Monday, July 5, 2010

Modern Slavery

I wrote about the modern day slave trade here. There are reasonable arguments that slavery is a bigger business today than it was in the 1800s. Somewhere in a polluted city in Asia, a young girl is thinking, "Overall, I'd rather be making sneakers."

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Aging Prevention

The modern world of today

The world of tomorrow

Technology will soon reach a point where the human aging process can be halted. It's not that far into the future. Maybe 30 years. So what happens when people have a 20 year old body when they're 80 years old?

Technology will soon reach a point where diseases like cancer will be stopped. Again, it's not that far off. What happens when people live as long as they don't have a serious accident?

I think it changes a lot of fundamental things in society. And it makes our demographics much more like very poor countries (or like very old times), except a lot more extended in time.

Demographics in olden days

Demographics today

Future demographics

In developed countries, once people are about 3 months old, they generally live until old age. Then, at something like 75 years old, the aging process starts to have a big impact and suddenly diseases that were survivable at a young age become fatal. Eventually aging wins out and the person doesn't live beyond 130 years.

In very poor countries (or very old times), people die from disease or accidents often enough so that the probability of dying is fairly constant throughout a lifetime. Unlike developed countries where people generally don't die at 30 or 40 or 50, in any given year you have about the same chance of dying. Biologically speaking, your chances of dying in any given year have nothing to do with how old you are... in fact, your chances of dying might actually decrease as you get older and more experienced.

I still need to think about how the probability of dying affects people's behavior, but we can be sure that it will lower people's risk tolerance. If your life expectancy is 200 years, or 1,000 years, you're going to be careful about parachute jumping or scuba diving in underwater caves.

I think people would view time very differently. You'd sacrifice a decade for some greater benefit just as someone today might sacrifice a year. A medical school education would become a lot more valuable. Self-improvement would reap bigger rewards.

Since our demographics will revert to the old distribution, I think that there are facets of our future behavior that will resemble hunter-gatherer societies. The small number of very old people (500+ years old) might be very valuable for their accumulated knowledge and experience. What else, I don't know.

It means that you live to see your great-great-great grandchildren, but they might be so far removed from you that you perceive each other as distant relatives.

One unexpected result of this future world of non-aging is the change in the balance of sexual attractiveness. If a 150 year old looks just the same as a 20 year old, then experience/knowledge becomes a major factor and only a fool would pass up a hot 100 year old for a green 20 year old.

Another result is that small differences in behavior result in huge differences in outcome over the course of an extended lifetime. A 1% difference in productivity increases per year result in very different results after 500 years. I think overall civilization would get very wealthy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I despise anything bipartisan. We don't allow competing companies to cooperate and form cartels, why should we allow the same for politics? The result is effectively a one-party system, where a ruling class becomes an unaccountable monopoly. Republicans and Democrats become indestinguishable parasites on the rest of us.

It's absolutely vital that our political parties fight it out amongst each other and compete, just like companies compete.

The Great Filter

Nick Bostrom makes one of the most interesting arguments about life on other planets that I've ever read.

After 50 years of looking, we haven't found any signs of advanced civilization on other planets. If it was out there, it would be very easy to find because intelligent life advances so quickly (a million years is a blink in astronomical time). If we survive for another million years, we'll colonize the entire galaxy. If some other intelligent creatures exist, there are good reasons why they wouldn't/couldn't hide from us, "Prime Directive" be damned. Therefore, no one is out there.

Since there are so many Earthlike planets but no advanced life, there must be some great filter keeping it from happening. That filter could be something we've already crossed (and we're the extremely lucky ones) or else the filter is ahead of us, in which case we're doomed.

If there is life on Mars, we're probably doomed and the filter is ahead of us. The more advanced that life is/was, the more doomed we are.


I think it's likely that we're the only ones. Our Earth is very odd in having a wildly oscillating climate that goes into ice ages every 10,000 years or so. Humans emerged just as the climate started to oscillate. It opened up a niche for a general purpose creature like ourselves that's "software based" and very adaptable. Our intelligence is a big hinderance to our survival since our brains cost a lot in terms of nourishment. So we only exist because there's a big niche for software based creatures that can fly, run fast, and be ferocious only by developing extremely complex tools. It's much easier to fly by having the right hardware, like birds. It's easier to be ferocious by being more like a lion than to develop sophisticated weapons.

I think we're an oddity in our galaxy and we will end up colonizing the Milky Way and possibly beyond. It's not very difficult to do it given what we already have and given a million years or so of time. If Americans don't do it, the Chinese will, or the Indians, or some future civilization ten thousand or a hundred thousand years in the future.

There's talk of reaching an actuarial escape velocity where anyone who survives beyond a certain time period is likely to live for an extremely long time: a thousand years or more. Our level of medicine is only now becoming advanced, with drugs that we control at the molecular level rather than simply being medical hunter-gatherers. I believe the future is going to be very strange.

The Narrative

The news media employs the concept of a "narrative" in order to report all instances of dog-bites-man and avoid reporting on all instances of "man-bites-dog".

So if you have a black man badly beaten because of his race outside of a boisterous town hall meeting in 2009, it doesn't get reported because he was beaten up by leftists. There are a near-endless number of instances of selective reporting. All you have to do is look for them.

Jerusalem 2.0

Imagine if we could take Israel, excluding the West Bank and Gaza, but including all of Jerusalem and duplicate it about 100 miles off the coast of California such that all Jewish people (and Christians) worldwide recognize it as true Israel while everyone else believes that the copy in the same geographic location is the true Palestine. We can even duplicate all the buildings, cars, roads, etc. The US stops all foreign aid to Israel and Egypt. Instead, the US agrees to protect Israel from large scale invasion, which probably would be a LOT cheaper.

What do you think would happen in Palestine? in Israel?

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Imagine an isolated town way, way out in the middle of nowhere. In this town are three companies: United Service Associates, Consolidated Hickory National, Edge United. USA, CHN, EU. The largest of these is USA, which is also the most solid, diversified, and very well-run. EU is smaller, significantly less dynamic, and slow growing. It is helped out a great deal by its past history and has some solid niche markets. CHN is smaller, but fast growing.

Each company pays its workers in their own currency: dollars, euros, and yuan. There are small stores serving people from each company located near the company itself and each store accepts the currency of its own company. USA is so large and stable that everyone in the town uses dollars when doing large scale business.

The management of each company is very different. USA elects its senior management from among its common workers every couple of years. This makes the company overall very quirky and unpredictable. The company strategy changes constantly and deals get set up and then cancelled very often. However, because it's solid, diversified, very decentralized, and very well-run, the randomness doesn't harm it all that much. But it's annoying to EU and CHN people.

The management of EU is a permanent elite group. They're quite good, but their company is bureaucratic, with political fiefdoms everywhere. Growth is anemic.

The management of CHN is also a permanent elite group which is also quite good. However, most of their vast sea of mostly aging workers are poorly educated. Some are very well educated. They survive by working hard and living on low wages.

The employees of USA are well-educated and amazingly productive, but their success has made many of them somewhat lazy, with a growing sense of entitlement. This led them to live beyond their means for a while. Individual employees borrowed heavily and the company itself is borrowing massive amounts to pay for gold plated toilets and things that don't have any return on investment. However, the company still remains extremely dynamic, entrepreneurial, and productive, thanks to a large portion of the workers who still have these traits.

USA's size and unique nature allows it to borrow from other companies using its own dollars! USA prints IOUs and then pays out dollars. It has never failed to pay out dollars and probably never will. Yes, they own the printing press that makes dollars, but they've always been very careful about not printing dollars wildly.

A string of financial problems among all the companies has caused them to take various measures to remain healthy, including printing out more of their own currency than they'd like. The management of each company watches constantly for signs that they're printing too many dollars/euros/yuan. Despite flooding the town with money, the prices in the stores have remained low. This is actually because competition has gotten fierce all the way along the chain of production and supply, and productivity has remained very high. No one can raise prices, but no one needs to.

People took all those dollars/euros/yuan and simply bought the stock of the three companies, causing the stock prices to rise to ridiculous levels before crashing back down again. This caused financial problems so the companies continued to print money to keep things from falling apart.

Next, the residents of the town started bidding wars for town real estate using excess money that banks were desperate to utilize. Banks competed for home buyers and offered stupid loans that buyers couldn't even pay. Before long, housing prices crashed and now the mess was even worse. Bad loans were everywhere, people were desperately clawing their way out of debt or walking away from their obligations.

The companies now had real problems so they continue printing even more money. USA went wild with IOUs, paying CHN partly in IOUs instead of money. Instead of funding unproductive things like gold toilets, now they started doing counterproductive things that gave workers incentives to be less productive. The flowing dollars had already created a sense of entitlement among USA workers, but now they were causing rampant corruption. People were going wild harvesting huge piles of dollars using their connections to company managers who directed the cash.

Everything felt like it was OK because prices stayed low at the stores and lots of dollars were flowing around. But those dollars were no longer well-anchored to the creation of goods and services. USA management started quietly buying IOUs with extra dollars they started printing. But with all the sloshing money, no one noticed much or cared much.

CHN management had been accepting these IOUs instead of dollars. They could see what was happening, but they relied very heavily on USA for their own business. A huge amount of what CHN sold was bought by USA. CHN workers were underpaid and restless and the top priority of CHN management was keeping them happy and preventing them from taking over management and causing enormous chaos. This had happened in the past with disasterous results that everyone remembers.

A story for another time is the one about how EU started paying people in services and promises of future services instead of money by taxing them, taking their money and giving them stuff in return that they might not actually want. They "took care" of their employees from cradle to grave in ways that USA workers would never tolerate. But anyway....

Ok, so what's going to happen in this faraway place as these USA IOUs pile up in CHN vaults? USA is telling itself that it's not just printing money, that IOUs for future dollars are better than just printing dollars now.

USA workers were living beyond their means. When they slowed down their spending to more realistic levels, the management simply started spending in their place, but it was a much uglier and more counterproductive spending.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Adult freedom vs child freedom

Frank J Fleming has a great post about the direction of government. The idea is that a child has a certain freedom, not having to pay the mortgage or get a job. They have a few things they need to do, but that's about it. The downside is that adults make all their major decisions, and sometimes those decisions are wrong. If parents, who know the child better than anyone and who cares for that child more than anyone, make mistakes, just how bad would it be if some bureaucrat who cares nothing for a person, who is unaccountable to that person, makes their decisions?

Adults live in a different kind of freedom. They make their own decisions, and their mistakes can be serious. They do have to pay the mortgage or lose the house. They do have to keep a job or suffer the consequences. But if they make a mistake, it's their own mistake.

When a government decides that its citizens are like children, it will start giving those citizens a child's freedom instead of an adult's freedom. We've been going down that road for many decades.

At first you won't be able to smoke cigarettes because they're bad for you. Then you won't be able to do high risk activities because they're dangerous. Before long, you become a child of the state, whether you want to be or not.

Europe can get away with this more easily than the US because they have common cultures. French people generally accept French ways. German people accept German ways. Same for British, etc. But the quiet little fact is how unassimilated their immigrants are, and the clashes are getting serious.

In the US, it's hard to imagine Texans being succesfully micro-managed by Chicagoans. And vice versa. Bush vs Obama vs those who dislike them both.

Equal Opportunity or Equal Outcome

You can't have both. If you have equal opportunity, then some groups will do much better than others for the simple reason that different groups have different values, different methods.

If you have equal outcomes, then the opportunities for all people must have been unbalanced for the same reason: different people, different groups, they have different values, different accumulated skills and approaches to life that will have very different outcomes.

When people use unequal outcomes as proof of unequal opportunity, it's an extremely flawed assumption. Unequal outcomes proves nothing, but equal outcomes suggests a lack of equal opportunity.

Logic should be taught for many years in the schools.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Health Care Fix

The number one cause of rising health care costs is the disconnect between those who pay and those who make the choices. Those selecting want the best possible health care... for good reason. As long as they aren't involved in any cost/benefit tradeoff, they will scream for the best care. They'll game the system in an infinite number of clever ways.

We have an enormous amount of innovation going on in medicine today, with extremely good results. The innovation is on quality without concern for cost. Imagine if half of that innovation was going into taking the current technology and cost-reducing it. You'd see something like what happens in other areas of technology like computers. Costs would constantly be falling while quality would constantly be rising.

The expectation for flawless medical care is also causing costs to rise due to defensive medicine and to a less direct impact, malpractice insurance.

The worst thing you can do is to have the government attempt to control medical care. This creates an even greater disconnect between those who pay and those who make choices. In the end, you'll get rationing based on political choices, and the costs will still go up due to inefficiencies and graft.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chinese Language

Embedded in the Chinese language (from which the good parts of Japanese come from) are tens of thousands of symbols containing a vast amount of information: mini-parables, metaphors, value judgements, comparisons. The symbols themselves are quite a work of art; when you draw them correctly, they naturally take on their characteristic shapes.

From an efficiency point of view, I believe alphabetic languages are superior. However, a symbolic language has some very useful characteristics. It degrades gracefully when encountering unknown words or even unknown symbols.

Our Aspiring Ruling Class

What's wrong with Wal*Mart?

Simple. Wal*Mart is run by the unwashed masses, for the unwashed masses, with employees who are the unwashed masses. Wal*Mart replaces thousands of overpriced, inefficient stores run by the local royalty. It might be argued that Wal*Mart has too much control over the unwashed masses, but that control is no more than the control that existed before in the hands of the town elites who controlled the prior stores.

What's wrong with Sarah Palin?

Simple. She never went to Harvard or Yale or any other elite school. She doesn't even speak the language of the Secular Church of the Public Sector. She's not a member of the ruling elite.

What's wrong with people owning guns?

Simple. Just imagine how dangerous it is to force your ideas down the throats of the unwashed masses when they all have guns. Just imagine what might happen if they all got sufficiently pissed off. The government wouldn't be able to control them. (Go back and read the Declaration of Independence and the US Consistitution to see what the founders had in mind about an all-powerful central government.)

What's wrong with... etc. etc. etc.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


In the 1800s, something truly remarkable happened. After thousands of years of existence all over the world, Great Britain and the United States largely eradicated slavery. The US didn't start it, by any means. But the US helped to [largely] end it... against the wishes of the rest of the world.

Slavery in the US was brutal, but it was worse in places like Brazil. Sophomoric types like to criticize early American figures for their part in it, but won't say a word about the Muslims, the Native Americans, intra-African slavery.

It's baaaack. People argue that there is more slavery in the world today than at any time in history. The amount of human trafficking is currently enormous.

It's time for us to rise up once again and eradicate slavery. Who will join us? It seems like the first place to turn for sympathetic assistance should be the people calling for reparations from those who indirectly benefitted from slavery 150 years ago. Something tells me that their reaction would first be dazed confusion followed by a desperate search for reasons, any reasons, to downplay the responsibility for stopping slavery today.

The last thing a victim wants is competition from other victims.

Same Sex Marriage

"We're going to use a totally new method of building a major suspension bridge. We're using a giant cross. Crosses are holy in Christianity and therefore the bridge will be sound."

We don't allow ideology to circumvent the normal proof of soundness in engineering. Why would we allow someone to change the most important structural element of civilization simply because it's ideologically correct?

As far as I know, all successful large scale civilizations that have independently developed over the last 10,000 years have had the concept of marriage between a man and a woman (sometimes more than one woman). Why is that?

Civilization is more complicated than we can imagine. We don't go around re-engineering the human body without knowing what we're doing. Why do the same for something orders of magnitude more complex?

The burden of proof lies on those trying to do massive structural social engineering. Nothing remotely adequate has been demonstrated to me yet. So I vote NO.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Third Bubble

The first bubble was the Dot Com boom of the late 1990s, fueled by flooding the world with dollars. Unlike previous times where it caused inflation, this time people pushed those excess dollars into technology investments. Their minds were subconsciously dazzled by the idea of the year 2000 and all the magical technology associated with it during the past 50 years. The emergence of the Internet and personal computers reinforced it.

The second bubble was the housing inflation/deflation that immediately followed. The Fed never turned off the money spigot, so the dollars simply flowed directly to the next bubble. By giving investors the profits and sticking the taxpayer with most of the risk, Fannie Mae was a guaranteed disaster. Everyone in the chain had a strong incentive to play the game: housing speculators, loan officers, banks, Congress. Only the diffuse sea of taxpayers had any reason to worry, and they were asleep.

The third bubble is a government bubble. The world is still being flooded with dollars. This time they're flowing into the government where they're rapidly wasted on a funhouse of distorted incentives. Our government is mud-drunk with money. This will end very badly unless it's stopped.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Once upon a time, a group of people lived on a small, isolated island. They soon discovered the importance of property rights: the rights to the stuff they created, the fish they caught, the food they grew, the things they received in trading. So they selected a small group of people to create, interpret, and enforce a set of rules.

Over time, this small group had a strong incentive to justify their expansion and increase their control. They started to view their role as the wise people who knew better than the other islanders and started to create laws telling the islanders what to do, not just resolve issues of individual rights. Because they no longer fished, grew food, or created things, they lost the perspective of those who did these things. They rigged the system so that the islanders found it very difficult to replace them with people more like themselves. Besides, most islanders had no interest in doing the ugly work these governing people did.

Before long, the governing people didn't like the fact that some of the islanders were very successful at fishing, growing food, and creating things, so they started making rules that took the stuff away from the successful people and gave it to the unsuccessful people. They called it "Social Justice", even though it made no sense from a justice point of view. "You have lots of stuff, so you must have taken it from the others," they said. Having no experience in fishing/growing/creating, they incorrectly assumed success was a zero-sum game.

And the circle of property rights came back to where it started.

The Secular Church of the Public Sector

There is an entrenched official dogma, a Secular Church of the Public Sector, which is being undermined by the destruction of their gatekeeper functions, thanks to the Internet and other new, free mass forms of communication. They have control of nearly all of the media, most of the educational system, and huge portions of the government. Within the government, the elected portion is merely the tip of the iceberg. Most of the control lies in the unelected members of government.

They will be defeated by communication. The Internet has no gatekeepers; No high priests to control what the masses are exposed to. I believe the result will be similar to what happened after the invention of the printing press: a massive Reformation. But it will happen very fast.