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Ideas for Technological Solutions to Destructive Climate Change – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Ideas for Technological Solutions to Destructive Climate Change – Article by G. Stolyarov II

G. Stolyarov II



Destructive climate change is no longer a hypothesis or mere possibility; rather, the empirical evidence for it has become apparent in the form of increasingly frequent extremes of temperature and natural disasters – particularly the ongoing global heat wave and major wildfires occurring in diverse parts of the world. In each individual incident, it is difficult to pinpoint “climate change” as a singular cause, but climate change can be said to exacerbate the frequency and severity of the catastrophes that arise. Residing in Northern Nevada for the past decade has provided me ample empirical evidence of the realities of deleterious climate change. Whereas there were no smoke inundations from California wildfires during the first four summers of my time in Northern Nevada, the next six consecutive summers (2013-2018) were all marked by widespread, persistent inflows of smoke from major wildfires hundreds of kilometers away, so as to render the air quality here unhealthy for long periods of time. From a purely probabilistic standpoint, the probability of this prolonged sequence of recent but consistently recurring smoke inundations would be minuscule in the absence of some significant climate change. Even in the presence of some continued debate over the nature and causes of climate change, the probabilities favor some action to mitigate the evident adverse effects and to rely on the best-available scientific understanding to do so, even with the allowance that the scientific understanding will evolve and hopefully become more refined over time – as good science does. Thus, it is most prudent to accept that there is deleterious climate change and that at least a significant contribution to it comes from emissions of certain gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere as a result of particular human activities, the foremost of which is the use of fossil fuels. This is not an indictment of human beings, nor even of fossil fuels per se, but rather an indication that the deleterious side effects of particular activities should be prevented or alleviated through further human activity and ingenuity.

Yet one of the major causes of historical reluctance among laypersons, especially in the United States, to accept the findings of the majority of climate scientists has been the misguided conflation by certain activists (almost always on the political Left) of the justifiable need to prevent or mitigate the effects of climate change with specific policy recommendations that are profoundly counterproductive to that purpose and would only increase the everyday suffering of ordinary people without genuinely alleviating deleterious climate change. The policy recommendations of this sort have historically fallen into two categories: (i) Neo-Malthusian, “back to nature” proposals to restrict the use of advanced technologies and return to more primitive modes of living; and (ii) elaborate economic manipulations, such as the creation of artificial markets in “carbon credits”, or the imposition of a carbon tax or a related form of “Pigovian tax” – ostensibly to associate the “negative externalities” of greenhouse-gas emissions with a tangible cost. The Neo-Malthusian “solutions” would, in part deliberately, cause extreme detriments to most people’s quality of life (for those who remain alive), while simultaneously resulting in the use of older, far more environmentally destructive techniques of energy generation, such as massive deforestation or the combustion of animal byproducts. The Neo-Pigovian economic manipulations ignore how human motives and incentives actually work and are far too indirect and contingent on a variety of assumptions that are virtually never likely to hold in practice. At the same time, the artificially complex structures that these economic manipulations inevitably create would pose obstructions to the direct deployment of more straightforward solutions by entangling such potential solutions in an inextricable web of compliance interdependencies.

The solutions to destructive climate change are ultimately technological and infrastructural.  No single device or tactic – and certainly no tax or prohibition – can comprehensively combat a problem of this magnitude and variety of impacts. However, a suite of technologically oriented approaches – pushing forward the deployment and quality of the arsenal of tools available to humankind – could indeed arrest and perhaps reverse the course of deleterious climate change by directly reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases and/or directly alleviating the consequences of increased climate variability.

Because both human circumstances and current as well as potential technologies are extremely diverse, no list of potential solutions to deleterious climate change can ever be exhaustive. Here I attempt the beginnings of such a list, but I invite others to contribute additional technologically oriented solutions as well. There are only two constraints on the kinds of solutions that can feasibly and ethically combat deleterious climate change – but those constraints are of immense importance:

Constraint 1. The solutions may not result in a net detriment to any individual human’s length or material quality of life.

Constraint 2. The solutions may not involve the prohibition of technologies or the restraint of further technological progress.

Constraint 1 implies that any solution to deleterious climate change will need to be a Pareto-efficient move, in that at least one person should benefit, while no person should suffer a detriment (or at least a detriment that has not been satisfactorily compensated for in that person’s judgment). Constraint 2 implies a techno-optimistic and technoprogressive perspective on combating deleterious climate change: we can do it without restrictions or prohibitions, but rather through innovations that will benefit all humans. Some technologies, particularly those associated with the extraction and use of fossil fuels, may gradually be consigned to obsolescence and irrelevance with this approach, but this will be due to their voluntary abandonment once superior, more advanced technological alternatives become widespread and economical to deploy. The more freedom to innovate and active acceleration of technological progress exist, the sooner that stage of fossil-fuel obsolescence could be reached. In the meantime, some damaging events are unfortunately unavoidable (as are many natural catastrophes more generally in our still insufficiently advanced era), but a variety of approaches can be deployed to at least prevent or reduce some damage that would otherwise arise.

If humanity solves the problems of deleterious climate change, it can only be with the mindset that solutions are indeed achievable, and they are achievable without compromising our progress or standards of living. We must be neither defeatists nor reactionaries, but rather should proactively accelerate the development of emerging technologies to meet this challenge by actualizing the tremendous creative potential our minds have to offer.

What follows is the initial list of potential solutions. Long may it grow.

Direct Technological Innovation

  • Continued development of economical solar and wind power that could compete with fossil fuels on the basis of cost alone.
  • Continued development of electric vehicles and increases in their range, as well as deployment of charging stations throughout all inhabited areas to enable recharging to become as easy as a refueling a gasoline-powered vehicle.
  • Development of in vitro (lab-grown) meat that is biologically identical to currently available meat but does not require actual animals to die. Eventually this could lead the commercial raising of cattle – which contribute significantly to methane emissions – to decline substantially.
  • Development of vertical farming to increase the amount of arable land indoors – rendering more food production largely unaffected by climate change.
  • Autonomous vehicles offered as services by transportation network companies – reducing the need for direct car ownership in urban areas.
  • Development and spread of pest-resistant, drought-resistant genetically modified crops that require less intensive cultivation techniques and less application of spray pesticides, and which can also flourish in less hospitable climates.
  • Construction of hyperloop transit networks among major cities, allowing rapid transit without the pollution generated by most automobile and air travel. Hyperloop networks would also allow for more rapid evacuation from a disaster area.
  • Construction of next-generation, meltdown-proof nuclear-power reactors, including those that utilize the thorium fuel cycle. It is already possible today for most of a country’s electricity to be provided through nuclear power, if only the fear of nuclear energy could be overcome. However, the best way to overcome the fear of nuclear energy is to deploy new technologies that eliminate the risk of meltdown. In addition to this, technologies should be developed to reprocess nuclear waste and to safely re-purpose dismantled nuclear weapons for civilian energy use.
  • Construction of smart infrastructure systems and devices that enable each building to use available energy with the maximum possible benefit and minimum possible waste, while also providing opportunities for the building to generate its own renewable energy whenever possible.
  • In the longer term, development of technologies to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide and export it via spaceships to the Moon and Mars, where it could be released as part of efforts to generate a greenhouse effect and begin terraforming these worlds.

Disaster Response

  • Fire cameras located at prominent vantage points in any area of high fire risk – perhaps linked to automatic alerts to nearby fire departments and sprinkler systems built into the landscape, which might be auto-activated if a sufficiently large fire is detected in the vicinity.
  • Major increases in recruitment of firefighters, with generous pay and strategic construction of outposts in wilderness areas. Broad, paved roads need to lead to the outposts, allowing for heavy equipment to reach the site of a wildfire easily.
  • Development of firefighting robots to accompany human firefighters. The robots would need to be constructed from fire-resistive materials and have means of transporting themselves over rugged terrain (e.g., tank treads).
  • Design and deployment of automated firefighting drones – large autonomous aircraft that could carry substantial amounts of water and/or fire-retardant sprays.

Disaster Prevention

  • Recruitment of large brush-clearing brigades to travel through heavily forested areas – particularly remote and seldom-accessed ones – and clear dead vegetation as well as other wildfire fuels. This work does not require significant training or expertise and so could offer an easy job opportunity for currently unemployed or underemployed individuals. In the event of shortages of human labor, brush-clearing robots could be designed and deployed. The robots could also have the built-in capability to reprocess dead vegetation into commercially usable goods – such as mulch or wood pellets. Think of encountering your friendly maintenance robot when hiking or running on a trail!
  • Proactive creation of fire breaks in wilderness areas – not “controlled burns” (which are, in practice, difficult to control) but rather controlled cuts of smaller, flammable brush to reduce the probability of fire spreading. Larger trees of historic significance should be spared, but with defensible space created around them.
  • Deployment of surveillance drones in forested areas, to detect behaviors such as vandalism or improper precautions around manmade fires – which are often the causes of large wildfires.
  • Construction of large levees throughout coastal regions – protecting lowland areas from flooding and achieving in the United States what has been achieved in the Netherlands over centuries on a smaller scale. Instead of building a wall at the land border, build many walls along the coasts!
  • Construction of vast desalination facilities along ocean coasts. These facilities would take in ocean water, thereby counteracting the effects of rising water levels, then purify the water and transmit it via a massive pipe network throughout the country, including to drought-prone regions. This would mitigating multiple problems, reducing the excess of water in the oceans while replenishing the deficit of water in inland areas.
  • Creation of countrywide irrigation and water-pipeline networks to spread available water and prevent drought wherever it might arise.

Economic Policies

  • Redesign of home insurance policies and disaster-mitigation/recovery grants to allow homeowners who lost their homes to natural disasters to rebuild in different, safer areas.
  • Development of workplace policies to encourage telecommuting and teleconferencing, including through immersive virtual-reality technologies that allow for plausible simulacra of in-person interaction. The majority of business interactions can be performed virtually, eliminating the need for much business-related commuting and travel.
  • Elimination of local and regional monopoly powers of utility companies in order to allow alternative-energy utilities, such as companies specializing in the installation of solar panels, to compete and offer their services to homeowners independently of traditional utilities.
  • Establishment of consumer agencies (public or private) that review products for durability and encourage the construction of devices that lack “planned obsolescence” but rather can be used for decades with largely similar effect.
  • Establishment of easily accessible community repair shops where old devices and household goods can be taken to be repaired or re-purposed instead of being discarded.
  • Abolition of inflexible zoning regulations and overly prescriptive building codes; replacement with a more flexible system that allows a wide variety of innovative construction techniques, including disaster-resistant and sustainable construction methods, tiny homes, homes created from re-purposed materials, and mixed-use residential/commercial developments (which also reduce the need for vehicular commuting).
  • Abolition of sales taxes on energy-efficient consumer goods.
  • Repeal or non-enactment of any mileage-based taxes for electric or hybrid vehicles, thereby resulting in such vehicles becoming incrementally less expensive to operate.
  • Lifting of all bans and restrictions on genetically modified plants and animals – which are a crucial component in adaptation to climate change and in reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural activities.

Harm Mitigation

  • Increases in planned urban vegetation through parks, rooftop gardens, trees planted alongside streets, pedestrian / bicyclist “greenways” lined with vegetation. The additional vegetation can absorb carbon dioxide, reducing the concentrations in the atmosphere.
  • Construction of additional pedestrian / bicyclist “greenways”, which could help reduce the need for vehicular commutes.
  • Construction of always-operational disaster shelters with abundant stockpiles of aid supplies, in order to prevent the delays in deployment of resources that occur during a disaster. When there is no disaster, the shelters could perform other valuable tasks that generally are not conducive to market solutions, such as litter cleanup in public spaces or even offering inexpensive meeting space to various individuals and organizations. (This could also contribute to the disaster shelters largely becoming self-funding in calm times.)
  • Provision of population-wide free courses on disaster preparation and mitigation. The courses could have significant online components as well as in-person components administered by first-aid and disaster-relief organizations.

This article is made available pursuant to the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author, Gennady Stolyarov II (G. Stolyarov II). Learn more about Mr. Stolyarov here

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

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

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

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

Economics Is an Intergalactic Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price Controls in the Trek Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

frederik-roeder


Frederik Cyrus Roeder

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

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

Protectionism is All Around Us – Article by Daniel Gold

Protectionism is All Around Us – Article by Daniel Gold

The New Renaissance HatDaniel Gold
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In political speak, a protectionist is someone who is against free trade. They want to protect American businesses, and indirectly American workers, from cheap labor offered abroad.

The underlying argument is that American workers require protection from competition.The underlying argument is that American workers require, or benefit from, protection from competition.

This same argument is used to restrict many other liberties.

Crusaders against immigration lament that low wage earning immigrants steal jobs from, and drive down the wages of American born workers.

Opponents of Uber and AirBnB claim that hotel owners, and taxi drivers, need to be protected from cheap competition offered in the sharing economy.

Even advocates of the minimum wage are protectionists. They feel that workers need to be protected from other workers who would offer to sell their labor at a lower price. This was evident in the first debate over the minimum wage, when white workers felt they needed protection against cheaper, African-American labor.

The minimum wage was first implemented in the United States nationally in 1931 by the Davis-Bacon act. During the debate in the House of representatives, Rep. William Upshaw (D-Ga.) complained of the “superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor.” Rep. Miles Allgood (D-Ala.) said, “That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.”

Opposition to immigration, trade, the sharing economy, and a wage set by the market is all the same tired argument, rebranded to hide its proven failure.

It’s Always Anti-Competitive

Protectionism fails because the harms of protectionist policies are guaranteed to exceed the benefits. Any benefits transferred to the producers are passed onto the consumer in the form of higher prices. However, because less exchange takes place at a higher price, there is a deadweight loss to the economy as a whole.

Protectionism is propped up by a political system of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs that make it difficult to defeat. Imagine you own a hotel, and a bill is sitting on your legislator’s desk to ban AirBnB.

You will make it known to your legislator, that your support for him, and the support of 100 other hotel owners like you, depends on him signing the bill. Meanwhile the hundreds of thousands of consumers who are hurt by this bill, care more about other things.

The Damage Adds Up

The individual consumer may not care much about the hurt she suffers from a more expensive hotel, but it adds up. Hundreds of thousands of goods are more expensive because of tariffs or quotas. Hundreds of services become more expensive for everyone because of occupational licensing laws.

Because of the incentives within the system, this will be one of the most difficult economic problems to fix. It requires vigilance, it requires us to call our representatives while they consider protectionist laws, it requires us to vote for non-protectionist candidates. If we do all this, we can rid ourselves of the largest drag on our economy.

danielgold
Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a student at Carleton College.

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

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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As a proponent of attaining indefinite human longevity through the progress of medical science and technology, Mr. Stolyarov is frequently asked to address key questions about the effects that indefinite life extension would have on human incentives, behaviors, and societies. Here, he offers his outlook on what some of these impacts would be.

The specific questions addressed are the following:
1. What would be the benefits of life extension?
2. What drawbacks would life extension pose?
3. Would governments ban indefinite life extension if it is achieved?

References

– “Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
Death is Wrong – Illustrated Children’s Book by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Impacts of Indefinite Life Extension: Answers to Common Questions – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
******************************

As a proponent of attaining indefinite human longevity through the progress of medical science and technology, I am frequently asked to address key questions about the effects that indefinite life extension would have on human incentives, behaviors, and societies. Here, I offer my outlook on what some of these impacts would be.

What would be the benefits of life extension?

(1) The greatest benefit of life extension is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual – apart from the worst criminals – has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished, and, to the person who dies, everything is lost and not even a memory remains. It is as if the individual never existed at all. This is the greatest possible loss and should be averted if at all possible. The rest of us, of course, also lose the possible benefits and opportunities of interacting with that individual.

(2) People would be able to accomplish far more with longer lifespans. They could pursue multiple careers and multi-year personal projects and could reliably accumulate enough resources to sustainably enjoy life. They could develop their intellectual, physical, and relational capabilities to the fullest. Furthermore, they would exhibit longer-term orientations, since they could expect to remain to live with the consequences of decisions many decades and centuries from now. I expect that a world of longer-lived individuals would involve far less pollution, corruption, fraud, hierarchical oppression, destruction of other species, and short-term exploitation of other humans. Prudence, foresight, and pursuit of respectful, symbiotic interactions would prevail. People would tend to live in more reflective, measured, and temperate ways instead of seeking to haphazardly cram enjoyment and activity into the tiny slivers of life they have now. At the same time, they would also be more open to experimentation with new projects and ideas, since they would have more time to devote to such exploratory behaviors.

(3) Upon becoming adults, people would no longer live life in strict stages, and the normative societal expectations of “what one should do with one’s life” at a particular stage would relax considerably. If a person at age 80 is biologically indistinguishable from a person at age 20, the strict generational divides of today would dissipate, allowing a much greater diversity of human interactions. People will tend to become more tolerant and cosmopolitan, having more time to explore other ways of living and to understand those who are different from them.

(4) Technological, scientific, and economic progress would accelerate rapidly, because precious intellectual capital would not be lost to the ravages of death and disease. Longer-lived humans would be more likely to invest in projects that would materialize over the course of decades, including space travel and colonization, geo-engineering and terraforming, prevention of asteroid impacts and other natural disasters, safe nuclear disarmament and disposal of nuclear waste, and long-term preservation of the human species. The focus of most intelligent people would shift from meeting quarterly or annual business earnings goals and toward time- and resource-intensive projects that could avert existential dangers to humankind and also expand humanity’s reach, knowledge, and benevolence. The achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems instead of resigning to the perception of their inevitability.

(5) Major savings to health-care systems, both private and governmental, would result if the largest expenses – which occur in the last years of life today, in the attempt to fight a losing battle against the diseases of old age – are replaced by periodic and relatively inexpensive rejuvenation and maintenance treatments to forestall the advent of biological senescence altogether. Health care could truly become about the pursuit of sustainable good health instead of a last-ditch effort against the onslaught of diseases that accompanies old age today. Furthermore, the strain on public pensions would be alleviated as advanced age would cease to be a barrier to work.

What drawbacks would life extension pose?

I do not see true drawbacks to life extension. Certainly, the world and all human societies would change significantly, and there would be some upheaval as old business models and ways of living are replaced by new ones. However, this has happened with every major technological advance in history, and in the end the benefits far outweigh any transitional costs. For the people who remain alive, the avoidance of the greatest loss of all will be well worth it, and the human capacity for adaptation and growth in the face of new circumstances is and has always been remarkable.  Furthermore, the continued presence of individuals from older generations would render this transition far more humane than any other throughout history. After all, entire generations would no longer be swept away by the ravages of time. They could persist and preserve their knowledge and experience as anchors during times of change.

Every day, approximately 150,000 people die, and approximately 100,000 of them die from causes related to senescence. If those deaths can be averted and the advent of indefinite life extension accelerated by even a few days, hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable individual universes would be preserved. This is worth paying even substantial costs in my view, but, fortunately, I think the other – economic and societal – effects that accompany life extension would be overwhelmingly positive as well.

As Death is Wrong, my illustrated children’s book on the prospects for life extension, points out, “Death is the enemy of us all, to be fought with medicine, science, and technology.” The book discusses the benefits of life extension in a language and format accessible to most children of ages 8 or older. Death is Wrong also outlines some common arguments against life extension and reasonable responses to them.  For instance, I respond to the common overpopulation argument as follows: “human population is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, more prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller. Technology gives us far more food, energy, and living space than our ancestors had, and the growth in population only gives us more smart people who can create even more technologies to benefit us all. Besides, humans ought to build more settlements on land, on water, underwater, and in space. Space travel could also save the human species if the Earth were hit by a massive asteroid that could wipe out complex life. ” I respond to the boredom argument by stating that, due to human creativity and discovery, the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue them. For instance, thousands more books are published every day than a single person could possibly read.

ELFC_Death_is_Wrong

Would governments ban indefinite life extension if it is achieved?

Once life-extending treatments are developed and publicly available, national governments would not be effectively able to ban them, since there will not be a single medicine or procedure that would accomplish indefinite lifespans. Rather, indefinite life extension would be achieved through a combination of treatments, beating back today’s deadliest diseases using techniques that would not be limited in their application to people who explicitly want to live longer. (For instance, people who do not harbor that particular desire but do want to get rid of cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s disease that may afflict them or their loved ones, would also benefit from the same treatments.) These treatments would be as embedded in the healthcare systems of the future as over-the-counter drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are today; it would be practically impossible to ban them, and countries that did would face massive black markets or people traveling abroad to receive the same treatments.

Furthermore, genuine healthy life extension could be a great fiscal solution for many welfare states today, which are finding themselves with unsustainable burdens pertaining to old-age healthcare and pensions. The majority of health-care costs are expended to keep frail people alive a little bit longer and to fight an expensive and ultimately losing battle against the diseases of old age. The only way dramatic life extension could occur is if regular and relatively inexpensive maintenance (made inexpensive through the exponential progress of information technologies and bio/nanotechnology) prevented the decline of the body to such a stage where expensive, losing battles needed to be fought at all. Replacing the current extremely expensive end-of-life medical care with periodic rejuvenation and maintenance would be a great cost-saver and may avert a major fiscal crisis.

What concerns me is not governments banning life-extension technologies once they are developed, but rather existing political systems (and their associated politically connected established private institutions) creating barriers to the emergence of those technologies in the first place. Most of those barriers are probably inadvertent – for instance, the FDA’s approval process in the United States premised on a model of medicines and treatments that must focus on single diseases rather than the biological aging process as a whole. However, there have been influential “bioethicists”, such as Leon Kass, Daniel Callahan, and Sherwin Nuland, who have explicitly and extensively spoken and written against healthy life extension. It is important to win the contest of ideas so that public opinion does not give encouragement to the “bioconservative” bioethicists who want to use the political process to perpetuate the old cycle of life, death, and decay – where each generation must be swept away by the ravages of senescence. We must stand for life and against age-old rationalizations of our own demise.

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.

The Myth of Primitive Communism – Article by Mike Reid

The Myth of Primitive Communism – Article by Mike Reid

The New Renaissance HatMike Reid
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Generosity Is an Investment in Human Capital

All my students starved to death. Again.

Here’s what they learned the hard way: generosity today can be a way of saving for tomorrow.

They were survivors of a plane crash on a desert island. They knew they’d be trapped there for months and that the only food would be the large but elusive fish in the sea.

When one of my students managed to catch a fish, he ate as much as he could, then stored the rest for himself under some rocks near the beach.

Other students, less successful as fishermen, starved to death promptly.

Soon, the initially successful fisherman found himself alone on the island. With no refrigeration, the food he’d stashed rotted away. And when he ventured out fishing again, he was unlucky and got stung by a deadly jellyfish.

With no one left to take care of him, he, too, perished.

Every year, I play this game with my students. We use a big square of desks to represent our island, pennies to represent fast-decaying fish fillets, and dice to randomize the fishers’ success or failure. (If a student decides not to fish, he has no chance to catch food but also no chance of encountering the dreaded jellyfish.)

“Primitive Communists”
We play this game while studying the famous Ju/’hoansi hunter-gatherers. Until the colonial encroachments of the 20th century, most Ju/’hoansi lived in small, nomadic groups in the Kalahari desert, the men hunting with bows and arrows and the women collecting nuts, berries, and roots with digging sticks and carrier sashes.

Every year, in the discussions that follow our brief reading on this culture, my students remark with amazement that whenever a Ju/’hoan man or woman finds food, he or she shares it widely with the community.

This behavior seems to be an important part of why Richard B. Lee, the most prominent anthropologist in the study of the Ju/’hoansi, describes them as “primitive communists” in the Marxian sense. And many of my students each year seem to get the idea that the Ju/’hoansi share their food so freely with each other because they are in some way more charitable, more natural, or otherwise more moral than us.

Sometimes, a student remarks, “That’s like socialism, right?”

So I like to play this little starvation game to disabuse my students of their romantic notions about communist noble savages in the African wilderness.

What, I ask, would happen if a bunch of greedy, selfish people like us found themselves in the same economic situation the Ju/’hoansi face?

The Economic Constraints of Foraging Life
Nomadic foragers like the Ju/’hoansi have unreliable “incomes” in terms of the food they find from day to day and week to week.

They are often masterful trackers and foragers. But, no matter how competent you are, when you pursue a giraffe on foot with a bow and arrow, sometimes the giraffe gets away.

Furthermore, it’s difficult for nomadic foragers to store food or other forms of material wealth. In fact, the Ju/’hoansi are even less inclined to store food than many other nomadic foragers. Perhaps this is because, while they can dry meat to last a couple of months, they also know a sudden rainstorm could ruin their savings. And because they travel repeatedly over the year to new water holes and food sources, as Lee says, “it would be sheer folly to amass more goods than can be carried along when the group moves.”

So if one were to ask a Ju/’hoan man in the morning what he’s going to eat that night, he could honestly respond, “I don’t know; I haven’t caught it yet.”

Cultural Heritage and Human Survival
Every year, in the game with my students, one of two things happens:

  1. Successful fishermen imitate the Ju/’hoansi. They give away their excess food freely, starting with their friends or closest neighbors at the game table.
  2. The students starve to death en masse.

My students tend to go into this game with an idealistic view of the Ju/’hoansi as selfless, altruistic people.

They tend to finish the game realizing that, even if you were the greediest, most selfish nomadic forager in the world, your best move would still be to share food with your neighbors.

Since nomadic foragers have a difficult time storing physical capital, especially food, their response all around the world, in culture after culture, is to promptly turn it into human capital by giving it to friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Like my students, Ju/’hoansi men and women are tempted to hoard their own wealth. Indeed, Ju/’hoansi elders often lament that they have given generously all their lives and would now like to keep just a little for themselves.

But the Ju/’hoansi also have a massive corpus of gift-exchange rituals, conversational habits, and even stock jokes that they use to bolster their own patience and to bring hoarders peacefully into line. These behaviors represent the heritage of thousands of years of spontaneous-order cultural development under economic conditions in which short-run greed is tantamount to stupidity.

What makes the Ju/’hoansi seem selfless, or communistic, or morally superior to us is their age-old cultural adaptation to the fact that, for each individual in their situation, the best strategy to save for the future is to share widely in the present.

Culture and Markets
In the very different economic and technological circumstances of the industrialized West, we have our own roundabout methods by which our selfish desires lead to social prosperity. In markets, each of us can still provide best for his or her own future by helping others — especially strangers — for the right price.

Would this same system work for hunter-gatherers?

If a group of 19th-century Ju/’hoansi equipped with digging sticks and bows and arrows had tried the ethics of the modern market for themselves, many might have starved to death before they recognized their error and began to recreate a culture more appropriate to their own ecology and technology.

But what works for the Ju/’hoansi would be devastating for us. If we today, in a market society made up largely of strangers, attempted to practice the ethics of profligate sharing and meek humility — or even worse, to enforce such ethics on noncompliant others through government policies — we would drive our whole society into chaos and penury.

The Ju/’hoansi’s strategy works only for people in the Ju/’hoansi’s situation.

Our own great wealth and our own social order are built on savings and investment — and on using our resources to benefit strangers through market exchange.

Mike Reid is a publishing consultant at InvisibleOrder.com and the publications impresario at Liberty.me. He also teaches anthropology at the University of Winnipeg. Mike lives in Manitoba with his wife and two children.

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.

On Soda Taxes and Purported Health Benefits – Article by Peter Van Doren

On Soda Taxes and Purported Health Benefits – Article by Peter Van Doren

The New Renaissance HatPeter Van Doren
October 27, 2015
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This week, the New York Times editorial board wrote in support of greater taxes on sweetened drinks, citing new research from a team Mexican and American researchers. They praise the novel design of the tax, which is levied on drink distributors rather than consumers. This caused the tax to be included in shelf prices, making the increase in total cost clear to consumers. The research found that soda consumption fell 12 percent in a year, and 17 percent among the poorest Mexicans.

The Times admits that we do not know whether any health benefits will actually result from soda taxes.  In this article in Regulation, the University of Pennsylvania’s Jonathan Klick and Claremont McKenna’s Eric Helland examined the effects of soda taxes. They conclude that a one percent increase in soda taxes led to a five percent reduction in soda consumption among young people.  But consumers substituted to other beverages.  A 6-calorie reduction in soda consumption was accompanied by an 8-calorie increase in milk consumption and a 2-calorie increase in juice consumption. Thus, the tax on soda led to an increase in overall calorie consumption, which offset the benefits of falling soda consumption. Moreover, there was “no statistically significant effect of soda taxes on body weight or the likelihood of being obese or overweight”.

Peter Van Doren is editor of the quarterly journal Regulation and an expert in the regulation of housing, land, energy, the environment, transportation, and labor. He has taught at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (Princeton University), the School of Organization and Management (Yale University), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 1987 to 1988 he was the postdoctoral fellow in political economy at Carnegie Mellon University. His writing has been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Journal of Commerce, and the New York Post. Van Doren has also appeared on CNN, CNBC, Fox News Channel, and Voice of America.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s degree and doctorate from Yale University.

This work by Cato Institute is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

America’s Aristocracy of Privilege and Power – Article by Daniel J. Bier

America’s Aristocracy of Privilege and Power – Article by Daniel J. Bier

The New Renaissance Hat
Daniel J. Bier
March 26, 2015
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Bush, Kennedy, Romney, Clinton, and, yes, even Paul — is it just a coincidence that the same names keep appearing on the ballots each election cycle? Are these families just innately talented legislators, naturally “born to rule”?

No, says economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. America’s lame political dynasties are the result of a political system rife with nepotism.

There is a very real chance that the presidential election in 2016 will pit Jeb Bush against Hillary Clinton.… Whether or not you like one of the candidates, it just doesn’t feel right, in part because a second Bush-Clinton election makes a mockery of our self-identification as a democratic meritocracy.…

In our era a son of a president was roughly 1.4 million times more likely to become president than his supposed peers.… The presidency is obviously a small sample. But the same calculations can be done for other political positions. Take governors.

Because it is difficult to be sure that you have counted all the sons of governors, let’s assume that governors reproduce at average rates. This would mean there were about 250 baby boomer males born to governors. Five of them became governors themselves, about one in 50. This is 6,000 times the rate of the average American. The same methodology suggests that sons of senators had an 8,500 times higher chance of becoming a senator than an average American male boomer.

But there’s nepotism everywhere, and most parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. Is politics remarkable?

Is this electoral edge unusual? Successful parents, whatever their occupation, pass on their genes and plenty of other stuff to their kids. Do different fields have similar familial patterns?

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics….

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Presidents, superstar athletes, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and other leaders in their field are outliers in the distribution. “Regression to the mean” is a statistical principle that describes the tendency of variables to return to the average over time. In the case of hereditary athletic talents, we should expect that Michael Jordan’s sons will be pretty average basketball players and will probably not end up dominating the NBA.

But in politics, we don’t see this: “The Bush family’s dominance would be the basketball equivalent of Michael Jordan being the father of LeBron James and Kevin Durant — and of Michael Jordan’s father being Walt Frazier.”

In other words, the odds that the best person to run your government (assuming such a thing exists) just so happened to live in the same house as the previous senator, governor, or president are stupendously bad.

He notes that politics isn’t the only sphere where irrational favoritism for close relations shows up in the data: CEOs tend to give birth to CEOs at an improbable rate, too, and we know that heredity isn’t a foolproof guide to succession in business, either. Economists have shown that family businesses that favor succession to blood relatives tend to perform worse after the transition.

The difference is that in business, the cost of the decision falls on those who make it. In politics, we all pay.

Stephens-Davidowitz concludes, “The data shows conclusively that we have a nepotism problem. So now the question is: Why does the modern United States tolerate this level of privilege for political name brands?”

Indeed. How could this be? It can’t be nepotism in the same way that family businesses tap relations to run the company — it’s the voters who decide who wins the next election. So how could equalitarian democracy, the great leveller, the system that tells elementary students “you too could grow up to be senator or president,” recreate dynastic political succession?

Well, the answer is that the promise is partially true: technically, any citizen can become a senator — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, he points out, is the daughter of a janitor — but you’re just 8,500 times more likely to get there if your mom or dad was too. And, in part, it could be that intelligence (or low cunning) is heritable and makes politicians’ kids better at the game. But that doesn’t explain the continued popularity of a figure like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the dull luminary of the anti-vaccine and “jail climate deniers” movements, who has clearly regressed to mean with a vengeance.

A better answer is that America’s dynasties reveal something fundamental about politics: we do not have a meritocracy because democracy is not a good way to select rulers (even if it is, as is so often said, the least worst way). Surveys show conclusively that the electorate is wildly ill-informed about both the candidates and the issues, as well as aggressively irrational about a host of important economic, political, scientific, legal, and simply factual issues. Controlled studies show that voters select candidates for patently absurd reasons, like their height, weight, attractiveness, and timbre of voice. And, in answer to Stephens-Davidowitz’ last question, more than anything else, name recognition matters.

What makes politics so futile is not that the national electorate improbably keeps landing on the same few families, decade after decade. Rather, it’s that the voters keep supporting the same dumb policies.

We don’t need a rule to prevent political power from passed down through families. The rules that govern what people can do with elected office matter far more than who sits there. We need, as comedian Penn Jillette once said, to give politicians so little power that it doesn’t matter who they are — rather than so much power that it doesn’t matter who they are.

Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian. He writes on issues relating to science, skepticism, and economic freedom, focusing on the role of evolution in social and economic development.

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

Contrasting the Roles of World-Transforming Business Enterprises in the Novels of Hazlitt, Heinlein, and Istvan – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Contrasting the Roles of World-Transforming Business Enterprises in the Novels of Hazlitt, Heinlein, and Istvan – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 17, 2014
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Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back, Robert Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children, and Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager each portray a different path by which business enterprises can dramatically improve the human condition, catalyzing paradigm shifts in the societies around them. (Follow the hyperlinks above to read my detailed analyses of each novel.) Far from being concerned solely with immediate profits or meeting quarterly earnings goals, the entrepreneurs depicted in these novels endeavor to thrive despite political persecution and manage to escape and overcome outright dystopias.

Among these three novels, Methuselah’s Children shows the tamest business-based route to reform. For centuries the Howard Foundation aims not to transform the broader society, but rather to protect its own beneficiaries and encourage incrementally greater longevity with each subsequent selectively bred generation. The Howard Families adapt to existing legal and cultural climates and prefer keeping a low profile to instigating a revolution. But even their mild outreach to the general public – motivated by the hope for acceptance and the desire to share their knowledge with the world – brings upon them the full force of the supposedly enlightened and rights-respecting society of The Covenant. Rather than fight, the Howard Families choose to escape and pursue their vision of the good life apart from the rest of humanity. Yet the very existence of this remarkable group and its members’ extraordinary lifespans fuels major changes for humanity during the 75 years of the Howard Families’ voyage. By remaining steadfast to its purpose of protecting its members, the Howard Foundation shows humankind that radical life extension is possible, and Ira Howard’s goal is attained for the remainder of humanity, whose pursuit of extended longevity cannot be stopped once society is confronted with its reality.

The path of incremental and experimental – but principled – reform through the use of business is illustrated in Time Will Run Back. Even though Peter Uldanov does not intend to embark on a capitalist world revolution, he nonetheless achieves this outcome over the course of eight years due to his intellectual honesty, lack of indoctrination, and willingness to consistently follow valid insights to their logical conclusions. Peter discovers the universality of the human drive to start small and, later, large enterprises and produce goods and services that sustain and enhance human well-being. Once Peter begins to undo Wonworld’s climate of perpetual terror and micro-regimentation, his citizens use every iota of freedom to engage in mutually beneficial commerce that allows scarce resources to be devoted to their most highly valued uses. Peter, too, must escape political persecution at the hands of Bolshekov, but, unlike the Howard Families, he does not have the luxury of completely distancing himself from his nemesis. Instead, he must form a competing bulwark against Wonworld’s tyranny and, through the superiority in production that free enterprise makes possible, overthrow the socialist dystopia completely. Where Wonworld experienced a century of technological stagnation, Peter’s Freeworld is able to quickly regain lost ground and experience an acceleration of advancement similar to the one that occurred in the Post-World War II period during which Hazlitt wrote Time Will Run Back. Because human creativity and initiative were liberated through free-market reforms, the novel ends with a promise of open-ended progress and a future of ever-expanding human flourishing.

The most explicitly revolutionary use of business as a transformative tool is found in The Transhumanist Wager. Jethro Knights conceives Transhumania specifically as a haven for technological innovation that would lead to the attainment of indefinite lifespans and rapid, unprecedented progress in every field of science and technology. Transhumania is an incubator for Jethro’s vision of a united transhumanist Earth, ruled by a meritocratic elite and completely guided by the philosophy of Teleological Egocentric Functionalism. Like Lazarus Long and the Howard Families, Jethro finds it necessary to escape wider human society because of political persecution, and, like them, he plans an eventual return. He returns, however, without the intent to re-integrate into human society and pursue what Lazarus Long considers to be a universal human striving for ceaseless improvement. Rather, Jethro considers unaltered humanity to be essentially lost to the reactionary influences of Neo-Luddism, religious fundamentalism, and entrenched political and cronyist special interests. Jethro’s goal in returning to the broader world is a swift occupation and transformation of both the Earth and humankind in Jethro’s image.

Jethro’s path is, in many respects, the opposite of Peter Uldanov’s. Peter begins as an inadvertent world dictator and sequentially relinquishes political power in a well-intentioned, pragmatic desire to foster his subjects’ prosperity. Along the way, Peter discovers the moral principles of the free market and becomes a consistent, rights-respecting minarchist libertarian – a transformation that impels him to relinquish absolute power and seek validation through a free and fair election. Jethro, on the other hand, begins as a private citizen and brilliant entrepreneurial businessman who deliberately implements many free-market incentives but, all along, strives to become the omnipotender – and ends up in the role of world dictator where Peter began. The two men are at polar opposites when it comes to militancy. Peter hesitates even to wage defensive war against Bolshekov and questions the propriety of bringing about the deaths of even those who carry out repeated, failed assassination attempts against him and Adams. Jethro does not hesitate to sweep aside his opposition using massive force – as he does when he obliterates the world’s religious and political monuments in an effort to erase the lingering influence of traditional mindsets and compel all humankind to enter the transhumanist age. Jethro’s war against the world is intended to “shock and awe” governments and populations into unconditional and largely bloodless surrender – but this approach cannot avoid some innocent casualties. Jethro will probably not create Wonworld, because he still understands the role of economic incentives and individual initiative in enabling radical technological progress to come about. However, the benefits of the progress Jethro seeks to cultivate will still be disseminated in a controlled fashion – only to those whom Jethro considers useful to his overall goal of becoming as powerful and advanced as possible. Therefore, Jethro’s global Transhumania will not be Freeworld, either.

All three novels raise important questions for us, as human society in the early 21st century stands on the cusp of major advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, space travel, and hopefully radical life extension. However, reactionary political and cultural forces continue to inflict massive suffering worldwide through brutal warfare, sweeping surveillance and humiliation of innocent people, policies that instill terror in the name of fighting terror, and labyrinthine obstacles to progress established by protectionist lobbying on behalf of politically connected special interests. Indeed, our status quo resembles the long, tense stagnation against which Jethro revolts to a greater extent than either the largely rights-respecting society of The Covenant or the totalitarian regimentation of Wonworld. But can the way toward a brighter future – paved by the next generation of life-improving technologies – be devised through an approach that does not exhibit Jethro’s militancy or precipitate massive conflict? Time will tell whether humankind will successfully pursue such a peaceful, principled path of radical but universally benevolent advancement. But whatever this path might entail, it is doubtless that the trailblazers on it will be the innovative businessmen and entrepreneurs of the future, without whom the development, preservation, and dissemination of new technologies would not be possible.

References

Hazlitt, Henry. [1966.] 2007. Time Will Run Back. New York: Arlington House. Ludwig von Mises Institute. Available at http://library.freecapitalists.org/books/Henry%20Hazlitt/Time%20Will%20Run%20Back.pdf. Accessed December 13, 2014.

Heinlein, Robert A. [1958] 2005. Revolt in 2100 & Methuselah’s Children. New York: Baen.

Istvan, Zoltan. 2013. The Transhumanist Wager. San Bernardino: Futurity Imagine Media LLC.

The Businessman as Radical Revolutionary in Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Businessman as Radical Revolutionary in Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 15, 2014
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Zoltan Istvan’s 2013 science-fiction novel The Transhumanist Wager portrays how a combination of business enterprises, united to achieve a philosophical goal, can transform the world. The novel’s protagonist, Jethro Knights, develops a wide-ranging business enterprise that simultaneously operates as its own country – Transhumania – and withstands a military offensive from the combined navies of the world powers. Transhumania then serves as the platform from which Jethro’s vision of transhumanism – the transcendence of age-old human limitations through science and technology – can spread throughout the world and become universally adopted.

The Transhumanist Wager takes place in a near-future world where economic malaise, resurgent Luddite sentiments, and labyrinthine political barriers to technological innovation have resulted in a climate of stagnation. Jethro Knights endeavors to change all this, knowing that the status quo will eventually result in his own death. He takes a highly principled, completely uncompromising, and often militant approach toward achieving his goal: indefinite life extension through science and technology. Jethro endeavors to avoid death through any rational means possible, while simultaneously striving to become the “omnipotender” – “an unyielding individual whose central aim is to contend for as much power and advancement as he could achieve, and whose immediate goal is to transcend his human biological limitations in order to reach a permanent sentience” (Istvan 2013, 33). As a college student, Jethro formulates his philosophical system of Teleological Egocentric Functionalism (TEF), which he later explains to an audience of fellow transhumanists:

Teleological—because it is every advanced individual’s inherent design and desired destiny to evolve. Egocentric—because it is based on each of our selfish individual desires, which are of the foremost importance. Functional—because it will only be rational and consequential. And not fair, nor humanitarian, nor altruistic, nor muddled with unreachable mammalian niceties. The philosophy is essential because it doesn’t allow for passive failure. It doesn’t allow transhumanists to live in delusion while our precious years of existence pass. (Istvan 2013, 84)

Jethro circumnavigates the world on his sailboat and works as a journalist in conflict-ridden areas, with the aim of learning as much as possible about the world. Upon returning to the United States, Jethro founds the activist organization Transhuman Citizen, which aims to promote emerging technologies – particularly biotechnological research into indefinite life extension. He must also to foil the increasingly violent and destructive attacks against cutting-edge scientists and research centers by Christian fundamentalist terrorists spearheaded by the Neo-Luddite Reverend Belinas. The Redeem Church, headed by Belinas, has no qualms about hiring thugs to brutally murder transhumanist scientists. At the same time, Belinas maintains a façade of public respectability and functions as a high-profile “moral leader.” He influences public opinion and prominent politicians – including Jethro’s former college classmate Senator Gregory Michaelson – to despise radical technological progress and crack down on transhumanist research through prohibitions and force. After Jethro’s wife and unborn child are murdered by Belinas’s henchmen and Transhuman Citizen rapidly loses support due to Belinas’s political and public-relations war, Jethro’s dream seems to be on the verge of total collapse. Jethro’s only opportunity for a turnaround arrives in the form of the Russian oil tycoon Frederich Vilimich.

Vilimich is not the ideal rights-respecting free-market capitalist; his rise to power during the chaotic post-Soviet era is marred by the suspicious death of a general with whom he illegally seized a large number of bankrupt oil companies. Vilimich has high business acumen and recognizes the benefits of using the best technology available: “Against the opinion of many people—including the general—Vilimich used every ruble of the company’s booming earnings to acquire the most technologically advanced oil extraction equipment available. Within a few years, the company quadrupled its oil output and became a dominant player in the worldwide energy field” (Istvan 2013, 174). Vilimich can be capricious and tyrannical but understands economic incentives and is ruthless about harnessing them to fulfill his objectives:

He was loathed by his own people for never giving one ruble to charity. He treated his workers poorly compared with other large oil companies, but paid them better. Governments feared him for his habit of impetuously shutting down his oil pipeline for days at a time, thus creating worldwide spikes in energy prices. Some said he did it just to amuse himself; others insisted he just wanted higher oil prices; still others grumbled that he just wanted to remind people who was in control. (Istvan 2013, 175).

Vilimich is a tragic figure; all joy had left his life when his wife and son were murdered by terrorists two decades earlier. Vilimich dedicates his time and his vast oil fortune to repeated, unsuccessful attempts to bring them back from the dead. Vilimich’s redeeming quality is his understanding and embrace of the necessity of radical technological progress: “Vilimich was a believer in change via technology. It had always been a natural instinct for him” (Istvan 2013, 176). Upon learning of the concerted worldwide crackdown against Transhuman Citizen, Vilimich’s reaction is to sympathize with Jethro: “The world was afraid of evolution, Vilimich told himself, shaking his head in frustration. His grueling but successful battle against colon cancer reminded him that life was not open-ended” (Istvan 2013, 175). Vilimich realizes that some of his previous, mystical attempts to revive his family could not possibly have worked; “however, advanced scientific technology, hard work, and wits most certainly could. They were the exact same things he had used to create his sprawling oil empire.” (Istvan 2013, 176).

Vilimich initially approaches Jethro with the aim to redirect Jethro’s quest for biological immortality toward bringing back the dead instead. He tells Jethro, “I can give you billions of dollars for exactly that mission. We can build a nation of scientists to accomplish it. It may not follow the pure transhuman and immortality quests you wanted, but it’s close enough” (Istvan 2013, 179). Not even Vilimich’s billions, however, can redirect Jethro from his overarching plan for transforming the world in the pursuit of indefinite life extension, as outlined in his TEF Manifesto. Jethro points out that biological life extension for the living is a far more realistic and proximately achievable goal than reviving the dead. He replies to Vilimich, “What you want is just not even on the transhuman timeline right now. And it would be irresponsible to dedicate more than only a fraction of transhuman resources to it at a moment when the real goals of the movement are, literally, on the verge of collapse; when the longevity of our own lifespans are so immediately threatened” (Istvan 2013, 180). A clash of personalities ensues. Jethro attempts to reason with Vilimich: “But your money could be used for more practical and possible goals, for near-term successes like your own immediate health and longevity. Then, at some later point, you could consider tackling the monumental task of bringing back the dead. What you want is not even reasonable just yet” (Istvan 2013, 180). To this Vilimich responds, “I didn’t get to be so successful because I was always reasonable” (Istvan 2013, 180). Both Vilimich and Jethro have lost their families to violence. However, unlike Jethro, who seeks to base his decisions on an overarching “machine-like” rationality, Vilimich is driven by his passionate obsession with bringing back his loved ones above all. Both men are stubborn and unyielding, and their initial meeting ends in an impasse.

However, four days later, Vilimich becomes swayed to give Jethro 10 billion dollars – half of Vilimich’s stake in Calico Oil – unconditionally. Vilimich sees much of himself in Jethro’s intransigence and single-mindedness, and his reversal makes all the difference for Jethro. Immediately, Jethro undertakes an elaborate scheme to conceal the money from the world’s governments, which would have expropriated it:

The next morning, in a rented private jet, Jethro flew around the world to Vanuatu, Singapore, Lebanon, Panama, Maldives, Djibouti, and Switzerland. He spent two weeks establishing bank accounts for various pop-up companies and corporations in out-of-the-way places, acting as the sole manager. He made up odd business names like Antidy Enterprises, Amerigon LLC, and Dumcros Inc. The money was wired in small, varying portions to all his hidden accounts belonging to the companies so it could never be frozen, tracked, or calculated by the NFSA [National Future Security Agency – a US federal agency established to crack down on transhumanist research] or anyone else on the planet. Even the Phoenix Bank president wasn’t aware of the account names or numbers, as third-party escrow accounts were used to hide and deflect all traceable sources. Jethro sent secondary codes and addresses to Mr. Vilimich, as the only other person capable of locating the money. But even he wasn’t allowed to know everything or control anything. On every account, there was a different company, a different address, a different identification number, a different mission statement. The ten billion dollars was split in a hundred different ways, all with digital tentacles that led only to Jethro Knights.

When the money was safe, he emailed Vilimich:

Dear Mr. Vilimich,

Thank you. The money is safe and being put to good use for the right reasons. I’ll be in touch as the transhuman mission progresses. Furthermore, you have my pledge that I will not forget that picture in your pocket.

Jethro Knights (Istvan 2013, 184)

What Jethro does with Vilimich’s money is nothing short of revolutionary. He endeavors to construct an independent community of cutting-edge scientists – Transhumania – on a floating platform – a seastead – in international waters, away from any country’s jurisdiction. Jethro fabricates the appearance of Transhuman Citizen’s continued decline, so as to trick the anti-transhumanist politicians and religious leaders into thinking that their victory against Jethro is imminent. In secret, Jethro reaches out to architect Rachel Burton, who pioneered many concepts for futuristic structures but is frustrated at the lack of interest in ambitious architectural projects due to the ongoing economic and technological stagnation in mainstream societies. Although the acerbic Burton is initially wary of Jethro, she becomes elated when he explains his vision to her:

“A floating city should shield transhumanists and the people I need away from those forces, giving me certain worldwide legal protections. The city will have to be built to house approximately 10,000 scientists and their immediate families. You’ll have to build up, because I want most of the city open for creating green spaces, jungles, and parks—so people like living there. Actually, so they love living there. These will be very picky people, some of the smartest in the world. They’ll want the best of everything, and they deserve it. I want them to be enthralled with every bit of their new home. I want the city big enough to have an airport for passenger jets, but small enough to comfortably ride a bike around in twenty minutes. I want to build the most modern metropolis on the planet, a utopia for transhumanists and their research.” (Istvan 2013, 192)

Unlike Vilimich, who pays his workers well but treats them poorly, Jethro is more focused on the quality of his employees’ lives. He understands the importance of employee motivation and creating a rewarding work environment and the opportunity for fulfilling personal lives outside of the workplace. Because Jethro must attract the best and brightest in order to have a hope of realizing his goal of living indefinitely, he needs to give these creative minds the best possible quality of life in order to entice them to come to Transhumania.

The platform and infrastructure for Transhumania – dominated by three towering skyscrapers – are assembled in Liberia at Burton’s recommendation. She outlines the geopolitical and economic considerations behind this choice: “West Africa is far off the radar screen for the rest of the world, so hopefully, there won’t be any troublesome interruptions by the media or the NFSA. Besides, Liberia has cheap labor, good weather, and lots of beach space to launch this puppy. It’s going to be at least ten soccer fields long, you know. We’re going to need lots and lots of space.” (Istvan 2013, 193) The construction effort is a massive project – requiring an “army of 15,000 workers” to labor for five months (Istvan 2013, 193). Jethro is a hands-on project manager who spends much time at the construction site and gets involved in the details of the plan for the seastead, as well as the means by which it is assembled. Jethro hires an international team of workers and, with the help of a multilingual foreman, sets up a work rotation to facilitate uninterrupted construction: “The work was endless: Twenty-four hours a day, there was a symphony of hammering, drilling, welding, grinding, and shouting. There was no break from the movement; sprawling bodies and their machines zipped tirelessly around the platform. The sheer creation process was a marvel to behold” (Istvan 2013, 195).

As Transhumania nears completion, Jethro travels throughout the world to clandestinely invite leading scientists to live there. Jethro becomes an expert presenter:

Jethro mastered his task of pitching the spectacular possibilities of the transhuman nation to his chosen candidates. His invitation to share in the rebirth of the transhuman mission and its life extension goals was compelling, exciting, and novel. Part of his presentation was done in 3D modeling on a holographic screen that shot out of his laptop computer. The state-of-the-art technology Burton’s company provided was impressively futuristic. (Istvan 2013, 196).

Jethro promises the candidate scientists that they will live in “The most modern buildings in the world. Every luxury and convenience you can imagine: spas, five-star restaurants, botanical gardens, farmers’ markets, an entertainment plaza, a world-class performing arts center. Then over there would be your offices and laboratories. No expense spared on your research equipment. The most sophisticated on the planet—I guarantee it.” (Istvan 2013, 196-197). Furthermore, Jethro emphasizes the tremendous freedom that scientists would have to pursue their research in the absence of political restraints: “Once scientists arrived there, he promised hassle-free lives from bossy governments and others that disapprove of transhumanist ways. The United Nations decreed three decades ago that rules and ownership 200 miles away from any land masses on the planet do not exist” (Istvan 2013, 197). Jethro grasps the essential harmony of interests between a well-run business and its employees, and therefore does not forget about providing generous pay and benefits, as well as creating a family-friendly living environment on Transhumania:

Additionally, he promised the scientists amazing salaries, stellar healthcare, and citizenship to Transhumania if people desired. For their children, there would be competitive schools, sports groups, piano tutors, French classes, tennis lessons, and swim teams. Dozens of varied restaurants and cafes would serve organic, sustainable, and cruelty-free foods. Coffee shops, juice bars, and drinking pubs would be ubiquitous. Movie theaters, art galleries, fitness centers, libraries, science and technology museums, and shopping centers would dot the city. Innovative designers would set up furniture and clothing outlets, including those that created products and garments with the latest intelligent materials capable of bio-monitoring the body. Whatever you wanted or needed, no matter how far-fetched; it would all be there. Jethro laid out the promise of an ideal, advanced society, the chance to belong to a country with everything going for it. (Istvan 2013, 197).

Jethro’s hiring policy is enlightened and meritocratic with regard to avoiding any prejudice based on attributes irrelevant to a person’s ability to get the job done. However, Jethro is also unforgiving of sub-optimal performance and ruthless about preventing or suppressing any possible behavior or institution that would get in the way of the fulfillment of his overarching vision for Transhumania. Moreover, Jethro – unlike a principled libertarian – does not brook significant ideological dissent in his country:

His hiring policy was simple. He didn’t give a damn where you came from, or what color you were, or with whom you had sex, or what gender you were, or if you had disabilities, or whether you were a criminal or not. But if you were hired for a position, and you failed to meet the goals assigned to you, or if you hindered other hires from meeting the goals assigned to them, then you would be fired and forced off Transhumania at once. There were no labor unions allowed. No workers’ compensation. No welfare. No freebies. In short, there was no pity, or even pretense at pity. There was just usefulness—or not. And if you didn’t like it, or didn’t agree with it, then you didn’t belong on Transhumania. Every contract of every scientist who wanted to join bore this severe language, as well as their consensual agreement to uphold the [tenets] of the TEF Manifesto and the core mission of transhumanism. (Istvan 2013, 197)

Because Jethro acts not only as the head of a vast business but also as the leader of a de facto independent city-state, it is not clear whether his behavior is consistent with respect for individual rights. On the one hand, every arrangement into which Transhumania’s residents enter is a freely chosen contract. On the other hand, they lose every association with Transhumania if they fail to adhere to Jethro’s demanding terms. They not merely lose their jobs, but they may no longer live or own property on Transhumania. Ultimately, Jethro facilitates comfortable lifestyles and offers abundant economic incentives not out of a devotion to individual freedom per se, but out of a recognition that a considerable allowance for economic liberty (though constrained by Jethro’s overarching purpose) would be the most conducive to rapid technological innovation and the eventual discovery of a means to reverse biological senescence and live indefinitely.

In spite of the severity of some of Jethro’s terms, the scientists who come to work on Transhumania know what they are getting into. Many come willingly after being inspired by a speech filled with Jethro’s characteristic militant, uncompromising rhetoric:

After so many years of being professionally stifled, intellectually muted, and socially ostracized, many transhuman entrepreneurs and scientists of the world cheered. While the speech was worded stronger than they themselves would have delivered, they respected Jethro Knights’ unwillingness to compromise the transhuman mission. They valued his promotion of the determined and accomplished individual. They applauded his hero’s journey to reverse the falling fortunes of the immortality quest. They especially appreciated the face-slapping of religion, human mediocrity, and overbearing government. Modern society was at a tipping point of such cowardly self-delusion and democratic self-sacrifice that someone needed to stand up and fight for what everyone wanted and admitted secretly to themselves: I want to reach a place of true power and security that can’t be snatched from me at the world’s whim. (Istvan 2013, 203)

Vilimich is pleased with his investment and sends Jethro a one-line note, “Thanks for punching the world for me” – to which Jethro replies, “Thanks for giving me muscles to do so” (Istvan 2013, 203). Through this exchange, Istvan illustrates the indispensability of these two visionary, intransigent men’s business partnership to making Transhumania possible.

Jethro raises the incentives for coming to Transhumania by offering each researcher “a tax-free million dollar signing bonus. It was more money than many had accumulated in decades of work. If they brought approved colleagues from their fields with them, an additional hundred thousand dollars was given. The main obligations of those who joined the transhuman nation included staying their full five-year term and reaching reasonable performance goals in their work” (Istvan 2013, 203). Jethro also creates the possibility of owning real estate: “One-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom residences were sold at enticing prices. Jethro made it cheaper to own than to rent, and most people opted to buy upon arriving. It replenished the cash Transhumania needed for actual research and city operations” (Istvan 2013, 204). Jethro understands that ownership of private property (limited though it may be by the requirement to adhere to the TEF Manifesto) gives the owner a powerful incentive to strive for the economic progress of the community where the property is located. By turning his employees into stakeholders of Transhumania, he not only enhances Transhumania’s revenue stream but also turns his scientists into more motivated, dedicated producers and innovators. Essentially, Jethro utilizes the principles of running a successful start-up technology firm and applies them to an entire small country: “Jethro ran the entire nation as if it were an aggressive, expanding technology company racing to bring an incredible invention to market. Every scientist had stock in its success, in the urgency of its mission. The result was a hiring domino effect. Soon, hundreds of scientists were showing up weekly to make tours of Transhumania and to sign contracts” (Istvan 2013, 204).

Jethro succeeds in cultivating a motivated, even inspired, workforce, with a prevailing “can-do” ethos:

Problems occurred, but they were quickly worked out for the most part. These were not people who complained about a broken hot shower or a bad Internet connection. These were professionals of the highest order, and they were all building the nation together. They fixed things themselves, went out of their way to improve operations, and helped one another when they could. These citizens were people of action, of doing—and doing it right. (Istvan 2013, 205).

Jethro is also able to vastly improve his scientists’ quality of life by restoring their sense that an amazing future can be created through their own work:

Many scientists commented they felt like graduate students again—when the world was something miraculous to believe in, when anything was still possible, when the next great discovery or the next great technological leap was perhaps just months away. […]At night, many of them looked at the stars from the windows of their skyscrapers and felt as if they had arrived on a remarkable new planet. They were never happier or more productive, or bound with a greater sense of drive. (Istvan 2013, 205).

In his discussion of the incentives and outcomes found in Transhumania, Istvan illustrates that the best-run businesses will not only generate economic value but will also inspire employees with the prospect of improving the human condition and creating a better world. Even though Jethro’s methods of sweeping aside all opposition are questionable, his goals of overcoming disease, lengthening lifespans without limit, and producing life-improving technological advances on all fronts are clearly some of the most admirable aims for any enterprise.

Five years after Transhumania’s founding, a major breakthrough enables the goal of indefinite lifespans to approach fruition. Jethro’s colleague, the scientist Preston Langmore announces that “The new cell-like substance that we’ve developed has so many applications. The manipulation of its DNA, controlled by our nanobots, will bring unprecedented changes to human life in the next decade, perhaps even in the next few years. We will begin our ascent to a truly immortal life form, full of all the benefits of what it means to be a transhuman being” (Istvan 2013, 222).

But the obstacles to the realization of Jethro’s dream do not cease once Transhumania becomes economically and scientifically successful. Jethro recognizes that anti-transhumanist organizations and governments will not simply allow Transhumanian research to continue in peace. Therefore, he devotes a third of Transhumania’s budget to defense. Transhumania’s vast revenues enable the construction of a missile shield, four megasonic airplanes, and ten combat robots, as well as the world’s most advanced cyber-warfare infrastructure. Shortly after Transhumania’s defensive capabilities are deployed, Belinas orchestrates Jethro’s kidnapping and torture. However, Jethro’s colleagues manage to locate the compound where he is held hostage, and one of the Transhumanian combat robots destroys Belinas’s thugs and kills Belinas himself. Jethro is freed, and Belinas’s crimes are broadly publicized, to the shame of the world’s governments. However, too many politicians and military leaders have become personally vested in attempting to seize Transhumania’s scientific and economic production for themselves, and it is too late to stop them from mobilizing their combined navies in an assault on Transhumania. Jethro’s hackers manage to cripple most of the invaders’ missile-guidance systems, causing the nations’ fleets to destroy one another. Only some extremely obsolete Russian missiles, whose use Jethro did not anticipate, manage to inflict moderate damage. Within twenty-four hours, the ingenuity of Transhumania’s scientists enables them to anticipate these missiles and effectively defend against them as well. By establishing the framework for the world’s freest and most innovative economy, Jethro enables the emergence of the ample resources needed to resist those who would stand in the way of his ambition.

Having defeated the combined might of the world’s navies, Jethro considers it impossible for Transhumania to peacefully coexist with the political status quo. Now that he possesses the technological means to easily outmaneuver and foil any nation’s military, Jethro is able to occupy much of the world after destroying all of the major religious and political monuments of traditional human societies. This is where Jethro crosses the line from justifiable self-defense of his society and into aggression against the rest of humanity – becoming an authoritarian world dictator in his quest to be the omnipotender. What distinguishes Jethro’s rule from historical totalitarianism is his instrumental use of free-market policies and incentives to facilitate technological and economic growth – but, again, only insofar as this serves his overarching goal of transforming the human condition along the path outlined in the TEF Manifesto. Jethro’s approach to the population of Earth is more utilitarian than based on any absolute, inviolate concept of individual rights; Jethro will recognize a semblance of personal freedom, but only for those who are useful to his broad ambition of turning humanity into a rapidly advancing, transhuman species. Those who cast their lot with Jethro during the early days of Transhumania are, on the other hand, rewarded with unprecedented power. Jethro urges his Transhumanian colleagues to renew their contracts and oversee vast swaths of the transhumanist-dominated Earth:

“You will have a choice, of course, to do as you desire and go where you like, and take the wealth you’ve earned. Nevertheless, in the best interest of the transhuman mission, I feel it expedient to appoint you as interim leaders of your birth nations and its major cities. Many of you will also oversee massive new science projects that only the resources of individual continents can foster. Others of you will be asked to found and build new universities and educational institutes, some of which will become the largest, most populated learning centers in the world.

“It is my hope that in your new appointments, you will seed and cultivate a surplus of amazing new transhuman projects to fruition for us all. As incentive to accept these new duties asked of you, your compensation packages will be staggering. I aim to make each and every one of you—as well as all other citizens on Transhumania—some of the richest and most powerful people in the world.” (Istvan 2013, 231)

In effect, Jethro takes the meritocracy he established in Transhumania and transposes it onto the wider world, turning the best and brightest into world leaders and fulfilling the age-old dream of some thinkers to put enlightened “philosopher-kings” in charge of human society. Jethro explicitly announces that the entire world will become Transhumania writ large:

“Earth, and human habitation of it, will be redesigned. It will no longer be many different countries with different cultures on different continents, but one committed transhuman alliance. It will be transformed into one global civilization bound to advancing science—one great transhuman planet. There will be no more sovereign nations, only Transhumania. Our transhuman goals will be the same as before; there will just be a lot more people working towards them, and a lot more resources to help us achieve success.” (Istvan 2013, 231)

With all of the Earth’s resources at his disposal, Jethro continues his quest to overcome disease and death, and by the novel’s end it appears that he is successful. Jethro is even able to be cryonically frozen and subsequently revived. He begins to venture into the possibility raised by Vilimich of eventually recovering deceased loved ones – but this quest remains unconcluded, and Istvan leaves the question of its feasibility as open-ended.

The Transhumanist Wager is a story about the clever use of a vast business structure and carefully crafted economic incentives to achieve the most revolutionary transformation of humankind conceivable: a revolution against contemporary societies and in favor of a global culture committed to rapid technological progress and the defeat of death above all. Jethro Knights is more of a utilitarian than a libertarian, and his choice of means eventually departs starkly from principled libertarianism, since a consistent respect for the individual rights of all people, including those whom one considers deeply hostile to one’s vision of progress, must ultimately clash with the desire to become an “omnipotender” and achieve as much power as possible. However, during the stage in which Jethro uses free-market policies and innovative business management as instruments toward the attainment of his vision, he is able to create an admirable and inspiring model for human progress.

Reference

Istvan, Zoltan. 2013. The Transhumanist Wager. San Bernardino: Futurity Imagine Media LLC.