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A cultural thought experiment

"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson wrote that bon mot, and if he never wrote another word, that insight would be sufficient to guarantee him immortality.

Which got me wondering whether the future that is already here might include a class for whom space travel is not merely an interesting idea, but one that is affordable.

The discussion on the cultural and sociological attachment issues of the ideology of space colonization has raised some fascinating points about its origins among folks who were avid readers of a particular type of SF from the 1930s through 1960s, and how the idea of space colonization appeals to people who want to not have to live close to folks who are poor and non-white. From the crude racism of John W. Campbell through the effusions of the libertarian and objectivist fifth columns, American SF has been a safe haven for the predecessors of today's Tea Partiers; meanwhile, British SF has thrown up the corresponding phenomenon of the cosy catastrophe plot, wherein some mysterious disaster sweeps the world clean of annoying foreigners, lower class oiks, and anyone else with whom our author's protagonists do not sympathize. An ongoing unease about the Other thus pervades the literature that informed the views of many of the space cadets during their formative years.

A secondary issue that emerged from that discussion was that, barring miraculous discoveries (of the order of limitless free energy, or some form of reactionless propulsion) getting from Earth's surface into orbit (not to mention colonizing the solar system or going beyond) is almost certainly always going to be beyond the reach of poor folks. Either it's going to be a preoccupation of the elite, or it's going to have to rely on us establishing a civilization that is much, much wealthier than the one we currently live in (without wrecking our biosphere, but that's another issue entirely).

It occurs to me that there exists, today, a chunk of the future populated by exotic strangers who can afford to Live The Dream, should they so desire.

The Occupy movement has tapped a wellspring of political discontent around the world; their slogan, "We are the 99%", refers to the fact that 38% of the total wealth in the US is controlled by just 1% of the population. (My only quibble with this factoid is that it isn't even the top 1%; it's the top 0.5% — the second half-percentile (99%-99.5% of the way up the income ladder) are certainly very well off, but they barely make the cut for the real Masters of the Universe: such is the nature of an exponential distribution.)

Let's talk about the top 0.5%. Here is an investment manager's view of the top 1% and their upper echelon. The top 0.5% have a minimum income of $0.5M/year if they're working, and assets close to $2M if retired. Mostly they make earn over a million a year: strikethrough deliberately added, because they are typically workers in the financial sector, CEOs in public corporations, or the odd lottery-winning anomaly (one of the first hundred hires at a successful IT company like Microsoft or Google or Apple).

These folks aren't going to go and colonize Mars (except for Elon Musk). If they feel uneasy about living cheek by jowl with poor folks, they're more likely to go live in a gated community and employ bodyguards. They might shell out for a holiday in space, but for the most part that's the limit of their engagement. But that's okay, because this essay isn't about space colonization. It's about the cultural assumptions we're likely to see emerging in a society that is rich enough to do that thing.

How does being one of the 1% affect people?

A valuable conceptual tool for reasoning about wealth from the outside (I assume that you, like me, are part of the 99%) is the law of diminishing marginal utility.

Loosely put: if you are homeless and destitute in the USA and somebody hands you a $100 bill, that money can change your life. It's enough to feed you for a couple of weeks to a month, to get you a new set of clothes, to buy time in a net cafe to search for a job online, to find shelter for a handful of nights during terrible weather.

But if you're Warren Buffett and you spot a $100 bill lying on the ground while you're out for your constitutional, it's barely worth the time it takes to stoop to pick it up; the annual income of the fund Mr Buffett administers can be approximated to $1Bn, which works out at $31.70 per second. Of course, being Warren Buffett, I'd expect him to pick up the banknote; he didn't get to be where he is today by ignoring free money. But it's hardly going to change his life.

The diminishing marginal utility law dictates that the more money we have, the less utility we get from any additional incremental gain. And this bites the top 1% very hard indeed.

Examine the world around us from the point of view of someone with a net income of $5M/year ...

Food is essentially free; you can afford to spend $1000 per meal, three meals a day, in the most expensive restaurants in London or Tokyo or Manhattan, and not make a dent in your income. (Oddly, even the hyper-rich don't typically spend $1000 on lunch every day: a more realistic expectation might be to dine out expensively twice a week, for $100K/year, and have the best of everything in-house the rest of the time, with a live-in chef, for another $100K/year.)

Clothing is essentially free; want a different $5000 suit for every day of the week? That's going to set you back only $35K! Spouse wants a dozen designer evening gowns a year? That's still going to be on the low side of $200K.

Housing is essentially free; $1000/day will rent you a penthouse suite in a five star hotel in Manhattan, while your mortgageable income will let you buy a palace in the $5-20M range. (There are places where you may need to spend more than $20M to buy a house; but not many of them.)

You don't have to do housework, interior decorating, cooking, driving, DIY home improvements, flight booking, or shopping (unless you want to). People can be hired to do any of the above for rates ranging from $15K to $100K per year, depending on the complexity of the job. And you earn $100K per week.

Travel: you have a car, or cars. Any cars you like. And a driver and a mechanic, either full-time employees or time-shared via an agency or a very exclusive garage. When you fly, you either go first class via the express security lane, or (airports are tedious) your driver takes you straight to the steps of the biz jet you hired. You are probably not rich enough to own a jet of your own, without making sacrifices elsewhere, but you can certainly afford to hire one once or twice a week.

Education: you, and/or your children, can afford any education you like, without having to go into debt to fund it. Even if the kids aren't that bright, you can afford to hire tutors to push them in just the right direction. And the high end universities where the children of the rich go to learn how their social class networks usually look kindly on a donation in six digits to their trust.

Law: you can afford the best defense lawyers, period, and meet any reasonable bail conditions. There's no guarantee that you can't be prosecuted and imprisoned if you break the law — especially if you commit high crimes against the 0.5% (Bernie Madoff springs to mind) — but the system can be bent, if not broken, on your behalf.

(Do you notice a pattern developing here? We're climbing Maslow's hierarchy of needs.)

There are some things that having an income of $5M/year, or even $5Bn/year, can't buy you.

First on the list is health.

Take Steve Jobs: billionaire (deceased). In '07-08, he allegedly kept a Gulfstream jet and a flight crew on standby, 24 hours a day, for three months, while waiting for a transplant liver matching his tissue type to become available. You and I certainly can't afford to do that. He also paid to have his genome, and that of his cancer, sequenced: a cool $100K (although that's due to drop to $1K in another few years). Despite having essentially unlimited funds available, money couldn't save him. Medicine and healthcare is one of the areas where, above and beyond a certain threshold, money makes zero difference to your prognosis. We're all going to die sooner or later; what kills us will be a condition for which there is no available treatment, and the only way money could help with that would be if you knew to throw a billion dollars at the problem several years before it happened.

More subtly, there's collective security. As Lemony Snicket put it, "Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending." Your personal income of $5M/year, even if you devoted it entirely to Good Deeds, is insufficient leverage to deflect widespread public outrage at the class of people (half a million of them) with income in that bracket. At best, you might get let off the tumbril for good behaviour.

There are other forms of collective security, too. Threats of invasion by dastardly foreign dictators; security against crimes committed by the lumpenproletariat: environmental collapse: pandemics. In the final analysis, in each of these cases you're in the same lifeboat as everyone else in your civilization. You might be the richest Tyrannosaur on the block, but when the dinosaur killer comes, you're going to be just another dead Rex.

Next up, there's the impossible dream. If you want something that doesn't exist, you can pay people to make it for you ... up to a point. If what you want is a Boron-11 fusion reactor, and your name isn't Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you may have a creditworthiness problem. Elon Musk has famously said he wants to retire on Mars; with only $200M, he's having to build his own space program and fund it with commercial launches in order to get there. The problem we face is that most of the low-hanging fruits to which we might aspire have been plucked; anything radically different is likely to be highly path-dependent, and iterating through all the intermediate steps is phenomenally expensive (even by the standards of the 1%).

Finally, there's the point (unpleasant to contemplate for some) that income inequality can't increase beyond the level it has already reached today without massive and unpleasant social consequences, some of which may be non-obvious side-effects of the drive towards a security state strong enough to protect the elite. By some estimates, 20-25% of the labour employed in the USA today is guard labour, work devoted to preventing the poor from expropriating the rich. Widespread application of anti-terrorism statutes to criminal enforcement suggests to me that the War on Terror has proven its utility as a useful pretext for expansion of the guard labour state; in light of which, reversal of Griswold v. Connecticut would pave the way for the deployment of ubiquitous surveillance techniques. (Which suggests a possible reason why the moneyed-elite faction of the Republican party are willing to tolerate the demands of the abortion-and-contraception-hating religious wing of the party.)

Anyway, let me get to the point ...

Let us postulate that over the next century we manage to get past the crises that beset us. Let me postulate that we and our descendants mitigate climate change, find substitutable alternatives for fossil fuels as energy sources, invent qualitatively better systems of economic and political governance that increase the overall wealth of our society and reduce income inequality at the same time.

In this happy shiny future, the third world no longer exists — it has developed fully, and is as healthy and wealthy as everywhere else. Let us throw in vast progress in medical sciences, such that the collection of diseases we call "cancer" become manageable nuisances, and coronary heart disease, autoimmune disorders, dementias, and a whole bunch of other conditions become essentially curable and affordably so for all. Let's throw in some reduction in total human population — not by violence, but by natural attrition and reduction in total fertility. We probably also need progress in robotic control systems to the point where many current "unskilled" jobs can be automated, and a major cultural shift away from the "work for pay" paradigm (which is so pervasive as to be unquestioned today) so that even if we can't find useful work for people to do, they don't feel excluded and they have a sufficient share of the wealth to be comfortable.

This isn't going to be a world that feels rich, any more than today's middle class EU or USA feels wealthy, until you compare the average standard of living to that of previous centuries. We evaluate our status by referring to our neighbours; if none of our neighbours are starving and homeless, starvation and homelessness drop out of the attributes we measure ourselves against. If everyone has a cornucopia machine, then mere possession of physical property (that isn't hand made or bespoke or of historic interest) stops being a status signifier. If we have flexible humanoid robot servants then employing a cook or a gardener stops being a status signifier. And so on. By the standards of 1811, or 1911, we're almost all extremely rich: we don't get polio or smallpox, we don't have to go hungry or sleep 12 to a room, we have running water and indoor heating and lighting, and many of us own our own private automobiles.

In such a post-developed world, we can reasonably say that the normal and average standard of living should approximate that of today's 1%: everyone has not merely the bare necessities (which today too many people do not) but a level of provision for basic needs that approximates to today's wild luxury, and which should encompass the cost of trips into low earth orbit at equivalent cost to a trans-Pacific business class ticket today.

What would drive people in such a society? Because unlike today's 1%, they're not running to stay one step ahead of the herd.

It's not going to be fear of starvation or homelessness; fixing those problems was implicitly part of the background. Indeed, we can probably ignore the bottom of Maslow's pyramid of needs. What we're left looking at is the top half, the stuff money has difficulty buying: esteem, self-actualization, love, respect, creativity. (Also their dark siblings: jealousy, self-abnegation, hate, contempt, conformism. Which are mostly defined by contrast, so we're unlikely to ever be free of them.)

More subtly, we can probably anticipate a pervasive spread of WEIRD socialization — (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic); the typical citizen won't be ethnically Western, but the rest of the package looks likely to apply, and the relatively homogeneous traits of the 1% around the world today suggest convergence at the base of the pyramid tomorrow.

This is similar to the population from which today's space cadets are drawn, with three added twists: it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western. Is it a population from which it is reasonable to expect a viable space colonization movement to grow?


318 Comments

1:

Here's another quote, this one from "Chinatown":

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Noah Cross: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future. Now, where's the girl? I want the only daughter I've got left. As you found out, Evelyn was lost to me a long time ago.

2:

Yes, but it'll be a global minority pursuit, with a number of organisations at times co-operating and competing with each other regarding projects. So it'll take more time. There'll be charismatic leaders pushing their own particular views, there'll be experiments and failures and people deliberately consuming less so the spare stuff can be put towards building their rocket.

Also it would be another social discriminator, perhaps enough that a sub set of the richer folk do it precisely because of that, perhaps harking back to their ancestors sailing trips in the good old days500 years previously.

3:

Hmm. Just off the top of my head, here is one possible effect of nonwestern culture on building a generation ship. Travel to other systems - and return - might be more feasible for East Asian lineage groups that can count on their earthbound kin for support. If a vehicle required maintaining a beam to push it over a period of decades or centuries, that could be entrusted to members of the lineage group. Such groups have been known to survive with a strong clan cultural memory intact for dozens of generations, through times rich and poor. No reliance on state or corporation for investment - it can be kept in the family.

4:

I guess I'm still believe on the main theme of the Asimov's robot series, that it is the disfranchised population who may embark on space colonization, rather than the rich and comfortable (even though they may like their weekend orbital getaways). Even in the proto-utopia you describe here, not everyone will be equal. The poor and underprivileged among them (which might be, in fact, richer than our 1%) are the one to dream of new lands.

5:

YES!

You are postulating something very similar to "The Culture" I notice - what a suprise that wasn't.

As for rich/priveliged people sneering, there are three alternatives.
1. The Bill Gates model, where money is diverted to "good works"
People who follow this will be OK.
2. The gated community model - which is SO dangerously seductive, and always fails in the end.
One might call it the Latifundia model
3. Well, look to Libya to see what happens to people who try that one.

Incidentally, any hope of that happening to the bastards in Burma and N. Korea?
Another funny little trope just popped up, btw.
Only two countries in the world (AFAIK) tax their population on Nationality, rather than residence.
One is the aforementioned hellole of N. Korea.
Where is the OTHER one?

6:

"... workers in the financial sector, CEOs in public corporations, or the odd lottery-winning anomaly ..."

As a worker in the financial sector I'd just like to point out that hyper-wealth is not common there either -- e.g. 99% of workers in banks most definitely do not have the kind of incomes that make headlines, or posts like this one

7:

I got that; I strongly doubt that the folks I deal with behind the counter at my local bank are in the 0.5%, for example. Nevertheless, it's the high-rolling investment and wealth management specialists who give everyone else the bad name. And, one suspects, the senior executives (who are drawn from their ranks) who set the remuneration levels.

8:

"This is similar to the population from which today's space cadets are drawn, with three added twists: it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western."

If "space cadets" were influenced by an era, then no. The population of this future period will probably have very different aspirations.

More at issue is what space colonization will look like. If it looks like full-blown O'Neill, then I could see that emerging - as the equivalent of a gated community. It would have all the amenities of a wealthy community. But unless there a lot of them, then they may start out more like resorts.

But if it looks more like a limited existence, e.g. historic emigration to the colonies, then no.

Space tourism, that's a different story. That offers the wealthy new experiences and status.

What would interest me is if there is a path from tourism to colonization? If you visit Mars, will there need to be locally grown foods for cost and freshness, or can these be shipped up from earth more effectively? Can/do the human staff (I assume robots are not up to the task) live on Mars for either long tours (years) or permanently? Do they become de facto "colonists"?

My hunch is the answer is no. A colonist is highly motivated to live a new life, and therefore will put up with privations to satisfy that need. This suggests they will tolerate relatively crude transportation and living conditions. That is not what the wealthy will demand.

To me the ultimate expression of this is star flight. As the world gets wealthier, the potential privation gap gets larger. While I can see C19th farmers debarking, I cannot see the attraction for moderns.

9:

Yes indeed, when the only thing left to strive for is more money maybe you've got enough already!

Perhaps the uber-rich top 0.5% would consider spending some of their cash to help the bottom 20% move off-World?
Is that win-win or would the potentially questionable motives of the 0.5% leave a bad taste, even if the 20% end up better off?

10:

> By some estimates, 20-25% of the labour employed in the USA today is guard labour, work devoted to preventing the poor from expropriating the rich.

PDF link is broken (forgot the 'http://' prefix and turned it into a relative local link?)

12:

With the caveat that dualistic categories are overly simplistic, I was talking with my wife the other night and we ended up discussing how there are basically two types of 0.5% folks- the ones who got there as a by-product of pursuing some other goal and the ones who got there because getting there was the only goal they had.

So a lot of the uber-rich here in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are the first type, folks like Bill Gates and Paul Allen. They're not living like monks in the Himalayas by any stretch, but Bill Gates also devotes a lot of his resources to charitable causes. Paul Allen spends a chunk of his change to share his geeky loves with the rest of us, so Seattle ends up with things like the EMP, Science Fiction Museum, and the Cinerama. Those are the types of people who may throw future money at trying to live at least part time in space because that is what they dreamed about as a child.

The second type, for whom the whole point is having the most toys, aren't going to care about space colonization unless it already becomes established as a status thing by other folks. They are certainly not going to take the initiative to build high rises in the high frontier because if all they cared about was colonizing hostile environments to get away from the proletariat riff-raff, we'd be seeing underwater mansions and winter palaces in Antarctica.

In the Shiny Happy Future, it will still take something like a government or megacorp to finance putting permanent habitats in space and I don't think the average citizen is going to care. Look at the American manned space program, it didn't even last half a century and the only reason it got off the ground in the first place was Cold War paranoia and not wanting the commies to get to the moon first. Without some kind of jingoistic motivator, I don't see resources being devoted to living in space even if those resources are plentiful. Who are the future bugbears going to be? The current candidates for Evil Other are religious extremists who are pretty anti-science, so it's not like they are in a hurry to start a program for the glory of God.

I think if the future mega-rich are going to throw their money at a science fiction trope, it will be something like achieving immortality rather than boldly going where no man has gone before. Maybe I am just being pessimistic, but I think hedonism will win out for them over altruism and there is no hedonistic appeal in space.

13:

I feel that our age old friend, testosterone, may still drive certain people to outcompete each other. Even if everyone is somewhat comfortable and equitable, it is hard for me to imagine a world where some don't strive for there own perceived "superiority" over others. This drive could be funneled into things like sports, fashion, arts, or for now otherwise unknown pursuits. One of these pursuits could be space exploration, possibly space colonization. It could be a way for some to put their names in the history books so to speak.
Perhaps the" danger of it all" could motivate some, as has been suggested with drug use amongst young males, as a way of showing fitness, despite the risks. However, I think in a society where people are more comfortable, space exploration, rather than space colonization would be a more likely outcome.
That being said, even in a equitable society, can you ever throw out the possibility of religious exodus cropping up, where some, even though comfortable, are drawn towards some philosophy or charismatic figure which makes the founding of a new colony, despite the dangers, seem appealing?

14:

Quibbles: if the top 0.5% has income of 0.5M a year and retired assets of 2M (that's all?), your dissected example of 5M a year is obviously even further up the power law curve.

$1000/meal is (a) some amazingly expensive meals, even if you're feeding a whole family and (b) $1M a year, which I think qualifies as making a dent in $5M.

Essay seems a bit disjointed; I was expecting something on space being colonized or at least modestly developed by the ultra-rich, and then you jump to what I call First World World instead...

15:

I suspect that, even in the shiny, happy world Charlie postulates, space colonization will be in roughly the same category as technical diving is today. Only a minority will do it, even if most financially could.

Of course, the bigger issue is that we need serious magitech to get people to that level, since the average American consumes about as much as two blue whales. A world population with similar consumption characteristics would be difficult to support.


16:

Um. Clans. Clan internal politics get really interesting, and I'm not sure I'd count on them when I'm heading away from the main clan at high speed.

17:

Part of what Elon Musk is doing is culture hacking too. Before Tesla, 'Electric car' meant a milk float; Musk made an aspirational sports car that was also green. Now he's making a cool minivan.
He has explicitly said he did software to get the capital to do cars to get the capital to do space travel; he's making that aspirational for the 0.1% too. Bezos has his space program, the google duo have their Lunar X-prize.
Spaceships as the new yachts?

18:

Yes, it could be minority pursuit like the open source movement today (Linux == Base on Mars?), but it could also be the new organization principle of the future society. Since we'll be shifting away from "work for pay", why not replace it with "work for space colonization"? Space colonization may be the best and only worthy goal people can be persuaded to follow in such a society.

19:

Space colonisation strikes me as being squeezed from two ends. From one side, it is very technologically difficult, biologically uncomfortable, and expensive to do. From the other side, it offers few tangible benefits aside from knowing that you've done (and that by doing it you have made the human race marginally more protected from the risks of extinction). People freezing in Europe could dream of rich exotic lands with wonderful foods and treasures. When it comes to space, we can only dream of inhospitably toxic, freezing and barren rocks. I honestly think that the dream of space colonisation will become increasingly marginalised as more and more people are born with this knowledge – those most excited about space exploration tend to have been born when space seemed neither as difficult nor as limited in benefits as we now know it be.

Also a side note on health care. Being in a position to spend $100k-$500k on preventative care and (mild) regimens (as well as being able to buy oneself out hazardous occupations) greatly reduces the risk of being put in a position in which no money can save you.

20:

While $1M sounds like a big dent, it still leaves you with 4 MILLION dollars for everything else Charles identified here.

While it may be an extreme example of how one would spend some of their wealth, it does highlight the point quite well.

21:

I note that since whoever gets to the asteroid belt first has conquered the planet (securing both a cheap unstoppable weapon and a large economic advantage), any early foray into space colonisation is likely to be taken over by fear and the military, and not run by independent wealthy people.

In other words, I expect a very ugly cold war, with nations sabotaging each other's launch attempts in an effort to stop anybody else being the first to get a viable industrial base outside planetary orbit.

22:

The word everyone is missing here is POWER. What do very wealthy people do once they’ve made their fortunes and experienced every possible luxury life has to offer? They usually seek power. The possibility of leaving the Earth, lording over a crowded, frontierless planet, owning the moon or Mars, starting an outer space empire, becoming the patriarch of an entirely new branch of human civilization, etc. is going to be very attractive to the more ambitious people. Isn’t that really what is driving the billionaire spacemen like Musk and Bezos? And I hope they succeed, because the alternative of a frontierless planet full of ambitious apes with no outlet for their Will to Power seems to bleak to contemplate.

23:

That scenario is but definitely going to make space colonization a minority activity...but it was always going to be so. Space won't have a large population until it grows it's own, and that means learning how to live there, which is going to be dangerous.

OTOH, there are lots of different sky hooks. And the space elevator isn't one of the early ones. My favorite is the pinwheel, with arms that only reach down as far as a high flying airplane can go up...and maybe not quite that far. This means you don't reduce the costs to orbit quite as much, but you also don't need the fantastic strengths that the space elevator needs. And the possible failure modes aren't as bad. A pinwheel would probably reduce the cost to orbit down to around $500/Kg (*very* rough estimate). The problem is that you need equal traffic both up and down, or you need continual orbital corrections. And, like all skyhooks, you need a heavy mass in orbit.

But that's diverging...slightly. The initial steps will be quite dangerous. WHY would people put up with that? The historical reasons are either political or religious disagreements. And they will need sponsorship from among *their* societies upper crust...I'm thinking of Britain and the Puritans and the Quakers, here. (I don't really see space as a penal colony....except in the sense that Australia was. And even then not in the early days.) And I have a really hard time in thinking of space as a source for minerals for use on Earth. [Elsewhere in space, yes.] Or hydrocarbons. Cheaper to make them locally. Energy *is* a possibility, but only as beamed energy. And that should clearly be robotized, and in Earth orbit. So again that's not a reason for space colonization.)

But what space *could* be is a way of getting rid of malcontents without seriously angering their relatives.

24:

I'm with a few of the other commenters here—the post-developed world postulated here might easily work, except for that unfortunate, oft-dangerous component of human nature known as "greed."

Charlie, you say that people would be driven to live in said society because "unlike today's 1%, they're not running to stay one step ahead of the herd." Perhaps, but in some ways I perceive the 1% not as wanting to be "one step ahead"—it's more like "one thousand miles ahead." In other words, even if you've taken care of the entire pyramid of needs, there are always going to be those who "want more," who live their lives on the hedonic treadmill and therefore always have to be gaining—often over others. How would we address this? Or are we simply postulating that the society would be structured in such a way that these "ambitious" ones effectively couldn't rise above their peers?

25:

It's so gratifying to read something like this. A realistic "utopia" without the need to invoke magic wands.

In this type of society I imagine that co-operative ventures towards meteoroid TS would be quite common. If we are all rich (I.e we never even bother to think about the cost of necessities and 99% of luxuries are attainable for a not insurmountable cost) it wouldn't be that hard to round up tens of thousands or more people worldwide all willing to donate a percentage of their wealth and time towards tackling long term megaprojects like space travel.

Indeed we could reasonably assume that in this society a variety of not-for-profit transnational groups could have the resources to set up something like a space station or moon base for experimentation in manned space missions.

26:

"Key Largo"

Johnny Rocco: There's only one Johnny Rocco.
James Temple: How do you account for it?
Frank McCloud: He knows what he wants. Don't you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Sure.
James Temple: What's that?
Frank McCloud: Tell him, Rocco.
Johnny Rocco: Well, I want uh ...
Frank McCloud: He wants more, don't you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Yeah. That's it. More. That's right! I want more!
James Temple: Will you ever get enough?
Frank McCloud: Will you, Rocco?
Johnny Rocco: Well, I never have. No, I guess I won't. You, do you know what you want?

27:

Let me suggest a contrary view.

I once wrote about the Dane Dare comic of the '50s, "It had to do with all the world's peoples working together and proving equal to any disaster." It was a marginal aspect, to be sure, though Frank Hampson & co persistently had dark faces turning up with good lines and significant parts. But it struck me like that as an Aussie child because those were the days of the Britsh Commonwealth (not Empire) and of the United Nations, and also when Woomera was a British rocket ground.

I reckon part of the dream of space has always been that we'd be going there once nationality had been reduced to a mere curiosity of heritage, and not before. It would be Earth people going out.

Today I think something a bit different from that. It's plausible that the next big push into space will be Chinese, or Korean robotics launched on European boosters, etc; maybe twenty years hence, maybe fifty. When that happens it will seem a little quaint to the people living through it, that it all started with Russians and Americans way back when. It will be evident to anyone with a bit of historical perspective that if you think about the space development a hundred years still further on, it will be a different culture doing it. Perhaps a different culture's 1%. Space will pass from hand to hand. The future inevitably is Earthian.

28:

I think if the future mega-rich are going to throw their money at a science fiction trope, it will be something like achieving immortality rather than boldly going where no man has gone before.

Already are. And if/when that is solved?

29:

Are you by any chance a diagnosed sociopath?

30:

Space colonisation strikes me as being squeezed from two ends. From one side, it is very technologically difficult, biologically uncomfortable, and expensive to do.

So are resorts, but they are built. An orbital tourist resort with trips to the lunar surface as an extended option seems feasible as a start.

31:

Unfortunately I think people will remain competitive, they will simply switch to different fields of competition. What those fields will be is hard to say, bad art maybe (like in Forever War)? Or some kind of pseudo capitalism?

The scenario also reminds me a bit of the Golden
Age series by John Wright or Cory Doctrow's stuff of course..

32:

The technological and economic conditions that make space colonization possible would also make life on earth extraordinarily pleasant and appealing. I've long suspected that the space colonization, if it were to occur, would be done by eccentric trillionaires and religious cults - in short, madmen.

33:

"Yes indeed, when the only thing left to strive for is more money maybe you've got enough already!"

With the uber-rich I know it's not about money. That is just the score card in the game.

34:

Every culture has its megaprojects: pyramids, cathedrals, space programs, ringworlds. Of course it may be effectively random what type of project is chosen; maybe we choose Matryoshka spheres instead of interstellar colonies.

In my sf future (see link), I postulate that the people who go into space are mostly cranks: religious minorities who want to stop the clock at a particular point, or groups like libertarians who want to live in a way larger society refuses to. And larger society helps to subsidize their projects, as it's found that the grandchildren of cranks, out on a space habitat somewhere, are often eager for contact with the wider world.

35:

While you are just describing a projection of current trends towards expanding standards of living, from our current perspectives it looks as if this hypothetical future world society has placed a high value on stability, sustainability, and foresight.

In the past, various cultures/civilizations have found themselves in situations like the following:

a) "Wow, things are going great/have been improving"
b) "Oh, look, we appear to have hit $Peak_Trees for generating $Giant_stone_heads which are central to our culture!"
c) "Whatever shall we do?"
d1) "$Placate_the_gods with more $Giant_stone_heads and wars"
d2) "Change something so we don't all suffer as a consequence of overshoot"

(I've drawn my example from James Diamond's narrative as to what happened on Rapa Nui as he described it in Collapse, but substitute your own strings for your own narratives. He provides examples of societies that go d1 and d2.)

While I don't believe we can predict from first principles which cultures are more likely to choose d2 over d1, perhaps we can identify certain societal values which predispose any given society for better outcomes. (That looks like empiricism and the ability to successfully petition and/or replace leaders to bring about meaningful change, from where I sit.)

The question, then, should be... what sorts of cultures/values will get us through the apparent problems of the next 100 years, and how might people holding those values consider colonization?

(The other question would be 'and, after doing all that, what kind of a surpluses do they possess?)

Perhaps, with the developments in robotics and medicine you describe, it will be practical to send tens of multipurpose robotics and a packaged factory that can produce more from which to develop an industrial base. Eventually, they might build habitats and/or begin the very significant work of terraforming (along with some cultured genetic material). Finally, you could send some freeze-dried apes across on some very slow boats.

I imagine that such a process would probably take a thousand years, if not more, before it was completed. The extent to which it makes more sense to terraform the Gobi desert and continental shelves first, rather than in parallel, may depend on the ecological values of this hypothetical civilization.

36:

Circa 1811CE:
"When, in 200 years, every Englishman is as rich as the richest noblemen we have now, what motivation will there be to do anything except sit in idle luxury?"

Answer that question first.

37:

The extent to which it makes more sense to terraform the Gobi desert and continental shelves first, rather than in parallel, may depend on the ecological values of this hypothetical civilization.

Very true.

I think that just about any plausible space colonization scenario relies axiomatically upon the parent civilization's environmental values starting with "(1) Do not shit in the nest. (2) Goto 1."

Space colonization implies a high energy civilization -- because it has to be capable of putting lots of stuff into orbit -- which in turn implies clean energy sources or dramatic environmental degradation and pollution. Which is not sustainable for anything like the duration required to make a decent fist of space colonization.

(To be fair, many of the space cadets have cottoned onto that; and they get excited over ideas for environmental engineering to mitigate climate change.)

38:

No, I've never been diagnosed as a sociopath, and I'm not even sure how I would go about getting such a thing. But if I am, I consider it a gift, because sociopaths are essential for modern civilization. Try running an organization larger than your local clan without sociopaths and see how successful you are. One might even speculate that the intelligent sociopaths, which I suspect describes a sizable fraction of the one percenters, will own the future, and from the perspective of post Sociopathic Singularity civilization, the 99 percenters of today are going to seem like sentimental mutants. Of course these are just the speculations of a possibly sociopathic mind, so take them for what they're worth...

39:

There's the other possibility. Conditions could become so unpleasant for so long--for example, we're clustered in arcologies with the nuclear reactor within easy walking distance--that someone saying "hey, why don't we do this in space, it couldn't be worse than it is now, and at least we'll be going somewhere," will be greeted with the resounding response, "why not?" And thus we will colonize space.

40:

To be honest, I figure the best shot for human colonies in space is as examples of technical skill and conspicuous consumption--by the machines that colonize space.

Thing is, keeping a colony of humans alive for any length of time is a Great Technical Feat. Being able to do this demonstrates a massive resource base and high technical sophistication.

Much as the original space race was about competition between nations, human colonies may be the ultimate trophy, at least when they're out on Ceres. We won't be in charge, but at least we'll have colonized space...

41:

Dirk Bruere wrote:

Circa 1811CE:
"When, in 200 years, every Englishman is as rich as the richest noblemen we have now, what motivation will there be to do anything except sit in idle luxury?"

Answer that question first.

The problem with that question is, that's not what happened. If you think that everyone living in the UK today is wealthier than the monied classes 200 years ago, you're not well informed. There are still people living in squalor and poverty and genuinely finding it hard to take care of their families. Even for the rest of us, we are not as rich in land, living space, personal security or leisure time, amongst other things.

42:

I wonder how relevant this discussion is. Not that it's not interesting, but not sure it's the right thread.

In just about every culture we can see historically and today there are a proportion who want to take risks. Sail around the world, find America (even if that's not the intention exactly), Climb Everest, be the first person to the South Pole, suppress the Taliban, whatever it is.

I suspect the urge isn't disappearing, although it's pretty hard to work out a good way to test that.

Surely these are the people that will make the effort to get into space and start colonising? I'm not sure how far the culture has to advance in all the things you've listed. We just need a situation where a critical mass of explorer types have the resources and facilities to try it.

43:

This is why I mentioned the biggest problem is being squeezed from two ends. If something is pretty pointless but trivial to do, chances are it will be done. If something is difficult to do but is incredibly rewarding, it will be done. But if something is both difficult and generally unrewarding it will not be. We can now build resorts on the North Pole or in the deep ocean. We do not because for most people the experience would be too uncomfortable to bother. Space, I feel, will be the same. The tech that would be able to make space colonisable would be able to make Earth paradise.

44:

Even for the rest of us, we are not as rich in land, living space, personal security or leisure time, amongst other things.

Metrics for measuring wealth change with the availability of status symbols.

We eat better and we're healthier than our predecessors. However, there are 61 million of us on a land mass which previously supported 10 million. And we have automobiles, too -- which may be a sign of wealth, but which eat huge amounts of land. Labour costs rose steadily from the late 19th century onwards, and the service sector switched to a time-sharing model (you pay for restaurants or housecleaning services by the hour, rather than by providing bed, board, and some small remuneration).

So we have much less space, vastly fewer servants, vastly more automobiles. And we still have the poor and the homeless (although as a smaller proportion of the population than during the late 19th century, with somewhat better/less inhumane provision[*]). On illness, it's probably a wash: we live longer and more of our children survive childhood and we have smaller families, but we linger into infirm old age.


[*] I have nothing good to say about the Tory government cuts to social services for the unemployed and the chronically ill. However, it would be wrong to conflate them with the deprivation of the Victorian poor-houses, or the piles of emaciated corpses in the parks of London every winter during major economic recessions.

45:

Dr. Doom might be on to something. Let all the would-be Alexander's stop their weeping: plenty of worlds to conquer out there! Just, go. No conquering needed here, thanks. Begone.

46:
In this happy shiny future, the third world no longer exists

Erm. I don't actually disagree with the sentiment...
...but either you're wrong about how far we've already progressed in this direction, or Hans Rosling has been lying for five years. And that latter possibility is a desperately depressing one.

Also, "the Other" - I'm not sure I'd agree with the idea that it's the riff-raff, or Johnny Foreigner. Not that those xenophobic tendencies don't exist in our countries (sadly, that's one illusion that gets shattered daily), but because those who hold them... tend to look on the science fiction section of the bookstore as the first place to go to have some fun with petrol and matches.

The "other", for a lot of those of us who read your kind of books, are, I suspect, not defined by skin colour, ethnicity or anything so inert, but by their attitudes and actions. The "Other", for me at least, are the braying mob - the allegorical mob of torch-wielding villagers, whether they're chasing the Monster out of town and burning down the Doctor's lab; or chasing the podiatrist out of Portsmouth to save the children. (And yes, I know, urban legend, but the principle stands).

As to what motivates the Star Trek society (yeuch, but that is what you're talking about...), I suspect we won't ever reach it. There's not much in economic theory that tells you how to run such a society, and if our basic economics breaks down, I suspect things won't be stable for long enough to pause and figure out what to do next.

Hell, there was a report released this week (but written over a decade ago) advising that the US government not pay off its foreign debt, because economists were worried it would crash the global and domestic economies if the debt was paid off. Which to me sounds like our entire economic system is in what pilots refer to as an unrecoverable attitude - ie. pay down your debts and you'll crash the system, don't pay down your debts and you'll crash the system. The basic fundamentals of economics seem to be predicated on the concept that wealth (in whatever form) is unevenly distributed and that the energy in the system comes from the subsequent flow of that wealth from one part of the system to the other. If everyone had the same amount of wealth as everyone else, it'd be the economics version of the heat death of the universe...

47:
Only two countries in the world (AFAIK) tax their population on Nationality, rather than residence. One is the aforementioned hellole of N. Korea. Where is the OTHER one?

Well, it's not exactly like that - the IRS requires you to file forms with them every year, but you might not be actually taxed as a result if living abroad. The problems most of the US people in Canada are currently having with that seems to stem not from back taxes, but from fines for not filing forms.

Which isn't to defend the IRS because frankly, it's one of the most transparent acts of moneygrubbing I've seen outside of Ireland in quite a while!

48:

Conditions could become so unpleasant for so long--for example, we're clustered in arcologies with the nuclear reactor within easy walking distance--that someone saying "hey, why don't we do this in space, it couldn't be worse than it is now, and at least we'll be going somewhere," will be greeted with the resounding response, "why not?" And thus we will colonize space.

The problem is that if the technology and industrial base exists to colonize other worlds, that same technology and industrial base could be used to make Earth livable, even Edenic, at a fraction of the expense of sending people out into space.

All the arguments about how we need someplace to go in case Earth devolves into a shitpile ignore the fact that even a shitpile Earth is a thousand times more promising a target for colonization and eco-remediation than anywhere else in the solar system (and much, much easier to get to).

49:

The sub-set of the super-rich who are successful entrepreneurs frequently turn into serial entrepreneurs.

If you've dedicated all of your thought, passion, and a decade of 80-hour weeks into idea X, and that idea turns out to pay off, then you've almost certainly not the kind of person who's going to kick back, put your feet up, and waste any time enjoying your huge wealth. You're going to start working on ideas Y, Z, and all the rest. I know one guy who sold his company for US$150 million, bought a 150 foot yacht, cruised around the Caribbean for a year, realised that sitting on a yacht is very dull, and then went back home to set up his own VC company.

In fact, everyone I know worth more than $10 million is driven by the experience that they've done it once, so they either want to do it again, or help others to do so. They have strong internal creativity butthey compete for status amongst their peers by the business success of their next new idea, not their last one. This need for concrete, demonstrable successes influences which of their many ideas they are willing to pursue.

However, each and every those people has very much bought into the rules of the game, as it stands. They are wealthy through business activities and their success is a success only by standard business metrics. And therein lies the rub - there remains no business case for space colonisation and that reduces the desire of any business person to put their time and effort into something that's not going to pay off in business terms. I'd argue that Elon Musk didn't think SpaceX couldn't be profitable, then he wouldn't be doing what he's doing, despite his statements about retiring on Mars.

(Admittedly, there's a selection effect here, coz I'm connected to the tech/VC side of The Rich and I don't find myself casually hanging out with property developers, landed gentry, or drug lords. Other subsets of Rich may have different success criteria.)

50:

Um, the vast majority of the risk-taking population are teenagers. Historically, they're also the ones who get shoved out the door with the admonition to go west, settle the next island, or at least "here's a horse, here's a sword, what's your hurry?"

Not sure that would work so well in space...

51:

Not all successful entrepeneurs or serial entrepeneurs only care about money as you'd suggest. As mentioned in a previous post, some entrepeneurs view money as the end goal and others have other motives. I don't think Bill Gates is expecting big personal returns on his malaria work. I think Musk wants to push some new frontiers more than make tons and tons of cash. If he were just after money, he could have gone after some other low-hanging fruit, which he's proven pretty good at with 2 bigtime exits. (low-hanging relative to solar,electric cars, space travel)

52:
The problem is that if the technology and industrial base exists to colonize other worlds, that same technology and industrial base could be used to make Earth livable, even Edenic, at a fraction of the expense of sending people out into space.

All the arguments about how we need someplace to go in case Earth devolves into a shitpile ignore the fact that even a shitpile Earth is a thousand times more promising a target for colonization and eco-remediation than anywhere else in the solar system (and much, much easier to get to).

But that also applies to earth too. Yet for some reason, we build resorts on remote "desert" islands and other inaccessible places.

Similarly, despite there being nothing at the North Pole, expect to see cruise ships making summer polar visits in the next few years (we've already had flights around the South Pole).

So perhaps something harder, like underwater hotels? Done. Not a deep ocean hotel, but you want a view.

So why not a hotel/resort in space? Great view of Earth (astronauts have confirmed that fascination). It would just have to offer luxury, rather than just spartan accommodation, plus the amenities that are worth paying for.

The mistake is thinking that full blown O'Neill's will just spring up de novo. That's like thinking a city can be built instantly or even a resort. I would expect that we will see relatively crude hotels that offer novel experiences. They will expand, become more luxurious until they look remarkably "colony-like".

If there are to be long duration tours, e.g. Mars tour, I would expect the ships to be like luxury cruisers, much as depicted by Clarke's "Universe" in 2061: Odyssey 3.

If the wealthy will pay, then I would expect people to service their needs, living as locals. Is that really going to be so different from being a colonist?

Human settlements have not always been self-sufficient, but were often on trade routes and survived by offering services for the traders. I would expect that to be the model, not farmers in space.

53:

Besides, it would be more difficult, by orders of magnitude, to put together a program to attempt to colonize a planet or moon or whatever in an era where it's accurate to say that colonization would be no worse than living on Earth. People might feel as though there wouldn't be much of a difference, but I suspect that would come from reading too many stories where space travel is like an intercontinental plane flight, only you get to float around in the middle of it.

Perhaps that's the point, that conditions wouldn't have to deteriorate nearly that far for people to prefer another planet to this one ... but if it's a selective condition similar to today, where some people live in abject poverty and others live in complete luxury, the ones in poverty are not going to be the ones escaping to Mars City, certainly not until well after it's built and they can figure out how to stow away for months on a flight to Mars.

If the outside air becomes unbreathable, if cosmic radiation becomes more than a passing concern, if we find ourselves in a situation where communities of some size must produce everything they need to live on their own ... in a situation like that, there simply won't be available resources to devote to space travel, and if a group of people does manage to squirrel away things to build a colonization program, it would have to be done in total secrecy. People in that environment wouldn't hesitate to put an end to someone else's plans to escape a dying Earth by whatever means would be necessary: if they managed to divert the resources to their own needs, that would be a bonus, but if they simply stopped someone else (most likely one of what would be the 0.5% in that era), that would be fine, too.

54:

BTW, your Warren Buffett point is valid. The joke that Economists make amongst ourselves is: "Why pick it up? If it were real, the probability is that someone would have picked it up already!"

That overlaps #51: "low-hanging" as in "low-hanging fruit" which gets picked first.

55:

Ahem: you're new here, aren't you? Have you been following the ongoing discussions of the resource base required to actually construct a viable self-sustaining off-Earth colony?

(If you haven't, here's a hint: we're talking, at a minimum, about a small-sized nation state, and costs -- in today's money -- measured in the trillions of dollars. Self-sufficiency means there are no externalities -- you've got to cover everything.)

56:

Favourite Quote from Marvel's Dr Doom "How ungrateful are those who will not accept the rule of Doctor Doom! Do not I give them shelter... Provide them with food? And all I ask is total, blind, obedience!"

57:

Re: #51, 53:

Quite some time ago I explained why I estimated the cost of bootstrapping Mars from undeveloped real estate roughly equal to today's land area of Earth, to self-sufficiency and export-import-balance as roughly $1 Quadrillion. That's one million times $1,000,000.

Back of envelope. Your mileage may vary.

58:

> what kills us will be a condition for which there is no available treatment, and the only way money could help with that would be if you knew to throw a billion dollars at the problem several years before it happened

Hypothesis: if everyone who had, say, ten billion dollars threw a billion dollars at a different problem each, the rich would never have to die.

59:

In order to reach its conclusion that 20-25% of the labour in the US is "guard labour", that paper assigns to that category anyone whose job involves supervision of other people. Including, e.g., most managers.

I'm as willing as any other peon to Stick It To The Man, but I'd hardly say that my boss's job is stopping me expropriating rich people's wealth.

60:

Whose skills are in demand in a post-developed world? I predict it will be creative people. When everyone has a robot chef, personal servants won't be a sign of affluence, but being able to hire a chef-programmer to make (your robot make) you a one-of-a-kind meal will be.

Counting Heads by David Marusek talks about the "boutique economy," which replaces the services economy.

Looking at online communities, we already see the collectors and purveyors of interesting creations rising to the top. A world controlled by agents?

61:

I don't think he requires sociopathy for this- some people are only happy when they have as much as their neighbors. Others are only happy when they have _more of_ something than their neighbors. Money, power, attractiveness in a spouse, etc.
They're not amoral, they just want a heirarchy and to be higher than those around them in it.

62:

How about, part of your boss's job is to stop you drawing your salary while goofing off all day, pilfering office supplies, and commenting on my blog -- instead of working?

It's supervision in the loosest sense, and it probably doesn't apply to those of us who enjoy our jobs or who are self-employed.

But consider how much less management we'd need if everyone worked because they enjoyed what they were doing rather than because they could see no alternative that wasn't worse.

63:

Anybody remember the space traveling end to "The Marching Morons"?

64:

Counterargument- can you think of making a system that gives people the freedom to do only the things they enjoy...without letting them do it the _way_ they want to do it?

Put another way, if you didn't need your job to continue to eat and get the comforts you want, how many times a day would you tell coworkers/bosses/publishers to go f*ck themselves because you were doing things your way and they could piss up a rope if they didn't like it?

For that matter, I've yet to meet someone who worked in the Emergency Room of my hospital who didn't have patients they wanted to kick out onto the street to die in order to give them more time to deal with the ones who weren't belligerent assholes.

65:

Turn it on its head: if you're a manager and you know you're running a bunch of millionaires who can simply say "I'm fed up now" and walk, aren't you going to develop strategies for convincing your subordinates/co-workers that they want to stay on?

Right now, we have, as Marx so charmingly put it, the disciplinary threat of unemployment to keep noses to grindstones. I submit that a society that works because of the use of the carrot rather than the stick as a primary tool would be fundamentally more humane. Not to mention more pleasant!

66:

That's what FU money is for. It's not uncommon in Silicon Valley. However, it works works to a degree in changing the supervisor-supervised relationship.

67:

The trend in the US has been to extract more than the 40 paid hours of work for the job. If anything, it is the companies that are stealing from workers.

68:

@63 I've done that "everyone works because they enjoy it", I've run a raiding guild in WoW (-:

Hardest management job I've ever had. Way harder then managing techies in Silicon Valley. Took more manager types to get the job done too. Complete and utter nightmare.

Very little of managing people at least in white collar educated professions is directly supervising them, unless they are really junior. A whiff of the lash every now and then maybe, to keep people from goofing off, but you'd be amazed how self regulating that kind of thing is if the outfit is at all well run and the place isn't a hell hole.

A large chunk of it is keeping them from killing eachother, another large chunk is the cat herding, trying to keep everyone pointed in the same general direction. The rest is flying political air cover.

The cat herding part becomes next to impossible if there is not a paycheck holding them to the course when they don't get their way

69:

My tuppence:

The society you describe, Charlie, lies on the other side of a social singularity. As such, we're as little likely to understand why its inhabitants do what they do as they will be able to understand us. (And let's face it, take away scarcity and we look like a bunch of monsters. Pol Pots, one and all.)

That said, I've seen a synopsis of Maslow's hierarchy that might be relevant: people need "to live; to love; to leave a legacy". If this characterisation does capture something intrinsic then it may survive the singularity.

From the legacy part, you might hope for a group of people to focus on a project to colonise the rest of the solar system ... after this planet has been 'restored' to some nostalgic pastoral idyll, of course.

70:

Well...the method you use to keep those rich employees might have to involve compensating them somehow...and when enough employees at enough companies get compensated, then _not_ being one of those compensated employees means being relatively poor...

Not to mention the question of how to fill roles that are intrinstically unpleasant. Garbageman? Help desk? Nurse nominated to manually disimpact a patient?

71:

The problem with having no coercion of some sort is that these dirty jobs tend not to get filled. It's the ice cream vs. broccoli problem: broccoli will keep you alive longer, but most people have to learn to like broccoli.

There are many dirty, crappy jobs that people grow to like, or at least grow acclimated to, and many of them are those obnoxious infrastructural jobs that absolutely need doing. They also include, oh, attending low level community meetings and listening to the cranks for hours on end, emptying bed pans in the hospital (or debriding burns, if you want the higher status version of an icky job), and teaching students introductory classes.

72:

In such a society as Stross proposes, space colonization would not only be possible but inevitable. First, the same sort of people who try to fly balloons around the world, or back in the day led private expeditions to the South Pole, would have the same urges. The only two places to go would be the bottom of the ocean (dark, no pretty pictures) or space.

Going to space (or the bottom of the ocean) means developing the technologies to get there and stay relatively cheaply. Once those technologies are available, those that don't want to live on Earth for any reason (political, religious, or sheer crankiness) will pack up and leave.

See, one of the reasons we're not building private resorts in Antarctica is that it's illegal - there's an international treaty that says you can't do that. There are a small subset of people who have a strong desire to not answer to a government, and if the technology becomes available that group will move out.

73:

The world Charlie is describing sounds a lot like Ken MacLeods "Cassini Division"(minus unfathomable and lethal AIs) with the somewhat distant prospect of becoming The Culture.

What will drive people in such a society? I'd suggest the old primate standbys of reproduction and status. Being able to bring up a couple of kids with close to 100% chance of success will satisfy a lot of people. Status climbing won't be so ferocious since it's no longer essential to improve the chance of your kids surviving. The world ticks over with people living happily and keeping an eye on the environment.

Space exploration and travel will be a hobby for a minority of science fiction enthusiasts - my local scifi/fantasy convention will celebrate rocket launches as well as book launches. Others will look on the hobby with bemusement most of the time and the occasional "no you are NOT using that until you've shown how you're treating the byproducts safely." No great wave settling the solar system, just a trickle of small habitats and probes and pleasure yachts.

Maybe a bit disappointing for space opera fans, but slow and steady often works.

74:

Charlie @ 43
" On illness, it's probably a wash: we live longer and more of our children survive childhood and we have smaller families, but we linger into infirm old age."
Strongly disagree.
I've just had a 100% successful leg-operation at age 65, which will ensure my renewed mobility for several more years.
And so it goes ....

Mark Dennehy @ 46
Coorect
The USA is the only country in the worls, apart from N Korea to punitive;y pursue its own citizens for atx, when not living inside their own borders!
Which tells you SOMETHING ....

pajah @ 56
Tell that to Terry Pratchett!
In the meantime, I'm going ot have quiet cry in a corner ....

Charlie @ 53
YES!

75:

There seems to be one underlying Marxist assumption here that may or may not be correct- that you can predict what people will act like given a set of economic conditions.

Notions of how to get the Culture have to note that The Culture or A Culture is more than a set of economic inputs. Hell, contrast Norway (somewhat violent history, previously colonized, considerable oil wealth) with Nigeria (somewhat violent history, previously colonized, considerable oil wealth). What made one one of the nicer places on earth to live, and the other...not...if not for cultural differences?

76:

David Graeber defines a slave as someone torn from their social context, whos value is independent of their social connections. I think the EIRD are only going to be more connected than today. The ping time from space is *awful*.

Perhaps Venkatesh Rao's notion of globalization as liquefaction is more promising, space as a place you visit as part of your life's journey.

77:

> (And let's face it, take away scarcity and we look like a bunch of monsters. Pol Pots, one and all.)

Uh, what? Security seems to make societies more humane, not less.

As for taxing non-resident citizens, I don't think it's a mark of slavery. They still benefit from citizenship, and the aura of military force, and being able to run back home. One could argue they shouldn't pay as much, since they're not a drain on local infrastructure, but they should probably pay something. For that matter, not paying state and local taxes, they *wouldn't* be paying for unusued infrastructure -- but would pay federal taxes for defense, pensions, economic stability, and basic research, among others.

78:

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/10/12/restaurant-histograms-of-the-day/

$1000/meal is quite a lot, but not that hard to get to.

The prix fixe tasting menu at Per Se in Manhattan is $295, +$40 for foie gras upgrade, +100 for truffle risotto or wagyu upgrade, +$N for wine. Add tax and tip and you're talking some serious money.

At Walmart, you can get some sesame chicken with mac+cheese or potato wedges for $3.50. (They just raised the price from $3.)

79:

Obviously, the driver for getting people into space will be reality TV.

Start with the general desire for novelty and exploration. Use audience voting to decide who gets to go, American Idol style. Participants are really truly trapped in a tiny space with nowhere to go - better than an island!

Dr. Doom (the commenter, not the Marvel character) will have a starring role, of course. A sociopath on a space station - I'd watch THAT.

80:
Turn it on its head: if you're a manager and you know you're running a bunch of millionaires who can simply say "I'm fed up now" and walk, aren't you going to develop strategies for convincing your subordinates/co-workers that they want to stay on?

Right now, we have, as Marx so charmingly put it, the disciplinary threat of unemployment to keep noses to grindstones.

I can see why you'd follow that chain of thought - it's true enough in some cases - but in others we're already past that point.

Take my industry - software/IT. Ignore all the incompetents working in the field. If you're good, it's not all that hard to find another job, even today. Unemployment is a nuisance rather than a threat, and as a disciplinary measure it's never going to be a surprise.

If you're running a team of software engineers who are good at their jobs, they're already able to say "I'm fed up now" and walk - into a different company. So this problem is widespread. The default retention strategy these days is stock options that require you to work at the company for a given number of years before they vest. It works about as long as you don't get outbid.

I've not seen any good solutions.

81:

But consider how much less management we'd need if everyone worked because they enjoyed what they were doing rather than because they could see no alternative that wasn't worse.

Alas, it's not at all clear that this will require fewer people. An interesting observation (which googling did not turn up) estimates the layers of management for a SF convention as the log5 of attendance, which sounds about right to me. Others have already commented on the management challenges of working with volunteer labor; while hardly the end of the world, it's different than working with employees.

A point not brought up yet is that a workforce comprised of people with no coercion to stay means that the workplace psychopath so common today will be greatly disadvantaged. That alone would be worth a small revolution...

82:

Anecdotal data point:

I knew the father of a school friend, who had a company worth well over £10 million. He'd backed a technological dead-end (Capacitance Electronic Disc systems) and cashed out before the bubble burst. The whole experience put him off business altogether - he was always more of an engineer than a money man.

Rather than starting another company, he spent a great deal of money on one and a half non-functioning Vulcan bombers, and devoted the rest of his life trying to restoring the Vulcan to flight status. If he'd been retiring today, he'd probably club together with a few sub-orbital enthusiasts.

I know a few comfortably-off people with rather less money but similar attitudes who are only interested in their hobbies, whether that's collecting 1950's guitars, rebuilding Morgan cars, raising their children in a tiny cottage in the Welsh mountains, or playing the diatonic accordion. They made their money, and having made it, largely withdrew in disgust from the whole sorry game. I've got a friend who hasn't had paid employment since the release of Screamadelica, and he's one of the happiest people I know.

I'm just back from "work" - I'm lucky to have no dependents, to have small reserves I can fall back on, and to be paid for something fun for people I like, where I can be myself. I'll work for fun, I'll work for free to help a friend(*), but I'll be damned if I'll sing for my supper when I've got food in the larder.

Not everyone has a work ethic. Most people have a private passion that takes up a lot of their time and sometimes they get paid for it, but the idea that working is normal or desirable is very strange to me.

I don't buy the myth of the noble savage in our past, but I do hope for it in our future.

(*)Always do a favour, never take an order.

83:

You'd never have to put up with a psycho boss, but you would find out how many coworkers in your field are assholes- when people refrain from cracking racist, sexist, or otherwise off-color jokes and comments in the workplace, is it due to a)increased sensitivity and civility or b) threat of being fired for doing so?
I suspect a return to "Mad Men" era behavior fairly quickly. Just less organized.

84:

This kind of problem has existed for a long time in a few disciplines. It predates Silicon Valley (and its employees with FU money) by several centuries.

The solution is as old as society. It's called leadership. A few people have it naturally. Others must work very hard on it. But it's attainable for all except a few problem types. I know, because for a few years I actually had to manage people. I worked very hard on my leadership skills and somehow, despite my lack of normal social graces and my previous life as a semi-hermit, I was successful.

That's why I don't think it would be impossible to motivate the prosperous folk of the 22nd century to get off their chaise longue and get to it building enough spacecraft for an extraterrestrial settlement effort. Of course, there is also the small problem of financing the spacecraft and getting it off Earth. That takes a lot more than leadership.

85:

Hmm, I don't think I explained myself very well if I left that impression. I meant to support FMguru's position ... not only is even a shitpile Earth a much more promising target to re-colonize than the most hospitable off-Earth location, but even if it were possible to establish life somewhere other than Earth, I think it would only be so if conditions on Earth were ideal.

As you've pointed out before, that kind of project is beyond massive. The public's appetite for even unmanned exploration seems to decrease as the economy does ... I can't imagine multiple governments getting permission during difficult times to divert resources to Green Mars or Moonbase Alpha or whatever. People on a dying Earth might wish they could get to another planet and start over, but it just wouldn't be possible.

86:

Nice piece, Charlie
To your main point I don't doubt humans will find new and obtuse ways to be snobbish and establish a pecking order. What exactly they will be I have no idea but scripted violence a la Bruce Sterling's The Artificial Kid springs to mind.
On a tangential note, an interesting note to me, what happens if you can be healthy and young for $10 million a year?
This through authorial handwavium is a quantum barrier ( I.e $9 million doesn't work)

We have a world where the rich can stay young and healthy, Pele and Van Basten are scoring goals for Barcalona, jagger, McArtney and Madonna still tour, Buffet, Gates and Zuckerberg are living it up etc etc.

How long till the poor rise up? Or could you dangle the promise in front of them?

Regards
Rex

87:

You'd never have to put up with a psycho boss, but you would find out how many coworkers in your field are assholes...

I've worked at science fiction conventions; this has given me an appreciation for the levels of personal eccentricity that can accumulate in a volunteer organization. (Most of the asshole cow-orkers in my past have been at paid engagements. At cons the people are rarely rude, but often strange.) I don't expect hostile work environments to be common in the wealthy-worker economy, although as noted cat herding skills will be very popular.

88:

In a post-work society I would expect to see a lot of Punch Bowl Czars.

89:

In reply to Thorn Marrion #11 -

I can think of one other motivator which might perform similar miracles of organisation (and which has demonstrably done so). The religious motivator: the thing which was responsible for the creation of pyramids in multiple cultures, and in the creation of any number of mausoleums (the Taj Mahal is one of these), temples, and sacred buildings. (Indeed, it could be argued that the political motivator of "getting to the moon before the commies do" was a sub-set of the religious motivator anyway). So all that's needed in that case is a sufficiently motivated, sufficiently rich type who believes sufficiently hard that the key to ultimate Redemption From Sin is to create a place for God and Gods Angels to live, and there's the first space habitat being created.

(I can see a nice manipulation on the Prosperity Gospel being used to recruit labour)

Yes, okay, it's more like the "divine birdbox" theory as portrayed in "Making Money", but hey, it's human enough to be believable.

C #68

I'm one of those weird people who actually enjoys helpdesk work. I enjoy it because I enjoy helping people, I enjoy interacting with people, and I enjoy the micro-doses of achievement and warm fuzzies that come from the whole "I have gotten rid of someone else's problem; they are happy" side of the job. I also enjoy a job which lets me put down the headset at the end of the day, switch off the phone, switch off the PC, and GO HOME, where I am not expected to do my job any more.

What makes these jobs do-able in many senses is a sense of having achieved something. It doesn't have to be a big something, either. What makes them hellish in the long-term is that they're currently designed by and for people who only see them as necessary penance on the road to something bigger and better.

So, instead of seeing the helpdesk as the place to go when you need to find out what needs doing next (which, ideally, it would be - most helpdesks collect a vast amount of information about what's not working, and that's what you need to be able to make things work), developers see the requests for fixes from the helpdesk as a nuisance. Instead of seeing long-term helpdesk workers (who have heard the whole "we'll get around to it" excuse before, and know it's bullshit) as useful sources of corporate memory about What Didn't Work Last Time, they're seen as being nuisances who have an unnecessarily cynical outlook about $BIG_PROJECT. And instead of regarding these long-term helpdesk workers as being a Good Thing, they're regarded as either being useless or unambitious (because if they weren't, why wouldn't they have got out of helpdesk work ages ago?)

(Oh, and just by-the-bye - I have a strong drive towards jobs where I close up my desk at the end of a day and leave my job in the office because I've seen what happens when you have a job which follows you home. My dad had one of those, and as a result, we didn't see him most weekday nights, and often on entire weekends as well. It wasn't even a particularly well-paying job either - he was program co-ordinator for a charity. He just never really got time off from his job; it was always there in the background. When he wound up retiring from that job, his next one was back to stuff he'd been doing as his first ever job, working as an assistant at an assaying firm. It didn't pay as much, but at the end of the day, he'd finished work for the day and he could GO HOME, and not have to worry about what was happening next. He really seemed happier in that job than he had been in the previous one).

90:

The colonization of space in the glorious future Charlie describes would be the work of fandom. Not just the SF and other genre fandom we know and love, and the space fans we have today, but also sports fans, gadget fans, record-setting fans, mountain climbers, skydivers, etc. etc.

IIRC Charlie's story Trunk and DIsorderly involves our hero skydiving competitively from orbit to surface. How much of the transportation, habitation, and life support infrastructure for LEO would have to be in place to allow this? And how many organizations from communications media to bookies would support the development of such sports? It would take a lot of enterprises like that to put all the pieces in place, but each step would be implemented as an end in itself (build a hotel in orbit, now build another one and lower the cost of transport, now build launching and landing sites for divers, etc.), and so there would be some short-term payoff at each step, making it more palatable to more investors.

91:

Future in space? What future in space?

92:

Phil, the social utility of much unremunerated activity is vastly underestimated by our current economic system. I'm talking about everything from "wages for housewives" type stuff through to folks who volunteer to work the counter at charity shops to hobbyists who devote their time to keeping obsolete strategic bombers flying: every last one of these preoccupations, looked at from the right angle, is an example of a market failure -- or rather, of a complete market absence.

If you take a rabidly capitalist ideological stance, these activities are wasted energy and should be discouraged; but if you abolished them, it's not obvious that the labour invested in them would go into any market-oriented activity and it is obvious that the quality of our cultural life would be significantly diminished.

93:

Disagree.

Firstly, as Alain at #82 observes, good leadership would discourage this tendency. Secondly, there's the threat of exclusion: "stop harassing your co-workers or we won't let you play here any more." (And, of course, someone who has a bad attitude and isn't pulling their weight -- why keep 'em around?)

I am of the opinion that many workplace codes of conduct have become far too rigid and behaviourally-focussed of late, especially in white collar office scenarios; and some expansion of what is tolerated-but-not-encouraged behaviour would be a good idea. (But I am a beneficiary of white male privilege, so less likely to be on the receiving end of bad behaviour ...)

94:

If you can be healthy and young for $10M a year, then 20 years later the patents expire and you can be healthy and young for $1,000 a year.

There probably aren't enough people out there who can spend $10M a year, every year, to collectively buy and re-rig the medical regulatory framework. Nor is there an incentive to keep the treatment scarce; your average human has 100-200 acquaintances and relatives, and even Bill Gates doesn't have the money to spend $10M/year/person to keep his clan young.

(Plus, $10M/year is a suspiciously high figure for any plausible medical treatment. Sounds to me like the developers are milking the system. As with antiretroviral drugs in Africa, expect a lot of countries to make threatening noises and demand the treatment at cost, under pain of declaring the patents invalid and manufacturing cheap knock-offs without any remuneration at all.)

Obligatory reading: "The Long Habit of Living" (also published as "Buying Time") by Joe Haldeman.

95:

Dude, see the previous article in this blog?

See the link it refers back to?

See this essay from 2007?

Have a read before you post again.

96:

63, Charlie: "Turn it on its head: if you're a manager and you know you're running a bunch of millionaires who can simply say "I'm fed up now" and walk, aren't you going to develop strategies for convincing your subordinates/co-workers that they want to stay on?"

See Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Roberto Mancini at Manchester City (the recent Tevez affair notwithstanding), Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea etc

97:

Bugger - 65, not 63

98:

C @ 73
"There seems to be one underlying Marxist assumption here that may or may not be correct- that you can predict what people will act like given a set of economic conditions."
Erm, uh?
You what?

That mindset is also found in all religions (One reason why marxism IS a religiom, incidentally)
That HUMANS ARE COMPLETELY PREDICTABLE AND DIRECTABLE.
So so wrong, it isn't even wrong, yet some people, apparently seem to believe in it.
Incidentally the ultra-free marketeers, the followers of Ayn Rand etc suffer from the same fault, in the opposite direction:
That EVERYTHING is economic and possibly market-driven.
For counter-examples, disproving that equally false assumption, see anectodes in this discussion.
It ain't so, sorry.

Damien RS @ 75
You're talking complete, utter codswallop, amd I don't think you are using your mouth to utter it either!

Look, US "citizens" have to pay US taxes, wherever they are on the planet (unlike anyone else except the N Korean slaves). They don't get healthcare.
A lot of them CAN'T go "home" any more, as the IRS will steal ALL their money and/or jail them.
There is now an increasing market amongst the lower/middle prefessional classes of US expatriates for methods of divesting ones self of US citizenship/slavery, simply because of the horrendous economic burden.

Your argument boils down to "The USSA does it this way - therefore everyone else is wrong"
Um, err?

99:

Slightly off-topic for the main discussion, but a couple of links about the current 1% crossed my RSS feeds.

Stephen Downes' commentary on this New Scientist online piece.

100:

The "147 corporations" finding is actually very alarming, insofar as it points to an intrinsic democratic deficit at the heart of the global economic system that makes any complaints about the lack of accountability of the EU look trivial.

Here's a neologism I think we may need by the 2020's; "globalization" -- the process by which management of a multinational corporation is supervised by a multinational regulatory agency: backformed by reference to "nationalization". (The purpose of said "globalization" being to ensure that the TNCs don't accidentally crush the planetary economy they live in; and the regulatory agency being established on much the same basis as the WTO, but with teeth and a mandate to rein in the TNCs.)

Not sure it's going to happen, but without it we may just have discovered the classic failure mode for a planetary capitalist economy.

101:

That's what people generally assume. But it's not really the true picture. There is actually a functioning labour market for the tiny number of people who make the spectacular incomes. They don't get paid millions merely because their managers are corrupt (the usual assumption). They get paid millions because if you won't pay them that much, they'll go and work for someone who will.

If you manage billions, and you're good at it, and you make your clients tens or hundreds of millions, it should be no surprise that people will pay you millions. The interesting question is how and why individuals end up managing billions. (Mutatis mutandis for traders, very-high-level managers, &c.)

The popular reaction to this is to assume that the entire financial industry is a giant conspiracy. But we've been here before. Giant conspiracy theories and explanations by way of moralistic judgement are always put forward by people who don't have a clue how things actually work.

102:

If we're getting good at energy sources, let's assume we can go to geosync easily, and by easily I mean no more expensively than a paris-new york by plane nowadays. Then I suspect space colonization is going to "just happen". I see it going that way:

- zero-g/hard vacuum/solar output/lotsa space/environment control makes some industrial processes better/less expensive/more acceptable up there. So industry develops.

- industry means standardization and big spaces as a given. Space stations get big, simple, modular and all-in-all quite secure through trial and error. Some spectacular errors will happen, too, but heh. Incremental construction gets less and less expensive.

- workers which came back every month or so stay longer and longer. We're getting a handle on long-term zero-g effects through having people live it.

- support structures develop for costs reasons (food growing, water management, deep recycling, etc). The earth is still supporting the stations but the supply turns more and more towards luxury than base survival. A local economy develops with everything and the rest (0-g porn anyone?)

- a class of people that have never been to earth develops, which are considered weird by ground people, and which consider ground people dangerously insane (w.r.t security for instance).

That last class' culture are the ones that are going to colonize the solar system, but probably not on the ground. The orbitals of the planets are going to be (eventually) packed though, saturn and uranus from closer must look quite good. So they'll go there for easier-to-get-at resources (satellites are low-gravity-well), better view, and going away from political annoyances. There's still going to be a lot of exchanges within the system. And it will go further and further, and lots will fail, and lots won't. Eventually people will reach other stars. I suspect the oort cloud, if it has enough resources, can be reached in less than 500 years from the industry-in-space point. And, iirc, oort clouds of nearby stars touch each other.

Of course, everything changes if somewhere along the way the light speed limit is found to only be a guideline.

OG.

103:

"They get paid millions because if you won't pay them that much, they'll go and work for someone who will."

Goodbye then.
I guess we will just have to put up with total idiots who can only earn a few hundred K per year

104:

That is the premise of Dave Freer's "Slow Train to Arcturus"

105:

Maybe the 1% use their influence to convince those in nominal power to use space as the best place to extradite those that threaten them?

Revolutionaries, ethnic and religious groups that oppose the upper-classes may be forced / cajouled / brainwashed to create their own societies in our off-world colonies. Simply exile the Other as far away as physically possible. Not disimilar to how the US and Australian frontiers were colonised by social rejects and criminals.

Certainly solve the UK /US prison overcrowding problem. Sentence : 3 years in transit, 4 years hard labour on Mars, with options to stay on as an itinerant terraformer.

Of course, the real motive is the long-term investment programs and ownership of off-world resources.

106:

I think you grievously misunderstand both the objective and the degree of success of the Australian penal program. You also overestimate the utility of grunt labour; most of the folks in prisons here on Earth didn't exactly get there by being Dr Evil.

Finally: I find your solution panders disturbingly to authoritarianism and class warfare.

107:

Given historic precedence, I don't think that such people would be without some kind of ambition. A 99 year old translation of Aristotle's treatise on politics says the following:
"for if every
instrument, at command, or from a preconception of its master's will,
could accomplish its work [...], the shuttle would then weave, and the lyre play of itself; nor would the
architect want servants, or the master slaves."

Which, to Aristotle, was obviously far enough away from reality to be discarded as wishful thinking. (And proceeded to lay the groundwork of our Democracy based upon the - to him - obviously unavoidable slaveholder society.) Yet, somehow, society today still feels as if something is missing - despite the fact that we're living in the age of such miracles.

Ambition just isn't determined by the problems that have been solved. Pursuing such fools errants as flying in the air, or even to the moon, was just out of this world for Aristotle. The whole Icarus story dealt with such ambitions being a sign of insanity.

Today, we have similar stories. Like don't meddle with nature. Nature will strike back. But it's too late. We already meddled with nature much more than we care to admit. Over a third of the landarea is agricultural area. Most of the rest is ice, desert, mountains and similarly deprived landscapes. (Boreal forests and rainforests being the exceptions.)

At the same time, flying was never truly necessary. There were ships and railroads. Military applications only came around once it was there. People certainly didn't have those in mind. They didn't want to build something more efficient in killing people, but they wanted to fly and nothing else. Mostly because there was that old dream.

It was only after the old problems had been mostly solved (like 70% of the people required to feed themselves) that such side-issues as trying to fly could be pursued.

Will there be ambition for such seemingly "useless" activities in the society Charlie described? Sure. Even more so than ours.

108:

Agreed.
But you must admit that if prisoners were forced to donate their organs to rich people in order to pay the cost of their imprisonment the entire problem would be solved rather quickly. Especially for anyone sentenced to more than a couple of years. Its Free Market Justice!

109:

That's not the free market solution- that's organ theft with government assistance.
The free market solution is to notice that a poor person might find a million bucks far more useful than a second kidney or one lobe of liver. A rich person would find that kidney or liver segment to be far more useful than an extra million dollars.
Currently, it's illegal in most places to sell your organs. There's also a shortage of donor organs...even the ones that are "free" to give like blood or bone marrow.
You can complain about market abuses, but it actually does provide more motivation than altruism alone for many people.

110:

Well, if you want max motivation look no further than Fascist China - the logical end point of Capitalism

111:

Charlie,

I'm not sure we've discovered a new mode of global market failure. If I understood Charles Mann's 1493 properly, the Spanish Empire and the Chinese Empire had similar problems centuries ago.

There's a couple of ways of thinking about the problems of globalism. The negative way is that The Peter Principle works on global scales, and many of the problems we're in right now are due to the fact that our greats are stuck at their level of incompetency, not at their level of competency, but we have no way of either getting existing leaders out of the way, nor of finding people who are actually competent at that level.

Another way of looking at it is that the global economy is a Commons. If you accepts this view, you can either haul out the "oh yes, I've heard about the Tragedy of the Commons (sob sob)" argument before, in which case you mark yourself as part of the problem (even Garrett Hardin repudiated that essay later on)...

...Or we can look at the work of Dr. Elinor Ostrom (Nobel prize in economics, 2009) who studied how commons are governed, both successfully and unsuccessfully. She found a few simple principles made commons work (see Governing the Commons).

One of Ostrom's critical findings is that people govern commons without needing a regulatory body sitting above them to enforce proper action. They can self-police, so long as they have transparency (everyone in the group knows what everyone else is doing), a graduated scale of sanctions within the group (chiding to expulsion are all on the table), and swift and fair justice, also administered from within the group.

At the risk of sounding all pollyannish, the lack of these traits is what's driving the Occupy protests around the world.

112:

Charlie @ 100 etc.
The "147 corporations figure" depends upon which measuring-stick one uses.
An entirely DIFFERENT set of "top companies" appears if one uses different criteria.
For instance, THIS PAGE shows three other sets of "Top" companies, using different metrics.
Note the differences and the similarities.

Another point to remember is that, certainly in Britain, the US and a lot of Europe, approximately 55% of the shareholding/stock market is owned by Pension Funds.
Which points to another set of conclusions entirely.

Which sets it apart from and in contrast to, the conclusion to be drawn from the first study, which was that it's an unelected, self-selected Oligarchy.

Now, where does the closest approximation to a true picture lie?

A very interesting question.

113:

The conclusion would appear to be that the financial sector, which produces absolutely nothing of value, has captured the political process in the West and is totally out of control.

114:

Wrong.

Firstly, in the USA, prisoners outnumber the top 1% by around an order of magnitude. As not all rich people need transplant organs, you're going to have supply/demand mismatches.

Secondly, if you were rich and ill, would you pay for an organ from somebody who was in jail -- read: very likely to be a drug user or alcoholic, and quite probably exposed to HIV or hepatitis?

Thirdly, ethics. (Just consider the possibility that not everyone in jail is guilty of the crime they've been convicted of. Or that the crime in question may be wearing the wrong colour of skin in a built-up area. It doesn't make a pretty picture.)

Fourthly, corruption. There is a nation which, as it happens, executes criminals then slices'n'dices them for spare part surgery. It's China. Rumours that people have been sentenced to death and executed simply for having the wrong histocompatability match have been denied, but continue to circulate ...

115:

Of you smooth talker - you've persuaded me.
Three strikes and it's a bullet in the neck.
Spare part sales optional, depending on market conditions.

116:

Greg, the word you are looking for is "leverage".

In fact, the seat of power is the Human Resources department in each of those big corporations -- the folks who make (or authorize) the hiring decisions which in turn boil down to who gets their hands on the giant levers provided by the big investment funds.

117:

The financial system does produce something of value. The trouble is, it also produces a lot of fast moving paper which gets in the way and obscures its genuinely useful functions. To make matters worse, the profitability is all in the fast moving derivatives and the hedge funds, not in the boring old high street banking and business loans and mortgage sectors. (Well, maybe a bit too much of the latter, until 2008 ...)

118:

I disagree.
The financial system should be a coordinating body, like govt ought to be, or a service like (say) the police or fire service. The latter also produces nothing of value, but is an enabling function.

BTW, been meaning to ask you.
Since you are relatively famous do you post on other sites or lists using a pseudonym?

119:

"To make matters worse, the profitability is all in the fast moving derivatives and the hedge funds..."

May I suggest that there is no profitability in a zero sum game? Unless you can bet without limit and get someone else to cough up for any losses?

120:

I haven't read the whole thread, just ctrl-Fed through it for security - I want to strongly argue one point:
"Threats of invasion by dastardly foreign dictators; security against crimes committed by the lumpenproletariat: environmental collapse: pandemics. In the final analysis, in each of these cases you're in the same lifeboat as everyone else in your civilization."

That's wrong.
Taking a look at post-Katrina New Orleans, almost any warzone, and the industry devoted to protecting rich people, Lifeboats have a strong class-bias.

121:

I think you just answered your own assertion. Regulatory capture explains how players in a zero sum market can pretty much guarantee turning a profit.

122:

"May I suggest that there is no profitability in a zero sum game? Unless you can bet without limit and get someone else to cough up for any losses?"

Actually it isn't all about gains [for traders]. The benefit is also for those offsetting risk.

Trading as an activity is a zero sum game, although the game is rigged in favor of banking institutions, so it essence it works like a casino.

Which is why there is so much push back from these institutions when governments and regulatory authorities such implementing a small transaction tax.

123:

Yes, sure, part of my boss's job is to get me to work rather than goofing off (or, I suppose, to fire me if that isn't possible). And you could kinda-sorta call that stopping my expropriating the owners of the company I work for -- if you take the view that my future work is their property, which personally I don't.

But, regardless, that doesn't make it "guard labour" in any reasonable sense. Especially as, in fact, (1) the great majority of what my boss does is far from purely "supervisory" and (2) the great majority of the supervisory stuff he does is concerned with giving advice and direction to me and other minions, rather than coercing us into working rather than slacking.

The same goes, I think without exception, for the other managers I've had.

I'm probably luckier than average -- my work is pretty high status brain work of the sort that doesn't generally get that sort of keep-the-minions-in-order micromanagement. And yes, I enjoy my job. But I have to say that most of the management I've been able to observe closely enough to have an opinion seems to be more a matter of advising-and-directing, and less of slacking-prevention.

Which makes me pretty skeptical of any argument dependent on the idea that management is generally "guard labour". Especially if it's then going to be taken for granted that anything so classified does little good beyond keeping the lower orders in their place. (For the avoidance of doubt, I do not mean to imply that keeping the lower orders in their place is actually good.)

I do, of course, agree that if everyone enjoyed their work then there'd be less call for management.

124:

I was thinking about this the other day and looked up the top 25 "earners" in Fortune [http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2010/fortune/1009/gallery.women_men_highest_pay.fortune/25.html ].

They range from $87 million to a mere $25 million. Taking the $5 million figure as a guideline, what do you for an additional $20 to $80 million? That's got nothing to do with value added to the company: it's an auction, no different from a star football player or other athlete. You want him/her on your team if for no other reason that to keep him off the market at a competitor or in some new disruptive venture. I find it hard to believe the knowledge most of today's industry titans bring to the table is so unique as to justify those pay packets. There are exceptions but you find those people making unique and disruptive products, as with the late Steve Jobs or Elon Musk with Paypal and Tesla, assuming those become popular enough that I ever see one. But the rest of the top 25: financiers, carmakers, entertainment company chiefs, software executives. The financial system does provide some value but the scams and gimmicks of the past 10-15 years, underwriting bad debts, selling them off and then betting against your own products, doesn't qualify. Factor in the increasing centralized control of the world's economic decisions (there is a paper linked pretty widely right now that shows how 147 companies have so much in common as to be almost collusive/conspiratorial) and it seems increasingly like a rigged game, even if the players are not actually wearing the same uniforms or aware of how synchronized their actions are.

This is a very useful perspective to both show how low the bar is ($5million isn't *that* low but it's not billionaire status, either) and how much insulation from the realities of the world it buys. Essentially that's the reason for many to aspire to income levels like that, to insulate themselves from the rest of us. Gates communities, private jets, private schools, etc. I met someone once who was an early hire at any internet company and he was starting a business of exclusive time shares, what would be mansions to most people. The prices would keep out the riff raff and unlike a first class hotel or resort, there would be no danger of meeting anyone who had somehow gained access to their world.

125:

No.

No, you can't expect these people to colonize space. Not when things are so great on the ground. What you can expect are small groups of people to develop orbital habs, and eventually lure their family and friends along for the ride. Colonization happens in waves. Each wave brings along a new group, until these groups form their own social strata and that strata becomes a thing in itself. But those shoals of humanity take time to develop, and affinity, and continued incentive.

Space colonization will work like Facebook, and will be about as private.

Facebook arose from a similarly privileged background. In its early days, it provided a desirable service (discovering intimate details about people without the awkwardness of speaking to them) for a rarefied group. This initial offering was good, but what kept users there was a continually-expanding menu of other offerings. This drew other users, who used it as a primary means of communication and gathering, which then drew more users, and now you don't exist without a profile. It's not that Facebook is desperately needed, or that it provides more value than clean water or reproductive medicine. It's just that everyone else is there, and nobody likes to be left out.

It's also a good way to meet girls. This leads me to my second point: space could become a site of competition for mates. In the utopian world described in the post, the usual advantages will belong to everyone. Everyone will be healthy and wealthy and educated, everyone will have access to therapy or medication or augments to deal with emotional maladjustment or serotonin imbalances. Everyone will be able to learn reliable sex techniques via the Kinect and a training eroge. Genders will be equal. Having kids will be easier. In that world, what differentiates you from the other chaps at the pub?

Space. Going there, having gone there, having some real estate there, owning a business there, whatever. Everything sounds better when you add "in space" to the end of it. It'll be the new "my parents' yacht" or "my chalet in Aspen." You could have a relatively tiny, low-fi hab in space to show your lover, but that hab is in space, and everyone looks prettier in the periodic glow of Earth's rise.

Which is to say that no, you can't reasonably expect this culture to produce long-term space colonies. But the pornography will be epic.

126:

You missed it.

Accumulating self-perpetuating hereditary wealth isn't about what you can buy with it.

It's about how you can consolidate control and ownership, keep everybody else out, and perpetuate a 20th century social hierarchy with yourself at the top, indefinitely.

127:

"The "147 corporations" finding is actually very alarming, insofar as it points to an intrinsic democratic deficit at the heart of the global economic system ... we may just have discovered the classic failure mode for a planetary capitalist economy."

While I understand why it looks concerning, it's not necessarily the looming doom that a bland statement of the power structure might indicate.

Go back in time; how many families controlled the old world in medieval times? How many held absolute power through Renaissance times? How many extended families ran the empire of Roman for century after century?

Look at the interrelations between half-a-dozen families which sat on every throne of Europe in the 1800s and there was relative peace for a century.

We lived through all those times without going extinct.

It is the nature of networks that there are usually Mavens -- centralising nodes. Reinforcement means that random fluctuations in connectivity where connectivity itself is valuable will eventually promote some nodes. It's true of social networks, of computer networks and of business networks.

We should probably be PLEASED there are 147 and not just some hideous cold war between 2 or 3 hyperpowers because those situations are actually a lot less stable.

128:

"Space. Going there, having gone there, having some real estate there, owning a business there, whatever. Everything sounds better when you add "in space" to the end of it. It'll be the new "my parents' yacht" or "my chalet in Aspen." You could have a relatively tiny, low-fi hab in space to show your lover, but that hab is in space, and everyone looks prettier in the periodic glow of Earth's rise."

And once they have built the basic infrastructure, and flight costs start to decline, the rest of us can start to go too, while the high status people move their space real estate to more exclusive locations.

It may take some time and depend highly on income distribution.

But yes, I see that scenario as a likely one.

129:

It's about how you can consolidate control and ownership, keep everybody else out, and perpetuate a 20th century social hierarchy with yourself at the top, indefinitely.

s/20th century/10th century/

Seriously, that's how landed aristocracies work.

The way you break them (as we discovered here in the UK circa 1914-79) is with a ruinous inheritance tax. (A couple of world wars to kill off their firstborn doesn't hurt, either.)

130:

In Scotland esp you need a land tax

131:

... Look at the interrelations between half-a-dozen families which sat on every throne of Europe in the 1800s and there was relative peace for a century.

We lived through all those times without going extinct.

The big difference is that none of the historic models you cite were global systems. They were regional ones: the Roman empire collapsed, the European Ancien Regime imploded, the Hapsburg Empire withered, and so on, but the rest of the planet was relatively insulated from these events. (At least until you get to the 1917-19 revolutions. We're still living with the fallout today.)

The trouble with the current dominant network is that we have no model for what would happen if 40% of the planetary economy -- distributed more or less evenly around the developed world -- were to collapse. All we can be certain of is that the aftermath would be unpleasant, for a value of "unpleasant" somewhere between "really stinking bad global recession" and "aftermath of world war three".

132:

Charlie,

Nice post,overall. But as a social epidemiologist, I take exception with the idea that wealth does not buy health, and you seem uninformed about the relationship between income/wealth and health. The wealthy, on average, live longer and lives with better quality of life (in terms of physical and mental health) than the poor. Moreover they do so in societies where there is high quality universal health care. Moreover, this pattern exists all the way up and down the socioeconomic ladder, so that again, on average, life expectancy and quality of life are better for those making $500K than for those making $250K.

You might wish to watch the first installment of Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick? (http://www.unnaturalcauses.org/) when it next rolls around on PBS, or you might wish to rent it.

You might also wish to read the Whitehall Studies or any decent general textbook on the social determinants of health.

Best,
Alexis

133:

There's also a strong correlation between low income and people who don't do exercise, smoke, drink and eat like pigs. Correlation is not causation.

134:

Um, I was taking shortened life expectancy due to poverty as a given here. (I live just fifty miles away from one of the worst life expectancy black spots in Europe: certain Glasgow housing schemes, notably Calton. Although the low-ball figure of 53.9 years' life expectancy for men has been torpedoed -- it's a side-effect of a number of drug user halfway-houses, which have a high enough o/d rate to bring down the entire surrounding area -- it's still shockingly poor, at around 59 years. And guess what? While it's improving, Calton is a very poor burgh.)

Nevertheless: being able to afford state-of-the-art medical care will not save you if you acquire an aggressive cancer and don't get it checked out in time. There's a ceiling to the level of medical care that money can buy, imposed by our ability to treat conditions.

135:

Charlie,

I appreciate the example of not being able to buy a new liver if a matching donor isn't available as a very real example of something money can't buy. My point was not to talk about the quality of health care which might be available to the wealthy versus the poor, but to address your statement about health. (Having or not having health care actually explains a small chunk of variance in health: i.e. having aspirin in your cupboard might cure your headache, but not having aspirin in your cupboard does not cause a headache.)

While bottom-of-Maslow's-pyramid issues certainly are going to present hazards to the very poor, that does not explain while the somewhat affluent are less healthy on average than the more affluent, and why the more affluent are less healthy on average than the really affluent.

Of course marginal utility is important (and I really do dig your article, but you err to say that wealth does not buy health, or eve to say that wealth does not buy health after you get to the median income or whatever. If you want to get into the causal pathways and mechanisms again: pick up a good social epidemiology textbook.

136:

Being rich is no guarantee you're not stingy.
Quote from Irish Times article:

‘MOST OF us would be wealthy,” says Chip O’Hare from Boston. “Yeah. Multimillionaires . . . ” It’s not a boast. The Irish Times had asked frankly if they were an affluent group, since a casual enquiry about the previous night’s dinner in downtown Lahinch had provoked a group vent about the cost of the chowder. The discreet crest on their sweaters signifies membership of Boston’s prestigious Brookline Country Club, the 1999 Ryder Cup venue. Friendly, well-disposed, golfing millionaires they may be, but the fish chowder down the pub has lodged a metaphorical fishbone in the collective throat.
“It was great, but it cost €9.50 – about $15. In the US, that chowder would be seven to eight dollars,” says O’Hare.

137:

Why thank you, Alex. :)

138:

One thing that would dominate the determination for the market in space cruises (which may not have been mentioned because this is a science fiction author's blog with comments dominated by science fiction readers) is culture. People do incredibly irrational and nonsustainable things fairly frequently, and one of the major reasons is cultural expectations (either cultural expectations dashed -- like the gernsback pulp futurism that is now covered with zeerust -- or cultural expectations changed -- the kind of thing that leads people to create new works playfully mocking the styles of the 1970s or 1980s out of a kind of nostalgia). If the availability of the money, resources, and tech is not a problem, the motivation is most likely to be cultural, and short of yet another space race, the cultural motivation is likely to be nostalgic: a freeside-themed orbital spa for the guys with a 1982 fetish and a 2001-themed orbital spa for the guys with a 1968 fetish.

139:

I suspect that at the point where you are creating a living environment out of scratch in a place where all the natural features *must* be replaced with something more human-friendly, when you have the market to make it profitable to do such things in outer space of all places, it will be far more profitable to do fantasy environments on earth. There are already sleep-away LARPs, and if work-for-pay is far less common then it's far more feasible for people to pay into an organization that lets them live in an entirely constructed cultural environment and play a fantasy role of their own choosing for long periods of time.

140:

Um, I was taking shortened life expectancy due to poverty as a given here.

I think you're right here. This seems to be the health side to money not buying happiness - which is true, but poverty certainly buys unhappiness. Past an admittedly vague inflection point, throwing money at the problem gets less and less useful.

141:

It depends on what you mean by " state of the art medical care "

I certainly owe my life to first line surgical NHS intervention as do several of my friends. Alas anyone in my age group - I'm nearly 63 - will have experienced the pain of losing friends to dire medical conditions a couple of decades ago -conditions that can now be successfully treated, but beyond that there is intervention that does intrude on the individuals 'Right to Choose ' Consider this ...


"Smoking ban reduces heart attacks
The smoking ban has led to a fall in the number of heart attacks of about 10 per cent, according to a government study. " ...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/6183174/Smoking-ban-reduces-heart-attacks.html

" Nevertheless: being able to afford state-of-the-art medical care will not save you if you acquire an aggressive cancer and don't get it checked out in time. There's a ceiling to the level of medical care that money can buy, imposed by our ability to treat conditions. "


' if you acquire an aggressive cancer and don't get it checked out in time. ' AGREED ..

About 12 years ago a dear friend of mine confided in me that she was supposed to go for exploratory surgery for various dire symptoms. I hadn't seen her for a week and I was at first shocked that anyone could be in my vicinity without my being aware that they were in pain ..and she was in horrible pain but had put off the medical intervention partially on grounds of needing The Money - couldn't afford to be out of work for however long and too proud to take money from her friends, that is to say Me - but also she was deathly afraid of surgery ...those accounts of people being concious but paralysed whilst on the operating table? She had of course been avoiding me lest I be aware ... and so on.

Happily that was one of my days for being ultra persuasive and she did go under the knife and did turn out to have Ovarian cancer which necessitated a total hysterectomy ..just in time and she is still alive 12 years later.

Early diagnosis seems to be the key to cutting back on the cancer fatality rates but also there is public health.

Here in the UK there is this screening programme under way for colonic cancer. The procedure is a bit on the unpleasantly ikky side and involve sampling your own shit and sending little samples of the same back to base via the postal service but what the hell and there are worse things. The thing is that I think that here might be the start of the line of division between the wealthy and the poor on a world wide basis.

http://www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel/


It doesn't seem to me to be too far fetched to envisage - within the next couple of decades say? - the moderately well off being in a state of continual medical monitoring via a ..oh, I dunno Medi-monitoring Suit ? Wrist Band in the latest exciting Fashion? Tattoos with Nano Thingies ? And this prospect couples to medical intervention the instant something is detected to be going wrong. But this combination will only be possible in a wealthy society, and by people who can afford the technology.

That might have been Steve Jobs next project if he had survived- personal medical monitoring via a Neat Device.

I suspect that real soon now there may be a hard line requirement that to be eligible for ..even British NHS ..intervention for detected dire conditions the victim may have to demonstrate Worthiness;non smoker not too fat, does necessary Government recommended exercise as monitored by approved medical appliances and so forth.

BIG DR is Watching You!

In the mean time there is another measure of wealth and that is inborn talent ... musical ability, talent at maths, even physiology as with Tanya Streeter who free dives to an improbable depth ....

" Studying how Streeter can function so well without oxygen, University of Texas professor Ed Coyle learned that she has a lung volume almost twice what women her size usually have.

Coyle also focused on the oxygen levels in Streeter's blood when she's holding her breath. Streeter is regularly able to push below 50 percent. By comparison, in an operating room, surgeons consider blood oxygen saturation of less than 70 percent the point at which the brain and heart can be damaged by lack of oxygen. "

http://edition.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/05/03/lbl.overview/


Here's a letter from the late great Frank Sinatra that gives his view of Talent ...


http://fashionsmostwanted.blogspot.com/2010/05/letter-from-frank-sinatra.html


Of course his talent, and a bit of luck, did bring him wealth which these days might have given a longer life span as such wealth certainly will in the reasonably near - 30 years ? - future.

142:

...it's far more feasible for people to pay into an organization that lets them live in an entirely constructed cultural environment and play a fantasy role of their own choosing for long periods of time.

By this, the SCA is ahead of the curve - precociously anachronistic, for amusement value. I agree - subcultures where your status is dependent on your personal achievements within their particular world will only become more popular (and that's already a description for much of the internet). When it's practical to live in a theme park, some folks will choose to do so - most for the fantasy but probably a few because, for example, they already happened to live in that Washington neighborhood when ReaganLand opened.

143:

Getting annoyed here ...

Because I am indeed aware of the non-healthcare epidemiological cognates of wealth; for example, in the aforementioned poor district of Glasgow *functional kitchens* are rare; again, the decline of tuberculosis in the UK correlated not with vaccination or antibiotics but with improved housing quality, central heating, and decreased residential proximity to horses (an infectious vector).

Hint: I have a background in a profession to which epidemiology was directly relevant and can live without the condescending lectures ...

144:

Charlie @ 116
Point about "leverage" taken ... but.
Which metre-stick is the correct one for measuring the admittedly-interconnected corporations, as I asked before?
It really matters.

If the model originally linked to is correct, then we are in trouble.
But
Look at the OTHER three lists of "richest/most poweful" corporations, as shown.
Those lists are significantly different, implying different outcomes/interconnectedness and vulnerability to change from outside and also potential for mutual corruption.

Which is the nearest to a "right" answer?

And it is vitally important.

This is a measurement problem, one of my specialities, and yet I don't know, because I have insufficient information, which measurement criteria-set I should be using.

Please think about this, very carefully.

145:

You know, the economic conditions Charlie is specifying for this future scenario were once a common background setting, back in the day. In fact, what he's describing sounds quite a bit like the playground of one of his fellow UK writers. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Clarke World :-) If you want to get more specific, something like "The Fountains of Paradise". A bit of a coincidence, but the events in the novel occur in the early 22nd century.

It sounds plausible at any rate, at least to me: A 22nd century Elon Musk just as wealthy by the measure of his time as ours is in the here-and-now, just as driven, and with an extra century of technical development to draw upon to boot. How about an SSTO built out of advanced carbon composites and burning N60 buckminsterfullerene?

146:

Ordered ( and through the miracle of the internets I get the hardback for 1c plus $3.99)
Thanks

147:

In case anyone was wondering (which they probably were not), intelligence correlates with health, but not wealth.

148:

For an interesting non-SF movie on a similar subject, Seconds (with Rock Hudson).

149:

Playing futurologist is like swimming in Iain Banks's "infinite fun space" :)
(Mostly random)thought:
Let's say we're (more or less) at the shiny happy future, but the global physical economy has continued to grow at 2-5% annually for another 200 years (without runaway global warming - not entirely impossible if we're really careful and/or spend some of our growing resources on mitigation). That gives an economy 1000x larger than our current one. Fuels/minerals/inputs will certainly have to be shipped in huge quantities from/to/between the gas giants, the asteroids and earth (where almost certainly almost everyone will still live).
The battle for control over that choke-point on the global economy might well be the focus of the main intrigues within the 1% for quite some time (much as the battles over oilfields currently draw the focus of the US military, Al Quaida, Russia and China, as well as Exxon, BP and Gazprom...)
If that is the case, spin-offs from that tight focus on space technologies by the Elite/rich and powerful corporations/zaibatsu over several decades could spin off technologies that make colonisation viable?

150:

"...an economy 1000x larger than our current one..."

That size almost beggars belief. Almost certainly we would have to be able to run the industrial part of the economy without the effects of pollution. How much of that would require import and export of products? I've no idea. Would it even be possible?

My guess is that the growth of the economy slows down. Real economic growth in developed countries is ~3% p/a, or 1% of productivity gain and 2% population growth.
In world of static population (15bn), that implies a mature economy would grow at 1% p/a, and even that may be a stretch if the economy is largely services with few inherent productivity gains.

151:

I think you will definitely have a cadre of folks doing space activities. It is a matter of scale and diversity. A giant wealthy society like that will have nonprofit foundations that could build up lots of capital (compound interest), and folks with a quasi religious motivation for going into space. It may be a near fringe kind of activity, but one that seems feasible with a big rich global society.

The Planetary Society seems like a model for this. They are tring to test solar sail funded through nonprofit mechanisms.

152:

This is similar to the population from which today's space cadets are drawn, with three added twists: it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western. Is it a population from which it is reasonable to expect a viable space colonization movement to grow?

This is essentially the cultural base that builds Star Trek's Federation. Warp Drive aside, the one point that I always thought Roddenberry got wrong was the make up of Star Fleet. In a post-scarcity culture, exploring outer space is going to be the last refuge of the discontent, the day dreamers, the misfits and those afflicted by chronic wanderlust. The sort of people who today go in the Peace Corp or sign up to spend six months out of the year in Antarctica.

If you want to see who will make up Star Fleet, watch Warner Herzog's Encounters At the End of the World.

153:

Codswallop, Greg? You're pretty much on the edge of being too offensive to respond to. But let's see:

'US "citizen"'? Why the scare quotes around citizens? They're citizens, period. No, they don't get healthcare from the US -- but they will if they repatriate in retirement and get Medicare, along with Social Security. As for the IRS threatening to take "all" their money, or put them in jail... would this be because they'd been evading paying their taxes?

154:

You're forgetting one point: it's clear that there are environmental limits to consumption of physical goods, but the limits to production/consumption of informational goods and services (some informational and some physical) are much less obvious. Obviously there's a physical consumption component of informational work -- every google search you carry out uses electricity to power the internet routers that carry the packets and the processors that search google's database -- but there's also scope for massive efficiency savings along the way thanks to Koomey's law.

There are also inflexible human limits to consumption. We can't eat more than 10,000 calories' of food a day without getting ill, we can't simultaneously be on board two airliners at the same time, we can't physically wear five different sets of clothing over each other. At approximately $1000 per hour, our hypothetical $5M/year person could afford to spend their entire waking life in the business-class cabin of intercontinental airliners, but that'd be a miserable life. (Business class makes long haul tolerable, but you wouldn't want to live like that.)

Anyway. I suspect there is room for our economy to "grow" a thousandfold over the next century ... but our definition of "growth" won't be measured in terms of coal mines and iron foundries or car factories.

155:

Damien, the IRS places a floor on earnings of overseas citizens before they're liable for tax; it's somewhere over $70K/year. A general principle of tax systems elsewhere is that, while you have a legal obligation to report taxable earnings, you have no obligation to report if your earnings don't make the taxation threshold. (I'm reporting my accountant's advice.) The IRS chooses to do things differently, for no sane or comprehensible reason. And the US government has always taken a really weird attitude to the definition of "citizenship", at least by everyone else's standards.

156:

I have a few comments about this article:
Firstly, Steve Jobs died of cancer because he did not get medical attention but decided to use alternative treatments instead.

Secondly, he did get a liver transplant despite the fact that these are usually not given to cancer patients as they require immuno suppressants which are not advisable for cancer patients.

Thirdly, astronauts or people who would travel in space need to fulfill medical and physical requirements, which do not necessarily belong just to the wealthy. In fact the wealthy probably have fewer desirable physical characteristics for space travel than other people.

This last comment reminds me that the when the Olympic games first started, the wealthy tried to bar the working classes from participating. They used the excuse that people who did physical labour were professionals and were ineligible, even if their work had nothing to do with the field in which they wanted to compete.

157:

Charlie footnoted: "I have nothing good to say about the Tory government cuts to social services for the unemployed and the chronically ill. However, it would be wrong to conflate them with the deprivation of the Victorian poor-houses, or the piles of emaciated corpses in the parks of London every winter during major economic recessions."

Somewhat off topic (*ahem*), but I have a mate who's a staunch Labour supporter (indeed, he tirelessly helped get his Labour rep elected to Parliament at the start of the nu_Labour era and was one of the many to be seen singing "Things Can Only Get Better" -oh the irony!) and he could, and would, produce a litany of (IHHO) Conservative FUBARs at the drop of a (top!) hat. This would, with my (small 'c') conservative upbringing and lack of political knowledge send me scurrying away for cover until I asked "The Question", which is this ...
Everything the Conservatives (insert your favourite political hate-horse here) did simply can't have been bad, so give me your top 5 things they did that you agree with?
He stopped foaming at the mouth (hehe!) and pondered, then came out with a list (of more items!) of things he broadly agreed with (though obviously some with caveats) and a far more useful discussion was then entered into ... well, I certainly learnt something!

I find it a useful tool to discover whether the person I'm talking to is just reproducing headlines from The Mirror/Guardian (LOL Daily Mail/Telegraph!) or has a real depth of (political) knowledge ...
In general, if the person can't flip sides and become the Devil's Advocate you are probably on a hiding to nothing (see also Evolution vs Creation).
My guess is you have the depth of knowledge and I'd be interested in your 5 things?

Also of use may be my other Question, in this day and age when health practitioners cannot recommend a course of action and let you choose, even though they've been through 7+ years of education and you are just comfortable self administering pain killers when yer hungover ...
If it was you, what would you do?

Works a treat!

158:

PZ Myers has already addressed the myth that Jobs dies purely because he searched for alternative medicines.
http://bit.ly/pDC2dh

159:

"...but the limits to production/consumption of informational goods and services (some informational and some physical) are much less obvious."

I'm not forgetting that at all. Economic growth = population growth + productivity growth.

As we continue to transition to a service economy, the potential for productivity growth declines, simply because manufacturing is where most productivity gains reside. Indeed, has the productivity of a barber/hairdresser appreciably improved since you were born?

If we look at informational products that are consumed, they are mainly entertainment, and again, do we make movies faster or at lower cost than we used to? Will you be able to write your books faster? The quality may be higher, but that is all.

The upper bound is clearly going to be population growth, and when that is static, because we don't expect more than a doubling of population, then where does economic growth come from?

Assuming a static population of 2x current, an economy 1000x larger implies a 500x larger per capita economy. Assuming the global economy is more evenly distributed, that might still imply the average US citizen commands a 50x larger income, i.e. $1m/yr in current dollars. That income has to be spent mainly on non-physical goods, so we are talking about consumption of services and entertainment and ....?

No doubt increasingly capable machines will handle service tasks, improving service productivity, but one has to wonder if that saturates.

It might be instructive to compare what the wealthy consume today and determine if that level of consumption is sustainable for the rest of the planet.

160:

Weird? Perhaps, but let's focus on first principles for a moment. Defining the obligations of citizenship as including support for the polity that invested in you and (in most cases) your ancestors, and which provides you the free option of return, seems a not-unreasonable requirement for citizenship. Moreover, as a U.S. citizen overseas you benefit from defense (as multiple evacuations have proved), consular support, and social security (which can be collected overseas, including SSI).

Reporting income seems quite reasonable. After all, people do choose to reside overseas for the express reason of avoiding tax. In fact, it would be other countries reluctance to ask anything of their citizens abroad what seems strange and in need of explanation.

I suspect, however, that you are talking about something else about American citizenship laws that you find strange. May I ask what that is?

P.S. To anaswer your question about the ceiling: Americans only owe if their income is above $91,400 and their U.S. income tax liability is greater than their foreign income tax liability. I reported taxes in Mexico for seven years; it is not onerous.

161:

Keith @ 152
So your'e saying Stark Trek's fleet personnel are Ian Banks' Special Circumstances?
Amusing and interesting idea.

Damien Rs @ 153
US exceptionalism AGAIN
Yes the USSA has "pay-&-file" taxes like everyone else.
UNLIKE everyone else, they expect US taxes even from people who are not resident in the US.
ONLY N. Korea does this. All the other nations go : "You're not on our patch - you don't have to pay tax - live here, and you do"

Now please explain, very carefully why the US-&-N- Korean system is so much better than the one that everybody else uses?
See also Charlie's reply @ 155.

To re-iterate a previous question, which of the measurements of the "riches/most powerful" corporations should we be using?
And should we be concerned about this concentration of unelected power?

162:

I suspect, however, that you are talking about something else about American citizenship laws that you find strange. May I ask what that is?

Yes: natalism.

There are generally two ways to determine citizenship -- by right of birth (who your parents were citizens of), or by location at birth (where you are born). And most countries are also willing to accept multiple citizenships -- that is, you might be born in (X) of parents from (Y), so you're a citizen of both X and Y (at least for one generation). The USA has historically taken a very negative view of dual nationality; even today, taking on US citizenship is supposed to require renunciation of any other citizenship. Notwithstanding which, it's possible to be born with US citizenship but to live outside the USA all your life, and the IRS still expects you to cough up money for a country you're not involved with other than via a birth certificate.

163:

A study showed that the growing wealth extremes in the USA actually make the billionaires suffer depression, because no matter where you are on the ladder someone else makes ten times more.

No matter how much $$ you have, you still feel poor if someone else has more. People living in McMansions still overreach with debt, and stall paying their kid's music teacher. No matter how much you have, there's something your friend has that you don't; that's why billionaires go in debt to buy airlines. So that will be where the new space ventures come from.


164:

Hi Joan,

Not sure all that follows. Back when I was a kid taking music lessons, the teachers preferred middle class students (like me) because their parents paid on time. The richer students' parents had to be pursued.

While I think someone (Richard Branson types) may use their wealth and power to go into space, most will not. They want the privileges that power brings, things like avoiding paying the peons. I suspect the better way to say it is that wealth is wasted on the rich, just as education is wasted on the young. It's not true in all cases, just mostly true.

165:

Possibly partially true.

It may be that he died of pancreatic cancer on that day at that time because he took non-traditional remedies. They may have extended or shortened his life. They may have meant he died of pancreatic cancer where he could have had other treatments but died in a car crash tomorrow.

With a sample size of 1 it's really hard to say. And it still doesn't change the fact that despite the money he had to throw at the problem, the best solution he could see with that wealth led to his death then.

166:

"2. The gated community model - which is SO dangerously seductive, and always fails in the end."

In the end, we all die.

The gated community model worked from the 2nd century to the 15th. It works! Slavery lasted throughout the 19th century. It worked -- at least until it was displaced by the local expansion of the industrial revolution.

Everything "fails in the end". Bad, good and amoral -- everything turns to dust, as the Sumerians knew.

We'll see whether it works now -- whether for the first time in a century there a significant threat to the social order. It may work very well --- or it may fail. Tough to predict.

167:

I can't see how a billionaire or even a millionaire can be in debt. If they have negative savings or liquid funds or property then they don't have the wealth to count themselves as milli/billionaires. The may be ex-billionaires who are still trying to hang onto the title but that's a simple case of self- delusion.

It's possible to be cash-poor but possess, say, land or shares or other valuables worth millions. It's easy to turn those assets into cash or even to get a loan from a bank using them as security, just like hocking a laptop at a pawnbrokers. Someone who's in debt deosn't have those assets to hock or they are playing fast and loose with their creditors (the more likely situation).

As for stalling the payment to the kid's music teacher that's probably just the way some folks are -- after all you can't get rich without squeezing every penny on its way out your pocket and stiffing the help is a genetic reflex with some people no matter how rich they are.

168:

Hmm. I appreciate the clarification. I have to also say that you are incorrect.

"The USA has historically taken a very negative view of dual nationality; even today, taking on US citizenship is supposed to require renunciation of any other citizenship."

It is true that the oath of allegiance contains the words, "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty." At that point, however, U.S. intolerance of dual citizenship ends.

First, there was no such oath in the early naturalization laws. The 1870 revision excluded Asians from naturalization, but still required no oath. In the interim, Congress debated banning dual citizenship ... in many cases the debates included an appeal to English law, which did at the time ban dual allegiances while at the same time insisting that British subject status could never be lost or renounced, a contradiction that Parliament didn't clear up until 1870.

This mattered: the U.S. government basically held that nothing short of open treason could cause an American to lose their citizenship. In 1888, the U.S. consul in Honolulu asked the State Department whether Americans who enlisted in the Hawaiian Army would lose their citizenship. The response? "Citizens of the United States do not lose their nationality by enlisting in foreign armies."

Similarly, during the Boer War, the U.S. refused to give consular protection to Americans serving on either side, but they did not lose citizenship.

The modern oath finally came along in 1902, but it changed nothing. First, before 1906 naturalization processes were run by the states. Yes, that's amazing --- the states were supposed to follow federal law, but the administrative processes were a disorderly mess. Second, even after 1906 it meant nothing, since you couldn't lose American citizenship by actions short of treason.

The Nationality Act of 1940 attempted to lay out a series of positive acts (such as voting in a foreign election or serving in the armed forces of another state) that could lead to loss of citizenship; a 1967 Supreme Court decision overturned the substance of the act. (Parts remain on the books, and form part of the very tenuous legal justification for killing American citizens who join Al-Qaeda outside U.S. territory.)

These decisions, in fact, are one of the reasons why Puerto Rico will never become independent: it would be impossible for Congress to strip away their citizenship, even if the new Puerto Rican government granted its own citizenship to everyone on the island. The result would be a bigger drain on the U.S. Treasury than currently.

In short, you're incorrect in the assumption that the U.S. is now, or has been in the past, less tolerant of dual citizenship than other countries. (I've just completed a book manuscript on American policy towards the protection of U.S.-owned property outside U.S. territory over the past 120 years --- that entailed a good long romp through the citizenship laws.)

You also stated that you found "natalism" odd. I assume by this that you mean jus soli? It is true that for good historical reasons the U.S. is a bit more adamamant about the principle than most other countries. (That reason is, as you know, slavery.) But we're not alone: the rest of the Western Hemisphere observes the principle. I take exception to your Eastocentrism in cavalierly dismissing the rest of this great hemisphere! (I joke, I kid ... but it's nonetheless true that it's practically universal across the Americas, including Canada and the Commonwealth Caribbean.)

Citizenship can also be passed down by birth outside the United States, but that's true of every single other country. And it's not automatic. If you don't take out a passport, citizenship will not be recognized. Taking out a passport, of course, implies a connection to the country and the benefits it offers, which therefore rightfully comes with the obligations thereof.

To sum up, the U.S. approach to citizenship falls well within international norms in terms of acceptance of multiple citizenship. There is nothing weird at all about the U.S. approach to citizenship.

169:

"I can't see how a billionaire or even a millionaire can be in debt."

Really? Consider that most common source of debt, real estate loans. Your net wealth depends on the price difference of your asset and the debt. As we saw after 2008, the price of the asset collapsed, leaving net debt.

At least a fraction of the very wealthy are similarly leveraged, their wealth dependent on the price of the asset. IIRC, Donald Trump is/has been one example. I don't think I have ever seen the Donald not appear to be wealthy, even when he wasn't.

Many banks today are technically solvent in so far as they do not declare the true value of their loans. Chinese state banks are exemplars of this condition.

Sometimes it is all about perception.

170:

What do we mean by "ethnically Western"?

Is it just another word for light-skinned? If you're a Nigerian who's got an MD -- odds are that you're ethnically Western in terms of how you think, how your family is structured, what your orientation to time and space are.

All the technocrats are WEIRD, regardless of racial background -- part of that culture is "ethnicity" as funny hats and family traditions, folklore denuded of meaning and simply used as a status symbol among the WEIRD. How much does menstrual symbolism in Little Red Riding Hood mean to "ethnic" Germans today -- except as a bullshit "link to the past"?

171:

"if our basic economics breaks down, I suspect things won't be stable for long enough to pause and figure out what to do next."

Our basic economics broke down a few decades ago. The crisis we are seeing now is just an opportunistic infection.
In an age when the production of knowledge rather than material goods or services is the source of most profit, we have not figured out how to do the two things we need to do simultaneously:
1) Let knowledge be knowledge, i.e. turn it loose.
2) Appropriately motivate/reward knowledge producers, distributors, and maintainers
We can do one or the other but not fully both.
The society Charlie is describing will have to have solved this problem to at least some extent.

172:

I think the Star Trek crew were supposed to be the best of the best. If space exploration were deemed worthwhile, the space ship would likely be more expensive than any crew could reasonably be, so it makes sense to use the best.

173:

"In an age when the production of knowledge rather than material goods or services is the source of most profit"

Knowledge is very rarely naked. Knowledge is embedded in everything, from manufactured goods to services. It is these embodiments of knowledge that make up the economy.

For the more naked knowledge, e.g. scientific research,
this is paid for using taxes on the embodied knowledge.

I see no inherent breakdown of the economy as you describe. Perhaps you can elaborate.

174:

Story about a billionaire who will remain nameless, from when he was a mere multimillionaire. He asked a friend of his to buy him some CDs, and bill them to his company, because he could not bear to part with the cash himself.

175:

That in future we teeming billions are not all going to have our private islands and fleet of 747s no matter how rich we are. The limiting factor is mass and space. What we will have is wealth in the form of low mass items crafted on the atomic scale, workable life extension tech etc. That is, tiny things just soaked in information at extremely high densities.

176:

Don't underestimate the power of hobbyists. If 1% of Earth's population were interested in the hobby of space colonization, that's 70 million people.

177:


I believe that Robert Jungk observed that future has a geography possibly even before Gibson was born.

But then, Karl Valentin observed that everything has been said already, just not by everybody yet. Truly an insight for the Internet Age :).

178:

And if the total wealth of Earth was spread pretty much evenly as this blog post suggests (some 60 trillion dollars spread over nearly 7 billion people) those 70 million people can draw upon $600 billion of just personal wealth. That's ~23 times the combined yearly budget of NASA, ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency.

However this alone is not enough, those 70 million will need proper organisation to channel those resources into effective R&D with the right trained professionals working in the right places.

179:

Charlie@161: Actually, there are some very large exemptions that can be claimed if you're a US citizen living outside the US: a basic exemption worth $90k, plus if your earnings do go over it and you live in a country with a tax treaty with the US (i.e. most developed countries plus quite a few others) then you can also claim an exemption for the tax you've paid to your country of residence.

The IRS doesn't actively go after most ex-pats for failure to file, as the only penalty they can levy is a percentage of the tax owing which is $0 for most American ex-pats. Also for those who by accident of birth are US citizens, in practice the US is happy to allow renunciation of US citizenship if the person in question never actively exercised it (e.g. got a US pasport).

Boris Johnson is a good example: born in New York, never exercised US citizenship and wasn't aware he was one until pointed out to him by a US border guard when he proffered his British passport showing he was born in NYC. Seeing as Boris considered the £250k he earned from the Torygraph for a column as "chickenfeed", potentially he could have been on the hook to the IRS for a lot of $$, but as he'd never exercised his US citizenship, he was allowed to renounce it without any problems.

180:

23 times the combined world budget for space flight is still not enough? In an era where everybody can do what they want to do as opposed to with they need to for wages? That's a bit pessimistic.

It also assumes a single path to space. Going back to aviation, we spent a very long period of time with lots of models of aircraft in every class. Consolidation came late to that industry. There is no reason to suspect that multiple approaches to getting into and settling space wouldn't be tried.

181:

"What we will have is wealth in the form of low mass items crafted on the atomic scale, workable life extension tech etc. That is, tiny things just soaked in information at extremely high densities."

We already have abundant wealth of low mass items crafted at the atomic scale, e.g. drugs, electronic entertainment files. How wealthy do you feel?

Real wealth will always be measured by things that only a relatively few people can achieve - living space, privacy, luxury travel, safety from the authorities, etc.

As Kornbluth satirically wrote in "The Space Merchants" (1952), the wealthy will be those who have the luxury of not having to consume.


182:

I think you misunderstand me. I was saying that funds alone aren't enough, you have to have organisation and appropriate labour. $X dollars given to a group composed of experienced scientists, engineers and administrators will go further than $X dollars given to a random selection of people.

Not that I don't doubt that there wouldn't be enough experienced people around, simply that organisation needs to be taken into account.

Regarding whether or not that amount of money is sufficient "for space" I'm not sure what you mean. It might certainly fund a few space stations, maybe a moon base and perhaps even a Mars mission but all that money will still only allow incremental developments. I wonder how many of that 70 million would be disheartened when after decades and decades of funding there are still only a few hundred of them that have actually managed to get to space? It all depends on what science and technology is developed but either way it's a long road before easy, cheap access to space available to the majority of the people is around.

183:

It also seems a safe assumption that any economy capable of orders of magnitude more production than we have now without melting the planet or drowning us in toxins will be far, far more efficient at resource use (economic output/amount of resources used) and will also contain limited resources without closed loops rather than use them up.

184:

Even when knowledge is inherently embedded in a product, the attempt to capture the value of the knowledge can make a hash of the industry. Pharmaceuticals is the best example of that.
What I am claiming is that the industries that should have been the investment opportunities and job sources for the past decades in the first world do not exist at all. Even in our imaginations in most cases. Because the current structure can not secure compensation for investors and those who do the work without crippling the resulting knowledge, or at all. With its search engine, Google has provided a service worth at least billions of dollars. The only reason it survived was because they figured a way to hook it to advertising and make money from that. Facebook still has not really figured a way to make money.
A service that does not exist at all: the Universal Library. Every book ever written in every language on the planet. Freely available to everyone. With the creators appropriately compensated.
I am also assuming that an economy that could simultaneously turn knowledge loose and compensate creators will have much, much higher levels of education that we have now. Roughly speaking, everyone will be get as much education as they want and can handle, then jobs using that education. So that means a lot more of us work as teachers, even after the archaic aspects of education are dismantled and the parts of learning that can be done via computer and done so.
A lot more of us will be doing research of one sort or another. A lot more of us will be doing some kind of artistic creation or another.

185:

Another aspect that will be important is the birth of conscious societies. Up till now, whatever level of awareness individuals had, the society as a whole has been pretty unconscious. We are due on the societal level for a change analogous to the development of individual self-knowledge from the time of the rise of psychoanalysis and psychology.

186:

"A service that does not exist at all: the Universal Library. Every book ever written in every language on the planet. Freely available to everyone. With the creators appropriately compensated."

Isn't that a contradiction? Or do you mean "free" as in "unrestricted, but access paid for"?

While I agree Big Pharma has become a bit of a mess, I would hardly say that the knowledge embedded in drugs is a problem. There are legions of researchers in the healthcare industry and universities.

"Google has provided a service worth at least billions of dollars."

And today it is capitalized at $194bn. We can argue if it would be worth similar using a different business model, e.g. a monthly subscription fee (I might pay that if they removed the ads and paid for page rank garbage).

Now if you wanted to op[en up the knowledge base, I could find no better approach than to change the business model of the journals and break their stupid paywalls. Archived research papers should be available at say $0.50 a pop, rather than $30+. But that is my personal beef with the journals.

187:

Your reply has baked in the assumption that launch costs are always going to be astronomical (pun intended).

Going back to the previous thread, this assumption is at the heart of the emotional debate over space flight. If launch costs are always fated to be high, then of course colonization will not happen.

As a space agnostic, I would argue that we simply don't know how cheaply we can get to orbit. The Space Cadet crowd thinks they know, and thinks the answer is "very inexpensively."

188:

Re: nigerian doctors being WEIRD due to being doctors, from personal experience, no. My family lived in Swaziland for a bit and the house we lived in was previously occupied by a Swazi doctor who had drained the pool(because most black Africans can't swim anyway) and constructed a cattle pen for his cows due to cows being the primary status indicator in his culture. In south Africa there is an issue of newly affluent black professionals moving into white neighbourhoods and performing animal sacrifices on their lawns to the horror of their hite neighbours. People don't automatically aspire to be WEIRD.

189:

Well I did say;

It all depends on what science and technology is developed but either way it's a long road before easy, cheap access to space available to the majority of the people is around.

But I do agree with you. It really does depend on how cheaply getting stuff into space costs and who knows what the future might bring? Technological breakthroughs and hurdles I expect. We've got to wait to see which will prevail.

But as our host has pointed out before there are greater considerations than the purely technological. If the space cadet dream of a reusable SSTO space plane comes true then another arms race begins (easy access to orbit also gives you easy access to rapid point-to-point bombardment).

190:

Access unrestricted but paid for is one possible solution. Or perhaps compensation will be paidsocially. Like libraries are. Or knowledge will be a commons, neither private nor state. Or perhaps the problem of intellectual production can not be solved until material scarcity is eliminated, there is no need to bother metering consumption of most items, and people do all the R&D because they simply want to and can afford to because they no longer need a "day job" to pay the bills. (That would still leave the question of how to allocate material resources required for massive research projects. Newer and bigger Collider or start on that new inter-planetary propulsion system. And questions of how to coordinate.)

Pharma is more than a mess. R&D is in a bit of a dead end these days because what to research is determined by what might be profitable. (This is the company's fiduciary responsibility. The fault is systemic, not in the individual companies or even the industry.)
Research into herbal cures that would be harder to patent is not invested in. Much research is into ways to change already useful drugs just enough to extend patents. Or ways to copy someone else's drug without tripping over their patents. Drugs that cure quickly are not as profitable as drugs that must be taken for a long time.
All this is because right now, pharmaceuticals are paid nothing whatsoever for the real social benefit they provide: new knowledge from research. On the other hand, we allow them to massively overcharge for the manufacturing. If these two contrary unfairnesses balance out, it would be purely by coincidence. And because the money will be made on the manufacturing, not on the knowledge, which research is invested in is warped.

Any relationship between Google's capitalization and the value of the service they provide is coincidental. They are paid for their ability as an advertising medium. (I do not consider most advertising to be a social benefit.) They are not paid at all for the actual benefits they provide (the search engine, Google Translate, the maps, email). If Google were a subscription service, it would be less useful, since its search answers depend to some degree on searches run. It would also be more vulnerable. Microsoft, for example, might chose to offer Bing for free just to destroy Google, as they did to Netscape.
In Facebook's case, the users provide almost all the social utility, so a subscription-based Facebook would be less useful. Possibly even spiral into destruction, with the subscription cost driving away users, whose absence then drives away more users.)
And we have no idea what other useful services we have never heard about because the companies that tried to provide them went bankrupt without being able to find a hook for revenue.
The flaw with a business model that depends on many tiny charges is the decision-making hassle. When the charge is low, stopping to decide whether or not I need the item in question is enough of a hassle to matter more than the cost.

The entire field of intellectual property as it exists now is a tiny misshaped shard of what our knowledge creation could be like. The problem of what does not exist dwarfs the problems with Existing Knowledge by orders of magnitude. The 1% and the vast economic crisis they have created are an opportunistic infection that has occurred because of the unseen stagnation at the heart of 1st world economies. (We take it for granted that the second tier economies playing catch up will grow faster than the leading economies, but that was not true from the start of the Industrial Revolution until around the end of WW2. That is why the gap in the standard of living between what we now call the First and Third world exploded from the early 1800s onward.)

191:

In south Africa there is an issue of newly affluent black professionals moving into white neighbourhoods and performing animal sacrifices on their lawns to the horror of their hite neighbours

I'd pay cash money to see this - some culdesac of Afrikaaner dentists freaking out over the goat and the lawn and the party.

192:

Separate from the discussion of the future, for right now, I would support having the government or consortium of governments pay, out of tax funds, to have open and available for free any journal article above a certain level of difficulty. I am sure this is a political non-starter, but I figure that there is enough social benefit to having more people read material at such a high level. Also, it would indirectly support knowledge creation and education. We systematically under-invest in these because they are difficult to measure using our current systems, which we developed for production of material goods and services, not knowledge, and over-invest in things that are easy to measure. Such as housing.

193:
That in future we teeming billions are not all going to have our private islands and fleet of 747s no matter how rich we are. The limiting factor is mass and space. What we will have is wealth in the form of low mass items crafted on the atomic scale, workable life extension tech etc. That is, tiny things just soaked in information at extremely high densities.

Saying that in the future country X will be r times wealthier does not necessarily imply that country X's citizens will also be r times wealthier, on average. It could just as well be that this extra wealth is expressed in the form of public goods, public works, infrastructure. You may not own personally own a 747, but otoh, the schools your kids go to are incomparably better funded and equipped than they are now. The zoos, the museums, the public pools, etc. are ten times as numerous and twenty times as lavish - and none of this nonsense about forking over $7.50 just to get in the door (a ntaional disgrace, imho). Street lighting is a necessity is any urban area, but why does it have to so ugly? In the future, light poles will once again be rococo works of art.

And so on and so forth.

194:

You'll have to admit though that there is something a bit weird (to the eyes of at least 90% of the world)about the universal, total way in which the US sometimes applies jus soli.

For instance.

There's only one other country in the world which gives absolute, unconditional citizenship to any child born on its soil. Doesn't matter if the parents are illegal aliens, the child gets to be a US citizen anyway if the birth occured on US soil.

To the rest of the world this might seem weird, as if it were a strange invitation to smuggle in pregnant women, among many things.

Of course since I happen to be in that other country which gives absolute unconditional citizenship to any child born on its soil I personally don't see anything weird with this. I've gotten used (but have not grown totally insensitive) to the kind of drama it creates, when (for instance) mothers are deported in an extremely visible fashion to their country of origin while the children stay here, and the media thunder on and "expose" cruel laws and cruel officials and the absurd division of families.

Instead I find incredibly weird (in my subjective view) those countries which have citizenship laws which are based on jus sanguinis. I find Switzerland (and its decentralized canton-based approach) the weirdest in this but I have found weirder in other countries, on things like the question of the citizenship of gypsies, for instance. I would not be surprised if in the next century (or sooner) some European legislators would start talking of shooting their gypsies into space.

195:

"To the rest of the world this might seem weird, as if it were a strange invitation to smuggle in pregnant women, among many things."

It seems like that to quite a few people here in the States, too, and has given rise to right-wing histrionics about "anchor babies". Most of the folks objecting to birthright citizenship are run-of-the-mill immigration hawks, but in the most extreme conspiracy-theory fringes they dress it up with convoluted theories that foreign nationals will birth children in the States and then raise them to commit terrorist acts and be protected as US citizens. Like how Timothy McVeigh got away with the Oklahoma City Bombing because he was a US citizen, I guess.

(Internet Sarcasm Note: Timothy McVeigh did not get away with the Oklahoma City Bombing. He was executed for it.)

Pardon my Ugly American ignorance of what other country you're talking about, but birthright citizenship here is a direct result of the rather unique circumstance of enshrining slavery in our Constitution and later having to reverse it. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees birthright citizenship to safeguard against southern states denying citizenship rights to former slaves and their descendants.

Which is NOT to say, as opponents of birthright citizenship would have you believe, that the Fourteenth was not intended to apply to children of immigrants. Congress knew perfectly well that was what the language in the Amendment implied, and it was debated extensively on those terms.

All that said, there ARE plenty of peculiarities to US citizenship -- failure to recognize dual citizenship is rather an odd one. I know less about the origins of that particular practice than birthright citizenship, but I expect it's a holdover from independence to prevent British citizens to take control of the government and attempt reunification -- rather like the requirement that the President be a natural-born citizen.

196:

Do you live in Argentina? If not, then you have to add yet another country to your list. Being born in Argentinean soil grants you nationality, irrespective of the status of your parents. No taxation on national residing abroad, though.

197:

At the time of the Revolution and for a long time thereafter, Britain didn't recognize dual citizenship. The US has just stuck with the old way of looking at citizenship.

198:

I think you've fallen for the propoganda against the "Tea Party". There's a small lunatic fringe of racists who show up at the Tea Parties, but the idea that the whole movement is about rich racist white men wanting to rid themselves of brown people is a lie.

199:

And from my personal experience, yes -- which is why I picked that example.

It's the problem with anecdotes -- you know Swazi doctors who still perform animal sacrifices, while I know Nigerians who are much less non-Western than the Haitians who perform animal sacrifices at the local Federal courthouse.

Maybe class, tribe and family play a much bigger role than "ethnicity", which is just race by another name, which is part of the nationality game invented by the Westernest of the Westerners only recently?

As soon as you start thinking in those terms, pretty good odds you're WEIRD.

200:

Hi Charlie,

It looks like the Vatican agrees with you.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/24/idUS264245887020111024

201:

William Gibson also gave us a the chilling line about a near future in which the exceedingly rich were no longer remotely human.

No need, perhaps, to go to space if they can be space aliens to the plebes right here. No need, perhaps, to leave Earth to bail out of the human race.

Greg Egan's returned a couple of times to the idea of the ultra-rich secretly modifying their bodies so much they're not just a different species, they're a whole different biology. Pandemic-immune rapists testing negative for DNA; billionaires planning to live through ecological collapse by metabolizing used tyres. (Yes, I know, hard to replace your GATC with other bases on the sly; it probably requires a resource base no less than you need for a space colony.)

202:

Many "Tea Partiers" also want to return to the gold standard, revoke all environmental regulations, and pass a constitutional amendment banning abortion with no exceptions.

203:

"Do the math" has various posts on limits to growth, this being one about growth of the intangible economy
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/07/can-economic-growth-last/

As for dual citizenship, the US doesn't seem particularly hardass in practice, not like Singapore. A friend in college was US-Dutch because of her father, and said she'd have to pick one when she turned 21, but by the time she was that old, she didn't.

204:

In a world where most of the "work" is knowledge acquisition, how will it be paid for? Libraries and research are paid for out of taxes. What happens when taxable goods and services that are non-replicable and paid for, are just a fraction of the economy? Surely you are not advocating some sort of collectivist economic model to support this?

Knowledge is a fine thing, but I tend to believe that knowledge embodied in technology (and other things) is important. Moreover, knowledge can only be made by expanding the technological capabilities based on prior knowledge. We won't ever build fusion drives if we don't experiment. That experimentation costs money and requires an existing technological infrastructure and economy to support it.

I agree Pharma is broken, but that is primarily due to the high costs of phase 3 trials, and diminishing returns based on the existing simple compound to protein target approach. What option do they have? Notice that you don't see tiny companies creating new antibiotics for the undeveloped world only.

"Any relationship between Google's capitalization and the value of the service they provide is coincidental. They are paid for their ability as an advertising medium."

True, but that is the choice they made to monetize. It was the same choice the US radio and tv entertainment industries made, as opposed to theater and movies. Do you feel that radio and tv broadcasting is inherently more valuable than the advertizing that supports it?
Remember the UK went with a TV license to support the BBC, which you paid for whether you watched the Beeb or not. In the early days (just before my time), the BBC was the only broadcaster in the UK.

"That is why the gap in the standard of living between what we now call the First and Third world exploded from the early 1800s onward.)"

I'm not buying that. The huge gap occurred initially because of the productivity gains between the industrializing countries and their neighbors. Colonial rules reinforced that. Remember that even the nascent America was not allowed to make industrial goods during British rule.

205:

"I would support having the government or consortium of governments pay, out of tax funds, to have open and available for free any journal article above a certain level of difficulty."

I would too. We need to get the knowledge base accessible to everyone with an interest. The current model of increasing fees to universities (and a few private subscribers) is ridiculous. But the greater problem is changing the model so that the publication of research is wrested away from the publishers by willing contributors. So far, the open science publishers like PLOS only works to an extent, and is costly to small researchers.

206:

People talk about the costs, who is going to pay? In an information-based economy costs are basically labor. Labor costs are basically what is needed to keep the labor force reasonably healthy and happy. Robotic technology takes over physical labor. Food and other biological goods can be provided with very little labor cost. Cheap, renewable energy sources are being explored. If we think of cost as usage of available resources rather than as monetary, we might have very different ideas about what is affordable.

207:

The linked paper on "guard labor" seems to rather overstate the case. Most "guard labor" listed is one of "supervisors" (i.e., the managerial class), "prisoners," and the "unemployed."

Even the non-stretch cases, "military" and "guards," amount to only 4%; nowhere near 20%.

That being said, I suspect it's true that higher inequality leads to more "guards."

208:

And from my personal experience, yes -- which is why I picked that example.

It's the problem with anecdotes -- you know Swazi doctors who still perform animal sacrifices, while I know Nigerians who are much less non-Western than the Haitians who perform animal sacrifices at the local Federal courthouse.

Maybe class, tribe and family play a much bigger role than "ethnicity", which is just race by another name, which is part of the nationality game invented by the Westernest of the Westerners only recently?

As soon as you start thinking in those terms, pretty good odds you're WEIRD.
I know I'm WEIRD, but the point i was trying to make is that people don't adopt western thought norms(and therefore maybe become space cadets) just by undergoing a western education.

As for the cattle and animal sacrifices, they are an intimate part of Southern African black culture, they aren't going to give them up just because they know how to use an Ipad.

209:

Sorry, bad formatting the first time round
And from my personal experience, yes -- which is why I picked that example.

It's the problem with anecdotes -- you know Swazi doctors who still perform animal sacrifices, while I know Nigerians who are much less non-Western than the Haitians who perform animal sacrifices at the local Federal courthouse.

Maybe class, tribe and family play a much bigger role than "ethnicity", which is just race by another name, which is part of the nationality game invented by the Westernest of the Westerners only recently?

As soon as you start thinking in those terms, pretty good odds you're WEIRD.
I know I'm WEIRD, but the point i was trying to make is that people don't adopt western thought norms(and therefore maybe become space cadets) just by undergoing a western education.

As for the cattle and animal sacrifices, they are an intimate part of Southern African black culture, they aren't going to give them up just because they know how to use an Ipad.

210:

Anyone else think the WEIRD term is used for a subtle endorsement of moral relativism?

"You only think animal sacrifice is wrong because you are WEIRD".

"You only think female circumcision is wrong because you are WEIRD".

""You only think killing infidels is wrong because you are WEIRD".

Right...

211:

187, 201 etc
The Tea Party also want to make sure "gawd" is included in the US constitution, persecute atheists (& muslims) ban the teching of "Evil-ution", or at least put Cretincreationism into schools, remove any "minimum wage" legislation .......

Alex Tolley @ 203
Erm, not necessarily.
I don't pay no steenking "license fee" .... (Guess why not?)

Dave L @ 205
I suspect it's true that higher inequality leads to more "guards."
Yes.
Look at one of the main reasons the communist theocracies collapsed. They were spending so much time and money and effort on spying on / micromanaging / controlling their populations, that the system effectively eat itself.
Something the corporate ultra-right ought to remember, because it's such an enticing trap if you "think" you are in power and "control".
Um.

Anura @ 206
the point I was trying to make is that people don't adopt western thought norms(and therefore maybe become space cadets) just by undergoing a western education.
Like Bassar-al Assad, do you mean?
British-educated MD/Opthalmologist, and murderous tyrant?

Anatoly @ 208
Yes.
But ....
WIERD is better - for everyone, so why are "you" agin it?

Which brings me back to the Tea Party.
All independant figures show that in the US, life-expectancy is lower than in WIERD countries with "socialised" medicine. That the US has a higher infant mortality rate, and that the US non-system costs more.
Can someone now explain why so many US citizens are against improving their lot?

212:

The Tea Party also want to make sure "gawd" is included in the US constitution, despite this being unconstitutional. The said constitution explicitly includes a phrase along the lines of "...Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion..." "Establish" in this context means making a religion, or specific church of religion, part of the government, in the way that the Church of England is in the UK.

213:

I suspect trolling the white neighbours also plays a part in the persistence of such a display.

214:

What everybody sees is the world going to hell in a basket. But in real life it's been said before. Anybody remember the Club of Rome report. The best brains working with the best data come up with what did not happen, ON TIME?
With the Rich in America going nuts and living in a dream world this time may be the real one. Being a Space Cadet looks good next to the Bazzro world the owners want us moving to! IT AT LEAST MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER. Only there are things that could make it better that nobody remembers.
Anybody with brains should have seen that many of the War on Terror laws are really War on laid off workers laws, if needed.

215:

"This is similar to the population from which today's space cadets are drawn, with three added twists: it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western. Is it a population from which it is reasonable to expect a viable space colonization movement to grow?"

Yes. Absolutely yes.

Being uncomfortable and struggling just to economically keep up doesn't foster interest in space--it just focuses effort and time on trying to make money. You can't dream of retiring in space if you can barely even dream of retiring at all.

216:

Can someone now explain why so many US citizens are against improving their lot?

Because my misguided co-citizens don't believe that it would improve their lot. They think that the system will get much worse. And you can quote all the numbers in the world at them but it's not going to change their minds, especially when you have trusted community members like the nurses and health care professionals inside the system who think that it's a terrible idea and voicing those concerns to anyone that will listen. It doesn't help that large chunks of Federal programs have been privatized over the years, and that introduced a lot of the problems with fraud and regulation. (For example Medicare is a Federal program but private contractors are responsible for licensing and vetting providers. Sometimes separate contractors. These contractors don't work together, and scam artists fall through the cracks. There have been cases where a scam artist is still receiving payments after they've been indicted, or have repeatedly reinstated their license after being revoked.) The other Federal assistance programs are worse, because they end up being matching funds programs with state administration. The states then sometimes in turn subcontract private insurance companies to manage the program.

Finally, Federal assistance programs are seen as the ultimate sure ride feeding trough for unscrupulous business people. There are plenty of horror stories about for-profit Medicare clinics, for-profit colleges, and fake rural telecom providers.

217:

Source being "Musings of a Distractable Mind" - Add to that such heinous Medicare frauds as misreporting a moderate sprain to the left ankle as being in the right ankle, or allowing a patient who does not claim Medicare a PHP consult for less than you charge Medicare...

218:

I'm talking about real Medicare fraud, where people bill Medicare for non-existent equipment or medicine for non-existent patients. I'm not talking about getting your wrist slapped because you made a paperwork screw-up. Millions of dollars get stolen from Medicare annually.

219:

If only millions are stolen from Medicare annually, then you've got a low friction system that works really well: it's a system with 45-50 million people in it, mostly elderly (with the added healthcare costs that go with that). Even if it was as cheap to operate as the UK's NHS it would be costing around $100Bn a year to run!

Actually, a quick wikipedia check suggests that medicare costs on the order of $500Bn/year to run. Allegations of fraud run to up to $48Bn/year. However, this is a very, very wide net that apparently brackets a lot of non-fraudulent activity ... and the real problem is that medicare is run as a substitute insurance system; what you really need is state-owned healthcare providers (which eliminates the gap between the funding source and the provider, which is what permits almost all the fraud). Compare with the UK's NHS; fraud in the NHS (more here) which, while not non-existent, seems to be 2-3 orders of magnitude smaller.

220:

Thanks for the correction. I was thinking of the last few big crackdowns which were roughly in the quarter billion dollar range.

221:

"Do you feel that radio and tv broadcasting is inherently more valuable than the advertizing that supports it?"
Yes. It has to be or no one would listen/watch it.

"What happens when taxable goods and services that are non-replicable and paid for, are just a fraction of the economy? Surely you are not advocating some sort of collectivist economic model to support this?"

In order from what I am most sure of to what I am less sure of.
First, anything I would advocate will be more different from the Soviet or Chinese models than what we have in the US and western Europe now. But to be honest, I am more clear on what the problem is, and the importance of recognizing it, than I am on the answer.
Second, I am convinced that a successful knowledge-centered economy will need to be far more thoroughly democratic than what we have now. Any concentration of power, either in the state or in the hands of private sector players, will warp knowledge. In effect, any excessive concentration of power generates knowledge pollution. From this perspective, it matters little whether that concentration is in the hands of the 1% or the Party Central Committee.
Knowledge pollution is a major obstacle to even a superficial, temporary solution to the financial crisis: no one actually knows exactly what the situation is. Who are whose counter-parties? Who actually owes who what? Or would in the event of what kind of default?
Third, I strongly suspect that we are reaching the limits of what a society run on greed can accomplish in terms of coordination. Just as slave societies run on the whip could not achieve what industrial societies run on monetary incentives could. There will always be greed, just as there will always be brutality. There will always be individuals whose conduct is driven largely by greed, just as there will always be individuals whose conduct is driven largely by brutality. But we will no longer use greed as the primary organizing principle for society.
At least when it comes to knowledge, we will see that we are better off when others have more rather than when they have less. In a collectivist society, the (often supposed) needs of the society override the needs of the individual. In an individualist society, we step on each other's toes and don't need society at large to do it for us. In the society to come, the development/maturation of society and of individuals will be mutually supportive rather than contradictory.


"I'm not buying that. The huge gap occurred initially because of the productivity gains between the industrializing countries and their neighbors."

I think we are on the same page here. I just expressed myself unclearly the first time.
The gap opened up because the industrializing countries grew much faster than their neighbors (and even faster yet than what would become the third world). That is my point. Growth rates in the most advanced economies were higher than in other economies. The past few decades, the highest growth rates are in catch-up economies, not the most advanced ones. We take that as natural. I think it is one of the signs that we hit the wall.
However, to get beyond this wall means entering a new phase of human development. That is why we don't recognize the situation accurately. It is different from what has come before. It requires new maturity of both individuals and societies. Just as modern society is more mature compared to feudal society. And Neolithic society was compared to the societies that preceded it.

222:

217 thro 219 inc:-

I was saying that some Medicare "frauds" aren't "intent to obtain fecuniary advantage by deception", not that there is no fraud in medicare.

Cheers for the additional data Charlie.

223:

My apologies for misunderstanding. I've heard too many times the paperwork burden and the investigations for improperly done paperwork being used as a reason to do away with the whole system.

224:

Separate from the discussion of the future, for right now, I would support having the government or consortium of governments pay, out of tax funds, to have open and available for free any journal article above a certain level of difficulty. I am sure this is a political non-starter

I'm not sure it's a non-starter: I would even say that the compromise currently in vogue seems to have it that way, at least going forward. The funding agencies strongly encourage their grant recipients to choose publication venues with open access, for publications funded by those agencies, and the cost of doing so is considered a legitimate expense on the research grant. See, for an example from the U.K., EPSRC's policy on open access. Since researchers really do have strong incentives to write publications that are widely cited (which is more likely if their publications are more widely accessible), and the cost of making them as widely accessible as possible can be passed on to the funding agency, much recent academic research is indeed freely available. Most publishers certainly seem happy to oblige by allowing open access and charging extra for the privilege.

On the other hand, the increasing accessibility of recent research is casting older publications into a relative "dark age", as students find it much easier to refer to a paper they can immediately find online than to one they have to go to the library for. Even filling out a form (to have a librarian track down a specific paper and scan it in for the student, who conveniently gets an electronic copy of an older paper a few hours after asking for it) seems to be too much to ask. Many journals have themselves already digitized significant parts of their back catalog. The price they charge for electronic access to the back catalog seems outrageous, but digitizing older journals gets progressively more expensive (especially if it is to be properly digitized rather than merely scanned) for work which is progressively more outdated, and at some level the economics simply reflect that much of the older literature simply is not worth the effort to digitize it. Pushing back this dark age to some extent is almost certainly worth it, but it's really hard to determine how far to push it back before there are better things to be spending tax funds (or the university library budget) on.

225:

Damn if I know how we'll get there. We'll need at least a couple of generations of progress to lose the fear of it all being stolen back. That's sort of where the Tea Party are at: not poor, but afraid of being looted by people below them (directly or via government) while ignoring the people above them serenely picking their pockets. Such people are easy to sucker a person into voting to further beggar the poor and enrich the rich.

The Shiny, Happy Future not only needs to be free of want, but to be free of the fear (misplaced or not) of it all being stolen back. It also requires increasing efficiency in use of energy and materials. It's starting to penetrate into our thick skulls that such is necessary in everything, not just high-value stuff like drugs and electronics.

So if we assume the SHF, then we can assume that, short of breakthroughs, space colonization will be a little less expensive than it is now.

After the few tourist hotels in space, I can see the Chinese putting up their own space station (I think that's their plan now), then looking to exploit the moon for fuel and raw materials, either to build onsite or build out orbital presence(s). It may not even be China. Their history is as contingent as that of any other country, and large-scale capitalism tends to erode institutions. Maybe one or a combo of the other BRICs?

I don't know if self-actualization includes frank curiosity and bloody-mindedness, but they are powerful motivators.

226:

The problem with the way intellectual property is rewarded, and this is precisely how the benefits of creating intellectual property are different from the benefits of colonizing space, is that by allowing the creator a monopoly society pays the cost twice. Not only does society pay more than the marginal cost of making more use of the knowledge (due to monopoly pricing), but because of the increased price the knowledge is not used as much as it would be if it were cheaper. As a result, the cost to society increases quadratically whereas the benefit to the monopolist only increases linearly. At some point this becomes a very bad deal for society, and for intellectual property where the marginal cost of making more use of available knowledge is essentially zero, that point is reached very quickly. Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research has been arguing for many years that patents and copyright are now almost certainly not the optimal way of funding creative arts or pharmaceutical research. They may well have been the best choice in the past, but with the decreasing cost of duplicating information, it is long past time to move on.

Barring magic wand technology, the marginal cost of lifting another space cadet out of earth's gravity well will always be non-negligible, at least in terms of the required energy. So whereas a few million of us could easily chip in to cover Charlie's living expenses for a year and all read his next book, and with a few orders of magnitude more effort could get one or a few of us into space, getting all of us into space will not be a matter of getting enough of us to chip in a negligible amount.

227:

The past few decades, the highest growth rates are in catch-up economies, not the most advanced ones. We take that as natural. I think it is one of the signs that we hit the wall.

I agree with that. Indeed it is why I don't buy the 1000x greater global GDP based on "informational products".

What I don't see is how we go through that wall. The only way forward in a world which is increasingly based on services is to automate those services to reduce their costs. We can see that happening today, although some personal services will always be most desirable being performed by another human.

Another possibility is very cheap fabrication. However I don't see why there would be any inherent cost advantage (energy/materials) over traditional factory production. Scaling up our global industry 1000x isn't likely to work. The construction sector alone would require constant rebuilding of structures, but what would be the logic of that?

228:

looking to exploit the moon for fuel and raw materials, either to build onsite or build out orbital presence(s).

The simplest explanation for China's space ambitions is that they want to show that they are No. 1.

Now should they build a space infrastructure, especially with SPSs to provide power to the ground, then that would be a good thing. Of course that will be a very strong signal signifying the end of the American century, IMO.

229:

Allow me to repeat what I wrote above, Chris: The U.S. recognizes dual citizenship, and has since 1790. Our esteemed blog owner is incorrect on this point.

230:

"I agree with that. Indeed it is why I don't buy the 1000x greater global GDP based on "informational products"."

What will happen is that information products will comprise the bulk of "the most important stuff", and will dominate life from now on. However, we will not see 1000x GDP because of the inherently deflationary nature of those products. What we will see is something that would look to us like a 1000x increase in GDP, *if* we measured it in contemporary terms. A bit like my PC is worth around a billion dollars circa 1980

231:

Or to put it another way, it's like some economist in 1980 saying that such will be the rate of economic growth that within one generation almost every teenager will have a billion dollars worth of computer of their very own.

232:

Noel Maurer@228: Allow me to repeat what I wrote above, Chris: The U.S. recognizes dual citizenship, and has since 1790. Our esteemed blog owner is incorrect on this point.

Historically the US entered into a number of bilateral treaties with other countries to deny dual citizenship between those countries, but the Supreme Court long ago ruled that there was no constitutional authority for the treaties and they are all now in abeyance if not formally denounced.

Historically the US is not at all unusual in its application of jus soli, it's just that most countries that used to apply it as purely as the US have in recent years added various caveats to its application. As others have mentioned, for the US to do the same would require a constitutional amendment and they're not so easy to achieve.

If you want a really weird citizenship law, take Ireland's. Even taking the recent anti-"anchor baby" amendment into account, anyone reading this blog with a parent born somewhere in the island of Ireland almost certainly is an Irish citizen as a matter of law, whether they like it or not. And if they have a grandparent born in the island of Ireland, they have a right to claim such citizenship. Such right can be passed on to each generation so long as the Irish citizenship is claimed prior to any children being born.

233:

The US uses a hedonic GDP deflater. IOW, the billion dollars of computer power in your possession is priced into GDP that way, not as a few $100's. Other countries do not use this approach.

234:

Of course running Moore's Law backwards, and saying that almost every teen has some computer equipment of their very own... if that economist had suggested they might have a million dollars worth we'd be laughing at the underestimate. 15 rounds of doubling with Moore's Law, a million dollars worth of 30 years ago computing or works out to be about $30 worth of computer today...

Even a 2G iPhone, the cheapest iPod, an old, second-hand netbook and the like...

235:

GDP is meaningless as a measure of quality of life. What we should count are new degrees of freedom. Can you live longer, live healthier, travel faster, access more information, access information easier, have more choices in food\clothes\work\sex\whatever...

236:

A couple of points:

The "problem" with Medicare isn't fraud, it's that it's unaffordable under the current US health system. It's ~23% of the US budget, and growing. Sane people realize that we can't afford these costs, but it's not a simple fix.The byzantine US insurance industry alone employs ~1% of the US population, so dismantling it to make an efficient, productive, single-payer system would put a lot of people out of work. Similarly doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and executives in the US are paid more than their overseas counterparts, but cutting their pay gets...interesting. And this doesn't even touch Big Pharma.

Second point: The Tea Party is basically ultra-conservative Republicans wearing warpaint. I think that Reagan (as with Thatcher) realized that lying on the grand scale to get into office was simpler than getting people motivated to solve complex problems. That's been their playbook ever since. Note that I'm not against conservatism per se, but there's nothing conservative about the Tea Partyers or the Republicans at this point in time.

Contrast that with the Occupy movement, where they are very interested in governance and political involvement, but they don't trust either party to do the right thing. I'd say they have a more informed view of the needs than the Tea Party does, however they are portrayed in the media.

237:

Yes, GDP is meaningless. You know about happiness indices as a measure of prosperity? As a concept it needs considerable refinement, but it's definitely pointing in the right direction.

238:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE: I am displeased by the creeping derailment of this discussion that is being induced by the discussion of the Tea Party movement in the USA. Not to mention the subsequent discussion of narrow partisan American politics.

I think we should drop this topic (and the medicare thread) forthwith.

239:

Gross National Happiness sounds like something North Korea would invent. The fact that it was invented by a king of a poor country doesn't help, either. And in any case, it measure "Wellness" which is a very vague and subjective term.

240:

Wellness is an antonym of illness and sickness surely?

241:

Neither of which are particularly easy to define.

242:

Hmm. I'm having fun reading about Gross National Happiness. It's a lot more sophisticated than it sounds. "The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance."

I think the monarch of Bhutan should be given a bit of credit. The monarch who came up with the idea of Gross National Happiness also forced his country to become democratic (apparently against their wishes) and created a parliament, before abdicating in favor of his son. The son considers his primary mission the democratization of his country (land reform, election laws, etc).

Anyway, getting back to the main topic, it's an interesting, alternative metric for how a culture's doing.

243:

Actually there are quite a few measures of wellness, illness and sickness. You can take things like visits to the doctor (that's a better metric somewhere like the UK where it's free at the point of demand than in some other places), number of days unable to work, number of days taking medication, average life expectancy and so on.

You could refine the days on medication etc. in terms of how they impact the quality of life to some extent. A pill that doesn't make you feel better today, but helps you live a year longer has much less impact on quality of life than something that helps you live another day without pain, helps you live through a bad migraine without wishing you were dead and so on.

You can further look at reports on things like Fb and Twitter I suspect, should you want to. You will get into all kinds of fun with FB and privacy but you could probably trawl Twitter that way and get a reasonably good self-reporting of how people feel.

They're none of them perfect measures but across a range of them you can get a reasonably good metric.

Assessing happiness is much harder I suspect, even if you do anonymous self-reporting. How do you cope with things like people moaning about work (presumably a sign of unhappiness) but not seeking to change jobs even when they're available (presumably a sign of happiness in their job)?

244:

Meant to add, just because they're hard to define and measure really accurately doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

245:

I've been trying to think in what way I should be jealous of a pharaoh or other such absolute ruler of antiquity and I'm drawing mostly blanks. In absolute terms he is enormously richer than me, but he cannot acquire many of the things I take for granted.

Worldwide travel within a time period of days.

Relief or protection from disease such as leprosy, malaria or polio, inflamed appendix, gout or gallstones.
(I seem to recall one young pharaoh dying of a broken arm?)

I am far better entertained, informed and educated. A jester, live musicians and a man who reads entrails are no match for the internet.

Huge land holdings are nice, but right now I could walk into the old royal hunting preserve for a stroll if I wanted, as it has been made public.

The only thing he has I do not is complete mastery over fellow human beings, but that kind of thing would only appeal to a pervert or sadist, otherwise being surrounded by servants is a terrible loss of privacy, I expect upper class people had to develop their trademark sociopathy almost as self defense from the cognitive dissonance of having to treat people as appliances.

So yeah, on the whole I do feel richer than a pharaoh.

246:

hteromeles @ 235
Re. The "occupy" protesters by St Pauls in London...
Earlier, and elsewhere (a London blog) I wrote this:
^^^^
IDIOTS

If we actually HAD real capitalism, we wouldn't have this problem.
The protestors seem to want another failed system, something resembling Marxist so-called "socialism".
What we have got is CORPORATISM, masquerading as capitalism.

See the links I put up earlier (which applies in this blog as well - about limited number corporations controlling ...).

One other point ... most workers in the City of London are that - workers.
And this protest, so-called is pissing them off a lot.
The buses are diverted, the protestors STINK (I note no mention of the complete lack of sanitary facilities) and it's buggering up normal life.
(Note, sanitation has now improved)
In the meantime, it isn't inconveniencing the greedy and incompetent corprations one litte bit.

Which would tend to indicate a practical complete failure on someone's part.

Right protest - possibly.
Completely wrong place.
UPDATE ....
Actually - having been down today, and had a look and a talk to some of them....

They're harmless loonies, various - christian, socialist, muslim - and all demented.
St Pauls' has not been "forced to close" - looking at it at 13.45 today, it could have easily been opened, and kept open.

The best thing to do is ignore them.
By giving them attention, we are doing the worst possible thing.
^^^^^^^^^^
Even though there is obviously something fundamentally wrong/boken in our society and its' rewards.
These people no more have a valid answer than the corporatists and bankers.

247:

Even though you'd need to pay me to read Dilbert, I do read Scott Adams' blog because he occasionally comes up with something interesting*, his take on the occupy wall street movement makes the following point.

I'm a big fan of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And what I like most about it is the ambiguity of their demands. There's a deep honesty to that. It is okay to say the system is broken while also saying you don't know how to fix it. I'd feel uncomfortable if the protesters had specific demands. I don't want my economic policy coming from "guy in tent."

* Other times he sounds like a faux news pundit, caveat lector.

248:

"They're harmless loonies, various - christian, socialist, muslim - and all demented. "

Best wait until inflation (which is coming) wipes out your pension and savings. But don't worry - those banker bonuses will continue because they work hard.
Just as a matter of interest, is your pension inflation linked?

249:

"... barring miraculous discoveries (of the order of limitless free energy, or some form of reactionless propulsion) getting from Earth's surface into orbit (not to mention colonizing the solar system or going beyond) is almost certainly always going to be beyond the reach of poor folks."

Might Airships To Orbit www.jpaerospace.com qualify as miraculous?

250:

Charlie's comment about "Tea Party" posts can be generalized -- please stick to the general topic, not your opinions about the protestors. Or your opinions about those who have opinions about the protestors.

251:

Might Airships To Orbit as miraculous?

Yes. The consensus that I have read is that the scheme cannot work. I read the book a while back. The best part to me is platform in near space. I think that has a lot of uses. I even think that using it as a launchpad might even make sense. But "floating to orbit" using static and dynamic lift plus some sort of propulsion? Almost certainly not.

But I would like to be surprised.

Now as a re-entry vehicle...

252:

Off-topic, but seeing as it appears in TTOQ:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-15453872

253:

Are you suspicious of GDP for being invented by rich people? And it's not like GDP doesn't have a lot of vagueness and non-counted elements to it. If I cook a fine meal at home with garden vegetables, GDP stays the same; if I buy crap fast food, GDP goes up.

254:

Wrong. It is not unconstitutional to amend the Constitution to include God.

255:

"The American economic elite is hiding its treason to the American people behind "free trade." - Paul Craig Roberts, former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury (2/19/09)
The Founding Fathers of America hated corporatshions. They were seen rightly, as things the rich (English) hid behind. Finally one paid off State loosened its laws and allowed them. Then in America's most corrupt time, the late 1800s, a judge who owed a railroad gave them the same rights as people. People who say we don't have real capitalism are right. Things that capitalism says should never happen, happen all the time. We have the rule of the richest hiding behind corporatism.
I well remember a 60's German Communist tell me that GDP is meaningless. He pointed out that the rockers selling out a ball park went into the GNP the same way a steel mill or car plant did. He was right. At the time, I said that thanks to FDR and unions there was no need for Communism. Well, like I said then Communism still falls into the complexity trap, but oops about how long what FDR did lasted.
People vote against their own well being for the same reason that many, not most, voted for Hitler.

256:

...and all they found was a note scribbled in LOLHochsprache.


If this crappy economy can support space hobbyists, it's fair to say that when things improve, someone, whatever their background, will stump up for a bigger presence in space. Anyway, as someone pointed out upthread, China at least wants to build a space station and go to the moon.

"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer." - Frank Zappa

Update that a bit by replacing "some nuclear weapons" with "a space program." Popping off atomic cherry bombs doesn't bring the respect it once did, and I take comfort from that. When Indira Gandhi lit one off in 1974, political cartoons emphasized starving and unimpressed people, and Kim Jong-Il only gets funny looks. But a space program, even a wasteful and unnecessary one, gets you in the big boys club. Besides, Tsingtao isn't Chinese. It came from German brewers.

257:

My local corner shop sells Tsingtao!

And my local sells TT Landlord, Crouch Vale Brewers Gold, St Austell Tribute, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde, and a guest or two ...

258:

I suspect that you don't have to go back that far. I for one wouldn't trade being alive today in the circumstances that I am in to being wealthy 50 years ago. I think that will be true for the majority of people 50 years in the future assuming that a betterment of the human condition continues.

I like the idea of Gross National Happiness, but the quantitative measures used for the first Global GNH Survey as listed on Wikipedia seems like it's biased towards rating against an ideal Western culture. I'm not sure if divorce rates really apply for example, because cultural attitudes towards the acceptability of divorce vary. I can think of similar issues for quite a few of the other measures as well. Just skimming some of the literature seems to suggest that this known problem with measuring subjective wellness with no good solutions other than be careful applying across cultures.

I've been thinking about non-Western SF, and if that could be an indicator of cultural attitudes towards space travel. The issue with that is that the only non-Western SF that I'm familiar with is Japanese and in translation, so I'm sure that there is quite a bit of selection bias there. (I wish that it was easier to learn about and get a hold of non-Anglophone SF.)

259:

[cite and reasoning needed]

260:

paws4thot
Any amendement can be made to the USSA's constitution, provided a sufficient number of states' vote for that Amendment.
That's how the various past amendments happened, after all, is it not?

261:

I am aware of that; however AIUI an Amendment can only be used to extend or constrain the rights of the individual, and not to over-write the preamble and extend the powers of the legislature.

262:

It's so unlikely that it is almost more likely that a revolution would produce a theocracy than that the US would pass such an amendment in the next few decades.

Barring very unusual circumstances, it is also very unlikely that any Court, even a heavily Republican one would overturn Griswold. Chip, chip, chip at its edges, sure. But outside of Darkest Yorkshire, most people, including most Catholics, prefer their Pills and French Ticklers, no offence, Charlie.

263:

The universal library is getting closer, we merely have to wait the author's lifetime, plus 70 years. Not too much to ask. Even if older literature conforms to Sturgeon's law, still worthwhile to preserve off-copyright works for the other 10%.

264:

He pointed out that the rockers selling out a ball park went into the GNP the same way a steel mill or car plant did.

To which the answer was surely "yes, and your point is what?"

265:

GDP is as meaningless as an air speed indicator. It was explicitly designed to measure whether the economy is booming or busting, and first operationalised to understand what the capacity of the UK war economy was for the FY1941-1942 Budget.

To use it for anything else is like expecting an air speed indicator to report beauty. However, if you want to know if you're in danger of stalling or tearing the wings off, and roughly what time you'll arrive, what you want is an air speed indicator. Similarly, if you want to know if you're heading for unemployment and misery or hyper-inflation and misery, you want GDP.

266:

That's not correct. Recent Amendments have, for example, changed the process for succession in the Executive. And I am not sure the Preamble has any binding legal effect, just moral/rhetorical authority. A Constitutional Convention could theoretically be called to re-write the entire document or any piece thereof. It is a common essay topic for Ameican students to be asked to write a new one: I remember I tried to put in some complicated stuff about Tribunes and recall elections. Of course, I was 15 at the time.

267:

Non-English attitudes towards space exploration, through their SF?

Even if you don,t know the language you can always look at images (moving or not) to guess what they're thinking about space. Sometimes, there are even a few sub titles here and there. Not that you can really trust them.

It's rather amazing the things that are popping up on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybxi-xmQFXQ

An entire generation of Russians grew up watching these semantic "deconstructions" and reinterpretations of "2001, a space Odyssey".

But what this means for their grandchildren (who will be alive in the 22nd century, I hope) is quite another matter.

268:

If you want your eyes opened try watching some of the rare subtitled Chinese movies, made for Chinese internal consumption. Reminds me of 1950s America - totally gung ho, can-do, with more than a dash of ruthlessness and righteous nationalism. Plenty of saluting the flag as well.

269:

If memory serves, the only thing that is super-entrenched in the US constitution and can't be amended by the regular process is the equal representation of the states in the Senate.

The real game-changer would be if enough states request a whole new constitutional convention; I think that would be able to do what it wants, and getting close to the requisite number of requests have now been lodged I believe.

Interestingly I understand the US constitution's framers expected that constitutional conventions would get called quite regularly.

270:

"rockers selling out a ball park went into the GNP the same way a steel mill or car plant did."
The point is that the Gross domestic product (GDP) is a so so indicator, but it's not the reality. And I don't know what to do about it.
Our new right say the money that's taxed is theirs. And they want it in Swiss Banks. Not wasted doing good things. You know the money spent on space mostly stays here. NSAS was too Kennedy and non GOP for Nixon and he gutted it. As people were fired, it put banks down there in trouble from foreclosed houses. That turned into the Nixon recession. It would have been better not to try and make NSAS run like a business.

271:

I agree with Nestor; I'm dirt-poor by American standards, but I measure my prosperity agaist history-Medieval peasants used to literally dream of a life like I live. Food is cheap and plentiful, I wear cotton clothes, and own a horseless carriage plus several 'magic boxes' (TV, Computer etc) which an ancient Pharaoh never could have had.

(But then, 'poor' in America is not the same thing as 'poor' in the 3rd World)

I wish all the 'have-nots' in the 3rd World could be doing as well as me. That's why it doesn't bother me so much to see some jobs go overseas- it usually means the difference between life or death to those communities.

272:

I wonder though, is the wealth disparity worse today (within nations)? Putting it another way; was a peasant and their feudal lord closer in wealth than a lower class labourer of today and the multi-billionaire upper class CEO whose company employs him?

273:

The problem may not be the disparity, so much as what it causes. The idea out there is that, when wealth is more equitably distributed, there's more technical innovation, while when we get into the current banana republic-level wealth disparities, technical innovation disappears, as the smart people spend their genius on gaming the financial or political sectors, instead of trying to be entrepreneurs and inventing new devices or services.

I'm not sure I believe this idea, but I am pretty sure it can be tested.

274:

See the writings of Warren Ellis: Transmetropolitan somewhat, but Doktor Sleepless in particular.

Side effect of US "renounce all others" allegiance oath: candidate in Irish Presidential election has sworn to uphold US interests over Ireland's.

275:

It's hard to quantify exactly - for example, until the rise of the yeoman and the disappearance of the serf, the disparity was infinite. A serf literally didn't own anything - they were given a roof, some clothes etc. but everything belonged to their overlord.

I can't find the numbers for the tax that the Earl of Devon or similar paid to cite this, but I vaguely remember a friend saying in 1300 it tipped into the £20,000 level. That was meant to be 1/3 of his income for the year... and there's a lot of inflation in between.

So I suspect from the bottom to the top was pretty wide, narrowed with the rise of the wealthy middle classes and it widening again in most countries.

276:

Reconstructions of income disparities in Paris at the turn of the XIV century point to a Gini coefficient of about 0.7, worse than anything in the world today except possibly some African countries.

277:

It takes some scrolling, but at Poverty UK site the gini coefficient for the UK has risen from 25% in 1979 to ~40% by 2009.

Still less than the Paris in the XIVth century mark, but a pretty hefty increase.

278:

Personally, I don't think its worth comparing the medieval with modern periods with regards to innovation.
Another difference is that, for all there were massive disparities, people simply couldn't hoard money the way they can now, so it was best to spend it on cloth, food, good works such as bridges and roads and so on. After a meal in a properly run and reasonably devout household, someone was supposed to come round and collect the leftovers, to be distibuted to the poor and unable to work outside. Paupers were given new clothing or at least a gown, at someone's funeral, and so on.

Comparing the monetary income is also tricky.
If we take for example the mid 16th century in England. As an unskilled or slightly skilled labourer, whether in a field or spinning yarn, you might make the equivalent or be paid around 5-8 pounds a year. A skilled craftsman could double that.
A more middle class person, clerking for a merchant or a minor merchant themselves, or rich yeoman or something, could make more like 30 or 40 pounds a year, i.e. 5 to 10 times that.
A rich nobleman might have an income of 2 or 3,000 pounds a year (or more), plus of course food from their estates.
Thus we have a difference of 500 times between top and bottom.
Turn to today, Say you make 20,000 pounds a year (A sum a great deal more than many do), 500 times that is about 10 million.

So suddenly it does seem as though we are back at medieval/ Tudor income distributions. And if we start on the wealth, then the differences are rather similar.

The increase in UK gini coefficient during my lifetime is due to the growth of the city, financialisation of the economy and penetration of the 'free' market into every aspect of life, added to the triumph of greed is good, regulatory capture and so on. Blair et al spent a great deal of time talking about the disparities, but did the equivalent of sticking a plaster over it by slightly increasing transfers by benefits from the haves to the have nots. By doing so they halted the rise in coefficient. The Tory scum are trying to undo all that and parcel out public services to their mates in business with contracts and guaranteed markets, which will only increase the disparities.

279:

I suspect the idea is correct, with appropriate caveats.
To develop it further, when income and wealth is better distbuted, more money flows through a wider range of channels, meaning more can be diverted to research and development in many different places and ways.
Whereas now with a few large corporations, their R&D is centralised and specific goal oriented. Which up to a point is necessary because as tehcnology develops increased capital is required in order to make further progress.
What would be interesting to compare would be number of actual scientists and engineers working in specific areas now as compared to 30 or 40 years ago. E.g. aerospace. Or pharmaceuticals. And in the meantime, new areas like genomics and biotech are employing more researchers. So some of it will be a matter of hot new areas with easy pickings attracting lots of money and researchers, whereas the older areas where there is less to be found simply have less need for people.

But on the other hand, whilst large amounts of capital may be required for more R&D, I suspect that it isn't necessarily allocated properly because of bureacractic issues. And I'm sure we are all familiar with the problems of the last decade or two:
The triumph of managerialism
The take over by accountants of companies
The push to shorter, quicker profits and less long termism.

All three of these points can happen irrespective of inequalities in wealth, but if the system is such that maximum profit now is demanded by the owners, that destroys R&D.
And Tory scum and their ilk have handed over more and more university R&D to companies anyway, rather than doing the sensible thing such as state sponsored research of next generation anti-biotics.

280:

For those who wonder what UK currency "pounds sterling" means, it refers to the weight of silver. So right now, a "pound" should be worth about 320 pounds.

281:

Er, no, pounds sterling does not refer to the weight of silver.

I believe it did at one point, but it hasn't for a very long time.

282:

That's why the ten pound note I have in my hand states on it that "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of ten pounds". Of course, they do not honour that promise any more. Inflation.

When somebody asks "Ten pounds of what?", the answer is, or used to be, silver.

283:

I'd always guessed that 'pound sterling' used to mean just that, but I admit my knowledge of British currency history is lacking. How long has it been since a pound actually meant one pound of silver?

Out of date, yes; irrational, no. There are worse ways to run a currency than by pegging it to a known amount of precious metal.

284:

I would guess that the system collapsed around WW1, but do not know for sure

285:

According to wikipedia, the silver standard effectively ended in 1717 under Newton when he rebalanced the ratio of values between gold and silver, but legally was completely abandoned in 1844 when we formally moved to a full gold standard.

The gold standard got battered by various wars (Napoleonic, WWI etc.) but wasn't officially abandoned until 1931 here in the UK. Apparently there was some consideration of returning a gold standard after WWII, but it didn't come to pass.

286:

Privatelron @ 262
THIS is NOT the USSA!
I've just looked up "Griswold", so I now know what you meant ....

Dirk @ 268
I thought we had all agreed that "communist" China is now a classic fascist state? And according to THIS ARTICLE trying to run a 1940's 50's sytem against modern technologies whios seem to automatically prevewnt such controls.
They KNOW that the "net" helped bring down the Arab dictatorships, they saw how the European communist theocracies collapsed under the weight of their own internal surveillance...
And they're STILL trying to fight this lost battle.
The only question, is of course: "How Long"?
Presumably as long as our own long-lost "War on drugs" ...

Ryan @ 272
Look up "Gini coefficient"
Scarily, the USSA is one of the higher numbered nations. ( 40.8% ? )
NOT a good sign.

Monetary standards.
As is often the case uncle Terry had it right.
We should follow Ankh-Morpork and go over to the Golem standard!

287:

Actually, European Communism collapsed because it could not deliver the goods. Very few people go out and demonstrate or riot over points of abstract ideology like "freedom". It's what the perceived lack of freedom is stopping them getting that drives most ie the West is rich, the West is free, so to be rich we demand freedom!

288:

This became one lengthy discussion about stuff only marginally related to the primary subject imo.. (nothin wrong in itself, but hopefully I will be forgiven if i missed something that has been mentioned in the last 50 comments as I havent read every word of every one of them.)

Anyway: Charlie wrote: "it's rich, comfortable, and only minority-western. "
Rich and comfortable are both relative terms and I'm not sure they are significant beyond meaning "having time to think further than food and shelter for tomorrow".
So, I think it would be equally valid to ask whether there is any private small group efforts today to go into space?
At least one exists (copenhagen suborbitals) and if they succeed and propulsion becomes cheaper (which it will if Charlies predictions hold true), it might kick off on the same scale that fablabs and repraps have. Which is to say globally connected small groups of enthusiasts, that someday might produce something economically viable and then big money and attention will pour into it and we are on our way :)

289:

"I note that since whoever gets to the asteroid belt first has conquered the planet (securing both a cheap unstoppable weapon and a large economic advantage), any early foray into space colonisation is likely to be taken over by fear and the military, and not run by independent wealthy people."

No, anymore than whomever got to the Moon first secured such advantages.

290:

"But what space *could* be is a way of getting rid of malcontents without seriously angering their relatives."

At even $500/kg (note - just for getting into orbit, not surviving there), it's a rather expensive way. That would pay for a lot of force to deal with angry relatives.

291:

"Every culture has its megaprojects: pyramids, cathedrals, space programs, ringworlds. Of course it may be effectively random what type of project is chosen; maybe we choose Matryoshka spheres instead of interstellar colonies."

Interesting - what is the megaproject of the USA at the current time?

292:

"What will drive people in such a society? I'd suggest the old primate standbys of reproduction and status. Being able to bring up a couple of kids with close to 100% chance of success will satisfy a lot of people. Status climbing won't be so ferocious since it's no longer essential to improve the chance of your kids surviving. "

In a sense, yes - we probably see less vicious striving in the developed West than in the West a couple of hundred years ago. However, we stil see quite a bit. And that social striving has some nasty effects on society (for an example, look, up 'Western Economies, early 21st century').

293:

"The USA is the only country in the worls, apart from N Korea to punitive;y pursue its own citizens for atx, when not living inside their own borders!
Which tells you SOMETHING ...."

It tells you that the USA is a great place to make money, deferring the profits and taxes until later, when some people decide to leave and take their profits outside the USA, without paying taxes.

It also says that the USA is the sort of nice country where you can live elsewhere, and not have your in-country wealth stolen by locals (in the USA). In many countries, I imagine that unless you have major clout, not being there means that you get looted.

294:

"The popular reaction to this is to assume that the entire financial industry is a giant conspiracy. But we've been here before. Giant conspiracy theories and explanations by way of moralistic judgement are always put forward by people who don't have a clue how things actually work."

Well, the standard explanations (market, rationality, blah f-ing Econ 101 blah) turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

295:

"That's not the free market solution- that's organ theft with government assistance. "

You obviously don't know the current definition of 'Free Market' :)

296:

"Greg, the word you are looking for is "leverage".

In fact, the seat of power is the Human Resources department in each of those big corporations -- the folks who make (or authorize) the hiring decisions which in turn boil down to who gets their hands on the giant levers provided by the big investment funds."

I disagree, on the assumption that anybody who's even a long-range candidate to get their hands on the levers doesn't get hired through HR. Somebody higher up tell HR what they'll do.

297:

"May I suggest that there is no profitability in a zero sum game? Unless you can bet without limit and get someone else to cough up for any losses?"

Your point being? If somebody takes from another in a zero-sum game, then that somebody has profited. Even in a negative-sum game, there are winners and losers.

298:

"A study showed that the growing wealth extremes in the USA actually make the billionaires suffer depression, because no matter where you are on the ladder someone else makes ten times more."

I'd like to see that. And I'd add that if you're earning squat and living like sh*t, you have your place on the ladder rammed home much more than a billionaire does.

299:

"Many banks today are technically solvent in so far as they do not declare the true value of their loans. Chinese state banks are exemplars of this condition."

This is one of the privileges of the top part of the 1% (at least in the USA); you're more likely to get, um, 'renegotiations', especially if your failure would cause repercussions.

For the 99%, it's 'miss a payment and get hosed'.

300:

It's clear that paws4hot doesn't understand the American Constitutional system. AFICT, he/she thinks that it's like the Australian system.

301:

"Out of date, yes; irrational, no. There are worse ways to run a currency than by pegging it to a known amount of precious metal."

One can always find worse, but the gold/silver standard is pretty bad. Google Krugman+goldbug for an explanation.

302:

"I thought we had all agreed that "communist" China is now a classic fascist state? "

Wow. Just - wow.

303:

Barry, your opinions about other posters are not particularly relevant to the discussions. Please consider how you'd feel how someone might feel if responding the same way to you.

304:

Pegging currency to a known amount of precious metal can not work. There is not that much precious metal. Back in the 60's I read how much gold there was in the world. It's not that much compared to the worth of big corporations. At the time the I think they said IBM was bigger than all the gold in Fort Knox.
The 'Free Market' is a dead as a dodo. It says that if you don't like something buy it elsewhere. But everything is just as bad and costs the same. What we really have is cartels cheapening everything at more cost. It's a fixed game and you must play it. There are laws in the USA. How can you prove whats going on at overseas meetings, if you even wanted to. People should read Lester T(something) 70's book "The Zero-Sum Game"

305:

I suspect that's not true. Rather it cannot be made to work with any current economic model.

There are more and more people suggesting that the current model is broken in various ways. I'm way too tired, and not enough of an economist, to suggest a different model around the gold standard and how it might work, but I bet you could make one work for a while.

306:

Of course, it could be argued that the Tory scum are (yet again!) having to make cuts to pay back the monstrous debt they inherited from a Labour government. Borrowing your way out of debt is like trying to dig your way out of a hole!
There's also some talk that maybe the rich-poor gap widened under St Blair's tenure.
That said, I'm not sure about the private sector taking on traditionally viewed as 'Gov' roles - that certainly blows goats as far as the Rail privatisation went. Didn't St Blair promise to re-nationalise the railways? Maybe God told him not to bother?

307:

"Barry, your opinions about other posters are not particularly relevant to the discussions. Please consider how you'd feel how someone might feel if responding the same way to you."

I first thought that you were talking about my other comment, criticizing Greg.

My comment on Paws4hot was not intended to be insulting, jut pointing out that he made a major error on the US system, and was analogizing it to the Australian system. Which led me to believe that he was from Australia, and was simply ignorant of the US system.

308:

The gold standard was effectively suspended in 1914, although it wasn't until 1917 that a gold export ban was imposed and the suspension was effectively voluntary-but-universal, Britishly. Winston Churchill reimposed it in 1925, against the advice of John Maynard Keynes, and the UK economy basically staggered along either in recession or very close to it until the Great Depression.

Ramsay MacDonald's coalition government eventually bit the bullet and went off gold in 1931 after his Labour government had essentially abolished itself by cutting everything in sight in a desperate effort to stay on gold.

The UK was the first country to abandon gold and also the first country to recover from the Great Depression. The two facts are very likely connected.

The problem with having a precious metal standard, btw, is that there is no reason to think that mining output of the metal is correlated with demand. Metals are subject to enormous price swings, precisely because high prices incentivise mining development that takes years to complete, so the new supply tends to arrive when prices are already trending down. A gold (or silver, or platinum, or oil, or uranium) standard has the effect of linking all other prices to a highly volatile commodity price. Rather than the price of gold cycling, everything else does. Because the money-supply is fixed, prices only adjust because of changes in demand, so in effect, the commodity cycle gets fed through to wages.

I have no idea why anyone would actually want this.

And this is actually what happened in the gold standard era! There were a succession of enormous booms and recessions, which seem to have been linked to gold strikes (the 1840s in Australia and California preceded a long bull market up to 1873, then there was a 20 year long depression until the 1890s - which happens to be just about when the South African goldfields were discovered - and then a roaring boom up to the first world war).

309:

Didn't St Blair promise to re-nationalise the railways? Maybe God told him not to bother?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_Rail

310:

Indeed, the system is not nationalised. The track may be (in all but name), but it's the private sector companies that are running the trains. And even when they walk away, the relevant franchise is only run publicly until it can be farmed out again.

The bureaucratic overheads it brings are awful. Cambridge station is currently being rebuilt to be able to take 12-coach trains, which means that the capacity on the KX and Liverpool Street lines is increased 50%. But this has required the train operators First Capital Connect (KX) and National Express (LS) to identify that there is such a need, and then to talk to Network Rail (who own the station) and National Express (who manage the station) to negotiate the expansion.

311:

By looked up, I presume you mean that you read Charlie's original post.

312:

For Barry
Not offended in the least.
I was referring to an earlier thread re. the essentially-fascist nature of the current govenment holding the mandate of Heaven in the Central Kingdom.

Talking of wealth-distributions, It looks as no-one else has (yet) noticed/commented on the way in which most of us are having their incomes squeezed.
Meanwhile if you are a director of an FTSE "top-100" company, you are doing very nicely, and bugger all the plebs (us) with a 49% pay rise.
See Here and

Listening to the spurious exucses being spouted by one such greedy bastard on this morning's radio did nothing for my blood pressure.
Didn't do anything for Britains Gini coefficient, either ....

313:

Para 2..4 Noticed yes, commented no - largely because words fail me!

314:

Oh bugger, let's try those two links again - obviously an HTML mis-type by YHS.....
From the DT

and also
From the Beeb

About ripping off us plebs....

315:

Thanks, Greg. Yes, it's amazing to watch the boot-lickers and shameless sociopaths work, regardless of the damages.

316:

I heard this on the evening news. I thought it brilliantly illustrated the original post about the top 1%.

The defence offered (this was a BBC interview) was that "our company is international and we have to match offers on the world stage." If we (the UK) were the only global economy feeling the crunch I'd still question 49% pay rises, but did they miss the fact it's a global issue? Where are their markets growing this fast to justify the increase I wonder?

Of course if you read the link in post 99 (yes it was from me, go back and read it anyway) even if you try really hard not to believe in conspiracy theories (I would claim that's my stance, too many are just too clearly paranoid) it's pretty hard to resist a sense of "we'll all give you a big bonus here, if you give us one back at home" and suddenly all the bosses are getting huge pay rises and stuff the rest of the world.

Mind you, I'm also reminded of the RBS chairperson saying they had to give big bonuses to keep their quality employees. Just after they'd been bought out by the nation for being in such financial trouble. Clearly employees worthy of a big bonus and a big wage.

317:

It's getting worse.

Seen the amazing, insane, and probably treasonous behaviour of the boss of QUANTAS?

He got a better tha 60% pay rise, the workers got a small amaount (less than inflation).
The workers who are "in dispute" AGREED not to go on strike this week or next (Commonwealth PM's conference, Melbourne Cup weekend, the works...)
And the bastard deliberately calls a lock-out, strands the foreign delegations, and buggers up everyone's holiday.
Obviously hoping for an ultra-right backlash against "the unions".

Look it up on the Beeb news.

318:

"The way you break them (as we discovered here in the UK circa 1914-79) is with a ruinous inheritance tax. (A couple of world wars to kill off their firstborn doesn't hurt, either.)"

In the USA, the children of the elites typically no longer serve in the military.

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