Results for “space dangerous”
34 found

When is it too dangerous to travel to a particular place?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

As I’ve grown older, I have become more cautious. That has meant more time walking, especially in cities, and less time in moving vehicles. This has allowed me to continue my travels to countries that are considered relatively dangerous. In the next year or two, I hope to make my sixth trip to Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and I’ll probably stay in the city confines.

As I write this, I am sitting in the Grand Canyon Lodge at the northern rim of the Canyon. The surroundings are idyllic, but it took me a five-hour drive to get here. I’m still wondering if this was a reckless trip.

Over the last few decades, initially as part of my research for a book, I have made 20 or so visits to rural Guerrero, in Mexico, near drug gang territory, and they have all passed without incident. Still, I get very nervous when I am in a “collectivo” on a mountain road and the driver appears to be no more than 15 years old and is fond of loud music and beer.

And there is always this:

Which leads me to my final point — and maybe you won’t find my wording reassuring: Most incidents don’t kill you or cripple you.

Recommended.  One point I did not have space for is that often you should avoid water contact.  During my first Ethiopia trip, the scariest moment came, on the shore of a lake in central Ethiopia, when I was asked: “Would you like to go out in our small boat and see the hippopotamus?”

*The Case for Space*

The author is Robert Zubrin and the subtitle is How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility.  I found this book fun, ambitious, and informative, even if I was not entirely convinced.  Zubrin thinks big and bold in an exciting way, here is one bit:

Exploring Mars requires no miraculous new technologies, no orbiting spaceports, and no gigantic interplanetary space cruisers.  We can establish our first small outpost on Mars within a decade.

There is not much talk of the stress space (or for that matter life on Mars) might place on the human body.  Zubrin talks of Mars tours of four or six years or more.

Yet my biggest difference with Zubrin is this: I think of space and planetary exploration as presenting many surprising and difficult problems, ones which cannot be foreseen and fixed in advance by stocking a spacecraft with “just the right materials.”  There are many sentences like this:

Mobile microwave units will be used to extract water from Mars’s abundant permafrost, supporting such agriculture and making possible the manufacture of large amounts of brick and concrete…

But when the problem of missing parts arises, or perhaps missing links between systems, you can’t run to the local hardware store.  Try this one too:

Extracting the He3 from the atmospheres of the giant planets will be difficult, but not impossible.  What is required is a winged transatmospheric vehicle that can use a planet’s atmosphere for propellant, heating it in a nuclear reactor to produce thrust.

My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada, Mars might stay empty as well.  Zubrin does make a detailed economic case for the value of space, though to my eye much of it falls on satellites.  Asteroids have valuable minerals, such as uranium, and that might spur mining operations, powered by nuclear fusion.  But is that really the cheapest way to get more uranium, in any case I suspect its price and value would fall rapidly with quantity.

Zubrin puts forward the interesting hypothesis that life in space will encourage a great deal of political freedom:

Historically, the easiest people for a tyrant to oppress are nominally self-sufficient rural peasants, because none of them are individually essential…In a space colony, nearly everyone will be individually essential, and therefore powerful, and all will be capable of being dangerous to those in authority.

Hard to verify, but worth a ponder.

Under another scenario, arks full of large, smart salamanders, genetically programmed to build incubators by instinct, will settle the galaxy at “a speed exceeding 20 percent the speed of light.”

There are many interesting ancillary points, such as using the length of the growing season to estimate global warming, or how pp.284-285 offer an ambitious take on the spin-off benefits from the space program so far, or pp.294-295 on exactly why taking out an asteroid with bombs is so hard.

With plenty of caveats of course, but recommended, the author of this one is never coasting.

Space Tourism II

Three years ago I wrote a controversial article, Is Space Tourism Ready for Takeoff?, in which I argued:

The vision is enticing but the facts suggest that space tourism is not
ready for market. The problem is not the monetary expense, there are
enough millionaires with a yearning for adventure to support an
industry. The problem is safety. Simply put, rockets remain among the least safe means of transportation ever
invented. Since 1980 the United States has launched some 440 orbital
launch rockets (not including the Space Shuttle). Nearly five percent
of those rockets have experienced total failure, either blowing up or
wandering so far from course as to be useless. The space shuttle has a
slightly better record of safety — it was destroyed in two of 113
flights. There are lots of millionaires willing to spend one or two
million dollars for a flight into space but how many will risk a two to
five percent chance of death?

Predictably my article generated a lot of criticism, especially from people in the industry, e.g. here and from the CEO of Masten Space systems here.  (I responded briefly at the time.)  Some of the criticism was justified, I should have noted that space tourists don’t want to go as fast or as high as the space shuttle or orbital launch rockets, but most of the criticism was a simple denial that the evidence from decades of space flight was relevant.  "Everything changed with SpaceShip One," I was told.

Unfortunately everything has not changed.  I am sad to report that rockets remain very dangerous.

FuturePundit on Space Tourism

The ever-intelligent Randall Parker – and never so intelligent as when he is agreeing with me! – weighs in on the space tourism debate.  Randall makes two key points in his post:

1938 was 35 years after the first aircraft flight of Orville and
Wilbur Wright on December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk North Carolina. Manned
space travel began on April 12, 1961 when a Soviet air force pilot,
Major Yuri A. Gagarin, made an orbit of the Earth. So manned space
travel is over 40 years old. Space travel into Earth’s orbit is orders
of magnitude more dangerous after 40 years than aircraft travel was
when it was only 35 years old….

Newer rockets have been designed in recent years and have unexpectedly
blown up on launch. Rutan’s accomplishment is not as radical as some
media reports present it for a number of reasons. First of all, whether
he has designed a safer spaceship is will not be proven unless and
until it has flown hundreds and even thousands of times without mishap.
Also, and very importantly, SpaceShipOne does not do that much. It can not achieve orbital velocity or decelerate from orbital velocity.
In my view the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne flight was important
because it demonstrated the potential for prizes to spur innovation. It
also opens up the possibility that that dangerous orbital spacecraft
can be designed and built for much lower costs than NASA and big
aerospace companies typically spend.

Addendum: Randall’s programming work is already in outer-space!

Romance and Realism in Space Tourism

Space tourism is romantic but is it realistic?  On the basis of 40 years of data, I argued that rockets are dangerous and show no signs of the sort of safety improvements that are required to sustain a serious space tourism industry.  Response fell into two camps, those who misunderstood the argument and those who wanted to deny it. 

David at Cronaca pointed to the continuing demand to climb Mount Everest despite a fatality rate on the order of 4 percent.  Quite right, but that is precisely my point.  At best and for the foreseeable future space travel will remain akin to climbing Everest, dangerous and uncommon.  Yes, we might see 100 flights a year but that’s not space tourism – tourism is fat guys with cameras.  Branson and Rutan, for example, have predicted that in 10-12 years, 100,000 or more "ordinary people" will fly into space.  No way.

The other type of response is well illustrated by Rand Simberg’s reply at TechCentralStation.  Simberg argues that forty years of data are irrelevant because with SpaceShipOne "everything changed."  According to Simberg, SpaceShipOne is "a complete discontinuity", "an entirely new and different approach", and yes – you saw it coming didn’t you? – "the beginning of a new paradigm."

These are statements of faith not of reason.  Simberg has no data to back these claims because none exist.  Let’s also remember that we have heard this sort of thing many times before.  As far back as the 1960s PanAm was selling advance tickets for its inaugural moon flight.  Need I remind you where PanAm is today?

I admire Rutan and I have little doubt that he has made significant advances in rocket design but what I showed in my article was that safety could have improved by a factor of ten or even 100 and rockets would still be too unsafe to support a large tourism industry.

What’s so great about space tourism anyway?  Even though an increase in rocket safety of a factor of ten is not much when considering the safety of large numbers of people it is very significant when thinking about satellite launches or temporary low-orbit launches.  A reduction of risk of this amount means much lower insurance costs that will open up space to new private development.


The best arguments for and against the alien visitation hypothesis

Those are the subject of my latest Bloomberg column, about 2x longer than usual, WaPo link here.  Excerpt, from the segment on arguments against:

The case against visits by aliens:

1. Alien sightings remain relatively rare.

Let’s say alien drone probes can make it here. That would imply the existence of a very advanced civilization that can span great distances and command energy with remarkable efficiency. If that’s the case, why isn’t the sky full of aliens? Why aren’t there sightings from more than just military craft?

So the question is not so much, “Why don’t we see aliens?” as, “Why don’t we see more of them?” It is a perfectly valid (and embarrassing) question. On one hand, the aliens are impressive enough to send craft here. On the other, they seem constrained by scarcity.

Are we humans like those bears filmed in the Richard Attenborough nature programs, worthy of periodic visits from drone cameras but otherwise of little interest? The reality is that bears, and indeed most other animals, see humans quite often…

3. The alien-origin hypothesis relies too much on the “argument from elimination.”

The argument from elimination is a common rhetorical tactic, but it can lead you astray. You start by listing what you think are all the possibilities and rule them out one by one: Not the Russians, not sensor error, and so on — until the only conclusion left is that they are alien visitors. As Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes once said: “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

The argument from elimination works fine when there is a fixed set of possibilities, such as the murder suspects on a train. The argument is more dangerous when the menu of options is unclear in the first place. Proponents of the alien origin view spend too much time knocking down other hypotheses and not enough time making the case for the presence of aliens.

And this:

There is an argument that is often used against the alien-origin hypothesis, but in fact can be turned either way: If they are alien visitors, why don’t we have better and more definitive forms of evidence? Why is the available video evidence so hard to interpret? Why isn’t there a proverbial “smoking gun” of proof for an alien spacecraft?

This particular counter isn’t entirely convincing. First, the best evidence may be contained in the still-classified materials. Second, the same question can be used against non-alien hypotheses. If the sensor readings were just storms or some other mundane phenomena, surely that would become increasingly obvious over time with better satellite imaging.

The continued, ongoing and indeed intensifying mystery of the sightings seems to militate in favor of a truly unusual explanation. It will favor both the alien-visitation and the religious-miracle hypotheses. If it really were a flock of errant birds, combined with some sensor errors, we would know by now.

Recommended.

My Conversation with the excellent Sam Bankman-Fried

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

He joined Tyler to discuss the Sam Bankman-Fried production function, the secret to his trading success, how games like Magic: The Gathering have shaped his approach to business, why a legal mind is crucial when thinking about cryptocurrencies, the most important thing he’s learned about managing, what Bill Belichick can teach us about being a good leader, the real constraints in the effective altruism space, why he’s not very compelled by life extension research, challenges to his Benthamite utilitarianism, whether it’s possible to coherently regulate stablecoins, the implicit leverage in DeFi, Elon Musk’s greatest product, why he thinks Ethereum is overrated, where in the world has the best French fries, why he’s bullish on the Bahamas, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Now, for mathematical finance, as you know, we at least pretend we can rationally price equities and bonds. People started with CAPM. It’s much more complicated than that now. But based on similar kinds of ideas — ultimately arbitrage, right? — if you think of crypto assets, do we even have a pretense that we have a rational theory of how they’re priced?

BANKMAN-FRIED: With a few of them, not with most. In particular, let’s talk about Dogecoin for a second, which I think is the purest of a type of coin, of the meme coin. I think the whole thing with Dogecoin is that it does away with that pretense. There is no sense in which any reasonable person could look at Dogecoin and be like, “Yes, discounted cash flow.” I think that there’s something bizarre and wacky and dangerous, but also powerful about that, about getting rid of the pretense.

I think that’s one example of a place where there is no pretense anymore that there is any real sense of how do you price this thing other than supply and demand, like memes versus — I don’t know — anti-memes? I think that more generally, though, that’s happened to a lot of assets. It’s just less explicit in a lot of them.

What is Elon Musk’s greatest product ever, or what’s his most successful product ever? I don’t think it’s an electric car. I don’t think it’s a rocket ship. I think one product of his has outperformed all of his other products in demand, and that’s TSLA, the ticker. That is his masterpiece. How is that priced? I don’t know, it’s worth Tesla. It’s a product people want, Tesla stock.

COWEN: But the prevalence of memes, Dogecoin, your point about Musk — which I would all accept — does that then make you go back and revisit how everything else is priced? The stuff that was supposed to be more rational in the first place — is that actually now quite general, and you’ve seen it through crypto? Or not?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Absolutely. It absolutely forces you to go back and say, “Well, okay, that’s how cryptocurrencies are priced. Is it really just crypto that’s priced that way?” Or maybe, are there other asset classes that may claim to have some pricing, or purport to, or people may often assume it does, but which in practice is not exactly that? I think the answer to that is a pretty straightforward yes.

It’s a pretty straightforward answer that you look at Tesla, you look at a lot of stocks right now, you think about what determines their market cap — the discounted cash flow? Yeah, sort of, that plays a role in it. That’s 30 percent of the answer. It’s when we look at the meme stocks and the meme coins that we feel like we can see the answer for ourselves for the first time, but it was always there in the other stocks as well, and social media has been amplifying this all over the place.

COWEN: Is this a new account of how your background as a gamer with memes has made you the appropriate person for pricing and arbitrage in crypto?

BANKMAN-FRIED: Yeah, there’s probably some truth to that. [laughs]

Interesting throughout, and not just for crypto fans.

What is the central political question of our day?

No, it is not about The Woke.  From my latest Bloomberg column, here is the core argument:

How to respond to climate change is often postulated as the central question of our time, and while that’s undeniably important, I have another nomination: How will we stop our new and often splendid technologies from being weaponized against us?

I use the term weaponization quite literally — drone attacks, cyberattacks, hostile uses of artificial intelligence, and attacks from space, bioweapons and more. It’s good that the world is emerging from a period of technological stagnation, but therein lies a danger: It is a general principle of world history that new technologies, even the most beneficial ones, are eventually used either as weapons themselves or as instruments of warfare. That was true of the horse, the railroad, the airplane and, of course, nuclear power. It likely will be true for these new developments, too…

Most current ideologies are unprepared for this coming new world. These problems do not have obvious solutions, nor do they offer any obvious way to confer political advantage. The U.S. hasn’t even made much progress on preparing for the next pandemic, and that is with more than 2,500 Americans dying a day from Covid-19.

Here is another point:

There are ideologies that address parts of the weaponization problem. Effective Altruist circles, especially those that focus on the dangers of artificial general intelligence (AGI), are afraid that super-smart AI will develop a mind of its own and impose its will on us, or otherwise engage in evil activities.

That may be a valid concern, but my fears are more general. If AGI is so powerful, then it stands to reason that intermediate products could, in conjunction with human efforts, cause a lot of military conflict. The problem isn’t necessarily Skynet going live. It’s that 40% of Skynet will be plenty dangerous.

The Luddites also have an ideology, namely that the development of new technologies should be stopped altogether. One could debate the benefit-cost ratio of that decision, but suffice to say that China, Russia, and many other rival nations have no such plans, and the U.S. has no real choice other than to try to stay ahead of them.

China is discussed as well, recommended.

Tuesday assorted links

1. Is the English strain picking up some features of the South African strain? And the new strains do seem somewhat more dangerous.

2. Joe Stiglitz comes perilously close to the Austrian theory of the business cycle.

3. Update on the Russian vaccine (New Yorker).  And this WSJ piece.  It seems to work?  And yet more.

4. ““What we didn’t anticipate was that they would break the law,” Goldenfeld said — that some students, even after testing positive and being told to quarantine, would attend parties anyway.”  A look at some of the models.

5. “Dubai announced Monday the creation of a “space court” to settle commercial disputes, as the UAE — which is sending a probe to Mars — builds its presence in the space sector.”  Link here.

6. My on-line talk to PayPal.  Mostly Q&A, and they did ask me about Nirvana’s “Aneurysm.

7. Incoming vaccine data from Israel.

Immigration will be largely shut down for some time to come

That is the topic of my Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

Whether or not that reaction is rational, it is easy to imagine the public being fearful about the potential of immigration to contribute to a pandemic resurgence. It does seem that regions able to restrict in-migration relatively easily — such as New Zealand, Iceland and Hawaii — have had less severe Covid-19 problems. New York City, which takes in people from around the world, has had America’s most severe outbreak. And the recent appearance of a second wave of Covid-19 in Singapore has been connected to ongoing migration there.

I have never thought the federal government would build Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But now I wonder whether it may well happen — perhaps in electronic form.

And:

In addition to these effects, many migrants currently living in the U.S. might go back home. Say you are from southern India and live in Atlanta, and typically your parents or grandparents come to visit once a year. That is now much harder for them to do, and will be for the foreseeable future. India also might make it more difficult for Indian-Americans to return to visit their relatives, perhaps demanding an immunity certificate for entry. Many of these current migrants will end up returning home to live in their native countries.

But not all immigration will vanish:

n spite of all those possible restrictions, the pandemic itself may offer new reasons to embrace some forms of migration, if only to help Western economies continue to function. Many jobs are now more dangerous than before, because they involve face-to-face contact and time spent in enclosed spaces. Such professions as nursing and dental assistants, for example, already attracted many immigrants even before Covid-19. Working on farms may yet become more perilous if the virus strikes farm worker communities. New migrants from poorer countries will be willing to take on these risks — for extra income of course — but most U.S. citizens won’t go near them.

The reality may be an uptick in some forms of migration, mostly for relatively hazardous jobs.

In any case, the immigration debate two or three years from now will seem virtually unrecognizable, compared to what we had been expecting.

Tethered pairs and locational extremes

Let us assume that you, for reasons of choice or necessity, are spending time in close quarters with another person.  You are then less inclined to visit corona-dangerous locations.  In part you are altruistic toward the other person, and in part for selfish reasons you do not wish to lower the common standard of care.  If you go to a dangerous location, the other person might decide to do the same, if only out of retaliation or frustration.

In essence, by accepting such a tethered pair relationship, you end up much closer (physically, most of all) to one person and much more distant from the others.  You are boosting your locational extremes.

The physically closer you are to the other person, the more easily you can tell if he or she is breaking the basic agreement of minimal risk.  That tends to make the tethered pairs relatively stable.  Monitoring is face-to-face!

Tethered pairs also limit your mobility, because each of the two parties must agree that the new proposed location is safe enough.

People who live alone, and do not know each other initially, might benefit from accepting a tethered pair relationship.  The other person can help them with chores, problems, advice, etc., and furthermore the other person may induce safer behavior.  (Choose a carpenter, not a specialist!)  Many people will take risks if they are the only loser, but not if someone else might suffer as well.

A tethered triplet is harder to maintain than a tethered pair.  For one thing, the larger the group the harder it is to monitor the behavior of the others.  Furthermore, having a third person around helps you less than having a second person around (diminishing marginal utility, plus Sartre).  Finally, as the group grows large there are so many veto points on what is a safe location ( a larger tethered pair might work better with a clear leader).

Yet over time the larger groups might prove more stable, even if they are riskier.  As more things break down, or the risk of boredom and frustration rises, the larger groups may offer some practical advantages and furthermore the entertainments of the larger group might prevent group members from making dangerous trips to “the outside world.”

There is an external benefit to choosing a tethered pair (or triplet, or more), because you pull that person out of potential circulation, thus easing congestion and in turn contagion risk.  Public spaces become safer.

As you choose a tethered pair initially, the risk is relatively high.  The other member of the pair might already be contagious, and you do not yet have much information about what that person has been up to.  As the tethered pair relationship proceeds, however, it seems safer and safer (“well, I’m not sick yet!”), and after two weeks of enforced confinement it might be pretty safe indeed.

Very often married couples will start out as natural tethered pairs.  At the margin, should public policy be trying to encourage additional tethered pairs?  Or only in the early stages of pandemics, when “formation risk” tends to be relatively low?  Do tethered pairs become safer again (but also less beneficial?), as a society approaches herd immunity?

It may be easier for societies with less sexual segregation to create stable tethered pairs, since couple status is more likely to overlap with “best friend” status.

One advantage of good, frequent, and common testing is that it encourage the formation of more tethered pairs.

You can modify this analysis by introducing children (or parents) more explicitly, or by considering the varying ages of group members.  You might, for instance, prefer to be a tethered pair with a younger person, but not everyone can achieve that.

What libertarianism has become and will become — State Capacity Libertarianism

Having tracked the libertarian “movement” for much of my life, I believe it is now pretty much hollowed out, at least in terms of flow.  One branch split off into Ron Paul-ism and less savory alt right directions, and another, more establishment branch remains out there in force but not really commanding new adherents.  For one thing, it doesn’t seem that old-style libertarianism can solve or even very well address a number of major problems, most significantly climate change.  For another, smart people are on the internet, and the internet seems to encourage synthetic and eclectic views, at least among the smart and curious.  Unlike the mass culture of the 1970s, it does not tend to breed “capital L Libertarianism.”  On top of all that, the out-migration from narrowly libertarian views has been severe, most of all from educated women.

There is also the word “classical liberal,” but what is “classical” supposed to mean that is not question-begging?  The classical liberalism of its time focused on 19th century problems — appropriate for the 19th century of course — but from WWII onwards it has been a very different ballgame.

Along the way, I believe the smart classical liberals and libertarians have, as if guided by an invisible hand, evolved into a view that I dub with the entirely non-sticky name of State Capacity Libertarianism.  I define State Capacity Libertarianism in terms of a number of propositions:

1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity).  Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets.  This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet.  (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)

3. A strong state is distinct from a very large or tyrannical state.  A good strong state should see the maintenance and extension of capitalism as one of its primary duties, in many cases its #1 duty.

4. Rapid increases in state capacity can be very dangerous (earlier Japan, Germany), but high levels of state capacity are not inherently tyrannical.  Denmark should in fact have a smaller government, but it is still one of the freer and more secure places in the world, at least for Danish citizens albeit not for everybody.

5. Many of the failures of today’s America are failures of excess regulation, but many others are failures of state capacity.  Our governments cannot address climate change, much improve K-12 education, fix traffic congestion, or improve the quality of their discretionary spending.  Much of our physical infrastructure is stagnant or declining in quality.  I favor much more immigration, nonetheless I think our government needs clear standards for who cannot get in, who will be forced to leave, and a workable court system to back all that up and today we do not have that either.

Those problems require state capacity — albeit to boost markets — in a way that classical libertarianism is poorly suited to deal with.  Furthermore, libertarianism is parasitic upon State Capacity Libertarianism to some degree.  For instance, even if you favor education privatization, in the shorter run we still need to make the current system much better.  That would even make privatization easier, if that is your goal.

6. I will cite again the philosophical framework of my book Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.

7. The fundamental growth experience of recent decades has been the rise of capitalism, markets, and high living standards in East Asia, and State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem or embarrassment in endorsing those developments.  It remains the case that such progress (or better) could have been made with more markets and less government.  Still, state capacity had to grow in those countries and indeed it did.  Public health improvements are another major success story of our time, and those have relied heavily on state capacity — let’s just admit it.

8. The major problem areas of our time have been Africa and South Asia.  They are both lacking in markets and also in state capacity.

9. State Capacity Libertarians are more likely to have positive views of infrastructure, science subsidies, nuclear power (requires state support!), and space programs than are mainstream libertarians or modern Democrats.  Modern Democrats often claim to favor those items, and sincerely in my view, but de facto they are very willing to sacrifice them for redistribution, egalitarian and fairness concerns, mood affiliation, and serving traditional Democratic interest groups.  For instance, modern Democrats have run New York for some time now, and they’ve done a terrible job building and fixing things.  Nor are Democrats doing much to boost nuclear power as a partial solution to climate change, if anything the contrary.

10. State Capacity Libertarianism has no problem endorsing higher quality government and governance, whereas traditional libertarianism is more likely to embrace or at least be wishy-washy toward small, corrupt regimes, due to some of the residual liberties they leave behind.

11. State Capacity Libertarianism is not non-interventionist in foreign policy, as it believes in strong alliances with other relatively free nations, when feasible.  That said, the usual libertarian “problems of intervention because government makes a lot of mistakes” bar still should be applied to specific military actions.  But the alliances can be hugely beneficial, as illustrated by much of 20th century foreign policy and today much of Asia — which still relies on Pax Americana.

It is interesting to contrast State Capacity Libertarianism to liberaltarianism, another offshoot of libertarianism.  On most substantive issues, the liberaltarians might be very close to State Capacity Libertarians.  But emphasis and focus really matter, and I would offer this (partial) list of differences:

a. The liberaltarian starts by assuring “the left” that they favor lots of government transfer programs.  The State Capacity Libertarian recognizes that demands of mercy are never ending, that economic growth can benefit people more than transfers, and, within the governmental sphere, it is willing to emphasize an analytical, “cold-hearted” comparison between government discretionary spending and transfer spending.  Discretionary spending might well win out at many margins.

b. The “polarizing Left” is explicitly opposed to a lot of capitalism, and de facto standing in opposition to state capacity, due to the polarization, which tends to thwart problem-solving.  The polarizing Left is thus a bigger villain for State Capacity Libertarianism than it is for liberaltarianism.  For the liberaltarians, temporary alliances with the polarizing Left are possible because both oppose Trump and other bad elements of the right wing.  It is easy — maybe too easy — to market liberaltarianism to the Left as a critique and revision of libertarians and conservatives.

c. Liberaltarian Will Wilkinson made the mistake of expressing enthusiasm for Elizabeth Warren.  It is hard to imagine a State Capacity Libertarian making this same mistake, since so much of Warren’s energy is directed toward tearing down American business.  Ban fracking? Really?  Send money to Russia, Saudi Arabia, lose American jobs, and make climate change worse, all at the same time?  Nope.

d. State Capacity Libertarianism is more likely to make a mistake of say endorsing high-speed rail from LA to Sf (if indeed that is a mistake), and decrying the ability of U.S. governments to get such a thing done.  “Which mistakes they are most likely to commit” is an underrated way of assessing political philosophies.

You will note the influence of Peter Thiel on State Capacity Libertarianism, though I have never heard him frame the issues in this way.

Furthermore, “which ideas survive well in internet debate” has been an important filter on the evolution of the doctrine.  That point is under-discussed, for all sorts of issues, and it may get a blog post of its own.

Here is my earlier essay on the paradox of libertarianism, relevant for background.

Happy New Year everyone!

The clothing of the future

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and they chose an excellent photo to go with it.  Excerpt:

A lot of current clothing innovations focus on gimmicks. There is a “Social Escape Dress,” which can “emit a cloud of fog when the wearer is feeling stressed.” Maybe that is fun, but what economic problem does it solve? And won’t it stress the wearer more? I suspect that the more durable clothing innovations will be more practical.

The first major practical problem is that clothes have to be cleaned, a time-consuming and sometimes expensive process. To remedy this problem, imagine a futuristic closet with cleaning and dry-cleaning functions (the materials of the clothes themselves could evolve to make this easier and less dangerous). A wardrobe system that cleans itself would be a big plus for many people. While I don’t see this technological advance as imminent, neither do I see it as unreachable.

A second major problem with clothes is that they have to be stored. Urban space is currently quite scarce and expensive, a reality unlikely to change anytime soon. Easily foldable and contractible clothes and shoes will therefore be at a premium, but of course the question is how to get them back into proper shape with a minimum amount of effort. That again suggests a home device — far more efficient than the iron — to get clothes into proper shape, which in turn will allow for more clothes to be rolled up and put away. Cleaning your clothes and storing your clothes are closely related problems, and in my optimistic vision they will be solved together.

Another source of big welfare gains could be quite prosaic:

At the upper end of the market, it is possible to make exclusive fashion more affordable, while still looking great. In a given fashion season the number of “in” styles could continue to expand, through the use of social media such as Instagram. That makes the market more competitive. Indeed it is already a trend that you can look “cool” and sophisticated without having to buy the most expensive dress from Milan or Paris. More market niches allow for the production of more reputation and glamour.

There is much more at the link.

My Conversation with Neal Stephenson

Here is the transcript and audio, and here is the CWT summary:

If you want to speculate on the development of tech, no one has a better brain to pick than Neal Stephenson. Across more than a dozen books, he’s created vast story worlds driven by futuristic technologies that have both prophesied and even provoked real-world progress in crypto, social networks, and the creation of the web itself. Though Stephenson insists he’s more often wrong than right, his technical sharpness has even led to a half-joking suggestion that he might be Satoshi Nakamoto, the shadowy creator of bitcoin. His latest novel, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, involves a more literal sort of brain-picking, exploring what might happen when digitized brains can find a second existence in a virtual afterlife.

So what’s the implicit theology of a simulated world? Might we be living in one, and does it even matter? Stephenson joins Tyler to discuss the book and more, including the future of physical surveillance, how clothing will evolve, the kind of freedom you could expect on a Mars colony, whether today’s media fragmentation is trending us towards dystopia, why the Apollo moon landings were communism’s greatest triumph, whether we’re in a permanent secular innovation starvation, Leibniz as a philosopher, Dickens and Heinlein as writers, and what storytelling has to do with giving good driving directions.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: If we had a Mars colony, how politically free do you think it would be? Or would it just be like perpetual martial law? Like living on a nuclear submarine?

STEPHENSON: I think it would be a lot like living on a nuclear submarine because you can’t — being in space is almost like being in an intensive care unit in a hospital, in the sense that you’re completely dependent on a whole bunch of machines working in order to keep you alive. A lot of what we associate with freedom, with personal freedom, becomes too dangerous to contemplate in that kind of environment.

COWEN: Is there any Heinlein-esque-like scenario — Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where there’s a rebellion? People break free from the constraints of planet Earth. They chart their own institutions. It becomes like the settlements in the New World were.

STEPHENSON: Well, the settlements in the New World, I don’t think are a very good analogy because there it was possible — if you’re a white person in the New World and you have some basic skills, you can go anywhere you want.

An unheralded part of what happened there is that, when those people got into trouble, a lot of times, they were helped out by the indigenous peoples who were already there and who knew how to do stuff. None of those things are true in a space colony kind of environment. You don’t have indigenous people who know how to get food and how to get shelter. You don’t have that ability to just freely pick up stakes and move about.

And:

COWEN: What will people wear in the future? Say a hundred years from now, will clothing evolve at all?

STEPHENSON: I think clothing is pretty highly evolved, right? If you look at, yeah, at any garment, say, a shirt — I was ironing a shirt today in my hotel room, and it is a frickin’ complicated object. We take it for granted, but you think about the fabric, the way the seams are laid out.

That’s just one example, of course, but you take any — shirts, shoes, any kind of specific item of clothing you want to talk about — once you take it apart and look at all the little decisions and innovations that have gone into it, it’s obvious that people have been optimizing this thing for hundreds or thousands of years.

New materials come along that enable people to do new kinds of things with clothing, but overall, I don’t think that a lot is going to change.

COWEN: Is there anything you would want smart clothing to do for you that, say, a better iPad could not?

STEPHENSON: The thing about clothing is that you change your clothes all the time. So if you become dependent on a particular technology that’s built into your shirt, that’s great as long as you’re wearing that shirt, but then as soon as you change to a different shirt, you don’t have it.

So what are you going to do? Are you going to make sure that every single one of your shirts has that same technology built into it? It seems easier to have it separate from the clothing that you wear, so that you don’t have to think about all those complications.

There is much more at the link, including discussions of some of his best-known novels…