NASA Wastes Money On Doomsday Report


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NASA Wastes Money On Doomsday Report

By Edward Hudgins

March 27, 2014 — A NASA-commissioned study predicting civilization’s imminent collapse actually demonstrates what’s wrong with both government and academia.

Goddard Space Flight Center commissioned mathematician Safa Motesharrei and his team at the nearby University of Maryland to play Nostradamus. But Motesharrei isn’t calculating the odds of an errant asteroid impacting Earth. He’s not even crystal-balling, based on politicized science, a cataclysm caused by global warming or a new Ice Age, whichever happens to be in vogue.

Given that Motesharrei’s group is named the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, we should not be surprised that he blames our coming doomsday, as well as past collapses of civilizations over the millennia, on economic and political factors, not just resource issues.

The idea that civilization is about to collapse is so wild that it raises a host of questions. But the existence of the project itself raises a more basic question: “Why on Earth—or any other planet—is NASA wasting taxpayer dollars on such stuff?” NASA is supposed to be pioneering space travel and exploring the solar system, not bankrolling dubious socio-economic studies. Talk about mission creep!

Leftist canards

But, then, what of the study itself? Did NASA stumble onto some cosmic revelation that allows us overlook its misuse of funds? Hardly! Motesharrei’s study just repeats the usual leftist canards.

Motesharrei looks at five factors—population, climate, water, agriculture and energy—and concludes that our society hasn’t long to live because of 1) "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity [of the Earth]” and 2) “the economic stratification of society into Elites [the rich, of course] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’).”

He explains that “... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

Poor growing richer

Wow! The Marxist paradigm is as alive and wrong today as it was in the nineteenth century. Let’s sort out this mess.

To begin with, when the term “inequality of wealth” is uttered, everyone on the left and confused folks across the political spectrum have an almost visceral reaction based on the premise that such inequality is immoral as such. It isn’t. Individuals who become more prosperous than others by producing goods and services with which to trade with their fellows are creators who should be celebrated. Individuals who gain more than others through government transfers or special favors are crony expropriators who should be condemned. The moral—and practical—meaning of wealth depends on how one earned it.

But Motesharrei’s study is also suggesting, as did Marx, that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer as the ranks of the latter swell. Marx predicted that the result would be the collapse of the capitalist system with socialism to follow. Motesharrei suggests a collapse of civilization and he seems pessimistic about whether a post-apocalyptic paradise can follow.

Marx was wrong because he failed to understand that as production skyrocketed because of the efficiencies of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, labor as well as capital and other resources came into greater demand. Over time, in a free market economy, all prospered and the “masses” or “Commoners” filled the ranks of the new Middle Class.

And key to the spread of prosperity to all was the fact that some individuals are responsible for creating more wealth than others. Think of Henry Ford who figured out how to mass produce automobiles and offer them for a price that the “Commoners” could afford. Or think of the information and telecommunications wizards who in recent decades have put computers in every home and smartphones in every hand. This is why their wealth is “unequal”: they are creators of immense value.

Famine of understanding

You might think that Motesharrei could easily see that technology today continues the process of enriching all. But, instead, he argues that “Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Consumption? Doesn’t increased consumption just mean more of every imaginable convenience of life for those supposed impoverished “Commoners?”

Speaking of historical patterns of collapse, he adds that “the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

Famine? (Wow! The “Elites” eat that much?) The fact is that after World War II new agricultural techniques and genetically modified strains of wheat and rice that can grow in a wider variety of environments and increase crop yields many-fold have vanquished the prospects of mass starvation. Surely genetically-modified food, if not stopped by governments cow-towing to eco-loonies, will continue to keep us all well-fed. And surely if governments stop mandating that we literally burn food such as corn as “alternative fuels,” a bigger concern will be obese “Commoners” rather than emaciated ones, as we see today in America.

The ultimate resource

Motesharrei seems to think economic gains are temporary because efficiency always leads to increased consumption which eventually means that resources are depleted.

Motesharrei could have avoided his most fundamental error if he had looked to another Maryland professor, the late, great Julian Simon. In his book The Ultimate Resource, Simon showed that there is no resource problem because the ultimate resource is the human mind. Ayn Rand made this point as well by observing that there is no such thing as a “natural resource,” that there is only raw material in our universe, raw material that human beings learn—by the use of their minds—to utilize for their survival and well-being—raw material we can make into spaceships that can travel to the Moon and the planets!

Which brings us back to NASA. If Motesharrei were right, if we’re all doomed in the coming decades, then NASA’s own projects are for naught and it should simply shut down. But since NASA was foolish enough to sponsor that study, it should probably shut down in any case!
----
Hudgins is director of advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

For further information:

*Edward Hudgins, “It’s Getting Better All the Time -- Book review of Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think.

*William R Thomas, “Why Ecology Requires Economics -- Book review of Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.”

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Qualifies for AR's 'Horror File', which quickly became a first read for me when the Objectivist Newsletter arrived all those yrs ago.

Perhaps Michael might start a 'Horror File' on this forum.

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Leftist canards

But, then, what of the study itself? Did NASA stumble onto some cosmic revelation that allows us overlook its misuse of funds? Hardly! Motesharrei’s study just repeats the usual leftist canards.

Motesharrei looks at five factors—population, climate, water, agriculture and energy—and concludes that our society hasn’t long to live because of 1) "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity [of the Earth]” and 2) “the economic stratification of society into Elites [the rich, of course] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’).”

He explains that “... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”

Poor growing richer

Wow! The Marxist paradigm is as alive and wrong today as it was in the nineteenth century. Let’s sort out this mess.

To begin with, when the term “inequality of wealth” is uttered, everyone on the left and confused folks across the political spectrum have an almost visceral reaction based on the premise that such inequality is immoral as such. It isn’t. Individuals who become more prosperous than others by producing goods and services with which to trade with their fellows are creators who should be celebrated. Individuals who gain more than others through government transfers or special favors are crony expropriators who should be condemned. The moral—and practical—meaning of wealth depends on how one earned it.

It is irrelevant whether or not wealth inequality is immoral. I don't think the study had anything to say about the morality of wealth inequality, so you are attacking a strawman. What is relevant, however, is the fact that wealth inequality exists, and that extreme wealth inequality is not only an outcome of corruption but also the cause of even further corruption.

The moral meaning of wealth is one thing, but unfortunately, how you got a dollar is not taken into account when you purchase things. All that matters is the amount, not the history.

But Motesharrei’s study is also suggesting, as did Marx, that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer as the ranks of the latter swell. Marx predicted that the result would be the collapse of the capitalist system with socialism to follow. Motesharrei suggests a collapse of civilization and he seems pessimistic about whether a post-apocalyptic paradise can follow.

Marx was wrong because he failed to understand that as production skyrocketed because of the efficiencies of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, labor as well as capital and other resources came into greater demand. Over time, in a free market economy, all prospered and the “masses” or “Commoners” filled the ranks of the new Middle Class.

And key to the spread of prosperity to all was the fact that some individuals are responsible for creating more wealth than others. Think of Henry Ford who figured out how to mass produce automobiles and offer them for a price that the “Commoners” could afford. Or think of the information and telecommunications wizards who in recent decades have put computers in every home and smartphones in every hand. This is why their wealth is “unequal”: they are creators of immense value.

That something happened in the past is very weak evidence that it will continue indefinitely. In fact, if you look at human history as a whole, instead of just focusing on the one case that supports your argument, you can see that civilizations go through cycles of prosperity and decline, and I see no good reason to believe that modern day America will be an exception.

It seems like you're implying that the fact that some individuals create more wealth than others ensures the "spread of prosperity". But that some individuals create more wealth than others is a constant throughout human history and across human societies, whereas wealth inequality is extremely variable. There's simply no way that you can justifiably say that the implication is valid, given only the reasons you've presented here.

Famine of understanding

You might think that Motesharrei could easily see that technology today continues the process of enriching all. But, instead, he argues that “Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.”

Consumption? Doesn’t increased consumption just mean more of every imaginable convenience of life for those supposed impoverished “Commoners?”

Speaking of historical patterns of collapse, he adds that “the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society.”

Famine? (Wow! The “Elites” eat that much?) The fact is that after World War II new agricultural techniques and genetically modified strains of wheat and rice that can grow in a wider variety of environments and increase crop yields many-fold have vanquished the prospects of mass starvation. Surely genetically-modified food, if not stopped by governments cow-towing to eco-loonies, will continue to keep us all well-fed. And surely if governments stop mandating that we literally burn food such as corn as “alternative fuels,” a bigger concern will be obese “Commoners” rather than emaciated ones, as we see today in America.

That depends less on the level of consumption and more on how that consumption is distributed among the population. Just because more is produced does not necessarily mean that everyone gets more. History (and even today's world) is full of examples where people starved, not because there wasn't enough food produced, but because it was horded by the wealthy and the politically connected.

The ultimate resource

Motesharrei seems to think economic gains are temporary because efficiency always leads to increased consumption which eventually means that resources are depleted.

Motesharrei could have avoided his most fundamental error if he had looked to another Maryland professor, the late, great Julian Simon. In his book The Ultimate Resource, Simon showed that there is no resource problem because the ultimate resource is the human mind. Ayn Rand made this point as well by observing that there is no such thing as a “natural resource,” that there is only raw material in our universe, raw material that human beings learn—by the use of their minds—to utilize for their survival and well-being—raw material we can make into spaceships that can travel to the Moon and the planets!

If you're going to go by this route, you may as well say that there is no resource problem because the ultimate resource is magic. "The human mind" is not the solution to the resource problem, it is the tool that might find the solution or else show that no solution is possible. The thing is that you actually have to use your "human mind" and address the problem directly, though I'm pessimistic about the outcome if the shallow reasoning you've demonstrated so far is any indication.

This reminds me of a joke I once heard, about a mathematician who was working in his office one day when the trash bin suddenly burst into flame. The mathematician looks over at the fire extinguisher and exclaims "Ah! A solution exists!", and promptly goes back to work.

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Ed,

You forgot to mention the ultimate mission of NASA under the Obama administration--to serve as ambassador of goodwill to the Muslim nations so their feelings won't be hurt because they didn't do space trave, or sumpin'...

Whenever I hear complaints about elites and distribution, I wonder who wants to be the elite doing the distributing.

:)

Michael

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Naomi,

Do you have any familiarity with Rand's works?

You write as if you don't.

If nothing is produced, one thing is for sure.

There is no "distribution."

:smile:

Michael

I do, I just disagree with "conventional" conceptions of and approaches to politics, including Rand's.

The obvious point is obvious, but irrelevant. Motesharrei's claim is that the distribution of wealth has important consequences for society, regardless of how much is produced.

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Naomi,

What by Rand have you read?

I ask because I have seen you make the same errors several times (generally of omission).

It's not like you disagree. It's like you are unfamiliar with certain core concepts.

If I know what you have read, I will know what you have not. And rather than hash out Rand's arguments with you as you disagree with arguments that are not made, lade on odd jargon, "dismiss the obvious" and all the rest, I can point you to the appropriate works to fill in the missing pieces.

Then judge as you please. It's OK to disagree with her. But it would be useful to know what core concepts you disagree with. "Conventional" is a bit broad and has no conceptual philosophical core.

Michael

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Naomi,

If Ed's historical evidence is weak, then so is yours. No civilization in history has ever been based only on capitalism and individual rights. The cycles of prosperity and decline of those civilizations can't be used as an argument against ideals they did not incorporate.

Deanna

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It is always a delight to hear from Ed.

SAM wrote:

. . . you can see that civilizations go through cycles of prosperity and decline, and I see no good reason to believe that modern day America will be an exception.

end quote

The “Dark Ages” are depicted as a time when the lights went out, but I am not so sure. Certainly, all civilizations, especially the Greek and Roman periods created their own renaissance for some of humanity but the rest of us existed in a hunter / gatherer / farmer stage and never left it. Only since the Industrial Revolution has the majority of humanity gotten past the subsistence level, and look how close we came to world wide totalitarian governments under the Axis and Communists. That is scary.

Just as the Egyptian monuments harken back to human potential so will our tall buildings if there is a global disaster. But I hope the basics will never be forgotten. The way of preserving “the basics of civilization and learning” were discussed on another thread, but it would be good to have more views on how to achieve lasting human knowledge.

The Roman Coliseum has lasted for two thousand years. How long will our skyscrapers or lowly parking garages last? Could the keys to knowledge be embedding many, many times in a lot of places, in concrete or steel? And can it be preserved in writing that requires no Rosetta Stone?

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The Roman Coliseum has lasted for two thousand years. How long will our skyscrapers or lowly parking garages last? Could the keys to knowledge be embedding many, many times in a lot of places, in concrete or steel? And can it be preserved in writing that requires no Rosetta Stone?

The Romans had better concrete than we currently use. We compensate for the crumbly nature of our concrete by using steel re-bar or steel re-enforcement embedded in the concrete. Our buildings probably will not last as long as the Flavian Ampitheator if untended but on a cost benefit basis the are sufficient to last a few human life times which is clearly sufficient. We don't have to build for the ages. Just long enough to depreciate the costs and build another building.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Naomi,

What by Rand have you read?

I ask because I have seen you make the same errors several times (generally of omission).

It's not like you disagree. It's like you are unfamiliar with certain core concepts.

If I know what you have read, I will know what you have not. And rather than hash out Rand's arguments with you as you disagree with arguments that are not made, lade on odd jargon, "dismiss the obvious" and all the rest, I can point you to the appropriate works to fill in the missing pieces.

Then judge as you please. It's OK to disagree with her. But it would be useful to know what core concepts you disagree with. "Conventional" is a bit broad and has no conceptual philosophical core.

Michael

There is little by Rand that I haven't read. The only books I know of that I never got around to finishing are Anthem and Philosophy: Who Needs It.

The reason it seems to you like I'm unfamiliar with "core concepts" rather than simply disagreeing is probably because I reject the "conventional" (I don't know how else to describe it) approach to politics.

By that I mean, most people (including Rand) look at politics in pretty much the same way. They have a set of ideals they like, and then they have some vague notions (rarely do they have actual plans) about how to achieve those ideals, which usually involves convincing other people of the correctness of their views. I think this is how people evolved to think about politics. But in practical terms, it is useless since all it leads to is clever rationalizations of the impossible.

In contrast, the first thing I do is try to figure out what society is actually like and then to explain why it is the way it is. Once I've done that, I try to predict what will most likely happen in the future. Then I look at what options are realistically available to me, and I try to plan my life around the things I know I can't change. Finally, I try to look at what I and other people might change by getting organized and working towards realistically achievable goals. In short, I'm a relentless pursuer of realistic improvements to my own situation, rather than a proselytizer of lofty ideals.

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Naomi,

If Ed's historical evidence is weak, then so is yours. No civilization in history has ever been based only on capitalism and individual rights. The cycles of prosperity and decline of those civilizations can't be used as an argument against ideals they did not incorporate.

Deanna

This is a case of special pleading. Unless you can point to specific causal mechanisms by which those "ideals" will prevent the decline of modern civilization, your argument holds no water.

EDIT: Oh and it should be noted, I don't argue against the ideals themselves, but rather against the idea that civilization under capitalism will continue to prosper forever.

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Naomi,

If you say so, I'll take you at your word.

But it would be nice to hear you address the ideas and not just dismiss labels with your own jargon.

Here's an idea. What do you think about one human being forcing another to do his or her bidding? I mean brute force with clubs, guns and things like that.

Do you think rules should apply? Based on what?

Do you even think this should fall within your unconventional considerations about society or is that so conventional it needs to be dismissed as you go about distributing?

:)

Michael

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Naomi,

If you say so, I'll take you at your word.

But it would be nice to hear you address the ideas and not just dismiss labels with your own jargon.

Here's an idea. What do you think about one human being forcing another to do his or her bidding? I mean brute force with clubs, guns and things like that.

Do you think rules should apply? Based on what?

Do you even think this should fall within your unconventional considerations about society or is that so conventional it needs to be dismissed as you go about distributing?

:smile:

Michael

It happens. That's really all I can say about that.

I'm not sure what rules or what they should apply to in your second question.

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Naomi,

Here's a society question for you.

Let's say I am filthy stinking rich and you want to "distribute" my stuff.

I say hell no.

So how are you going to get your mitts on it?

Now do you see some need for rules about force in your distributive imaginings?

:smile:

Michael

Well, I could just take it from you by force, and you can complain and appeal to your "rights" all you want and call me evil and whatever, but none of that is actually gonna stop me.

Nope.

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Naomi,

If Ed's historical evidence is weak, then so is yours. No civilization in history has ever been based only on capitalism and individual rights. The cycles of prosperity and decline of those civilizations can't be used as an argument against ideals they did not incorporate.

Deanna

This is a case of special pleading. Unless you can point to specific causal mechanisms by which those "ideals" will prevent the decline of modern civilization, your argument holds no water.

EDIT: Oh and it should be noted, I don't argue against the ideals themselves, but rather against the idea that civilization under capitalism will continue to prosper forever.

I don't know of anyone who has argued that "civilization under capitalism will continue to prosper forever." Ed certainly did not say that in his article, unless I missed something. What I said was that it has never been done before, so we have no historical evidence one way or the other. You implied that there is historical evidence and that it disproves that statement. The only argument I was making is that you shouldn't call out someone on their lack of historical evidence, when you have none of your own.

If you know of a civilization that has done it before, please do share.

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I don't know of anyone who has argued that "civilization under capitalism will continue to prosper forever." Ed certainly did not say that in his article, unless I missed something. What I said was that it has never been done before, so we have no historical evidence one way or the other. You implied that there is historical evidence and that it disproves that statement. The only argument I was making is that you shouldn't call out someone on their lack of historical evidence, when you have none of your own.

If you know of a civilization that has done it before, please do share.

If a civilization does not collapse, as Ed is arguing that it won't, then what other possibility is there than that it will go on forever?

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Naomi,

Here's a society question for you.

Let's say I am filthy stinking rich and you want to "distribute" my stuff.

I say hell no.

So how are you going to get your mitts on it?

Now do you see some need for rules about force in your distributive imaginings?

:smile:

Michael

Well, I could just take it from you by force, and you can complain and appeal to your "rights" all you want and call me evil and whatever, but none of that is actually gonna stop me.

Nope.

His plan B could be a 357, and plan C could be that if someone who held the same kind of "ideals" and saw that he missed could join in and shoot you and I would cheer for them and or help if I could. I would prefer though that appealing to reason and rationality we could use all those conventional sounding ideals and try and organize a civil society such that someone would be tasked with shooting your ass.
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Well, I could just take it from you by force, and you can complain and appeal to your "rights" all you want and call me evil and whatever, but none of that is actually gonna stop me.

Nope.

Naomi,

How about if I armed myself to the teeth and told you that you ain't getting my stuff, that I would not only kill you if you tried, I would go after your family?

How would that impact your "distribution" where force is a mere detail to be dismissed?

Would that stop you?

:smile:

I am speaking hypothetically regarding you and me, but this is real out there in the real world. And it works just like that.

Still in doubt about rules?

:)

Michael

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Naomi,

How about if I armed myself to the teeth and told you that you ain't getting my stuff, that I would not only kill you if you tried, I would go after your family?

How would that impact your "distribution" where force is a mere detail to be dismissed?

Would that stop you?

:smile:

I am speaking hypothetically regarding you and me, but this is real out there in the real world. And it works just like that.

Still in doubt about rules?

:smile:

Michael

In that case, I might be deterred. But you see, I will not be stopped just by being convinced that you have a right to property, but rather because of a balance of power. That's my point.

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His plan B could be a 357, and plan C could be that if someone who held the same kind of "ideals" and saw that he missed could join in and shoot you and I would cheer for them and or help if I could. I would prefer though that appealing to reason and rationality we could use all those conventional sounding ideals and try and organize a civil society such that someone would be tasked with shooting your ass.

Ahh, but you see, if you have enough strength to stop me and everyone similarly inclined, then who will have enough strength to stop you should you decide to take my stuff?

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In that case, I might be deterred. But you see, I will not be stopped just by being convinced that you have a right to property, but rather because of a balance of power. That's my point.

Naomi,

What do you know about the role of government regarding force?

Michael

The proper role of government is to protect the individual rights of its citizens.

But this is irrelevant because the government does not care about its "proper" role. Politicians do what they think is best for them, and individual rights be damned.

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