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What’s Changed Since 2010? – Article by Daniel Bier

What’s Changed Since 2010? – Article by Daniel Bier

The New Renaissance HatDaniel Bier

Quite a lot, it turns out

This interesting little table from Goldman Sachs shows a few ways the world changed in the last five years.

Some highlights since 2010:

  • The UN Food Price Index fell by a third.
  • The price of oil fell by two-thirds.
  • Venture capital investments in the US doubled.
  • Global smartphone penetration increased from 19 percent to 75 percent.
  • The cell phone price index fell by over half.
  • Average wages in China rose by more than 50 percent.
  • Beijing air pollution is down by a third.
  • The cost of sequencing a genome fell by 97 percent.
  • The number of summer AirBnB guests increased from 47,000 to 17 million.
  • Bitcoin’s value increased 1,500 fold.

But, as GS points out, 2015 was not all good news:

  • Economic growth has slowed.
  • Life expectancy has not changed much.
  • Africa’s share of global trade remained near 3 percent.
  • The Patriots won the Super Bowl.
  • Japanese GDP per capita remains flat.

Still — on the whole and for most people — things are changing for the better, in more ways than we could ever anticipate.

Here’s to a better today.

(Check out the other data below — lots of amusing and intriguing items.)

chart-11Click on the image for a larger version.

Daniel Bier is the editor of Anything Peaceful. He writes on issues relating to science, civil liberties, and economic freedom.

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

Giving Thanks and Looking Forward – Article by Bradley Doucet

Giving Thanks and Looking Forward – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
October 15, 2015

Expressing gratitude, according to self-help gurus and neuroscientists alike, is a sure route to being a happier person. Thanksgiving, then, should be the happiest of all holidays—and not just because of the turkey dinner with all the fixings and the football-watching marathon. In addition to the good things this holiday brings, it also contributes to well-being by encouraging us to give thanks for the good things in our lives. And when I do stop and think about it, I am grateful for a great many things.

On a personal level, I’ve got loving and beloved friends and family, a happy and sane home life, relatively good health, and work that I find meaningful and stimulating. I grew up in an overwhelmingly French-speaking town, but went to English schools all my life, allowing me to become almost perfectly bilingual, and now I live in one of the safest big cities in the world. I had the pleasure of spending years formally studying music, philosophy, and economics, all of which I now have the privilege of continuing to study informally these many years later.

On a political level, I’m grateful to be living here and now, in this country and century. Canada is one of the most economically free countries in the world, and not coincidentally, one of the wealthiest. Thanks to a newfound liberty and dignity for inventors and businesspeople starting just a couple of hundred years ago in northern Europe, an explosion of innovation and rapid economic growth has made almost everyone much better off today than anyone could have conceived of back then. Furthermore, in much of the world, the lot of women and minorities has improved dramatically. And despite the impression left by a media formula that still favours bad news over good, violence of all kinds continues to decline.

If I sometimes complain—and I do, about things both big and small—I like to think it’s because I can see an even better world just around the corner, and I know we could get there a lot faster if we would only tweak a few things. Of course, as often as not, I complain because I haven’t been managing my sleep schedule properly and I’m just cranky. Assuming that my motives are always noble is an example of a self-serving bias, by the way, one of many that can get in the way of objectivity and clear-headedness, and thereby keep us from that better tomorrow.

I do see a better world, though, and I look forward to moving toward it, in fits and starts, as we humans are wont to do. I look forward to the continuing spread of Enlightenment values and sensibilities: reason, science, peace, and trade. I look forward to the further democratization of human life through that most democratic of institutions: the market. Instead of imposing majority (or plurality) preferences on each other in alternating cycles as the pendulum swings from left to right, the market allows multiple options to coexist peacefully. The more we can allow each other the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, without trying to force our values down each other’s throats, the more experiments in living we can carry out, with all the benefits that we know experimentation brings.

It is important to note that this better world does not rely, as Marxist and other utopias do, on a violation of human nature. We are flawed and fallible creatures, which is a good reason not to invest in some of us the power to rule over others. We tend to act for ourselves in the first instance, and for others only in widening and weakening circles of empathy, but how could it be otherwise? As long as we do not initiate force against each other, this egoism can spur us to serve each other through positive-sum trade, and can even be a fountainhead of creativity.

I look forward to a time when the legitimacy of peacefully pursuing your own interests is more widely recognized. On a related note, I look forward to a time when actions are not judged primarily by their “good” intentions, but by their actual effects. Many altruistic or seemingly altruistic acts do more harm than good, and many egoistic ones are immensely beneficial. To judge according to intentions alone is to care more about appearing virtuous than about actually working toward a better world.

We have already come so far, and I am truly grateful to the giants of the past who gave so much of themselves—altruistically perhaps, but with a deep and healthy egoism as well, I am convinced. And I look forward with optimism, in this age of information, that we will do what it takes to continue to evolve our institutions and bring them more in line with the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of humankind.

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is Le Québécois Libre’s English Editor.

Can Most People Become Techno-Optimists? – Panel Discussion by G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, Philippe Castonguay, Roen Horn, Sylvester Geldtmeijer, and Laurens Wes

Can Most People Become Techno-Optimists? – Panel Discussion by G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, Philippe Castonguay, Roen Horn, Sylvester Geldtmeijer, and Laurens Wes

Techno-Optimism_Panel_ImageThe New Renaissance Hat

G. Stolyarov II, Demian Zivkovic, Philippe Castonguay, Roen Horn, Sylvester Geldtmeijer, and Laurens Wes

May 9, 2015

What are the key approaches and opportunities for restoring an optimistic view of technology, progress, and the future among the majority of people – and to counter apocalyptic, Malthusian, and neo-Luddite thinking?

On May 9, 2015, Mr. Stolyarov, the author of Death is Wrong – the illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension  – invited a panel of future-oriented thinkers to discuss this question. Watch the discussion here.



Demian Zivkovic is a student of artificial intelligence and philosophy, and founder and president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences – –  an international transhumanist think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, including interviewing professor Aubrey de Grey, organizing lectures on exponential sciences with guests including de Grey, and spreading “Death is Wrong” – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands. Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of transhumanism, hyperreality, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

Demian invites anybody who is interested in forwarding a technologically positive vision of the future to get involved with the Institute of Exponential Sciences via its Facebook page –


Philippe Castonguay is currently pursuing a B.Sc. in Psychology while doing research in computational neuroscience. His main research topics are the influence of noise on the stability of chaotic neural network models, mechanisms of recurrent neural integration on a network scale and high-dimensional data representations. Philippe is also an executive member of Bricobio, a DIY biohacking group in Montreal and co-founder of Montreal Futurists, a Montreal group that wants to promote transhumanist/futurist ideas and prepare the population for the integration of related technologies in the society.


Sylvester Geldtmeijer is a Dutch citizen and sound designer. He has been interested in transhumanism, science, and technology since childhood, when he was fascinated with science fiction and imagining a highly advanced technological world where every problem can be solved with science. He emphasizes the ability of science to help people, especially through medical advancements, and considers Deep Brain Stimulation to be one of the most important inventions of our time. He hopes that technological advances will produce an era in which children can grow up without struggling with any learning difficulties or physical obstacles.

Sylvester would like to share the following words of inspiration with our viewers:

For some the age of reason is too far,
For some the age of utopization will also be too far.
But for idealists reason is not just an accomplishment;
It’s development –
Just like utopia isn’t a place;
It’s a state of mind.


Roen Horn is a philosopher and lecturer on the importance of trying to live forever. He founded the Eternal Life Fan Club – – in 2012 to encourage fans of eternal life to start being more strategic with regard to this goal. To this end, one major focus of the club has been on life-extension techniques, everything from lengthening telomeres to avoiding risky behaviors. Currently, Roen’s work may be seen in the many memes, quotes, essays, and video blogs that he has created for those who are exploring their own thoughts on this, or who want to share and promote the same things. Like many other fans of eternal life, Roen is in love with life, and is very inspired by the world around him and wants to impart in others the same desire to discover all this world has to offer.


Laurens Wes is a Dutch engineer and chief engineering officer at the Institute of Exponential Sciences. Furthermore he is the owner of Intrifix, a company focused on 3D-printing and software solutions. Aside from these tasks, Laurens is very interested in transhumanism, longevity, just about all fields of science, entrepreneurship, and expressing creativity. He is a regular speaker for the IES and is very committed to educating the public on accelerated technological developments and exponential sciences.

Plot Holes in Fiction and in Life – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Plot Holes in Fiction and in Life – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
August 23, 2014

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) have long been aware of a possible plot hole. The central narrative concerns the hero, Frodo Baggins, who must destroy a powerful ring by walking through forbidding terrain and defeating or eluding monstrous foes and throwing the ring into a live volcano. The journey takes many months and costs Frodo and his companions dearly.

Over the years, many readers have noticed a much easier and less dangerous solution. Why, they ask, didn’t Frodo just have Gandalf ask his friends the mighty eagles to fly him swiftly over enemy territory so he could then simply toss the ring into the volcano? I’ve run across this post on Facebook a few times, which cleverly patches that hole with only a slight change in the narrative. (Others argue that there’s really no hole to patch because the “eagle solution” itself has flaws. And so the debate continues.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that the kind of social theory that I and many Austrian economists engage in could usefully be framed in terms of plot holes.

What’s a plot hole?

I’ll define a plot hole as a failure of logic, a factual mistake, or an obvious solution to a critical problem central to a story. (Here’s a slightly different definition from Wikipedia.) Of course, any particular plot hole may involve more than one of these errors of fact, logic, or perception, and there may be more kinds of plot holes than these. But here are examples of each of the ones I’ve mentioned. They come from movies, but some of them, such as the plot hole in Lord of the Rings, have literary counterparts.

Factual hole: In the movie Independence Day, key characters survive a massive fireball by ducking into the open side-door of a tunnel just as the inferno blasts by. Anyone who knows about firestorms would tell you that the super-heated air alone would instantly kill anyone in that situation.

Logical hole: In Citizen Kane, miserable Charles Foster Kane dies alone. How then does anyone know that his last word was “Rosebud”? Keep in mind that it’s a reporter’s search for the meaning of that word that drives the story forward.

Perceptual hole: The LOTR problem mentioned above is an example of this. No one seems to realize that there may be a much safer and effective way to defeat the enemy.

I would think that one of the things that makes writing fiction difficult is that events and characters have to hang together. The writer needs always to keep in mind the rules of the universe she’s creating, to recall what her characters know and when they know it, and to make sure that these details all constrain every action and event.

Life is full of “plot holes”

In real life, we make mistakes all the time. I think it’s interesting that those mistakes appear to fit neatly into the three categories of plot holes I’ve identified.

Factual hole/error: A person who doesn’t know the difference between liters and gallons buys a 100-liter barrel to hold 100 gallons of rainwater. No explanation necessary.

Logical hole/error: Thinking that since you’ve made a string of bad investment decisions, your next decision is therefore more likely to be a good one. But it’s quite the contrary: If you’ve been consistently making bad decisions, it follows that if nothing else changes, your next decision will also be bad one. (See “gambler’s fallacy.”)

Perceptual hole/error: Selling your car for $15,000 when, unbeknownst to you, you could have sold it for $20,000. The better deal simply escapes your notice and, if you were ever to learn about it, you would feel regret.

Here’s the difference though: In fiction, a writer can get away with any of these three plot holes as long as no reader sees it. Even if you do notice one, but you otherwise enjoy the story, you might be willing to overlook it. But in real life, you can’t ignore factual or logical plot holes. If you try to, they will come back and bite you. It will be painfully obvious that you can’t put 100 gallons of water into a 100-liter barrel. And if you bet on your next investment being a winner because you’ve just had a bunch of losers, it’s very likely that you’ll be disappointed. These kinds of holes you’re bound to discover.

I wrote about errors in an earlier column, but the distinction comes from my great teacher Israel Kirzner. He identifies a class of errors that derive from “overoptimism.” The more optimistic you are, the more likely it is that you’ll deliberately pass up solid opportunities for gain and thus the more likely it is that you’ll be disappointed. That’s not to say that optimism is a bad thing. If you weren’t optimistic and so never acted on that optimism, you’d never know if that optimism were warranted or not. You would never learn.

The other kind of error, what Kirzner calls “overpessimism,” happens when you’re so pessimistic that you unwittingly pass up a realizable opportunity. And because you don’t take chances, you don’t learn. This type of error is akin to a perceptual hole. Thinking you can only get $15,000 for your car means not selling to someone who would in fact pay more. Here, it’s not inevitable that you will discover your error because, after all, someone does buy your car (for $15,000). But you could have done better if you’d been more alert.

So errors of overpessimism, what I’m calling perceptual holes, are very different from factual and logical holes in that they are much harder to detect.

Plot holes and social theory

For many Austrian economists like me, economics, as a branch of a social theory, accepts as a datum that people are prone to make mistakes. But given the right rules of the game—private property, free association—they can discover those mistakes and correct them via an entrepreneurial-competitive process. Unlike plot holes in fiction writing, then, plot holes in living social systems are a feature, not a bug.

So our challenge as flesh-and-blood people, and what makes our lives interesting, is to discover plot holes, especially perceptual ones, and to fill them in. The challenge of social theorists is to understand as much we can about how that happens. In novels it’s the people outside the story who discover holes; in society it’s the people living the story who do.

Plot holes in novels spell failure. Plot holes in real life mean opportunity.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.
This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.
Technology as the Solution to Existential Risk

Technology as the Solution to Existential Risk

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
April 2, 2012

What is the relationship between technology and existential risk? Technology does not cause existential risk, but rather is the only effective means for countering it.

I do not deny that existential risks are real – but I find that most existential risks exist currently (e.g., risks from asteroid impacts, a new ice age, pandemics, or nuclear war) and that technological progress is the way to remove many of those risks without introducing others that are as great or greater.  My view is that the existential risks from emerging technologies are quite minor (if at all significant) compared to the tremendous benefits such technologies would have in solving the existential risks we currently face (including the biggest risk to our own individual existences – our own mortality from senescence).

My essay “The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction” describes my views on this matter in greater depth.

In short, I am a techno-optimist, one who considers it imperative to restore the Victorian-era ideal of Progress as a guiding principle in contemporary societies. The problem, as I see it, is not in the technologies of the future, but in the barbarous and primitive condition of the world as it exists today, with its many immediate perils.

As a libertarian, I believe that the entrepreneurship and innovation in even semi-free markets can address existential risks far more effectively than any national government – and bureaucratic management of these efforts would only hamper progress while incurring the risk of subverting the endeavors for nefarious objectives. (The National Security Agency’s recent attempt at a total surveillance state is a case in point.)

But fears of technology are our greatest existential risk. They have a real potential of halting progress in many fruitful areas – either through restrictive legislation or through the actions of a few Luddite fanatics who take it upon themselves to “right” the wrongs they perceive in a world of advancing technology. I can point to examples of such fanatics already exploiting fears of technologies that are not even close to existing yet. For instance, in a post on the LessWrong blog, one “dripgrind” – a sincere and therefore genuinely frightening fanatic – explicitly advocates assassination of AI researchers and chastises the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence for not engaging in such a despicable tactic. This is the consequence of spreading fears about AI technology rather than simply and calmly developing such technology in a rational manner, so as to be incapable of harming humans. Many among the uneducated and superstitious are already on edge about emerging technologies. A strong message of vibrant optimism and reassurance is needed to prevent these people from lashing out and undermining the progress of our civilization in the process.  The Frankenstein syndrome should be resisted no matter in what guise it appears.