Fewer, Richer, Greener

Prospects for Humanity in an Age of Abundance

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I'm pretty sure I put this book on my get-at-library list thanks to this Reason plug from Ron Bailey back in 2019. (The list is slow and occasionally leaky, but eventually…) The author, Laurence B. Siegel, is currently affiliated with the CFA Institute Research Foundation; it is devilishly difficult to find what "CFA" stands for, but I think it's "Chartered Financial Analyst".

Siegel is a qualified optimist; he sees a rosy future ahead for the world, if we don't screw it up. The book is © 2020; things seem to have gotten somewhat less rosy in the interim, but we are talking long-term trends. Still…

Siegel and I share a number of reliable sources: e.g., Matt Ridley, Deirdre McCloskey, Steven Pinker, … And even quotes from a Robert B. Parker novel on page 323! While not overtly political, he's very much a "three cheers for free-market capitalism" kind of guy. Well, maybe 2.7 cheers; he notes that unrestrained businessfolk will tend to exploit negative externalities, if allowed.

The book is very wide-ranging and eclectic. The "fewer" in the title refers to population: Siegel notes that the "population bomb", so popular a doomsday scenario just a few decades ago, has been defused in the developed world; and there's no reason to assume this won't eventually envelop the entire world. Unlike some, Siegel sees this demographic shift as a favorable trend. (He goes into quite a bit of detail on sensible retirement planning in such a scenario, one of his fortes.)

He goes on to explain the "richer, greener" part: essentially, there's no reason to suspect that continued growth and innovation won't eventually benefit everyone; it's a positive-sum game. And richer societies can afford to invest in environmental protection. And, unless the naysayers have their way, nuclear power can easily help us wean off of fossil fuel use. He is very entertaining describing the "ecomodernist" vision.

There's a neat picture of the Boston Treepod proposal, which seemed to be a big thing back in 2011, and then … as near as I can tell, nothing since. It's a variation of my own semi-crackpot Idea That Could Save Everything: artificial photosynthesis, pulling CO2 out of the air, combining with water and sunlight, producing oxygen and carbohydrate. Except doing it scalably and far more efficiently than natural photosynthesis, i.e. plants. Siegel, bless him, comes closer to describing my vision that I've seen elsewhere.

Siegel's style is informal, chatty, and discursive; the book often wanders in unexpected directions and interesting asides. Recommended!


Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:42 AM EST

It Could Be Worse.

As I type, the <title> tag on Eliot Cohen's Atlantic article is The Big Lie About Taiwan. And the actual headline is "Telling the Truth About Taiwan".

For some 50 years, American policy toward Taiwan has been based on the assertion that people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits believe that they are part of the same country and merely dispute who should run it and precisely how and when the island and the continent should be reunified. It is a falsehood so widely stated and so often repeated that officials sometimes forget that it is simply untrue. Indeed, they—and other members of the foreign-policy establishment—get anxious if you call it a lie.

It may have been a necessary lie when the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China, although it is more likely that the United States got snookered by Chinese diplomats in the mid-1970s, when they needed us far more than we needed them. It may even be necessary now, but a lie it remains. Acknowledging this fact is not merely a matter of intellectual hygiene but an imperative if we are to prevent China from attempting to gobble up this island nation of 24 million, thereby unhinging the international order in Asia and beyond.

Our state's great motto makes an eventual appearance:

In this case, 50 years of being told, in effect, to sit in a corner and not disturb the grown-ups has made Taiwan more difficult for the United States to defend, and less able to defend itself. Because of Taiwan’s military isolation, its armed forces are literally insular, inexperienced, and deprived of all the benefits that countries like South Korea or Japan get from regular, routine training and operation with the U.S. armed forces. Because the United States, in a superfluity of cleverness and caution, continues to refuse to say whether it would fight for Taiwan, the Taiwanese themselves are not sure that they would adopt the New Hampshire motto “Live free or die.” And honestly, who can blame them?

Cohen notes that fifty years of dishonesty has resulted (inevitably) into incoherent policy. Pun Salad knows nothing of foreign policy, but knows (as does Cohen) that letting Communist thugs take over a small island would have dire consequences, and just not for the people living on Taiwan.

Also of note:

  • Regulation for regulation's sake. The FCC, founded in an era when Americans admired the regulatory policies of Mussolini et al, is struggling to justify its continued existence. Will Rinehart looks at its latest effort: New Net Neutrality Rules Could Threaten Popular Services. After recounting the on-again, off-again recent history:

    A lot has happened since then. Since we last had this debate, Mark Zuckerberg went in front of Congress for the first time, the Cambridge Analytica story broke, we had the COVID shutdowns and the switch to online life, there was a riot at the Capitol, the Parler app was booted by its infrastructure providers, and we learned about the government's involvement in taking down lab-leak posts.

    The law has changed and markets have changed, and yet the arguments for and against net neutrality have largely remained the same. Then as now, the strongest argument against the rules is that it puts services that people love under FCC scrutiny.

    These new rules could, for example, put T-Mobile's Binge On package on the chopping block. This deal exempts YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Sling, ESPN, SHOWTIME, Starz, and other content from counting toward the data cap on all T-Mobile phone plans. The FCC never liked this plan and might go after it again.

    If you're a statist, there's only one answer to the question "Do we need to grant the state more power?" And that is: "Of course we do."

  • But statists come in all colors, like red. Jacob Sullum's column at creators.com has, as usual, one of those never-ending headlines: Defenders of the Florida and Texas Social Media Laws Contradict Themselves: If Facebook et al. Are Pushing a 'Radical Leftist Narrative,' Why Don't They Have a Constitutional Right to Do That?.

    Social media companies argue that their content moderation decisions are a form of editorial discretion protected by the First Amendment. Conservative critics of those companies reject that argument, even as they complain that the platforms' decisions reflect a progressive agenda.

    That contradiction is at the heart of two cases that the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear, which involve constitutional challenges to state laws that aim to correct the bias that Republicans perceive. Although supporters of those laws claim they are defending freedom of speech, that argument hinges on a dangerous conflation of state and private action.

    Seems like a slam-dunk to me.

  • Good idea, Nikki. Well it was only a few days ago that I tut-tutted about Nikki Haley's advocacy of repealing the Federal tax on gasoline and diesel. I linked to an an article at AEI: The Gas Tax Should Not Be Eliminated.

    Well, maybe I was wrong. Because, at Cato, Adam N. Michel and Chris Edwards write that Nikki Haley Is Right: Repeal the Federal Gas Tax.

    Federal gas tax revenues go into the Highway Trust Fund and then are dished out to the states to use on highway and transit projects. However, since 98 percent of the nation’s streets and highways are owned by state and local governments, it would be simpler and more efficient if those governments were responsible for the funding. Having the federal government raise the funds and then return the funds to the states with regulations attached is unnecessarily bureaucratic.

    States have the best information to determine their local infrastructure needs. States that want to improve their highways can increase their own state‐​level gas taxes, sales taxes, or user charges. Or they can issue debt or pursue full or partial privatization. The states have all the necessary fiscal tools to tackle their own infrastructure challenges.

    I have to admit this makes a lot of sense. The round trip our tax money takes from our wallets to Washington, D.C., and then back to our localities (with plenty of strings attached and bureaucrats employed on its way) is something I've deplored in other areas.

    As if you need me to tell you: read both AEI and Cato and make up your own mind.