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Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 | ISSN 1556-5696

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SKEPTICALITY EPISODE 206

This week on Skepticality, Derek chats with James Daily and Ryan Davidson, the creators of the popular legal blog, Law and The Multiverse and the newly released book based on the site, The Law of Superheroes. If there’s one thing that many science and reality-minded people tend to do quite a bit, it’s over analyze every little detail in the movies, TV shows, books, etc., that they find entertaining. James and Ryan, being lawyers, decided to take that same mindset and explore what might happen, legally, if some of the fantastic things depicted in comic books and superhero entertainment actually happend in real life.

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Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (detail of book cover)

About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Dr. Edward Hudgins reviews two books: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler and Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, by Robert Zubrin. Read Dr. Edward Hudgins’ bio at the end of the reviews.

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It’s Getting Better All the Time

book reviews by Edward Hudgins

What does the future hold for humanity? One answer—an optimistic one—is outlined in these two volumes that come at the question from two perspectives. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, takes a purely positive perspective, while Robert Zubrin’s Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism comes to its optimism by means of debunking the pessimists. As a bonus, both offer us components for a new Enlightenment synthesis that can usher in profound cultural changes well beyond the particulars in the pages of these books.

Interestingly, both Diamandis and Zubrin are prominent new space advocates who see a future for humanity in the heavens. Diamandis heads the X-Prize project. It offered $10 million to the first private party to build a reusable vehicle capable of carrying three humans into space twice in a two-week period. Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne won that prize in October 2004. Since then entrepreneur Richard Bransen has created Virgin Galaxy to use Rutan’s systems to provide commercial sub-orbital flights. In 2009 Diamandis partnered with futurist Ray Kurzweil to found Singularity University, which seeks to leverage the power of exponential technologies to meet humanity’s grand challenges. And in 2012 he co-founded Planetary Resources Inc. with space entrepreneur Eric Anderson, Google’s Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, and filmmaker/explorer James Cameron, dedicated to mining asteroids.

Dr. Zubrin, with degrees in aeronautic, astronautics, and nuclear engineering, founded the Mars Society in 1998 to promote the exploration, settlement and, ultimately, terraforming of the Red Planet to make it into another habitat for humanity. His innovative mission model potentially would allow humans to visit Mars for a fraction of the cost projected by NASA. Zubrin has also written on energy policy and even penned a sci-fi satire.

Abundance is Possible

Let’s start with the thesis of Abundance:

Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthiest, to any and all who need them.

Abundance highlights advances in a number of sectors and technologies that the authors argue will work together, create synergies, and leverage one another to propel the world into an era of plenty. The authors attempt to demonstrate that building on the still-in-full-force information and communications revolutions, innovations in areas like healthcare, energy, education, robotics, and food production will yield double dividends. This, they explain, is because those innovations will allow for what F.A. Hayek called catallaxy, that is, the ever-expanding benefits of division of labor; Hayek himself applied this term to pricing, resource allocation, and all market activities. Diamandis points to three forces that, at this point in history, make exponential material progress possible.

First is the Do-It-Yourself revolution. For example, most Americans know of the late Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple Computer, operated it initially out of his parents’ garage, challenged the IBM-Big-Mainframe model, and transformed the communications and information sectors. Diamandis himself helped spur the private, low-cost commercial space revolution with the X-Prize. And Craig Venter tied the big-budgeted U.S. government in the race to decipher the human genome.

A second force is generous financial support from such techno-philanthropists as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, and PayPal co-founder Elon Musk; the latter now heads SpaceX, which has sent two private rockets to the International Space Station. Such techno-philanthropists are funding many of the innovations that will create the prosperous world of tomorrow.

A third force is the bottom billion, the poorest of the poor who are finally plugging into the global economy thanks to the communications and information revolution and huge drops in transportation costs. Their talents and efforts are contributing to that economy of which they are also the major beneficiaries. They are becoming what Diamandis calls the “rising billion.”

With the thesis that global abundance is now possible thanks to these forces, Diamandis and Kotler turn to the revolutions in particular areas.

Drinking Water

It is estimated that the bacteria in contaminated water that causes diarrhea alone accounts for the deaths of 1.8 million children annually. So the authors introduce us to Dean Kamen, best-known as the inventor of the Segway, which we see scooting around city streets and factory warehouses. But he is also tackling the challenge of bringing potable water to the bottom billion. Kamen needed to create a device that not only could filter virtually any liquid, no matter how contaminated, into drinkable water but also that could operate in parts of the world where electrical outlets are a rarity. So Kamen employed an engine that in a pinch could even run on animal dung. The filtering device had to be small, like a mini-fridge, and rarely need repairs since obtaining spare parts in the least-developed parts of the world is often impossible. And the device had to be affordable.

Kamen created the “Slingshot,” which can produce 250 gallons of clean water per day. The cost of making a prototype was about $100,000, but with mass production he figured the device, including its engine, would cost about $5,000, with a five-year operating life. Still, even $5,000 is too pricy for the poorest of the poor. But Kamen is teaming up with Coca Cola to help build, distribute, and use its supply chain—the largest in Africa—to help maintain the Slingshot.

Health

Diagnosis is the sine qua non for any medical treatment. In the developed world the all-important X-ray is easily available, but involves quarter-million dollar machines the size of dishwashers. The authors introduce us to Carlos Camera, a UCLA grad student researching materials properties who made an important discovery. Pull a piece of scotch tape off of a roll in a dark room and you see it gives off a glow. Camera found that those little flashes, called triboluminescence, contain X-rays. So Camera teamed up with entrepreneur Dale Fox to found Tribogenics to develop the smallest and cheapest X-ray devices based on this principle. Soon poor Africans might have in their reach tools for diagnosing injuries and illnesses.

Diamandis and Kotler also introduce us to entrepreneur George Whitesides, whose long-term goal is “zero-cost diagnosis.” Here is one of his inventions to help bring this about:

A piece of paper about one centimeter on a side, able to wick fluid. Place a pinprick of blood or a drop of urine on the edge of Whitesides’s paper, and the fluid soaks in, migrating through the fibers. A hydrophobic polymer printed on this paper guides the fluids along prescribed channels, toward a set of testing wells, wherein the sample interacts with reagents, turning the paper different colors … brown in the presence of sugar … blue in the presence of protein.

The authors give us other examples of technology that not only will help the bottom billion but can deliver to those lucky enough to live in advanced counties better healthcare as well.

Education

In the chapter on education Diamandis and Kotler don’t introduce us to new killer-app inventions but, rather, show us how laptops, tablets, the Internet, and the other components of the communications and information revolution are revolutionizing teaching and learning.

The authors explain that today education in the developed world is a legacy of the 19th century Industrial Revolution. That model had teachers inserting knowledge in one-size-fits-all assembly-line style into the heads of students as they moved from one classroom to another. But while this approach brought basic literacy and knowledge to millions of people in the past, it neither reflects how children actually learn nor prepares them for a world in which information relevant for their lives is changing at an ever-increasing rate.

To show us how to think about education, the authors introduce us to Sugata Mitra, a physicist in India who got interested in education. A thick wall separated his office building from a nearby impoverished slum. So he devised an experiment:

He cut a hole in the wall and installed a computer with a track pad, with the screen and pad facing into the slum. He did it in such a way that theft was not a problem, then connected the computer to the Internet… The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes, they’d figured out how to point and click. By the end of the first day they were surfing the web and … teaching one another how to surf the web.

Pater Diamandis
Abundance: Why the Future Will Be Much Better Than You Think (DVD)

Since the dawn of humanity, a privileged few have lived in stark contrast to the hardscrabble majority. Conventional wisdom says this gap cannot be closed. But it is closing—fast. According to the X-Prize creator and entrepreneur Peter H. Diamandis, we will soon be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp through four forces: exponential technologies, the DIY innovator, the Technophilanthropist, and the Rising Billion. Diamandis establishes hard targets for change and lays out a strategic roadmap for governments, industry and entrepreneurs, giving us plenty of reason for optimism.

This lecture took place at Caltech, hosted by the Skeptics Society on February 26, 2012.

Order Diamandis’ lecture on DVD

Mitra followed through with similar experiments, seeking to understand what students could learn and retain on their own, with minimal encouragement and guidance. The answer was, a lot! The authors offer us insights concerning how technology can transform education in both the developing and developed world. Most important, they show us that education, to be effective, must be tailored to the individual student.

Entrepreneurial Drivers

We glean three important insights from the review by Diamandis and Kotler of innovators and their innovations.

First, respect for the power of human reason gives us an almost infinite capacity to change the world for the better. The pre-modern and post-modern ideologies hold that humans are ultimately ignorant and impotent in the face of divine providence or the forces of nature. This erroneous philosophical assumption has no place in the abundance worldview.

Second, individuals are the driving force behind human progress. It’s Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Venter, Kamen, Camera, Whitesides, Mitra, Rutan, Musk, Kurzweil, and a long list of others—not impersonal social forces—who make the difference between poverty and abundance.

Third, the individuals creating the world of abundance love their work. Yes, they say that they work for the good of humanity and a more prosperous world for all is certainly the result of their efforts. But it is their love of meeting impossible challenges, challenges that call on the best within them, that really motivates them and that deserves our emulation.

Environmentalist Fallacies

Arguably, the most serious concern about the abundance scenario is the authors’ views about environmental problems. They begin the book by citing the prediction of the English thinker Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) that while production grows linearly, population grows exponentially. This means that as human populations grow, there will inevitably be shortages. Populations must be limited because resources are.

Fast-forward to 1968 and we find Paul Ehrlich predicting in The Population Bomb that decades hence will find millions of dead bodies in the streets as humans run out of resources to exploit. In 1972 the Club of Rome published The Limits of Growth as a clarion call to recognize that resources and, thus, human progress are limited and that we must resign ourselves to lower living standards.

Diamandis and Kotler say that while many of the Malthusians’ “more dire predictions have failed to materialize, for the most part the years haven’t softened the assessment. Today we are still finding proof of … [their] veracity most places we look.” But the thesis of Abundance is that technology offers a way out of the Malthusian dilemma and the other concerns of environmentalists.

Perhaps we should assume that the authors are saying “all other things being equal, Malthus is right, but all other things are never equal, thanks to technology.” Or one might simply argue that the revolutions the authors highlight are good in any case even if one rejects Malthusian and extreme environmentalist assumptions and fears. But there are very serious dangers lurking in those assumptions and fears that today are undermining the vision of a bright future that the authors see as possible.

Zubrin vs. Malthus

Here we turn to Robert Zubrin’s book Merchants of Despair. Zubrin’s thesis is that two diametrically opposed views of human beings are in conflict in our world today. One is that humanity is “something precious, worth protecting and fighting for.”

Starting with the Biblical idea of the human spirit as the image of God, taken forward by Renaissance humanists defending the dignity of man, our greatest thinkers developed a concept of civilization dedicated to human betterment and “unalienable rights” among which are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness…”

He contrasts this view with the one expressed in a Club of Rome report, that “The World Has Cancer and the Cancer Is Man.” Zubrin explains that according to this view, humans are “a horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites are endangering the natural order. This is the core idea of antihumanism.” The consequence of this view is that “One does not provide liberty to vermin. One does not seek to advance the cause of cancer.”

Zubrin argues that Malthus was not simply speaking as a scientist conveying the unfortunate fact that population always outstrips food supplies and, thus, will be limited one way or another. Malthus was attacking the Enlightenment notion that “human liberty, expanded knowledge, and technological progress could ultimately make possible a decent life for all mankind.”

Zubrin next turns to a review of the assault on humans unleashed by what he calls “Darwinism.” Charles Darwin himself described how the process of natural selection and the struggle for survival explains the emergence of various species. But as Zubrin explains, “this purported universal law of nature when applied to human affairs leads to wildly incorrect conclusions … and catastrophically unethical policies.” Zubrin is clear that he accepts evolution as a fact; he’s no Creationist. He might, however, be open to criticism for the constant use of the term “Darwinism.” Today Creationists, who are enemies of science and reason, focus on the unsound ideas and immoral policies—documented by Zubrin—that were promoted in the past as extensions of evolution. Then, in an intellectually dishonest move, these Creationists suggest that these ideas and policies discredit the fact of evolution itself.

But Zubrin’s discussion is of more than antiquarian interest. First, the essence of the antihuman idea perpetuated by the Darwinists was placing the group above the wellbeing of individuals, an idea that’s still very much a threat to humanity today. And second, many of the very individuals who promoted the mistaken applications of Darwin’s insights later went on to found and to influence major parts of today’s environmental movement. Zubrin reviews the well-known horrors of Nazi eugenics and the attempts to create a Master Race on piles of human corpses, done in the name of Darwin. What is eye-opening is Zubrin’s documentation of how many prominent individuals in Western Europe and America also were seeking a better race at the expense of the individual before this goal was discredited by the Nazis. Progressive president Teddy Roosevelt, for example, argued that in Europe “the amount of Nordic blood in each nation is a very fair measure of its strength in war and standing in civilization.” And he argued that “It has taken us fifty years to learn that speaking English, wearing good clothes and going to school and to church does not transform a Negro into a white man.”

Zubrin writes of institutions and their backers seeking a superior race justified on Darwinian grounds. In 1894 the Immigration Restriction League was founded to keep “undesirables” like Jews and southern Europeans out of America. In 1905 the American Breeders Association, dedicated to producing better dogs, added a human genetics section. The second and third International Eugenics Congresses were held at the American Museum of Natural History; Henry Fairfield Osborn, the museum’s long-time president, arranged those meetings. The Eugenics Record Office was founded in 1910 and funded by the famous Harriman and Rockefeller families; it advocated forced sterilization. Zubrin relates how even feminist icon Margaret Sanger promoted this policy. Zubrin explains “scientific error in ascribing human progress to natural selection of hereditary traits”:

Human beings, unlike other organisms, are capable of systematically passing on information through non-hereditary means, such as artifacts and words. … Because people can use their minds to create novel adaptations varying from technological innovations to better forms of social organization, human progress is chiefly governed by what people accomplish during their lives, rather than chiefly through the process of their winnowing out by death.

Too Many People?

After World War II, many of those involved in the eugenics movement, rather than acknowledging their errors, shifted their focus to controlling population size or to imbuing the environment with a value superior to humans. For example, Frederick Osborne, Henry Fairfield Osborne’s nephew, had been president of the American Eugenics Society and of the racist Pioneer Fund, which praised many Nazi policies in the 1930s. After the war he teamed up with John D. Rockefeller III to found the Population Council. In the decades that followed, they and others of their ilk spread the “people are pollution” dogma. As Zubrin explained, “Instead of seeking to rid the world of poverty, the new goal would be to rid the world of the poor.”

Population control became a centerpiece of American foreign aid. Funds were doled out to help countries not so much develop their economies, but to limit the number of their people.

Diamandis and Kotler rightly echo Zubrin in denouncing the attempts to control population by government, which often involved forced sterilizations and other such abuses. The Abundance authors argue, correctly, that as health improves in poorer countries, populations naturally stabilized. Parents are assured that most of their children won’t die before adulthood, that they will have offspring to take care of them in their old age, and thus they don’t need large families. But Zubrin would argue that Diamandis and Kotler need to appreciate what motivates many in the population control and environmental movements. For example, Paul Ehrlich stated that:

A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. … We must shift our efforts from treatment of the symptoms to cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions. The pain may be intense.

When he advocated forcibly sterilizing every man in India with over three children, he said “Coercion? … Perhaps, but coercion in a good cause.” One can hardly think of a more Malthusian moral monster than Ehrlich. Yet he is still treated with adoration by many environmentalists today and even received a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 1990, decades after his failed Population Bomb predictions.

Antihuman Environmentalism

Zubrin reviews a number of hot button concerns of environmentalists. He does not criticize those environmentalists who wish to reduce real and measurable threats to the lives and health of humans from, for example, polluted air or water but, rather, those who would prefer to reduce the lives and health of humans.

Zubrin shows that one of the greatest boons to humanity was DDT, which was utilized as an insecticide starting in the 1930s. During World War II it was credited with saving tens of thousands of lives by killing lice and other vermin. In subsequent years it saved millions of lives in India, South Africa, and many other countries. For his role in adapting its use for public health, Paul Müller won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1948.

But Zubrin shows us how many environmentalists raised their voices in opposition. Most notably, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, Rachel Carson offered scientifically unsound hysteria that became a cause célèbre for the environmentalists. Even though no studies have shown DDT to be a major danger to birds, as Carson contended, much less humans, American politicians worked to ban it and to promote the ban in other countries. Zubrin says perhaps 100 million died in subsequent decades, mostly in Africa, because of restrictions on DDT.

Zubrin reviews the “Green Revolution” that started in the 1950s. Its hero was Norman Borlaug who, with his team, produced genetically modified strains of wheat and rice that could grow in a wider variety of environments and increase crop yields many-fold. Countries like India were finally able to feed their people. But many environmentalists were not celebrating this incredible achievement. Zubrin contends that their opposition to such crops was not based on any scientifically demonstrable health hazards; indeed, if the options are either starving or eating something that might bring a minor disease risk increase, it’s an easy choice. Rather, it was from a deep-seated antihumanism.

Because the documented benefits of such crops were clear and the downsides non-existent, Zubrin argues that opponents offered a bit of intellectual flimflam known as the “Precautionary Principle”: No invention should be permitted that cannot be proven in advance to be completely harmless. By this criterion, virtually none of the products, innovations, and technology that make up the modern world would have been allowed. Indeed, the fires lite by the first cavemen would have been quickly stomped out.

Zubrin similarly examines the environmentalist opposition to nuclear power, which he argues is an inexpensive and safe alternative to fossil fuels. For motive, he quotes Ehrlich, with Richard Harriman, saying “Power is too cheap. It should certainly be made more expensive and, perhaps, rationed, in order to reduce its frivolous use.”

Zubrin also examines the global warming controversy. He concedes that in the past century there has been a small amount of warming, that CO2 is a likely culprit, and that humans played a role. But he argues that over many centuries and millennia the climate has changed radically, without the help of humans and without destroying humans. He contends that warming is slowing and that the adverse effects on humans of proposed policies to slow it further would dwarf the alleged adverse consequences of warming. Again, Zubrin tells us that for many environmentalists, “The cure of choice for global warming is human sacrifice.”

In all of the cases Zubrin reviews, one could argue that individuals sought to protect humans from harmful technologies, products, or practices. No doubt this is what many rank-and-file environmentalists believe. And it is always risky to ascribe to individuals insidious motivation rather than honest error. Some readers will be put off by the moral damnations that Zubrin offers. But Zubrin allows many of his subjects to damn themselves in their own words and their callousness toward individuals—sterilization, starvation—that cannot be excused as innocent. And he might have pointed to recent calls for radical reductions in population as evidence of the accelerating erosion of humanist values.

And there are those today who grant intrinsic value to nature apart from its value to humans—valuing a forest because we enjoy its beauty or harvest its trees for lumber. This implies nature has “rights” and that we humans must sacrifice our own wellbeing lest we violate them. That is antihumanism. Zubrin challenges readers to examine closely their own beliefs.

A New Enlightenment

This brings us back to the thesis of Abundance and the unquestioned philosophical assumptions and values held by the inquirer wishing to know if humanity’s material future is bright or bleak. Diamandis and Kotler persuade us that prosperity is possible and inspire us with examples of those who are creating such a benevolent world. But they would be wise to heed Zubrin’s warnings of the antihuman ideology in the environmental movement. To overcome this ideology, these authors should understand that human well-being must be the beacon for guiding all value judgments and that the human unit is not the group but the individual. Zubrin is right that “Human beings, on balance, are creators, not destroyers.” That’s how Diamandis and Kotler see the “bottom billion” who they want to empower to rise and flourish rather than to kill off. Indeed, to be a human is to create the means of one’s physical survival and spiritual wellbeing.

We see in the optimism of Diamandis and Kotler, and in the insistence by Zubrin that we must always put humans first, the elements of a new Enlightenment synthesis that can take up where the first Enlightenment left off that transformed the world over three centuries ago. END

About the Author

DR. EDWARD HUDGINS is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society, which promotes open Objectivism. Hudgins has worked as director of regulatory studies for the Cato Institute, as a senior economist at the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, and was both deputy director for economic policy studies and director of the Center for International Economic Growth at the Heritage Foundation. Books he has edited include An Objectivist Secular Reader, Space: The Free Market Frontier, Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, and two books on postal service privatization. Hudgins has a B.A. from the University of Maryland, an M.A. from American University, and Ph.D. from Catholic University in political philosophy. He has taught at universities in the United States and in Germany.


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Adam Grant (photo by Michael Kamber)
Give and Take:
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IN THIS LECTURE, based on his book on the psychology of human interactions, organizational psychologist (and the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton Business School) argues that as much as hard work, talent and luck, the way we choose to interact with other people defines our success or failure. Give and Take demolishes the “me-first” worldview and shows that the best way to get to the top is to focus not on your solo journey but on bringing others with you. Grant reveals how one of America’s best networkers developed his connections, why a creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts turned things around, and how we could have anticipated Enron’s demise four years before the company collapsed—without ever looking at a single number.

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Followed by…
  • Odd Couples: Extraordinary Differences between the Sexes
    in the Animal Kingdom

    with Dr. Daphne J. Fairbairn
    Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 2 pm
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Please note there are important policy and pricing changes for this season of lectures at Caltech. Please review these changes now.

48 Comments »

48 Comments

  1. dave says:

    i am very sceptical of the views expressed in the book reviews by edward hudgins and wonder why biased views like this are published by the skeptics soc with amazon links to purchase these books does the skeptics soc get a percentage of these sales i see no evidence produced for these extreme views only derogatory comparisons with obsolete and discredited persons and organisations from other eras i would like to refer people to the work of craig dilworth, “too smart for our own good” which is a well researched scientific work that attempts to explain mans current predicament

  2. Mike Havenar says:

    I am very skeptical about this over-written article on Abundance, especially its optimistic conclusion, that things are getting better all the time. Weapons-makers and Hydrogen bomb enthusiasts are making a fortune preparing us for another world wide slaughter. Secret treaties and agreements, enormous profits from selling to all sides in a conflict, war rhetoric like tsunamis all over the world–it resembles the decade before WW I, when peace activists, who after 100 years of struggle had finally managed to produce the first Geneva Conventions producing “rules of war,” were delirious with joy over the coming Age of Peace. The 20th Century saw 100 million people massacred. Get real. Human beings, like Sartre said, “are traitors and cowards.” And they are getting ready to roll over on their backs like puppies for a slaughter that might finally bring world peace, to whichever creatures besides humans that manage to survive. And if a final conflagration and ecological catastrophe does not arrive, the human society that prevails will more closely resemble a squalid ghetto ruled by actual robots than any Abundance described in the article. The only ones living free will be the very very rich, who will live in towers surrounded by warrior robots to keep the rabble down.

  3. Stuart Anderson says:

    The article was a poor piece of writing. Hudgins quotes Zubrin;”Most notably, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, Rachel Carson offered scientifically unsound hysteria that became a cause célèbre for the environmentalists. Even though no studies have shown DDT to be a major danger to birds, as Carson contended, much less humans, ”

    This is unscientific rubbish . From Wikipedia; DDT is toxic to a wide range of living organisms, including marine animals such as crayfish, daphnids, sea shrimp and many species of fish. It is less toxic to mammals, but may be moderately toxic to some amphibian species, especially in the larval stage. DDT, through its metabolite DDE, caused eggshell thinning and resulted in severe population declines in multiple North American and European bird of prey species.[43] Eggshell thinning lowers the reproductive rate of certain bird species by causing egg breakage and embryo deaths. DDE related eggshell thinning is considered a major reason for the decline of the bald eagle,[8] brown pelican,[44] peregrine falcon, and osprey.[1] However, different groups of birds vary greatly in their sensitivity to these chemicals.[2] Birds of prey, waterfowl, and song birds are more susceptible to eggshell thinning than chickens and related species, and DDE appears to be more potent than DDT.[1] Even in 2010, more than forty years after the U.S. ban, California condors which feed on sea lions at Big Sur which in turn feed in the Palos Verdes Shelf area of the Montrose Chemical Superfund site seemed to be having continued thin-shell problems. Scientists with the Ventana Wildlife Society and others are intensifying studies and remediations of the condors’ problems.[45]

    The biological thinning mechanism is not entirely known, but there is strong evidence that p,p’-DDE inhibits calcium ATPase in the membrane of the shell gland and reduces the transport of calcium carbonate from blood into the eggshell gland. This results in a dose-dependent thickness reduction.[1][46][47][48] There is also evidence that o,p’-DDT disrupts female reproductive tract development, impairing eggshell quality later.[49] Multiple mechanisms may be at work, or different mechanisms may operate in different species.[1] Some studies show that although DDE levels have fallen dramatically, eggshell thickness remains 10–12 percent thinner than before DDT was first used.[50]

    Hudgins states “American politicians worked to ban it and to promote the ban in other countries. Zubrin says perhaps 100 million died in subsequent decades, mostly in Africa, because of restrictions on DDT.”

    This is a lie, DDT usage has declined principly due to lack of effectiveness as a result of resistance “Resistance has greatly reduced DDT’s effectiveness. WHO guidelines require that absence of resistance must be confirmed before using the chemical.[99] Resistance is largely due to agricultural use, in much greater quantities than required for disease prevention. According to one study that attempted to quantify the lives saved by banning agricultural use and thereby slowing the spread of resistance, “it can be estimated that at current rates each kilo of insecticide added to the environment will generate 105 new cases of malaria.”[26]

    Resistance was noted early in spray campaigns. Paul Russell, a former head of the Allied Anti-Malaria campaign, observed in 1956 that “resistance has appeared after six or seven years.”[24] DDT has lost much of its effectiveness in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Turkey and Central America, and it has largely been replaced by organophosphate or carbamate insecticides, e.g. malathion or bendiocarb.[100]

    In many parts of India, DDT has also largely lost its effectiveness.[101] Agricultural uses were banned in 1989, and its anti-malarial use has been declining. Urban use has halted completely.[102] Nevertheless, DDT is still manufactured and used,[103] and one study had concluded that “DDT is still a viable insecticide in indoor residual spraying owing to its effectivity in well supervised spray operation and high excito-repellency factor.”[104]

    Studies of malaria-vector mosquitoes in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa found susceptibility to 4% DDT (the WHO susceptibility standard), in 63% of the samples, compared to the average of 86.5% in the same species caught in the open. The authors concluded that “Finding DDT resistance in the vector An. arabiensis, close to the area where we previously reported pyrethroid-resistance in the vector An. funestus Giles, indicates an urgent need to develop a strategy of insecticide resistance management for the malaria control programmes of southern Africa.”[105]

    Is this a Skeptical Magazine or a propaganda machine ?

    • John Vezina says:

      I too was taken aback by the ridiculous assertions, for that is what they are, merely assertions regarding DDT. What then, caused the near extinction of, for example, the American Bald Eagle if not DDT which had an effect of weakening the eggshells of the birds so that they were not able to give birth?

      As to asteroid mining, yes it is possible but the authors display their ignorance of how mining works. We can mine Earth’s mineral resources largely because of water. It is water that has picked up metallic and other ions and concentrated them via precipitation into economically viable concentrations. Without the absolutely essential water enrichment process, an asteroid is just a chunk of rock. You may find nickel and perhaps iron but you won’t find gold, rare earths, or anything else useful to us. The elements may very well be there but they would require more energy to extract and because they are not enriched, there would not be enough to bother with. It would be much easier and more economical to mine sea water on Earth in order to extract pretty much any element we might want.

      But it is just a book review isn’t it?

      • Liam McDaid says:

        About asteroid mining…. actually, energy will not be a problem because in most of the Belt the sunlight is sufficient to harvest for power. Not the mention the fact that the metal asteroids are ALL metal, so I don’t know if harvesting it could even be called “mining”.

        • John Vezina says:

          But the all metal space rocks are extremely rare. And you are ignoring the fact that without water, geothermal energy, plate tectonics, time, and even organic catalysis, there is nothing out there to mine economically. An average stony or chondritic meteor contains only 1 gold atom per 5,000,000 silicon atoms. That same “average” space rock contains 250 atoms of copper per 1,000,000 atoms of silicon, 130 zinc atoms, 1300 cobalt atoms, 7400 manganese atoms, 6600 chromium atoms…the point is that there is not much worth going after. Consider that nearly all of our minerals such as gold, copper, lead, zinc, tin, antimony. iron (water precipitated BIFs), quartz, silver, uranium, lithium, all the lanthanides, are minable here on the Earth only because they have been concentrated by organic and hydrothermal processes.

      • Michael says:

        I see the commenters on the article repeating the same falsehoods about DDT

  4. Aaron W. Johnson says:

    In 1973, Peakall et al., showed conclusively that DDT caused thinning of eggshells in the Pekin Duck, the American Kestrel, and the ring dove. This finding was confirmed in 2006 by Holm et al. Hudgins claim that no study has shown DDT has a major impact on birds is an unmitigated falsehood. A quick search through any biological abstracts search engine (or even JSTOR) turns up literally hundreds of peer-reviewed articles that offer statistically significant evidence that DDT exposure is a major problem, and even identifies the mechanisms by which DDT is ingested and the pathways by which DDT can be harmful. Wurster et al., 1965, showed that DDT application was directly culpable in the death of birds in Hanover, NJ, and Bailey et al., 1974, showed that DDT application in orchards caused blackbird mortality in East Anglia. In a 1966 article, Keith found that DDT was somewhat less responsible for bird deaths in wetlands than was toxaphene, but noted that both cause bird mortality in Tule Lake and the Lower Klamath Wildlife Refuge. In a 1968 study, Ecobichon and Saschenbrecker found that exposure to DDT at the microgram per gram (ppm) level was fatal for Leghorn roosters. I find Hudgins claim that no study has shown DDT to have a major negative effect on birds to be utter rubbish and clearly contravened by evidence. Perhaps Hudgins is referring to the fact that DDT, once ingested, is converted metabolically to DDE, and it is actually the DDE that is far more destructive to birds. While his claim could be considered technically correct in that case, it’s still a specious argument since DDT exposure is required for the bird’s metabolism to convert the insecticide to DDE. I’m quite disappointed in this particular issue of eSkeptic. Did no editor provide even a cursory fact check? It’s alarming when this type of outright falsehood is promulgated by a magazine purporting to offer critical evaluation of evidence and data.

  5. Kenn Pappas says:

    I can’t add much more to the previous comments other than to express my similar distrust. Although the article presents a positive outlook by stating that the “world is getting better”, it singles out aspects such as the false conclusions that Malthus presented as evidence. This is somewhat an “old hat” statement. Nobody really believes Malthus predicated a truism that has panned out from evidence. As one of the previous commentators said, nuclear bombs threaten our population and existence, and certainly technology doesn’t always work out in our favor. Somes societies advance, others are left with an even more impoverished outlook because they can’t afford the high cost of development.

    I do appreciate optimism in any article in order to offset a high level of pessimism that is generally propagated by the media. However, Skeptic is more of a forum for evidence-based presentations. Although it sounds horrific to even suggest that reduction in population through sterilization could lead to a better society, I’d like to see evidence that would contravene such an idea, since there may be worlds powers in the future that are confronted with excessive populations where extreme measures are taken. Exporting populations to Mars would seem a viable solution to overpopulation, but … it doesn’t seem particularly feasible in the near future. The costs, though less than NASA may have projected, are nevertheless huge costs.

  6. Scott Johnson says:

    I’d like to echo complaints about the book review this week. It took just a few paragraphs for me to detect that it was written by a hardline libertarian ideologue. It’s clearly a partisan’s view and not a scientist’s.

    As others have noted, the ridiculous assertions about DDT are precisely wrong, ignorance of climate science goes without context or challenge, and the “environmentalists are just eugenicists repackaged” conspiracy meme is insane. This is the kind of stuff that gets published on climate contrarian blogs (and in Bjorn Lomborg’s books) and has no place at Skeptic.

    Skepticism was certainly not applied to the claims in the books reviewed here, likely because they said what Dr. Hudgins likes to hear.

  7. Bob Saxon says:

    By publishing bias reviews such as this, it seems that Skeptic has become a libertarian propaganda tool – Michael Shermer’s The Mind of the Market has that twist also. Please – try to be more SKEPTICAL! Political biases are difficult to lay aside – but please do a better job.

  8. Bob Pease says:

    Objectivism is antique and can’t address the problems of environment and Dominionist Religions of today
    The whole article is a Pitch for Libertatian viewpoints and seems off topic, although it did inspire me heck out Ayn Rand and her antique ideas again

    Dr. S

  9. Joel Peterson says:

    I love Skeptic magazine, but am very disappointed by this issue of eSkeptic. Presenting differing opinions is a good thing, but this article reads like a piece of propaganda from a not-so-scientific viewpoint.

    “He [Zubrin] contends that warming is slowing…”. According to the climate scientists I have read, the oceans have been temporarily warming at the expense of the atmosphere; the overall warming has not slowed down.

  10. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    I echo the criticism of this book review. However, I an encouraged by the triumph of skepticism over demagoguery – the comments present well-reasoned responses to the review. Well done, skeptics!

    Thanx to all of you for warning me to stay away from those two books!

    This illustrates one of my pet peeves about (non-fiction) books: people read them as if they are all authoritative (if it got it into print it must be right). Don’t do that! Always doubt a book – fact check it and scrutinize it. After a certain amount of fact-check failure, stop reading it and just set it aside. Maybe relegate it to stopping tables from wobbling. These two books sound like great anti-wobbling devices!

  11. Eric says:

    I’m disappointed in Skeptic for running such a superficial analysis, one that’s also marred by techno and market fundamentalism, both species of ideological dogmatism that somehow get a free pass from some skeptics.

    The author, a prominent objectivist, should have tipped me off. By mentioning this I don’t intend an ad hominem attack or indictment via guilt by association. Rather, I merely draw upon a well-evidenced inductive conclusion that when we’re dealing with objectivists, and often libertarians as well, we can expect a myriad of lapses in thought that severely bias and distort analysis: the bizarre and extreme in-group/out-group splitting between actors within the “free market” (whatever that is, but praised uncritically) versus anything having to do with the state (demonized uncritically); a seemingly built-into-the-DNA avoidance of perspectives based on systems thinking.

    Now, some specifics.

    There’s a moral unseriousness in Hudgins’ overall approach that we should all find troubling, and tt brings me to the kernel of my charge against this substandard book review. It’s that many if not all these global problems of human poverty, human trafficking, hunger, starvation, illiteracy, pollution, etc., could be addressed more quickly and effectively if we had the political will to do so. And we don’t need technological breakthroughs to do it. For instance, a small transactional tax on Wall Street (historically supported by Dems and Republicans alike, but for different purposes than what I’m suggesting) could generate 1, 2 or 3 hundred billion a year, and ensure that no one went hungry in the world. Why do I suspect that Hudgins would be opposed to this?

    It’s because Hudgins follows a common ideological framing of the libertarian right, which blinds the reader (but more Hudgins than the reader, I assume) to a fuller accounting of the solutions available to us when addressing any number of human problems. The outline of this frame is straightforward: 1) State intervention of any type is usually or always verboten. (Indeed, there’s only one thing worse than needless human misery, suffering and death, and that is democratically elected governments trying to do anything about it.) 2) As a consequence we have to conclude that the solutions to human problems consist of technology and the magic of the market. There are many problems with this view, but they can be summarized by simply pointing out that many human problems are not easily solved, or solved at all, and sometimes made worse by, markets or technology. This shouldn’t even have to be mentioned, but whole ideological camps are built on not paying too much attention to this observation.

    Other problems with this book review:

    1. It’s obliviousness to the downsides of private enterprise, global capital and industry. Does Hudgens have even the slightest awareness of the very mixed record in this area? Has he ever bothered to read about, e.g., how corporations in the global north, allied with northern governments and institutions like the IMF, have institutionalized dependency in the global south, using it as a source of cheap raw materials, exploited and sometimes brutalized labor, and a dumping ground for pollution and dangerous chemicals banned in more developed countries? A serious book review would be negligent in ignoring this qualification.

    2. The overgeneralization of reason: “First, respect for the power of human reason gives us an almost infinite capacity to change the world for the better.” The tribal chant of “reason, reason” is grotesquely naive–a kind of rationalist Tourette’s syndrome. Science and innovation require much more than the use of reason. Creativity is just as important as reason, as is higher order cognition. Certain personality traits are conducive to innovation. These and other human capacities in turn exist in a state of mutuality with complex social and cultural systems–research, financial support, minimized social inequality, values, law, public policy and so forth. Skeptics are notoriously guilty of shortchanging human complexity by our fixation on reason alone. When you add to that the objectivist/libertarian mistake of shortchanging social complexity and thinking the government is only a source of trouble, we run into another set of avoidable problems when we try to analyze and solve the messes we’re in.

    3. The lionizing of corporate leaders neglects everyone else. I have a considerable admiration for “Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Venter, Kamen, Camera, Whitesides, Mitra, Rutan, Musk, Kurzweil”, etc. But, how exactly is Apple solving world hunger RIGHT NOW? Although I’m assuming Kurzweil is concerned with world illiteracy, what are his inventions doing to teach poor kids to read in India (or the increasing ‘developing world’ quality of the US)? The point is that we need a diversity of people doing different things like activists taking action; ethical, spiritual and yes religious voices calling both for social reforms and us to our higher selves; thinkers like Amartya Sen who clarify our understanding of the nature of human development; charitable giving (ironically often denigrated by objectivists!) to aid organizations; ethically minded politicians and policy makers writing law, etc.

    However, by highlighting technological private sector innovators and ignoring everyone else, Hudgins can paint a picture that’s ideologically tidy, one that’s cleansed of those who don’t fit into the objectivist universe. This objectivist narrative–like some adolescent fiction novel (oh, wait…)–eternally reproduces its fantasy of Promethean heroes practically standing outside history, single-handedly saving humanity from itself without the need for taxes, environmental regulation, or well-funded public schools.

    There’s another rhetorical ploy at work in naming individuals like “Gates, Jobs…” etc. It obscures the fact that Jobs isn’t (wasn’t) still in his basement making Apple computers all his life. He worked in a large corporation that had many effects in the world outside of just making cool stuff. Ever hear of Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, and their brutal labor practices? This too is part of “Gates, Jobs, …”

    4. The extreme confirmation bias that characterizes the environmental movement as antihuman. The slightest familiarity with environmental science, writing, thought and reporting reveals the ludicrous nature of this claim. On the contrary, the vast bulk of environmentalist thought is profoundly pro-human, almost more so than any other interest group outside of the human rights community. Hudgins must therefore assume that the reader is a near total ecological illiterate to pass off his unqualified and sweeping anti-environmentalist views.

    It seems to me that skepticism is long, long overdue for a confrontation with libertarianism. For sure a few IQs points above creationism, libertarianism is nevertheless a mind killer. An odd stepchild within skepticism, it clings to its own systemic ideological confirmation bias, its pet theories and explanations. “Markets are moral” says Shermer, piously. Imagine if I said, “stairs are good”, or “roads are good.” Wouldn’t you want to understand the context of these claims before agreeing to whether they were good, neutral or bad? Markets exist in inextricable relationships with law, customs, values, governments, myriad social facts, etc. We can’t say markets are moral until we understand their embedded reality. However, in a world of great complexity, libertarianism prefers a simple and tidy approach with consoling psychological certainties. Its dubious slogans, biases and blind spots are painfully obvious to the outsider, but typically hidden from its adherents.

    We need critical thought applied to libertarianism, not a parade of its errors in book reviews.

    • MSpalding says:

      And yet 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty in China and India by the action of free markets and globalization. While, at the same time, $600 Billion has been squandered using government aid in Africa to produce little progress in alleviating human suffering. That government aid came from taxes levied on all of us. It would have been equally ineffective if it had been raised by ‘a few percent tax on Wall Street’.

      As humans we are all blinded by our ideologies. Let’s just look at results. Where did all the wealth on this planet come from? Did taxation and redistribution to the needy create it?

  12. Roy Niles says:

    Wow, great comments from some realistic skeptics.

  13. Edward Hudgins says:

    I’ll try to clear up a misconception running through some of these discussions by distinguishing between 1) crony capitalism and 2) free market capitalism.

    With the former, who gets what is determined by political power—Wall Street bailouts, government-enforced trade protection, subsidies for certain companies. For the latter, who gets what is determined by who provides goods and services to paying voluntary customers.

    Diamandis and Kotler generally appreciate the entrepreneurial superiority of private sector actors as opposed to politicians and government bureaucrats. But as Abundance hit bookstores and Kindles, the Obama administration was hit with the Solyndra scandal. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars went to a solar cell company run by politically-connected individuals promising energy miracles. The company ultimately went bankrupt. And I see today that the Fisker company, which tried to produce “Green” cars with a half-billion federal government loan, is filing for bankruptcy. While the authors rightly focus on private entrepreneurial initiatives, they seem a little too comfortable with government. Politics is dangerous.

  14. Tom McMahon says:

    MLK said: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

    I’m shocked that the Skeptics Society would give such generous kudos to “Abundance…”

    It’s full of mis-information as previous reviewers have stated. It’s nothing more than scientific hokum with a political agenda.

    Roll up your sleeves Michael and do not let your libertarian-ism get in the way of reporting legitimate science or Scientific American will have to ask you to leave its writer’s stable.

    In general, I applaud your articles, but giving so much space and credence to pure propaganda is nor worthy of the Skeptics Society.

    Tom McMahon

  15. Edward Hudgins says:

    A few points about population: Zubrin is, indeed, making a value judgment, which he states clearly up front. In the tradition of the Enlightenment he assumes that individuals are values in themselves, that they deserve a right to their own lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. The unit of moral concern is the individual, not “society.” The value of living in society with others is that individuals can better prosper and flourish. Further, I quote Zubrin as saying, “people can use their minds to create novel adaptations varying from technological innovations to better forms of social organization, [thus] human progress is chiefly governed by what people accomplish during their lives, rather than chiefly through the process of their winnowing out by death.” In other words, population as such is not a problem because it is human individuals who create value. Humans are the ultimate resource, to paraphrase the late Julian Simon.

    Zubrin does not discuss economics nor did I say much on the subject in my review. But I could have added that population is a problem when countries limit the liberty of individuals to create values, in other words, limit economic liberty; more on that in another post.

    I would add—here I put my values up front and challenge others to do the same—that individuals do not need to justify their lives by the good they contribute to society or their neighbors, though in a free society they certainly do so. Again, critics are welcome to disagree with this judgment but they should do so up front and not pretend that they are somehow “objective” and not coming to the discussion with any value assumptions. These are issues worthy of discussion but let’s discuss them up front.

    • Scott Johnson says:

      Here in the real world, I would note that rising population is less a concern about “limiting economic liberty” and more one about access to food, finite resources, and stabilizing a changing climate system. A passing familiarity with the science on the ground might help.

      Sure, humans create value. Does that mean we will definitely find magic solutions to every basic sustainability problem before they become problematic? Obviously, it ensures no such thing, and to assume it does is would be madness. So now we’re down where the rubber meets the road, discussing the state of the problems and what it will take to chart a future course. That’s an interesting discussion. Blindly repeating claims about Rachel Carson causing millions of deaths is not.

  16. Eric says:

    I think Scott Johnson is exactly correct in calling for a discussion that is based on the current scientific understanding. Perhaps a solid starting point is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the most comprehensive (at least to my knowledge) dataset with regard to the state of ecosystem services. This research shows that, briefly, we are living unsustainably.

    So, this is the first bit of evidence.

    Evidence need a theory or conceptual framework to be meaningful. So, from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment “…people are integral parts of ecosystems and that a dynamic interaction exists between them and other parts of ecosystems, with the changing human condition driving, both directly and indirectly, changes in ecosystems and thereby causing changes in human well-being.”[1] In brief, human affect nature, and nature affects us.

    Taking this research into account, it seems reasonable to conclude that population is not a problem if and only if we’re not undercutting our ability, and those coming after us, to live lives of dignity and well-being. Given that we are living beyond our means, it follows that we are jeopardizing our current and future well-being.

    We should also see if we can sort of Julian Simon’s notions regarding the relationship between economics and nature. Simon wrote, “Resources are not finite in any economic sense.”[2] If this strikes the skeptic, at least at face value, as having a tinge of ideological mania to it, you’re not alone. Upon further analysis Simon’s view collapses. The best rebuttal to Simon’s lunacy that I know of is Herman Daly’s “Ultimate Confusion – The Economics of Julian Simon.” (google it) If Mr. Hudgins can find a significant problem with Daly’s argument, I’d be curious to hear it.

    Hudgins apparently disagrees that population is a problem, but he doesn’t make his reasoning clear. He writes,

    “In other words, population as such is not a problem because it is human individuals who create value. Humans are the ultimate resource, to paraphrase the late Julian Simon.”

    This is a non sequitur. Please restate your argument if you would.

    But, let’s also remind ourselves that humans, while creators of value, also create entropy. It’s entirely possible to use up all of a resource and not have any left. And there’s no promise that substitutes will be able to do the job.

    [1] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005). Ecosystem and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. p. V
    [2] Simon, J. (1981). The Ultimate Resource. Princeton University Press. p. 17

  17. Aaron W. Johnson says:

    No reply from Mr. Hudgins with respect to the claim that ‘DDT causes no major harm to birds?’ How about this study, from way back in 1946, that showed that DDT caused mortality in young birds at levels of 400 ppm (4mg/Kg). Coburn and Treichler, 1946, ‘Experiments on Toxicity of DDT to Wildlife’, The Journal of Wildlife Management, v. 10, n. 3, p. 208-216.

  18. Aaron W. Johnson says:

    Sorry 400 mg/kg

  19. Denis K. says:

    What a ridiculous piece of commentary from Mr. Hudgins. A book review that is more of a summary, lacking completely a critical component. Coming from an economist, I’m not really surprised. But being published on Skeptic??? This is very disappointing!
    A re-organization of the comments provided here would make a great rebuttal to the nonsensical, unproven “assertions” of this feature article on eSkeptic.

  20. Edward Hudgins says:

    I’m charged with a lack of moral seriousness because one critic who argues that a lack of political will allows starvation, illness, and the other evils to persist in the less-developed world. Of course, decades of foreign aid wealth transfers from prosperous to poor countries have had only marginal effects. The problem is with the political-economic regimes in those poor countries that keep them poor. This was not the subject of the books I reviewed or my discussion but let’s say a few fact-based things on this issue.

    In the late ‘80s I wanted to know why the four “Asian Tigers”—Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—were doing so much better economically that African countries. So a colleague and I looked at GDP growth of those Asian countries, using “purchasing power parity,” between 1965—about the time the European colonial empires were breaking up—and 1985. We found that the Asian GDPs grew from a total of $50.5 billion to $269.9 billion, over a four-fold increase. And even with population growth, the income per capita of individuals in those countries rose from $1,080 to $3,949.

    In 1965, the sub-Saharan African countries, minus South Africa and a few countries for which we couldn’t get good numbers, had a total GDP of $121.4 billion. By 1985, those economies had grown to $211.8 billion, only about a 75 percent increase. Worse still, with population growth, the per capita incomes were stagnant at about $500.
    But what would the GDP of those African countries have looked like if they had grown at the rates of those Asian countries? We found that rather than a $211.8 GDP, they would have had $648 billion. Further, per capita income in Africa would have been $1,841 rather than a paltry $500—a $1,300-plus growth dividend!

    Three of the Asian countries in decades past had been ravaged by war. None had killer-app resources like oil. But they had far freer economic systems than did the African countries. Still, I wanted to understand with more precision the relationship between economic regimes and economic results.

    So in the late ‘80s I conceived of and developed the indicators for the Index of Economic Freedom, which was later operationalized by colleagues of mine. I also worked with the team that developed the Economic Freedom of the World report. The factors measured included rule of law; protection of property rights; tax rates; trade barriers; monetary policy; and government barriers to market entry. For nearly two decades now these two Indices, using different methodologies, have issued regular updates that show that economic growth along with other indicators of material well-being are strongly associated with economic liberty.

    A more focused understanding of economic cause and effect can be gleaned from “The Other Path” the revolutionary 1987 book by Peruvian economist Hernando DeSoto. That author documented how the poor in Peru were kept in their place by government restrictions on economic freedom meant to protect corrupt vested interests. For example, DeSoto found that it would take a poor Peruvian 289 days to get permission from the government to set up a small business with two sewing machines. To secure a piece of abandoned land would take nearly seven years. The system was not capitalist or free market but what DeSoto calls “mercantilist”—we might say crony capitalist—with government favoring politically-connected businesses and individuals.

    Because of heavy-handed regulations, the poor in Peru—and in most other less developed countries—simply operate in the “informal sector” or “black market.” Some 90 percent of the bus and public transportation in Lima was performed outside the law. Retail markets were mostly informal. So was housing construction. (This entrepreneurial spirit and dynamic is documented in many of the descriptions in “Abundance.”) Most important, the property rights of the poor were not protected by law.

    By contrast, in the early twentieth century Argentina was one of the top ten in GDP and per capita income. It had first-world infrastructure—rail transport, electricity—thanks mainly to British capital, and a world-class agricultural sector, with its beef especially prized. But that country, especially starting from 1945 under Peron, copied its economic system, called “corporatism,” off of Mussolini. Argentina continues to be an economic mess.

    Do these findings about economic-political regimes mean that Diamandis and Kotler are wrong? No!

    First, the new communications technologies are having profound political consequences, empowering many who otherwise suffer under the heavy hand of authoritarian rulers. See their chapter in “Abundance” on this topic.

    Second, the technologies they document will allow the “bottom billion” to cut decades and billions of dollars out of a development process that took centuries in Europe and North America. Again, consider the potential of Dean Kaman’s “Slingshot.” And I saw a good example of “leap frogging” technologies in the Latin America starting in the early 1990s. Their telecommunications systems were so bad that portable phones and cell phones came into vogue long before they did in the U.S.

    So if you want to get morally serious about the desire of Diamandis and Kotler—and Hudgins!—to see prosperity for all, do look at the decades of research that points the way to such a world that I hope all benevolent skeptics and humanist would favor!

  21. Edward Hudgins says:

    I’ll offer a first comment concerning DDT by repeating from my review that “In all of the cases Zubrin reviews, one could argue that individuals sought to protect humans from harmful technologies, products, or practices. No doubt this is what many rank-and-file environmentalists believe. And it is always risky to ascribe to individuals insidious motivation rather than honest error.” I’ll assume that those responding on this thread are such individuals.

    Still, Zubrin is questioning motives that color how important environmentalists approach issues. So he offers us this revealing remark from Club of Rome co-founder Alexander King:

    “My own doubts came when DDT was introduced for civilian use. In Guyana, within two years it had almost eliminated malaria, but at the same time the birth rate had doubled. So my chief quarrel with DDT in hindsight is that it has greatly added to the population problem.”

    King’s chief concern is not that in hindsight DDT actually killed more human than it saved; indeed, he acknowledges that it saved lives. And King is not from some fringe extremist. So if you’re arguing against DDT because you believe it has not on net saved lives, or that its more extensive use would not have saved the millions who have died from insect-borne illnesses over the decades, at least you’re coming from a different value perspective than some of the leading lights in the movement.

    • Scott Johnson says:

      Dr. Hudgins-

      When charged with getting the science of something wrong, the correct response isn’t quote-mining. It’s to engage with the research. Cute comments about “value perspectives” aren’t interesting. The details of pesticide resistance would be.

  22. Aaron W. Johnson says:

    Mr. Hudgins, your exact words are: …”no studies have shown DDT to be a major danger to birds, as Carson contended,…”

    Literally dozens of studies conducted over decades of research have shown DDT to be a major danger for many species of birds (assuming that mortality is a major danger). If you are willing to call Carson’s writing in Silent Spring ‘scientifically unsound hysteria’ when the peer-reviewed literature shows clearly and convincingly that DDT is a major danger to birds, one can only wonder what other bits and pieces of evidence you have either ignored, mis-characterized, or willfully suppressed in your review. This fact alone is enough to make me doubt the veracity of any number of claims in your review, but it hints at a much larger problem. Namely, you make a claim in the absence of evidence, engage in an ad hominem attack (scientifically unsound hysteria is an attack on Carson and her work), and instead of acknowledging that the claim you make is in error, you move the goalposts in an attempt to reframe the criticism.

    Taken separately, each of these observations is forgivable. We are human, and humans often make mistakes. Taken together, they lead me to doubt the conclusions you draw in your review.

  23. Eric says:

    As far as I can tell there’s little reason to doubt that some degree of economic freedom is essential for human well-being. Describing the exact nature of that relationship though is both a complex and contentious affair. When it comes to the Economic Freedom Around the World (EFW hereafter) report however, it seems to me it not just fails, but fails catastrophically as a stand-alone or even primary measure on whose basis we should think about law and policy.

    So, where does the EFW falter?

    1. It completely ignores a number of other potential indicators of economic freedom.
    2. It ignores other ethical values essential to an economic system that works for people, as opposed to one in which people work for an economic system.
    3. It uses question-begging assumptions and generalizations about the nature of freedom and government that don’t sustain critical scrutiny.
    4. It gives an overly simplistic and even misleading impression of the relationship between “economic freedom” and indicators of human well-being like life expectancy.
    5. Its limited ability to capture the full realities of the human experience in light of ethics makes the CFW a poor candidate for a policy-guiding framework.

    1) Clearly, disagreements over what constitutes “economic freedom” stem from prior assumptions about the meaning of freedom in general. Since I want to focus here on examples of economic freedom that are excluded by the EFW, I won’t develop an extended discussion of the debate over the meaning of freedom, except to make the following comments. The EFW relies on a common libertarian conception of freedom, often referred to as negative liberty, or, the principle of non-interference in the lives of others. Freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the like, all fit under the rubric of negative liberty. This is often contrasted with positive freedom, perhaps the best contemporary formulation of which is the capability approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. The capability approach posits a conception of freedom in which the individual has the capability to, for example, live a healthy life (if one so chooses), or pursue education as far as one’s abilities permit, participate politically in one’s community or society, and so forth. In other words, the capabilities approach locates freedom in what people actually value in their lives and the capability to function in ways they desire.

    If we take this view of freedom and include other commonly held values like those found in well-known human rights documents, a reformulated economic freedom index might include components like:

    freedom from economic environments that offer jobs that don’t provide a living wage
    freedom from abusive labor practices
    freedom to democratically participate in the administration and leadership of an enterprise
    freedom to share in the profits of an enterprise
    freedom from toxic and dangerous workplaces
    freedom from overwork and the ability to enjoy leisure time
    freedom to engage in participate in labor unions
    freedom from economic systems that create conditions of virtual enslavement
    freedom from economic systems that employ child labor and deny children opportunities for full development

    From the above it’s clear that a libertarian account of economic freedom leaves out other values that a broader ethical view would compel us to incorporate in an economic system designed to serve human well-being. When this narrow libertarian conception of freedom becomes the basis for economic policy it has and does generate needless harm against individuals, as we’ll soon see. The reason is based on a principle which might go like ‘If law and policy ignore the fullness of what it means to be human, don’t be surprised at the unintended negative consequences.’
    2) What happens when we evacuate the moral landscape of any values other than those contained in EFW’s economic freedom?

    Most obviously, it’s highly questionable whether we can achieve a world that’s fit for human dignity. Economist Amartya Sen notes how conditions of human degradation are perfectly compatible with a libertarian conception of rights:

    “…as is shown in my Poverty and Famines, even gigantic famines can result without anyone’s libertarian rights (including property rights) being violated. The destitutes such as the unemployed or the impoverished may starve precisely because their “entitlements”–legitimate as they are–do not give them enough food. This might look like a special case of a “catastrophic moral horror,” but horrors of any degree of seriousness–all the way from gigantic famines to regular undernourishment and endemic but nonextreme hunger–can be shown to be consistent with a system in which no one’s libertarian rights are violated. Similarly, deprivation of other types (for example, the lack of medical care for curable illnesses) can coexist with all libertarian rights (including rights of property ownership) being fully satisfied.[1]

    The EFW’s narrow view of economic freedom means that in practice the “market” is the best allocator of resources. But, might this be an unwarranted dogma, a just-so story that keeps getting told? Economist Joseph Stiglitz in Globalization and Its Discontents notes one disastrous consequence of libertarian economic freedom:

    “[Advocates of market liberalization] contended that capital market controls impeded economic efficiency and that, as a result, countries would grow better without these controls. Thailand provides a case in point for why this argument was so flawed. Before liberalization, Thailand had severe limitations on the extent to which banks could lend for speculative real estate. It had imposed these limits because it was a poor country that wanted to grow, and it believed that investing the country’s scare capital in manufacturing would both create jobs and enhance growth. It also knew that throughout the world, speculative real estate lending is a major source of economic instability…

    The IMF, however, contended that the kinds of restraints that Thailand had imposed to prevent a crisis interfered with the efficient allocation of resources. If the market says, build office buildings, commercial construction must be the highest return activity. If the market says, as it effectively did after liberalization, build empty office buildings, then so be it; again, according to IMF logic, the market must know best. While Thailand was desperate for more public investment to strengthen its infrastructure and relatively weak secondary and university education systems, billions were squandered on commercial real estate. These buildings remain empty today, testimony to the risked posed by excessive market exuberance and the pervasive failures that can arise in the presence of inadequate regulation of financial institutions.”[2]

    In other words, a large number of people were forced to sacrifice their current and future well-being in order to satisfy the demands of libertarian economic freedom.

    There are innumerable other examples of how libertarian economic freedom sacrifices human well-being. They form a growing dataset that is programmatically ignored by libertarian ideologues. Take for instance a selection of cases from the book Sickness and Wealth: The Corporate Assault on Global Health.

    The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, passed in 1981, has been under continual assault by libertarians and corporate interests. The Code,

    “…forbids unscrupulous marketing practices, like the provision of free formula to mothers who deliver in hospitals, which may encourage their subsequent reliance on formula they cannot afford. It also forbids widespread advertising of formula feeding as “modern,” and thus, desirable.

    Not surprisingly, the Code faced fierce opposition from the food and drug industries…The code was passed, despite the fact that the US was the single country to oppose it, on the grounds that it would interfere with free trade. But even though the WHO’s [World Health Organization] “Baby-friendly Initiative” aims to restrict certain practices, regular violations of the Code continue to be documented.

    …In 1992, it was estimated that the use of infant formula was responsible for the deaths of three to four thousand infants in developing countries every day.”[3]

    But, so the libertarian logic seems to go, if money is being made in “free markets”, what’s the worry?

    Libertarian economic freedom is also facilitating tobacco related disease and death in the developing world. According to the WHO,

    “It is projected that tobacco use will cause 8.4 million deaths by 2020, 70% of which will occur in developing countries…

    Just as infectious diseases know no geographic or political boundaries, individual countries are incapable of effectively containing tobacco consumption. Tobacco companies have increased marketing activities in developing countries…There is growing evidence to suggest a link between tobacco consumption, free trade and tobacco-related foreign direct investment (FDI).”[4]

    But this is a link made invisible by the EFW when it insists that the only things worth knowing is the data connected to their libertarian constructs of economic freedom. In these measures the human all too often gets ignored and crushed under the wheels of libertarian freedom.

    The burden of proof is on the libertarian to show that the overly narrow conception of economic freedom as found in the EFW will produce better outcomes than public policies based on competing frameworks of measurement–a challenge to which we’ll return in a moment.

    3) The Economic Freedom of the World report writes, “When government spending increases relative to spending by individuals, households, and businesses, government decision-making is substituted for personal choice and economic freedom is reduced.”[5] There are several problems with this overly simplistic and biased formula.

    First, sometimes government decision-making increases personal choice and economic freedom. One recent example involved removing private banks from excessively profiteering off of student loans. This may have limited the economic freedom of a few banks, but somehow I doubt that millions of students who would now be making lower payments would see this as anything other than a gain in their economic freedom.

    Second, sometimes lack of government decision-making limits economic freedom. For example, take the recent scandals involving for-profit educational institutions. Many of these schools were found to be guilty of excessive executive pay, misleading students about many things, receiving kickbacks from loan companies, providing poor quality instruction, and more. An article in the Star Tribune said,

    “The industry’s ubiquitous advertising campaigns can be manipulative and misleading, including hidden costs and deceptive claims about graduation and placement rates, alleged Lori Swanson, the Minnesota attorney general, who has launched the investigation.
    “It’s a sales-oriented mentality — sign the students up, bring them in the door, maximize the profits regardless of the student’s best interest,” she said.”[6]

    This brings us to a fuzzy internal incoherence of the Econ. Freedom report. The EFW admits that a certain degree of government involvement in the economy is necessary to secure economic freedom, but then it measures ANY government involvement in the economy as a reduction in freedom.

    4) What is the actual relationship between economic freedom and indicators of human well-being? Is it really the case that the more reduce the government, the higher our well-being will be? If we’re to be honest regarding the relationship between economic freedom and human well-being, we also have to entertain the possibility that economic freedom in the EFW sense produces decreases in human (and ecological) well-being. At the moment, let’s look at the relationship between EFW’s notion of economic freedom and human life expectancy. (The graph in the EFW report shows a positive correlation between economic freedom and life expectancy.)[7]

    The casual libertarian reader might be inclined to view this graph and chalk one up for the “magic of the market.” But, as if often the case, explaining human well-being is a little more complex than the free market advocates want us to believe. Referencing a study by other researchers (publication date 1993) Sen writes,

    “On the basis of intercountry comparisons…life expectancy does indeed have a significantly positive correlation with GNP per head, but that this relationship works mainly through the impact of GNP on (1) the incomes specifically of the poor and (2) public expenditure particularly in health care. In fact, once these two variables are included on their own in the statistical exercise, little extra explanation can be obtained from including GNP per head as an additional causal influence. Indeed, with poverty and public expenditure on health as explanatory variables on their own, the connection between GNP per head and life expectancy appears…to vanish altogether.

    It is important to emphasize that this result, if vindicated by other empirical studies as well, would not show that life expectancy is not enhanced by the growth of GNP per head, but it would indicate that the connection tends to work particularly through public expenditure on health care, and through the success of poverty removal.”[8]

    In other words, a “loss” of economic freedom in the libertarian sense actually improves life expectancy.

    When it comes to measures of well-being as morally basic as life expectancy, one would hope that extra care would be taken in determining cause and effect, since if we get policy decisions wrongs, then we might end up increasing human suffering and death. If libertarians were truly concerned about human life expectancy, unpacking the full picture of what increases it would automatically be part of their analysis, even if the evidence might call into question the validity of their pet theory.

    5) In the words of economist Amartya Sen,

    “To insist that there should be only one homogenous magnitude that we value is to reduce drastically the range of our evaluative reasoning…To insist on the mechanical comfort of just having one homogenous “good thing” would be to deny our humanity as reasoning creatures. It is like seeking to make the life of the chef easier by finding something which–and which alone–we all like (such as smoked salmon, or perhaps even french fries), or some one quality which we must all try to maximize (such as the saltiness of food).[8]

    Do libertarians really believe that their narrow conception of freedom is adequate for either defining or explaining human well-being?

    As the inadequacies of GDP and economic growth have become clearer over time, and as we’ve grown in understanding about the relationship between environmental sustainability and human well-being, new measures of human well-being have appeared.

    These other indices of human well-being do things the Economic Freedom Around the World report does not. They typically use wider surveys of the factors that correlate with human well-being. Unlike the EFW, they are primarily driven by concern for human well-being, not economic ideological purity. They don’t ignore the vast majority of human values, goals and realities. Some examples include:

    Human Development Index. Perhaps the premiere overall measure of human development around the world, publishing research on such variables as the links between sustainability and equity, gender equality, poverty, life expectancy, and more. As a framework for understanding the linkages of economic performance and diverse measures of human well-being, the HDI is vastly more informative than the EFW. According to the HDI, the US ranks 47th globally in terms of gender equality. The US might rank fairly high on “economic freedom”, but what if gender equality in the US isn’t all that spectacular. Isn’t this something important as well?

    The Happy Planet Index. Published by the New Economics Foundation, the HPI measures “what truly matters to us – our well-being in terms of long, happy and meaningful lives–and what matters to the planet–our rate of resource consumption.” Emphasizing the ecological footprints of countries, it upends many scores of the Human Development Index.

    The Global Peace Index. The GPI ranks countries according to their absence of violence. The US comes in at 88 in the world.

    Living Planet Report. The nonprofit Global Footprint Network puts out this extraordinarily important, graphics-rich guide on how much “nature we have, how much we use, and who uses what.” “Our efforts are fueled by a future vision in which human demand on nature is monitored as closely as the stock market. A time when designers are shaping products, buildings, and cities that have one-planet Footprints. A world where all human prosper and development succeeds because we are finally recognizing ecological constraints and using innovation to advance more than just the economic bottom line.”

    The Genuine Progress Indicator. The GPI is key because it allows us to measure uneconomic growth. Currently, under the GDP model favored by libertarians, murder counts toward GDP–hospital and funeral services for example. Cancer adds to GDP–any economic transaction associated with this disease adds to GDP. The GPI asks whether our economic growth is actually growth that’s worth having. Perhaps not surprisingly, alternatives to GDP have already met libertarian opposition.[9]

    Numerous other measures are available that capture important variables of human progress beyond the EFW’s index of economic freedom: Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report; the Democracy Index; Worldwide Press Freedom Index; the Earth Shareholders Report; the Ocean Health Index; The Wellbeing of Nations; Index of Social Health; the reports of Transparency International, and many more. Good lists of alternatives to the EFW are the European Parliament’s publication Alternative progress indicators to Gross Domestic Product as a means towards sustainable development, and this link. (Please google it.)

    In conclusion, I submit that the EFW is an inadequate guide to our collective future on this planet. On its own it doesn’t provide a morally or intellectually serious framework for thinking about our choices or helping to devise solutions. If the EFW represents the farther reaches of the libertarian moral imagination, then we should wonder why anyone takes this narrow-minded fundamentalist economic doctrine seriously at all.

    [1] Sen, Amartya. (1999). Development as Freedom. Anchor Books. New York: Anchor Books. p. 66.
    [2] Stiglitz, Joseph. (2003). Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 101.
    [3] Hong, E. (2004). The Primary Health Care Movement Meets the Free Market. In Fort, M., et al. (Eds.). Sickness and Wealth: The Corporate Assault on Global Health. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. pp. 32-33.
    [4] Retrieved from http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story089/en/index.html
    [5] Economic Freedom of the World: 2012 Annual Report, Chapter 1.p. 4.
    [6] http://www.startribune.com/local/191619261.html
    [7] See p. 24 in the EFW report.
    [8] Sen, p. 44
    [9] See GDP and its Enemies: the Questionable Search for a Happiness Index, by Johan Norberg, published by the Centre for European Studies, Sept. 2010.

  24. Eric says:

    Mr. Hudgins,

    Time permitting of course, do you take issue with either the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report’s findings, or Herman Daly’s critique of Julian Simon as posted above?

    Thanks for being a good sport thus far.

  25. Edward Hudgins says:

    [PART 1 (Sorry but the website is treating my post as spam so I'm breaking it into pieces.)]

    More here on DDT. I should clarify that my assertion is that the science is questionable concerning the degree of damage to wildlife and the case has in not been made that DDT destroys more lives than it has saved or could save.

    For example, on the effects on bird eggshells, see Ron Bailey’s “DDT, Eggshells, and Me” from 2004. http://reason.com/archives/2004/01/07/ddt-eggshells-and-me

    And consider that the World Health Organization asserts that there are over half a million malaria deaths each year, mainly of African children.
    http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/

    And though WHO is hardly a libertarian bastion, in a May 2011entitled “The Use of DDT in Malaria Vector Control,” it states:

    “[The Stockholm Convention] has given an exemption for the production and public health use of DDT for indoor application to vector-borne diseases, mainly because of the absence of equally effective and efficient alternatives. WHO actively supports the promotion of chemical safety and, together with the United Nations Environment Programme, shares a common commitment to the global goal of reducing and eventually eliminating the use of DDT while minimizing the burden of vector-borne diseases.

    “It is expected that there will be a continued role for DDT in malaria control until equally cost-effective alternatives are developed. A premature shift to less effective or more costly alternatives to DDT, without a strengthening of the capacity (human, technical, financial) of Member States will not only be unsustainable, but will also have a negative impact on the disease burden in endemic countries.”
    http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/atoz/who_htm_gmp_2011/en/

    So even the WHO, with access to studies that claim that the usefulness of DDT is diminishing, still recommends its use.

  26. Edward Hudgins says:

    [PART 2 (Sorry but the website is treating my post as spam so I'm breaking it into pieces.)]

    And here’s a piece in the “British Medical Journal” by Amir Attaran and Rajendra Maharaj entitled “DDT for Malaria Control Should Not Be Banned” that goes into some detail on the reasons for such a policy from a public health policy.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119118/

    I also like the 2011 booklet “Pesticides and Health: Myths vs. Realities” by environmental toxologist Allan S. Felsot. It offers a good overview of the issues. Again, the conclusion is that a lot of the concerns about pesticides are overstated.
    http://www.acsh.org/publications/pesticides-and-health/

    Also if you want a broader discussion of the benefits of pesticides, not just in preventing malaria, see “Rachel Was Wrong: Agrochemicals’ Benefits to Human Health and the Environment” by Angela Logomasini. One contention here is “Contrary to her admonitions, a chemically caused cancer epidemic never came to pass. Researchers who identified environmental factors did not simply target trace chemical exposures as significant, but instead focused on major cancer causes such as tobacco and poor diets.”

    I’ll let those interested follow up on citations in these works.
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/115006838/Angela-Logomasini-Rachel-Was-Wrong

    Let me again make the broader point, stating my values up front. I am a humanist. I put humans first. The “environment” is only of value because of its use to us. We can enjoy the beauty of a forest or cut its trees for our houses. I do not treat Gaia like a goddess. With half a million annual deaths from malaria alone, nothing like a compelling case as been made for the elimination of DDT.

    More soon on economics and resources!

  27. dave says:

    i feel that the argument that has evolved above is getting away from the basic premise behind all the respondents criticism of the reviews we are not interested in your self styled and emotively labeled humanist views [for the record my views on economic doctrines is that they are all flawed in that they all rely on growth]we are sceptics and as such interested in the truth. all human wealth comes from this planet we call earth and as such growth is finite. humans have for the whole of their existence relied on the development of new technologies and the true cost of these is hidden by the human construct that we call economics, this cannot go on forever because we are isolated on this one planet, the argument that because a private company can take [wealthy] people beyond our atmosphere or that theoretical chemists have suggested a way to change the conditions on a currently uninhabitable planet proves that humans can continue to expand is bizarre as are the examples you give for the way technology improves the lives of the poor. where is your evidence that the gap between rich and poor is shrinking. using your own figures for asian gdp’s they show a greater than 5x increase while the income of the poor increased less than 4x in africa you say the gdp increased 75% while the income of the poor did not increase. to return to my original point your views have no place in skeptic publications

  28. Bob Pease says:

    The editors of eskeptic should not allow it to be an outlet for
    raves promoting socioeconomic viewpoints of whatever ilk in the pretense of
    reviewing books.

    AynRandism is flawed because of its idea that technology will save us because it always has before, if only “second -rate” attitudes of the lazy and selfish would not cause a drain on resources that are best managed by Laissez- Faire Capitalism. (Straw man summary??)

    “The Planet” will survive the alteration of the atmosphere ( in 40-50 kiloyears) but humanity will not because of Civil disorder caused by unfair distribution of resources .

    I am pessimistic that folks will quit using fossil fuels or raising Animal crops in time.

    RJP

  29. Eric says:

    A quick note on Julian Simon.

    The following claim might shed some light on the lengths to which disciples of the holy and miraculous “free market” will go to protect the purity of their belief system.

    (To be clear, I do think we need markets and business and entrepreneurship. But, we no longer live in the world that Adam Smith did. Circumstances change, and we need to adapt to them. This includes reforming economic thought to include the environment as a master category under which it must operate, and elevating humanity to the central concern of economics, not economics as the central concern of humanity, as is the case with free market fundamentalism.)

    ++++ In 1996 Simon claimed that human population could keep growing at the same rate for the next 7 million years.[1]

    Similarly, many libertarian and free market economists believe we can have unlimited growth on a planet with rapidly dwindling and finite resources.

    (Libertarians and creationists thus share a parallel metaphysics in the sense that they both have at the core of their belief systems assumptions that violate the laws of physics.)

    Yes, this is crazy, but as skeptics know, old beliefs die hard, and evidence sometimes doesn’t matter when emotional investment in a belief system remains undisturbed by self-criticism, continual learning, and unwillingness to change.

    [1] Daly and Farley, Ecological Economics (cited in chap. 1, n. 3), 63.

  30. Edward Hudgins says:

    Dave –

    Thanks for bringing the discussion back to the more fundamental themes.

    Here I’ll discuss bias and values.

    In an earlier version of the intro to this piece I wrote that to answer the question of whether our future can be materially bright might seem a straightforward matter of gathering information on available natural resources, usage rates, and adverse effects of such utilization. But how we approach these questions is inextricably tied to often-unquestioned philosophical assumptions and values held by the inquirer; in fact, major social and political movements have grown up in past centuries based on such assumptions and values.

    In “Abundance” the authors in chapter two address the cognitive biases that they believe will prevent many readers from seeing the truth of their arguments and in chapter three they deal with a pessimism that can have the same effect.

    In “Merchants of Despair” one of Zubrin’s central themes is that there are those who do not value humans first and that their values indeed bias their judgments, for example, about whether population is a problem.

    And in “Why Darwin Matters” Michael Shermer write that facts are “for” some particular theory or view.

    From some of the responses to my reviews I can see just how serious the need is for readers to shift their own paradigms, to “try out” a different perspective.

    I am open about my assumptions and values. I’ve devoted years to looking how markets work and have offered on this thread empirical reasons for my beliefs about the results of markets. These aren’t “rants.” I have had some thoughtful critics here question, for example, Julian Simon’s work. I hope to get to that discussion soon, though I have a trip coming up that will take me offline for a bit.

    By the way, I assume you’ve all read Michael Shermer’s “Mind of the Market,” which offers a perspective similar though not identical to mine. And if you haven’t, you should check out Timothy Ferris’s book “The Science of Liberty.” I like especially how he focuses on the market as a giant experimental lab with entrepreneurs as the experimenters.

    More to follow…

  31. Edward Hudgins says:

    Let’s discuss wealth and values.

    Dave writes that “all human wealth comes from this planet we call earth and as such growth is finite.” I disagree.

    The earth and rest of the universe, is matter and energy, mere stuff. Basic human survival requires air, water, some form of food and the like.

    But real wealth and value are created out of the material of the world by the application of reason, the use of the mind, by human beings. We need to discover how to secure food, build shelters, develop medicines and the like.

    If you had a piece of land in Texas 150 years ago and oil was seeping out of it, it would be worthless for the usual use of land by humans at that time: farming. We had to figure out how to utilize oil as a fuel. Only then did oil become a resource or a form of wealth. In this sense there are no “natural resources,” only matter or energy that humans figure out how to harness.

    The theme of “Abundance” is how this process of value-creation continues and can allow even the “bottom billion,” the poorest of the poor today enjoy Western living standards.

    More soon on the context of wealth creation…

    • Randy Grein says:

      Too much to deal with all in one night Edward, but in short the classic libertarian arguments you use fail basic economic tests: resources are generally finite, externalized costs weight economic decisions on the side of suppliers, and while free markets are indeed fine tools they are not sacred – nor are they common. Markets are rarely free; generally an entity or group has sufficient economic power to influence purchase prices.
      Michael assures us that the only real value is human life – and yet we have specific instances where ignoring external costs has had huge ecological impacts that affect human life. Pollution in Tokyo bay led to mercury levels so high that people had irreversible nerve damage from eating the fish, air pollution in the Puget Sound region (among many others) got so bad in the ’70s that it impacted breathing – even of athletes like me. And surely you know about the deadly coal-fueled smogs of 19th century London.
      While I am not a naturalist I am quite aware of my surroundings. Having lived my entire life in one region I can say with assurance that in the Kent/Renton area of the Green River valley (suburb of Seattle, WA) we had 2 hawks when I was 15. No eagles at all, and if there were falcons they did a very good job of hiding. About 20 years ago they started to reappear – at about the time predicted by the theory that their disappearance was due to egg shell thinning by DDT. We now have many dozens of hawks, falcons all over and at least a dozen bald eagles in the area.
      I suspect that you misstated yourself when you say that “The “environment” is only of value because of its use to us.” Even in the weak argument you admit to enjoyment of beauty, recreational use, etc. Even then, much of that use may not be known until the resource is nearly destroyed. And yet you clearly ignore specific, well documented cases where we have destroyed a large part of nature through ignorance, a quick profit or externalized costs.
      We have finite resources. It’s a fine thing to claim that we can move to space, that exploitation of the solar system and beyond or a new energy source can make us independent of supply limits, but that ignores the biggest impact is always cleanup. Dig for coal and the streams get choked with silt, sometimes making the water toxic for those downstream. Drill for oil and pipelines break while water tables are contaminated from tailings. Even something as simple as cattle feed lots create toxic runoff, heavy in E. coli bacteria and nitrates. The garbage has to be dealt with.
      That’s not to say we can’t deal with it, but it always takes more planning, more land, more money than is generally assumed at first. We are limited, always, to the resources currently available. It makes sense to protect limited resources, especially when acquisition of new resources is uncertain.
      Please, a little skepticism in your politics.

  32. Breandan Mac Séarraigh says:

    I have found this debate interesting. I am a life-long socialist and believe in the use of science and technology to give everyone fair shares of that which human labour produces. At the same time I am an environmentalist. Dr Hudgins sounds like a good, decent man BUT he is an economist. He sees man as the measure of all. Like all economists he seems to me to disregard “externalities”. The natural world is not just “stuff”. If you can’t mine it, you have to grow it, to turn the geologists’ aphorism on its head. Man is part of life on earth. Man depends on life on Earth. Even is space man takes his water and his air with him, from the earth, as well as his food. We cannot create food, wood, fibre ex nihilo. We depend on the healthy functioning of the eco-system for our survival. We are, at root, animals like all others. Economists (and the Roman Catholic church) never seem to get this. They seem to be blind, literally incapable of seeing the essential dependency we have on nature.

    I fear we are on the road to disaster because economists assume that there will always be fish, timber, cotton, wheat, clean water, fresh air, somewhere to dump rubbish and, perhaps most importantly, a stable, reliable climate. We do not create these goods and services but that does not mean that we should regard them as free. We depend on nature just as much as a fish depends on water.

    As I said, this is an interesting argument. Sadly it is an argument about the future of humanity and perhaps all multi-cellular life on earth. Unfortunately the economists are almost certainly wrong, as they were with the fantasy of perpetual boom based on lending mortgages to unemployed people. Man is an animal not a god and if he screws up he will pay the price. Sorry to be a nasty, anti-human environmentalist.

  33. Un Tacons says:

    Problems with analysis:
    1. Promethianism – technology is a tool and it doesn’t solve the palpable problems of the corrupt motives that drive society. At a bare minimum, who is going to pay someone full time wages to work 10 hours a week, even if that would be all that would be necessary given technological enhancements in production? And like technology, reason is a tool. Reason per se changes nothing – it prattles away off stage in an anti-rational social climate (otherwise there would be no need for debunkers). Motives are everything.
    2. Education – it’s not educational techniques, it’s sheer human curiosity that is highlighted in the story. That’s what’s of value.
    3. Patriarchy – claim special men, not social forces, are the driving force of social change. Gotta laugh. Really. No voice without there already being a receptivity. Innovators are timed. Just as equally likely to be exiled, pilloried, lauded, hailed, depending on the receptivity of the social climate (to reason, goodness, humanity, ecological responsibility…) A lot of lousy voices get airtime too.

    The more I read in Skeptic, the more I see “Champions of Prometheanism”.

    If-less, or at best, narrowly ifsome.

  34. Carl says:

    Reading this uncritical and erroneous review (especially in regard to Zubrin’s ridiculous book) and all the good comments to it, I really wonder on what basis Sceptic chooses its writers. Indeed, as was pointed out, there are strong similarities between this “libertarian” world-view and Catholicism. Both see humankind at the center of the universe instead of realizing that we are just one species belonging to a complex and fragile ecosystem, on which we all are dependent. Both answer to the problem of environmental destruction by pointing to an alternative world in the heavens. (Just to put things into perspective: it would currently take us more than 30 thousand years to travel to the nearest solar system – try packing resources for this trip!). And both seem to think we should rather have many poor people fighting over limited resources instead of reducing the planets population through birth control, family planning and a new awareness of how much we consume and how little we are leaving for the rest of the world and for future (ideally smaller) generations. It just takes a few simple calculations to figure out that this planet doesn’t have the resources to sustain 7 billion people continuously, and if they all wanted to adapt our industrialized lifestyle you would have to reduce the global population to maybe 2 billion (according to many experts). I’m not even considering future generations now. Unfortunately, the world population will continue rising to 9 or 10 billion within the next few decades. If people had listened to the Club of Rome a long time ago, many lives would have been saved and a viable future with a decent standard of living for all human beings would be in sight (though the shortage of recourses would still demand a less consumerist lifestyle than ours). Instead, economists only worry about an ever increasing market and Catholics about an ever increasing flock. Books (and book reviews like this one) are just an exercise in egotistical wishful thinking. I’m all for scientific advance, but I suggest we start saving resources and reducing the population now, instead of relying on a Startrek-Future that quite possibly may never come. We can always reconsider when the technology has advanced. I’ll end with a quote by one of those “Anti-Human Marchants of Despair”, namely Martin Luther King, Jr.:
    “Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.”

  35. Brian Myres says:

    Damn, I love it when economists write books that are then reviewed by, you guessed it, economists. There are so many errors in this review, based on the books, that one would assume that economists never have to take a class in the sciences…neither biological nor physical, nor do they ever read the scientific literature before writing. The message of economists is that these problems would really, really upset the economic system, therefore they don’t exist! I think I’ll write a book on economics…after all, I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about either!

  36. Edward Hudgins says:

    Skeptics should challenge own paradigms.
    (Sorry I’m late with this post: a business trip followed by a few days of vacation!)

    To answer the question of whether humanity can have a materially bright future might seem a straightforward matter of gathering information on available natural resources, usage rates, and adverse effects of such utilization. But how we approach these questions is inextricably tied to often-unquestioned philosophical assumptions and values held by the inquirer; in fact, major social and political movements have grown up in past centuries based on such assumptions and values. And it is tied to biology.

    In “Abundance” the authors argue that evolution has predisposed us to see more danger than is really out there. This predisposition had survival value; better to mistake many cases of wind in the bushes for a lion than to mistake one case of a lion for wind in the bushes. But it also inclines us to a pessimism that can blind us to reality.

    Whether you, they reader, accept the argument of Diamandis and Kotler that prosperity is possible for the “bottom billion” will depend in part on your ability to overcome this tendency. I would argue that this tendency blinds many to the true potential of the individual human mind to create the kind of world the authors of “Abundance” argue is possible. A key understanding about this potential is that the materials of our world are made into “resources” by the human mind and that, thus, resources are in principle nearly unlimited. One critic called this view promethean. Fine! I argue that it is a factual description.

    Of course, there is no guarantee that individuals at any given time will adequately meet any particular challenge. And a skeptic might argue that most of the innovators that the “Abundance” authors highlight will fail in their aims. Those skeptics might be right. But innovators usually fail many times on the road to success; Henry Ford had two failed companies before Ford Motors.

    And politics and culture do matter. I argue that a free market system offers the best opportunity for innovators and creative individuals to flourish.

    In sum, there are reasons why one might be skeptical about the bright future the authors of “Abundance.” But my skeptic friends, take a skeptical look at your own skepticism about the thesis of “Abundance,” as the “Abundance” authors suggest!

    • todd says:

      well my skeptic skeptic skeptic, take a look at your own skepticism of anything that satiates the avaricious will of wealthy individuals no matter how little it hurts them and how greatly it benefits others. that we must sacrifice all initiatives that help some individuals realize their potential if they inconvenience others who have already made their contributions. that the onus of progress in society falls on individuals only even though most entrepreneurship is done by teams of medical or biological researchers, departments of programmers and engineers, chemists, machinists etc. that darpa and bell labs do not count because their funding relied on tax generated subsidies which are “bad” because they frustrate billionaires and never benefit by them in anyway at all. dogma is dumb, dude.

  37. paul hill says:

    ABUNDANCE in a world drowning in debt, with NO way out, only total collapse. Jesus wept again and again. Diamandis must have been living under a rock (the cloister of academia?) since birth.

    ‘Humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Within a generation, we will be able to provide goods and services, once reserved for the wealthiest, to any and all who need them’.

    The TECHNOLOGY maybe, but NOT the reddies. What about the world drowning in PEOPLE devouring the planet like the termites that we are (well NOT me as I don’t eat.)

  38. Arturo says:

    “And there are those today who grant intrinsic value to nature apart from its value to human… This implies nature has “rights” and that we humans must sacrifice our own wellbeing lest we violate them.”

    I have seldom read an argument so embedded with an over-simplistic and dualistic world view. Probably the only other book I can think of is Genesis, where a god creates nature for the benefit of humankind.

    His dualism neglects the view that humankind is part of a system that encompasses everything we find in nature; a relevant part, it is, but nonetheless another piece in a complex set of interrelationships with a major characteristic: interdependence.

    Modern environmentalism relies on the notion that humankind’s well being is one and the same as nature’s.

    And I don’t want to get into specifics about his equally shallow and disinformed comments on global warming or DDT use.

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