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Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012

People often complain that mankind is destroying the earth: that insatiable consumption and relentless production have laid waste to irreplaceable swaths of our planet, and that these activities have to stop or someday it will all be gone.

Which raises the question: What does it means to “destroy” something?

When you burn a log, the log is destroyed but heat, light, smoke, and ashes remain.  It’s in that sense that physics tells us that matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Similarly, cutting down a forest destroys the forest but in its place are houses and furniture and suburbs.

The real question is: Is it worth it?

Value Can Be Both Created and Destroyed

What people usually mean when they say mankind is destroying the earth is that human action causes a change they don’t like.  It sounds odd to say that my wife, by eating a piece of toast for breakfast, is “destroying” the toast.  But if I wanted that toast for myself, I might well regard her action as destructive.  Same action, but the interpretation depends on purpose and context.

When a missile obliterates a building and kills the people in it, it may serve a political purpose even though the friends and family of those killed and the owners of the building are harmed.  The perpetrator’s gain is the victim’s loss.  In the political realm, one person’s gain is necessarily another person’s loss.  You rob Peter to pay Paul; you kill Jack to appease Jill.  It’s a “zero-sum game.”

In the economic realm, however, a thing is destroyed to the extent that it loses its usefulness to somebody for doing something.  Someone may want to bulldoze my lovely home just for fun.  If she pays me enough I may let her do it and be glad she did.  When not physically coerced, a trade won’t happen unless each side expects to gain.  If it does happen, and if the people who traded are right, then all do in fact gain.  Each is better off than before. The trade has created something–value.  If they are wrong they destroy value and suffer a loss, which gives them an incentive to avoid making mistakes.

Profits and Losses Help to Minimize the Destruction of Value

In free markets gains manifest themselves in profit, either monetary or psychic.  (In the short run, of course, you can sustain a monetary loss if you think there’s a worthwhile nonmonetary aspect to the trade that will preserve the profit.)  Now, the free market is not perfect, despite what some economics professors say about the benefits of so-called “perfect competition.”  People don’t have complete or perfect knowledge and so they make mistakes.  They trade when they shouldn’t, or they don’t trade when they should.  Fortunately, profits and losses serve as feedback to guide their decisions.

There’s another source of market imperfection.  People may be capable of making good decisions but they don’t trade, or trade too much, because the property rights to the things they would like to trade aren’t well-defined or aren’t effectively enforced.  In such cases their actions or inactions create costs they don’t bear or benefits they don’t receive.  The result is that their decisions end up destroying value.

If I free-ride off the oceans, if for example I don’t pay for dumping garbage into it, then the oceans will become more polluted than they should be.  If there is a cleaner, more efficient source of energy than fossil fuels, but no one can profitably use it because the national government prevents anyone from doing so (for example by prohibitions or excessive taxation), then again the value that would have been created will never appear.

Aesthetics or Economics?

Our esthetic sense of beauty is part of what makes us human.  If we wish to protect a lake or a valley from development because we think it beautiful, how do we do that?

To some extent it’s possible to do what the Nature Conservancy does, and purchase the land that we want to protect.  But that’s not always possible, especially when the land is controlled not by private persons but by the national government, which makes special deals with crony capitalists in so-called public-private developments.  In any case, even the free market is not perfect.  Economic development and material well-being mean that some beautiful landscapes and irreplaceable resources will be changed in ways not everyone will approve.

Remember, though, that economics teaches us that an action is always taken by someone for something.  There are no disembodied costs, benefits, and values.  In a world of scarcity, John believes saving rain forests is more important than saving the whales.  Mary believes the opposite.  If we are to get past disagreements on esthetics–essentially differences of opinion–that can turn into violent conflict, we need to find some way to settle our differences peacefully, some way to transform them into value-creating interactions.

Imperfect though it may be, the free market has so far been the most effective method we know of for doing that.

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.

Seasteading’s Potential and Challenges: An Overview – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Seasteading’s Potential and Challenges: An Overview – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Seasteading has recently emerged as a promising alternative to political activism. Seasteads — a concept originated by Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich — are modular floating ocean platforms that can be combined and recombined to create autonomous cities on the oceans.

Mr. Stolyarov provides a general overview of the areas in which the concept of seasteading shows promise, as well as some of the significant challenges it will need to overcome.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.


– “Seasteading’s Potential and Challenges: An Overview” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The Seasteading Institute

– “2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami” – Wikipedia

Seasteading’s Potential and Challenges: An Overview – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Seasteading’s Potential and Challenges: An Overview – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 30, 2012

With many Western national governments, particularly in the English-speaking countries, increasingly approaching totalitarianism in their policies, the need for liberty-oriented reform has never been more urgent. This totalitarianism looms over us during a make-or-break time for human civilization. Depending on whether human beings will be allowed to innovate in peace, we can either achieve astonishing technological progress that will liberate us from age-old problems and bring about unprecedented prosperity – or we can descend into the barbaric abyss of interminable miseries that has characterized much of our species’ time on Earth.

Conventional political means are capable of rousing considerable passion – witness the Ron Paul movement in the United States. But, as the defection of Ron Paul’s son Rand to the Mitt Romney camp shows, such conventional means are vulnerable to the missteps of the liberty movements’ own leaders. Rand Paul’s endorsement of Romney fractured the Ron Paul movement and has created a widespread perception of mistrust among friends of liberty, many of whom will now go their own separate ways. Of course, it has historically been a considerable challenge to get libertarians to agree on a strategy for achieving beneficial change – and perhaps it is more reasonable not to expect agreement, but rather to develop an approach that would work in achieving greater liberty without the need for such agreement. It would also help if this approach did not need to be as cumbersome, top-down, and expensive as political activism.

Seasteading has recently emerged as a promising alternative to political activism. Seasteads – a concept originated by Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich – are modular floating ocean platforms that can be combined and recombined to create autonomous cities on the oceans. In 2008, Friedman founded The Seasteading Institute with the financial support of libertarian entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel. The idea has attracted respectable financing from Thiel and others, as well as input from legal and engineering scholars, and proposals for seastead designs and businesses. The Seasteading Institute makes available a large collection of research papers, project ideas, and public discussions, and it is not my intent here to probe into or scrutinize every detail of its ambitions. Rather, I hope to provide a general overview of the areas in which the concept of seasteading shows promise, as well as some of the significant challenges it will need to overcome.

As a friend of liberty, I wish the seasteading movement all the best. It is vital to explore every peaceful approach that has even a possibility of reversing the galloping totalitarianism of Western national governments and creating an incentive structure for accelerating human technological innovation.

In today’s countries, the land and most homes are fixed. One cannot move with ease if one finds the government’s policies oppressive; one is reluctant to lose one’s home, land, larger articles of personal property, and other location-specific amenities. Some governments, such as that of the United States, will even try to impose an exit tax or lay claim to income earned abroad. The physical detachability of seasteads solves this problem by enabling a person and his property to move inseparably to a variety of communities, or to remain as an autonomous unit. Patri Friedman’s goal is to create laboratories for political experimentation on seasteads. Much faster implementation of innovative political structures would be possible on a seastead, as compared to a traditional country, since each seastead community would be small and modular. Quick decision-making in a small group would enable beneficial innovations to be deployed, while harmful policies could result in much easier secession from the community – simply by detaching one’s seastead and setting course for a different community.

Seasteading would not directly change existing political structures. However, it may achieve greater individual liberation in a twofold manner: (1) by liberating those individuals who choose to live on seasteads instead of in traditional nation-states, and (2) by creating a virtuous cycle of political competition that motivates traditional governments to enact reforms in order to keep up with the prosperity and innovation occurring on the seasteads. It is extremely difficult to convince a majority of citizens of a multimillion-person nation to adopt a radical new policy or to radically abolish existing policies, even if the change promises to improve life dramatically. But many people – including some politicians – who are reluctant to pioneer an improvement will be willing to accept it if it has been tried and shown to work elsewhere.

A major advantage of seasteading is that it can begin as a sufficiently low-profile movement to avoid crackdowns by existing centers of political power. The seasteading movement does not threaten the sovereignty of any country; it does not propose to take away any nation’s territory or to challenge its government’s jurisdiction over that territory. Indeed, the infant stages of seasteading may, out of practical necessity, entail the creation of seasteads that explicitly submit to the jurisdiction of the United States, Canada, or a country in Europe or East Asia. The purpose of those early seasteads would not be the direct exercise of political autonomy, but rather experimentation with seasteading technologies and modes of living. The early seasteads would yield useful insights about how to construct floating modular platforms to be durable, cost-efficient, spacious, and comfortable. At this stage, the seasteading movement does not require the support or even the notice of most people – or even all liberty-oriented people. The people who are interested can advance the viability of seasteading by their direct work on improving seastead design and creating viable seastead-based businesses.

Yet the initial stage of the seasteading movement remains its most vulnerable. Seasteads must be built somewhere under the jurisdiction of an existing government. It is possible for the various requirements pertaining to building standards, licenses, permits, and zoning to hobble the construction and deployment of seasteads. In most parts of the United States, it is difficult enough to obtain permission to build a new house or small office building! If federal agencies, such as the US Coast Guard or the Environmental Protection Agency, become involved, the difficulties would be further compounded. The seasteading movement would be greatly benefited by capable legal representatives who understand what current laws permit and would be ready to defend the construction of a seastead if it is challenged. Furthermore, it is essential to choose relatively lax and business-friendly jurisdictions for the construction and deployment of the initial seasteads. I recommend the approach of full compliance with all laws that actually exist, combined with a thorough knowledge of such laws – to give the seasteading movement the ability to refute arbitrary compliance requests that are not based in law – as well as a choice of jurisdictions where the laws in question are not as onerous. The seasteading movement must particularly be vigilant for attempts to quash the concept of seasteading itself, under the guise of achieving some formalistic compliance, but in reality motivated by an ideological opposition from the powers in a particular jurisdiction.

Once seasteads become sufficiently cost-effective and tested to be appealing to broader segments of the general public, the deployment of truly autonomous ocean communities can begin. Such communities could begin to arise once seasteads reach areas outside the territorial waters of any nation – but even there a risk exists of boarding, expropriation, and arrest by representatives of traditional nation-states. This risk is particularly high if a seastead is perceived to be engaged in activity that threatens the nation-state – such as trading in weapons or currently illegal drugs. Even though many advocates of seasteading, myself included, support drug legalization, it may be advisable to abstain from permitting certain substances on seasteads out of prudential considerations.

True political independence for seasteads will likely come about through an evolutionary process – much like the “benign neglect” of the American Colonies for decades by the government of Great Britain created a political culture that resisted restrictions on liberty when the British government began to impose them. Perhaps benign neglect from the United States and other Western powers will be the best that the early seasteaders can hope for. The first quasi-autonomous seastead communities might make a demonstration of complying with restrictions that Western governments would be particularly interested in enforcing extraterritorially. If a culture of such compliance is established, the seasteads might otherwise be left alone and free from the petty micromanagement that extends far beyond such matters as prohibiting trade in certain substances. But once there are enough seastead communities – each with already flourishing internal economies and many technological innovations to their credit – they may begin to have the resources and internal strength to resist impositions from traditional nation-states. Hopefully, this resistance will be accomplished by a peaceful assertion of sovereignty, a declaration of good will toward all other political jurisdictions, and simple acquiescence by the nation-states. Perhaps the economies of the seasteads and the traditional countries will have become so inextricably intertwined by that time, that violence will be deemed out of the question by all parties – and the populations of the traditional countries would strongly object to the notion of attacking another peaceful, prosperous, civilized community with many common cultural and even personal ties to these countries.

But inanimate nature can pose dangers to seasteads that are as great as the dangers posed by man. The oceans are not known to have the most clement conditions. Aside from severe storms, which can probably be withstood with sufficiently durable construction, the risks of earthquakes and accompanying tsunamis are immense – as Japan’s experience in 2011 has demonstrated. The 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and consequent meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant undermined confidence in nuclear power worldwide – despite the existence of more advanced nuclear technology that can avoid meltdowns. An earthquake and tsunami can wipe out even sturdy seastead communities. Furthermore, a large earthquake on the ocean during the early days of seasteading may greatly undermine interest in the movement. Therefore, it is particularly important to choose sites of low seismic activity to deploy at least some of the early seasteads. Deployment into more seismically active areas will be more viable once seasteading has reached such popularity that placing a seastead near an earthquake fault will be seen as no more unusual than building a house in California.

As a risk-averse person who prefers ample space, I would not be an early adopter of the seasteading lifestyle. However, I salute the pioneers who would be willing to live on the first seasteads, with their likely cramped conditions and limited amenities. They are paving (or, as the case may be, floating) the way for the rest of us. Ultimately, however, seasteads will need to be designed to accommodate the living standards to which people are accustomed on land. Persons with a strong desire to actualize a principle or with a particularly hardy disposition may be willing to accept some degree of privation; they would be a needed and much appreciated first wave of adopters. If the political situation on land becomes physically perilous to large numbers of people, a major exodus onto seasteads might be conceivable even before the seasteads become comfortable. In the absence of such an unfortunate development, however, I anticipate that seasteads would need to have the space and facilities typical of a small American house, or at least a large recreational vehicle (RV), before they become attractive to people without significant pioneering or ideological motivations.

The incremental evolution of seasteads toward viability, autonomy, and mass adoption seems the most likely practical course, but it is legitimate to ask whether it will be enough to stem the tide of encroachments on our freedoms today. Perhaps it will – combined with other forms of pro-liberty activity, including political activism in each country and continued technological and cultural innovation in areas where it remains possible. Seasteading may not be sufficiently mature to serve as a remedy to our current condition of servitude, but it may help us keep totalitarianism at bay in combination with other approaches. This is another avenue for friends of liberty to explore, and we need as many of those as we can get. Ultimately, the objective for libertarians and others who think similarly should be not to reach complete theoretical agreement on everything, but rather to enable each individual to arrive at a position where his or her direct efforts can effectively produce greater liberty, prosperity, and progress. Seasteading will hopefully serve to empower increasing numbers of people to make such lasting contributions.

Illiberal Belief #11: The Environment Is Steadily Deteriorating – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #11: The Environment Is Steadily Deteriorating – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
May 13, 2012

There are plenty of potential sources of concern when it comes to the environment. We are polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink; we are depleting the oceans of fish; we are punching holes in the ozone layer; we are warming the climate to dangerous levels—and all of these problems, we are given to believe, are only getting worse.

Taken together, these worries, along with the ones discussed in more detail above, make up what Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg referred to as The Litany in his controversial(1) 2001 book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. Lomborg plumbs the available data and the environmentalists’ arguments on each of these issues and discovers, to his surprise, that things are not as bad as they are made out to be. Like forest cover, air and water quality are generally improving in the developed world, and have been for decades. The ozone problem had a fairly simple and affordable solution which has been implemented. As for the climate issue, even setting aside the serious uncertainties contained in computer models, it will be much easier for us to adapt to future warming than to try, largely in vain, to prevent it. Our trillions of dollars, Lomborg emphasizes, would be far better spent dealing with more pressing problems like poverty in the developing world—and, he adds, helping the world’s poor climb out of poverty would have the additional benefit of allowing them the relative luxury of caring about and improving the state of their forests and the quality of their air.

We need not choose between improving the environment and alleviating world poverty, for the two categories of problems stem from the same kinds of causes. It is inadequately secure property rights and protectionist trade policies that keep the world’s poor from improving their lot; it is the absence of adequate property rights that threatens the ocean’s fisheries; it is irrational government policies that give polluters the right to pollute and forbid those whose property is polluted from seeking damages; it is government subsidies that lead to the wasteful use of water and other resources. We don’t often hear it in the media, but the solution to global poverty and to the environmental problems that do exist is one and the same: greater economic freedom.

1. Readers who are curious about this controversy are invited to visit to see the debate between Lomborg and Scientific American, and decide for themselves which party is trying to clarify the issues and which is trying to muddy the waters.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.