Tag Archives: Economics

No More Bushels

Sarah Hoyt discourses on  on the politics of SF writers, and outs herself along the way (heh, like we didn’t already know someone who won the Prometheus Award and writes for Instapundit and Pajamas Media was not a leftie):

And so, whatever it costs my career, it’s time to come out.  I think it’s time for all of you to come out too, wherever you are, though honestly, I wouldn’t presume to judge your circumstances better than you.  Like my gay friends who never judge someone who chooses to continue closeted, I don’t presume to know what’s best for you.

However, everyone sending me “kind” missives on how they’re going to never read me again, because they always suspected I’m racist/sexist/homophobic but now that I’ve said it I’m despicable, and I’ve hurt them, can stop.  What you’re experiencing is neither hurt nor my despicableness.  It’s the cognitive dissonance of KNOWING I’m neither racist/sexist/homophobic nor – amazingly – a Marxist.  You can’t reconcile those two, and so you want me to make it go away and shut up.  That’s understandable, but no.  As a country we have (economically) come to the end of cake and as a person I have come to the end of patience with those who would enslave others and ruin the last, best thing on Earth to make themselves feel good.

If that means I lose readers, so be it.  And you can’t cow me into shutting up by telling me I’m losing readers – guys, we’ve gone well beyond that point.  When a mad woman is running around soaking the bridges with gasoline before setting them on fire, she’s just going to laugh at you when you tell her she’ll now have to swim across.  She knows.  She thinks it’s more important to keep the armies of ruin, starvation and statism from marching  in and despoiling her home.

And this is me laughing at you.  And your pious little missives (only one of you, btw, is a recognized reader/fan) only make me angrier, and you won’t like me when I’m angry.  Chiding me on not understanding the current trend won’t save you either – I’ve seen this before.  THESE EXACT POLICIES.

Hate mail? I’d love some hate mail! But then, I don’t think that anyone could ever seriously claim to be butthurt when confronted with our political leanings – we’ve never had to make a secret of them and have always billed In the Shadow of Ares as being pro-liberty and pro-capitalism. This latter point may have contributed to our troubles trying to find an agent in 2008-2009, since despite noticing the misanthropic, anti-West, anti-capitalism, eco-mystic, dismal, and intolerant Progressive contamination of science fiction we were unaware at that time that this phenomenon had its roots in the genre’s publishing gatekeepers.

Larry Correia rants on a similar theme.

Those Suicidal Pilgrims

Fox News recently ran a piece on plans by Mars One to launch one-way missions to Mars, with the first arrival in 2023:  Mars One Plans Suicide Mission to Red Planet for 2023.

The idea is that the astronauts are emigres, and not just visitors.  This removes the need for return spacecraft and the associated fuel, tremendously reducing the cost and complexity of the missions.  It also eases the concern that the early Mars missions, like Apollo, might eventually lose support and result in another dead end. 

Hyperbolic headlines aside, I agree with Brian Enke that “extended stay mission” is a more appropriate name.  The early settlers in North America arguably faced tougher physical and psychological hurdles, yet I doubt many would refer to their journey as a suicide mission.

A major theme of In the Shadow of Ares is the role of private enterprise in Martian development and settlement, though we initially expected government-led missions to open the frontier before “getting out of the way”.  Mars One proposes to conduct their missions completely independently, though it remains to be seen if they can obtain the required funding, estimated at $6 billion for the first mission.  I, for one, would love to see them pull it off.

I look forward to learning more, though an initial perusal led me to a few concerns, not least of which is Mars One’s stated intent to rely entirely on solar power on the Martian surface.  I believe their concerns regarding nuclear power are severely overstated, and smack of politics trumping science.  Readers of In the Shadow of Ares may recall politically-motivated power choices having deadly consequences for a group of settlers at Tharsis Station.

A New Era?

Friday’s ISS docking of the SpaceX Dragon capsule received a good bit of media attention, but likely not anything near what it deserved.  Much of the public was at least peripherally aware that a private spacecraft (albeit heavily subsidized by NASA) had successfully launched and docked with the orbiting outpost, but aside from the delivery of needed supplies, most could probably not articulate the true significance of the mission. 

Besides reducing our reliance on Russia for access to space, this mission hopefully represents the genesis of a vibrant space-based economy dominated by private enterprise. 

And in my lifetime no less.

 If that vision comes to pass, May 25, 2012 could become nearly as significant as  July 20, 1969.  Or not.  Will the fledgling industry be crippled by excessive regulation?  Will shortsighted policy decisions gut the exploration programs that are arguably a proper role for public-sector programs?

Combined with last month’s announcement by Planetary Resources, I’m hopeful.  This despite the recent, foolish decision by the Obama Administration to abandon future robotic Mars missions.

The End of the Future?

Abandon in Place (detail)
Pay Pal co-founder and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel, whom I previously discussed in this post, asks some important questions in the cover piece “Swift Blind Horsemen” in the October 3 edition of National Review.  Specifically, is the rate of progress slowing, what are the consequences, and what can be done about it?

[T]here is no law that the exceptional rise of the West must continue.  So we could do worse than to inquire into the widely held opinion that America is on the wrong track…to wonder whether Progress is not doing as well as advertised, and perhaps to take exceptional measures to arrest and reverse any decline.

He goes on to make a strong case that progress has slowed, but why does that matter?

The technology slowdown threatens not just our financial markets, but the entire modern political order, which is predicated on easy and relentless growth.  The give-and-take of Western democracies depends on the idea that we can craft political solutions that enable most people to win most of the time.  But in a world without growth, we can expect a loser for every winner.

He wraps it up with musings on what can be done, including the ability of government to jump start innovation, as has been done in the past.  Of course, that’s what we hope to inspire through In the Shadow of Ares, and the forthcoming sequels, and it seems it is needed now more than ever:

Science fiction has collapsed as a literary genre.  Men reached the moon in July 1969, and Woodstock began three weeks later.  With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this was when the hippies took over the country, and when the true cultural war over Progress was lost.

Mr. Thiel proposes that the Progressive Left is incapable of recognizing that things are getting worse.  Personally, I think it’s more serious than that, in that many in that grouping would openly celebrate a tech slowdown as a good thing.

The End, or a New Beginning?

NASA has posted the following image of the return of the Space Shuttle Atlantis to Earth earlier this week:

Taken from the International Space Station, it’s a unique view of the craft’s fiery re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.  Soon thereafter, Texas Governor (and likely presidential candidate) Rick Perry issued a strong statement that included the following:

Unfortunately, with the final landing of the Shuttle Atlantis and no indication of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation’s legacy of leadership in human spaceflight and exploration, leaving American astronauts with no alternative but to hitchhike into space.

Though it’s not just the Obama Administration.  There has been a lack of leadership in space policy since the end of the Apollo era.  The next few years will reveal the success (or failure) of efforts to shift the emphasis to the private sector.  While I do see the merits of such a move, I don’t foresee the economic incentives necessary for the private sector to reach Mars in my lifetime.  That’s profoundly disappointing.

On the other hand, I don’t trust NASA to manage such an effort within the austere limits the US Government will have to abide by for the foreseeable future.  So is there an alternative?  How about financial incentives for (American) private companies to meet milestones that get us progressively closer to the red planet?  Think a scaled-up version of the Ansari X Prize.  It’s not a new idea, but maybe one whose time has come.  Lots of private money going to work, with much lower risk and cost to the taxpayer.  What’s not to like?

A Look Back at Themes

I was dusting off some files from the early development of In the Shadow of Ares, and in a way it was like flipping through baby pictures.  Included was a summary of themes we were aiming to include in the book, classified as “General” and “Exploration”, and I think we achieved our goals:

General:

  • Positive future
  • Technology is good
  • Capitalism is good
  • Realism
  • Reason wins
  • We need a frontier

Exploration:

  • Exploration is not without risk
  • Simpler is better
  • Live off the land
  • Exploration and settlement go together
  • Settlement and the role of property rights

We’ve been asked if the sequels will share the “pioneer” theme of the first book, which I suppose is included in the above.  The sequel picks up two years later, and will include more cosmopolitan settings than the first book, but it’ll still be a new, untamed world.  Several of the other familiar themes will be present (though perhaps de-emphasized because they are less critical to the story), plus a few yet-to-be-revealed.

McDonald’s on Mars

One theme running through In the Shadow of Ares is the economics of early human settlements on Mars, and one way in which we explore this theme is through the contrast between the entrepreneurial independent settlements and those subject to the meddling of the Mars Development Authority.

Readers of MarsBlog may find familiar the following passage, which sets up the first major illustration of this theme and is based on a blog post from almost exactly five years ago:

Aaron halted the rover near the base of the huge sculpture.

“Why are we stopping?” Lindsay asked.

He leaned forward, looking at the nearly complete monument rising before them.  “Look.  Can you see it?”  From this angle the third arch was hidden behind the central axis, so that the Gate appeared to be only a pair of arches.

“See what?”  Amber asked.  She and her mother both craned their necks, trying to see what it was that Aaron was seeing, besides the obvious.

Aaron traced an “M” across the rover’s window with his index finger.  “McGate,” he grinned.

Lindsay chuckled.  “Ha…you’re right!”

“Mick what?” Amber asked.  She had heard the project referred to as “Gate-gate”, by critics of the MDA’s waste of funds and materials.  The controversy had been surprisingly short-lived in the Martian media, with Quipu and the smaller news aggregators alike quickly losing interest in it and not following up on the occasional revelations of mismanagement and overspending.  The rumor among the independents was that MDA pressure squelched the reporting of any controversy.  It was easy to believe such a rumor — the Gate was, after all, Administrator Poissant’s pet project.

“McGate,” he repeated.  “You know, like McDonalds.”

“The Earth restaurant?  Are we getting one?”

“No, no, no,” he shook his head.  “But isn’t it ironic that the new ‘signature’ of Port Lowell should look so much like an ‘evil corporate logo’?”

“Evil?” Lindsay frowned.  “McDonalds isn’t evil.”

“No, of course not,” Aaron laughed.  “It’s just that the MDA resents successful private enterprise.  Look at the independent settlements — the better they do, the less power the MDA has over them.  A Martian McDonalds would be MDA’s worst nightmare:  it would mean Mars had reached a high level of economic development.  Private development, exactly the kind they don’t like.”

“What do you mean?” Amber asked, confused.

“Well, shipping all the ingredients in from Earth would be prohibitively expensive, so they would have to be produced right here.”

“So?  How hard can it be to make a hamburger?  I mean, aside from the fact we don’t have cattle on Mars.”

“Yet…” Lindsay amended.

“Yet.  Well, it’s not just about burgers.  The meat, cheese, pickles, onions, buns, and other things have to come from somewhere.  That means a whole range of other complex economic activities.  Things like meat synthesis facilities that go way beyond what we have on Mars today, bakeries for the buns, and plants making soft-drink concentrate and condiments.  Not to mention all the necessary transportation and construction elements, or a manufacturing industry able to produce the specialized machinery needed to turn all the raw materials into the final product and deliver them to customers — freezers, refrigerators, fry vats, grills, microwave ovens, cooker ‘bots, soft-drink dispensers, and more.”

“And don’t forget customers,” Lindsay added.  “You need enough customers to keep the restaurant profitable.”

“Certainly.  They’d also need unskilled and surly teenagers to staff the counter.”  He winked at Amber.  “And all these industrial capabilities — machine fabrication, transportation, specialty materials — would support many other industries, besides food production.  All of that together implies economic self-sufficiency.”

“Which means the MDA is no longer needed,” Amber said.  “We could petition for full sovereignty.”

“Exactly.”