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May 18th, 2012 by Edward Miller

Dry Ice
Dry Ice
Global Warming is a pesky problem. Like fiscal austerity measures, people say that we need to tighten our buckles and pay various taxes. I choose door 3.

I’ve often thought that the silly thing about commodity-based money is that you have to hoard it away in vaults, and it sits there doing nothing. What could be more pointless? Well, there is something we would like to sit in vaults: CO2.

That’s right, I’m proposing we use CO2 as money. Within a year, I guarantee there’d be a huge gold rush to suck that stuff right out of the sky.

How would we trade with people? Simple… dry ice. Dry ice is just the solid form of CO2. Now, I know what you’re thinking: dry ice burns your skin. But don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine. Put a little casing around it, and – presto – you’ve got coins, baby!

Now you’re thinking, but doesn’t dry ice evaporate? Why yes, yes it does. But that is good! We need some to stay in the air or the plants won’t be able to breathe. But now you’re thinking that means the money loses value over time. Maybe so, but that just means it has some built-in demurrage, so that is actually a strength!

Or you could wimp out and store it in canisters, and then put it in the Carbon Bank and then receive your CO2 certificates. You know, carbon credits. It’s the “Trade” without the “Cap.”

What could possibly go wrong? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Hopefully this can be implemented by Monday.

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December 20th, 2011 by Edward Miller

Rainforest | Igor Mazic
Rainforest | Igor Mazic
Markets are about efficiency, right? It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, even from an economic perspective, why there is so much sprawl or why people are destroying remote habitats instead of sustainably cultivating habitats closer to them. That is, until you understand how power functions given our entrenched system of land tenure.

Did you know that the greatest danger to the rainforests is not always agriculture or industry, but homesteading? The reason is that the South Americans have been so impoverished by their feudalistic land system that they’ve retreated to the forest.

What happens is that the latifundistas buy up huge swaths of land and the rents in the whole region rise, and there is nowhere left for normal folks to live a dignified existence. The rainforest becomes the new margin of production. It is free, and you can work the land without paying rent, and feed yourself and your family. Huge numbers of people have been driven to this.

The answer is not to simply punish those poor folks and shut them off from what is currently their best means of survival. The answer is to light a fire under those who are hoarding land unproductively, and open up real alternatives on land of better quality. Land that is closer to civilization, where they could find better jobs, and sell their goods to a broader market… if only they had access. Remember, free markets require free land because the market is land. The market is a place; hence why it is called the marketplace.

If we recaptured the full rental value of the land, it would have no selling price since there would be no capacity for speculation. Anyone who wanted to use land productively could do so. Growth would occur, but it would be of the most efficient sort, since people would naturally seek out the most productive locations. The vast majority of land value is in urban regions, since those are the most desirable locations.

Luckily, high population density allows for vastly more efficient use of energy and resources. Transportation and infrastructure costs are diminished since they can be spread between millions of people. Even heating and air conditioning use per person can be reduced to a small fraction among those who live in high-rises. What we think of as sprawl is by no means inevitable with urbanization. With value capture we can develop dense and efficient cities that live at harmony with nature, and not disturb surrounding ecosystems.

Value Capture would need to be combined with Pigovian “Taxes” to fully internalize all true negative externalities, and if that were the case then I see no reason to believe that remote wilderness would be negatively affected. Indeed, if the full rental value of the sites were recaptured, there would not be any speculative profit to be had, and it is conceivable that such land could be relinquished from private ownership.

If the rental price of prime urban locations is reduced to the same price as remote locations, there is no longer any reason to wish to escape high urban rents. The sprawl problem is solved. Of course, wilderness areas closer to cities would still need to be protected in the same way that forest preserves are now.

There are many ecologically-minded folks who talk about such things, such as Peter Smith, the Renegade Ecologist.

Indeed, some of the original leading figures of the environmental movement were believers in the idea, including Bolton Hall and Ralph Borsodi. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, was apparently not usually interested in economics and therefore was never really a “georgist,” but he was profoundly influenced by a young Henry George.

As with virtually any revenue structure, Value Capture could exist under many sorts of ownership arrangements. If there are public lands, they are, by definition, exempt from taxation and any development which occurs there is purely at the discretion of the government. Private wilderness preserves could conceivably be exempted from taxation, but one must be extremely careful with that. Such forest preserves should only be exempted if the land is to be protected in perpetuity, not just coincidentally when a land speculator wishes to hold it out of use.

These issues are directly relevant to both the misery of millions of people who have been forced to eek out an existence and the immense ecological destruction that occurs daily. Properly considered, the issues are one and the same! There is no need for the goals of the poor and the goals of environmentalists to be at odds. Malthus has been haunting us long enough. We should be working together, and through Value Capture there is a way.

When you think about it, it isn’t so shocking that justice over the natural world would be agreeable to both humans and our biological cousins.

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October 25th, 2011 by Edward Miller

As anyone familiar with classical political economy knows, true property rights are rooted in self-ownership. You own yourself, and by extension you own what you make through labor or voluntary transactions thereof. Land, however, is not a fruit of labor.

One might reasonably suppose that land, being unlike other things that are called property, would have special economic characteristics. Classical economists recognized this to be the case, and spoke at length about the implications of it. Modern economists forgot this truth, and insist on lumping everything together under the solitary label of “property,” which serves to obscure these implications. They simply bicker about how best to achieve equilibrium and Pareto efficiency, given “value-free” analysis of the system that exists. Some might call that dispassionate analysis; others might call that bean-counting for elites.

Unlike the priesthood of the status quo, who have internalized its values under the false pretense of cold rationality, I am interested in making moral judgments about the system we live under.

We can eliminate taxes and debt, poverty and special privilege. Contrary to the dour pronouncements from the curators of the dismal science, we can have it all.

The Basic Properties of Land

In terms of political economy, “land” refers to access rights over everything that was here before us humans. When you buy land, what you are really buying is a bundle of rights, be they air rights, mineral rights, drilling rights, surface rights, spectrum rights, right of way, you name it. Such rights are necessary for all production, and even life itself.

Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers.


– Herbert Spencer, Social Statics

That is a simple illustration of the absurdity of the current system, when taken to its logical conclusion. Indeed, we aren’t far from that.

When land is made into a commodity, the progress of society, be it in terms of productivity, philanthropy, or the rule of law, tends to be encapsulated in land values.

…every improvement in the circumstances of the society tends either directly or indirectly to raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the landlord, his power of purchasing the labour, or the produce of the labour of other people.


– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

So the community as a whole is what generates all this value, and yet the windfall gains accrue only to the holders of these access rights. In fact, under feudalism land titles were the root of noble privilege, and although we have left behind the aesthetic trappings of feudalism, we have yet to be rid of the core component.

That means in practice the payments which can be demanded for these access rights are not like other sorts of payments.

Moreover, wages and interest, when there is no rent, are regulated strictly by free competition; but rent is a monopoly-charge, and hence is always “all the traffic will bear.”


– Albert Jay Nock, Henry George: Unorthodox American

Essentially, when private individuals get to levy a charge on others for the mere privilege of existing on the planet, this creates an endemic state of poverty for large masses of people. Just as land titles are the essence of noble privilege, so is landlessness the essence of serfdom.

It is through this logic that David Ricardo debunked Thomas Malthus’s “Iron Law of Wages.” He developed his own “Law of Rent” to show that when the produce obtainable on the best available rent-free land (the margin of production) is high, wages will also be high since everyone’s next best alternative to wage labor is improved.

When Malthus and Ricardo were debating, the Old World was all built up and many people were living in Dickensian squalor. Yet, the New World of America had lots of free land, and it witnessed growth rates comparable to those of China today. Unemployment wasn’t even part of the vocabulary. True, many homesteaders did not have an easy life, but everyone who was willing and able to work could simply go work. Why is that no longer possible?

Why Have Titles?

If we all have a right to access the Earth, then a reasonable question might be to ask, “Why do we have land titles at all?”

One proposal, called Occupancy and Use, advocates that people only be able to claim possession of that which they are currently using. This, in theory, could enable everyone to have some access rights over the Earth. Not equal rights. Some would be able to claim the best land, while everyone else is relegated to worse land. Yet, even if this were acceptable, problems abound.

“The mere abolition of rent would not remove injustice, since it would confer a capricious advantage upon the occupiers of the best sites and the most fertile land.”


– Bertrand Russell, Why Men Fight

Usually this view is coupled with the idea that renting out land is immoral. The problem, however, is that there is no effective way to know whether someone is renting land or not without a very intrusive government. And even if that were acceptable, the entire concept is arbitrary. There is no objective standard by which to judge when a parcel has been abandoned. There is no objective standard by which to tell how much land someone is using, or how big a yard should be. How would joint enterprises work? It becomes dreadfully confusing to imagine how anyone would feel comfortable starting a business under conditions where land can just be considered unused for arbitrary reasons.

The reason land titles are appropriate is that exclusive land titles provide stable and well-defined rights by which individuals and organizations can plan around. They do not have to wonder whether it is legal to build in a certain spot.

The logic of well-defined rights, however, does not trump all other considerations.

“The land is the original inheritance of mankind. The usual, and by far the best argument for its appropriation by individuals is that private ownership gives the strongest motive for making the soil yield the greatest possible produce. But this argument is only valid for leaving to the owner the full enjoyment of whatever value he adds to the land by his own exertions and expenditure.”


– John Stuart Mill

Locke tried to compensate for this shortcoming of land titles by suggesting what became known as the Lockean Proviso. He claimed that appropriation of land could only occur “…at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” The problem, however, is that it is an impossible standard.

There is no objective basis upon which one could claim how much is enough or whether one parcel is as good as another. It also glosses over the fact that virtually all land currently under private ownership can be traced back to conquest. Even if such conquest had never happened, presumably, under this policy, early homesteaders could claim large swaths of land, and latecomers might be left with little, and these heritable land titles would quickly create a system like that described by Herbert Spencer, where many would find themselves without any rights at all to land.

The Remedy


The commodification of land itself is not the issue. Indeed, it makes great sense to have a well-defined system of access rights. The issue is who gets the benefits of the access rights. Anything less than an equal share is a violation of the Law of Equal Liberty, for any exclusive claim over natural opportunities necessarily reduces the opportunities available for everyone else. There is only one way to ensure equality of opportunity: for the community to recapture the value of land.

It is for these reasons that virtually all the notable classical liberal political economists supported the idea of the community recapturing the land values, using the discourse of taxation.

A tax upon ground-rents would not raise the rents of houses. It would fall altogether upon the owner of the ground-rent, who acts always as a monopolist, and exacts the greatest rent which can be got for the use of his ground.


– Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

A tax on rent would affect rent only; it would fall wholly on landlords, and could not be shifted to any class of consumers. The landlord could not raise his rent, because he would leave unaltered the difference between the produce obtained from the least productive land in cultivation, and that obtained from land of every quality.


– David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation

When you impose costs on man-made objects, you see a reduction in supply. The supply of land, on the other hand, is fixed.

Income taxes discourage production, sales taxes discourage consumption (which drives production), tariffs discourage trade (which is really a form of production), but value capture only discourages the unproductive holding of land.

Instead of hampering production, it would boost it. Think of every vacant lot or surface level parking lot in a city, every abandoned building, every single-story fast food franchise amidst skyscrapers. Those are all examples of the waste and underdevelopment of the current system. These things occur simply because it is cheaper to sit on the land and hope others put in the work necessary to make it valuable, compared to the expense of undertaking a risky entrepreneurial venture.

Taxes? What Taxes? We Don’t Need No Stinking Taxes!

Landholding ought not be seen as a no-strings-attached sovereignty. A true libertarian position recognizes that landholding comes with obligations: obligations to internalize negative externalities, and obligations to respect the Law of Equal Liberty. Sure both of those things may be difficult to do, and may not be accomplished perfectly, yet we must try to achieve them one way or another.

My goal is not to say exactly how the land value should be recaptured. Whether this is done by a municipality, a nation-state, or a Charter City is not the topic of this paper. I only aim to spread a general recognition that it is an essential prerequisite for a just and sustainable socioeconomic order.

Value Capture is most commonly advocated as “Land Value Taxation.” However, it is a tax only in the sense that Pigovian “Taxes” are. It is not a tax on production, and thus there is nothing objectionable about it from the perspective of classical liberalism. Indeed, I’d argue that without it, classical liberalism is a cruel joke. Value capture is simply a reconceptualization of who owns the value of the access rights over the Earth.

Rent is not a tax. It is payment for the use of a location, determined by the higgling and haggling of the market, and it makes no difference to the land user whether he pays rent to the city fathers or to a private owner.


– Frank Chodorov, Out of Step

Under the current system, rent is like an extractive force upon laborers and capitalists, and that can only be fixed by preventing the private appropriation of land rent. I care not whether the person pocketing the rent is an ideal Lockean homesteader or Donald Trump, it is unjust either way, just as it would be unjust for either of them to unaccountably create negative externalities.

Given that the value of the Earth belongs to us all, justice demands that the land value must be recaptured to the fullest extent possible, not simply as a means for funding essential services. If the government is limited enough and well-managed enough to not require all of the land rent, it should still recapture all of it and distribute the surplus as a flat Citizen’s Dividend, since that value truly does belong equally to all. This dividend would not only be essential for justice, but would provide a strong incentive for all parties to keep public services lean and efficient.

That which makes public services more efficient would be of direct interest to citizens. That which makes land values higher, would be of direct interest to bureaucrats, which means their incentive would be to create value for the community, rather than to take from productive activity. The incentives between individuals and their community are aligned.

Steady Growth.

The ideal of steady growth is completely feasible. Monetary policy is not the root cause of the business cycle. Borrowing fuels speculation, but it isn’t the ability to borrow which creates the business cycle. That merely amplifies it. You have to ask why they are borrowing. If the borrowing were for normal productive purposes, the borrowing wouldn’t be inflationary.

No, the root cause of the cycles isn’t borrowing, it’s when we leave for the taking a giant pile of community-generated wealth. We shouldn’t find it unusual that people should want to pocket unearned wealth. Or even that they should want to undertake bouts of debt-fueled speculation. “Safe” unearned income sure beats working. Who wouldn’t want that? It is the system which is corrupt.

Land shouldn’t be seen as this “safe” investment, which grows over time with the progress of civilization. No other asset works like that. It ought not even be seen as an investment; if anything, it should be seen as a liability. That we have obligations when we take on the duty of landholding might come as a shock to some, but it is the only position consistent with liberty, and key to our success.

Though it isn’t calculated in official statistics like the CPI, rent is what drives much of the increase in living expenses, and why the working classes often never see a piece of their increased productivity during booms. What good is it that the GDP has risen if the general level of wages do not rise as well? That is not the sort of steady growth I’m interested in.

Unemployment during busts is a result of the market correcting for the inflated cost of production resulting from land speculation and other rent-taking. Remember, land is necessary for all production, and life itself. I don’t care if your business is all Internet-based, you and your employees still require access rights to the Earth, as do all the producers of the capital goods you consume. Conversely, if people have access to land, there can be no unemployment.

Really Smart Growth

Another cruel joke of the current system is the notion of Smart Growth. We cannot possibly curb sprawl as long as land speculation occurs. Let’s say a really nice community is developing. Businesses are sprouting up. This increases the land values. Before you know it, the land values exceed the ability for many people to pay. Even though the transportation infrastructure isn’t anywhere near capacity, and density living is far more ecologically efficient, people begin to go elsewhere in search of a place to live. It is simply too expensive in town.

They buy up land outside of town. Yet, before you know it, the new settlement is getting built up, the community is generating lots of value, and they begin construction on new infrastructure, and again before you know it the land values exceed the ability for people to pay. How could anyone believe that people would make different decisions simply because a few do-gooders built pedestrian friendly development? It is absurd to believe this process of sprawl can be halted through zoning, light rail projects, philanthropy, or any sort of central planning. It can only be halted through systemic change.

Land is artificially scarce under the current system of land tenure. We’ve already discussed the issue of vacant lots, abandoned buildings, and underdevelopment. Those are just the most visible signs. What about the things we don’t see?

For instance, think about our industrialized agriculture system. It is probably the most land-intensive production there is. Wasteful production practices are essentially subsidized by this system. Why aren’t we moving towards more high-tech and efficient forms of production? You may have heard about the concept of vertical farming. People often ask why it isn’t common practice, and the answer given is that it is “not economically viable.” A primary reason why it isn’t viable is that holding lots of land is under our system is very cheap, and even profitable.

This insanity isn’t just contained domestically either. All the waste of the current system creates this compulsion to expand abroad, to continue fueling the land speculation Ponzi schemes. This creates international resource conflicts, and may even trigger war. It is no wonder that the Old World, where all the land was parceled out and the Commons long-enclosed, became the aggressors in the Scramble for Africa. Of course, eventually they gobbled up all of Africa, and finally turned inward on themselves in the form of the First World War.

What does this mean in practical terms?

You don’t have to be a political economist to see the common sense truth of the matter. Some people just care about practical or personal concerns, and value capture is just as relevant from this perspective. Through it we can replace income taxation with a straightforward, efficient, and non-invasive revenue source.

It doesn’t require teams of IRS auditors to snoop into every transaction you’ve ever made. You can’t hide your land in a Costa Rican bank account. The current “property tax” system in the United States isn’t even that different from a methodological perspective; it would only need to change in two ways. It would need to stop including improvements as part of the taxable value of real estate, and it must raise the rates up to near the full annual rental value of the location.

The one thing basically all economists agree on is that “incentives matter.” The shift in incentives under value capture would cause dramatic and positive changes in the relationship between citizens and their community.

Well, then, since natural, resource values are purely social in their origin, created by the community, should not rent go to the community rather than to the Individual? Why tax industry and enterprise at all–why not just charge rent


– Albert Jay Nock, Henry George: Unorthodox American

Our current system has very perverse incentives. Want to go build a restaurant? Pay up. Want to buy up a prime location and hold it out of production? We’ve done everything in our power to make sure you get to keep the full value of your precious title. Want to build a community center to help the poor? Congratulations, you’ve just raised the rents for all the landless people in the area, and may have just “helped” them right out of a home.

As a landless person you have essentially no stake in your community. I walked through a poor neighborhood once and was shocked to find a big pile of garbage sitting out in the open in a vacant lot. I then saw one of the local residents walk by and chuck yet more garbage into it. I was puzzled by why anyone would do such a thing, but it makes perfect sense now. Even caring for the cleanliness of one’s community is of little benefit to the landless. Cleanliness raises rents, and littering lowers them.

You can see the same thing with the contentious issue of gentrification. Have you ever wondered why gentrification is so despised? Why should people hate that their community is improving? They should be rejoicing! Right?

Well, they would be under any sensible economic arrangement, but now it merely causes displacement and hardship. Wouldn’t it be great if improving the community actually… you know… improved the community. What a thought!

Inequality

I do not claim that George’s remedy is a panacea that will cure by itself all our ailments. But I do claim that we cannot get rid of our basic troubles without it.”


– John Dewey, Steps to Economic Recovery

Given the fundamental nature of land, and access rights over it, unless the land question is taken into account, one of the primary consequences of any otherwise-positive economic reform, including the repeal of other special privileges, will be an increase in rent to landlords.

What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth and power.


– Henry George, Progress and Poverty

Inequality is dangerous to liberty, and can enable vicious feedback loops of rent-seeking, which sets the stage for corporatism on one hand and state socialist counter-reactions on the other. Vast fortunes should not be worshipped by those who love liberty. They should be looked at skeptically, and seen as a red flag that something is amiss. Most great fortunes are not the result of voluntary interactions in the market, but by direct or indirect state intervention on behalf of the powerful. The mother of all those privileges is land speculation.

It’s time we heed the actual words of the classical liberals, so that we may create a system that works for everyone. No more compromises between prosperity and equality, freedom and justice. We can have it all.

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March 23rd, 2009 by Edward Miller

Nobody is a bigger supporter of energy efficiency than I am. Yet, it is urgent we understand that it is not a solution to our climate crisis.

What is the efficiency paradox?

The proposition was first put forward by William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question. In it, Jevons observed that England’s consumption of coal soared after James Watt introduced his coal-fired steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen’s earlier design. Source: Wikipedia

Why is it that coal consumption soared after the efficiency improved? From an economic perspective, this should be perfectly obvious: as the efficiency of the coal engine increases, it becomes a cheaper option and is thus used at an increased rate.

Europe at Night | Planetary Visions Ltd
Europe at Night | Planetary Visions Ltd
The same is true with gasoline engines. The more efficient they become, the more likely it is that people will continue to use them. Even if the entire developed world spent tons of money to convert to electric cars and alternative energy, this would only make gasoline an even more viable option for countries which are still developing.

This summer, Tata Motors is releasing a $2,000 car in India called the Nano. It has taken a century for internal combustion automobiles to mature to a point where they can be produced at such low cost. The internal combustion engine is unhindered by patents and has been mass produced for almost 100 years. New electric engines are unlikely to hit that price point in the foreseeable future, and thus the fastest growing parts of the world are highly unlikely to choose them in an unregulated marketplace.

Energy efficiency will also decrease the price gap between the raising of livestock and the growing of plants. Considering the worst contributor of greenhouse gases is actually the livestock industry, this does not bode well for our planet.

Granted, in certain markets people’s habits do not greatly change as a result of efficiency gains. Hybrid car owners do not drive much more than regular motorists, and people who buy more efficient refrigerators are unlikely to use it more wastefully. Yet, the overall number of these machines purchased would likely increase and still cause any efficiency gains to evaporate.

If climate change is likely to cause significant problems for our civilization in the next century, we cannot expect the free market to correct the problem. If measures are not put in place to improve the competitiveness of carbon-neutral technologies, then drastic measures such as geo-engineering are inevitable.

The risks, moral hazards, and political implications brought forth by geo-engineering are going to be challenging indeed. Considering the overwhelming evidence pointing to humanity’s dangerous impact on the environment, we better prepare for this sooner rather than later. Geo-engineering must move closer to the center of the debate on climate change.

Other longer term options such as space colonization should also be considered. Interestingly, learning to live sustainably is a prerequisite for space colonization. Permaculture, recycling, vertical farming, energy efficiency, and the creation of harmonious ecosystems are key to living in space. NASA has known this for some time now, and it is time we start treating our situation here on Earth with as much foresight. Sustainability is key no matter what course we take.

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February 3rd, 2009 by Edward Miller

Social Ecology is a philosophy which states that environmental, social, and economic problems all have the same root: namely, the way people treat each other. By this same logic, if we can establish new structures and norms by which to operate, we can alleviate many of these problems.

There are a few different ways to apply this in the real world. One way is to build communities which seek harmonious relationships between people and the environment. Based on similar thinking, thousands of “intentional communities” have sprung up. These include everything from eco-villages to religious communes to survivalist enclaves. There are even some more tech-based communities such as CyborgSociety.

Ecology of Freedom
Ecology of Freedom

Now, each of these communities believes that their mode of interacting with one another is the most sustainable and desirable, and perhaps there is room for all of these communities. Live and let live. Decentralized communities have a distinct advantage when it comes to resiliency. Much less information is needed to govern a small community than a large one, and having multiple models functioning simultaneously ensures all of our eggs aren’t in one basket. Nevertheless, it would be instructive to examine what a truly sustainable community would look like.

In the name of resiliency, clearly there must be some attention to self-sufficiency. Now, insular autarkies are notoriously unstable, but so are economies that are completely dependent upon foreign trade for basic necessities. The ideal situation is clearly somewhere in the middle between those extremes. What we need is largely self-sufficient communities which are at harmony with nature and engage in voluntary trade with neighbors.

This same way of living could be applied by individuals or families operating within the community, to further decentralize production. If individuals, including urbanites, were given the tools for automated growing of food and simple manufacturing, imagine the potential for automatic wealth generation. Not to mention the environmental benefits of local production.

RepRap is dedicated to building open source desktop fabrication machines which can make the majority of its own parts using local materials such as fermented organic matter. Their version 1.0, codenamed “Darwin,” is a working proof-of-concept, and version 2.0 is already in the works. As such machines become more mature and more efficient at self-replication, it could soon eliminate the necessity of wage labor for survival.

Using such techniques, communities are already forming. Factor e Farm is dedicated to building such communities for all sorts of productive purposes. They have already set up one self-sufficient community using alternative energy and processed rainwater, and they are interested in building many more decentralized communities with a high quality of life. On their website, they claim, “This quality of life is based on efficient operation, plus 100% voluntary lifestyle, based on transcendence of material constraints. When resource constraints become a non-issue through wise choice of technology, skill, and open source knowledge-enabled flexible production systems for self-sufficiency – then freedom and human creativity are unleashed.”

What is especially inspiring is the potential this has for eliminating poverty. As they say, give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for the rest of his life. As the tools for local production continue to drop in price, we can likely enter into a post-scarcity world. As we speak, there is already more than enough food being produced to feed everyone on the planet. The problem is the logistics of distributing it to everyone. Capitalism as it is currently practiced distributes in an unequal fashion, and no matter how much philanthropy we do, it is not feasible to ship resources to remote regions. What we can do is provide the tools for people to produce locally.

We are just now witnessing the beginning of what is surely going to be a huge wave of self-sufficient communities, enabled by the new modes of production made possible by the Internet and communications technologies. The prospects for this are enormous for everyone, but especially those in poorest and most dependent places on Earth.

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April 21st, 2008 by Edward Miller

The controversial animal rights organization known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have temporarily shifted their focus away from photographing nude celebrities to do something truly revolutionary.

As The Meat Ages | Grant Hutchinson
As The Meat Ages | Grant Hutchinson
As anyone who has taken a critical look at the production of animal products knows, the meat industry is horrendous on many levels. Obviously, it causes massive amounts of suffering to animals. The meat industry also wreaks havoc on the environment. To raise and transport the animals takes enormous amounts of land, energy, food, and water, and creates enormous amounts of pollution. A huge portion of the pollution that is creating the climate crisis comes from the CO2, Methane, and Nitrous Oxide created by the meat industry; it is even more damaging than all the automobiles.

The current meat production methods also pose significant risks to human health. The health hazards don’t just come from the much publicized contaminants such as antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and other toxins. As Jared Diamond has shown in his book, Guns Germs and Steel, domesticated animals have been largely responsible for the spread of modern diseases. The looming threat of avian flu, whose predecessor was responsible for more deaths than World War 1, is just one of many examples.

Yet, it cannot be denied that meat provides many nutrients which cannot be acquired through the consumption of plants. Humans have evolved to crave meat, and to dismiss that or suggest otherwise is naive.

Luckily, there is a solution that can solve both these problems: In Vitro Meat. Unfortunately, many have been slow to take up this cause. PETA has finally woken up to its amazing potential. In Vitro Meat can fulfill the human need and desire for animal products without causing wanton harm to animals, the environment, and our health. It involves growing muscle cells and other tissue using the stem cells of animals. It would be a humane and extremely efficient way to produce authentic meat.

Even more profoundly, PETA has decided to create a million dollar prize to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” Using prizes is an extremely effective way to promote such a cause, since it draws big publicity and fosters competition. The X Prize is a prominent example of such a tactic, and it has been quite successful.

However, I have one criticism of this prize strategy, especially with the larger prizes. It seems silly to offer such large prizes and let the inventors copyright their inventions as well. It would seem more prudent to only award the money if the inventors agree to release their work into the public domain, to be used freely by all.

That said, I commend PETA for their support of In Vitro Meat, and am glad they are focusing their attention on this crucial issue.

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March 31st, 2008 by Edward Miller

The massive amount of meat production is currently wreaking havoc on the environment, and too often the animals are treated inhumanely.

Yet, it is simply not practical that we will all become vegans any time soon. Certain animal products are very nutritious, and humans crave it too much. The only sustainable and ethical way to fill that desire is in-vitro meat and similar technologies.

Unfortunately, innovation in the field has been slow. Furthermore, what little innovation there has been is currently patented. Patents often stifle innovation and provide unnecessary government-guaranteed monopolies for certain individuals.

Interestingly, the great Arthur C Clarke, who recently passed away, had once written about the possibility for geostationary satellites to be used as telecommunications devices. His work was declared as prior art to successfully defeat a patent regarding telecomm satellites.

I remember reading his book 3001: The Final Odyssey and it spoke of meat substitutes, and predates some of the patents by a few years. However, I am sure there are other works that are much older that could invalidate some of the patents. It is a fairly obvious idea, and there is absolutely no reason why patents should hinder innovation in this area.

Thoughts?

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