limit and distort it in significant ways. They also result in the “rationing” of medical care based on the third party’s resources, rather than those of the patient. Perversely enough, third-party payment systems also discourage charity on the part of doctors. For instance, Medicare in the United States prohibits doctors who accept its reimbursements from treating patients free of charge. Mandates to utilize private health insurance in the United States and governmental health “insurance” elsewhere in the Western world have had the effect of forcing patients to be restricted by powerful third parties in this way. While private third-party payment systems should not be prohibited, all political incentives for third-party medical payment systems should be repealed. In the United States, the pernicious health-insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) should be abolished, as should all requirements and political incentives for employers to provide health insurance. Health insurance should become a product whose purchase is purely discretionary on a free market. This reform would have many beneficial effects. First, by decoupling insurance from employment, it would ensure that those who do rely on third-party payments for medical care will not have those payments discontinued simply because they lose their jobs. Second, insurance companies would be encouraged to become more consumer-friendly, since they will need to deal with consumers directly, rather than enticing employers – whose interests in an insurance product may be different from those of their employees. Third, insurance companies would be entirely subject to market forces – including the most powerful consumer protection imaginable: the right of a consumer to exit from a market entirely. Fourth and most importantly, the cost of medical care would decline dramatically, since it would become subject to direct negotiation between doctors and patients, while doctors would be subject to far less of the costly administrative bureaucracy associated with managing third-party payments.

In countries where government is the third-party payer, the most important reform is to render participation in the government system voluntary. The worst systems of government healthcare are those where private alternatives are prohibited, and such private competition should be permitted immediately, with no strings attached. Better yet, patients should be permitted to opt out of the government systems altogether by being allowed to save on their taxes if they renounce the benefits from such systems and opt for a competing private system instead. Over time, the government systems would shrink to basic “safety nets” for the poorest and least able, while standards of living and medical care would rise to the level that ever fewer people would find themselves in need of such “safety nets”. Eventually, with a sufficiently high level of prosperity and technological advancement, the government healthcare systems could be phased out altogether without adverse health consequences to anyone.

6. Replacement of military spending with medical research. While, as a libertarian, I do not consider medical research to be the proper province of government, there are many worse ways for a government to spend its money – for instance, by actively killing people in wasteful, expensive, and immoral wars. If government funds are spent on saving and extending lives rather than destroying them, this would surely be an improvement. Thus, while I do not support increasing aggregate government spending to fund indefinite life extension (or medical research generally), I would advocate a spending-reduction plan where vast amounts of military spending are eliminated and some fraction of such spending is replaced with spending on medical research. Ideally, this research should be as free from “strings attached” as possible and could be funded through outright unconditional grants to organizations working on indefinite life extension. However, in practice it is virtually impossible to avoid elements of politicization and conditionality in government medical funding. Therefore, this plan should be implemented with the utmost caution. Its effectiveness could be improved by the passage of legislation to expressly prohibit the government from dictating the methods, outcomes, or applications of the research it funds, as well as to prohibit non-researchers from acting as lobbyists for medical research. An alternative to this plan could be to simply lower taxes across the board by the amount of reduction in military spending. This would have the effect of returning wealth to the general public, some of which would be spent on medical research, while another portion of these returned funds would increase consumers’ bargaining power in the medical system, resulting in improved treatments and more patient sovereignty.

Organic Shmorganic – Article by Charles N. Steele

Organic Shmorganic – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 6, 2012
A study by researchers from Stanford University of “organic” food was unable to find any health benefits, prompting a rant from NYT’s Roger Cohen against organic food.  Finally, finally, finally!  Cohen on track, rather than off the rails!Many years ago I heard Bruce Ames, a cancer researcher and head of College of Public Health at Stanford give a lecture in which he discredited the health claims of the “organic” movement and warned that it would raise costs without returning corresponding benefits.  His main fear was that this would lead people to eat fewer vegetables rather than more.  The second most important thing people can do to avoid cancer is eat more vegetables, he explained (stopping smoking is  number 1).  He based this in part on his own research with with carcinogenic properties of manmade pesticides and naturally occurring ones; the naturally occurring ones were every bit as bad and as prevalent in vegetables, and neither posed a meaningful risk in his research.  (Obviously misuse of pesticides could be a different matter.)  The new Stanford study was unable to find the superior health benefits attributed to “organic” foods, corroborating Ames’ argument.

I’ve also heard agriculture experts discuss the alleged environmental harmfulness of “non-organic” agriculture, something not covered in the Stanford study.  Again, the alleged environmental benefits of “organic” are mostly hype, and in some cases it can be worse.  Chemical fertilizers in particular deserve none of the slander that’s directed at them.  (Again, use them incorrectly and you can poison things… but that’s also true with “organic”.)

I’ve been putting “organic” in quotation marks, because the word itself always meant something different: it refers to carbon-based compounds.  That is, that’s what it meant until the word was grabbed by – let’s be honest – hippie food faddists.  “Organic” was changed to mean “simple, healthful, close to ‘nature,'” (another doubtful word), all utterly unsubstantiated claims.  Next yuppies and similar types jumped on the bandwagon, because it made them feel good about themselves “saving the planet and eating healthier and sidestepping ‘corporate agriculture,’ etc.”

This is a great example of the fundamental role of subjective utility in economic value.  Belief in “organic” is essentially religious faith, unfounded in evidence.  What makes “organic” more valuable is consumer demand, based on perceived, imagined characteristics, not some physical measurable properties.  That’s why big food corporations got into the act. They were slow to enter, and when they did, they were entirely responding to demand.  They would prefer not to produce this way, because it is costlier, but so long as consumers demand it, you give them what they want, or you lose market share.  There’s quite an irony here. Anti-capitalists frequently accuse “big business” of manufacturing consumer preferences in order to manipulate people and reap profits, yet the whole “organic” movement was manufactured by a motley collection of  anticapitalist  mystics from both left and right.

I heard NPR cover this story, and the  reporter concluded that the whole “organic” thing must have been a conspiracy by “big agriculture” (another dubious concept) to hoodwink us and get our money… a completely backwards argument, as most farmers, big or little, would prefer less costly, easier, more productive modern agricultural methods.  It’s quite common to be producing “organic” crops, meat, etc. and have some small step go wrong and have the “organic” label be lost – and even though the stuff is perfectly good, it now can’t be sold for enough to cover costs.  I’ve had farmers tell me about this, and have read of many more examples.

“Organic shmorganic” indeed!

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.

Review of Tyler Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better” – Article by Kevin A. Carson

Review of Tyler Cowen’s “The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better” – Article by Kevin A. Carson

The New Renaissance Hat
Kevin A. Carson
July 4, 2012
Stagnation [for Carson]
Published by: Dutton Adult • Year: 2011 • Price: $12.95 • Pages: 128 •

Tyler Cowen’s thesis is that economic growth is leveling off and rates of return decreasing because we’ve already picked the “low-hanging fruit” (meaning innovations and investments that have high returns). The stagnation in GDP and median income in recent decades means “the pace of technological development has slowed down,” and the general population is benefiting less from new ideas.

I would argue, rather, that measured economic growth and income have slowed down precisely because of the increased pace of technological development.

The important trend behind the disappearance of “low-hanging fruit” is the decoupling of improved material quality of life from monetized measures of economic growth and income. Improvements in quality of life—although very real—don’t show up in conventional econometric terms.

Intensive development—increased efficiency in the use of inputs—isn’t necessarily reflected in increased money returns. Unless they’re turned into a source of rents by restrictions on competition, innovations that reduce production costs will benefit consumers in lower prices and better products.

Such rents are central to the business model of “cognitive capitalism”—the “progressive” model of capitalism pushed by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The most profitable industries in recent years have been those that depend on returns from “intellectual property.” But such artificial scarcities are fast becoming unenforceable, and technologies of abundance are growing so rapidly that they can’t be enclosed as a source of rents.

If anything, we can expect an implosion in metrics like GDP in the coming years, even as quality of life improves enormously.

Cowen almost gets it at one point. “[I]f our food supply chain harvests, retails and sells an apple for $1, that adds a dollar to measured national income.” Exactly: GDP measures value produced in terms of the total cost of inputs consumed—not the use-value we consume, but how much stuff was used up producing it. So anything that reduces the input costs of our standard of living seems to show up as negative growth.

Actually, Cowen contradicts his own thesis. He argues that official GDP figures exaggerate growth because so much of it is simply waste. But that undermines his treatment of reduced money incomes as a proxy for reduced growth in standard of living. If the additional portion of the GDP we spend on waste—and the hours we worked to pay for it—simply disappeared, we’d be better off by that much. He can’t argue both that economic growth is the best measure of technical progress and that the levels of growth that have occurred have too little to do with real productivity.

To be sure, Cowen does address the supposed diminishing returns of technological progress in terms of personal use-value. The blockbuster innovations with the biggest effect on our daily lives, he says, have already been adopted: antibiotics, automobiles, refrigerators, television, air conditioning. There’s been far less change in the character of daily life since 1960 than before. Aside from the Internet, recent innovations have been mostly incremental.

The Internet itself, Cowen argues, may be important in terms of personal happiness, but not of generating either revenue or employment. But to treat revenue generation and employment as ends in themselves—rather than a way to pay for stuff—is perverse. If the price of what we need falls because the amount of labor and capital needed to produce it falls, then we need less revenue—and less labor—for the same standard of living. The real significance of what Cowen mistakenly calls “stagnation” is that a growing share of our needs is being decoupled from revenue by technologies of abundance.

The reduced wage employment needed to produce our standard of living, as such, is a good thing. What’s bad is when artificial property rights enable rentier classes to appropriate the benefits of increased productivity for themselves. Our goal should not be to increase the number of “full-time jobs,” but to make sure that the productivity of the hours we do work is fully internalized.

Cowen focuses mainly on the Internet as part of the furniture of daily life—the fun of web surfing—to the neglect of a far more important benefit: the basic way society itself is organized, the relative power of the individual and networks versus large institutions, and the declining ability of hierarchies to enforce their will on us.

His focus on the objects of daily life ignores revolutionary changes in the way they’re made and on the structure of the economy. There’s not such a revolutionary change in going from picture tubes to gel panels, or from carburetors to fuel injectors. But there’s an enormous difference between John Kenneth Galbraith’s mass-production oligopoly economy and one of networked garage shops using cheap machine tools.

C4SS Senior Fellow Kevin Carson is a contemporary mutualist author and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: An Individualist Anarchist Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog.

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

Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Heartlander Magazine Article on Hawaii’s Plastic-Bag Ban

Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Heartlander Magazine Article on Hawaii’s Plastic-Bag Ban

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 4, 2012

I have again been quoted in Heartlander Magazine, this time in “Aloha! Leave Your Plastic Grocery Bags at Home” by Kenneth Artz. I encourage you to read my comments there. Here are some of my further thoughts on this subject.

The recent banning of plastic bags in Los Angeles and Hawaii is a gross infringement on individual rights and free enterprise. Entirely harmless and consensual exchanges between stores and their customers are being prohibited, and in Los Angeles customers are being forced by the local government to pay for paper bags that stores would have preferred to give for free. This is a frightening infringement on consumer sovereignty, as it makes artificially scarce those goods which businesses would have preferred to make abundant and accessible for consumers’ benefit.

Freely available plastic and paper bags offer a superb convenience to consumers who may be making unplanned shopping trips – perhaps as a result of emergency needs.  Furthermore, store-provided bags are helpful even to consumers who have brought their own bags – just in case those consumers purchase more items than would fit into the bags they brought. The governments in Hawaii and Los Angeles are forcing such consumers to pay an extra fee because of their unforeseen, and sometimes very personal, needs. The ban and fee are hardest on the least economically advantaged consumers, for whom every penny counts. The inconvenience of the ban and the cumulative cost of the paper-bag fees can make the difference between financial sustainability and severe strain on personal and family budgets.

As my comments in the article make clear, the ban is also repugnant from the standpoint of morality and limited government. The only morally praiseworthy acts of environmental responsibility are those initiated and voluntarily sustained by private individuals and businesses.

This tax on convenience is an unacceptable exercise of arbitrary power. If a government can arrogate to itself the power to prevent mutually beneficial arrangements such as the free availability of plastic and paper bags – then what can it not do? What kinds of petty micromanagement are off limits to cities and counties? What room is left for creativity and innovation among individuals and businesses if the smallest things in life are subject to crippling prohibitions and controls?

Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Heartlander Article on Toll-Free Internet Access to Major Sites

Mr. Stolyarov Quoted in Heartlander Article on Toll-Free Internet Access to Major Sites

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 28, 2012

I am quoted extensively in the article “Verizon: Toll-Free Internet Access on Horizon” by Kenneth Artz of Heartlander magazine. I explain the benefits of a new proposed pricing structure whereby websites such as Google and Netflix would be able to pay ISPs for better access by their users – instead of the users paying more.

When providers experiment in order to make a service more lucrative to consumers, we all win.