Knowing Humans

Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

Loading Table of Contents...

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Libertarian Answer to Global Warming

Remember Cowen’s Second Law: There is a literature on everything. In this case, the man who wrote the book on environmental libertarianism is a member of our local Santa Clara County LP: Dr. Fred Foldvary, economist at San Jose State University. His article on the Green Tax Shift is still the best single public policy essay I've ever read.

That and many other articles on green libertarianism (a.k.a. ecolibertarianism a.k.a. geolibertarianism) are at

I'll only add a couple points about short-term tactics and long-term perspective:

Short-term: environmentalism is an irresistible force in our modern culture -- similar to increasing social tolerance, or the weakening of religion. Libertarianism benefits from the latter two, but opposes environmentalism at its mortal peril. Luckily, economic analysis demonstrates that the best environmental policy is to use pricing -- - music to libertarian ears! So libertarians need to learn the tune, or else become a bug on the windshield.

Long-term: Warming from anthropogenic greenhouse gases is real, but the risks are overblown. Since the Cambrian explosion, life on Earth has handily endured periods much warmer than now and much cooler than now. Even in its brief tenure, H. sapiens has endured much bigger differences in temperature and sea level than what we now face. Heck, it's probably worth a few feet of sea-level rise to defrost the wastelands of Siberia and Canada.

The only greenhouse problem we can't engineer our way out of is species loss. Global warming may very well be causing an extinction spike that dwarfs the Columbian Exchange and rivals the Quaternary extinction (overkill by human hunters migrating to new continents). Handling species loss is a poorly-developed area of libertarian ethics and policy. But when the species loss is primarily due to greenhouse-gas emissions, the answer is clear: add a pollution cost to the price of polluting products/transactions. (This doesn't require world government, any more than worldwide low tariffs after WWII have required world government.)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why Age Of Em Will Not Happen

You cannot resume a human mind from static imagery of a brain, any more than you can resume the apps running on your smartphone from static imagery of your phone's circuitry.

The FBI confronted this reality when trying to crack the San Bernardino shooters' iPhone.

The 2008 Whole Brain Emulation Roadmap seems to completely miss this point, except perhaps in its handwaving appendix on "non-destructive and gradual replacement". Those fantasies will eventually be realized, and only then will minds be able to be hibernated (and thus cheaply and quickly copied.)

So the Age of Em is extremely unlikely to happen in the manner and timeframe that the brilliant Robin Hanson expects.

There is in principle a way around this hibernation problem. You just have to emulate the entire development of a brain, and then feed it a suitable lifetime of input to train it into a desired state. This approach is computationally more expensive, and would require lots of slow (and morally objectionable!) iterations. Or you could try to bypass the iterations by instrumenting various (by definition unwilling) human subjects and log a few decades of their sensory inputs.  Thus you'd only be able to emulate the, um, victims of your experiments, rather than emulating arbitrary cognitive superstars.  Still, you'd be able to cheaply and quickly make copies of them, and an Age Of Emulated Boys From Brazil would then be possible.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More California Water Prescriptions

Water, Water, Everywhere - Laffer and Winegarden, Pacific Research Institute (2012)
  • Higher priced water really would discourage waste and entice additional supplies such as desalinization. Price changes keeping demand and supply in balance are the essence of markets. California’s problem is one of government interference not inherent water shortages. State and local governments have prohibited markets from doing what they do well—allocating scarce goods. 
  • Charge all farmers, government agencies, and other water users the same price for water, no exceptions.
  • The price of water should be raised such that the average price charged is initially set at five times the current average price.
  • Grant all existing water users a credit on 70 percent of the amount of water they used last year. Above that point they would pay the new market price for all water in excess of 70 percent of last year’s usage. If usage were less than 70 percent of last year’s usage, then a credit would be given for their conservation at the new market price.
  • Each year the credit will be reduced by 10 percentage points until it disappears in seven years.
  •  Government should under no circumstances deprive the natural environment of its water set-asides. Our forests, bays, rivers, and marshes already share the burden of drought with us and can ill-afford any additional deprivation by reducing water set-asides.
Updated policy prescription - Zeitland, Aguanomics (2014)
  • Price retail water service so fixed revenues cover fixed costs (e.g., pipes and plants) and variable revenues cover variable costs (e.g., making desalinated water or pumping water). Add an additional surcharge when water is scarce (i.e., to reflect the of of using water now that you may want later). That surcharge can be rebated to customers (by meter, not according to use) if the utility has no deficits.
  • Use markets to allocate irrigation water among farmers who cannot take more than sustainable volumes from surface or ground water
In 2009, Zeitland quoted UPI reporter Lloyd Carter:
There are half a million acres of selenium-tainted salty land in the western San Joaquin Valley which require drainage in order to stay in production. Those lands have been without an economical, safe disposal method for vast volumes of drainage water for half a century. Some toxic drainage water, tainted with toxic levels of selenium, continues to be funneled untreated into the Lower San Joaquin River and the Bay/Delta estuary.

Those half million acres of alkali, saltly marginal farmlands use an average of 1.5 million acre-feet of water a year, which would meet the domestic needs of 15 million more Californians. Continued irrigation of those poisoned lands by massive amounts of water pumped from the Delta is also contributing to the ecological decline of the Delta. Until the drainage problem is resolved, or those poisoned lands taken out of production, the major problems of water in California will remain unresolved.
Norcal Wants Its Water Back - Zeitland, Aguanomics (2008)

Self-Evident Water Truths - Rep. McClintock (2013)

Self-Evident Water Delusions - Zeitland, Aguanomics (2013)

Reforming Water Markets - Edwards & Hill, Cato (2012)

Aquanomics - Gardner & Simmons, Independent Institute (2012)
  • establishing secure and transferable private water rights and extending these rights to uses that traditionally have not been allowed, including altering in-stream flows and ecosystem operations