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The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The Radicalism of Reading – Article by Eileen L. Wittig

The New Renaissance Hat
Eileen L. Wittig
July 13, 2017
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It’s Peak Reading Season: too hot to go outside, too lethargic to do much inside, no holidays coming up for a while. Polls and anecdotes are probably telling you that reading is on the decline – people just don’t read like they used to! – but it turns out that depends on what demographic you’re looking at, and it’s a bit embarrassing for the old people shaking their heads over “kids these days.”

If you’re looking at people over the age of 65, your thought is right. Only 67 percent have read a book in the past year, regardless of format. But if you look at people age 18-29, a.k.a. the ones who supposedly do nothing but scroll through the internet all day, that number jumps up to 80 percent. Awkward.

Granted, that’s only talking about people who have read an actual book, and I’d argue that reading educational articles counts. If we include that, the reading statistic would jump even higher.

And that would’ve been horrible a century ago. And in the century before that. And all the way back to ancient Greece.

The modern obsession with reading is just that: a modern obsession, created by technology, new genres of literature, and advances in class, gender, and socioeconomic equality. It took about 2,500 years, but we made it.

Technological Advance, Copyrighted

You’d think the ancient Greeks would’ve been all about writing things down, but there was resistance from Socrates. He was a huge supporter of the previous technology: oral tradition, when knowledge was passed down through the generations by talking.

Thankfully Plato ignored him and recorded, for the millennia, that Socrates said writing would be terrible for society, causing “forgetfulness,” giving “not truth, but only the semblance of truth,” making everyone “appear to be omniscient, but knowing nothing,” creating nothing but “tiresome company.” Thus did literature have its first great irony.

For hundreds of years, we wrote things down. Most books were either religious or historical, regardless of country, culture, or religion of origin, and as the times changed, this general rule became alternately stricter and looser. Strict class structure, long work days, and the lack of publishing technology resulted in relatively low literacy rates.

The next big step forward was Gutenberg’s printing press. No more hand-writing everything! Suddenly books could be mass-produced, and with that ability came books in many different genres: poetry, technical knowledge, morality stories, and even sheet music. It took a while for people to realize they could start printing books in their own native languages and not only in the then-universal literary language of Latin, but it got there eventually.

Unfortunately, as happens now, with this new technology came new laws, particularly the Ordinance for the Regulation of Printing, issued in England in 1643. The Ordinance proclaimed that

Nor other Book, Pamphlet, paper, nor part of any such Book, Pamphlet, or paper shall from henceforth be printed, bound, stitched or put to sale by any person or persons whatsoever, unless the same be first approved of and licensed under the hands of such person or persons as both, or either of the said Houses shall appoint for the licensing of the same, and entred in the Register Book of the Company of Stationers, according to ancient custom, and the Printer thereof to put his name thereto.

In other words, you couldn’t print anything unless you had express permission from a government-appointed person. You couldn’t submit your book to the registry without government permission, either.

Needless to say, this didn’t help publishing progress. However, after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 created the Declaration of Rights, which included the right to free speech, England’s society opened up, and the Ordinance was allowed to lapse in 1694. Free speech combined with less regulation resulted in many more printing presses and publication houses in both England and the American colonies, and publication of books, newspapers, and pamphlets started going up. With more things available, more people could start reading, and the literacy rate in the West went up.

And then a brand new literary genre was invented, and the literary world changed forever (not even hyperbolically).

But the Women!

Up to this point, “the literacy rate went up” has referred more to men than to women. Some women could read, of course, but it was a male-dominated sphere until the end of the 19th century. Women didn’t work outside the home as much, and they were still considered to be inferior to men, so they often did not have comparable educations. The rise of female literacy came when the novel was spreading across the world, but the genre was not welcomed like it is today.

There’s disagreement over what the first novel was – most people say it’s Don Quixote, published all the way back in 1605, but others say it’s Pamela, published in 1740 – no matter which author was responsible for it, there was a lot of antagonism, even from the medical world. Novels were considered to be evil, destroying not only the morality but also the physical health of their “susceptible” female readers. Even in 1899, people were still warning against the “evils of reading” for women.

The problem was that they couldn’t actually agree on the details. One doctor wrote that novels would detrimentally accelerate a girl’s physical maturity, while another wrote that reading, and education in general, would cause of the opposite problem by preventing women from being able to have children. Reading novels could even make a woman uppity and encourage her to disrupt the status quo – the horror! Some went even further, warning that reading novels would cause insanity and even death.

Other people were more subtle in their predictions, believing novels would merely blur the line between fact and fiction. Authors themselves were torn: Gustave Flaubert ironically wrote a novel about this idea in Madame Bovary, while Jane Austen sensibly wrote against it in Northanger Abbey.

As more and more novels were written, and as women themselves entered the writing world, the hostility and sexism eventually died away. Today, we’ve progressed far beyond the old sexism: women now read more books than men, and the best-selling book series in history is a set of novels written by a woman: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Lowering the Threshold

Even with the lapsing copyright laws and the increased demand for books thanks to women’s literacy, publication was expensive, so books were expensive too. Reading was generally reserved for the higher classes who were, first off, educated, but could actually afford the money and time to read. Even Benjamin Franklin’s library required a subscription only a few tradesmen could afford. But that trend started changing when Charles Dickens and New York entered the sphere, thanks to the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment.

New York’s publishing houses – including Harper Bros. – were big enough to afford both large-scale publications, which made the books cheaper to publish and buy, and the vast expanse of the American West opened by the creation of the Erie Canal in 1825. The invention of the paperback book lowered the cost of books even further, giving people the “dime novel.” Publishers also took advantage of the lax international copyright laws and published whatever they wanted, including the works of one of the world’s first celebrity authors, Charles Dickens.

Over in England, Dickens was doing a strange thing and successfully writing about the poor. Taking from his own experiences growing up, Dickens used his talents and popularity to promote equality among the classes, greater education, and sympathy for people historically ignored. But he was also creating a new medium of publication: the magazine serialization, which ultimately became the standard form of novel-printing for the era all over the world. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexandre Dumas, Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, and Harriet Beecher Stowe all published serial works. Printing in magazines allowed a greater audience to enjoy literature that would otherwise be reserved only for the people who could afford the time and money to read them in book format.

Speaking of Stowe, the literacy gap in America between whites and all minorities was huge for the first 200 years of our history. Just after the Civil War, in 1870, 79.9 percent of blacks and minorities were illiterate. That rate dropped steadily until 1910, at which point the illiteracy rate among minorities was 30.5 percent. The literacy rate continued growing, albeit slower than before, until the race gap was finally closed in 1980.

21st-Century Reading

All the technological, social, and economic advances made during the explosive 18th and 19th centuries carried through into the modern era, spreading literacy and dispelling weird rumors until the world literacy rate went from 12% in 1800 to 85% in 2014. With the internet, e-readers, and all our smart devices, people are reading more now than ever; and the availability and variety of content is unlike anything even imagined just a century ago.

So when a relative or stranger tells you to put your phone down, ask them when they last read a book, and then quote something smart from the article you’re reading on your phone.

Eileen Wittig is an Associate Editor and author of the Lazy Millennial column at FEE. You can follow the Lazy Millennial Twitter here.

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

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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To celebrate Founders’ Day – the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Molossia – representatives of the U.S. and Nevada Transhumanist Parties made an international trip on May 27, 2017, to join President Kevin Baugh in his micronation.

Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, interviewed President Baugh on what attributes are needed to form a successful, long-lasting micronation, how micronationalism can inform our understanding of politics, countries, and governments, and how technology is essential to the development of micronations. Both micronationalism and technology have the potential to bring people closer together in terms of finding others who share similar interests and goals.

This speech by President Baugh provides background into the founding of Molossia and the concept behind it, as well as the ambitions for its future as a leading micronation of the world.

Find out about the Republic of Molossia here and read its Wikipedia entry here.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free here.

Section XXII of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform reads: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports efforts at political, economic, and cultural experimentation in the form of seasteads and micronations. Specifically, the United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the existence and sovereignty of the Principality of Sealand, the Republic of Molossia, and the Free Republic of Liberland, and supports the recognition of these entities by all governments and political parties of the world.”

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Travis McHenry, Grand Duke of Westarctica

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Travis McHenry, Grand Duke of Westarctica

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, interviews Grand Duke Travis McHenry of Westarctica on the attributes needed to form a long-lasting micronation, the role of technology in enabling more micronations to form over time, and what micronationalism can teach us about politics and organizational leadership.

Find out about Westartica here and read its Wikipedia entry here.

Visit the U.S. Transhumanist Party website here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free here.

Section XXII of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform reads: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports efforts at political, economic, and cultural experimentation in the form of seasteads and micronations. Specifically, the United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the existence and sovereignty of the Principality of Sealand, the Republic of Molossia, and the Free Republic of Liberland, and supports the recognition of these entities by all governments and political parties of the world.”

In the spirit of this plank, the U.S. Transhumanist Party also recognizes the nation of Westarctica and the efforts of Grand Duke Travis to eventually render its territory suitable for human habitation.

The Transhumanist Party: New Politics for Life Extension and Technological Progress – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The Transhumanist Party: New Politics for Life Extension and Technological Progress – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
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Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, discusses the progress made in late 2016 and early 2017 and the goals of transhumanist politics – how the advocacy of emerging technologies and life extension in a political context sets the Transhumanist Party’s approach apart from mainstream politics.

This presentation was delivered virtually on January 27, 2017, to a meeting of People Unlimited in Scottsdale, Arizona, as part of People Unlimited’s Ageless Education speaker series. After the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Stolyarov answered several questions from the audience.

Find out more about the Transhumanist Party at http://transhumanist-party.org/.

Become a member for free by filling out the Membership Application Form.

Read Version 2.0 of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights here.

View the Platform of the Transhumanist Party here.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Aritificial Intelligence – January 8, 2017

U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Aritificial Intelligence – January 8, 2017

The New Renaissance Hat

The U.S. Transhumanist Party’s first expert discussion panel, hosted in conjunction with the Nevada Transhumanist Party, asked panelists to consider emerging developments in artificial intelligence.

The panel took place on Sunday, January 8, 2017, at 10 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time.

This panel was moderated by Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party. Key questions addressed include the following:

(i) What do you think will be realistic, practical applications of artificial intelligence toward improving human lives during the next 5 years?
(ii) Are you genuinely concerned about existential risk stemming from AI, or do you think those concerns are exaggerated / overhyped (or do you have some intermediate position on these issues)?
(iii) On the other hand, do you perceive significant tendencies in contemporary culture to overhype the positive / functional capabilities of AI?
(iv) How can individuals, particularly laypersons, become better at distinguishing between genuine scientific and technological advances in AI and hype / fear-mongering?
(v) What is your techno-optimistic vision for how AI can help improve the future of human (and transhuman) beings?
(vi) What are your thoughts regarding prognostications of an AI-caused technological Singularity? Are they realistic?

Panelists

Zak Field is an international speaker, consultant, games designer, and entrepreneur based in Norwich, UK. A rising thought leader in Mixed Realities (VR/AR), Zak speaks and consults on Mixed Realities-related topics like gamification, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Robotics, Artificial Intelligences (AIs), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

In 2015, Zak partnered with Futurist Miss Metaverse as co-founder of BodAi, a robotics and AI company developing Bods, lifelike humanoid robot companions made accessible through a unique system that accommodates practical 21st-Century business and lifestyle needs.

David J. Kelley is the CTO for the tech venture capital firm Tracy Hall LLC, focused on companies that contribute to high-density sustainable community technologies, as well as the principal scientist with Artificial General Intelligence Inc. David also volunteers as the Chairman of the Transhuman National Committee board. David’s career has been built on technology trends and bleeding each research primarily around the capitalization of product engineering where those new products can be brought to market and made profitable. David’s work on Artificial Intelligence in particular – the ICOM research project with AGI Inc. – is focused on emotion-based systems that are designed to work around human constraints and help remove the ‘human’ element from the design of AI systems, including military applications for advanced self-aware cognitive systems that do not need human interaction.

Hiroyuki Toyama is a Japanese doctoral student at the Department of Psychology in University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His doctoral study has focused on emotional intelligence (EI) in the context of personality and health psychology. In particular, he has attempted to shed light on the way in which trait EI is related to subjective well-being and physiological health. He has a great interest in the future development of artificial EI on the basis of contemporary theory of EI.

Mark Waser is Chief Technology Officer of the Digital Wisdom Institute and D161T4L W15D0M Inc., organizations devoted to the ethical implementation of advanced technologies for the benefit of all. He has been publishing data science research since 1983 and developing commercial AI software since 1984, including an expert system shell and builder for Citicorp, a neural network to evaluate thallium cardiac images for Air Force pilots and, recently, mobile front-ends for cloud-based AI and data science. He is particularly interested in safe ethical architectures and motivational systems for intelligent machines (including humans). As an AI ethicist, he has presented at numerous conferences and published articles in international journals. His current projects can be found at the Digital Wisdom website – http://wisdom.digital/

Demian Zivkovic is CEO+Structure of Ascendance Biomedical, president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences, as well as a scholar of several scientific disciplines. He has been interested in science, particularly neuropsychology, astronomy, and biology from a very young age. His greatest passions are cognitive augmentation and life extension, two endeavors he remains deeply committed to, to this day. He is also very interested in applications of augmented reality and hyperreality, which he believes have incredible potential for improving our lives.

He is a strong believer in interdisciplinarity as a paradigm for understanding the world. His studies span artificial intelligence, innovation science, and business, which he has studied at the University of Utrecht. He also has a background in psychology, which he has previously studied at the Saxion University of Applied Sciences. Demian has co-founded Ascendance Biomedical, a Singapore-based company focused on cutting edge biomedical services. Demian believes that raising capital and investing in technology and education is the best route to facilitate societal change. As a staunch proponent of LGBT rights and postgenderism, Demian believes advanced technologies can eventually provide a definite solution for sex/gender-related issues in society.

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
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Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical. But few people are willing to give up meat, so such feelings are suppressed because acknowledging them would only make one feel guilty. Once the costs of giving up meat fall, however, vegetarianism will spread like a prairie wildfire, changing eating habits, the use of farmland, and the science and economics of climate change.

Lab-grown or cultured meat is improving, but so is the science of veggie burgers. Beyond Meat has sold a very successful frozen “chicken” strip since 2013, and their non-frozen burger patties are just now seeing widespread distribution in the meat aisle at Whole Foods. Beyond Meat extracts protein from peas and then combines it with other vegetable elements under heating, cooling, and pressure to realign the proteins in a way that simulates the architecture of beef.

I picked up a two-pack on the weekend. Beyond Meat burgers look and cook like meat. But what about the taste?

The taste is excellent. The burger has a slightly smokey taste, not exactly like beef, but like meat. If you had never tasted a buffalo burger before, and I told you that this was a buffalo burger, you would have no reason to doubt me. A little sauce and salt and pepper, and this is a very good-tasting burger, not a sacrifice for morality.

The price is currently more than beef, $6 for two patties, but that’s Whole-Foods expensive, not out-of-reach expensive. I will buy more.

The revolution has begun.

The second picture is the BuzzFeed version. My burger wasn’t quite so artfully arranged but was still delicious, and I attest to the overall accuracy.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

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

A Transhumanist Opinion on Privacy – Article by Ryan Starr

A Transhumanist Opinion on Privacy – Article by Ryan Starr

The New Renaissance HatRyan Starr

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Privacy is a favorite topic of mine. Maintaining individual privacy is a crucial element in free society. Yet there are many who want to invade it for personal or political gain. As our digital fingerprint becomes a part of our notion of self, how do we maintain our personal privacy on an inherently impersonal network of data? Where do we draw that line on what is private, and how do we enforce it? These are questions that are difficult to answer when looking at a short-term perspective. However, if we look further into the probable future, we can create a plan that helps protect the privacy of citizens today and for generations to come. By taking into account the almost certain physical merger of human biology and technology, the answer becomes clear. Our electronic data should be treated as part of our bodily autonomy.

The explosive success of social media has shown that we already view ourselves as partly digital entities. Where we go, what we eat, and who we are with is proudly displayed in cyberspace for eternity. But beyond that we store unique data about ourselves “securely” on the internet. Bank accounts, tax returns, even medical information are filed away on a server somewhere and specifically identified as us. It’s no longer solely what we chose to let people see. We are physical and digital beings, and it is time we view these two sides as one before we take the next step into enhanced humanity.

Subdermal storage of electronic data is here, and its storage capabilities will expand rapidly. Soon we will be able to store a lot more than just access codes for our doors. It is hard to speculate exactly what people will chose to keep stored this way, and there may even come a time when what we see and hear is automatically stored this way. But before we go too far into what will be stored, we must understand how this information is accessed in present time. These implants are currently based in NFC technology. Near-Field Communication is a method of storing and transmitting data wirelessly within a very short distance. Yes, “wireless” is the key word. It means that if I can connect my NFC tag to my smart phone by just waiving my hand close to it (usually within an inch or so), then technically someone else can, too. While current antenna limitations and the discreetness of where a person’s tag is implanted create a highly secure method of storage, advances in technology will eventually make it easier to access the individual. This is why it is urgent we develop a streamlined policy for privacy.

The current Transhumanist position is that personally collected intellectual property, whether stored digitally or organically, is the property of the individual. As such, it should be protected from unauthorized search and download. The current platform also states that each individual has the freedom to enhance their own body as they like so long as it doesn’t negatively impact others. However, it does not specify what qualifies as a negative impact or how to prevent it. Morphological freedom is a double-edged sword. A person can a person enhance their ability to access information on themselves, but they can also use it to access others. It is entirely feasible enhancements will be created that allow a person to hack another. And collecting personal data isn’t the only risk with that. What if the hacking victim has an artificial heart or an implanted insulin pump? The hacker could potentially access the code the medical device is operating with and change or delete it, ultimately leading to death. Another scenario might be hacking into someone’s enhanced sensory abilities. Much like in the novel Ender’s Game, a person can access another to see what they see. This ability can be abused countless ways ranging from government surveillance to sexual voyeurism. While this is still firmly within the realm of science fiction, a transhuman society will need to create laws to protect against these person-to-person invasions of privacy.

Now let’s consider mass data collection. Proximity beacons could easily and cheaply be scattered across stores and cities to function as passive collection points much like overhead cameras are today. Retail stands to gain significantly from this technology, especially if they are allowed access to intimate knowledge about customers. Government intelligence gathering also stands to benefit from this capability. Levels of adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin stored for personal health analysis could be taken and paired with location data to put together an invasive picture of how people are feeling in a certain situation. Far more can be learned and exploited when discreetly collected biodata is merged with publicly observable activity.

In my mind, these are concerns that should be addressed sooner than later. If we take the appropriate steps to preserve personal privacy in all domains, we can make a positive impact that will last into the 22nd century.
***
Ryan Starr is the leader of the Transhumanist Party of Colorado. This article was originally published on his blog, and has been republished here with his permission.
Horror: Pirate Contacts Lenses! – Article by Andrew Quinlan

Horror: Pirate Contacts Lenses! – Article by Andrew Quinlan

The New Renaissance Hat
Andrew Quinlan
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This Halloween, scores of consumers have purchased nearly 100,000 pairs of “counterfeit, illegal, and unapproved” colored contacts for costumes, all of which have been seized by “Double Vision,” an FDA-led consumer safety campaign.

Not surprisingly, optometrists and their favored lens manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson are using this news hook as a means of inciting fear. They are now stepping on the gas of their congressional lobbying efforts so that their bill, The Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA), is passed into law.

The CLCHPA’s objective is to rid the country of the free market reforms brought about by The Fairness in Contact Lens Consumer Act (FCLCA), a 2003 bill that opened the contacts lens industry to free market competition for the first time.

Before the passage of this bill, eye patients had virtually no rights, while optometrists had almost total control over the sale of contact lenses. Doctors were not obligated to give patients copies of their prescriptions. As a result, they could mandate specifically where patients were allowed to purchase lenses. This usually meant that consumers had no choice but to purchase Johnson & Johnson’s Acuvue lenses—eye doctors’ favored brand—directly from optometrists at inflated retail costs.

The Republican-controlled Congress’ 2003 FCLCA legislation stopped this government-created monopoly by enforcing consumer rights. It forced doctors to give patients copies of their prescriptions and gave them only an 8-hour window to file complaints regarding third-party sale requests, halting the process of “pocket vetoing” valid sales.

As a result, consumers were left with far more buying options. With barriers to entry significantly curtailed, third-party lens sellers like Walmart, Costco, and 1-800 Contacts had a much easier time selling contacts. This, in turn, led prices for contact lenses to spiral downward, allowing over 41 million Americans to purchase more than $7 billion worth of contact lenses every year.

Eye Safety?

Enraged, optometrist associations and contact lens vendors like Johnson & Johnson immediately began lobbying Congress to change the law. For the past decade, they have been claiming that these third-party vendors are jeopardizing the eye safety of millions of Americans. Specifically, they have expressed concern that these lenses pose a risk of developing keratitis, an eye infection affecting the cornea.

For these reasons, members of the medical lobby drafted the CLCHPA, a new bill that will greatly increase regulations in the contact lens industry, making it extremely difficult for third-party lens vendors to stay in business.

The bill is a solution in search of a problem. It will re-capture the contact lens industry and propel prices upwards, all while failing to increase safety even the slightest degree.

It is ridiculous that some doctors are correlating buying contact lenses from reputable third-party companies like Costco, Walmart, and 1-800 Contacts with purchasing them illegally from a Halloween street vendor.

For one, the lenses sold by third-party sellers are federally regulated. You still need a prescription to purchase contact lenses from online sellers (although numerous studies, as well as practices in other nations, have shown that even prescriptions are not necessary), and doctors still have the ability to strike down each sale if there is a legitimate health concern.  

In a letter written to the CLCHPA’s authors, Dr. Paul B. Donzis, a professor of ophthalmology at UCLA, made clear that buying contacts from online sellers poses no danger.  “Based on…authoritative scientific articles, it appears that online sales of contact lenses have not contributed to any increase in the incidence of contact lens related injury,” he said.

Moreover, the medical studies match the doctor’s rhetoric. A 20-year epidemiologic study conducted by Doctors  Schein, Stapleton, and Keay, published in 2007 by the medical journal Eye & Contact Lens, found that there has not been any increase in microbial keratitis since the online contact industry sprouted up and began providing more and better affordable choices for consumers.

The empirical data is as clear as day: no one is at risk from purchasing lenses from third-party contact lens vendors. The only risk that third-party vendors pose is to the market share of the crony medical lobby.

This Halloween, Congress should not be duped by the false claims coming from the mouths of the medical lobby. Congress is tricked often enough. This time, they should give American families a treat by reading through these prominent medical studies and striking down the anti-consumer Contact Lens Consumer Health Protection Act (CLCHPA) once and for all.

quinlan

Andrew Quinlan

Andrew F. Quinlan is co-founder and president of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity (@CFandP).

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

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.

What Goes On In The Depths Of Space? – Art by Alastair Temple

What Goes On In The Depths Of Space? – Art by Alastair Temple

what_goes_on_in_the_depths_of_space__by_smiling_demon-d8wnz3yNote: Left-click on this image to get a full view of this digital work of art.

Created by digital artist Alastair Temple, this art was featured in the 26th Exhibition of The Luminarium, “Depth”. The entire exhibit can be viewed here.

Visit Alastair Temple’s DeviantArt page and view his other art.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.