by Tyler Cowen
on August 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm
1. Markets in everything, anti-onanism edition.
2. Does personality type predict a professional philosopher’s beliefs?
3. An alternate economic history of the last twenty years, based on automation.
4. Is gonorrhea the next pandemic?
5. Is NASA reinventing itself as a media company?
“Is NASA reinventing itself as a media company”
Its a smart move. The propaganda arms of the state very rarely get cut off.
It’s smart because manned spaceflight is a doomed business, like print media, over-the-air broadcast television, and land lines.
Incorrect. Manned spaceflight is actually making money nowadays.
Space tourism doesn’t come anywhere close to covering the cost of manned space, and that’s the only thing which earns any money. All of the rest is subsidized by somebody’s taxes.
Elon Musk making money selling services to NASA doesn’t change either of those facts. I’m sure somebody makes money selling paper and ink to dying newspapers, but that doesn’t mean newspapers aren’t dying.
Manned space is doomed because it never provided a return beyond national pride. That return has been diminishing since the Moon landings, and it will diminish further as people become more aware of just how worthless it has become. That awareness is growing as people become familiar with the products of unmanned space, so they’ve got something to compare it to. The pictures on Google Earth weren’t taken by a man with a camera.
I agree that manned spaceflight is (economically) doomed in the short-run. But NASA is responsible for both manned and un-manned programs and they need all the PR they can generate for the un-manned missions because, whatever their scientific value, they just don’t inspire the same awe as manned missions to the Moon or Mars do. NASA now has the green light to move forward on the James Webb space telescope which is apparently the last major NASA project in the pipeline.
To respond to Doc Merlin’s point, the “manned spaceflight” that will be making money over the next several years consists mostly of sub-orbital flight: you blast passengers 40 or 50 miles above the surface of the Earth, let them free-fall for a few minutes and then glide or parachute to a safe landing. It is still far too expensive to send humans into orbit: it takes a huge amount of propellant, you have to have a multi-stage rocket where big chunks of it go to waste after one use and you have to have a heat shield to survive re-entry into the atmosphere. Sub-orbital flight Virgin Galactic-style is far simpler (and quite similar to the old X-15 rocket plane) but calling it “spaceflight” is generous. It’s basically a very expensive amusement park ride.
I spent a lot of time over the past weekend playing with the Eyes simulator, which is frankly amazing. http://eyes.jpl.nasa.gov/
Science isn’t about 1 nerd somewhere knowing something. Facts need to disseminated as wide as possible.
There’s a lot to criticize about NASA but at least they get this right.
One artifact sold in 24 years is hardly enough information for a market to function.
Re: Gonorrhea – the article mentions what seems to be a market failure. I leave it to someone else to comment about this–Someone with more care and knowledge than I am in any way capable of on the subject.
But, ahem, cough cough, I know much more about #1. There is an ongoing market in chastity devices. There is of course this company…http://www.cb-x.com/ (probably NSFW) There are other companies active in the market. A lot of your adult toy store catalogs now carry some version of chastity device. There is somewhat of a sexual niche culture built around chastity play. I suggest you Google male chastity belt…or chastity play, or…well, go exploring!!
#3: “However, there is one major risk this time around.
Low-cost production techniques could soon become so advanced and so low cost — thanks to developments like 3D printing — that even the tiniest salaries in Africa will not make it worthwhile to employ human beings at all.”
That has actually been the case for well over a century. No human can compete with a paper clip making machine. Even at $0 wages the machine is just too fast. The same is true for a backhoe. No amount of guys with shovels can compete, even at $0 wages. They just can’t dig a hole fast enough. The time differential gives the manual approach a negative value.
The manufacturing process is a pyramid with the human standing at the top of a pile of machines. Even with “robots” (I’m using the term loosely here) all you do is make the pyramid taller and raise the human up a little higher by adding another layer of machines.
This shouldn’t really be a problem as long as poor people are able to gain control of the means of production. Governments will probably try to prevent this through patent monopolies but in the end piracy will just be too easy and one set of 3d printers will be able to produce another set for a very low cost in an exponential way.
What we should see as a result is a radically decentralized economy where most people are able to both be their own bosses and work a much shorter amount of time to supply their basic needs.
The problem is energy and raw materials.
What is going to power these things, the technology to run these will be in the hands of large power producers. I don’t see how these 3D printers, or whatever they are, are going to make cars or even blenders without a substantial energy input, and that will tequire large generators under someone’s control.
And unless your 3D printers can print elements, something I have a hard time imagining in the next kalpa, but who knows… You will still need raw materials. If they do my comment about the amount of energy needed will be even more true.
Believe I dream of the revolution that must eventually come, silly teleological marxist that I am, but this form of singularity is indistinguishable at this distance from the Rapture.
Well your local auto shop can already build a decent hot-rod from the ground up. What they lack is the ability to make precision parts and the reliability of automation. 3d printing would give them all of that as well as likely access to a network of fellow producers who had expertise and experience in making a host of products.
There’s no reason small scale producers would need energy or materials on the scale of the current centralized factory. Combined, sure. But we’re not talking about one individual with a 3d printer being able to compete with the likes of GM or GE in terms of production but rather millions of people each putting out the small output that they had within their means and that by selling would create the wealth they needed.
So maybe your next door neighbor would spend a lot of his time just making thousands of whatever kind of screw was in high demand that week whereas you focused on creating a more specialized product like a super blender that you created by buying up very cheap parts made with other 3d printers.
And of course there would still be plenty of demand for information and service jobs, the fact that people could make money just by working their 3d printers instead would drive up wages significantly in every form of wage labor.
I suppose energy companies might remain centralized but I don’t see any reason why they would be able to exert any more control over production with very small scale manufacturers than they do now with large ones.
Automation is a threat if we’re the only input to production not to improve our condition.
This will sound ranty but the FDA restricts the marketing and sale of drugs for the purpose of enhancement rather than treatment. Ampakines, drugs with a demonstrably positive results on learning and memory, are being pushed through the approval pipeline to treat respiratory depression after failing in ADHD trials for rather flimsy safety concerns.
There are a slew of understudied Russian neuropharmaceuticals and lab-use-only drugs that won’t see the light of day despite promising results in animal and limited human trials. Drugs that improve visual working memory, acquisition, and retention are likewise relegated to the shelves.
There is solace in the fact that burgeoning health care markets in Asia don’t share North America’s reticence for overt enhancement. China is pursuing a wide-scale IQ (g) study to establish the genetic causal factors determining intelligence, such research is somewhat more controversial here.
The FDA approved piracetams. …beyond approved, it made them not even require a prescription.
The squirrels ate my comment, but suffice it to say, the -racetams are (largely) not approved. Piracetam is not subject to strict import limitations though, so US online vendors openly sell the substance.
The thrust of my argument is that an FDA furnished path towards approved enhancement pharmaceuticals would pour billions into drug research and efficacy studies. Non-pharmaceutical interventions would also see the light of day (e.g. tDCS devices).
There’s still an active market in male chastity devices, although nowadays they’re considered a sex toy for voluntary use by adults.
One of the Kellogg brothers(yeah those Kellogg brothers–of Battle Creek)made such devices to combat the sin. The brothers ran a sanitarium where they made the mistake of letting one of their patients–C W Post–see how they made corn into corn flakes. C. W. Post made many millions of dollars from many things, but cereal was his first million.
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