Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Seasteading: Some Problems on the way to Castle Sovereign

Inspired by Ayn Rand, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, along with Patri Friedman and others, are helping the Seasteading Institute plan a floating 'start-up country' off the coast of San Francisco -- built on oil-rig like platforms in international waters. Here residents will be able to live by Libertarian ideals, free of regulation, laws, and the welfare state.

A few thoughts? I've been pondering this and related concepts for a very long time (see below).  The seasteading model has many aspects that need to be decrypted, in a spirit of due diligence.

Look, I say all of this not out of unfriendliness... I know Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman and a lot of their cohorts. In fact, I quite like the guys, though I think they have a romantic view of history and human nature.  Nothing wrong with that! Frankly, I don't mind the experiment.  Heck, if they ask (and they should), I'll even advise them.

My next novel -- EXISTENCE -- portrays just such a seasteading colony, in some detail. Still, there are many things to consider.

1- The core aim is to escape meddling by any modern states - mostly advanced enlightenment democracies, with their heavy taxes and regulations, while seasteader owner members will still retain full, web-accessed control of their investment portfolios and dividend incomes from those societies. This anisotropy of flow in information, income and influence may be difficult to maintain. It will be necessary to exert great influence on those democracies (the current program) since they have big navies and they influence Law of the Sea jurisprudence. 

Taking a step-back, big history perspective, the model we're talking about here is an age-old, classic one -- using one's current high status to maintain fat channels of influence and control in one direction and money flow in the other, while preventing influence and control from going inconvenient ways.  It used to be the uncontested human norm; indeed, this aim may be woven in our genes. But in the context of enlightenment liberal democracy, it may be quite a challenge, especially given the bad press that will inherently swarm over such a project. A substantial fraction of the top U.S. monied caste will have to buy into the concept and use its sway with the same fierce effectiveness that it has in the first decade of the century.

That first decade seems to suggest bright prospects.  In addition to altering U.S. law to make it top-friendly, many in the upper castes  are already engaged in different kinds of offshoring - e.g. distributing/caching profits in Swiss-style accounts and Patagonian mega ranches. If seasteading is viewed as a variation on this theme, one can see why these smart fellows are betting with good odds. There's no doubt that other, much bigger players are watching and offering encouragement.

(Side note: Want irony? The rising oligarchies of non-democratic nations may become crucial allies, for two reasons. First, these clades have even greater influence over their home nations than western billionaires have in theirs, perhaps enough to cause those nations to apply their legal standing in international bodies in ways that help protect autonomy for the proposed neo-sovereignties. See more on the issue of legal standing, below.

(Reciprocally, seasteads may look like good places to build backup homes, in case the status situation ever changes, back home. For both reasons, we can expect substantial developing world involvement, even if the ideas and know-how start out as pure-yankee.)

2- This business plan has to compete with an older and more reliable one: when you want an "offshore" country of your own, simply buy one that already exists. One with built-in labor pools and reliable fresh water supplies.  Of course, this isn't as easy as it was in other eras. Latin America used to be ripe for bought caudillos.  Nowadays, you can still purchase 10,000 acre ranches and whole villages... but rising education levels help make underclasses uppity, filling them with lawyers. There's always Burma and Benin... still, one can see why "build-your-own" starts to have appeal.

3- Now, in fairness, this may not only be an option for the rich! In my 1989 novel EARTH I portray a floating nation, composed mostly of the poor and dispossessed, taking to international waters out of desperation, led by the "Swiss Navy."  You'll have to read to understand the why and how. (Pretty clever, some think!) In any event, such a rabble of "SeaStaters" might be of concern to the more elevated SeaSteaders, for reasons we'll get to.

4- The ocean is a harsh and dangerous environment. Corrosive to metal and other parts. Your shiny paradise soon looks like Waterworld. This is non-trivial in so many ways. Especially in an era when most of the intellectual castes you need for solving the problem - from scientists to engineers to ... well, every other professional clade... are turning hostile to the Randian message. (Name one of them that isn't under relentless attack by the murdochian branch of the press. Name even one.) 

This new state must be high tech and relentlessly maintained by skilled labor, so finding a way to bridge the growing memic divide will be essential. Instead of offending or waging war on professional castes, getting the "boffins" to buy in will take subtle understanding, and psychology. Still, history suggests that it's inevitable. For example, read up on how Machiavelli and Galileo -- originally populist radicals -- became willing servants of their oligarchs.  In EXISTENCE, I portray some of the advanced techniques, arguments and buy-ins that may solve the "boffin gap" in coming decades.

5- A related matter. When you are at sea, facing nature's full brunt, including typhoons and corrosion and threats of all kinds, the daily details of running the place will be neither anarchic nor democratic.  There will be a captaincy... though it possibly might be AI-based in order to be neutral.  Nevertheless, if 6000 years of seafaring history is any judge, there'll be a captain.

Now, there is potential compatibility with libertarian values! Commercial vessels have long distinguished between the policy authority of owners and the tactical supremacy of the captain. The former can fire the latter, any time they like. Under whatever covenant or constitution they set up, the owners of a SeaStead will have Locke's recourse of rebellion against the authority they allocate. Still I wager it will wind up being more complicated, onerous and problematic than they now envision.

6- Clearly there is a shortcut through all the red tape and other dangers. I portray it in EXISTENCE. That trick is to forge alliances with already-existing small, island states. Places like Tonga, Vanuatu, etc are currently terrified of being literally wiped off the map by rising seas. What I show in the novel is an alliance with rich seasteaders that allows them to build their initial pillared paradises on land that is currently relatively dry and already sovereign.

What do the islanders get, in return? Why, the promise of participation - indeed, continued "existence" - as their reefs and beaches gradually drown! Buy the novel (coming in June) to see it illustrated.

7- But let's return to the SeaSteads that start de novo, on some submerged sea mount or patch of open sea. Here's a crucial question.

If you reject the democracies, then will you call them for help, when an armed gang comes to simply take over your sovereign land, by right of conquest?  Perhaps with the fig leaf excuse of a "revolution" of the proletariat of sub minimum wage servants? Or else rationalizing that strength, cunning and will are the only righteous justifications required? (Ayn Rand personally repudiated violence; but those who espouse her core principle don't always agree with that part.) A Sea State of refugees is the least of many sources of such danger.  

Whatever defensive arrangements you've made - there is always some combination of force and cleverness and treachery that can overcome it.  So plan well! Then subject the plan to critique.

8- Otoh the whole thing might be done with superb skill. If all concerns, including environmental ones, are solved (these are clever fellows, after all) we might very well see not only the rise of several dozen unique sovereignties but also wondrous spinoffs -- subsidized technological developments that could benefit us all -- as I portray in that coming novel.

Piece of advice? Instead of emphasizing the tax-avoidance aspect (a meme which I predict will bite its promoters back, very hard, in the near future), I'd rather see the emphasis be on freedom to do social experiments.  Feminist enclaves?  Polygamous or polyamorous paradise? A haven for drug experimentation? For genetic self-mod or for bureaucracy-minimized space launch? A place of self-exile for sex-offenders? A MYOB festival? Hey, these things will resonate with public opinion, helping build support. Diversity is the thing, right?

I admit I am less keen on aspects that simply replicate the feudal castles that all our ancestors had to look up at, on the hill... and now at sea... where the lords got to evade all accountability while holding us to our many obligations to them. I asked Patri Friedman if he realized his aim was to re-create that feudal castle... still living off proceeds from the surrounding country. He changed the subject. But isn't that what it boils down to?

There are design elements that can solve this. Positive-sum ways to both achieve their goals and retain fealty to the overall civilization that engendered their fine lives.  I hope these fellows intend to create something cool, that combines the best elements and prevents the worst. 

CODA: The Real Reason for this venture 

Remember, these are smart fellows and they can see what you cannot. The "totally autonomous separation" thing is (as we've seen) just polemic. But there's another reason I think they are doing this. Indeed, the deep-down legal subtext is never mentioned. 

They're are doing this not in order to escape government, but because we on Planet Earth appear to be heading, inexorably, toward a world government (WG). 

Um... Brin just said... what?

Yes, I said world government (WG).  Let me explain before you... oh, too late! Well, anybody who covers his eyes and ears at this point, shouting "nah!" is simply in denial.

Look at the charts. The rate by which the international civil service (the equivalent of government "departments") is growing in size and reach. Next see how quickly nations are accepting the legally binding authority of international tribunals, such as the World Trade Court. 

Sure, the most blatant and visible parts of a WG are slow in coming, in part because American citizens would go into screaming heebie-jeebies if we saw executive and legislative branches coalescing at the same pace. But the other two branches - the bureaucracy and courts - are taking shape with startling speed.

Elsewhere, I may explain how I see the executive and legislative aspects of WG happening faster than anyone could presently expect. And no, I'm not talking about alien invasion or some "unifying threat from the outside" or any other cliche.  It is a really surprising scenario and one that cannot conceivably be stopped. Because it falls into place trivially, even organically, over the next 30 years. No matter what Americans say. 

(Hint: it has almost nothing to do with the UN! Indeed if Americans want to have a say in the design of the coming WG, we had better start thinking about it and speaking up, instead of staying in frantic denial! Disclaimer... as an American, I feel distaste toward what is forming. Believe me, nearly all Yanks - left or right - are totally creeped out by this notion. I just have the guts to look it in the eye.)

Okay, so how do I connect these dots back to the grand plan to create artificial sovereignties at sea?  How to reconcile the surficial Seasteader mantra of autonomy from all governments, with the  fact that smart guys like Peter Thiel and his colleagues can see WG looming on the horizon?  How will Seasteading help them, in such a world? 

The answer is to be found in a phrase I highlighted earlier. Legal Standing. Because of the way that WG is forming on Planet Earth... with the judiciary and bureaucracy first and the legislature last... the chief effect is to ensure that individual humans have no legal standing before international agencies. Only sovereign nations have standing, can file suit, negotiate treaties, assert rights and privileges.

There are many aspects to this situation. For example, it is what has allowed most people - especially Americans - to pretend in their minds that everything is still "international" and not planetary.  As I said, the psychology of all this is delicate, nervous and fraught.

But here's the crux. If they can establish a dozen or so new, sea-based national entities, to stand alongside the 200 or so that already exist, then the SeaSteaders will be in the same position as the original founders of the New York or London Stock Exchanges.

They will have inheritable or negotiable "seats" -- a grandfathered position of "standing" allowing them to step up before WG bodies representing the interests of millions of clients. Large and small.

Think this is about autonomy? Or feudal privilege? Or social experimentation? Naw. These guys are smarter than that.

It's about getting in on the ground floor of the 21st century's great new business frontier.*

*You heard/read about it here first.  Remember that, when it is common knowledge and the way of power, a generation from now.


See also: Libertarians and Conservatives Must Choose: Competitive Enterprise or Idolatry of Property

138 comments:

Tim H. said...

Your point 8 is the one I've been thinking about, if seasteading happens successfully, the technological spinoffs will be of value to humanity, no matter what screwy reasoning inspired it.
Concerning Planetary government, now that you pointed it out, yes. What happens when regulations are the same everywhere, with no "Understanding" regimes to outsource to? Might be worth it if it provides an impetus for off-planet development. Or if the planetary bureaucracy is built with some flexibility, for a change.

Carl M. said...

I see seasteading as a potential end to the anarchy of the high seas. Right now, most of the waters are completely unowned, which has led to fishery mismanagement. Suppose seasteads use their territorial waters to establish regulsted fishing rights? There is a serious possibility of a libertarian Greenpeace alliance here.

Going further, I recall reading about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion in Jerry Pournelles old essays. Stick some of those out in the more barren, yet warm surfaced parts of the oceans and you use OTEC to pump nutrient rich water to the surface and create new semi-wild fisheries. Rather more appealing that saltwater tubs on land or fenced overcrowded fjords.

This mitigates global warming two ways: 1. you can cool the hurricane spawning parts of the ocean surfaces. 2. All that plankton and fish will consume CO2.

sociotard said...

Nevertheless, if 6000 years of seafaring history is any judge, there'll be a captain.

And yet, captains can be democratic. Poke through that 6000 years of seafaring history and look at the carribean pirates. They were savage brutes, yes, and no civilization should want to emulate them entirely. And yet, just as their introduction of workers compensation for injury was ahead of its time, their internal governance was interesting.

Pirate captains were elected, and could be easily deposed at any time. They also only got two shares of the booty (far less than a privateer captain).

They had to share power with another elected officer: the quartermaster. The pirates actually had elections for officers in different branches of government with checks and balances!

I'd rail against the Johnny Depp movies for failing civilization when they failed to depict this, since captains in his movies are strutting lords, but I recognize that it would make for a boring movie.

sociotard said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracy#Pirate_democracy

LarryHart said...

Before even getting to the meat of the seasteading discussion, I was heartened to see a date set for the release of EXISTENCE.

Not so heartened to see it almost a year off. I'll be looking forward to June as avidly as my fourth-grade kid.

I do have a question about the release, though. Will the novel be available in paper form, or do I have to go buy a Kindle in the next ten months?

rewinn said...

What is the minimum seastead required to assert sovereignty?

I hereby declare that I have seasteaded Latitude 0 Longitude 0, and name it 0N0W. I do not intend my seastead to have a permanent population but, then again, neither does the Vatican City. And I seriously doubt any of the new seasteads will have residents who don't leave on a regular basis. If Mitt Romney can declare his residence to be his child's unfinished basement, there really is no minimum residence standard anymore.
A PO Box suffices to establish residents for corporations in the Cormoros and so forth, so it should suffice for a seastead. I declare PO boxes at 0N0W are available (for a small fee perhaps ... get in early!)
Some may doubt the physical existence of such PO Boxes. I could challenge you to do there and disprove them, but the truth is this: the PO Boxes are virtual, accepting email only. There is no minimum size for a nation-state and therefore a nation state of size zero suffices. Nothing in the classical law of nations addresses email or the physical location of servers.
The first act of 0N0W will be to lay claim to everything within the customary zone of control (3 - 12 miles, I forget which), and economic control within the customer exclusive economic zone of about 200 miles. Leases are available!

I may have overlooked a few details, and would appreciate learning what I need to do to finish founding my very own nation-state. If Seattle parking rates go up I'd like to have diplomatic immunity.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Ok, I just finished your full article here on seasteading.

Wow! A lot to digest there, and I can't say at the moment if you've presented a good thing or a bad thing.

My gut feeling says "bad thing", though, at least for those not already in the club of oligarchs.

And to think, since about 2006, I've been coming here when I need a reason for optimism. This one feels as if you've just convinced me there is no future (again, for those not alrady in the Winners Club).

I realize that what it "feels" like you said and what you actually said may be two different things. Will read again later.

But for now...just WOW!

(or "Words fail me")

John Kurman said...

Carl M, there are plenty of privately owned and operated fisheries that have gone bust, so you've got to do better than that. Private ownership does not guarantee responsible management (Have a look at polluted private properties). If anything, private owners subsidise theri poo by foisting it onto the public (talk about socialism!).

Your argument holds no water (ah, haha). Fishery commons get exploited not because of lack of private ownership, but due to lack of enforcement.

There are so many reasons why Seatopia ain't gonna work that it's actually boring to discuss it. I mean, #1, fresh water. I keep thinking that even Thomas More recognized this by naming the river in Utopia the Anyder (no water).

So, making it work, somehow, is much more interesting.

#1) Write material self-sufficiency right from the get-go. Why bother? Why not equitably trade instead? What you got? Well, how about info tech as a start? Data havens (ala Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon), stock and commodity exchange (to take geographic advantage of flash trading), tax shelters, things I haven't thought of, etc.

Doc, I do think you are on to something regards nation status. But, question is, it requires the permission of existing entities for it to happen. Will they allow it? (Can the parasitic rich have enough bribe monies to do it. My bet is no).

David Brin said...

Tim said a mouthful: "What happens when regulations are the same everywhere, with no "Understanding" regimes to outsource to? Might be worth it if it provides an impetus for off-planet development. Or if the planetary bureaucracy is built with some flexibility, for a change."

Several items worth a reply:

1- Yes, uniformity of regulation is one way government spreads laterally. Most don't realize that all 50 U.S. states engage in negotiated "treaties" like the Uniform Business Code that are NOT imposed by Congress. STill, my answer is no, this is not what I am talking about when I say World Govt is inevitable, and sooner than people think. The mechanism is in place.

2- As a sci fi guy I am friendly to dreams of offworld diversity. But we have a heavy planet and the dreams are very expensive. It is more important that we turn our nations - esp the US - into bold agents of exploration -- a meme that's being crushed by the murdochians.

3- "Or if the planetary bureaucracy is built with some flexibility, for a change."

Um... you hit it on the head! The coming WG need not follow a European or Chinese model. It could be created along lines that Yanks find far less creepy, with many checks and balances and a slimmed, lighter, less bureaucratic hand. But only if Americans stop covering their ears and screaming every time this topic comes up. We are still the world leaders and pax power. We could influence the design! But only if we wake up and take part.

Carrl M.... what a great post. I agree on all points,

Sociotard, the pirate crew could vote-down a captain when in calm waters, not during mid-sail or a fight. Tactical matters, including harsh discipline, were totally his command.

LarryHart - EXISTENCE will be a book. And yes, there were levels of import in this post. Smart guys who read twice will catch many meanings. (Like you did.)

sociotard said...

In a fight, the captain was king.

Anytime else, though, and the quartermaster could use veto power.

and a captain that disciplined too harshly wouldn't keep his post long.

ell said...

David, I don't know for sure what you mean by drug haven, but I suspect the inhabitants will be too spaced out to paint the hull. It'll sink sooner or later.

For all sea platform nations, I hope someone figures out how to put the platform in dry dock for maintenance.

If the platform nation runs as a high-tech headquarters with all land nations as its "colonies" to supply it with material goods, well, ask the British Empire how that worked out in the end.

sociotard said...

Meanwhile, in the world of exotic astronomy:

Scientists suspect they have found a planet made principally of diamond.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=diamond-world-discovered-by-astrono-11-08-25

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

Thanks for the implied compliment. I will read your post again after letting the first read digest a bit more.

I am really looking forward to the publication of EXISTENCE.

On the last post's comments, I mentioned the Holnists from "The Postman" being some of the most three-dimensional villains I have ever read. This pirate discussion called to mind another memorable instance of that. General Macklin (or possibly it was Colonel Bezoar speaking) telling Gordon that he (Gordon) as a lord would have the latitude to "be nice to your vassals" if he thought he could run a feif that way. Clearly, the Holnist was sneering that he didn't think that would be a viable course of action, but clearly he also meant what he said, that Holnist society would not preemtively PREVENT Gordon from conducting his affairs that way. The experiment would be allowed to fail (or succeed) on its own terms.

sociotard said...

Rebels stormming Gadaffi's compound begin inventorying his loot, including . . . a photo album of his darling Condoleeza Rice?

http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/08/25/7470058-in-the-ruins-of-gadhafis-lair-rebels-find-album-filled-with-photos-of-his-darling-condoleezza-rice

Litch said...

Drug Havens:
People manage to get work done in our alcohol haven of a country. The Netherlands & Portugal (to a lesser extent) seem to be functioning just fine.

Pangolin said...

If the rich people start forming their own floating nations I'm all for turning pirate. WTF not? If they get to escape the taxes rules they don't get the protections in my book.

Jack said...

The problem of being a pirate is the company you have to keep. Also, I not very good at being a vicious bastard

Jack

Nyctotherion said...

If as promised they have 'less restrictive building codes' what incentive is there for the construction crews (almost certainly underpaid laborers) to cut corners to the point the thing collapses the day it goes online?

Anonymous said...

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Ian said...

No offense to your friends David, but even highly intelligent and educated people often get things badly wrong outside their areas of expertise.

As a minor sampling:

Edison and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's spiritualism;

Bertrand Russell and HG Wells' support for the Soviet Union.

Werner Von Braun's support for Hitler.

PG Wodehouse and Ezra Pound's antisemitism

John W Campbell's advocacy for Dianetics and the Dean Drive.

Oh and no-one's mentioned one of the most obvious parallels for the Seasteads yet - Bahrain, Dubai and the UAE.

Ian said...

"Clearly, the Holnist was sneering that he didn't think that would be a viable course of action, but clearly he also meant what he said, that Holnist society would not preemtively PREVENT Gordon from conducting his affairs that way. The experiment would be allowed to fail (or succeed) on its own terms."

This is why the World State from Brave new World is both more credible than Oceania from 1984 and more frightening.

Oceania enforces compliance with official ideology.

The World State happily experiments with alternatives (For example: they turned Ireland into an all-Alpha society for a while until the janitors and cafeteria workers rebelled.)

They don't kill their dissidents or brainwash them - they ship them off to Tahiti or Greenland and monitor them to copy any useful ideas they develop.

Tim H. said...

Dr. Brin, thank you for the kind words. I was a bit off-topic on uniformity of regulation, the possibility of a bureaucracy that primarily serves it's public belongs in it's own thread, apologies. I suppose anything that promises positive development looks good after a generation of "Maximizing shareholder value" or "Slacker capitalism", not as I'm holding my breath, but the possibility is refreshing.

LarryHart said...

Ian:

This is why the World State from Brave new World is both more credible than Oceania from 1984 and more frightening.
...
They don't kill their dissidents or brainwash them - they ship them off to Tahiti or Greenland and monitor them to copy any useful ideas they develop.


I read both books in high school, and while I was horrified by the world of "1984", my thoughts concerning "Brave New World" were more along the lines of "This doesn't really sound too bad."

It wasn't until a re-read as an adult that I realized that was the whole point.

And speaking (as I was) of three-dimensional villains, "Brave New World" has a great passage from Mustapha Mond's point of view describing why he does what he does, and why things have to be as they are. Something along the lines of "There used to be one billion humans. In the 150 years since the wheels began turning, that has grown to two billion. And if the wheels ever stop turning, the living will never be able to keep up with the job of burying a billion dead."

That's not an exact quote, and the real passage is much more poetic.

LarryHart said...

John Kurman:

#1) Write [off] material self-sufficiency right from the get-go. Why bother? Why not equitably trade instead? What you got? Well, how about info tech as a start? Data havens (ala Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon), stock and commodity exchange (to take geographic advantage of flash trading), tax shelters, things I haven't thought of, etc.


In an ideal economy, trade would be as good as self-sufficiency. However, in the real world, you don't want to be subject to the whims of others (even economically-irrational whims) for necessities such as food, water, and energy. Heck, the US is getting itself into trouble just by being dependent on a hostile foreign power for computer chips. And remember the various oil embargoes of the 1970s.

Ian said...

In an ideal economy, trade would be as good as self-sufficiency. "However, in the real world, you don't want to be subject to the whims of others (even economically-irrational whims) for necessities such as food, water, and energy."

In the real world, Larry, almost without exception the more trade-exposed countries are (measured for example by trade as a percentage of GDP) the richer they are.

The prime examples of countries that have pursued self-sufficiency are Burma and North Korea.

" Heck, the US is getting itself into trouble just by being dependent on a hostile foreign power for computer chips."

I assume you're referring to China here however:

A. China is not a hostile foreign power (although with comments like yours I can understand them regarding the US as a hostile foreign power); and

B. China is not a major supplier of computer chips to the US.

John Kurman said...

Hi Larry,

As I said, the argument as to why seasteads can't be built is fairly boring, in tht it is easy to list all the things that need to be overcome.

Self-sufficiency of a seastead is equivalent to (take your pick) moon colony, mars colony, asteroid mining, etc. You've got problems of construction, power, habitat, maintenance, resource extraction, on and on.

Charlie Stross has written a number of articles about this, including what he considers (and i agree) an unreaslistic minimum number of skilled people to keep it viable, and 2) the fact that the most practical and realisitic sociakl structure needed will be wholly incompatible with libertarain ideals. (See, for starters, http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/08/space-cadets.html)

Let's take fresh water. Assume it really is an isolated oil rig setup with a small town population of billionaires. Assume you do not wish to ship tankers of fresh in water daily.(Check out what the city of Barcelona tried to do during their drought. Oil tankers worth of fresh water shipped in that would allow them just a few hours of potable water, and think of the fuel costs).

So, they truck in everything they need. Let's even give them some handwaving help in the form of solar power panels, or deep water thermal generators, or wave generators that don't sink or break down after a couple of hours or days like the real things do.

So, they've got power. I'll even give them some big ass magical reverse osmosis plants and mineral extractors so they can pull all those parts-per-billion metals and carbon that they need to fix and maintain all of their equipment (including sacrificial anodes so the metal doesn't melt from under them). We will ignore the fact that resource extraction is difficult enough on dry land, and just assume that it takes care of itself, perhaps with friendly octopoidal undersea robots.

Completely unrealistic? Yeah, but it gives us a theoretical ballpark figure. Um, give me some figures on the amount of energy required to get some fresh water out. W'eve examples from Australia, the leader in seawater desalinisation. South Australia water is around $4 per 1000 gallons. That's not bad. (That's also ignoring the "wellhead to pumphead" systemic price, ala the biofuels scam.). Here in Chicago, that wonderful fossil water I drink goes for around $3.23 per 1000 gallons.

Ah, but shall we work backwards back to reality now? I don't have time to do the figures, but I'm betting you end paying out a lot more than $4 per 1000 gallons.

fulturds: What the water around your seastead will be pretty soon.

LarryHart said...

Ian:

In the real world, Larry, almost without exception the more trade-exposed countries are (measured for example by trade as a percentage of GDP) the richer they are.

The prime examples of countries that have pursued self-sufficiency are Burma and North Korea.


I don't know if this was clear in my original statement, but I was talking specifically about necessities. I wasn't advocating that a country should not engage vigorously in trade, but cautioning against being dependent on a foreign source for items you can't do without (or ramp up domestic production on quickly) in case that foreign source decides to play the extortion game or engage in outright hostilities.


" Heck, the US is getting itself into trouble just by being dependent on a hostile foreign power for computer chips."

I assume you're referring to China here however:

A. China is not a hostile foreign power (although with comments like yours I can understand them regarding the US as a hostile foreign power); and

B. China is not a major supplier of computer chips to the US.


They're a major supplier of computers.

And "hostile" might be too charged a word, but all nations have their own agendas, and alliances are notoriously temporary. Let's say "a rival power" or "a competing power" instead. I wouldn't even advocate being dependent on England or Canada for food and water, even though I wouldn't feel in immediate danger were that the case.

Ian said...

"I wouldn't even advocate being dependent on England or Canada for food and water, even though I wouldn't feel in immediate danger were that the case."

So I take it you think China and Japan should stop importing food from the US?

LarryHart said...


So I take it you think China and Japan should stop importing food from the US?


That's not what I'm saying.

They shouldn't DEPEND ENTIRELY on importing food from the United States IF THEY CAN HELP IT.

If they have no choice but to depend on food imports, then...well, you do what you gotta do. But I can see why a brand new start-from-scratch endeavor would have "food-independence" or "water-independence" or "energy-independence" as a desirable goal. It may end up proving impractical, and expecations might have to change, but I can see why they'd WANT to go that route.

Erich Kofmel said...

Let me just highlight the two main problems with your argument. When talking about world government you are talking about the time *after* state sovereignty. We see this happening now. Sovereignty loses much of its meaning and importance. Small and medium states are forced to adopt the same policies as the bigger and mightier nations they wish to do business with. The small sovereign island states that you mention are in fact not even able to staff their own UN offices. There’s at least one NGO (“Islands First”) that helps them by providing interns free of charge. The rich of this world don’t need to spend money on building seasteads to get small island states at the brink of financial ruin to do their bidding. You say the local population might not agree? But the rich would face the same problem on their own seasteads. The people who may ultimately bring a sovereign seastead into existence are not necessarily the same that would benefit from its sovereign standing in a legal manner should world government ever materialize. There might be rebellion on a seastead too. I wager seasteads “will wind up being more complicated, onerous and problematic” than even you envision.

My Google+ profile: https://plus.google.com/109507108125539761871

Jacob said...

*** Note this is an academic/fairness question that sets aside the realities of power. ***

Assuming we were aiming for a democratic style for the early forms of World Government. How would we we weight influence?

- Population?
- Population / Government Approval?
- Population / (Approval * Freedom of the Press)?
- Some other schema?

In practice, we'll see the existing world powers try and keep unbalanced influence. I'm uncertain of whats actually ideal.

Paul said...

NewSci on an Israeli study on the correlation between belief in the intransigence of opponents and belief in negotiation as a useful tactic. (And the malleability of that belief.)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20833-to-resolve-conflict-believe-that-people-can-change.html

Paul said...

Jacob,
"How would we we weight influence?"

GDP in USD, minus (Population times local poverty line in USD)

Same as we do now.

Jacob said...

Hi Paul,

So you believe that economic fairness is appropriate? As in, those that contribute most (in the form of taxes) should get the most influence?

It could work in Enlightenment is more or less universal. You'd need watchdogs which were delegated by the minor contributors to combat excessive self interested policy making.

Sith Master Sean said...

LarryHart, that’s a great quote from Brave New World, thanks. Of course the point is even stronger today with a population of 7 billion. The fear of “die-off” and techno-terrorism seem likely to produce an Orwellian future. How can current levels of population and complexity be maintained without totalitarian global control systems? I’m not optimistic about a libertarian future on this planet; I see a more dystopian techno-fascism along the lines of the PRC being much more likely.

Sith Master Sean said...

I tracked down the exact quote and thought it was worth sharing:

"'Stability,' said the Controller, 'stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability.' His voice was a trumpet. Listening they felt larger, warmer.

The machine turns, turns and must keep on turning–for ever. It is death if it stands still. A thousand millions scrabbled the crust of the earth. The wheels began to turn. In a hundred and fifty years there were two thousand millions. Stop all the wheels. In a hundred and fifty weeks there are once more only a thousand millions; a thousand thousand thousand men and women have starved to death.

Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment."

So is the Controller right? Does "progressive", growth-oriented technological civilization converge inevitably to totalitarianism just to maintain itself?

Paul said...

Jacob,
Just pointing out this is effectively how it works now. God knows, I wasn't recommending it.

LarryHart said...

Sith Master Sean:

Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment."

So is the Controller right? Does "progressive", growth-oriented technological civilization converge inevitably to totalitarianism just to maintain itself?


The Controller is wrong because the machines CAN turn untended. Not completely, of course. He's right in the literal sense that SOME human labor has to be directed toward tending the machinery, but not nearly anything approaching "All howevermany billion people the machines are feeding must direct ALL their lives toward tending those machines."

Technology allows humans to be freed FROM spending all their lives on survival. It would be nice if that's how it actually happened in reality--if you could earn your living by devoting (say) 4 hours a week toward maintenance and be free for non-economic pursuits the rest of the time.

How did we ever get hijacked down the alternate path where technology only frees employers from needing workers, and those former-workers have no means of earning a living because they are superfluous to the turning of the wheels?

Both things can't be true. It can't be the case that everyone must dedicate their lives toward tending the machines AND that the machines are sufficient replacement FOR human beings.

David Brin said...

Erich, you claim to be disagreeing with me... then you proceed to agree with me vehemently!

1984 is ruled by loony-sadistic negative-sum gamers. Brave new world is run by relatively placid, easygoing - and sometimes ruthless - zero-summers who feel feel trapped by necessity and a desire to make everybody happy.

Sith Master Sean said...

LarryHart: that sounds good in theory, the machines can run things untended. Of course that begs the next question: does technological civilization converge inevitably toward the replacement of humans by machines? I believe this was Ted Kaczynski's main concern. It's not hard to imagine some plutocratic master of automated factories and robot armies deciding that humanity is more trouble than it's worth and taking corrective action...

David Brin said...

Wonderfully fun little youtube video!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPiSqp6yObY

LarryHart said...

Sith Master Sean:

LarryHart: that sounds good in theory, the machines can run things untended.


Let's say "lightly tended".

I never meant that they'd continue with NO maintenance or oversight. Only that the civic requirement for "tending" should be fairly small compared to the rest of one's life. "Tax Liberation Hour" for each day could be something like 4:00am, with the rest of one's life being one's own.


Of course that begs the next question: does technological civilization converge inevitably toward the replacement of humans by machines?


That depends on the answer to the question often posed by Thom Hartmann on his radio show. "Does the economy exist to serve people, or do people exist to serve the economy?" Too much policy seems dictated as if the latter is taken for granted.

If the Controller is right about the whole system breaking down and billions starving if everyone doesn't devote 100% to machine-tending, then it makes sense to answer "People exist to serve the economy." Absent that requirement, I think only the oligarchists really belive it SHOULD be that way.

So the question shouldn't be wheteher technology renders human beings economically unnecessary, but whether it renders human SERVITUDE economically unnecessary. Heck, the Garden of Eden rendered human beings economically unnecessary, but that's a GOOD thing. If food were available for the picking, the point wouldn't be "Now we don't need people to produce food, so they should all just die." It would be "...so they're free to do other, better things with their time."

Paul said...

NextBigFuture has your essay. And the Libertarian types there are not happy.

http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/08/david-brin-provides-his-opinion-about.html

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin,

What is the problem with "European Bureaucracies"?

I prefer a system of professional civil servants responsible to elected officials over the American system of electing partisan politicians to those roles.

I also prefer a Parliamentary Democracy and I have only recently discovered why they work.

The key is that the government must resign and call elections if it fails a "Vote of Confidence" - such as a budget

The US separation of the legislature and the Executive functions is not as good as combining them in Parliament -BUT- the government having to resign if it fails a vote of confidence

kurt9 said...

I believe very strongly that those of us who identify as "transhumanists" and are
into radical life extension, that we have as much right to
political autonomy from those who do not share our ideas as anyone else in this world. This is also one of the real reasons for seasteading. Unless, of course, the rest of the U.S. population decides that transhumanism and radical life extension is it for them as well. I do not want any political connection at all to "deathists". I want nothing to do with them at all.

I like the idea of micro-nations. I think people who share common dreams and objectives should be able to free associate with each other (and be politically autonomous from those who do not share those dreams and objectives). I see nothing questionable with this attitude.

You know, this seasteading business seems to be a libertarian thing right now. However, the real objective is not libertarianism per se. Rather, its to create a meta-system of a thousand micro-nations (let a thousand nations bloom) all trying out different kinds of systems, thus creating a competitive meta-system that will drive the development of more effective social organization and improved human performance. It is likely that the progression of technology combined with such a competitive meta-system will lead to the development of an entirely new kind of social-economic system (post-scarcity, perhaps?) that we cannot even imagine today.

This makes the seasteading concept very noble to me.

There are other uses for these sea-steads as well. Much of the technology for making self-sustaining space colonies (like the O'niell ones from the 1970's) has yet to be developed. Relatively isolated sea-steads make good platforms for the development of such bio and nano technologies that will make space colonization practical and affordable.

Also, these seasteads will make ideal platforms for the development of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other advanced automated manufacturing that may be hamstrung by excessive regulations or socio-cultural factors in existing nation-states. Seasteads make an ideal environment that is free from such inhibitory factors.

Medical tourism is another ideal market. Stem-cell regeneration and anti-aging therapies that face insurmountable FDA regulatory hurtles can more easily be developed and commercialized on such independent seasteads. I think seasteads will become popular with the life-extension crowd.

Other potential industries include casino resorts, international banking, space launch (if on the equator), and eco-tourism (platforms can be used to make artificial coral reefs). Sea farming is another possibility. One with a huge market in Japan.

There are many ways that such seasteads can be commercially successful. Also, they can provide an alternative to the U.S. Dollar and Euro for Asian foreign reserve investment. An alternative offering a better rate of return on investment.

The "Berlin Wall" mentality expressed by many of those critiquing the concept is really quite silly.

Jacob said...

I have a great deal of respect for governments which are setup to enforce recall votes should a budget fail to be passed.

---

Hi kurt,
Isolationism doesn't work in systems where players affect one another. It will work great once we leave Earth.

Besides this point, we should be organizing to help the experiments you want as much as possible. My preferred vision of a World Government or even Federal government is one that facilitates local organization.

kurt9 said...

There's no chance of "One-world" government in the foreseeable future.

All of this "one-world" government jazz comes from the Europeans. We don't want it and neither do the Chinese, Japanese, or any of the other Asians. The rest of the world wants it only if they can loot the more productive in the form of taxes, which means they're not going to get it at all. Once the EU implodes, talk about "one-world" government will go away for good.

If anything, we're going back to the decentralized multi-polar world of yesteryear with city-states rising in prominence.

Besides, we don't need a single monopoly entity for the world. A decentralized world is better anyways.

World domination. The same old dream. The asylums are full of those who think they're Napoleon.. or God.

rewinn said...

Nyctotherion said...

If as promised they have 'less restrictive building codes' what incentive is there for the construction crews (almost certainly underpaid laborers) to cut corners to the point the thing collapses the day it goes online?"

I believe the standard Libertarian answer is that contractors will be deterred by the threat of lawsuits should something bad happen. However this overlooks the asymtry in risk/reward scenarios when the maximum loss is "all you have" and the potential reward is "lots more than that".
Take the Macondo blowout (and, before that, the Exxon Valdez disaster). Responsibility for safety will be the subject of arguments that take so long to resolve that it's profitable to be irresponsible. I suppose as a lawyer I should back seadteading widely, since it will lead to full employment for my classmates.
Remember, without regulation, there is a positive incentive to be irresponsible since the worse that can happen is that you lose everything and, in a world with limited liability corporations, not even that!
I certainly wish the seasteaders luck since there are far worse things they could be doing with their money. However I am concerned that seasteading could easily become an excuse for capturing resources currently the common heritage of all humankind, in particular, mineral, fishery and water resources. That's why my claim to 0"N 0"W may be prescient rather than a joke; why would not some suitably well-funded nation or organization anchor barges in a hex grid encompassing all the oceans? For a relatively small price, it could assert sovereighnty over most of the earth in a way that would cause a number of problems to be left to your imagination.

TwinBeam said...

How about a sea state that starts as the Pirate equivalent of a Ren faire? A small fleet of boats fitted up all pirate-like declare themselves the "Pirate Nation" (all in jest...at first).

[Maybe it gets started after a long recession drives nations to institute populist job-protection policies to encourage more in-nation manufacturing, and improvements in automation makes that economical (without actually creating many new jobs). One result being an excess of good quality ships, available cheap.]

They'd sail up and down the Atlantic coast of the US initially, stopping near major ports where they arrange day-trips for land-lubbers to watch mock naval battles, pirate boardings of the land-lubber ships, hangings, etc - and of course a mock island paradise with lots of shops.

Soon there's a West Coast fleet as well - "The Lost Fleet". They branch out to South America - the "Gold Fleet" - mainly trafficking near the tourist hotspots.

"Casino Fleet", a more modern fleet focused on harder core forms of enjoyment - gambling, drugs, fights, sex trade, pirated software and media - deploys itself in international waters and shadows the Pirate Nation, using the latter's festivities as a place to recruit people looking for something less tame.

Casino Fleet doesn't engage in much that can't be found on land, but they concentrate it and sell their image hard. Soon there are darker spin-offs around Asia, also shadowing themed fleets like Godzilla Fleet and Dragon Fleet.

The Casino fleets innovate rules of association and non-interference that let a gang of high-tone semi-criminal operations avoid splitting up and competing (or worse) in the same territory.

Someone gets the idea of a Maker Faire fleet - one that arranges docking in sheltered waters up and down the East and Southern coasts of the US to spread the fun around. The West Coast gets "Burning Ship" - a "hippy" mix of Maker Faire and Burning Man of the sea, with family fun during the day and more exotic (but mostly legal) stuff after dark.

The combination of Makers and Fleets creates an explosion of innovative seasteading-relevant technologies. It also brings together groups of like-minded people with the skills needed to try "going free boot" - which in their revised lexicon just means living free, off the bounty of the sun, wind, sea and their own shared labor.

François Marcadé said...

I am surprised that you cite the convergence of the Judiciary as an indication that we are moving towards a ‘World Government’. I see the Convergence of the Judiciary as triumph of the Enlightment, more and more nation representing more and more people agree on what would constitute a body of law that is just. And therefore the Judiciary of the nations that adhere to same conception of justice cooperate to enforce it, is hardly surprising. Because of its more objective nature, the Judiciary is a very different power from the Executive and the Legislative Power. Therefore the gap between a convergence of the Judiciary and the merging of the other powers seems to be much bigger than you seem to believe (maybe only for the sake of your argument); one can not be taken as the sign that the other is on the way. As an example I would cite is the European Parliament, there is a deliberate attempt at an higher level of integration between the EU member, nevertheless the European parliament is a political dwarf in comparison to the members state national parliament. On the other end the European Court for Human Rights that enforce the European Convention for Human Rights is a success and every individual of the 47 member state of the Council of Europe (27 EU member +20) has standing (as long as it has no more appeal in his own country). Recent decision of the ECHR forced my government (France) to change its legislation concerning the presence of a lawyer during police interview of a suspect.
Also, I might be a Frenchman, but I live in the UAE. I would like to comment on Ian remark ‘Oh and no-one's mentioned one of the most obvious parallels for the Seasteads yet - Bahrain, Dubai and the UAE.’ First I think He meant Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE (Dubai is only one of the emirates of the UAE), Second none of those nation are anywhere close to a libertarian paradise, regulation abounds, there are restriction on the type of activies that are allowed and the ownership of company and last but not least they are nanny states for their citizen. It is only because the citizen are a minority in their own country that this not more obvious, and even so, as it appears that the employers cannot be trusted not to embarrass the country by their treatment of their employees, more regulation crop up every year to guarantee a decent treatment of the expatriate workforce (mandatory Health care insurance, Inspection of the Labor camps, …).

Ian said...

Francois,

I should have written more clearly but that was kind of my point.

Any society which has a minority class of citizen/owners and a majority non-permanent immigrant workers, is going to find it pretty hard to maintain any sort of democracy.

I believe the UAE electorate makes up around 10-15% of the citizenry - who are themselves a minority in the country.

Then there's Singapore, a thriving capitalist city-state - with deep-seated ethnic divisions between the Chinese majority of the Malay and Indian minorities and a ruling party that has governed continuously for 60-odd years.

come to think of - why don't the Seasteaders just move to singapore?

Ian said...

"However this overlooks the asymtry in risk/reward scenarios when the maximum loss is "all you have" and the potential reward is "lots more than that".
Take the Macondo blowout (and, before that, the Exxon Valdez disaster). Responsibility for safety will be the subject of arguments that take so long to resolve that it's profitable to be irresponsible."

Especially since a significant proportion of the short term benefits accrue to management while the shareholders end up wearing virtually all of the eventual losses.

sociotard said...

I got linked to this fun article that talks about the problem Libertarians have when they try to talk about 'specifics'

http://realityliberationfront.com/libertarianism-fantasy-meets-reality/

Robert said...

The real reason the Seasteaders want to build their own island off the coast of the United States rather than buy an island nation or move to Singapore is that they want all of the protections that the United States provides without any of the costs. The moment that drug dealers try to seize the new micronation or the like they will whine and demand the U.S. save them... and then if the U.S. does so, tell them to leave the moment they are saved.

In short, they want their cake and to eat the other person's cake at the same time. It's greed and selfishness, not libertarian ideals. Otherwise they'd move far enough from the U.S. that they'd not be under the protective umbrella of Uncle Sam.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Francois, I do not quite get your stark distinction between enlightenment and government. When he designed the Scots-Anglo-American branch of the Enlightenment, Adam Smith prescribed courts, a strong civil service and responsive government as a counterbalance to the Rule-By-Aoligarchy that had crushed freedom and competition in every other society.

I agree that the legislative and executive parts are coming more slowly. Duh? Didn't I describe and explain way? Frankly, I am amazed that the European Parliament was established at all!, let alone given some small but real powers.

Not one bit of this alters the trend I described. The current pace and style of WG formation is exactly what a growing oligarchy would want, if they wish to have all the benefits of WG without any of the populist inconveniences. It retains the situation in which nations and major corporations have world "standing" and individuals and NGOs do not.

By the way, you message is very hard to read, without paragraph breaks. Also, I lived in Paris for 2 years!

David Brin said...

One guy wrote to me just now:

"Did you notice that 70 nation-banks signed a treaty without participation / ratification of their respective .gov's when
They discovered that computer programs
Were invisibly looting their liquidities
To ensure their bail-outs by their sovereign entities? It was in the Fed Reserve notes of the Market Reports for about two days.
(It seems a unilateral action precedent unmatched since loaning money to the Duke of Wellington.)"

ell said...

kurt9 wrote: "I like the idea of micro-nations. I think people who share common dreams and objectives should be able to free associate with each other (and be politically autonomous from those who do not share those dreams and objectives). I see nothing questionable with this attitude."

Okay, where does the minor child of such a micro-nation citizen live if the child disagrees with the parent's attitude? How old does a child have to be before he/she goes off to live in another micro-nation? Do spouses split up if they disagree on only one issue, or should there be a minimum number of disagreements before one leaves to find a more compatible micro-nation?

Yes, families already break up over infidelity, domestic violence, financial troubles, blame over the death of a child, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc., etc. Should we break up families over politics, economic philosophies, or technological agendas? How finely should these communities be splintered to maintain philosopical uniformity on all issues?

That is the problem, of course. Not even soulmates agree on everything. Do you evict your best geneticist from your micro-nation because he wears clothing and everyone else is a nudist?

David Brin said...

This morning was crazy! Yesterday we learned the flights taking Ari (17) ... accompanied by Cheryl & Ben .... to start as a freshman at NYU were all canceled. We frantically changed plans and got up in the wee hours for them to take a plane to Dallas then CLEVELAND, where they rented a car and are now driving toward New York as it suffers the worst hurricane in 70 years!  Are we crazy or what?

phew.

LarryHart said...

Geez, I know it's too late to suggest this, but given the unprecedented evacuation orders in New York, don't you think NYU would have been a bit forgiving if they arrived a week later (if classes aren't already cancelled)?

Hope it all works out.

Tacitus2 said...

David

Congrats on succesful, if logisticially challenging, nest tipping and shaking!
You will have a most excellent excuse to visit NYC.

Tacitus

(also paterfamilias to a 17 year old, albeit a yet sessile one).

LarryHart said...

Ok, this is worth passing along under "So crazy it just might work". It's from a comment in Krugman's blog, NOT Krugman himself, but still (I think) worth sharing. For the humor value if nothing else:


I suggest that the nation pursue the only stimulus program which it may be possible to adopt in the current environment. I propose the immediate adoption of The Affordable Prayer Act of 2011.
Under my plan, the government would immediately hire three million unemployed Americans to pray for economic recovery. These new hires would be paid $9 per hour in return for which they would be required to show up at a local place of worship—for First Amendment reasons secular settings for nonreligious meditation would be provided for those not religiously inclined—to spend 40 hours per week praying that the economy recovers. The beauty of this approach is that it should prove appealing to the Bachmann/Perry followers who think more religion is the answer to our troubles, for when the economy benefits from the purchasing power deployed by all the new workers they will be able to attribute it to divine intervention. At the same time, those who are followers of Keynes and perhaps of a more secular bent will be able to attribute the recovery to the government’s having finally adopted an all-out Keynesian stimulus program.
The plan would be fully paid for in its initial stages by a surtax on millionaires like me, who would know that the government had assisted us in attaining entry into heaven by following the teaching of Jesus that this worthy goal can only be assured by our selling our property and giving the proceeds to the poor. In its later stages the cost of the program would be offset by the new taxes paid by these previously unemployed citizens and by the unemployment insurance and related safety net costs they will no longer have to impose on the nation.
So the Bachmann/Perry people win, the Keynesians win, and the unemployed win. What’s not to like?

David Brin said...

Wow. Krugman's blog followers are almost as smart as mine!

--
As for family that's now in a rented car driving TOWARD a hurricane.... well, NYU delayed move in by ONE day. I tell ya nyawkers are hardy.

Ah, but this isn't the first time Ari brought weird times with her to the Atlantic. Her 1st trip back east, we were stuck in a hotel several days during the "worst blizzard in 100 years." Then, when we went to Gettysburg the re-enactment was canceled because of the worst rains in 30 years!

Hurricane Irene? Nothing! Just wait till they realize Hurricane ARI-n has rolled into town... for a four year stay! ;-)

François Marcadé said...

Please excuse my poor writing skills.

I meant that the distinction between right and wrong is easy. Most of humanity agrees on what’s right and what’s wrong, and I see this as a consequence of the Enlightment. All but the most repressive government give lip service to the common notion of justice. I remember that at the end of the seventies, the USSR had changed or revised its constitution, on paper it looked perfect. That’s the reason why it seems to me that a convergence of the Judiciary is easy and does not mean much. It is also why the Judicial Power can be delegated to a special kind of highly trained civil servant and not elected representative.

The same could be said about bureaucracies, they fulfill a mission. If various nations agree on the purpose of that mission (or want to appear agreeing), it is not too difficult to set up a transnational bureaucracy.


On the other hand, if there is something I learned reading this blog is that the notions of left/right, conservative/Liberal, Authoritarian/Libertarian are fuzzy and inconsistent. Hardly 2 people can agree on what constitute a good policy even less 2 nations. This is the reason why the convergence of the executive and legislative Powers is so difficult and why I think we are not close to see a World Government.

In the mean time, I wish you good luck with your trip to NY and the start of college years for your son.

rewinn said...

You know who would really like to be sovereign right about now?

Mill Wants To Stop Testing Radioactive Pond Because It's Too Dangerous

Tony Fisk said...

Currently holidaying in uk,so this is just a brief fly by. i've been following discussion. I did a quick take on lib islands and wg as part of superstruct. i proposed a series of 'rook parliaments' (via twitter or some other vr holocenic system) to provide cohesive government to the masses of displaced people that were part of the scenario.

I hear that nyc crime rates have dropped to 10% of what it was twenty years ago, if that's any consolation.

jonas said...

I'd like to point everyone participating in this discussion towards The Millenial Project 2.0, a much saner and feasible plan for ocean and space settlement developed by a man named Eric Hunting. Instead of propagating dystopian Fortress World scenarios it discusses the cultivation of a new human culture that rests on what would be resource-rational instead of what seems to be rational in this most irrational of world-systems that we are experiencing. The site is text heavy but if you delve into it you may soon discover that it is probably the most feasible plan for civilizational development out there at this moment. Relying heavily on the Arcology concept to attain a level of quality of life inconceivable in an individualist zero-sum game and focusing its entirety towards the thousand year goal of creating a sustainable, prospering, solar-system wide civilization. Seasteads look silly besides the Aquarius colony concepts. Not only because Rand was a sociopathic idiot, but because they will actually work, and work to the benefit of all. This is one idealist recommending you go check it out.

http://tmp2.wikia.com

David Brin said...

Just watched the movie "Paul." From the trailers, I expected something like "Alf" - alien-as-male-jackass. So I watched it with just my 14 yr old son. We were pleasantly surprised! Sure, lots of peepee/kaka jokes. But it was more subtle and well-written than expected. Way fun.

And the story portrayed being a "Nebulon Award winning sci fi author" as the highlight of human existence! Well now... how can I complain or disagree? ;-)

David Brin said...

Watch this interview with John Huntsman.

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec11/huntsman_08-25.html

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics
/july-dec11/huntsman_08-25.html

Seriously, is he cribbing lines from me?

I'd work for this guy. Knowing he hasn't a prayer.

Oh to have an election in which it is two sane guys arguing over pragmatic solutions.

Jacob said...

I thought he was pretty weak in the first part of the interview. He did much better in the middle and end.

Still why would I want to vote for someone that would associate himself with modern Republicans? Oh I know there aren't really options. Someone should convince him to run as an independent.

David Brin said...

I said I would help him. I didn't say I thought he'd win. If he single-handedly altered the mad path of Lincoln's party, broke its fevered delerium and the grip of foreign meddlers? Yeah, that'd be great. So would a Nobel and Pullitzer and Oscar in the same year! (For me.)

Just giving sincere ostriches an excuse to lift their heads and giving voice to their pain... that'd help.

rewinn said...

"...why would I want to vote for someone that would associate himself with modern Republicans? "
Perhaps Huntsman started as a GOPper before it hit the fan, and still thinks it can be fixed.

Try not to laugh. In my memory, Democrats were in danger of having to decide whether to support George Wallace for president. It didn't happen, and he probably never could have won the Dem nom, but his chances then were better than Huntsman's seem to be now.

And let us keep in mind that Bill Clinton was a Democrat because the Dems ran Arkansas politics; his actual policies were not that far from Nixon's. The Republicans have had the cultural conservatives since Nixon but usually the corporate wing kept them on a leash. It could happen again.

rewinn said...

Police arrest of person videoing an arrest is unconstitutional, says 1st Circuit in Glik v. Cunniffee

One analysis:
Confiscating Cameras At Town Halls = Violating 1st Amendment

David Brin said...

A crucial case Rewinn. If Thomas and Scalia don't stab us, it will make a big difference. An absolutely essential win.

sociotard said...

It's starting to look like basic supersymmetry is a sinking ship.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14680570

Robert said...

Looks like NASA is backing production of an MMO for space exploration. I have to admit, it sounds interesting, and if it doesn't become vaporware, it could be an effective method of inspiring the next generation of astronauts and NASA-oriented scientists.

http://ve3d.ign.com/articles/news/61915/NASAs-Astronaut-Moon-Mars-and-Beyond-Announced

http://ve3d.ign.com/articles/news/61915/
NASAs-Astronaut-Moon-Mars-and-Beyond-Announced

Rob H.

Jeremy said...

Perhaps the Seasteaders should read into the history of the Principality of Sealand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sealand) and avoid some of its mistakes. Friday will be the 44th anniversary of its founding (and subsequent failure to receive any international recognition). The tiny country has already experienced one attempted coup and government-in-exile ordeal. SeaStead could probably dodge a lot of its problems through sheer wealth though.

sociotard said...

For those interested in Citizens preparing for disaster, this is a bunch of photos of new York preparing for Irene. See how many opted for taping windows (doesn't work) or sandbags, or plyboarding windows.

http://eetheridge.posterous.com/window-dressing-the-west-village-and-mepa-for

Paul said...

If you've played (or hell, heard of) the video game Portal, you'll like this short film doing the rounds:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4drucg1A6Xk

Robert,
Re: NASA MMO.
Judging by their lunar colony game, ick.

(They should hire the Kerbal Space Program guys.)

http://www.kerbalspaceprogram.com/index.php

Sociotard,
I thought taping windows wasn't to stop them breaking, but to reduce the amount of broken glass flying around.

(unesse: Uncomfortable with the 13.)

LarryHart said...

Coming to the end of my third reading of "Earth". This passage really sent chills down my spine this time. Dr Brin should get credit for a predictive hit, forecasting what's cripling our political functions right now, three decades early:


"Who are they," Manella demanded. "Who the hell are you talking about, woman!"

Another shrug. "Do names matter? Picture all the powerful cabals of egotists cluttering the world at the turn of the century. Call them old or new money ... or red cadres ... or dukes and lordships. Historians know they all spent more time conniving with each other than waging their supposedly high-minded ideological struggles.

"The smart ones saw Brazzaville coming and prepared. They saw to it that all the reasonable Helvetian and Cayman ministers were assassinated or drugged and that every attempt at compromise, even surrender, was rejected."


That last sentence could have been torn from today's headlines, and as Canadian comics writer/artist Dave Sim would put it, "Like any good story, it explains a lot."

LarryHart said...

Jared Bernstein, late of the Obama administration and a colleague of Paul Krugman's FINALLY makes a point I thought I was the only one to consider--the diametric opposition between the argument for supply-side economics and the argument AGAINST welfare.

http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/


...
But the thing I and others don’t mention enough is that in theory, there’s no reason to expect people to respond to higher tax rates by working less. That is, they could just as easily decide to work harder to make up the loss in their after-tax income.

Microeconomics predicts two responses to higher taxes on the work effort of people. Response A is that they work less, because the “price,” or opportunity cost, of non-work, just went down…you lose less if, once your after-tax wage has gone down, you work less.

But the other response (B) is that you work more to make up for the lost income.* And there’s no reason, a priori, to think response A dominates response B. If anything, the literature, which tends to show small responses to tax changes, suggests the two responses offset each other.

In other words, we would be wholly (holy?) justified to argue that we need to raise taxes on upper income people so that they’ll work harder!

*Interestingly, conservatives often argue that B dominates among the poor—cut their income from say, reducing the benefits from a welfare program, and they’ll work harder. That’s much the same argument as response B above.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Going back to Huntsman, and the general apparent dislike of Republicans for any science that doesn't toe the party line, Paul Krugman wrote an article in the NYT about this. For an economist to weigh in on science, the dichotomy must be the equivalent of flailing about with a 2x4:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/29/opinion/republicans-against-science.html

TheMadLibrarian

drett: cruft that accumulates on the bottom of a Seastead

sociotard said...

An op ed piece worth reading from a former NSA wistleblower. Interestingly, it asserts that the Bush-era war on whistleblowers (that canned the NSA guy) has continued under Obama.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2011/08/30/most-important-op-ed-youll-read-this-year/

TwinBeam said...

If Jared Bernstein is correct in claiming equivalence of tax hikes (cuts) for the rich, and benefit cuts (hikes) for the poor...

...and if he is correct that conservatives are therefore being inconsistent in arguing for tax cuts for the rich and benefits cuts for the poor...

...then that must also mean that anyone arguing for higher taxes on the rich, should be arguing for lower benefits for the poor.

Oh wait - only conservatives ever hold self-contradictory ideas. Sorry, never mind.

Ln(i)==Ln(i)

sociotard said...

Oh! Methods of rationality just updated
Chapter 73

sociotard said...

Also, the author has an offer: Pay money to his favorite charity and he'll make the chapters come faster.

rewinn said...

"...then that must also mean that anyone arguing for higher taxes on the rich, should be arguing for lower benefits for the poor."

1. Non sequitur, my friend.

Your logic assumes that "the poor" have work opportunities, so that benefit cuts would be offset by further effort. We can imagine such a society easily; for example, a nation of farmers with a near-unlimited supply of land. In such a situation, cutting benefits for the poor would stimulate them to clear land, plant crops etc. Or in an industrial economy with an undersupply of labor, benefit cuts would encourage the poor to enter the workforce.

However, in reality, we have today neither unlimited land nor unlimited job opportunities. There is a shortage of job openings, and that is why your proposal doesn't work, neither in theory nor when it has been attempted recently.

2. Even if your logic had not been a non-sequitur, it is still not a response to the Bernstein piece. History as well as theory show us that a high marginal tax rate on the rich does not discourage them from "working". No amount of polemics can survive that one cold fact.

3. It may or may not be true that only conservatives self-contradict (I doubt it is true) but so what? Rhetorical flourishes are fun but you'll need something more to have a serious discussion. Of late, the thing that calls itself "conservativism" shows a serious distaste for facts which should give you pause ... should it not?

Paul said...

TwinBeam,
"If Jared Bernstein is correct in claiming equivalence[...] ...then that must also mean that anyone arguing for higher taxes on the rich, should be arguing for lower benefits for the poor."

Not really. Jared Bernstein is saying that that past experience shows tax cuts/increases on the top earners doesn't increase or decrease work-rates. He didn't say that past experience shows welfare raises/cuts had no effect on work participation. But let's say it's so.

The top X% of income earners have enough money to live comfortably, plus more to save, invest, or spend on luxuries. That gives them a lot of flexibility if taxes increase. Work more, or reduce investments/luxuries.

The bottom X%, OTOH, barely have enough to live. If welfare cuts push some into more work, it isn't necessarily good for them or the economy. Wage deflation, etc. Plus having two or more crap-paying jobs may ruin their already disadvantaged kids. And that's just to break even.

So it's perfectly consistent for non-Conservatives to argue for raising taxes on the rich, but not reducing welfare, while believing that the two are economically equivalent. Because they aren't socially equivalent.

But they're not financially equivalent either.

John Stewart made a useful point a week or so ago: The bottom 50% of the US population owns 2.5% of the US wealth. If you stole half of every single thing they own, it would raise $700 Billion a year.

And that happens to be the estimated revenue from raising the top tax rate by just 3%.

Jacob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jacob said...

Hi Paul,

A small correction. You said taking half of everything the bottom 50% owned would generate 700 Billion >a year<. Rather, it would do so once only as they would not recoup the loss in assets in 1 year or likely even in 1 decade.

TwinBeam said...

Rewinn/Paul - Not my logic!

I merely pointed out that Jared that made that equivalence and claimed it indicated inconsistency on the part of "conservatives".

Everyone here was perfectly willing to accept that "logic" when it flowed the other way...

I'm perfectly happy to accept that the two are simply not connected - in either direction.

ln(i)==ln(i)

TwinBeam said...

Hmm - pre-mature post due to some sort of glitch....

Anyhow - there's a fundamental difference between cutting (increasing) taxes and increasing (cutting) benefits. I doubt that you'll be able to identify it however, as to you it's all just government money flowing one way or the other.

David Brin said...

Think. Those with both unlimited funds and an agenda to recreate feudal lordship... what would they do?

They would hire clever people to bandy and push and promote rationalizations for why the POPULIST thing to do is to help oligarchs get richer and richer.

Tax cults for the middle class are circumstantial and can be eliminated to spare the debt... but tax cuts for the rich... letting them clip entirely passive dividends and capital gains - taxed at a 15% rate - far below the rate that Joe and Sally wage earners pay on their sweat-earned income?

That's sacred. Taxes must be cut for the rich in good times ("it's their money!") and in lean times ("they are the jobs producers!")

...In times of peace and in times or war and even in national emergencies.

"Taxes are too high!" My neighbor shouts. When I tell him taxes are at their lowest level (especially on the rich) in 70 years, he calls me a liar! When I pull out my wallet and demand a wager, flat-out, in front of witnesses with cash on the line -- if he's so sure, why not TAKE my bet and take my money? --

--that's when he suddenly glowers and curses and finds somewhere else to be.

And of course THE great enemy... the civil service. The unions. None of them any more powerful than they were 70, 30 or ten years ago (union membership and influence has plummeted) but suddenly villains akin to Hitler! Funny coincidence. They are the kind of counter-balancing force that Adam Smith prescribed. The exact reason why the oligarchy is funding a campaign against them.

I'm not asking the ostriches to notice the pure fact that most of the rationalizations are outright lies. Fox tells them so they must be at least "truthy."

But is it too much to ask that they start noticing who OWNS the media that spin off all these tales that just happen to always, always, always steer populist anger away from the grabbers and toward society's only forces that might oppose the grabbers' campaign?

Robert said...

On a slightly scientific note, here's a cool little song (and animation) on the Big Bang. Though they did get one thing wrong - current beliefs has the universe ending in a Big Rip, not collapsing into a new Big Bang. Still, cool. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhTSfOZUNLo&feature=player_embedded

Rob H.

Paul said...

Jacob,
The mismatch was sort-of deliberate. Accepting the "Bottom 50% own 2.5% of wealth" claim, I can't reconcile that with "$700 Billion". I assume the US total privately held assets is more than $56T. So I wondered if Stewart's figures were for total income, not "ownership".

But I was too got-flu-can't-be-bothered to be bothered looking for the actual numbers.

TwinBeam,
You did kinda get double-slammed there. Bit overkill for one throwaway line.

"I'm perfectly happy to accept that the two are simply not connected - in either direction."

My point was, even if they are financially equivalent, they aren't morally/socially equivalent. So one can call Conservatives inconsistent, without requiring non-Conservatives to accept the same argument.

"there's a fundamental difference between cutting (increasing) taxes and increasing (cutting) benefits. I doubt that you'll be able to identify it"

I had something about different income-pressures as you move between rates, but... flu-brain.

Paul said...

David,
"That's sacred. Taxes must be cut for the rich in good times ("it's their money!") and in lean times ("they are the jobs producers!") "

Have you noticed the now standard riff from Fox-drones and Republican Presidential candidates (including that Huntsman interview) that "some Americans aren't sharing the burden" because they are below the tax threshold, and we should "widen the tax base".

So I guess we're allowed to raise some taxes, Grover.

rewinn said...

"...I doubt that you'll be able to identify it however, as to you it's all just government money flowing one way or the other. ..."
Now that's both a non sequitur and an ad hominem. The latter is unworthy of you, @TwinBeam, but more to the point, you still refuse to address Bernstein's comments substantively. That's a pity; I was raised a conservative at a time when conservative values demanded hard proof, leaving to hippies the wooly-headed visions and wordplay.

===

Meanwhile, "Why You Can't Beat the Stock Market Through Active Trading" offers a disturbing vision of our present day economy in the hands on a nonhuman life form called "program trading". There was a time when stock trading was justified on the grounds that it tended toward the efficient allocation of capital, but that vision can no longer be sustained when the dominant form of trade involves holding assets far too briefly to make a signal that is useful to the real economy. Instead, the market signals are (in the hands of programs) more effectively used as information warfare directed toward asset accumulation. It takes only a little imagination to see this becoming hazardous to human health.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Re: Program Trading

Computers are not legitimate owners of any kind of property, nor are any kind of computer algorithms legitimate property owners. People who buy and sell stock based upon computer algorithms are engaging in transactions that do not fit within the rational definition of any sort of legitimate ownership process.

The management of most corporations are now getting only a thumbs-up or thumbs-down signal from the computer algorithms doing the trading. One way that management can get a thumbs-up signal from the computer algorithms is to allow the deterioration of the parts of the physical plant and the company infrastructure that are not readily visible.

A company that is literally physically falling apart will be valued very highly by the computer algorithms because there will be no cost incurred in maintaining the internal infrastructure.

One of the measures of corporate value that is currently prized most highly is productivity. The easiest way for management to increase productivity (by the odd means by which productivity is currently measured) is to stop or minimize all preventive maintenance throughout the company.

The History Channel had a very popular series on "Life Without People," which showed how rapidly the human-built world would deteriorate without a human presence. With more than half of all corporate property now having no true human owners, it is not surprising at all that critical infrastructures are becoming extremely fragile. This endangers all of us because it does things like making the electric grid very sensitive to geomagnetic storms and nuclear electromagnetic pulse.

Our food and medical distribution systems have had robustness traded for efficiency because efficiency pleases the computer algorithms used by high-frequency trading; but these same algorithms frown on trading away some efficiency to obtain some robustness in critical distribution systems and infrastructures.

If we want computerized program trading for enhanced liquidity, it is OK to do it one step back from actual ownership (for instance, in mutual funds). The only legitimate owners of companies, however, are human owners who have a share of personal authority and responsibility for the duration of their ownership.

It is not even legitimate ownership for a human to look only at a stock price chart to buy and sell stock. A legitimate owner should be required to know some tangible facts about the company and buy and hold a stock for some finite "human-scale" length of time.

If we are lucky, high-frequency trading will just cause severe price gyrations from time to time. If we are unlucky, it will eventually allow one or more the critical infrastructures, upon which our lives now depend, to collapse.

Tim H. said...

" A legitimate owner should be required to know some tangible facts about the company and buy and hold a stock for some finite "human-scale" length of time."

If that is required of a stockholder, some might question whether the right diploma and a will to dominate is sufficient for managers in any business.

LarryHart said...

TwinBeam:

If Jared Bernstein is correct in claiming equivalence of tax hikes (cuts) for the rich, and benefit cuts (hikes) for the poor...

...and if he is correct that conservatives are therefore being inconsistent in arguing for tax cuts for the rich and benefits cuts for the poor...

...then that must also mean that anyone arguing for higher taxes on the rich, should be arguing for lower benefits for the poor.

Oh wait - only conservatives ever hold self-contradictory ideas. Sorry, never mind.


Supply-side economics, the idea that giving more money to the top because they'll use it to create jobs, seems to be disproved by the past ten years of history. The conservative argument against welfare seems to illustrate just WHY it doesn't work that way.

Does it then make just as much sense to say that the anti-supply-side argument illustrates why welfare doesn't work? In a way, it probably does. But it depends on what you're talking about.

Neither I nor Jared Bernstein would (I belive) argue that the POINT of welfare is to encourage poor people to work harder. Welfare is a safety net. The point of it is to keep people WITHOUT WORK OPPORTUNITIES from being completely disenfranchised from the economy. The huge unemployment figures in the current recession don't represent people who are "too lazy to work", but people whose services are not required or sought.

If liberals were arguing that welfare encourages poor people to work more, then I'd agree with you that it makes as little sense as arguing that corporate welfare creates jobs. But that's not why I think welfare is a good idea.

LarryHart said...

TwinBeam:

I merely pointed out that Jared that made that equivalence and claimed it indicated inconsistency on the part of "conservatives".

Everyone here was perfectly willing to accept that "logic" when it flowed the other way...

I'm perfectly happy to accept that the two are simply not connected - in either direction.


The reason it is an inconsistency in the part of "conservatives" is that "conservatives" typically do make both claims--that giving money to corporations causes them to do more "work" (creating more jobs, building more factories, etc) AND that giving money to poor people causes hthen to do less work.

It's not a contradiction on the other side because I have yet to hear a liberal argue that giving poor people money encourages them to work harder. Rather we claim that giving poor people money is better than having them fester as a resentful underclass because there isn't paying work AVAILABLE for them.

As someone else already pointed out, were we living on a virgin continent where land and resources were available to anyone willing to put in the labor, I'd be right there agreeing with your world view. The fact is that we are not living in such a world. The means of survival are mostly already in private hands, so "willing to work for a living" means something more like "willing to fight with my neighbor for the same resources." A certain level of redistribution seems to me to be a better alternative than disenfranchising so many people who are not needed as workers.

Robert said...

So. I was thinking... the next time someone claims that Welfare recipients should be required to take drug tests to get benefits, agree. And then state that all children should be required to take drug tests in order to get their publicly-funded education... or education voucher if they get vouchers.

I suspect any parent will squeal in protest. Just look at them blandly and state "why should my money pay for children who take drugs to get educated?" The parents with half a brain might realize the correlation.

For those without kids? Suggest that THEY themselves should be required to take a drug test whenever they want to fill up the gas tank of their car so to use the publicly-funded roads they drive on. After all, drunk and drugged driving causes SO many accidents... so mandatory drug and alcohol testing to prevent them from fueling up will ensure the roads remain safer.

(The truly sad thing is... some will agree to these terms. These are the people that (I believe) Ben Franklin was talking about when he said "a people who sacrifice liberty for safety will be neither free nor safe.")

Rob H.

Jacob said...

Hi Rob H.

The break in liberty is the laws that restrict the freedom to take said drugs. Testing is just an invasive form of Transparency to determine if someone is under the influence. Don't get me wrong, I recognize the harm to society caused by those under the influence. I think it is appropriate for society to place restrictions on behavior/liberty in proportion to that damage.

I understand that you are caught up in a good Got-Ya. I just think you should consider your final conclusion a bit more.

Robert said...

You misunderstand. I'm not saying we should drug test children or the like. What I'm for is taking the arguments of people who are for eliminating the social safety net of people if they test positive for drugs (whether or not they are taking drugs) and turning it on them so that they see this isn't just an Other situation... it affects them as well. Or to use an old metaphor, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Even when it's not.

Rob H.

Jacob said...

I understood the general Got-Ya. The Ben Franklin quote seemed to imply that the Transparency 'terms' were giving up Liberty for safety.

Testing/Transparency does not sacrifice Liberty. The laws against the act of taking drugs (in some situations) do.

Robert said...

I'm a firm believer of fighting the battles you CAN win. We're not going to change the drug laws anytime soon (at least, not until the Republican party is either seized by its Libertarian wing or self-destructs). And this push to force drug testing on welfare recipients is ludicrous, and only exists because it doesn't affect the people demanding the tests.

So let's demand that EVERYONE be tested. If everyone is forced to be tested... then the squeals of complaint from the people who want others tested will be so loud that it'll result in Congress eliminating the law. If they try to keep it JUST for welfare recipients... then it becomes discrimination.

When you fight the battles you can win, you can often see results that go beyond what you initially want. The end result could lead to the legalization of drugs... since drug testing would be unconstitutional.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"...If we are lucky, high-frequency trading will just cause severe price gyrations from time to time. If we are unlucky, it will eventually allow one or more the critical infrastructures, upon which our lives now depend, to collapse."

The latter is virtually certain, since there is money to be made in shortselling infrastructure.

The good news is that we could tame the beast with a simple tax on securities transactions. The bad news is that such a tax would offend the organizations with the most money.

Robert said...

The secret then is to pass it with an obvious title that would result in the American People going up in arms. For instance: The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act. With the tax on securities transactions going to pay for infrastructure repair. If the tax isn't onerous for regular trade (ie, only affects rapid sale and resale of securities) then any effort to block it will make for delightful fodder in the news media... and it can even be pointed out that the only things unduly affected by the "tax" is the rapid short-selling of stocks and computerized trading. People want infrastructure to be secure, so they complain to their congresscritters... and such a "simple" tax would soon be pushed through. Despite the deep pockets of those harmed.

Rob H.

ell said...

I hadn't heard of the Big Rip until I read it here. I looked up some articles online. It appears that galaxies, stars, and atoms will come apart. What about protons? What about quarks?

This is the way the Universe ends,
This is the way the Universe ends,
This is the way the Universe ends,
Not with a bang but a rip.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

I'm not saying we should drug test children or the like. What I'm for is taking the arguments of people who are for eliminating the social safety net of people if they test positive for drugs (whether or not they are taking drugs) and turning it on them so that they see this isn't just an Other situation... it affects them as well. Or to use an old metaphor, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Even when it's not.


Unfortunatly, I think most people who argue FOR invasive drug testing would say it's fine to test them or their kids, because only those with something to hide would care about such things. These are the same people who claim they'd proudly walk naked through TSA screenings, and that anyone who wouldn't do so wants the terrorists to win.

Robert said...

That's when you add one last caveat: "You do realize we'll have to raise taxes in order to pay for these drug tests, don't you?"

Rob H.

Robert said...

And yes, Ell. Some proponents of the Big Rip Theory state that ultimately, Dark Energy will rip even subatomic particles apart. Others state that atoms will be pulled away from one another until the protons in atoms eventually theoretically decay... causing the atoms themselves to fracture and fade until all that's left IS subatomic particles.

It's a very depressing theory. However, if we have seen signs of other universes intruding into our own, then it could very well be that we'll expand into other universes and merge with them... so that ultimately, we'll see a universal melting pot with a variety of Constants vying to determine which will prevail. Should a universe with rules stating Dark Energy doesn't behave like it does takes hold... then our universe ultimately may be saved. Only to then start to collapse due to the combined mass of both universes.....

Rob H.

David Smelser said...

The "Bottom 50% own 2.5% of wealth" is net wealth (assets - liabilities). So the value of my house + car is offset by my mortgage and auto loan leaving me with a small net positive number.

Ian said...

"But here's the crux. If they can establish a dozen or so new, sea-based national entities, to stand alongside the 200 or so that already exist, then the SeaSteaders will be in the same position as the original founders of the New York or London Stock Exchanges.

They will have inheritable or negotiable "seats" -- a grandfathered position of "standing" allowing them to step up before WG bodies representing the interests of millions of clients. Large and small."

This hypothesis would have more credible if approximately 150 of 200 existing national entities weren't consistently marginalized or excluded by those emerging WG bodies.

How much weight do Monaco, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg or Kuwait (all let's note with serious money and a larger population than any seastead is likely to have)carry in international forums?

rewinn said...

"...the value of my house + car is offset by my mortgage and auto loan leaving me with a small net positive number. "
And that is a problem for a free people. You own almost nothing but the duty to pay your bank. In effect, you're a bonded servant to you bank with this one key different: the owners of an indentured servant's bond had to find him work, whereas the owners of your bond leave it to you to find a way to buy your freedom.

This is not a normal situation and not a healthy one! My parents owed their house and car outright. Their grandchildren may hope to own a front porch and a rear axle.

David Brin said...

Ian: "How much weight do Monaco, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg or Kuwait (all let's note with serious money and a larger population than any seastead is likely to have)carry in international forums?"

Geez Ian, you have no idea.

And that is the whole point.

Robert said...

On a more uplifting (and scientific) note, here's a link to a Time-Lapsed movie taken over the years by the Hubble Space Telescope. It's pretty cool. And it shows that space does change... just slowly and over time.

http://gizmodo.com/5836582/these-hubble-movies-just-left-me-speechless

http://gizmodo.com/5836582/
these-hubble-movies-just-left-me-speechless

Rob H.

Stefan Jones said...

A topical spoof from The Onion:

PayPal Founder To Create Island

"Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, is putting $1.25 million of his own money toward the creation of artificial libertarian island-nations. Here are some of the features the islands will include:"

* Large monument paying tribute to Bob Barr and his heroic 0.4 percent of the popular vote in the 2008 presidential election
* Annual contest to see which island-dweller can best hijack a normal conversation with a tirade about the corrupt U.S. tax code
* Huge pile of free guns right in the middle of each island
* Canning operation free from restrictive boiling and acidity-regulation rules
* Penn and Teller, every Thursday night
* Large ceremonial nonfunctioning national debt clock that just reads "0"
* A swimmin' hole
* Emergency blue-light phones that connect directly to the Cato Institute
* A bunch of Republicans anyway
* Occasional arbitrary tax on the population just to give them something to get riled up about, which, for many libertarians, is their sole reason for existing

Robert said...

A couple more interesting science-based articles:

The Mars Rover has discovered rocks that suggests conditions were conducive for life on Mars at one time:

http://img.ibtimes.com/www/articles/20110902/207664_mars-rover-mars-rover-water-mars-water-opportunity-mars-rover-nasa.htm

http://img.ibtimes.com/www/articles/20110902/207664_mars-rover-
mars-rover-water-mars-water-opportunity-mars-rover-nasa.htm

Also, here's another article on space debris and on a German satellite that could be used to try and eliminate some of the debris:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14763668

Rob H.

Robert said...

And here's an article that... if accurate... means that we may have an effective and inexpensive method of starting up hydrogen production for a hydrogen economy (for use in fuel).

http://www.tgdaily.com/sustainability-features/58191-new-alloy-could-split-water-to-make-fuel

http://www.tgdaily.com/sustainability-features/58191-new-
alloy-could-split-water-to-make-fuel

Of course, I'm still not entirely sure how hydrogen-fueled cars are better than battery or biodiesel cars, but should this work it should jump start a lot of hydrogen-based technologies (just by allowing an inexpensive and easily-produced form of hydrogen to exist).

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

Of course, I'm still not entirely sure how hydrogen-fueled cars are better than battery or biodiesel cars,...


My admittedly-amateur understanding is that when you burn hydrogen for fuel, the "exhaust" is plain water, so it eliminates the problem of poison emissions. I'm guessing that it also helps that no carbon is being put out into the atmosphere.

The problem is that plain hydrogen isn't available all by itself. You have to engage in some sort of process to separate it out of water or other substances, and depending on what process you use to do THAT, you might just be moving the polluting up the supply chain rather than eliminating it.

sociotard said...

I wonder if our esteemed host might read the latest Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality chapters and weigh in on them?

I ask because the author actually touches on a theme that has irked Dr. Brin in the past: why in novels do the heros (hero-children especially) not go to the authorities? Why don't they do the 'adult' thing and act as if their civilization works?

Non est salvatori salvator,
neque defensori dominus,
nec pater nec mater,
nihil supernum.

- Godric Gryffindor,
1202 C.E.

Robert said...

Actually, I have a reason for this in my own web-novel "Stalking the Wolf" - the teenagers involved are breaking the law by being vigilantes and thus have no adult figures to go to. (Though one "adult" does seek them out... I qualify that "adult" as she's also an illegal vigilante which doesn't seem like a very adult thing to do, but I realized she's got a death wish in any event. Interestingly, she doesn't like other people getting hurt and does try to talk them out of being vigilantes.)

Rob H.

Rob said...

why in novels do the heros (hero-children especially) not go to the authorities? Why don't they do the 'adult' thing and act as if their civilization works?

'Cause there'd be no story of exceptional and individual derring-do if they did.

Jacob said...

I'm not entirely sure about there being no story without action or an attempt at traditional responsibility.

Consider the unique Angels and Demons. It is a story in which the heroes accomplish absolutely nothing that wouldn't have happened without their presence. Another relevant example is Startide Rising. In it, the children spend the story trying to share information but are unable to because the villains working to prevent it.

One thing of my favorite parts about HP:MOR is how Harry resolved Book 2 by telling the teachers. Yes, it turned out that wouldn't have been a story there, but still it was the right thing to do.

Frankly HP:MOR Harry has recently been an idiot, but he is a child with limited experience.

David Brin said...

In my YA novel SKY HORIZON the hero does the “unthinkable” and reports the existence of the alien that the teens are passing around, “protecting” from authities. He makes sure news cameras record the officials taking the creature so that all subsequent events are open. He’s shunned as a traitor.

In the Harry Potter remake, Harry is portrayed as a brilliant and good but insufferably arrogant young putz.. His contempt for the adult authorities is well-based... Rowling’s Magical Britain is an insane place, run by horrid, immature cretins, at-best.... still, the consistency of HP’s rationalizations for going his own way is a personal arrogance that may be partly intended and may be partly imbedded in the author.

Note though that the great “victory” does consist of making the authorities finally do their job. A job that Rowling neglects to have them do.

sociotard said...

Amusingly, though, the authority made it still look like it was Potter behind everything and there was no authority involved.

Even stranger, nobody is bothered by the fact that there was already an authority on the scene: Snape. And he was the one making the situation what it was! He even gets to turn around and give authority-style discipline to Hermione.

David Brin said...

Yudkowsky thus satirizes the ridiculously childish system of impulsive wielding of authority on Rowling's universe.

In fact, Yudkowsky's scene shows some subtlety at work. Snape publicly punishes Hermione but as part of saving face, since he and the rest of the teachers are now going to clamp down at last and stop all the bullying. That's the subtext.

While I'm at it... just saw the final Potter film. My son earnestly despises HP... though like me he is able to sit and enjoy a flick on its own premises. But Rowling's HP is so DUMB! And the institutions of Magical Britain are so immature and weak.

When Hogwarts is standing up against all the death eaters... where are the kids' parents? All the aurors who went into hiding when the Ministry of Magic fell? This was their chance to rise up! To retake the ministry, while Tom Riddle was busy. Or to strike from behind, if only to save their own children!

Dumber than dumble and frankly - authorially - inexcusable.

I did like the moment when HP calls V "Tom"... as an equal. That felt right. Perfect. But the wand stuff was lame and the Resurrection Stone stuff was simply insipid. And the magic hat stole the magic sword out of Gringots.... how? Wha??????

Look, I am used to being in a civilization with base tastes. Why is Rocky Horror a cult classic - when all but two of the songs are dull dull dull dull dull and the characters and plot are insanely yawnworthy? Ever see PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE? Now that rocked!

Otoh, while I dislike Tolkien's message, I respect him deeply. He came by it honestly and LOTR deserves its place in our epic consciousness... the way I thought Star Wars was going to, when I left the theater, after first seeing The Empire Strikes Back.

Paul said...

Rob,
Re: Why don't fictional children go to the authorities?
"'Cause there'd be no story of exceptional and individual derring-do if they did."

I disagree. I think it is just lazy writing. Plenty of authors have made their characters' attempts to reach authorities the adventure. But there should be an external reason, not just "we can't tell the grownups!"

Jacob,
Hell, Startide had about six different levels of "children trying to warn/get-help-from adults."

David Brin said...

It's a sub-set of my essay on "the idiot plot"... above all, civilization must never be portrayed as functional! Because it's hard to put your hero in endless mindless jeopardy when she can dial 911 and get help from skilled professionals.

The best and most memorable films create such jeopardy DESPITE assuming a decent civilization. Ransom... The Fugitive... But most Hwood types don't want to work that hard.

Hence, ALL films preach our civilization can't work. Righty perspective, or leftist. All are propelled to rant that "it can't ever work."

David Brin said...

btw... onward...

Rob said...

I go far enough to say that it's "childish" writing, or the writing of a child's story, but not necessarily "lazy". Youth culture today deliberately mistrusts adults and adult institutions. Stories which speak to that and show the journeyman triumphing over institutionalism is just a normal offering, any more.

And, David, the last HP movie didn't sufficiently convey: The kids were evacuated. Only adults and headstrong, disobedient teens stayed to fight.

The movie also fails to completely capture one of Rowling's main points, namely, that sacrificial love is the "greatest magical power." Yeah, that makes it a powerfully Christian story, seen from one point of view.

mythago said...

If "these are smart fellows and they can see what you cannot" is not a classic appeal to authority fallacy, it's pretty darn close. Plenty of the folks poking holes in this plan are "smart fellows", and as has already been mentioned, being a "smart fellow" does not mean that one understands every field perfectly simply by virtue of being smart.

Dirko said...

O.K. what about a Humaforming plan for the endangered middle class - and, well, nearly everyone else in the U.S.. And how about something that can save us during the Singularity (of even more concentrated wealth to the super rich): Sanctuaries are one-structure, Luxor-like cities built in rural areas (now losing population and being bought by corporations for more monopolistic exploitation). The sanctuaries are nonprofit entities and are generally funded by rich dot.com guys or newly formed or existing religious entities (Scientology are you listening?). Any unemployed folk can come to the sanctuaries where they get room and board for free - however, they must work in the fields and engage in continuous education, some of which takes place in the communal shop. All Sanctuarians will be tested for aptitude as they are guided in their education. They also can not reproduce while in the Sanctuary - think Garden of Eden. If they leave the sanctuary, they must donate 10 percent of their income back to the sanctuary. They will also have profit directed to their account for any profitable ideas they develop while at the sanctuary. However, no money will be required in the sanctuary. So let me enumerate the benefits here: First, we will reduce the number of job seekers - increasing wages for the others. The Black Plague did this in Europe, so of course a natural or planned pandemic can have similar benefits. Second, social unrest will be decreased. If enough people are unemployed for a long enough time, one must assume a significant increase in crime and eventual civil strife. Now as a matter of fact we do have a rapidly growing, proto-sanctuary system in the U.S. called prisons and because of their corporate influence they are really growing well. (And just think how they will be growing in the future with all the new black market drug criminals and civil strife!) In these proto-sanctuaries, inmates can work for pennies finally taking outsourced jobs back from India and China - well its the same for the new sanctuaries. Sanctuaries can help peacefully usher in the Singularity - and like Plato's Republic, there is no reason, like the Republic, they can't engage in positive eugenics. Note that China has more geniuses than we have population in the U.S. and that Asia has an average I.Q. of 105. Studies indicate (big surprise) that nations with superior I.Q. can economically out perform nations with inferior I.Q. (read I.Q and Global Inequality). Let me conclude my thoughts by offering my profound thanks to Plato and his unparalleled Republic. Yes, the road to singularity will be interesting, but with Plato's assistance how can we not endeavor to persevere?

Dirko said...

Oh, by the way if you would like to apply for a posting at the Montana Sanctuary. Check out my site:
http://www.trunity.net/MonSanc/articles/view/138088/?topic=19325

Several hot tubs are waiting.

Andrew Boniface said...

There were some attempts at sea colonization, Sealand, begun in 1967 being perhaps the most successful.
It can be argued that the only good produced, in sea colonies, suitable for foreign exchange has been special jurisdictional status, but this seems to offer some possibilities of economic sustainablity.

A consistent theme of the posts seems to be either rampant over or under estimation of the challenges of permanent life at sea, mostly made by people who have no factual basis for knowing.

Take water, for example: shipping it from land is deemed expensive, distillation and reverse osmosis are still more so, but a method of obtaining water quite common on land is neglected: gathering rainwater; some ocean locations have two meters of rainfall a month.

neil craig said...

"A place of self-exile for sex-offenders? ..... Hey, these things will resonate with public opinion"

Personally I suspect the public will prefer tax exiles. Not pushing it either way - I'm sure there are 3rd world women and children who would hire out to be guest workers there but I suspect, whatever the legalities, the public would be more riled by the former.

Anonymous said...

I am a long time member of TSI. The community was always made up of two obvious factions; Wealthy tax evaders whose goal was to buy and sell things that no nation on Earth would allow and those who simply enjoyed the mechanical, biological and other puzzles inherent in the idea. The first group jumped ship en masse not long ago for a more direct route to "freedom". They bought land in S. America where they can do whatever horrible thing they are planing to do.
This suits the rest of us just fine.
We have seasoned seadogs, well trained naval engineers and a community of highly creative madmen. We are also, as a man, irrationally dedicated to the idea.
We don't imagine a carbon fiber casino. We are more the bamboo coated in acrylic resin bunch.
Some interesting facts:
A few spots in the oceans get almost no storms.
There are ways that the relentless energies of the open ocean can be converted to building materials.
Some spots in the oceans are thick with plastic waste; sweet reusable plastic.
There are a thousand problems in seasteading and a million solutions.

David said...

I'm puzzled by all this talk of "castes", the "monied" caste, etc. There's a deeply cynical set of assumptions framing this essay -- assumptions that grant no recognition of the actual motives of libertarians who'd be interested in a seasteading project.

Some people have principles and ideals. Actually, lots of people do. They can be animated by those principles and ideals. Libertarian ideas are not known to be exclusively interesting to those who are extremely productive -- in fact, there are far more libertarians in the "professional caste" than in the Forbes Richest 100, probably even on a proportional basis. I know many libertarians who are quite poor.

And the caste fetish and many of the economic assumptions in the essay are simply false -- descriptively, empirically false. The US has far too much economic mobility to label it as a caste system. Look to India, or even Latin America -- almost anywhere in the world has a much more class-conscious culture than the US. In Mexico, my ancestral homeland, they really care about who your father is, what he does. They define you by your parentage, will look down on you if your father was a farmer, no matter your accomplishments or degrees. Can you imagine anyone in Silicon Valley caring about what your father did? Can you imagine Americans looking down on someone because their parents are farmers? Obviously this caste business is nonsense.

The democracies are not "advanced", not if you've kept up with your economic education, and know about public choice theory, rent-seeking, and other dysfunctions that a bunch of people at the University of Chicago won Nobel Prizes for discovering. The fantasy swipe about people working for less than minimum wage is silly. Minimum wages are extremely dumb and harmful when you model it long-term and look at the full picture, like any price control (see Venezuela). But they're also beside the point. A free country project, whether at sea, or in Honduras (see the Free City project) is not going to be known for its low wages. There is science here that you should know. We can plot a regression of standard of living on economic freedom. We know what economic freedom does, and we know that a free country will be quite prosperous, over time much more prosperous than a mess like the USA. If you want to look at hints, look at Singapore and Hong Kong, but imagine something better, even more prosperous, a place that legalizes drugs and gay marriage in addition to keeping your money. The oligarchic nonsense is silly at this point -- to characterize free markets that way flies in the face of a century of empirical and theoretical evidence.