Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Depth of Denial - Some zillionaires can see what's coming

First a political aside: is anyone else wondering about the absence of Paul Ryan from GOP's nomination circus? Ryan (R-Wis.) is House Ways and Means Chairman and one of the most powerful legislators in America.  He was also his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, significant since the Republican Party's normal rhythm is to give the presidential nomination to the Next Guy... whose "turn it is"... either whoever came in second last time, or else the VP nominee. Yet Ryan dropped from the national radar.  

A fact highlighted by John Boehner's sudden departure as Speaker of the House, second in line to inherit any vacated presidency. Ryan declined Boehner’s job. So... what's up? I doubt any "skeleton in the closet" hypothesis. He's still young -- in his forties with small kids... with more chances on the horizon.  Moreover, as unambiguously one of the smartest living Republicans, Ryan may have rightfully seen himself as a poor fit for today's GOP frenzy-asylum -- in which all compete by pushing the envelope of craziness. Too much Barry Goldwater, too little Savanarola or Jefferson Davis or Nehemia Scudder or carnival barker to fit in with this crowd. 

Perhaps Ryan sees his "turn" in 2020... when (we can all pray) the madness abates a bit. 

In fact, today let's now turn and look at some other conservatives who want no part of lunacy. Who see civilization as something good for them, maybe worth compromising for.

== Some of the "trillies" are smart enough to see self-interest ==

Did you see first this in Existence? Some of the smarter members of our world oligarchy are starting to worry about torches, pitchforks and tumbrels -- tentatively discussing how to save their own skins from revolution. 

In a New York Times Op-Ed, former marketing conglomerate CEO Peter Georgescu writes: Capitalists Arise: We Need To Deal with Income Inequality. Joined by his friend Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, Georgescu warns his fellow 0.01 percenters that “[w]e are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape.” The column raises the specter of “major social unrest” if inequality is not addressed. In June, Cartier chief Johann Rupert — worth an estimated $7.5 billion — delivered the same message to his wealthy colleagues, telling them that the intensifying inequality and what it portends “keeps me awake at night.” He told his fellow elites that “We are destroying the middle classes at this stage and it will affect us.”

Here’s a telling passage, relating today’s inequities to those during the Great Depression, the last time a skyrocketing aristocracy had to ponder its own best interests in a larger light: 

Georgescu and Langone’s mission perhaps finds its best Depression-era analog in Joseph Kennedy, the millionaire father of the eventual president John F. Kennedy, who said of the Depression that “in those days I felt and said I would be willing to part with half of what I had if I could be sure of keeping, under law and order, the other half.” Kennedy, like many (but hardly all) of his elite colleagues, knew that capitalism had to be bridled if it was to survive.”

Pause and ponder this. Is a classic, pyramidal-feudal society - the blatant aim of many oligarchs - even tenable anymore, in an era when an enraged middle class will have all the technical skills in the world? So far, that anger only simmers, repressed by political theater, distractions and everpresent hope. But where do the would-be lords (reflexively and unthinkingly obeying 6000 years of aristocratic habit) think re-pyramidalization can possibly lead, this time?  When brainy kids will have a copy of Marx at one elbow and a bio-synthesis machine at the other, capable of concocting any organic compound and even viruses?  Will gated resorts and robot butlers suffice, in such a future?  Clearly, the smartest and wisest "trillies" (as I call them, in EXISTENCE) can tell things are different, this time.

== Or, are any of them really noticing? ==

Elsewhere, I have compiled a long list of biometric traits that are useful or effective at distinguishing one human being from another.  These range from fingerprints and retinal or iris scans to face recognition, hand-bone ratios, voiceprints, walking-gait, linguistic-semantic habits... all the way to the otto-acoustic sound emissions that many of us radiates involuntarily from our eardrums.  

Now comes news that just sitting in a room you'll leave a unique panoply of bacteria that can be attributed to you!

What does this have to do with the super-rich? Well, read the following and see if you can guess:

"Walking into E at Equinox, nothing seems out of the ordinary from a normal trip to the Columbus Circle gym location – that is, until you approach the retina scanner.... Privacy is a big draw for those with the means to purchase the $26,000 membership – about 50 people at the New York location, according to Garcia — which nets members two private training sessions a week and unlimited access to the facilities, as well as access to Equinox’s Fit3D body scan-technology, which allows both the member and the T4 coach the ability to have a 3D view of the member’s anatomy, offering an objective baseline of various body measurements to craft their program around...."

Um okay.  So rich people are paying high rates in order to offer up their bodies to be measured in every conceivable way, so that unvetted parties will have every single biometric ... ah, I see you are getting it.  But do they?

Safety-through-concealment is a fool's fantasy -- even for elites.

== But the myopic are steering ==

While we discuss billionaires who are sane enough to see which way the wind blows… read here - Where Presidential Candidates Stand on Climate Change - how some are stepping up to counterbalance the lunacy propelled by short sighted coal-Koch-petro-sheiks and lords. Take Tom Steyer, who spent $74 million in the 2014 elections to support Democratic candidates who made climate change a critical issue in their campaign. And Republican businessman Jay Faison will put $175 million behind the campaign of a conservative who embraces the need to combat climate change, according to Politico.

Not the ideal situation, of course, which would be to take the bulk of corrupting money out of politics, the aim of Larry Lessig's campaign. (Join!) Still, perhaps indicative that not all zillionaires are myopic about their own self-interest.

Another amazement from the same article? Who would imagine that Bobby Jindal would come across as the sole sane conservative... at least in the one issue of climate change?  Well, after Katrina, you'd have to be utterly delusional to be a denialist.  But isn't that a modern GOP job requirement?  Read here a survey of the demmie and gopper candidates' position on this vital issue.

== It's human nature at the tiller ==

Oh, but once you put aside a few sapient fellows out there, the chief trait we see at the top of the oligarchic pyramid is a standard reflex observed in nearly all apex aristocrats, across the dismal 6000 years of failure-feudalism -- a rationalization that their luck derived from superiority. Entitlement correlates with inherent right to rule... even to cheat.

An enlightening article portrays the ten multi-billionaires who meddle most in U.S. politics.  Left out?  The sub-rosa influence of three vast, foreign money pools.  First, the Saudi Royal House and related petro-princes who have had a huge say – some might say control – in the GOP infrastructure created by the Bush Clan, and who are co-owners of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire. Second, the Chinese government, which ensures that Sheldon Adelson’s by-far most profitable casino properties are the ones in Macao, providing a pipeline of “profits” he can use to influence US politics.  And finally, the network of Swiss and other banking havens that will lose big, if international treaties on financial transparency ever pass – over fierce objections by the Republican Party. 

All of those groups fear one thing above all else.  That electoral reform in the U.S. will eliminate cheating and restore Periclean citizen sovereignty and honest American institutions.  That is their nightmare, and the biggest thing they donate gushers to prevent.

== Snippets: revealing the depth of denial ==

Growing disconnect: U.S. worker productivity rose 22% from 2000 to 2014; pay and benefits just 1.8%.

New NASA data indicates that sea levels have risen four inches in the last two decades:

Hilarious warped messages.  Both the best-yet Bad Lip Reading (of the recent GOP presidential debate) and a classic of Ronald and Nancy Reagan urging kids to get on crack.   And let’s be fair.  There are some rib-tickling bad lip readings of dems, too!

Oh but it is not equal. Consider this: How conspiracy theories poisoned the Republican Party.

And finally... The museum memorial to the heroes of flight UA 93 is open, at last.  The citizen militia that won the War on Terror – and I mean that, at every level – the very day it began. The only problem is that the memorial should be on the Washington DC Mall.

And having plumbed the depths of denial (a river in Africa) that will do for politics... for a little while.


Mike Frank said...

Your theory about how righteous indignation gives some a high may explain much of the current lunacy on the right. But are there any other theories about why the privileged and well off spew anger, hate and conspiracy theories? After all, theoretically, with how good things are going for them they really shouldn't have much to be angry about, unless it is that some of "them" are getting some of the goodies, and we all know how much "they" are inferior to "us".

Alex Tolley said...

the US seems very prone to conspiracy theories. 9/11 is a prime example that won't go away. The fundies have a never ending set of conspiracies as part of a narrative of the end times. On the left, while there is railing against GMOs and fossil fuels and Bilderberg control of the world, conspiracy theories seem somewhat missing or at least tame by comparison.

Somewhere there must be a good explanation based on cognitive styles. Even the "smart" trillionaires have said some remarkably stupid things, and more than hinted at persecution. Will they be screaming "conspiracy!, persecution!", when the tumbrels arrive at their doors?

Berial said...

"Who would imagine that Bobby Jindal would come across as the sole sane conservative... at least in the one issue of climate change? Well, after Katrina, you'd have to be utterly delusional to be a denialist. But isn't that a modern GOP job requirement? "

Which is why he has no chance for the nomination?

David Brin said...

My impression - after living overseas twice and talking to lots of folks... is that American are unusually SKEPTICAL of conspiracy theories. Yes, folks out there are even more prone to them. We are an odd species.

Anonymous said...

All the "smart people" that I read are absolutely convinced that the Chinese economy is about to massively implode. No telling whether it will come in days, months, or years, but it does seem inevitable considering the (terrible) centralized decisions coming out of Beijing these days.
I am wondering how this will effect 1. the power of the CCP under Xi, 2. the recent promises by the Chinese to curb their carbon footprint, and 3. our own economic and sociopolitical structures. Oh Great Prognosticator; should I be stocking up on zombie repellent and home brewing supplies?


Alex Tolley said...

Wikipedia list of conspiracy theories. Probably a biased set, but an awful lot are of US origin.

Anatomy Of A Conspiracy Theorist: Inside The New Wave Of An Ancient Tradition
“Conspiracy theories are a tradition in American history,” Goldberg explained. “What Americans saw, to quote Lord North [Great Britain's prime minister from 1770 to 1782], was a ‘diabolical’ interpretation of these events -- that rather than an attempt to raise revenues it was a conspiracy against American liberties and rights.”

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?
Age is not the only demographic to influence conspiracy beliefs. Several US studies have found that ethnic minorities – particularly African and Hispanic Americans – are far more believing of conspiracy theories than white Americans. In our recent UK study, we found a similar race effect, coupled with an even stronger association between income and belief levels. People who describe themselves as “hard up” are more likely to believe in conspiracies than those with average income levels, while the least likely to believe are the well off.

How can we account for the link between race, income level and conspiracy theories? Theorists tend to show higher levels of anomie – a general disaffection or disempowerment from society. Perhaps this is the underlying factor that predisposes people more distant from centres of power – whether they be poorer people or those from ethnic minorities – to believe in conspiracies.

So we appear to have conditions in the US that tends to support conspiracy theories:
1. A distrust of authority
2. Social anomie due to social and income inequality.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Atomic Zep

I'm not convinced that China is going to collapse - slow down yes - collapse?

The "central planning" has resulted in lots of long term assets

So while you can argue that markets usually have smarter use of capital the active term is "usually" - markets are also prone to bubbles and in most bubbles the resultant "assets" are a bit less useful than the additional infrastructure that you usually get from central planning

A "collapse" is usually caused by the financial wunderkind taking "their" money and running
The Chinese economy does not have much of that kind of debt
If they did get short of money the reaction would be to depreciate the currency which would sharply drive their exports

This would all become moot if the Chinese people were to actually rebel - but my reading is that the average person there has seen
Huge improvements over the last two decades
And is very aware of how bad it got when a "new" force took control
So is likely to give their leadership a lot of leeway

David Brin said...

Duncan, there are apparently hundreds of street protests in China every single day, over this or that injustice. The big mistake was not announcing a plan fro gradually letting democratic accountability take hold... it's the only thing that can repress corruption. Say limiting it to ten years at the corporate and city level, then ten years up to the District level, then ten at provincial, then national. That steady direction could have eased the pressure for immediate democracy for 40 years, while gaining experience at citizenship and delivering antidotes to corruption where it does the most damage, at the corporate and urban street level.

Alas, they could not let go. Neither could Lenin, even though Marxist theory demanded that he do it.

Alex Tolley said...

@Duncan - There is a view that many of China's loans are technically in default. On top of this, the property market has been in a bubble that is slowly deflating, which could take out the assets of the population. This could cause a very hard landing if China cannot keep growing rapidly by its traditional method of exports.

I doubt China will collapse, but it may well be a house of cards and end up like Japan after the 1990 stockmarket bust. Would I short China? No. I wouldn't want to bet against their long term growth.

Alfred Differ said...

Shorting them would probably be the wrong bet. The right one is to bet long on a Japanese style 'going nowhere'.

The folks at Stratfor have been predicting this for some time. They point out that the nationalistic saber-rattling was the predictable leading edge of a diversion scheme. Chinese leadership knows what is coming and nationalism gets to play its historical role.

David Brin said...

Anyone who thinks Japan Inc has ACTUALLY been in economic doldrums for 20 years is a prime target for a bridge salesman. They keep two sets of books, having moved production and profit-taking overseas.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi David
The most dangerous time for a society is not when it is "repressed" but when the lid is being lifted - but not fast enough for some people

Your gradual plan sounds nice but I worry that it would actually cause the "revolution"

Saying that I don't know how a society shifts from "stable repressed" to "stable democratic"

I agree about Japan, the external metrics show little or no growth, the internal metrics - what the people actually see show a steady rise in affluence and quality of life

People criticize the Japanese quality of life because of the high suicide rate but IMHO that is much more to do with the greater acceptability of suicide in their society

Alex Tolley said...

They keep two sets of books, having moved production and profit-taking overseas.

This has to be one of the stupidest remarks I have ever heard.

David Brin said...

Refute it, goombah. I have it from some very very well-placed sources. Jesus where do you think the money goes? Japanese companies still deliver great products in tsunami quantities and every year Japanese citizens somehow afford to buy all the toys they can haul in. Show me one time in human history when a country has been in a 25 years recession, let alone one in which they somehow keep dominating markets and keeping their own citizens content. What's "stupid" is ignoring the obvious.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi David

Not "two sets of books" just not as much growth as people were expecting

If "stuff" costs less then I can buy more with less money, - The Japanese appear to be able to buy more "stuff" each year without the GDP increasing

Another thing to think about - people worry about having more retirees per worker in a zero growth economy
BUT a zero growth economy also has less schoolkids - the increased cost of the additional retirees is mostly offset by the reduced costs of less kids

The Japanese are not in a normal "recession" they still have basically full employment and are working away and sharing the fruits of their labors

The way of the future????

Laurent Weppe said...

* "The most dangerous time for a society is not when it is "repressed" but when the lid is being lifted - but not fast enough for some people"

Look at Syria for what happens when the lid is not being lifted at all. Eventually some psychopath gets the opportunity to shout "let's slaughter the aristos and rape their lackeys in the name of [Insert Ideology Here]!" and gain a following large enough to do enormous damage while the old regime's repressive apparatus is revealed to be a lot less efficient than claimed.
It becomes especially baffling in China given that from Xiang Yu's genocidal vendetta to Mao's early writings noting how cathartic publicly executing usurious landowners and corrupt officials felt, Chinese history is filled to the brim with violent bullies whose successes were the direct consequence of the previous dynasty's abuses and refusals to evolve.

Paul451 said...

"This would all become moot if the Chinese people were to actually rebel - but my reading is that the average person there has seen
Huge improvements over the last two decades
And is very aware of how bad it got when a "new" force took control
So is likely to give their leadership a lot of leeway"

Is it wrong that I've just spent ten minutes looking for secret messages in Duncan's posts?

reason said...

I find the point about Paul Ryan interesting, but as Paul Krugman calls him flim flam man, I'm not sure what smart means in this context. He is a life long (dynastic even) politician, never done anything else. He sure has a reputation in some circles for lying (most famously about marathon times, but every one of his "budgets" is also in principle a lie). Maybe he guesses that a contested pre-selection would expose him to some questions, that he would rather avoid. Perhaps some backroom string puller has told him his turn will come as a VP - then uncontested candidate.

Jumper said...

One thing I've noticed in many conspiracy theories is an odd belief in the power of loyalty among what is posited as basically a criminal class. It's assumed you can buy unswerving devotion. Experience tells me people are more self-centered than that, and most men will only fight for someone who keeps feeding them. Also posited are expert assassins who never think that once the dirty work is done they themselves are the smoking guns which need removal. Nope, they never think of it.

As I said to an acquaintance of a relative, how much loyalty to the Bavarian Illuminati do you think the CEO of General Motors can really muster when it competes with real power? How much would he really care after all?

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

A couple of articles ago when you said that you were still waiting for proposals/prescriptions/suggestions I assume you meant ideas for your friends in ways of lowering the costs of launching rockets in order to mine asteroids. I decided to repost it here to get some feedback. Here is one idea that just might work.

The idea is to combine two methods to reach space. First you need a permanent high altitude base at around 100,000 feet. This base would be made out of balloons filled with helium and be tied to the ground by thin light-weight cables. Next you need to have a ribbon elevator between it and the ground. You can do this by having the ribbon reel out as the balloons gradually rise from the ground to their ultimate high-altitude station. The weight of the ribbon can be supported by balloons placed at intervals along its length. Once there you can use the ribbon elevator to bring up modular components of rockets to the base. You can keep down the strain on the ribbon by having the elevator bring up the component parts and supplies in small loads. Once all the parts of a rocket are up and assembled you push it over the edge of the base and fire it up. The rocket motor can be recovered by parachute after use, broken down into parts and then returned to the station by elevator.

The base can be gradually increased in size and new elevators added as needed. Helium is very expensive and the base would need vast amounts of it. You can keep costs down by using helium for only the most critical parts such as where the people will live and work and then use hydrogen for the other parts such as the launching areas which would be separated by safe distance from the living areas. Helium and hydrogen can be delivered to the station by a hose from the ground. You would not even need to pump it up.

Potential problems would be where to put it. An island far enough from populated areas would be the best place since it would solve the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome. A place near the equator would also help as well. One possible candidate is Johnston Atoll which belongs the US Government, is uninhabited and has an airstrip able to take the largest airplanes as well as a deep-water harbor. It is 16°45’ north of the Equator. Hawaii is only 860 miles to the northeast and can be used as the staging base for the Johnston Atoll installation. It is also officially up for lease. However there are two drawbacks. First there is some chemical contamination that would have to be cleaned up first and secondly, although rare, tropical cyclones sometimes hit it.

Another candidate could be Palmyra Island which also belongs the US Government and is uninhabited. At 5°53’ N it is even closer to the equator and out of the cyclone zone. It is an unincorporated territory which means that the President has, in theory, total control over it without oversight from Congress. Hawaii is 950 miles to the south so it can still be used as a staging base. The principle drawback is that it is smaller and would require a lot of infrastructure improvements to be the base.

I would love to see a discussion about this idea. Perhaps it is stupid and unworkable but maybe it just might be a way after all.

Deuxglass said...

A variation on the theme could be to use hot air to fill the balloon instead of helium or hydrogen. Theoretically if the envelope is strong enough a hot-air balloon could reach 120,000 feet (helium and hydrogen balloons have already reached 120,000 feet in altitude. You could possibly use the sun itself to help heat the air. Another variation is that if the canopy material is very strong and lightweight and if you can put in struts and crossbeams also strong and light you could just pump out the air inside to a near vacuum thereby giving you the maximum lift capacity. An even higher theoretical altitude is possible.
Another variation on the theme:

Once the balloon station is up you really don’t need an elevator to take people and equipment up and down. You can just use a balloon using one of the stays as a guide to bring it to the station and back. It would be cheaper and not require exotic materials. In this approach quite heavy loads could be carried up, even whole modules or rockets. In addition it would be immune to the occasional cyclone since when one comes along, you stop operations and wait for nicer weather. They stays would be the only exposure to the cyclones’ winds. I see the station not as one big balloon but more akin to a spider web linking all the separate modules together by stays. The modules can be kept light by using NASA’s idea of inflatable additions to the International Space Station. From a safety point of view if the worst happens the personnel could be able to jump off with a suit and a parachute and have an excellent chance of survival. Radiation exposure could be a problem but the advantage is that you can rotate crews quite rapidly so that no one has too much exposure. Needless to say health problems can be addressed rapidly by evacuation to the ground nearby.

It is using Archimedes Principle to give us cheap ways of going up and staying up without rockets or anti-gravity.

Tourism potential:

A hotel module can be added. You can stay up for as long as you like (if you have the bucks). The view would be great and at night you would see the heavens in all its glory devoid of atmospheric and light pollution. You could even sign up for an excursion into space itself with a Bronson-style rocket for a much cheaper price.
For skydivers this would be the ultimate base jump. How much would they pay to jump from a 100,000 feet? I bet a lot would if the price is reasonable enough and there is no shortage of skydivers in the world today. They number around 100,000 from the last estimate. That plus the hotel would be a good money-maker.
Any other ideas anyone?

David Brin said...

Deuxglass of course your idea is way-fun and related to my Vanilla Needle from Sundiver... an inflated tower whose high internal pressure makes balloon lifters more efficient.

Efficiency is your problem, as it takes very little weight to drag a balloon down. Also you are right that most places will not want a tether cable that might wreck aircraft... the reason for barrage balloons in WWII! It's why Google's Project Loon is using free flying balloons not tethered ones.

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

My understanding of balloon technology and theory is very limited but I do understand logistics and cost. Building a base in the stratosphere would be quasi-impossible in the continental US. There are too many conflicting interests and ways of delaying or cancelling the project by legal and political means. Just the liability premiums would be off the charts. I chose Johnston Atoll because nobody wants it or cares about it, not even the military. From a logistics point of view it is way cheaper to build the modules in LA and ship them to the atoll than to put them on trucks and drive them to someplace in Nevada. Easy access by air and sea from Hawaii is a big plus also. These factors can drive down the costs by a big amount not to mention that as an unincorporated territory you could probably get some interesting tax advantages.

The scientific and technical challenges are immense but what is going to determine whether it will be built or not comes down to cost. I was just thinking of a way to build it at the lowest possible cost.

I was wondering. Could it be used in conjunction with a rotating Skyhook? Picking up a load at 100,000 feet should be easier and cheaper than picking it up at ground level.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul

'Is it wrong that I've just spent ten minutes looking for secret messages in Duncan's posts?'

Did you find any?

David Brin said...

Deuxglass a rotating skyhook is cool. I use one in ch! of EXISTENCE!

David Brin said...

Roseburg. Ouch. One of the oregonian hero towns in my novel..... ow,ow, ow.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

I thought of "The Postman" as well. Except that my brain went "I wonder if the killer was a Holnist from the Rogue River".

Zepp Jamieson said...

Roseburg. Ouch indeed. Very pretty town, nice people. I even visited Umpqua CC a couple of decades ago to discuss the new 486s coming out with the local computer club. Liberal by southern Oregon standards. (Also home to one of the most lurid crackpots in America, Art Robinson)

Conspiracy theories and the American right: I assume you know that the Koch brothers' father was one of the highest ranking members of the John Birch Society in the 50s and 60s, and while none of the brothers profess involvement with the JBS, a lot of the malarky from their various think tanks mirrors the ideology and conspiracy stances of the JBS.

China has a Potemkin economy; 250 million live in relative affluence and enjoy technological and cultural advantages, but the remaining 80% of the Chinese population are in deep poverty, with much of the country in no better shape than it was in the era of Pearl Buck.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Zep
250 million live in ...

I worked in China in 1998
We were in a "small town" 1.25 million - but definitely provincial there was only one flight to Beijing each week (Xianfan)

My take was that everybody had enough cloths and food - there were lots of toys for the men - not for the women and kids
The teenagers were taller than the adults

I think that the majority of the Chinese are doing quite a lot better than their parents - there may be some that are not but I don't think they are a majority

Duncan Cairncross said...

Rotating Skyhook

I really like that idea - but having a high stationary "port" does not really help - your skyhook is thousands of Km long so an extra 30 is not too important

I would like to use a rotating skyhook as a system for intercontinental travel

Dave Werth said...

It seems to me the most efficient launcher we could build with current technology would be an electric rail gun launcher probably somewhere in the Andes near the Equator. You could impart a significant amount of the delta V a vehicle needs before it leaves the track.

locumranch said...

As 'productivity' is most commonly defined in terms of 'total output divided by the total amount of labour hours required', those who boast about increased (economic) productivity lack perspicacity because 'increased productivity' most often corresponds with a decreased labour requirement, a decrease in economic interdependency, a total decrease in social cohesion and an increase in both individual redundancy & collective unemployment, pushing us ever closer to the socioeconomic tipping point between minority involvement & majority disenfranchisement, which is why Japan appears to be 'more productive' even when teetering on the verge of a very real socioeconomic abyss.

In terms of "proposals/prescriptions/suggestions", simply "pray(ing that) the madness abates a bit" is not enough -- and an optimistic faith in PROGRESS is not enough -- especially when that misplaced optimism most often involves an ongoing denial of empiric reality. With a median age of 46, Japan & the EU are facing imminent demographic extinction, accompanied by the projected loss of up to 25% of their total population by 2050; the PRC & the USA (which share a median age of almost 38) are only about 10 years behind with the projected loss of 50% of their professionals by 2020; and our only global economic hope is massive immigration from an impoverished (median age of less than 20) third world even though this will also mean our cultural extermination & the end of OUR enlightenment values.

The Coming Democalypse is very real: It is only superficially about the growing wealth disparity between the rich & the poor because increased wealth correlates most closely with increased AGE than any other factor ( ), leaving the increasingly elderly Warren Buffets (and their fears of revolution, tumbrels & unwashed hordes) as the bellwethers of the Fading Western Boomers who have been (culturally) misled & out-bred, which makes an impossibility of a return-to Periclean citizen sovereignty because THAT would require near total labour 'participation' of its voting citizenry and, past a certain point, the elderly & the super rich do NOT labour:

They rest on their laurels, their entitlements & their rents, and they vote in DROVES for those candidates who protect their property, their wealth & their sinecures, until they lose their lives on the block, in the dock or in their beds. Myself included.

There is a bright side, though, as climate change will be partially ameliorated by such a large dip in global population and the associated loss of an increasingly small, industrial & productive minority.


Duncan Cairncross said...

The Coming Democalypse

The most densely populated countries on earth are going to lose 25% of their population over the next 35 years WOW!! Panic!
How will they ever cope with the same population they had in the 70's!!!!!
They will be only 20 times as densely populated as the USA - how will they cope with all of that space!

And don't give me grief about the greater number of retirees - the cost of that is balanced by the lower numbers of children

Deuxglass said...

Dr. Brin,

I remembered the Skyhook from your book EXISTANCE (which I enjoyed very much). That is why I asked the question “would it be possible”?

The need for “Reputation Protection Inc.” is coming sooner than I thought. There as a new app out called Peeple that allows anyone who knows you to rate you as a person like Yelp rates restaurants. The worst part is that the person being rated has absolutely no control over the process. The potential for abuse is huge. Check out this article from a couple of days ago:

Duncan Cairncross,

The Skyhook concept requires that the lower end be above the atmosphere where it would be met by a suborbital shuttle from the surface carrying the cargo. Starting from 100,000 feet would allow a much higher cargo weight to be transferred. The end of the tether must stay above the dense part of the atmosphere for any Skyhook to work. This goes for rotating and non-rotating Skyhooks. NASA looked at using a hyper-velocity airplane to take cargo up to the tether. NASA did a nice study a few years ago. You can find it here:

An add-on to the idea:

It’s portable!! Attach the stays to a few ships and you can drag it anywhere where there is an ocean or a deep river. You can do this with the whole station or just parts of it. That means you can export it and make money by building them, selling them and probably get lucrative contracts in parts, maintenance and running them. That means you can get economies of scale thereby lowing the cost. If the concept works, I can see a lot of potential clients and not only governments but also corporations. If you wanted to do anything in space then you would need one.

Duncan Cairncross said...

The end of the tether must stay above the dense part of the atmosphere for any Skyhook to work.


I had a look at the dynamics a while back, a rotating skyhook effectively "drops" into the atmosphere at just supersonic speed about 3000Kph at 20km height
With the speed dropping rapidly as the altitude goes down

Yes there would be some drag but I intended to use an interchangeable capsule with thrusters and fuel to counter that

Josephine Michelle Draus said...

@Alex Tolley, the Arabic language version of your Wikipedia conspiracy theory list seems longer and more interesting.

Arsalan Khan Babar said...

Skepticism is a valuable trait when looking at the "official" diagnosis of 9/11's causality. Cui Bono?

The Left/Majority should be proud for the strength gained by standing up to Oily Bullies. When the time comes, which seems imminent and eminent, the challenge of inequality will be met.

Our future might require some alphabet soup during the long winter, though, are you ready for blossoming resurrection? Are you ready David, for the mechanical spring? Will the gods of our future need these lessons of amorality from trumped up legacies?

Arsalan Khan Babar said...

The test tubes of democracy in zhonggua are being used as ruses as you instinctively intuit- war will temporarily save the party whilst spelling eventual doom. If the banks must break up on wall st, so too must China fracture under its inequality. Xinxiang and Xizang will want their names untarnished someday, hopefully through diplomatic means. The legacy of the Ming will brake under revanchism.

locumranch said...

Duncan is half-right:

Except for the 'productivity trap' wherein fewer & fewer skilled individuals (percentage-wise, placing emphasis on the term 'skilled') are expected to produce a greater & greater amount of culturally-indispensable product, the coming industrial civilisation democalypse would be 'no big deal' & perhaps a good thing, until the breaking point when a negligible percentage of indispensable workers approach infinite productivity (all product produced by almost no workers), a point-of-no-return that we are rapidly approaching in farming (worldwide median age > 60), healthcare (worldwide median age > 55) & industrial production (worldwide median age > 50).

No worries though. We'll still have a plentiful supply of landscapers, baristas, stylists & phone sterilisers, but the New Deal Society poised to make the great leap into the 'Starry Starry Night' of Space will retreat, possibly to pre-industrial population levels.

No self-preventing prophecy here: "They would not listen, they're not listening still (and) perhaps they never will".


Arsalan Khan Babar said...

Japan's duality of Mind is apparent. Any system which displays such amazing self restraint whilst camouflaging is sure to be strong character within its environment.

Arsalan Khan Babar said...

A* ;)

David Brin said...

Suggestions? Positive-assertive proposals or stick-your-neck-out prescriptions? Nah.

David Brin said...



Paul451 said...

Since we've moved on, I'll throw these here instead of bombing the new thread:

"Did you find any?"

"ITS AT IT HAS"? What does that even mean? Is it an anagram? Why are you persecuting me like this?

Dave Werth,
"It seems to me the most efficient launcher we could build with current technology would be an electric rail gun launcher probably somewhere in the Andes near the Equator. You could impart a significant amount of the delta V a vehicle needs before it leaves the track."

Such a track is limited to a single launch trajectory, and hence a single orbital plane. Doing plane changes after launch is horribly fuel inefficient. Additionally, there's a limit on how fast you can go since you're still deep within the atmosphere (even the Andean plateau is only about 4km up). So it's a lot of money to invest in a very limited launch system.

Re: Balloon launch platform.

The logistics of launching a rocket from a balloon platform are hideous. (Just getting the rocket cryo-fuel up there.) Plus you (recognising that you can't carry an entire rocket (even unfuelled) up a ribbon-cable several miles long) have added a partial construction facility to not only do normal payload and stage integration, but to build the stages from components.

The costs and manpower requirements would be huge. I'd be stunned if you could get away with less than an order of magnitude higher costs than a ground-based launch. All the costs of building a rocket, plus the added costs of operating a rocket factory on a balloon at the top of a cable. (The safety issues with just moving your workforce up and down each day would probably require a standing army just to manage. In the same way that ISS isn't run by 6 astronauts/cosmonauts on the space station, it's run by thousands of people on the ground so those 6 astros can do their jobs.)

Additionally operating from a remote island only adds to those costs (as everyone who's ever operated a launch facility on a remote island or repurposed oil-rig has discovered.)

"Another variation is that if the canopy material is very strong and lightweight and if you can put in struts and crossbeams also strong and light you could just pump out the air inside to a near vacuum thereby giving you the maximum lift capacity."

Eww, no, no, no. The molar weight of air is 28. The molar weight of hydrogen is 2. So a vacuum would only give you 7% more lift than hydrogen, 15% more than Helium, but with all the extra mass of a container that can withstand about 5 tonnes of pressure per square metre at altitude, 10T/m^2 at sea level. I'd be shocked if it's even possible to built a vacuum chamber capable of lifting its own weight.


Since our host is throwing "so what's your positive suggestion, Mr Snipey-pants" at Locumranch, I'll try to be more constructive...

Paul451 said...

How to lower launch costs.
(An essay in 17 parts.)

Part 1.

I'll ignore the simplest idea, the one practised by SpaceX, simply making costs your primary target. Not trying to invent a trick SF solution, just simplifying what we already have. Using modern manufacturing and "assembly line" processes to lower costs, using modular systems that are easy to install (and hence uninstall and swap out to fix problems), off-the-shelf where possible, in-house manufacturing where it's not. Keeping a hard limit on your logistics chain to prevent "NASA syndrome". Constant incremental improvements. Etc etc. And planning to use simple reusability to lower costs even further.

That's something that actually works rather than something that's fun. So instead I'll go for the "One Big Trick" gimmicky solution....

There have been many attempts at and proposals for aerial launches. Some carry the rocket on existing aircraft, some use dedicated custom-built carriers. The advantages of aerial launches are that you eliminate the launch pad (a surprisingly complex and expensive system), eliminate range safety issues, and increase your available launch windows (potentially giving you a launch window every 90 minutes, instead of once a day for three days a month.) And by definition, the carrier aircraft is entirely reusable, and takes advantage of existing aircraft technologies and infrastructure (like jet engines and runways).

The problem with using existing aircraft is that it severely limits the mass of the rocket-stage you can carry. The problem with that is that small launchers are very inefficient, most of the cost of a larger rocket but a tiny payload. (See the air-launched "Pegasus" for an example.)

To launch a larger payload, you need a larger, bespoke carrier aircraft, the problem with that (besides the development cost) is that they have to be staggeringly enormous in order to get the huge mass of a fully fuelled rocket off of a regular runway. (See "Stratolaunch" for an example.)

Much of the power requirement of an aircraft is to accelerate fast enough to take off before reaching the end of the runway. And much of wingspan is to create enough lift to lower that take-off speed enough so that a reasonable number of engines can cope. Once the aircraft is at cruising altitude and speed, it usually has much more lift and power than it actually needs.

Another major issue is that the carrier aircraft doesn't replace the first-stage of a rocket. It only gets to a fraction of the height (around 1/10th the altitude of typical rocket staging) and a fraction of the speed (another 1/10th.) In theory, you get maybe 10% savings in fuel for the rocket. However, when you drop the rocket-stage, it's in the wrong orientation for an efficient launch, so it wastes the first few precious seconds of fuel after ignition changing its orientation and trajectory, which ends up eating that 10% benefit anyway.

(Aside: If you try to develop some kind of super-fast hybrid jet/ramjet/scramjet/rocket type aircraft for the first-stage, you increase your development costs by... well, higher than anyone has been able to afford, even the US military.)

In addition, the rocket-stage separates from the carrier aircraft deep inside the atmosphere, this apparently causes major aerodynamic issues which means you can't travel much faster. Supersonic staging is probably impossible, for example.

Paul451 said...


So five factors:
1) The majority of the mass of a launcher is rocket-fuel.
2) The biggest limit on a carrier aircraft is getting that mass off the runway.
3) Small rockets are uneconomical. Go big or go home.
4) Conventional aircraft don't get high enough or fast enough for the rocket to really benefit.
5) Stage separation inside the atmosphere is bad, m'kay.

For the first two, let's try this: Don't load the rocket-fuel before the carrier aircraft takes off.

That saves you 90+% of the mass of the rocket-stage. That reduces the size and power requirements of your carrier (as well as simplifying the ground handling.) Hopefully, that brings the overall mass of the carrier aircraft, rocket-stage and payload back down to a reasonable level. That lets you operate out of any modern jet airport, with normal wingspan and a moderate number of jet engines.

To give you an idea of the difference it makes: The Falcon 9 first stage has a fully fuelled mass of nearly 400 tonnes, but an unfuelled mass of about 10-15 tonnes.

So how to add the rocket fuel after take-off? Aerial refuelling.

A modern aerial refuelling tanker has a capacity of about 100 tonnes. So only four refuelling operations would be required even for a F9 first-stage sized rocket (plus one more for the second-stage.)

Two issues: A) The carrier aircraft cannot be manned, therefore we need robot refuelling. However, drone makers have already achieved this, so the hard work is done. B) Transfer of cryo liquids, such as LOx. However, we pump and pipe LOx on the ground all the time, so I suspect it's solvable, although it does add expense.

Third possible issue: It's possible that the aerial fuellers will also need to be unmanned, due to the safety issues of having so much propellant and LOx flying 50ft behind you. However, the USAF is trying to eliminate the refueller position in the next generation of aerial tankers, so if you solve this problem, you've got an instant market for your modified refuellers.

Paul451 said...


Remaining factors:

3) Small rockets are not a good market. Go big or go home.
4) Conventional aircraft don't get high enough or fast enough for the rocket to really benefit.
5) Stage separating inside the atmosphere is bad, m'kay.

The F9 first and second stages only masses 15-16 tonnes unfuelled. Add 10-15 tonnes payload and payload shroud, and you're up to around 30 tonnes. That's easily within the take-off mass of a 747-sized carrier aircraft. But there's no physical way to carry a Falcon 9 sized rocket inside, on or under any existing cargo aircraft. So you'd need some bespoke carrier, with all the added development costs..

But if we are going to build a custom carrier, let's get particularly tricky. Let's merge the aircraft and the rocket first-stage. No, no, not some kind of jet/ramjet/scramjet hybrid which has to sustain mach 5-8 for long periods... Look at the body of the Falcon 9 first-stage. Then look at the fuselage of a large cargo jet. See what I mean? Basically stick wings and a split tail on the F9 first-stage, add an aerodynamic nose-cone, and piggy-back the second-stage and payload on top. Now the first-stage is also your carrier aircraft (or vice versa).

Jets and wings get you from the runway to the refuelling altitude. Fly over to the launch point, somewhere over water. Fill up the first and second-stage from four or five aerial tankers. Doesn't matter how long it takes, a four engine aircraft will only burn a tonne of fuel in about 5 hours of flight, trivial.

Once fuelled, the first-stage climbs to its maximum altitude and speed, pitches nose up at about 30 degrees (optimum launch angle) and lights the main engines. It quickly accelerates above the thickest part of the atmosphere, no lingering hypersonic flight. The rest of the launch is the same as any conventional rocket launch. Stage separation occurs above the atmosphere, 80-110km depending on the mission. The second-stage is on an optimal lofted climbing ballistic trajectory at staging, gaining about 2km/s and 100km altitude. The second-stage engine can then be optimised for vacuum, making it more fuel efficient.

After staging, the first-stage re-enters the upper atmosphere at about 2km/s. (That will be a fun design problem. But SpaceX has been able to return its first-stages intact, except for the final landing, so it's clearly solvable.) It slows to subsonic velocities, and restarts the jets when it reaches a reasonable altitude. Then it flies home and lands like a conventional aircraft. Unlike Falcon 9's first-stages, a flying first-stage can travel any distance to get back to the airport; so it eliminates down-range limits. (Again, jets use trivial amounts of fuel. And you have aerial tankers anyway if it needs a top-up.) You could fly thousands of kilometres from your operations airport, even all the way down to the equator in order to eke out the last ounce of payload capacity. And then after re-entry, fly all the way home again!

Paul451 said...


- Large payload, similar scale to the Falcon 9. (10 tonnes or so.)
- Ease of operations. You take-off from any suitable airport, no dedicated launch facilities, no launch pad.
- Your actual rocket firing is over open water, so you don't need a 5km evacuation zone around the launch facility and the first 50km down-range. And your operations airport doesn't need to be right on the coast (or in a desert) like a spaceport.
- No in-atmosphere staging. The second-stage gets the full benefit from the first-stage rocket flight; speed, altitude, and trajectory.
- First-stage is fully reusable out of the box, with no recovery costs and minimal refurbishment between flights.
- You can fly the first-stage between your factory (assuming its near an airport) and your main operating airport. If you are building in California and operating out of Florida, for example, you aren't limited by road/rail/sea transport.
- As an aircraft, the first-stage can obviously carry an unfuelled second-stage. So you can also ferry that between your factory and operating airport without road/rail/shipping.
- You might even be able to fly payloads around for the customers. (It's not just mass, payloads need strict climate controlled containers. But you only need to develop the containers once.)
- You can fly your entire launch system (first and second-stage, plus the refuelling tankers) to the customer's country, operate out of any suitable airport.
- You can fly towards a launch window, you aren't waiting for the launch window to coincidentally pass over your launch site. The USAF/DARPA really wants this capacity, but it also increases your apparent reliability and flexibility for conventional customers.
- Similarly, the reusability of the first-stage means you should be able to get a fast turn-around time between launches, or in the even of an abort.
- The piggybacking of the second-stage should make stage-integration simpler than a vertical launch stack.

Paul451 said...


Disadvantages... with "howevers":
- Complex custom-built first-stage/carrier rocketplane combo. However, once it's flying as an airplane, you can incrementally test the design because it's fully reusable. Fire the main engines for a few seconds. Then tens of seconds. Then a minute, three minutes... etc. Then a full burn with a dummy second-stage. Gradually increasing the speed during ascent also means gradually increasing the speed of re-entry. Learning and tweaking the design as you go. Build a little, test a little.
- Robo-refuelling. However, the USAF wants automated refuelling and is paying through the nose for it. So you can "borrow" from existing work, and have a potential secondary market for your own tech.
- Multiple aerial refuelling for every launch. However, everything is reusable except fuel. You can practice during development as much as you want (you're only burning a few tonnes of Jet-A). You can even use a simulant "propellant" during tests, to lower costs and increase safety.
- Horizontal payload integration. This is an issue for some USAF/NRO payloads. However, it's a shrinking part of the satellite market.

Additional upgrade paths:

- Reusable second stage. Horizontal launch solves one of the issues with reusable upper stages: if they are lifting bodies (for re-entry and landing) they screw up the flight aerodynamics of a vertical launch. Our rocketplane first-stage won't care. Extra lift actually helps.

- Double-launch with EOR boosters. Because of the ability to fly to a launch window, you can launch two payloads into the same window right after each other. (Or a week apart, or whenever you want.) So if you develop an upper-stage that's capable of grabbing and berthing with a satellite or probe while in LEO, you can push the satellite into GEO/BEO. It means you can put a 10 tonne satellite into GEO, that's up in the medium-heavy-lift capacity. That means you can service the entire GEO market, along with the heaviest US defence payloads. In addition, if a partial failure of the second stage leaves the payload in the wrong orbit, you can launch a rescue upper-stage on the next flight. That increases your apparent reliability, and lowers the customer's costs when dealing with you.




Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Paul

Your approach sounds like the initial proposal for the space shuttle
EXCEPT for the in flight re-fueling
and all of those advantages - I don't remember hearing anybody else proposing something similar

Sounds like a great idea if I had lots of money I would go for a feasibility study

Mal Adapted said...

Locumraunch: "Duncan is half-right"

Locum thinks he's a wit. He's half-right. (H/T Joseph Addison, apparently).

Deuxglass said...


Do you have a BS in Drivel Studies?

Instant Karma said...

With all respect, David, I disagree with your take on inequality.

The larger pattern which I see is that widening global markets have created opportunities which have allowed a billion previously impoverished people to flourish. This is showing up in any stat on worldwide poverty reduction. Simply put, there has been more progress in eliminating severe poverty in the last generation since the beginning of humanity. This may not be as good as it can get, but it is much better than it ever has been before. I assume you concur on global prosperity.

However, the side effect of increased globalization includes two things which increase inequality within wealthy nations. First, there is the Stolper/Samuelson theorem. This is the well known effect that increased trade tends to relatively disadvantage the more scarce factor, in this case labor (more scarce in wealthy nations than in the new developing nations). This is holding down wages while simultaneously increasing returns to capital as the theory predicts. Thus widening inequality.

The other side effect is explained as the Superstar effect. I am sure you are familiar with this as well. Simply, it is that larger networks and markets allow superstar talent such as a Kobe, Taylor Swift, Jobs, or Koch to scale their advantages across more people. This widens inequality,

Don't get me wrong, I agree there are all kinds of problems with equality of opportunity and that there is rampant rent seeking and privilege. I have no doubt that any succesful company or union worker would gladly kill of the golden goose of rule egalitarianism to lock in their incumbency advantages. I am all for resisting this privilege.

I just want to add some perspective to the issue. I believe rising inequality within developed countries is greatly a side effect of the overwhelmingly positive larger trend of global poverty reduction. Beware throwing the baby out with the bath water (but the bath water needs addressing just the same).

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