Ronin of the Spirit

Because reality is beautiful.

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part III

Perfect market is the greatest instrument of human freedom I know of, and the ethical cornerstone of my entire idea.  A perfect market consists of  (courtesy of wikipeida)

  • Rationality of all market actors (Rationality in meaning of the actor’s utility maximization)
  • No transaction costs (particularly no information costs and no taxes)
  • Price taking behavior – there is a sufficiently large number of participants such that no individual can affect the market
  • given rare resources
  • freedom of decision to do something or to let it be (no external effects)

People trading rationally, with all the information they need to make a decisions, with no distortions for big enough traders, something to trade, and no coercion to act or not act in anyway.   It’s something beautiful.  “Market place” doesn’t just mean the buying and selling of products, but also the grand market place of ideas.  The right to free speech is a component of the market place of ideas, as is the right to free press, and free assembly.  The right to practice religion as one sees fit guarantees numerous sects and religions competing for the hearts and minds of the people.  The right to keep arms of the US Constitution, and the right to security of person in the UN Bill of Rights are both to secure the right to act free of coercion.  Ultimately, the perfect market, be it for goods, services, ideas, or beliefs,  is the foundation of freedom.

A perfect market is, a direction, not a point one arrives at, but the more perfect a market, the more freedom for all.  I believe there is no more effective way to reduce pollution and birthrate (more on that later) than to work toward a perfect market.

In a perfect market, there is no legal theft, no  hidden payments, and no hidden costs.  I will use the existing market place of open pit coal mining to highlight an imperfect market.   No one breathes without trees, they are the lungs of the earth.   There are 6 billion people on earth.  Each tree is an oxygen factory, the output of which goes equally to each member of the population of earth.  If a person had a contract to receive a percentage of a factory’s output, then regardless of who owned the factory,the owner could not destroy the factory without consulting the person who owned a percentage of the output. (Note, I know that this example is somewhat weak, I use it because it is far easier to explain than the more correct ones.  Please feel free to argue this in the comment section.)  Property rights for the factory output are strong.  Property rights for organic oxygen output are nonexistent.

The open pit mining process begins by blasting the ground cover (largely trees) over the coal.  Stealing the future “oxygen income” of 6 billion people.  The coal industry is one of the most heavily subsidized on earth, particularly with reduced property tax.  The coal is loaded onto trains, the cost of transportation depending on diesel fuel, which is produced by other subsidized companies.  It is taken to a power plant, which if it is new, was most likely given property tax break to encourage it’s construction, and burned, putting CO2 into the air which effects everyone as much as the loss of the trees.  The worst pollutants are scrubbed out of the coal (the cost of the scrubbers often subsidized) and disposed of as industrial waste.  Due to radium as a fraction of the mass of coal, coal power plant reclaimed ash is actually more radioactive than nuclear power plant waste. Yet, it is disposed of as far cheaper industrial, rather than radioactive waste in tax supported, or privately owned and tax subsidized, waste management facilities (due to an EPA grandfather clause).

Thus, the real cost of coal would include the cash value of the lost oxygen, the cash value of the subsidy given to the extractor, the cash value of the subsidy given to the fuel producer of the transportation, the cash value of the subsidy given to the power plant, the cash value of the subsidy of the fuel for the fly ash transportation, and the cash value of the subsidy given to the waste management authority.

The complexity of calculating such a thing is made yet more difficult by the fact the subsidy would be different for each county, state, nation, company,  etc.  In reality, it is impossible to calculate such a thing.  The best numbers we have are educated guesses, on this free market phenomenon.  In defense of free market, as awful as the above sounds, it works towards the lowest price  in the end, as well as profit for the stock holders, because the company which uses the subsidies most effectively will sell the most. For the most part, this is good for everyone.  Coal is cheaper for everyone and the owners get rich.  Owners, means stock holders.  More than half of heavy industry stock is held by institutions in mutual funds.  Profit for heavy industry does not benefit primarily a small group of plutocrats.  It primarily benefits the small investor, working hard on his 401K or child’s college education fund.

The trouble is, as good as low cost products and profit for the stock holders are, (and those are truly good things) there are other important things that the free market doesn’t do so well, like resource management.  Though functioning planned economies have the worst pollution in the world (Russian and China), large free markets are a close second.  If people value resources, they can show their preference for companies that also value resources, but only in a perfect market.

In a perfect market, their are no hidden payments, so there is no subsidy.   Coal costs what coal costs.  It might be tempting to believe that subsidies do not follow market rules.  Sadly, this is not the case. Subsidies do follow market rules: companies get money from the government in exchange for providing services for members or sections of the government.  The companies compete fiercely for the subsidies.  Exxon Mobil spent 350 million on lobbying ( a form of advertising to the government decision makers) to get 3 billion dollars in subsidies in 2008 alone.

In a perfect market, the government would not be able to give any special treatment to any company, saving the stockholders of Exxon Mobil 350 million, but costing them 3 billion.  Thus, the incentive to keep the existing system is strong.   Three billion to one company is 10 times greater than the total subsidy spent on renewable power.  This leads some to say “Renewable power needs a bigger subsidy.”  I disagree.  Subsidy distorts the market, regardless of who gets it.  Money is what we exchange for our time on this eath.  The perfect market, like all other markets, is a place where human life is bought and sold, but unlike other markets it is where there is the least waste of this, the most valuable of all commodities.  As, such, a perfect market is as sacred as free speech, or free expression, for the same reason: human dignity.

Subsidies represent a lie about price.  The solution to lies is never more lies.  Humans can be trusted to make wise decisions under perfect market conditions.  To believe in human potential, to respect human dignity, means to work toward a perfect market.

All subsidy must go.  Every business must stand on it’s own.  If sounds like utopian, it’s not, at least to some.  No mater how deeply a person believes in perfect market for everyone else, few people believe it for them and their friends.  This is the reason, despite the fact people value it, we generally don’t work toward a perfect market.

A world without subsidy offers no tax breaks to religious organizations.  To allow tax free status to some service providers (churches and other non-profits) and not to others (business providing identical community assistance, lectures, concerts, elder care, and dating service) is unethical, and anti-religious.  Without tax breaks, the churches which provided the best service for the lowest tithe would immediately out compete the other churches.

A world without subsidy provides no benefit to being married.  Or owning a house.  Married people would have to compete in the open market for housing and employment just like everyone else.   Nor does it provide any tax penalty for being single, or childless.   This is the first step voluntarily reducing population.  Despite embracing the perfect market,  irresponsibility will still happen.  People will still have more children then they can afford, and buy larger houses than they need, but they can no longer profit by it.

(I am aware that these examples are controversial, and poorly supported here.  For brevity’s sake, I will argue specifics with anyone who chooses to, in the comment section.)

But how would even a perfect market deal with issues such as air pollution?  Real price cannot be calculated.  We know real price is impossible to calculate on the fly, because if it could be calculated, planned Soviet style economies would work better than free market ones. Only Adam Smith’s “guiding hand” can effectively determine price.   The fact you can rent your property freely for the price you wish and under the conditions you wish is why your living room isn’t full of toxic gas.  The fact that you cannot rent your 1/6 billionth of the earth’s air freely for a the price you wish under the conditions you wish, is why the air you breath is full of toxins.

The key to allowing the perfect market to solve the issue of pollution is obviously strong property rights, but how could 6 billion people share their air and common oceans without a tragedy of the commons?

I will address that in Part IV.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, Religion, Self discovery, skepticism, Transportation, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Environmentalism and Overpopulation: The Solution, Part I

One of my favorite wordpress blogs is Skepchick, which is sort of a clearing house for news stories about the the triumph of reason, or not, in the world and place for like minded folks to meet. I got in an online argument on skepchicks. The  very fact that I have this problem reveals how little enjoyment I get out of normal face to face interaction, and is mildly embarrassing. Anyway, they were talking about climate change, and a lot of ideas were thrown around, the basic one being that climate change largely the result of human overpopulation.

Now, I believe man made climate change.  I’ve seen the facts and correlation and do believe from them that man has the power to change the environment. I also have read man’s history.   All the mega fauna is dead except the ones that co-evolved with man in Africa, and the ones that were protected from man by long voyages.  (The Wrangle Island mammoths were alive in 1700 BC later than any other mammoth.)  The post ice age mega-fauna are almost all dead, and most likely because we hunted them to death.  That represents an enormous man made change to the ecosystem.   

And I believe in overpopulation.  I think biodiversity is not only nice, but necessary.  Everything we learn teaches us a lesson.  To understand some strange process only utilized by some strange species might necessitate the creation of new technology or mental tool.  That tool could be the key to something we want very badly, like the cure for cancer, faster than light drive, inertialess thrusters, or functional communism.  We don’t dare let anything slip away because we have no idea what we are missing.

All that said, environmentalism and overpopulation policy scares the crap out of me.  I feel like there are two main groups on these issues: those who want to pretend that there is no problem at all and nothing should be done, and those who want to pretend that problem is so serious and so big that absolutely any protectionist policy is good, no mater who it hurts.  Then, are these two subgroups.  People who believe that the problem is real, but the solutions hurt to much so we should just do nothing, and people who believe the problems can be fixed without anyone being hurt at all.  

None of those perspectives are true.  First, the problem is enormous and serious.  Second, the problem is not so serious that it is OK to hurt a lot of people to solve it. Third,  the fact that some people will have to be hurt does not mean that it’s not worth doing.  Forth, it’s a lie to pretend that the solutions aren’t going to hurt anyone.  There has to be a process in place that works to fix the problem with a solution that does the least harm to the least number.

Since all human problems are going to be proportional to human population,  human population is a logical and fair starting point for issues of how humans effect the environment.   I’m all for people reducing family size.  But the term “overpopulation” is an awful one.  “Over-” what exactly?  To say the phrase over population is to say there is an ideal population for the planet that we are over.  To make overpopulation policy is say you want to work toward the goal of that ideal population, from our current overload.

Well, there is only one way to do that:  The death rate must exceed the birthrate.  I’m not being dramatic. That’s the plain facts.  If you want to work back to the ideal number, the death rate must exceed the birthrate.  There are three ways to do that.  Increase the death rate, decrease the birthrate, or some combination of the two.   If writing policy which seeks to kill people or prevent people doesn’t scare you, you have far, far more faith in democracy and human nature than I do.

I’m sure some people read that and are offended that I would imply that mass homicide is a tool to reduce the population, barbaric and proven ineffective, they would claim.  They would point out the millions lost in wars over the years and the still burgeoning population, a point that I see from the other side.  Mao killed 70 million one generation ago in country which is now one of the most populous on earth.   So if killing 70 million people does nothing to reduce the population, is handing out free condoms really going to cut it?   Coitus interruptus was known at least as early as 500 BC, since it is at that time it is written in Genesis 38:8.  Yet, the population seems to have kept right on doubling for the last 2500 years. 

So apparently, more coercive methods are necessary.  Forced contraceptive? Forced abortion? And for who?  My sister lives in North Dakota.  There is 3 billion square feet per person in North Dakota.  Is it even remotely fair for her to held to the same standard as a mother in Mumbai, with a mere 500 square feet per person?  Does a mother in Mumbai love her child less? Who decides?  Soviet communism fell largely because command economies simply cannot compete with free market ones.  It takes over 10,000 decisions from field to plate just to eat a potato.  Under a free market, these decisions are taken care of without guidance, in Russia there were never enough potatoes.  When the governments have been proven totally incapable of serving potatoes, we dare to trust them with a command structure of who gets to procreate or how frequently?

It’s a logistical nightmare.  That alone would not bother me.  Many things necessary laws are logistical nightmares.  The real issue with overpopulation is What is the ideal level we are over? Without knowing that, we will always be over populated according to some metric.  Policies to address open ended problems don’t work.  Ever.  Despite the billions spent on the “War on Poverty” since it’s inception by Lydon B Johnson, poverty in the US is now worse than ever.  The “War on Drugs” is the most 2nd most expensive war in history (after the War on Poverty), and totally ineffective. (More people are per capita addicted than ever before.  Cocaine, in particular, had per capita less addicts when it was legally the “Coca” in Coca-Cola than it does now.)    Ask Vietnam vets how well a war which was fought for the open ended purpose of showing continued willingness to fight rather than for a quantifiable victory worked for them.   

To determine the ideal number of humans for earth, we must first decide what kind of an earth we want.  I bet if we want a handful of obscenely wealthy plutocrats living in clusters around the last bits of natural beauty while the rest of humanity totters on the edge of starvation in a vast global slum, well, I’m sure the planet could support a good 15 billion.    If we want to have no impact on the earth whatsoever, then the earth cannot support a single one of us.  Life impacts life.  That’s the nature of it all.   The ideal number is going to be somewhere between.  So the question of “What is the ideal number of humans?” can only be answered if another question is answered first “How much environmental impact is acceptable.”

If you say “None at all!” then by all means, will yourself out of existence.  Any other form of dis-corporation would cause environmental impact.  Humans are not God’s stewards of the Earth.  We are not god’s upon it, and it is not God over us.  We are the biosystem, as much as the trees, and the frogs, and the insects (most effective life form, by biomass fraction.  Collectively, they outweigh us all.)  We have at least as much a reason to be here as the other higher functioning mammals.   I don’t support an open ended command to limit environmental impact for the same reason I don’t support many other open ended commands.  Without clearly defined victory, and a method of measuring that victory in quantifiable terms, there will always be some metric that says “too much” impact, and some subgroup that demands less.  

I can’t, in good conscience, support policies which coerce human beings towards some totally undefined future.  Nor am I content to simply sit on my hands while the ice caps melt.  In my next blog,  I’ll offer a solution that I don’t entirely like.  But, it is the one that works the most with freedom instead of taking it away, that I can imagine.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | atheism, Ecology, Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Notes On War

War is force.  This force is applied by the waring groups to each other. The purpose of this force is get the other group/s to act in a certain way.  Perhaps Clausewitz spelled this out best with the statement, “War is politics by other means.”

The measure of human work is money.  That may not represent the world we wish to live in, but, it is, in fact, the world we live in. It’s not a perfect metric, but its easy to figure and quantifiable, so I will use it here.

For every act in politics and thus war, there is a cost versus benefit (c/b).  This c/b must be considered in the short term and long term.

The empires which are best at accurately figuring c/b’s tend to to be best at expanding and managing their respective empires.

The method of war is to spend the least (cost) to get the most (benefit).  As I mentioned, this must be figured for both short term and long term.  These c/b ratios are the cause and sustenance of the early concept of chivalry and the modern concept of “war crimes”

The idea of “war crimes” is patently absurd.  At home, when a man kills someone because (a.) he was wearing the wrong clothes and (b.) his boss told him to, we call him gangster.  When his boss is a general, we call him a hero.  At home, if man blows up a building, he is an arsonist. On the front lines, he is a pilot.  War represents a reversal of moral code.

Empires to do not do c/b in years, they do it in centuries.  The traditions of honor and chivalry became embedded because they work.  If you plan on holding a nation within your empire, the vassal state’s success is your success.  Ideally, you would seize the nation causing as little damage to the infrastructure and production of wealth as possible because as soon as the nation is yours that’s your infrastructure.

Remember that the method of war is to accomplish the most with the least investment.  To do this, the empire must attack logistical choke points.  Logistical choke points are weak links in the chain.  It is for this reason that Allied bombers targeted ball bearing factories.  Ball bearing go in everything.  Knock out a handful of factories and it shuts down hundreds of other factories.  That’s excellent c/b.  This is also why Allied bombers targeted bridges.  Knock out a few bridges and you can isolate hundreds of square miles of terrain from effective support.  That is also excellent c/b.

You don’t kill anyone you don’t have to (ie non-combatants) because you want the beaten men to go home to their woman and make lots of babies, and plant lots of crops.  The short term benefit of killing a whole town of non-combatants will have an enormous long term cost that is usually not worth the expense.  Killing non-combatants is usually very poor c/b.

Notice I said usually.  The idea of non-combatants is logically indefensible.  It is beautiful lie and worthy to be cherished.  But like other such lies (the innocence of childhood and a caring God spring to mind) it remains a lie.  And sometimes that lie must be confronted.

Killing 100 soldiers is, by it self, a pretty pointless act, strategically.  Killing 100 factory workers who assemble 10,000 soldier’s rifles is remarkably more effective.  Sometimes the factory workers are woman, children, and your own POW’s.  If that’s the case, the c/b is not so favorable.  More consideration is needed, but sometimes, a logistical choke point controls so many resources that the enormous cost of killing cherished persons is worth it, because the benefit is perceived to be even larger.

The United States if often criticized for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Was it a ghastly act? Certainly.  But the question is not “Was the act horrible?” the question is “Was the act worse than the alternatives?”  The Emperor of Japan had sworn that every man woman and child would be armed, and that the Japanese would fight to the last person.  Our experiences with the Japanese fighting in the islands lead us to believe this was no idle threat.

The atomic bombing was done in the hope that this would break the will of the people to fight. 250,000 noncombatants were sacrificed in the hope of saving the remaining infrastructure and the remaining 70,000,000 noncombatants.  Apparently, it worked.  Japan is our ally now, so apparently, the c/b estimate was accurate.

I say all this to give historical perspective to Fabius Maximus‘ question “Should the US use terrorism to fight terror.”  Its an invalid question.  The morality of war is based purely on perspective.  I am sure that according to Al-Qaeda we have using terror for years.  To Johnny Q Public, we’ve never done it ever.

Is it right? We don’t know yet.  60 years is only about 2 or 3 generations.  It’s barely enough time to decide if we were right about Japan, though the evidence seems to say yes.  Is fighting anti-US terrorists by funding pro-US terrorists a good idea?  Personally, I say no, and use Saddam Hussein and the Taliban  as my exhibits A and B (Both had documented relationships with the CIA.)

However, despite of how I or anyone else feels about, governments, including ours, will continue to pay unsavory characters to fight unsavory characters, regardless of semantics.  Only time (in the order of decades or more) will tell us if the c/b for this a net gain or a net loss.

September 4, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, Religion, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Absurdity of “Asymmetric warfare”

some insurgentSo, recently, I’ve been reading military history and tactics again, inspired partly by my nightly reading of the the Air Force PFE study guide (Promotional Fitness Examination).  I’ve run into this gem of a term “asymmetric warfare”.   A quick pursue of the Google News showed 51 entries under the title “asymmetrical warfare”.  All I can say is this:  What a crock of crap.

Wikipedia defines “asymmetrical warfare” as:

“…originally referred to war between two or more actors or groups whose relative military power differs significantly. Contemporary military thinkers tend to broaden this to include asymmetry of strategy or tactics; today “asymmetric warfare” can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the “weaker” combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality.”  This is in turn quoting Robert R Tomes, a Senior Adviser for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  (Say that 10 times fast.)

The Air Force defines asymmetrical warfare this way “Asymmetrical warfare is based on countering an adversaries strengths by focusing on its actual or perceived weaknesses.”

The first problem is the very phrase “asymmetrical warfare”.  Terms have implied meanings that they smuggle in with their overt meaning.  For example: pro-life and pro-choice.  By overt meaning we could also say pro-life and anti-life (or even pro-death) or anti-choice and pro-choice.  But people who identify with the pro-life side resent the heck out of being called “anti-choice”  Just as people on the pro-choice side resent the heck out being called “anti-life”.  So both define themselves with “pro” statements. They say what they are for rather than what they are against.  In this way, both terms smuggle in the idea of what should be, according to their respective believers.

The phrase “asymmetrical warfare” sneaks through the back door an idea, and that idea is that warfare should be symmetrical, a basically fair contest between two basically matched adversaries, much like say, formula racing or boxing.  In some forms of formula racing, every driver races an identical car with identical engine.  In fact, the engines are sealed, and if at the end of the race the seal is broken, the competitor loses the race and may well be kicked out of the racing league.  In boxing, competitors are matched up in narrow and rigidly controlled weight categories. The purpose in both cases is to limit the role which technology, and genetic luck play in victory, ensuring that the contest is between how much heart and skill the competitor has at the expense of any other characteristics.

The problem with applying this to war is: war is not a game. If a race car driver loses a race, or a boxer a match, he remains able to fight again. In fact he will often use the knowledge of his defeat to compete more successfully next year.  Warfare offers no such grantees, quite the opposite actually.  No less a expert on the subject than Genghis Khan said “The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy, to drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather into your bosom his wives and daughters.”   And by “gather into your bosom” he meant rape to death the ugly ones keep the pretty ones as concubines. (Other translations of this quote say “ravish” rather than the bowdlerized “gather into your bosom”.)

The second problem is more clear from the Air Force definition.  “…countering an adversaries strengths by focusing on its…weaknesses”.

Um… isn’t that what warfare is all about?  What do you think every successfully concluded war in history was about?  Begin with Alexander the Great.  When he had his point leaders take battle axes (not a common weapon in the middle-east) to attack the enemy’s elephants by severing their trunks and destroying their legs, wasn’t that asymmetric?  When the English decimated the French by striking them with longbows while staying out of French bow range wasn’t that asymmetric? When the Prussians had quick loading needle guns against the muskets of their enemy wasn’t that asymmetric?  When the French had recoil absorbing cannons (they keep aim between firings) and their enemy had none, wasn’t that asymmetric?  When the Germans had the Blitzkrieg and the Allies didn’t wasn’t that asymmetric? I could go on with these polemics but I let me get more specific.

The German Air Force was quite good at first.  The Allies could only attack with precision bombing if they were willing to take large causalities.  Studying the nature of modern war, they decided the most valuable possible target would be ball bearing plants.  (Almost all modern machinery needs ball bearings. This was a logical and effective strategy.) Well, by the argument of symmetrical war, the British should have left those ball bearing factories alone.  They should have stood by their guns, stayed on the battlefield and lost in gentlemanly and symmetrical way.

So this carping about asymmetrical warfare is totally bogus.  In fact, I think its pretty much clear that the way wars are won is by achieving asymmetry.  Let me say that again for clarity.  The key method of victory is discover and exploit asymmetry. Only a fool or a mad man would fight a war in such a way that gave his enemy a fair chance at victory.

In fact, I put forward this idea: The greatest single impetus to the evolution of warfare is the desire to achieve asymmetry.

So now I need another explanation of where this asymmetry BS comes from.  I think it comes from xenophobia.  Its not labeled “asymmetric” when we use semi-autonomous robotic planes to shoot bearded goat herders on camel back.  But when they use cell phone bombs to hit our trucks, well that’s just plain un-American.

Now, let me add my usual qualification here, I’m not saying that the terrorist are right, or that we are wrong.  I don’t want to live in a world with terrorists.  I may not always agree with the way we fight them, but I agree whole heartily that they need to be fought, and like any good service member in a democracy’s military, I can put my personal preference aside to fulfill the oath of enlistment that I took.  That’s not with this is about at all.

I am more saying to the American public at large: xenophobia isn’t cool.  Stop complaining about asymmetrical warfare.  Warfare is supposed to be asymmetrical, at least if you want to win, and they want to win as badly as we. The side the finds and exploits asymmetry the best will win. Period.

June 26, 2008 Posted by | Government, Politics, skepticism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment