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The Great Transhumanist Game – How to Win; How to Play and Not to Play – Videos by Gennady Stolyarov II

The Great Transhumanist Game – How to Win; How to Play and Not to Play – Videos by Gennady Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat

G. Stolyarov II

August 19, 2017


This two-part video series was created by Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, to serve as pieces in the Great Transhumanist Game orchestrated by Professor Angel Marchev, Sr., Ph.D., of the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The Great Transhumanist Game – Part 1 – How to Win

What would it mean to win in the Great Transhumanist Game? Mr. Stolyarov answers that winning would be inaugurating the next great era of human civilization, and living to see it.

The Great Transhumanist Game – Part 2 – How to Play and Not to Play

Now that we know what it would mean to win the Great Transhumanist Game, how do we get from here to there? Mr. Stolyarov discusses the importance of knowing which game one is playing, and whose, and abstaining from playing the wrong, counterproductive political or insurrectionary games.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Fill out our Application Form here.

These videos are available to be republished and redistributed via a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, which allows republication, as long as full credit is given to the author and the content is shared under the terms of the same Creative Commons license.

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.

The Science Fiction of Scarcity – Article by Sarah Skwire

The Science Fiction of Scarcity – Article by Sarah Skwire

The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
October 6, 2015
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We Have Such Abundance That We Fantasize about Having Less.

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We all know the scene. The urbane starship captain steps up to the console and requests, “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” He waits a second or two until a steaming, perfectly brewed cup shimmers into existence.

From medieval dreams of the Land of Cockaigne, where roofs are shingled with pastries and roasted chickens fly into our waiting mouths, to the Big Rock Candy Mountain’s “cigarette trees” and “lemonade springs,” to Star Trek’s replicator, we have imagined the bright futures and the glorious new worlds that would give us instant abundance.

The “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot” type of scene is such a standby it even has its own parodies, where instant preference satisfaction is not exactly … satisfying.

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic analysis of the subject’s metabolism, and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. (Douglas Adams, Restaurant at the End of the Universe)

If we didn’t know what was supposed to happen, and if we didn’t fully expect the future to fulfill our fantasies, and if we didn’t have a certain amount of frustrated experience with modern machines that promise wonders but deliver things that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike them, the scene wouldn’t be funny.

But I find science fiction most compelling when it goes in the other direction — when instead of imagining the end of scarcity, it imagines the end of abundance. The movie Total Recall imagines life on Mars, where even the air is rationed. The gritty reboot of the television series Battlestar Galactica puts us in world where fewer than 50,000 humans have survived and escaped from an enemy attack. The survivors spend much of their time trying to subsist in space amid constant and growing shortages of food, water, fuel, ammunition, and pretty much everything else.

In works like these — and yes, I know their imaginings are as romantic as the imaginings of Star Trek — we get to watch human beings pushed to their limits, using every bit of their ingenuity in order to survive. It was no accident, after all, that Gene Roddenberry called space “the final frontier.”

The latest iteration of this kind of scarcity science fiction is Andy Weir’s novel The Martian, the movie version of which premiered October 2. I first learned about The Martian through the XKCD webcomic strip describing the plot as made out of “the scene in Apollo 13 where the guy says ‘we have to figure out how to connect this thing to this thing using this table of parts or the astronauts will all die.’”

I was sold.

And it’s no spoiler to say that this is precisely the plot of The Martian. Astronaut Mark Watney is one of the first people to visit Mars. When the mission goes awry, his crew has to evacuate, and Mark is left behind. Everyone thinks he’s dead.

He’s not, though, and the remainder of the book is caught up in the details of the scarcities he faces, his creative attempts to overcome them, and our nail-biting suspense over whether he can survive one more hour, one more day, and maybe long enough to be rescued. Mark describes his situation like this:

I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Hermes or Earth. Everyone thinks I’m dead. I’m in a Hab [the atmosphere-controlled habitat in which astronauts from his mission could live without wearing spacesuits] designed to last thirty-one days. If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of these things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death.

Mark’s assessment of his situation, which ends with, “I’m f—ed,” appears on page 7 of the novel. We spend 360 more pages following his solitary attempts to science his way out of the problem. And if you’re at all like me, you won’t be able to put the book down until you find out what happens. Done well, the movie should convey that same nail-biting suspense.

The Martian, and scarcity science fiction in general, is a good reminder to all of us that the real miracle of the market is not the great individual with the great idea, bringing it to fruition and selling it to all of us. The real miracle of the market is that it reliably supplies us, every day, with all the necessities that Mark Watney has to work for so desperately. And it does that by allowing us to cooperate, and to broaden that cooperation beyond our immediate context, to the extended and anonymous world. That long-distance cooperation allows us to access so many different human skills, strengths, and abilities.

With only himself to rely on, Mark (who is primarily a botanist) is painfully aware of the skills he lacks, skills he relied on in his crewmembers who specialize in chemistry, or engineering, or other sciences. While it becomes clear that his botany skills will be a crucial part of his survival, so are all these others, and without any possibility of cooperating, he has to go it alone. He’s in the position of the folks who try to build a toaster entirely from scratch, or make a sandwich all on their own.

I loved reading The Martian, and I can’t wait to see the movie. Stories like this, and like Battlestar Galactica and others, allow me to explore the limits of the human ability to survive. I’m happy to visit those worlds and to entertain myself with their emotional and suspenseful visions of life on the narrowest of possible margins.

But the world I want to live in is the one where cooperation, through the mechanisms of the market, brings us movies about scarcity and survival, while outside the movie theater we enjoy real-life abundance. And also, maybe one day, a replicator that will allow my own cup of “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot” to shimmer miraculously into being.

Sarah Skwire is a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

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.

Let’s Hope Machines Take Our Jobs: We Want Wealth, Not Jobs – Article by Peter St. Onge

Let’s Hope Machines Take Our Jobs: We Want Wealth, Not Jobs – Article by Peter St. Onge

The New Renaissance Hat
Peter St. Onge
June 11, 2015
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The job-threatening rise of the machines is an economically illiterate meme that refuses to die. We’re actually probably in the early stages of it, a bull-market in neo-luddism, if you will. Bastiat’s “Candlemakers’ Petititon” answered this one long ago, but today I’ll run a little thought experiment that owes it all to good old Bastiat.

Let’s say Weird Al Yankovic invents a machine capable of making everything with a single push of a button. The first thing he does is print up a bunch of machines and sell them for a ton. Weird Al is now a billionaire, and there are thousands of make-everything machines.

This diffusion of Weird Al’s new technology replicates the market process, where new tech spreads in proportion to its usefulness. If you doubt this, because of patents, for example, check out Brazil’s experience with AIDS drugs, where they tore up the patents on humanitarian grounds.

Weird Al’s machines will, at a minimum, be mass produced in Brazil. Or China. Or Mozambique.

So, one way or another, we get a bunch of make-everything machines.

What happens to the jobs? We’re getting everything for near-free now. So all the production jobs disappear. There are still lots of jobs, of course — child care, gardeners, musicians. But all the production jobs have vanished — something like 20 percent of jobs, maybe up to 50 percent when you include knock-on replacement of people by capital (truck drivers, robot bartenders). Heck, let’s go crazy and say 90 percent of the jobs vanished. Nobody’s got a job outside of preschool or performing on a stage. It’s the end of the world, right?

Well, the key is that, now that everything is made with the push of a button, everything’s extremely cheap. For example, a sixteen-bedroom house or a Lamborghini costs almost nothing. Let’s say they now cost ten cents.

The main expense in such a world is probably surface space. All those dime-a-dozen cars have to park somewhere. It’d take a while to “run out” of space, though — divide the world by the people and you get about twenty acres (eight hectares) for a family of four — about 100 large surburban yards. Add in the oceans — floating islands cost nothing, remember — and triple that. We end up with about 300 homes’ worth of space per family.

What about those unemployed people? Well, when a house or a year’s food costs a dime, they’ll be willing to work really cheap. We’ll work for a penny a day. After all, that’s a new house or a year’s food every two weeks.

Who would hire these workers for a penny? Plenty of people. Heck, if workers cost a penny a day I’d hire several for each of my children, just to keep the kids from getting bored. I’d hire another to cook, one to clean, one to run errands. One to keep track of my mail. One to check Facebook for me. At a penny a day I’d personally hire 100 people, easy. You would too — a buck a day’s nothing.

So the remaining 10 percent of workers who didn’t lose their jobs — babysitters, baristas, musicians — would want 100 workers each. Even at a penny, they’d take them all, and they’d be paying an outrageous rate — a tenth-house per day! That’s a daily rate of $15,000 in today’s terms.

Now, those who kept their jobs would, of course, see dropping wages. A barista who made $12 an hour in the old days would have to compete with the hordes of unemployed workers. Maybe her wage would drop to a penny, too. But, remember, a penny now buys $15,000 worth of stuff.

When the smoke clears, most people would make some extremely low wages — a penny a day. And that extremely low wage would be worth an awful lot — $15,000 a day, implying an annual income north of several million dollars in today’s values. Some lucky few would make a dollar a day — probably the people who are good at things machines cannot do: entertainment, child care, being a good listener, strumming the guitar at the retirement home, and laughing at jokes. At a dollar a day, this super-rich elite that excels at human skills — such as making us laugh — would be billionaires in today’s values.

Either way, there would be nothing we think of even remotely as “poverty.” Sure, there’ll be inequality, but it’ll be relative: “Sarah’s got 200 Lamborghinis and I’ve only got 40.”

The upshot is that wages plunge, but production costs plunge even more. Of course, this is based on the ridiculous Weird Al machine. Why do this? To illustrate the absolute worst-case scenario, when machines make everything for near-nothing.

What about going one step further: That the machine destroys all jobs in the whole world — it makes every single thing for us free, and it even keeps the folks entertained and the warm fuzzies flowing at the old folks’ home.

Well, we’ve already got a case study there — the sun. It gives us warmth and mangos for free. And how do we respond? We sit around and lazily enjoy it. So a machine that truly replaced all jobs would simply mean nobody works anymore — life’s somewhere between a non-stop party and a non-stop pleasant walk in the woods followed by a nice bonfire with friends and chardonnay.

We should all be so lucky that the machines do actually take every last job there is.

Peter St. Onge is an assistant professor at Taiwan’s Fengjia University College of Business. He blogs at Profits of Chaos.
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This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.
Fantasy Bookstore Fights Fantasy Economics – San Francisco Sci-Fi Lovers Do Battle With the Minimum Wage – Article by Gary McGath

Fantasy Bookstore Fights Fantasy Economics – San Francisco Sci-Fi Lovers Do Battle With the Minimum Wage – Article by Gary McGath

The New Renaissance Hat
Gary McGath
May 18, 2015
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Borderlands is an independent bookstore in San Francisco with an enthusiastic following among science fiction fans. It’s not just a place to buy books, but in the words of its mission statement “a social and professional center for readers, writers, publishers, reviewers, artists and other individuals with a strong interest in the fields of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Macabre Fiction.” Authors frequently appear there, and readers meet for discussions.

Like other bookstores, Borderlands has found staying in business difficult. It nearly closed early in 2015, and management put the blame for this on the city’s increase in the minimum wage. On February 1, it announced:

In November, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 per hour by 2018.

Although all of us at Borderlands support the concept of a living wage in principal [sic] and we believe that it’s possible that the new law will be good for San Francisco — Borderlands Books as it exists is not a financially viable business if subject to that minimum wage.

Consequently we will be closing our doors no later than March 31st.  The cafe will continue to operate until at least the end of this year.

Thanks to sponsorship from its community, Borderlands was able to avoid closing and is still in business, at least for now. Still, its crisis graphically shows one of the damaging consequences of minimum wage laws.

If the cost of something goes up, people will buy less of it, or if they can’t, they’ll make up for it in some other way. This applies to employees as much as to anything else. Some businesses can raise their prices to meet increased labor costs, but books are a highly competitive market, and consumers are very sensitive to price changes.

Small businesses in general have fewer options. A large operation may be able to absorb the cost or find ways to pass it on. It can reduce hours, require extra duties, or replace people with machines. These options don’t work well when the staff is small and the love of what they’re doing is a big reason they stay there.

Borderlands is hardly a unique case. The management was careful not to take a position against the minimum wage, but zero dollars for unemployed workers isn’t a “living wage,” and it’s meaningless to say that putting low-wage employees out of work is “good for San Francisco.” It is individuals, not a city, who have to get food and a place to live.

A paid sponsorship program was the key to Borderlands’ short-term survival. Science fiction fans are heavily networked, and many work in well-paying jobs, so the store benefited from a community with money to spare.

Well-known authors like Seanan McGuire and Cory Doctorow helped publicize the cause. Borderlands deserves credit for its innovative approach, but other businesses aren’t always so lucky, and they will fold without being widely noticed or mourned. Fans of bookstores realized, perhaps too late, that for the industry to survive as a whole, the bookstore must be profitable as a business venture, rather than a charity case.

Minimum-wage increases aren’t magic money. Any cost increase has to come out of something, and low-paying jobs that can’t justify the increase are the first place they’ll come out of. Thinking it happens for free is just fantasy.

Gary McGath is a freelance software engineer living in Nashua, New Hampshire.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.
Diversity in Goals Brings Diversity in Value – Article by Frank Shostak

Diversity in Goals Brings Diversity in Value – Article by Frank Shostak

The New Renaissance Hat
Frank Shostak
November 28, 2014
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A major problem with the mainstream framework of thinking is that people are presented as if a scale of preferences were hard-wired in their heads. Regardless of anything else this scale remains the same all the time. Valuations however, do not exist by themselves regardless of the things to be valued. On this Rothbard wrote,

There can be no valuation without things to be valued. 1

Valuation is the outcome of the mind valuing things. It is a relation between the mind and things.

Purposeful action implies that people assess or evaluate various means at their disposal against their ends. An individual’s ends set the standard for human valuations and thus choices. By choosing a particular end an individual also sets a standard of evaluating various means.

For instance, if my end is to provide a good education for my child, then I will explore various educational institutions and will grade them in accordance with my information regarding the quality of education that these institutions are providing. Observe that the standard of grading these institutions is my end, which, in this case, is to provide my child with a good education. Or, for instance, if my intention is to buy a car, and there are all sorts of cars available in the market, then I have to specify to myself the specific ends that the car will help me achieve. I need to establish whether I plan to drive long distances or just a short distance from my home to the train station and then catch the train. My final end will dictate how I will evaluate various cars. Perhaps I will conclude that for a short distance, a second-hand car will do the trick.

Since an individual’s ends determine the valuations of means and thus his choices, it follows that the same good will be valued differently by an individual as a result of changes in his ends. At any point in time, people have an abundance of ends that they would like to achieve. What limits the attainment of various ends is the scarcity of means. Hence, once a larger variety of means become available, a greater number of ends — or goals — can be accommodated (i.e., people’s living standards will increase).

Another limitation on attaining various goals is the availability of suitable means. Thus to quell my thirst in the desert, I require water. If no one willing to sell water is nearby, any diamonds in my possession will be of no help in this regard.

Frank Shostak is an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute and a frequent contributor to Mises.org. His consulting firm, Applied Austrian School Economics, provides in-depth assessments and reports of financial markets and global economies. See Frank Shostak’s article archives.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Paradoxes, Not Contradictions – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Paradoxes, Not Contradictions – Post by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 10, 2013
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I am personally fond of Ayn Rand’s identification of certain matters as “paradoxes, but not contradictions”. In my view, contradictions do not exist in reality, though there may be elements that are difficult to reconcile mentally because of incomplete information or preliminary errors in one’s perception of existence.

A paradox arises when a person’s initial intuitions do not appear to hold. This means that either the initial intuitions are wrong, or one’s information is incomplete. For instance, the famous “water-diamond paradox” of Classical economics was an inability to explain why the price of water, which is essential for life, was so much lower than the price of diamonds, which, at the time, only had uses in jewelry and decoration. The 1871 Marginalist Revolution (a development independently arrived at by Carl Menger, Leon Walras, and William Stanley Jevons) resolved the paradox by explaining a key fact about human valuation that the Classical economists had missed – namely, that a person does not evaluate the entire stock of a given good, but only considers particular quantities of goods at the margin. So the paradox was resolved in an entirely rational, non-contradictory manner, by demonstrating that the abundance of water has enabled its life-sustaining uses to be fulfilled for most individuals, while the relative scarcity of diamonds means that, for most consumers, any diamond they obtain would be put to the highest-valued purpose they would find for a diamond.
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I see the progress of human civilization as, in part, consisting of the increasing resolution of paradoxes. While, of course, it is possible that new paradoxes would arise as the old ones are resolved, these paradoxes arise on the boundaries of the new intellectual territory that is yet to be fathomed and incorporated into the domain of human mastery. Paradoxes, mysteries, and unresolved questions occur on the outermost edges of human advancement at any given time. As the edges expand, old mysteries and paradoxes are solved and new ones may arise in territory that was previously completely unexplored. In this sense, encountering a paradox can be seen as a challenge – a call to resolve the quandary and thereby score gains for human progress. As a meliorist who sees no limits to the potential of human reason and technology, I think that all questions are ultimately answerable and all paradoxes are solvable, given enough time, effort, and proper means. Sometimes the resolution of a paradox requires highly creative, unorthodox, and unprecedented thinking – which must transcend conventional dichotomies and posited antagonisms in order to arrive at a new understanding.

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

Heidegger, Cooney, and The Death-Gives-Meaning-To-Life Hypothesis – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
August 10, 2013
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One common argument against indefinite lifespans is that a definitive limit to one’s life – that is, death – provides some essential baseline reference, and that it is only in contrast to this limiting factor that life has any meaning at all. In this article I refute the argument’s underlying premises, and then argue that even if such premises were taken as true, the argument’s conclusion – that eradicating death would negate the “limiting factor” that legitimizes life – is also invalid, because the ever-changing nature of self and society – and the fact that opportunities once here are now gone –  can constitute such a scarcitizing factor just as well as death can.
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Death gives meaning to life? No! Death is meaninglessness!
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One version of the argument is given in Brian Cooney’s Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future, an introductory philosophical text that uses various futurist scenarios and concepts to illustrate the broad currents of Western philosophy. Towards the end of the book, Cooney makes his argument against immortality, claiming that if we had all the time in the universe to do what we wanted, then we wouldn’t do anything at all. Essentially, his argument boils down to “if there is no possibility of not being able to do something in the future, then why would we ever do it?”

Each chapter of Cooney’s book ends with a dialogue between a fictional human and posthuman, meant to better exemplify the arguments laid out in the chapter and their various interpretations. In the final chapter, “Posthumanity”, Cooney-as-posthuman writes:

Our ancestors realized that immortality would be a curse, and we have never been tempted to bestow it on ourselves… We didn’t want to be like Homer’s gods and goddesses. The Odyssey is saturated with the contrast of mortal human life, the immortality of the gods and the shadow life of the dead in Hades… Aren’t you struck by the way these deities seem to have nothing better to do than be an active audience for the lives and deeds of humans… These gods are going to live forever and there is no scarcity of whatever resources they need for their divine way of life. So (to borrow a phrase from your economists) there is no opportunity cost to their choosing to do one thing rather than another or spend time with one person rather than another. They have endless time and resources to pursue other alternatives and relationships later. Consequently, they can’t take anyone or anything seriously… Moreover, their lives lack meaning because they are condemned to living an unending story, one that can never have narrative unity… That is the fate we avoid by fixing a standard limit to our lives. Immortals cannot have what Kierkegaard called ‘passion’… A mind is aware of limitless possibilities – it can think of itself as doing anything conceivable – and it can think of a limitless time in which to do it all. To choose a life – one that will progress like a story from its beginning to its end – is to give up the infinite for the finite… We consider ourselves free because we were liberated from the possibility of irrationality and selfishness.”   –   (Cooney, 2004, 183-186).
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Thus we see that Cooney’s argument rests upon the thesis that death gives meaning to life because it incurs finitude, and finitude forces us to choose certain actions over others. This assumes that we make actions on the basis of not being able to do them again. But people don’t make most of their decisions this way. We didn’t go out to dinner because the restaurant was closing down; we went out for dinner because we wanted to go out for dinner. I think that Cooney’s version of the argument is naïve. We don’t make the majority of our decisions by contrasting an action to the possibility of not being able to do it in future.

Cooney’s argument seems to be that if we had a list of all possible actions set before us, and time were limitless, we might accomplish all the small, negligible things first, because they are easier and all the hard things can wait. If we had all the time in the world, we would have no reference point with which to judge how important a given action or objective is. If we really can do every single thing on that ‘listless list’, then why bother, if each is as important as every other? In his line of reasoning, importance requires scarcity. If we can do everything it was possible to do, then there is nothing that determines one thing as being more important than another. Cooney makes an analogy with an economic concept to clarify his position. Economic definitions of value require scarcity; if everything were as abundant as everything else, if nothing were scarce, then we would have no way of ascribing economic value to a given thing, such that one thing has more economic value than another. So too, Cooney argues, with possible choices in life.

But what we sometimes forget is that ecologies aren’t always like economies.

The Grave Dig|nitty of Death

In the essay collection “Transhumanism and its Critics”, Hava Tirosh-Samuelson writes:

Finally, since death is part of the cycle of life characteristic of finite creatures, we will need to concern ourselves with a dignified death… the dying process need not be humiliating or dehumanizing; if done properly, as the hospice movement has shown us, the dying process itself can be dignified by remembering that we are dealing with persons whose life narratives in community are imbued with meaning, and that meaning does not disappear when bodily functions decline or finally cease.”   –  (Tirosh-Samuelson, 2011).
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She may have provided a line of reasoning for arguing that death need not be indignifying or humiliating (convinced me that death has any dignity whatsoever), but I would say that she’s digging her claim’s own grave by focusing on the nitty-gritty details of humiliation and dignity. It is not the circumstances of death that make death problematic and wholly unsatisfactory; it is the fact that death negates life. Only in life can an individual exhibit dignity or fail by misemphasis. Sure, people can remember you after you have gone, and contributing to larger projects that continue after one’s own death can provide some meaning… but only for those still alive – not for the dead. The meaning held or beheld by the living could pertain to the dead, but that doesn’t constitute meaning to or for the dead, who forfeited the capability to experience, or behold meaning when they lost the ability to experience, or behold anything at all.

Tirosh-Samuelson’s last claim, that death need not be dehumanizing, appears to be founded upon her personal belief in an afterlife more than the claim that meaning doesn’t necessarily have to cease when we die, because we are part of “a community imbued with meaning” and this community will continue after our own death, thus providing continuity of meaning.  Tirosh-Samuelson’s belief in the afterlife also largely invalidates the claims she makes, since death means two completely different things to an atheist and a theist. As I have argued elsewhere (Cortese, 2013, 160-172), only the atheist speaks of death; the theist speaks merely of another kind of life. For a theist, death would not be dehumanizing, humiliating, or indignifying if all the human mental attributes a person possessed in the physical world would be preserved in an afterlife.

Another version of the “limiting factor” argument comes from Martin Heidegger, in his massive philosophical work Being and Time. In the section on being-toward-death, Heidegger claims, on one level, that Being must be a totality, and in order to be a totality (in the sense of being absolute or not containing anything outside of itself) it must also be that which it is not. Being can only become what it is not through death, and so in order for Being to become a totality (which he argues it must in order to achieve authenticity – which is the goal all along, after all), it must become what it is not – that is, death – for completion (Heidegger, 1962). This reinforces some interpretations made in linking truth with completion and completion with staticity.

Another line of reasoning taken by Heidegger seems to reinforce the interpretation made by Cooney, which was probably influenced heavily by Heidegger’s concept of being-toward-death. The “fact” that we will one day die causes Being to reevaluate itself, realize that it is time and time is finite, and that its finitude requires it to take charge of its own life – to find authenticity. Finitude for Heidegger legitimizes our freedom. If we had all the time in the world to become authentic, then what’s the point? It could always be deferred. But if our time is finite, then the choice of whether to achieve authenticity or not falls in our own hands. Since we must make choices on how to spend our time, failing to become authentic by spending one’s time on actions that don’t help achieve authenticity becomes our fault.Can Limitless Life Still Have a “Filling Stillness” and “Legitimizing Limit”?

Perhaps more importantly, even if their premises were correct (i.e., that the “change” of death adds some baseline limiting factor, causing you to do what you would not have done if you had all the time in the world, and thereby constituting our main motivator for motion and metric for meaning), Cooney and Heidegger are still wrong in the conclusion that indefinitely extended life would destroy or jeopardize this “essential limitation”.

The crux of the “death-gives-meaning-to-life” argument is that life needs scarcity, finitude, or some other factor restricting the possible choices that could be made, in order to find meaning. But final death need not be the sole candidate for such a restricting factor.
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Self: La Petite Mort
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All changed, changed utterly… A terrible beauty is born. The self sways by the second. We are creatures of change, and in order to live we die by the moment. I am not the same as I once was, and may never be the same again. The choices we prefer and the decisions we are most likely to make go through massive upheaval.The changing self could constitute this “scarcitizing” or limiting factor just as well as death could. We can be compelled to prioritize certain choices and actions over others because we might be compelled to choose differently in another year, month, or day. We never know what we will become, and this is a blessing. Life itself can act as the limiting factor that, for some, legitimizes life.

Society: La Petite Fin du Monde

Society is ever on an s-curve swerve of consistent change as well. Culture is in constant upheaval, with new opportunities opening up(ward) all the time. Thus the changing state of culture and humanity’s upheaved hump through time could act as this “limiting factor” just as well as death or the changing self could. What is available today may be gone tomorrow. We’ve missed our chance to see the Roman Empire at its highest point, to witness the first Moon landing, to pioneer a new idea now old. Opportunities appear and vanish all the time.

Indeed, these last two points – that the changing state of self and society, together or singly, could constitute such a limiting factor just as effectively as death could – serve to undermine another common argument against the desirability of limitless life (boredom) – thereby killing two inverted phoenixes with one stoning. Too often is this rather baseless claim bandied about as a reason to forestall indefinitely extended lifespans – that longer life will lead to increased boredom. The fact that self and society are in a constant state of change means that boredom should become increasingly harder to maintain. We are on the verge of our umpteenth rebirth, and the modalities of being that are set to become available to us, as selves and as societies, will ensure that the only way to entertain the notion of increased boredom  will be to personally hard-wire it into ourselves.

Life gives meaning to life, dummy!

Death is nothing but misplaced waste, and I think it’s time to take out the trash, with haste. We don’t need death to make certain opportunities more pressing than others, or to allow us to assign higher priorities to one action than we do to another. The Becoming underlying life’s self-overcoming will do just fine.

References

Cooney, B. (2004). Posthumanity: Thinking Philosophically about the Future. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN-10: 0742532933

Cortese, F. (2013). “Religion vs. Radical Longevity: Belief in Heaven is the Biggest Barrier to Eternal Life?!”. Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Arguments and Rants about Immortalism. Ed. Pellissier, H. 1st ed. Niagara Falls: Center for Transhumanity. 160-172.

Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. (1962). Being and time. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Tirosh-Samuelson, H. (2011). “Engaging Transhumanism”. Transhumanism and its Critics. Ed. Grassie, W., Hansell, G. Philadelphia, PA: Metanexus Institute.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

TANSTAAFL and Saving: Not the Whole Story – Article by Sanford Ikeda

TANSTAAFL and Saving: Not the Whole Story – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012
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How often have you heard someone say, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” or, “Saving is the path to economic development”?  Many treat these statements as the alpha and omega of economic common sense.

The problem is they are myths.

Or, at least, popular half-truths.  And they aren’t your garden-variety myths because people who favor the free market tend to say them all the time.  I’ve said them myself, because they do contain more than a grain of truth.

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (or TANSTAAFL) means that, with a limited budget, choosing one thing means sacrificing something else.  Scarcity entails tradeoffs.  It also implies that efficiency means using any resource so that no other use will give a higher reward for the risk involved.

That saving is necessary for rising labor productivity and prosperity also contains an economic truth.  No less an authority than the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises has stated this many times.  In an article published in The Freeman in 1981, for example, he said:

The fact that the standard of living of the average American worker is incomparably more satisfactory than that of the average [Indian] worker, that in the United States hours of work are shorter and children sent to school and not to the factories, is not an achievement of the government and the laws of the country. It is the outcome of the fact that the capital invested per head of the employees is much greater than in India and that consequently the marginal productivity of labor is much higher.

The Catalyst

But the statement is true in much the same way that saying breathable air is necessary for economic development is true.  Saving and rising capital accumulation per head do accompany significant economic development, and if we expect it to continue, people need to keep doing those activities.  But they are not the source–the catalyst, if you will–of the prosperity most of the world has seen in the past 200 years.

What am I talking about?  Deirdre McCloskey tells us in her 2010 book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the World:

Two centuries ago the world’s economy stood at the present level of Bangladesh. . . .  In 1800 the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two [in today’s dollars]. . . .

By contrast, if you live nowadays in a thoroughly bourgeois country such as Japan or France you probably spend about $100 a day.  One hundred dollars as against three: such is the magnitude of modern economic growth.

(Hans Rosling illustrates this brilliantly in this viral video.)

That is unprecedented, historic, even miraculous growth, especially when you consider that $3 (or less) a day per person has been the norm for most of human history.  What is the sine qua non of explosive economic development and accelerating material prosperity?  What was missing for millennia that prevented the unbelievable takeoff that began about 200 years ago?

A More Complete Story

Economics teaches us the importance of TANSTAAFL and capital investment.  Again, the trouble is they are not the whole truth.

As I’ve written before, however, there is such a thing as a free lunch, and I don’t want to repeat that argument in its entirety.  The basic idea is that what Israel M. Kirzner calls “the driving force of the market” is entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship goes beyond working within a budget–it’s the discovery of novel opportunities that increase the wealth and raises the budgets of everyone in society, much as the late Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison or Madam C.J. Walker (probably the first African-American millionaire) did.  Yes, those innovators needed saving and capital investment by someone–most innovators were debtors at first–but note: Those savings could have been and were invested in less productive investments before these guys came along.

As McCloskey, as well as Rosenberg and Birdzell, have argued, it isn’t saving, capital investment per se, and certainly not colonialism, income inequality, capitalist exploitation, or even hard work that is responsible for the tremendous rise in economic development, especially since 1800.

It is innovation.

And, McCloskey adds, it is crucially the ideas and words that we use to think and talk about the people who innovate–the chance takers, the rebels, the individualists, the game changers–and that reflect a respect for and acceptance of the very concept of progress.  Innovation blasts the doors off budget constraints and swamps current rates of savings.

Doom to the Old Ways

Innovation can also spell doom to the old ways of doing things and, in the short run at least, create hardship for the people wedded to them.  Not everyone unambiguously gains from innovation at first, but in time we all do, though not at the same rate.

So for McCloskey, “The leading ideas were two: that the liberty to hope was a good idea and that a faithful economic life should give dignity and even honor to ordinary people. . . .”

There’s a lot in this assertion that I’ll need to think through.  But I do accept the idea that innovation, however it arises, trumps efficiency and it trumps mere savings.  Innovation discovers free lunches; it dramatically reduces scarcity.

Indeed, innovation is perhaps what enables the market economy to stay ahead of, for the time being at least, the interventionist shackles that increasingly hamper it.  You want to regulate landline telephones?  I’ll invent the mobile phone!  You make mail delivery a legal monopoly?  I’ll invent email!  You want to impose fixed-rail transport on our cities?  I’ll invent the driverless car!

These aren’t myths. They’re reality.

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

Ice and Economics – Article by David J. Hebert

Ice and Economics – Article by David J. Hebert

The New Renaissance Hat
David J. Hebert
July 21, 2012
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What can ice teach us about economics? We’ll see, but let’s begin with some fundamentals.

Prices, property rights, and profit (and loss) lead to information, incentives, and innovation. This simple statement contains nearly every lesson necessary for a free and prosperous society. But what do these words mean?

Prices convey information about relative scarcities and communicate to us the relative value of competing uses of a resource. They also economize on the acquisition of knowledge. When we see the price of a resource rise, market actors understand the need to use less of the resource. What they don’t know, however, is whether this rise is due to a disaster that destroyed some of the stock of that resource (an inward supply shift) or if a new, more valuable use for that resource has been discovered (an outward demand shift). These facts are irrelevant for a person who is currently using the resource, but from a societal level, her using less is necessary. If there is a disaster, we would want people to use less of it so that everyone else can still use some. If there is a new, more valuable use discovered, we would want the original users to use less so that more could be allocated towards this new use.

The Right to Exclude

Property rights refers not only to the right to use a resource, but also to the right to exclude others from its use. In this sense property rights provide the incentive to allocate the use of a resource efficiently across time, for example, to conserve it for later. With firmly established and enforced property rights, not only does the owner not have to worry about someone else taking his things but he also doesn’t have to rush out to gather the resources as quickly as he can. A situation where there are no property rights is susceptible to what is called the “tragedy of the commons,” where the resource gets depleted too quickly and never has a chance to replenish.

Profit (and loss) leads to innovation. Earning a profit is akin to being rewarded for doing something good. Suffering a loss is the opposite, a punishment for doing something wrong. In this case, the deed being done is the attempt to allocate scarce resources to where their will earn their highest return. People who successfully do this are rewarded with monetary gain, which we call “profit.” People who fail to do this experience what we call “loss.” In doing so, economic actors learn what works and what does not. Reducing the profitability of an activity through taxes or legislation or sheltering people from losses, therefore, acts to retard this learning process and stifles innovation.

This lesson is exemplified in early nineteenth-century Boston with the rise of the American natural ice trade. In 1806 Frederic Tudor sailed a ship full of ice from Boston to the Bahamas. Two years earlier Tudor had begun experimenting with insulation with the goal of bringing ice to the Bahamas.  When he was ready to set sail, he found that the ship captains refused to carry his cargo for fear of damaging their vessels. So he bought his own brig, the Favorite, and set sail February 10, 1806. He arrived in Martinique with a large quantity of ice still intact and began selling. The Bahamians loved the ice, which they had never seen before. Yet that first year Tudor lost a substantial sum of money, although he proved that ice could be shipped to the Bahamas. Now the objective became doing it at a profit.  Convinced his idea would be wildly successful, he continued his attempts to drive down costs and increase demand.

Higher Return

Meanwhile, as the price of the ice on the ponds rose, the people of Boston gained the information that the ice would bring a higher return in the Bahamas, thus they used less themselves and sold the ice to the Bahamians. In 1840 the ponds in the Boston area were explicitly divided, giving each person on the lake the right to exclude everyone else from harvesting any ice that wasn’t theirs. This allowed Tudor, for example, to invest in his ice and let it freeze longer so that it could better survive the long journey from Boston to India, which entailed crossing the equator twice and sailing around the tip of Africa. As Tudor earned profit from his venture, more people were attracted to the ice.

To continue to earn a profit, therefore, he had to find a way to outcompete everyone else. In 1825 Tudor enlisted the help of Nathaniel Wyeth, one of his suppliers. Tudor noticed that Wyeth’s ice was always significantly cheaper than everyone else’s and was cut in neater blocks which packed more easily. Wyeth had converted some old farm plows into ice-cutting plows and had fastened horseshoes with spikes to allow horses to pull these modified plows across the ice. By scoring the ice in such a fashion, Wyeth could break uniform sized blocks much quicker than his competitors, who were using hand saws that produced very rough and uneven edges.

These wouldn’t be the only contributions of Wyeth, as he went on to invent many other cost saving techniques. For example, Wyeth developed a conveyor-belt system that would haul the ice from the pond into the waiting icehouse.  He also invented bigger plows that could cut more blocks at once and poles that were used to guide the floating ice blocks onto the conveyor belt;  refined the above-ground icehouse, which allowed ice to be stored anywhere in the world for months on end without any external source of refrigeration.

New Insulation

Tudor and Wyeth also experimented with new means of insulating the ice from the heat, discovering that sawdust was not only a fantastic insulator but was also cheaply available from the sawmills around Boston. They also taught their customers new ways to use the ice, including making ice cream and storing the ice in iceboxes to preserve foods longer.

In short the three Ps lead to the three Is: Prices, property rights, and profit (and loss) lead to information, incentives, and innovation.  With these firmly in place, a free and prosperous society will follow.

David Hebert is a Ph.D. Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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