[extropy-chat] Extinctions

Anders Sandberg asa at nada.kth.se
Sun Jun 11 20:14:30 UTC 2006

Samantha Atkins wrote:
> On Jun 11, 2006, at 8:07 AM, spike wrote:
>> Anders hit it right on once again.  All our efforts at ecological
>> stewardship must be profitable before they will ever fly.
> A pity we don't apply the same logic to wars and countless government
> boondoggles.

Hmm, that is actually an interesting idea. Right now practically any
government action gets approved only on persuasive power, not
profitability (in the sense of benefiting the public). And politicians are
not responsible for the resulting waste their programs cause. So maybe one
could create a government market system?

Citizens are buyers of various benefits, be they education, defense or
administration. Right now all the pay get mixed into one pile and is used
to pay for an allocation rather independently of what the citizens like.
The libertarian answer is of course that people should just pay directly
for the stuff with no government middle-man. But keeping the government in
the equation, maybe we can make it a bit more market oriented? A first
approximation would be to have taxpayers prioritize agencies and projects
on their tax forms (or leave them blank to let representatives decide).
Another approach would be to have politicians have budgets (essentially
their taxpayers' shareholder interest) and having to pay for the proposed
programs ; possibly there could be bonuses or penalties involved for doing
particularly well or badly. At the very least we need a feedback mechanism
so that over budget projects actually hurt.

When it comes to wars, you can do cost analysis of them. There is a fun
paper, Annexation or Conquest? The Economics of Empire Building by
Herschel I. Grossman and Juan Mendoza
that shows how rational empires and rational "barbarians" should act. I
actually used this calculus in one roleplaying setting for the big empire:
it literally had planners doing "Grossman-Mendoza Calculus" to determine
foreign policy. And since they encouraged all neighbouring nations to use
it too (and these nations knew how the empire would act in the large,
reducing uncertainty), they could reduce the need to send in the imperial
might and save money.

> I have been amazed to watch the stock price of many alternative
> energy companies fall while oil stays in the stratosphere.  Something
> is wrong.  I don't think it is "greed".   I think it is a deep
> recognition of sunk cost in oil based infrastructure.

It goes the other way around too. Many oil companies are actually in the
chemical, energy and distribution business. They do not hold any
particular loyalty to oil as a substance and would just as gladly sell 
biofuels or hydrogen power if they could profit from it.

I once met a chemical engineer from Q8 petroleum who admited that he (and
his section of the company) would love electric cars, since that would
mean they could focus on oil-as-raw-material instead of oil-as-energy.

Anders Sandberg,
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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