March 27, 2007
Future Technology As Spur To Massive Consumption?

Julian Simon and others (myself included) have argued we do not have to worry about near to medium term future shortages of natural resources because technological advances create access to ever more resources. For example:

  • increasing quantities of cheaper energy from longer lasting sources.
  • new ways to extract raw materials.
  • better ways to clean up the environment and avoid polluting it in the first place.
  • better ways to use resources more efficiently.

But while I expect all the items listed above will come to pass I'm not convinced this means we need not worry about resource scarcity. I also do not foresee an end to resource competition. Anyone see the problem? No matter how efficient we get at extracting and harnesses resources we will just as quickly get efficient at using those same resources. Even worse, at some point we'll run up against limits due to thermal pollution and other side effects of our coming enormous ability to sculpt the environment.

Currently structures in America cover an area equal to the size of Ohio or about 112 thousand square kilometers. The land of the United States covers about 9.1 million square kilometers. We only need to go up by a factor of 81 to cover all of the United States with structures. Well, a rise of living standards by 1 order of magnitude will create wealth which people will use to build massive mansions, swimming pools, vacation homes, stables for horses, tennis courts, and other structures. Look at how the wealthy live today. The middle class may live that way eventually.

You might say that we'll refrain from consuming and owning so much. But look at the wealthy people who do not refrain. The founder of Peoplesoft is building a 72,000 square foot mansion which surpasses the 60,000 square foot Hearst Castle (the grounds and other externals also cover much surface area too) and Bill Gates' mere 40,000 sq. ft. manse. Much further down the ranks of wealth from Bill Gates, Presidential candidate John Edwards manages to own a 28,000 sq. ft. house. Also, former US Vice President and prominent environmental propagandist Al Gore uses more electricity and natural gas than 20 or 30 middle class families - and this at just one of his residences. So we do not all need to become billionaires in order to own houses more than an order of magnitude greater in size than the average American home of today. Suppose 100 years from now people with average incomes can afford to build houses as big as the biggest so far. How big are we talking? According to the New York Times the biggest to date are the 174,000-square-foot Biltmore House and the 109,000 square foot Oheka. If technological optimists are right then such structures might become commonplace.

The problem extends beyond massive structures. The truly rich and famous are stepping up from mere Lear Jets and Gulfstream Vs to 757s and 767s. Picture hundreds of millions or even billions of people flying around the world in their own personal jumbo jets.

A future of robotics, nanotechnology, and self-replicating machines will produce quantities of wealth with very little human labor. With that greater ability to harness energy and manipulate raw materials will eventually come huge external costs that will create competition and clashes of interests between people on a scale that does not exist today. Look at cities as compared to rural societies for an analogy. In cities, as Paul Simon sang, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor". People in urban environments can't yell without another person hearing it. They can't shoot a gun without many others hearing. Out in the country many more human activities won't bother your neighbors. But in a future where each person controls enormously more resources use of those resources generates more conflicts of interests.

To state my argument at a philosophical level: Technological advances increase what one can do with one's positive liberty and by doing that they increase the ease which people can violate negative liberty. This rift came as a result of reading a post by Tyler Cowen on positive and negative liberty.

What I want to know: Will rejuvenation therapies lead to such a huge boost in the world's population that even the industrialized countries will fall back into a Malthusian trap? On Darwinian grounds this seems inevitable. I've previously argued that natural selection will reverse the trend of declining fertility in industrialized countries. Combine that selective pressure with bodies that stay young for centuries and a population explosion seems inevitable unless either humans get wiped out by robots or a world government decides we do not have an unlimited right to reproduce and enforces restrictions on reproduction.

What is nature's only hope? That rich people decide that owning their own unspoiled rain forests is a hugely status enhancing form of consumption. Show your benevolence and wisdom by buying half the Amazon and let your friends visit its untamed wildness.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 March 27 10:25 PM  Dangers Clash Of Titans


Comments
crush41 said at March 28, 2007 12:42 AM:

Space colonization is one way out of the conundrum.

Viable nuclear fusion goes a long way in answering the energy question, or at least kicking it way down the road.

If rejuvenation therapies extend the years of fertility by a significant amount, won't that force governments to put caps on childbearing?

John said at March 28, 2007 2:01 AM:

Your problems represent the famous "horse-shit will consume Manhattan as the population grows" of the 1800s. Your Matrix-style implants might make needing space and resources obsolete.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 6:15 AM:

This is silly. The future of humankind is not billions of people owning McMansions, driving SUVs, flying 767s, and foraging for consumer goods like human-cattle.

Haven't you noticed? does anyone have their eyes opened?

Gasoline is getting more expensive. The most expensive gas locally is $2.69 a gallon. It is more expensive out West. The price is still going up. Care to guess how expensive gasoline will become in five or ten years?

Those SUVs are going the way of the dinosaurs. As they should.

And those McMansions? While obese America has an insatiable appetite for excess these obese houses have a dim future, too. When electricity becomes scarce (several decades from now at the most) these houses will be too big to heat & cool. The rich won't enjoy living in such structures at the ambient temperature. Nor will these homes be such a pleasure to own when the America's addiction to driving autos is broken.

As to the question of space travel and colonizing space? Ain't gonna happen. Humans evolved on the Earth. Space is extremely inhospitable to human life. Nor is space such a wonderful place to live, anyway: Who wants to spend their entire life in a small tin can surrounded by the cold, black, lonely void of empty space?

Homo sapiens won't attain immortality, either. Humans have dreamed about immortality since the Babylonians and probably much earlier. Ain't gonna happen. People will continue to die forever. Human death won't come to an end until Homo sapiens go extinct.

Oh well, so much for the future.

Incidentally, I read a book yesterday about the future ... written in 1977. According to that book, America was going to have its oil/energy problem solved by 2010! There's a prediction which won't come true, either. Too bad for America because America will really need to have this problem solved by 2010.

I wonder how much gasoline will cost in 2010. Any guesses?

Russ said at March 28, 2007 7:36 AM:

"Who wants to spend their entire life in a small tin can surrounded by the cold, black, lonely void of empty space?"

Me. And if tech goes as we hope it does, it'll be more than sufficient for my needs, and come with lots of interior greenery. "My hab, my rules," eh?

Jake said at March 28, 2007 7:38 AM:

The greatest threat to the Western world is falling population, thus I don't see your scenario happening. If fact just the opposite could happen.

America is the only Western Country whose birthrate is at replacement level. Europe's birthrate is so low they have passed the point of no return.
If America elects doomsday demagogues as Europe has done, our birthrate could fall too.

When the baby boomers start dying, we will be faced with a huge housing surplus. The number of structures will decrease as they are bulldozed for esthetic and safety reasons.

Kurt9 said at March 28, 2007 9:13 AM:

The answer is simple. That exponential manufacturing technology that will build everybody a supermansion on Earth can also be used to build things in space, like O'neill habitats and space rings. The superrich will own their own O'neill style habitats, whereas the middle-classes and poor will have to be content with building their supersized McMansions on space rings made out of nanotube composites.

Fission and fusion power will be in vogue, as well as the mining of extraterrestrial resources. The availability of extraterrestrial resources is truly astounding. The asteriod belt itself is good for construction of something like 3,000 times the surface area of Earth. The kuiper belt contains about 100-1000 times the resources of the asteriod belt.

Randall, I think you are correct in that normal people will live like the superrich today 100 years in the future. The chicken littles go on about how we will run out of oil or this and that thing and that the party will come to an end. The problem with these kinds of "doomsday" projections is that they have been made for the past 500 years and have always turned out to be wrong. When we really do run out of oil, we will use nuclear processes (both fission and fusion) to generate electricity and generate our motor fuel using some kind of synthetic biology or catalytic chemistry.

But, yes, rampant construction will eventually fill up the world with our artifacts (as well as the waste heat generated). I think in the long run, conservation legislation combined with tax incentives to encourage space migration will eventually be implemented.

"Come on America! A life of opportunity and adventure awaits you in an off-world colony. The chance to begin again."

David A. Young said at March 28, 2007 9:39 AM:

I think once we have the ability to manipulate matter at will, that our attitudes toward "things" will change markedly. Today we build big houses with lots of room so we can "store" all our "stuff" there. But will we still be so inclined to "store" stuff when our nano-fabricators can quickly assemble whatever we need whenever we need it, and disasseble it just as quickly when we're done with it? When we can add on a room in a day and an entire wing in a week, will we still feel the need to have all those "rooms" just sitting around, not doing anything? Or will we have one room that we change to meet our needs of the moment? I can imagine that a lot of people might choose not to live in structures at all, but simply exist in the wilds, with nanotech protecting them from the elements and fabricating whatever they need directly from the environment.

It's so easy to get trapped by the expectations and assumptions that form our world-view NOW, and so difficult to imagine how truly radical innovations will invoke radical changes in our world-view THEN . . . but it's what we have to do if we're not going to be truly gob-smacked by the Singularity.

ANM said at March 28, 2007 9:43 AM:

" Europe's birthrate is so low they have passed the point of no return."
Europe's birth rate is only a problem because their welfare state is solvent only if there are more workers than retirees. What is this 'point of no return?' Iceland isn't exactly wasting away even though it's only 300,000 people. And Luxembourg is the richest country per capita in the world.

"If America elects doomsday demagogues as Europe has done, our birthrate could fall too."
Not sure who you're referring to, but if anything, the cause runs the other way - people get desperate, vote for marginal figures. But they pick demagogues because the mainstream is refusing to take certain positions. In Belgium, there has been a disgustingly antidemocratic Cordon Sanitaire, a pact between the mainstream parties barring the far-right Vlaams Belang from power.

"The problem with these kinds of "doomsday" projections is that they have been made for the past 500 years and have always turned out to be wrong."
That doesn't mean we shouldn't concern ourself at all with these dangers. Non-proliferation (of nukes) treaties are from irrational, even if a nuclear holocaust never occurs. The post outlines the possible perils of technology of the future and current trends.

Population restriction could occur at the national level, assuming a nation can fend off countries like Yemen or Nigeria looking for 'lebensraum.'

Ryan said at March 28, 2007 10:07 AM:

And what makes all of you think that the people w/o the McMansions won't just vote themselves an ever increasing share of other people's accumlated wealth?

Bigelow said at March 28, 2007 11:15 AM:

Faustus and the monkey trap
http://www.energybulletin.net/27865.html

Garson O'Toole said at March 28, 2007 11:40 AM:

If technologies such as molecular nanotechnology succeed then the future potential for “wealth” creation would dwarf current pedestrian conceptions. Currently few people understand the radical changes that molecular nanotechnology would cause and top-scientists such as the late Richard Smalley have incorrectly attacked its feasibility. Hence too few people are researching in the area and too few people are anticipating the changes in my opinion. I suspect that there will be an intense scramble for “land” on Earth because land appears to be a limited resource. It is possible that real estate will be one of the few assets that will skyrocket in relative value. Many other assets will probably experience extreme deflation.

Yet, even now new “real estate” can be created. Current somewhat primitive technologies can create islands. Consider the Palm Islands project in Dubai.

The Palm Jumeirah consists of a trunk, a crown with 17 fronds, and a surrounding crescent island that forms an 11 kilometer-long breakwater. The island itself is 5 kilometers by 5 kilometers.
Wikipedia claims that the number of residential units on the island was originally-announced as 4500 (comprised of 2000 villas and 2500 apartments). But it has been increased to an estimated 8000. Also consider The World (archipelago) project that consists of “300 man-made islands in the shape of the world map off the coast of Dubai.” Here is a description from a laudatory website:
The World will consist of between 250 to 300 smaller private artificial islands divided into four categories - private homes, estate homes, dream resorts, and community islands. Each island will range from 250,000 to 900,000 square feet in size, with 50 to 100 metres of water between each island.

Future technological developments would probably allow dramatically larger projects at sea and the water surface of the Earth is larger than the land surface though it is still limited of course.

In the future it will also probably be possible to build large underground and partially underground structures. Soil and vegetation could be placed above the structures to allow free traversal by flora and fauna. If people in the future are concerned about the environment then future laws may create massive nature preserves and may mandate that man-made structures have very “low impact” on the environment.

Brian Wang said at March 28, 2007 11:45 AM:

Here is some numerical view of the growing wealthy segment from information from
Forbes magazine (billionaires) and Merryl Lynch/Cap Gemini annual analysis of high networth ($1m + residence) and
UHNW (Ultra-high net worth $30Million +residence)
http://advancednano.blogspot.com/2007/03/projecting-future-wealth.html

Betweem 6000 and 26000 non-inflation adjusted billionaires in 2027. Mid range est of 12000
Estimate of 3000 to 12000 inflation adjusted billionaires in 2027. (946 in 2007). Mid range est of 6000
In 80 years, a mid-range estimate of 1 million inflation adjusted billionaires.
100 times those numbers for those with $30 million of net worth.
600,000 mid range est for 2027 ($30M+ net worth + residence).
100 million mid range estimate for 2087 ($30million+ networth inflation adjusted + residence)

What will be purchased with that wealth is even more uncertain.

If someone has $30 million, and can get Merryl Lynch to manage their portfolio.
Those individuals will often have diversification across asset classes.
Stock, bonds, land/reits ,hedge funds, venture funds(alternative investments)
Optimized risk with historically analyzed returns in the range of 10-12%/year.
6-8% over inflation.
http://www.stanfordmanage.org/smc_endowment.html
http://www.finance-insights.com/carnegie.asp

4% could be withdrawn without reducing any principle.
$1.2 million/year
20,000 miles driven @20 mpg with $100/gallon gas is $100,000.

300 times richer than average means that the concerns of middle class are not the concerns of the rich.
Just like someone in the third world who is 300 times poorer than an average middle class person in the
developed countries does not have a car and has other concerns.

Go back 80 years and most people are not flying.

Technology will change to allow a sustainable level of consumption. More people will be living better
in most cases than we are now. It is not guaranteed, we will have to make the better future happen.
If you personally or society makes the wrong choices then bad things can happen.

David Mathews: A book from 30 years ago had a mistake/wrong prediction. that is shocker. Malthus types also had books
and bets and were wrong.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 12:06 PM:

Hello Brian,

> David Mathews: A book from 30 years ago had a mistake/wrong prediction. that is shocker. Malthus types also had books
and bets and were wrong.

Yes, absolutely, so it follows quite logically that all of these optimistic, utopian dreams of the future are likewise wrong. The era of humankind's technological dominance over the Earth is fast approaching its end. More likely than not, it will end in our lifetime.

When the American superpower dies, America's mighty economy will also die, and the American Way of Life will end forever.

Those McMansions and SUVs will erode away into dust and only the landfills will preserve a memory of America's existence for ten thousand years into the future. At some point -- undoubtedly -- humankind will forget that a human ever walked on the moon. Perhaps the memory will be preserved as a myth believed only by children in the impoverished, desperate days of the distant future.

The United States of America is a dying empire.


Michael Anissimov said at March 28, 2007 12:06 PM:

The only way to avoid the resource crunch in the long term is to upload into virtual realities.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 12:10 PM:

Hello Michael,

> The only way to avoid the resource crunch in the long term is to upload into virtual realities.

True, or drug-induced fantasies. Ray Kurzweil and Arthur C. Clarke advocate both in their futuristic writings.

Homo sapiens cannot handle reality so our species has decided to destroy the Earth's biosphere for the sake of constructing imaginary, fantasy, virtual Universes in which each individual can play God.

Unfortunately, in the real Universe Nature is going to bring an end to humankind's fantasy by driving our species to undignified extinction. Needless to say, our fate is well deserved.

Reality Czech said at March 28, 2007 12:51 PM:

<rhetorical question>

Mr. Mathews, if it is needless to say that, why do you bother?

Indeed, if the outcome is inevitable, what is the point of your comments here... or your continued existence?

</rhetorical question>

We all know the answer, so it is truly needless for you to say anything.

Thanatos said at March 28, 2007 1:11 PM:

David Mathews website says "May the Day Come When All the People of the World Choose to Live in Peace with God, Nature and Humankind. Until That day Comes I Choose to Live at Peace with All and Refuse to Hate Anyone." On this website he comments that "Unfortunately, in the real Universe Nature is going to bring an end to humankind's fantasy by driving our species to undignified extinction. Needless to say, our fate is well deserved."

So Mathews greatly desires a universal human genocide, and at the same time he states that he will "refuse to hate anyone". He clearly wants all humans to experience death and annihilation, and he also feels that humans deserve this fate. Is this expressing an odd kind of love?

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 1:12 PM:

Hello Reality (with a certain unmistakable irony in this greeting),

The point of my comments here is to break you people out of your virtual-reality fantasy, a fantasy which is presently destroying, degrading, depleting and polluting the only living planet in the Universe.

I know that the force of your delusion and cultural brainwashing (i.e., advertising) render it impossible for you people to see the very unfortunate end of this human experiment in destroying a planet, but nonetheless there does remain a need to speak out against this disease which threatens to exterminate Homo sapiens and plenty of other species from this Universe.

Here is an example of the force of delusion which has recently received Oprah's blessing and therefore become a cultural phenomenon:

"The essence of Byrne's message: People create their own reality, and thoughts are things. The secret is "the law of attraction, which is always operating" – you attract what you think about most. If you think positive thoughts, you will attract positive experiences; if you think negatively, you will bring negatives into your life.


'The Secret' The presentation is highly materialistic at times. ("We can have whatever it is that we choose. I don't care how big it is," one teacher says on the DVD.)

One section in the book and DVD focuses on how to get as much money as you want. Jack Canfield, initial author and now CEO of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" enterprises, explains how, when he had only a small income, he visualized a $100,000-a-year lifestyle, and it came about."
The Secret

For those who want to watch the hour-and-a-half video extolling this delusion:

The Secret - Video

According to the video, humans create their own individual universe apparently for the purpose of consuming the largest amount of the world's resources humanly possible within a lifetime. We are all little gods whose wishes are granted by the Universe itself.

The message from utopian futurists is very similar except that technology takes the place of God. Evidently, Homo sapiens evolved for the sake of consumerism. The human story cannot help but have a tragic end, but humankind has known this for thousands of years and yet it still remains unavoidable as a byproduct of fate (i.e., the flawed nature of our violent, destructive, addicted, delusional species).

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 1:18 PM:

Hello Thanatos,

> So Mathews greatly desires a universal human genocide, and at the same time he states that he will "refuse to hate anyone". He clearly wants all humans to experience death and annihilation, and he also feels that humans deserve this fate. Is this expressing an odd kind of love?

True love is telling the terminally ill that they really are going to die. Death, you know, is reality. Extinction, likewise, is reality.

Is it any wonder that optimistic futurists seek to escape from reality via virtual reality, drugs, consumerism and television?

I am obligated to tell you the truth even when the message is harsh and unpleasant. Doubtless there are millions of people and corporations whispering a completely different message in your ear. They want you to believe that this world will last forever, but even more they want you to spend your money frivolously on some useless consumer product to serve as a temporary distraction from what is really happening in this world.

You can choose to live in reality or in delusion. Believe whatever you wish. You are not obligated to agree with me. Time will resolve our argument.

If you live forever you can call me a liar. We'll just have to wait and see about that & all of these other vain promises of technological utopia (or its virtual equivalent).


Kurt9 said at March 28, 2007 1:55 PM:

The people whom I have met personally who have luddite attitudes similiar to those of David Mathews have all been bipolar. If I were to bet on the pessimistic or optimistic scenario, I would bet on the optimistic scenario for the following reasons:

1) If, for whatever reason, the U.S. disappeared, the technology knowledge base will continue to exist and be expanded upon in other parts of the world, especially East Asia. The information necessary to make things is sufficiently spread around in libraries and databases all over the world that this knowledge will not go away. Even if American were to disappear tomorrow, East Asia will be around for a long time to come.

2) Trends in technological development are enabling smaller groups of individuals to do what formerly could only be done by large corporations. Examples include biotechnology as well as the recent start-ups in manufacturing new types a jet planes (Eclipse Jets, etc.). The most capital intensive manufacturing processes in the world today are aircraft and semiconductor manufacturing. One has just entered a revolution, the other will undergo a disruptive revolution once self-assembly chemistry is developed to make nano-electronics that will obsolete those billion dollar fabs around 2020.

3) The third trend is the dis-integration of most industries (car and aircraft manufacturing, for example) combined with globalization. The big car makers, for example, are mostly integration operations, with the components and subassemblies made by contractors and sub-contractors. This makes such manufacturing more robust. If one contractor goes out of business, another one can pick up the slack. Also, these contractors are located all over the world. If one area of the world goes bad, there are others to pick up the slack. Anyone who works in business, especially purchasing, knows that you never allow yourself to become dependent on a single supplier, if possible.

The above trends have made the techno-industrial infrastructure far more robust and redundant than it otherwise would be. Short of an all-out nuclear war or a major impact (asteroidal or cometary), industrial civilization has become crash-proof.

I see no reason why the wealth-creation trends cannot continue. In the 1970's, the media was full of gloom and doom, about how we would run out of energy and essential metals and industrial civilization would fall. Of course, this has turned out to be so much horse pucky. Today, you see these McMansions all over the place. As technological innovation continues, there will be more wealth creation opportunities and the people who pursue them will become ever wealthier. Of course, this causes a run up in real estate prices, which adversely affects the people who do not make the money from technological innovation. I think an interim solution will be to replace the income tax with a real estate tax. Since real estate (on Earth) is finite, there is the moral argument that people who have more than their "fair share" should pay more than those that do not. Also, in a free and open society, people should get rich by engaging in productive enterprise instead of speculation of finite assets.

In the long run, large scale space migration is the only answer. As I mentioned previously, the resources of space exceed those of Earth by many orders of magnitude. I have no problem envisioning a solar system wide population of 20-30 billion people 100-200 year later, where only a small fraction of them live on the Earth.

Brian Wang said at March 28, 2007 2:00 PM:

What looks like an on topic book.

The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060747668
Until the 1950s, the struggle to feed, clothe, and employ the nation drove most of American political life. From slavery to the New Deal, political parties organized around economic interests and engaged in fervent debate over the best allocation of agonizingly scarce resources. But with the explosion of the nation's economy in the years after World War II, a new set of needs began to emerge—a search for meaning and self-expression on one side, and a quest for stability and a return to traditional values on the other.

In The Age of Abundance, Brink Lindsey offers a bold reinterpretation of the latter half of the twentieth century. In this sweeping history of postwar America, the tumult of racial and gender politics, the rise of the counterculture, and the conservative revolution of the 1980s and 1990s are portrayed in an entirely new light. Readers will learn how and why the contemporary ideologies of left and right emerged in response to the novel challenges of mass prosperity.

The political ideas that created the culture wars, however, have now grown obsolete. As the Washington Post aptly summarized Lindsey's take on the contradictions of American politics, "Republicans want to go home to the United States of the 1950s while Democrats want to work there." Struggling to replace today's stale conflicts is a new consensus that mixes the social freedom of the left with the economic freedom of the right into a potentially powerful ethos of libertarianism. The Age of Abundance reveals the secret formula of this remarkable alchemy. The book is a breathtaking reevaluation of our recent past—and will change the way we think about the future.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 2:04 PM:

Hello Kurt9,

> industrial civilization has become crash-proof

Ha!

Famous last words!

James Bowery said at March 28, 2007 2:25 PM:

Since the wealthy and their sycophants refuse to recognize that the subsidy of wealth inherent in civilization's refusal to tax wealth (ie: charge a use fee for property rights that would not exist in the absence of government) is resulting in (largely childless) engineers being thrown out on the street during middle age in favor of H-1b coolies who work at lower wages to further enhance the wealth of the wealthy, and sent to compete with illegal immigrants for minimum wage jobs (or beg from hostile civil servant ethnic minorities for welfare "entitlements" to which they aren't "entitled" since they are mostly white male heterosexuals) to further enhance the wealth of the wealthy, its pretty obvious that the cities are doomed for at least two reasons:

1) Personal bioengineering labs.

2) Thermobaric IEDs (turns the world's supply of gasoline into weapons of mass destruction).

The latter

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 2:34 PM:

Hello James,

> "entitlements" to which they aren't "entitled" since they are mostly white male heterosexuals

Oh my, just what we need ... a little racism on behalf of the "oppressed" white people of the world. Those privileged white people really have it tough, don't they?

Immigration: The Human Cost

Kurt9 said at March 28, 2007 2:41 PM:

Here's a little gem for you guys:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,261749,00.html

Apparently plastic can be made as conductive as silicon by the arrangement of the polymer molecules that make up the plastic. Do realize that plastic is much easier to fabricate and work with using techniques such as imprint lithography and pin-dip lithography than silicon, two low cost methods of nanopattern fabrications that can work down to the 10 nanometer resolution.

It looks like my prediction of those $2 billion fabs becoming obsolete just took another step forward.

> Hello Kurt9,

>> industrial civilization has become crash-proof

> Ha!

> Famous last words!

I stand by my point. What creates vulnurability in a industry is vertical integration practiced by a small number of players using little-understood specialized processes. Much like industry in the 50's and 60's. Today, vertical integration is largely a thing of the past (despite its temperary resurgence during the late 90's) because it makes no economic sense. A decentralized industrial scene with large numbers of small manufacturers is very robust and redundant, because if some collamity (regional war, continental destroying asteriod impact) occurs, there are still many suppliers and customers to pick of the slack.

Even in airliner manufacturing. Most of the parts that go into a 777 or the coming 787 are made in various East Asian countries (Japan, Korea, China). All of these parts are based on spec. If something happened in East Asia, where these suppliers were no longer available, there are suppliers in the U.S. and Europe that can make the same parts. Also, the new all-composite planes (Boeing 787, Adam Air 700) have about 10% the parts of a traditional all-metal aircraft (in the case of the Adam Air 700, 2700 parts vs. 27,000 parts if the plane was all metal). This increase robustness as the number of needed suppliers is reduced.

In almost any kind of manufacturing, suppliers can be found in Europe, U.S., and East Asia (trust me on this, I have done this kind of manufacture). Suppliers exist everywhere and new ones are coming on line all the time in the "developing" world (which really is developing). Supply chains are very diverse and redundant.

I think the wealth creation process will continue indefinitely. In fact, I would bet on it.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 3:03 PM:

Hello Kurt,

> I think the wealth creation process will continue indefinitely. In fact, I would bet on it.

Have you noticed that there are two billion humans who are earning less than $2 a day, Kurt? How soon before these people are lifted out of poverty and provided with an American Middle-Class lifestyle?

brian wang said at March 28, 2007 3:04 PM:

Non-high consumption wealthy described in the millionaire next door
http://www.simonsays.com/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=408424&agid=2

Private jet owner profile
Private jet owners have an average annual income of $9.2 million and a net worth of $89.3 million. They are 57 years old. And 70% of them are men.
http://custom.marketwatch.com/custom/iwon-com/news-story.asp?guid={A8DDD7DF-53F9-45FF-AD86-FE711B415FEC}
http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2005-04-26-corp-jets-cover_x.htm

11,000 business jets in worldwide fleet
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_jet

Private jets increased 35% in first half of 2006
http://members.forbes.com/global/2006/0918/022.html

First class alternatives
http://money.cnn.com/2006/05/09/pf/goodlife_fortune_travel/index.htm

Air taxi model: utilizing 5000 small airports in the USA (out of total 14,000 airports),
not just the 30 big ones and 550 commercial ones.
Similar usage of small airports worldwide.
http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/features/F_Call_for_Taxi.html
http://www.casa.aero/adminUploads/Air%20Taxis%20article%203.1.pdf
http://spacecom.grc.nasa.gov/icnsconf/docs/2003/08_C2/C2-01-McHugh.pdf
http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10319&chapselect=yo&page=&Jump+to+Specified+Chapter.x=9&Jump+to+Specified+Chapter.y=20
http://books.nap.edu/nap-cgi/skimit.cgi?recid=10319&chap=50-77

Research on rich people
http://www.hsgrove.com/

Spending patterns
http://www.hsgrove.com/luxuryspending.html

Very light jet market 2007-2016
http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reportinfo.asp?report_id=359244

This study predicts the delivery of 4,124 VLJs during 2007-2016 – which added to the 30 or so delivered in 2006 will put the global VLJ fleet at 4,154 aircraft. Some industry observers critical of the manufacturer-supplied growth rate contend that only two, or at best three, manufacturers will make it to market but the authors of this report are slightly more optimistic than this. We believe, in addition to the five key programmes featured in this report (A700, Cessna Mustang, Embraer Phenom 100, Diamond D-Jet and Eclipse 500) there will be other new entrants who succeed in producing aircraft for the personal jet market, and estimates for these are listed in the HondaJet/new entrant line, with an average aircraft sales price of $2.8 million, throughout the timeframe of the study – equivalent to the HondaJet reported retail price in 2010.


Studies for more environmentally benign aircraft
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070205111703.htm

Aviation and the environment
http://web.mit.edu/aeroastro/news/magazine/aeroastro-no3/2006aviationandenvironment.html

Air transportation 2025 vision
http://www.jpdo.aero/NGATS_v1_1204.pdf

skeptical said at March 28, 2007 3:20 PM:


A future of robotics, nanotechnology, and self-replicating machines will make produce quantities of wealth with very little human labor.

Today, people with sufficient intelligence and hard work can reach the ranks of the wealthy, but once we achieve the above, those who start off with the most would seem to be likely to remain having the most.

Brian Wang said at March 28, 2007 3:42 PM:

Personal computers, internet and other previous waves of technology have increased the number of very wealthy people and improved the ability of those who work hard and are entrepreneurial to reach the levels of the very wealthy.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 4:01 PM:

Hello Brian Wang,

> increased the number of very wealthy people

Indeed. This is one of the great evils of the modern world.

> the ability of those who work hard and are entrepreneurial to reach the levels of the very wealthy

Wonderful. These parasites are accummulating wealth while billions of humans are left to die in poverty and deprivation.

As for myself, I consider the weathy a cancer upon the Earth. Among the weathy are the three hundred million self-indulgent, obese, perpetually entitled hyperconsumers who populate the United States of America.

These are the people who are destroying the Earth & humankind's future on behalf of their own carefully constructed delusions of grandeur and godhood.

I much prefer a world in which there are no wealthy simply because there is no wealth.

James Bowery said at March 28, 2007 4:16 PM:

Hello James,

> "entitlements" to which they aren't "entitled" since they are mostly white male heterosexuals

Oh my, just what we need ... a little racism on behalf of the "oppressed" white people of the world. Those privileged white people really have it tough, don't they?

In addition to the sycophants of the wealthy (like Brian Wang) and the wealthy themselves, there is also the very large class of people represented by Mr. Mathews which include not just the ethnic minorities who believe they are "entitled" to the economic rent collected by government largess, but also the self-destructive component whites who are trying to out-do other whites in being more self-destructive as a display of their moral superiority -- the Church Ladies of political correctness who merely replace "SATAN?" with "RACISM?" or go to the further extreme of desiring the extinction of humanity itself -- which at least has the merit of being consistent.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 4:25 PM:

Hello James,

> ethnic minorities who believe they are "entitled" to the economic rent collected by government largess

It is odd that you would say this, James, because corporations are known to collect billions of dollars worth of government largess. Shouldn't we separate these corporations from their entitlement?

In addition, I will add one more thing: The present prosperity of the United States of America would end immediately if the impoverished people of the world (the Muslims, the Nigerians, the Venezuelans, and the Mexicans) ceased subsidizing "our" lifestyle by exporting their natural resources (essentially for free) to the United States of America.

This is, in fact, exactly what is going to happen this century, within a matter of decades at most.

When obese America becomes impoverished, deprived, powerless and hungry ... what will these entitled, self-indulgent white people say? They probably won't "say" anything, instead these people will fight wars of genocide in order to secure the resources of the impoverished at the price of their own blood.

You know ... this is already happening": Iraq.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:30 PM:

Kids,

The more you argue with David Mathews the more he'll keep saying the same thing with more long comments that do not add any useful content to the thread.

Try addressing each other instead of him. It will make the discussion far more interesting.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:33 PM:

Jake,

Fertility rates will rebound eventually. The people who having more kids (and there are such people - the Mormons for example) will have kids that are more likely to have more kids. We'll see a bounce in the fertility rates long before we start running out of people. Natural selection is happening. Allele frequencies are changing.

In Niger the women are having 8 babies each. Some other countries have also experienced bounces in their fertility rates. I saw a demographer lecturing about this on C-SPAN a couple of years ago. This is what we'd expect from natural selection.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:35 PM:

crush41,

Space colonization does not solve the problem. It just makes the crunch happen later.

Cheap fusion energy would accelerate the growth in energy usage and make the thermal pollution problem happen sooner.

Nanotech replicators will cause consumption to increase by orders of magnitude and quickly. Of course, we might all end up getting consumed (quite literally) by the replicators.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:39 PM:

David A. Young,

Yes, I considered the possibility that people will build under ground. But people like to see their houses above ground. Many will call on others to use build underground while they want to fulfill their own personal whim to have a big status symbol sticking out for all to see. Look at Al Gore. He's spending more per month on electricity that most people spend on electricity and natural gas all year. Do as I say, not as I do.

I used to sit across the aisle in cubicle land from a guy who was a rabid environmentalist. He gave me a hard time when I told him I didn't recycle. At the same time he drove an SUV, had a commute that was several times longer than mine, and took many long air flights every year. This is what I'm expecting. We are talking about human beings here, not ascetic saints.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:44 PM:

Michael Anissimov,

But some people won't want to upload into virtual realities and some of those who stay in this real world will have lots of babies. The ones who do not go into virtual realities will have genetic differences on average with those who do go virtual. The ones who do not go virtual will have babies that are less inclined to go virtual.

Technological advances by themselves will not stop Darwinian natural selection. Technology instead will accelerate evolution by increasing selective pressures.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2007 5:52 PM:

Kurt,

Not everyone will want to go into space. In fact, beyond a visit most people will not want to live there.

David Mathews said at March 28, 2007 5:57 PM:

Hello Randall,

> Try addressing each other instead of him. It will make the discussion far more interesting.

I rather think that these discussions follow a democratic process in the sense that people respond to those things that they find interesting.

Of course, I would hate to intefere with your own utopian delusions & fantasies, Randall. Perhaps you will live forever ... but I have my doubts.

James Bowery said at March 28, 2007 6:07 PM:

The "Virtual Reality Coffins" as they were called by the entrepreneur who approached Hollywood moguls with the idea back in the early 1990s, were indeed presented to said moguls as a way of controlling third world populations -- the ones with the highest fertility rates. The idea had the appeal of taking men out of the sexual competition pool in preference to women -- at least it was appealing to the powers that be over those populations -- but this of course leaves you with the problem of how do you keep those women from becoming part of some other alpha male's harem? You see, socioeconomic status has started to depart from sociosexual status due to the differing requirements. Mere ability to drive around in fancy cars can only go so far when amygdalas are competing.

Of course, all of this ignores the fact that the women are still going to be making babies. People seem to believe th nonsense that the reason women stop having babies when their economies become "developed" -- "The Demographic Transition" -- is because the women would rather buy more expensive DVD players or something. The reality is that they are removed from their connection to their source of food, housing and kin networks -- all of which is being reversed by welfare state policies designed by politicians that increasingly see themselves as potential alpha males with huge harems. All that has really gone on is the deprivation of monogamous pair bonds to the point that women cut back because they can't really afford children at a fundamental level. The would-be alphas will have to think with their big head in order to figure out how they're going to be able to control global fertility without being outbred by other would-be alphas who now have the wealth to support "many many children" in the traditional phraseology.

James Bowery said at March 28, 2007 6:34 PM:

Solution to West’s Fertility Problems:  “I be concubining”

Many otherwise intelligent commentators believe state support of fertility of “citizens” is the solution the low fertility of the West.  They would have us hope that women, guided by desire for better babies, would choose higher IQ men or sires from sperm banks resulting in a “eugenics by choice”.

Here’s reality:

http://majorityrights.com/images/uploads/RickyLackey.jpg

Ricky Lackey has been chosen ‘stud’ by 6 simultaneous women who are now expecting their 6 children to contribute to Western fertility between August and October of this year.

When asked if he was going to marry a woman who is having sextuplets, the Rickmeister said:

“No, I be concubining.” ...As Lackey left the courtroom, a group of teenage girls there for another case appeared to know Lackey.

"Oh, there's Ricky Lackey!" one swooned.

Lackey shrugged the attention off with one word and a wave of his hand.

"Fans," he said.


I believe this is not an accurate news report.  I suspect the Fountainhead of Evolution actually left off the trailing “g” and replaced it with an apostrophe.  It is via such economy that we may hope future generations will conserve the planet’s resources.

brian wang said at March 28, 2007 6:55 PM:

The very wealthy consume a larger amount but still are a smaller part of overall consumption. Even if they have a large plane, they are not flying it as often as the commercial airlines would fly the same plane.

Solutions to sustainability will be to make cars, planes, houses more efficient and environmentally friendly. Using new technologies like molecular nanotechnology.

Space colonization will be part of the solution but not based on current national space plans or trends. It will take a new approach to get serious about colonization. Back in the 1600s and 1700s thousands of trips a year were made with ships moving 767 size loads of people and goods.

For space colonization to address the resource issue, the launch system would need to work at about the cost of electricity to lift out. Either an arrayed laser mirror system or the space elevator or Josh Hall's Space Pier. Dual or single stage to orbit space planes with carbon nanotube light weight bodies with some non-chemical propulsion could get fairly efficient. If one had room temperature superconductors then one could magnetically launch against the earth's magnetic field.

Society would have to migrate offworld at more than the population growth rate. Something a society with advanced molecular nanotechnology could achieve.

The problem of how many wealthy people there are in 30-100 years is highly uncertain. But likely technological advances will help to address the issue. Without advanced technology space colonization would not be a possible solution.

James Bowery said at March 28, 2007 7:34 PM:

No, the calculations were done by O'Neill et al -- I don't recall if it was in "The High Frontier" or "2081" -- and the population net-off-loading system is on the same order as the airline transport system.

Jerry Martinson said at March 28, 2007 10:10 PM:

There's some trends underway that will reduce the ecological footprint of housing, transportation, and material things.

1. There's LEEDs and the associated LEEDS/ND that are introducing some criteria consistency and science behind "sustainable" dwellings and denser "human scale" neighborhood development. While LEEDs isn't the total answer, eventually these concepts will creep into building codes identifiable market differentiators. In California there's Title24 for energy, which is far from perfect but an attempt to create performance efficiency standards over prescriptive standards. While these things all sound leftish and idealist, keep in mind that most new urbanist developments have quite unexpectedly commanded non-trivial price premiums over other comparable real-estate development so there will continue to be a push this way from savy developers as it gives them a lot more value per unit of expensive land.

Denser development can actually dramatically improve the economics of mass transit systems. Many people want to live in the boonies because of noise pollution but there are substantial improvements possible in reducing the amount of noise that gets into a home, except that the building industry has been slow to adopt it and have it standardized. Big houses,etc... are essentially a positional good. At some point, I think these will no longer be considered to be as desirable as being in a cool location where the action while still maintaining some level of solace. Where I live, there's a sense of trendiness evolving in having solar panels on your roof and driving a Prius. It's definitely catching on with the well-to-do.

2. There are trends in product design and manufacturer that are reducing the ecological footprint of some items. There's RoHS, for example, which is reducing the amount of certain hazardous substances in products, particularly electronic ones. There's WEEE, which is forcing the recycling issue. Recycling would be a lot more economical if there were incentives put into the product developers to make their products recyclable. Currently there's almost no effort to do this.

It's probably true that these are just going to "buy time". Ultimately the earth is a finite sphere and everyone isn't going to have a 30,000 sq foot house in the year 2400 so by superficial measures, material well-being will stagnate or worse.

There will always be a social need for people to have positional goods to show that they are "successful". However, either emerging moral taboos and/or laws disincentivizing the current state of positional goods being so environmentally destructive could go a long way at preventing normal human status-seeking from being a race to a mutually destructive bottom. Back to the example of people in NorCal dropping their sports cards for a Prius, the cool status thing is that the Prius with the HOV-lane sticker is faster than any sports-car because of traffic congestion - it is the only car that can drive faster than the car ahead of you.

Although I cringe at the thought of creeping socialism, it sickens me to see rich people blowing resources on Yachts and golf courses when there are cost-effective ways to use those resources for the greater good. Currently we tax mostly income on the principle that is "progressive" but in my opinion we should be taxing "consumption" not "income". Does it really matter that Bill Gates made $40Billion? Should we tax that? Why not tax people when they buy yachts and personal jets instead? I've always been a conservative, but many seem to confuse economic freedom with allowing (without penalty or taboo) the fortunate ones to gorge themselves due to a vestigial primate urge to display status.

Engineer-Poet said at March 28, 2007 10:45 PM:
Those privileged white people really have it tough, don't they?
Exactly how "priviledged" is someone who is locked out of gainful employment by prejudice as seriously as Jim Crow laws?  I know engineers who never expect to hold a salaried position again; they believe they will survive as hourly contract workers if they survive at all.

Ol' Dave is "a container full of that which aids plant growth, and is very powerful". ;-)

Eric Boyd said at March 28, 2007 10:58 PM:

I just want to say that I agree with your analysis - the problem isn't energy sources, it's waste and pollution sinks. We will certainly devise new technologies which allow us to create the things we desire. But I am less confident that we will devise mechanisms to deal with our waste - the CO2 which is causing global warming is just one example, nuclear waste is another, pesticide residues and other agriculture runoff a third and forth... One reason that I am less confident is because the end of a products life is typically not considered by the designer or the buyer of an object, and even worse, waste & pollution is not handled under our economic system but rather typically by government. All the incentives are in the wrong places.

If you want to know more, just out Bruce Stirlings "shaping things" book, or the 30 year update to Limits to Growth...

Brian Wang said at March 29, 2007 8:32 AM:

Consumption tax is a good idea for overall tilting things in favor of investment and growth
and productivity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumption_tax
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,149298,00.html

It would not shape the personal consumption behavior of the wealthy but it would effect investment decisions.

Highest priced manhattan real estate is not necessarily super-huge. They are not small.
http://70.47.124.114/node/462
$70 Million,The Penthouse at the Pierre Hotel, 13,666-square-foot property. just aren’t that many apartments above four bedrooms

http://www.streeteasy.com/nyc/sales/manhattan/price%3A3000000-
900 listings in manhattan $3m- 5M
694 listings +$5M
$6 million for about 2900 sf

Kurt9 said at March 29, 2007 9:45 AM:

Randall,

I disagree with you about space settlement. Yes, if it involves living in tin cans like the space station, noone will want to live there. I am refering to the possibility of building large-scale space habitats, like the O'neill cylindars or even the much bigger space rings (which have a land area comparable to India) which can also be built out of nanotube composites. These structures would offer the amenities of living on Earth and would be very desirable to live on. The kind of robotics manufacturing and wealth creation capabilities you are talking about will make construction of these possible. In the ultra-wealthy, super crowded Earth that you describe, I would certainly want to migrate off-world and I think many others will too.

Also, people get used to new things. When the internet came out in 1994, I was quite derisive of it and dismissed it as digital "CD radios". I thought it was a fad that would disappear in a few short years. Afterall, only geeks use computers, right? I think space settlement will eventually take off.

Someone here pointed out that there are still 2 billion people who live on less than $2 per day. So what? This is completely irrelevant to the discussion. If there were no rich people in the world, would these people be any better off? I don't think so. This is the fallacy of the zero-sum game. That in order for one person to get rich, another has to become poorer. A free-market system, on the other hand, is a positive sum game. The fact that North America (and increasingly East Asia) has become wealthy in no way has adversely affected the rest of the world. If anything it benefits the rest of the world by creating more markets for them to sell into. It was (and still is) by exporting to U.S. markets that East Asia has bootstrapped itself up the economic ladder. No doubt, it will be by exporting to East Asia that the rest of the world will bootstrap itself up the economic ladder. The notion that the economic system is a zero-sum game is a hokey notion that was comprehensively discredited decades ago.

When you think about it, the only true resource is the creative, innovative human mind. And the only way you can waste this resource is to prevent its utilization. An entreprenuerial free-market system is the best way to maximize the utilization (and therefor minimize the wastage) of this only real resource.

As for material resource limitations, John McCarthy has written extensively about it here:

http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/index.html

Mind you, this is if you limit yourself to terrestrial resources only. Using extraterrestrial resources up the ante by orders of magnitude. Trust me on this one: The wealth creation process will continue indefinitely (at least for a millenium or so).

David A. Young said at March 29, 2007 9:51 AM:

Randall, you said --

"Nanotech replicators will cause consumption to increase by orders of magnitude and quickly. Of course, we might all end up getting consumed (quite literally) by the replicators."

True, but nanotech will also lead to an increase by orders of magnitude of DE-consumption. It will give us the ability to recycle material objects with close to 100% efficiency. This should lead to the consumption of resources occuring at an absolute rate much less than we would normally expect with increasing population and wealth.

Also, from a psychological/bahavioral perspective, as nanotech makes the creation of formerly scarce/unique objects commonplace, we may see humans becomming less obsessed with "material possessions" as a whole. Psychologically, we value/desire things that are "special." If anyone can brew 100 caret flawless diamonds in their desk fab-lab, who will bother collecting them? I think this tendency may work to make us less desirous of "things" in general. It's not that we'll become selfless angels; just that we'll be responding to the changes in our culture and environment. The more that we can have any object we desire, the less we may find ourselves desiring all objects. Not that our obsessive/acquisitiveness will go away -- just that it will turn to other, presently unimiginable, areas. Not that that will necessarily be a good thing!!!???

James Bowery said at March 29, 2007 11:11 AM:

So, Mr. Wang, what do you say to Milton Friedman's claim that taxing economic rent (such as land value taxation) is "the least distorting" tax base? Do you have any idea what economic rent is?

Let me give you an example:

Let's say you own an acre of land in some locale. You have an incentive to maximize the population of that locale so as to increase demand for the land.

The increase in value of the land you sit on, while you promote immigration to your locale, is one form of economic rent. Can you see how leaving it in the hands of land owners might 1) explain the desire of wealth holders to import high fertility laborers and 2) be corrupting of their character (a particularly nasty result since the wealthy are the economic decision-makers who we can ill afford to corrupt)?

Garson O'Toole said at March 29, 2007 11:14 AM:

The speculations on this thread are worthwhile and display insights not found in conservative futurism; however, if one looks farther ahead then there are scenarios that are much more radical. If molecular foundries are possible then super-strength materials and ultra-powerful computers would be possible. (Of course, the prefixes super and ultra would be dropped shortly after actual construction.)

The “obvious” next step would be to design and construct a Von Neumann probe. If these probes are feasible then the beings of the future will not be discussing square-feet or square-meters of living space. Instead they will discuss how many stellar systems they control. If you do not control the resources of a large number of stellar systems and other astronomical entities via self-replicating starships then you will not be invited to the best “cocktail parties”.

What will happen to Earth? That depends on the psychology of future beings. If we extrapolate current emotional preferences then Earth might become a museum planet with a completely controlled development. Consider the precedent embodied in the recreation of Colonial Williamsburg applied to the entire world. Some massive mansions would be retained so that future tourists could see how primitive living conditions were even for the very wealthy. Also, all extant Earth species would be preserved and some extinct creatures would be resurrected based on DNA and biological reconstruction. This assumes a peaceful future. A violent future would be much grimmer for Earth. Consider the Relativistic Kill Vehicle envisioned by SF authors Pellegrino and Zebrowski. If a “massive impactor travelling at a significant fraction of light speed” struck Earth it would be tragic denouement.

Brian Wang said at March 29, 2007 12:08 PM:

300 carat synthetic diamonds are possible now using carbon vapor deposition.
flawless 10 carat diamonds were made in 2005. Economic impact on the diamond market has been negligible.
Diamonds pricing are primarily marketing driven. This may break down over time.
The pricing of jewelry rubies have also held up against synthetic alternatives.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_diamond
http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/node/7908

I wrote some article about military uses of nanotech and kinetic energy weapons from space
http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0672.html
http://advancednano.blogspot.com/2006/09/update-on-using-space-rocks-as-kinetic.html

carbon nanotube superthread with nearly the full strength of single wall carbon nanotubes
may be upon us soon (pre-molecular manufacturing)
http://www.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/nb.story/story_id/8900/nb_date/2006-08-31

Magnetically inflated structures
http://advancednano.blogspot.com/2006/03/other-tech-magnetically-inflated.html
seems like the best way to extend what Bigelow is doing
http://advancednano.blogspot.com/2007/03/bigelow-aerospace-plans-l1-and-lunar.html

Need a lot of power to industrialize space which is needed to make space a big business.

someone who has an acre of land is a price taker not a price maker and has little influence.
Need to be a big time developer ala
http://www.answers.com/topic/toll-brothers-inc
http://www.answers.com/topic/pulte-homes-inc
http://www.answers.com/topic/lennar-corporation

Then you move can move the market locally.
But even then 50,000 homes per year is only a fraction of the 800,000to 1 million new homes and
6 million used home sales in the US alone.
http://money.cnn.com/2007/03/26/news/economy/new_home_sales/index.htm?postversion=2007032612

Brian Wang said at March 29, 2007 1:13 PM:

300 carat synthetic diamonds are possible now using carbon vapor deposition.
flawless 10 carat diamonds were made in 2005. Economic impact on the
diamond market has been negligible.
Diamonds pricing are primarily marketing driven. This may break down over time.
The pricing of jewelry rubies have also held up against synthetic alternatives.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_diamond
www.scienceblog.com/cms/node/7908

I wrote some article about military uses of nanotech and kinetic
energy weapons from space
www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0672.html
advancednano.blogspot.com/2006/09/update-on-using-space-rocks-as-kinetic.html

carbon nanotube superthread with nearly the full strength of single
wall carbon nanotubes
may be upon us soon (pre-molecular manufacturing)
www.lanl.gov/news/index.php/fuseaction/nb.story/story_id/8900/nb_date/2006-08-31

Magnetically inflated structures
advancednano.blogspot.com/2006/03/other-tech-magnetically-inflated.html
seems like the best way to extend what Bigelow is doing
advancednano.blogspot.com/2007/03/bigelow-aerospace-plans-l1-and-lunar.html

Need a lot of power to industrialize space which is needed to make
space a big business.

someone who has an acre of land is a price taker not a price maker and
has little influence.
Need to be a big time developer ala
www.answers.com/topic/toll-brothers-inc
www.answers.com/topic/pulte-homes-inc
www.answers.com/topic/lennar-corporation

Then you move can move the market locally.
But even then 50,000 homes per year is only a fraction of the
800,000 to 1 million new homes and
6 million used home sales in the US alone.
So even then less than 1% of the total residential home market.
Gaming and maximizing each project is less important than overall operations and
turning the places over.
Some small markets can be somewhat cornered and managed. Downtown parking.
But in the larger markets that is a strategy that can easily backfire in many ways.

money.cnn.com/2007/03/26/news/economy/new_home_sales/index.htm?postversion=2007032612

Jennifer said at March 29, 2007 5:41 PM:

As for engineers worrying about being employable-what the hell's wrong with them? Engineers are supposed to be innovative. How about them using some of that innovation to devise ways to make a living outside of "employment?" I know graduates in social sciences, modern languages, philosophy and polisci are helpless whiners, but engineers????

Socialism destroys everything it touches. It's the philosophy of the envious dupe and incompetent pseudointellectual.

Some of these comments are downright pathological. Randall and Brian are thinking along the right lines, but they're not being imaginative enough.

RueHaxo said at March 29, 2007 6:05 PM:

If we need more land for growing populations and McMansions, could we make or reclaim more? Anyone else recall the Atlantropa project to dam off the Mediterranean sea? As technology progresses, could ocean-reducing land reclamation projects become more feasible?

Engineer-Poet said at March 29, 2007 6:47 PM:

There's legal discrimination too.  Engineers have been legally handicapped by the US government; they have almost no "safe harbor" for being considered self-employed, so they are effectively forced to be employees of someone else.  We can thank Daniel Patrick Moynihan for this (he was one of the major architects of the law which turned engineers into second-class citizens compared to doctors and lawyers).

RueHaxo, consider what would happen to sea levels if the Mediterranean was emptied...

Kurt9 said at March 30, 2007 9:55 AM:

Jennifer,

Socialism will not come back, at least in the U.S. or East Asia. Europe is already socialist. As you are no doubt aware, there is a huge population moving into retirement known as the baby-boomers. We have to have lots and lots of economic growth over the next 40 years, just to pay for their retirement without increasing taxes. Also, we need the attendent asset appreciation so that more of them can finance their own retirements as well. This promises that long-term economic growth remains that the top of the political agenda. Call it the new "third-rail" of politics. After 40 years? I expect a general cure for aging by then (a.k.a. SENS). After that, we can all become self-sufficent (no fear of old age) thus eliminating the desire for socialism.

Europe has got a socialistic economy and a muslim problem to boot.

Brian Wang said at March 30, 2007 10:45 AM:

http://advancednano.blogspot.com/2007/03/wealthy-consumption-airplanes-and.html

Private jets currently use about 6-7% of total jet fuel.
All planes use about 6% of the total oil usage.

David Mathews said at March 30, 2007 7:59 PM:

Hello Engineer-Poet,

> Exactly how "priviledged" is someone who is locked out of gainful employment by prejudice as seriously as Jim Crow laws? I know engineers who never expect to hold a salaried position again; they believe they will survive as hourly contract workers if they survive at all.

What are you talking about, Engineer-Poet?

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2007 8:21 AM:

David A. Young,

I can imagine someone making a pair of skis or hiking boots when they need them. But with structures people want to have the rest of the world see their monstrosity. See my mansion. I am important. I can have such a huge structure.

Now, maybe once mansions become really easy to build that'll take some of the appeal out of having one. But people think of their houses as their castles. I think they feel safer in larger and more formidable-looking structures.

Phil said at April 1, 2007 9:02 AM:

It saddens me to see so many comments so way off the mark.

Declining fertility isn't a disaster, it's a necessity. Global population growth has to stop at some point, and it's quite possible we've already overshot the sustainable level.

Peak oil (not that this is not the end of oil, merely the point at which "production" starts declining) will act as a limiting factor.

It's doubtful that alternatives will fill the gap, and neither will demand reduce without some pain, which would involve economic, social, and political turmoil.

Biofuels will divert agricultural resources from feeding the poor to fuelling the rich's cars and their effluent lifestyles.

The future's grim.

There is a lot that technology can do, but my fear is that it will merely prop up the illusion until radical change becomes a necessity.

Brock said at April 3, 2007 10:03 AM:


But while I expect all the items listed above will come to pass I'm not convinced this means we need not worry about resource scarcity. I also do not foresee an end to resource competition. Anyone see the problem? No matter how efficient we get at extracting and harnesses resources we will just as quickly get efficient at using those same resources.

I think your thinking is confused here. Resource competition will not “end”, but that doesn’t lead to the Malthusian trap you describe. What’s wrong with using resources, as long as the resources are returned and recycled? We “use” lots of oxygen each day, but we’re not going to run out of it as long as there are enough trees and ocean algae. As long as we don’t over-work the recycling systems (natural or man-made), we can be as wasteful as we choose.

The only two resources (that I can think of) that are not subject to the above are energy and real estate; we get a fixed allowance of energy from the sun and geothermal activity, and we have a fixed amount of real estate.* However, both of those resources exist within well developed markets that set prices intelligently. As long as all of the resources are priced correctly (which assumes efficient markets and that Nature’s “gifts” of fresh air, water, etc. are paid for), we can’t really “waste” them either. We just keep bidding up the prices for them, with Adam Smith’s invisible hand thus limiting consumption.

* Yes, yes. O’Neil Cylinders. Fusion. Etc. All very nice. But you can’t add too much energy to Earth without distorting the system really badly. Advanced space habitats and energy tech will allow Earth’s problems to be recreated at L5; it won’t solve them.

Even worse, at some point we'll run up against limits due to thermal pollution and other side effects of our coming enormous ability to sculpt the environment.

Ignorance is our enemy here. We could really screw up the environment right now, we if set our mind to it. How long would it take the US Navy to destroy the USA’s habitat with nuclear weapons if we wanted to? 10 minutes? We already have the power to sculpt the environment; but we’re not stupid. No one is proposing diverting the Mississippi or flooding the Rhine valley. Our problems will only arise to the extent we are ignorant of the damage we are doing. Every modern nation has an EPA now, as well as citizen activists who seek to protect the environment.

I think thermal pollution is also a bit of a red herring. The main problem is thermal concentration (which will be addressed with distributed power or more efficient base station generation) and poor community design which creates heat islands. These are very solvable problems.

Currently structures in America cover an area equal to the size of Ohio or about 112 thousand square kilometers. The land of the United States covers about 9.1 million square kilometers. We only need to go up by a factor of 81 to cover all of the United States with structures. Well, a rise of living standards by 1 order of magnitude will create wealth which people will use to build massive mansions, swimming pools, vacation homes, stables for horses, tennis courts, and and other structures. Look at how the wealthy live today. The middle class may live that way eventually.

Straight-line extrapolation is bad; mm’kay? There are a lot of reasons why big houses are feasible in some circumstances; and they don’t scale very well. Even if we solve the “But who will do the yard work?” problems with robots and such; we’ll still have to cope with the psychological problems. These communities harm the residents who live in them. There is already a back-lash against these types of communities; and well integrated, well-planned “dense” villages command a premium. The human animal likes living near his friends and tribe, not cut off from them by two acres of property and suburban walls. There’s a reason people will pay a house’s price for a 1 bedroom apartment in New York, London or San Francisco. Dense, people-friendly environments are the future.

You might say that we'll refrain from consuming and owning so much. But look at the wealthy people who do not refrain. The founder of Peoplesoft is building a 72,000 square foot mansion which surpasses the 60,000 square foot Hearst Castle (the grounds and other externals also cover much surface area too) and Bill Gates' mere 40,000 sq. ft. manse. Much further down the ranks of wealth from Bill Gates, Presidential candidate John Edwards manages to own a 28,000 sq. ft. house. Also, former US Vice President and prominent environmental propagandist Al Gore uses more electricity and natural gas than 20 or 30 middle class families - and this at just one of his residences. So we do not all need to become billionaires in order to own houses more than an order of magnitude greater in size than the average American home of today. Suppose 100 years from now people with average incomes can afford to build houses as big as the biggest so far. How big are we talking? According to the New York Times the biggest to date are the 174,000-square-foot Biltmore House and the 109,000 square foot Oheka. If technological optimists are right then such structures might become commonplace.

More common, certainly, but I don’t believe they will become commonplace. Plenty of other millionaires and billionaires lead comfortable but not ostentatious lives. The guy I (ultimately) work for makes $50 million / year and drives a Ford F-150. Ultimately these big homes don’t make you happy, and most people I think will realize that.

The problem extends beyond massive structures. The truly rich and famous are stepping up from mere Lear Jets and Gulfstream Vs to 757s and 767s. Picture hundreds of millions or even billions of people flying around the world in their own personal jumbo jets.

Given the advances in energy tech and pollution reduction discussed on this blog; so what? A 757 that pollutes no more than a flock of geese is nothing to be concerned about.

A future of robotics, nanotechnology, and self-replicating machines will produce quantities of wealth with very little human labor. With that greater ability to harness energy and manipulate raw materials will eventually come huge external costs that will create competition and clashes of interests between people on a scale that does not exist today.

Ah, you’re assuming “external costs”, eh? Society does not advance as quickly as science and engineering, but it does advance. The capital markets of today are much more sophisticated and adaptable than the ones that launched the modern age in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Tomorrow’s markets will be even better. An example of “internalizing the external costs” is the trading of carbon credits. Other markets will arise, such as ones (perhaps) that charge for Nature’s services currently supplied gratis. We don’t currently pay the man who owns the watershed that purifies our drinking water, but we should, and we probably will.

To state my argument at a philosophical level: Technological advances increase what one can do with one's positive liberty and by doing that they increase the ease which people can violate negative liberty. This rift came as a result of reading a post by Tyler Cowen on positive and negative liberty.

Our ability to protect and enforce our negative liberties will increase as needed. We will remain in equilibrium.

What I want to know: Will rejuvenation therapies lead to such a huge boost in the world's population that even the industrialized countries will fall back into a Malthusian trap? On Darwinian grounds this seems inevitable. I've previously argued that natural selection will reverse the trend of declining fertility in industrialized countries. Combine that selective pressure with bodies that stay young for centuries and a population explosion seems inevitable unless either humans get wiped out by robots or a world government decides we do not have an unlimited right to reproduce and enforces restrictions on reproduction.

No. You’re still thinking in straight-line extrapolations. As costs change, equilibria will move. Curves will shift. Society is intelligent, and will adapt (and we’re becoming more effective in our use of our intelligence all the time, as information becomes increasingly accessible to more people, society’s ability to process the information increase exponentially). Darwinian processes which act on our genetics take a very long time relative to our ability to learn and willfully change our behaviors. Resource competition for real estate and energy will make child-rearing more expensive, reducing demand for children. Those who want them will have them - and pay for them. Society will find a new equilibria, but there won’t be a collapse as long as the markets are functioning and assets are well priced.


What is nature's only hope? That rich people decide that owning their own unspoiled rain forests is a hugely status enhancing form of consumption. Show your benevolence and wisdom by buying half the Amazon and let your friends visit its untamed wildness.

I disagree, but the great thing about a distributed, “Adam Smith world” is that you’re free to try your way, and I’ll try mine, and the better one will win in the marketplace. Personally, I’d just buy the other half of the Amazon and then DNA-mine it for genetic potential, sell my oxygen production credits on the Dubai World Resource Exchange, and make sure that less of the fresh water I produce is dumped into the ocean and more of it diverted to the sugar farmers to the north and south. I’d be raking in so much cash I’d buy out your preserve within two years and be a fool to let anyone build a tract home anywhere near me. What a waste of resources! Go live in a high-density community in Rio de Janeiro; you’ll thank me later when you save big on energy bills, make friends in the elevator, and realize that you’d never make it to book club at the library if you lived 10 miles out of town on your private manse.

Randall Parker said at April 3, 2007 5:58 PM:

Brock,

Yes, real estate is scarce. As populations grow the prices will go up. Real estate will get rationed. No matter how much productivity rises and incomes go up real estate prices will rise even more as populations increase. But that's a scenario of growing scarcity when seen from the vantage point of individual buyers.

Thermal pollution will become a problem when total energy production gets large enough. The only way to stop that is to regulate energy use at some future point and put absolute limits on energy production.

One bedroom apartments in NYC: But average dwelling size has been rising for many decades and this trend shows no sign of stopping.

Technologies that make energy very cheaply and that automate robots will make child-rearing much cheaper.

When I argue we'll re-enter the Malthusian trap I'm arguing that populations will keep rising and rising and rising. We'll hit limits on available energy due to thermal pollution problems. Community design can prevent heat islands only if average energy usage over all the land is low. But if populations get large enough and cost of energy gets slow enough then energy demand will rise to the point where thermal pollution will heat the planet.

Brock said at April 4, 2007 6:45 PM:

When I argue we'll re-enter the Malthusian trap I'm arguing that populations will keep rising and rising and rising.

The Malthusian trap isn't about rising population at all. It's about productivity growth of 0% per capita. The world never gets any richer per capita, even if total output rises or falls along with population size. Malthus is simply usually associated with growing populations because generally, populations grow (with exceptions, such as the EU, Japan, the Incan Empire and ancient Rome). As long as real productivity is growing (adjusted for inflation and labor inputs), the Malthusian trap is avoided.

Your scenario only makes sense if you assume productivity growth (which averaged 2.5% per year in the 20th Century, but seems to have accelerated up to 3% during the later half of the 20th and now 21st C) goes negative for an extended period of time. I think that only a civilizational collapse on the scale of the fall of the Inca or Rome would see that scenario happen; and I think that is highly unlikely. Modern society is extremely complex, and very resilient.

We'll hit limits on available energy due to thermal pollution problems.

Agreed, but that's different than saying economic growth will come to a halt. Our economy becomes more energy efficient each year, producing more output per unit of energy input. Even if heat production was capped at today's level, the economy would continue to grow (albeit, more slowly), as people found more innovative ways to do capture, use and recycle energy. Many of today's economic processes generate or use more heat than they need to (just look at data centers or a car's engine in August), but that doesn't have to remain the case. Considering data centers alone, a computer CPU that produces 20% less heat for the same amount of work (a natural result of Moore's law) would allow either more computer work to be done or that heat to be used somewhere else in the economy.

Malthus is avoided through innovation and efficient markets. Constraints on inputs (such as energy or real estate) have little effect on his theories.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2007 6:50 PM:

Brock,

Rising production does not compensate for the loss of ability to live in the country. "Get more gadgets but you'll have to live in a high rise and forget about ever seeing wilderness". Why am I supposed to find that notion appealing?

The Malthusian trap is not avoided by efficient markets. Sure, the price of real estate will rise as populations grow. But rising productivity will not make the real estate more affordable. Rising incomes will just drive up the price of the limited supply of land. Rising population sizes will similarly drive up the price of land.

Also, a Malthusian trap does not automatically lead to civilizational collapse. For most of history most large civilizations were stuck Malthusian traps. That just caused lots of death from malnutrition among the lower classes.

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