Saturday, May 31, 2014

Is Russia the Most Antifragile State?

This thought is almost a year too late, but with Edward Snowden bubbling up again slightly in the news, it seems relevant. Snowden's decision to exile himself to Russia was driven mostly by short-term necessity--Russia's government had favorable extradition policies, antagonistic political relationships with his enemies, and a strong military. But in the abstract, did he make an optimal decision given he may very well never be able to leave Russia? In other words, if you had to live out your life in just one country, where would you go?

Over a 40ish-year-long time horizon, predicting the conditions in a country becomes really tough. Instead, the best way to answer the question is probably to look at the degree to which living in a country contributes to your overall resilience in lifestyle. So I wouldn't necessarily look at current growth trends and pick China, for example, because its internal risks (political and cultural instability) and external risks (war with the West) are high.

The best answer would seem to be the US--it's big, diverse, historically open to cultural and political reinvention, and with a huge military and economy. But if the US taken off the table, what next? Russia seems like a pretty good option. Given the tremendous uncertainty over the next 40 years, Russia is almost uniquely placed among large countries by having a foot in both Europe and Asia. This means if you're stuck in Russia for the rest of your life, you could reposition to whatever side is doing better in the game of civilization. Add to this the fact that Russia has lots of remote area, perfect for small survivalist communities under various doomsday scenarios (robots, pandemics etc.).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aging is Wrong

"But we should probably start planning everything in advance. Right now, nobody is going to behave as if it’s going to happen. If you actually managed to do it, one day, society would be completely off-guard."  
"That’s true, but I am not going to tackle each individual problempensions, kids, resourcesthat might arise in a post-ageing society. I prefer to help people focus on the fact that we’ve a problem today, a really rather bad problem. That is that 100,000 people every fucking day are dying of ageing. That’s the important thing, not worrying about hypothetical problems.
Unfortunately, people are programmed to find reasons why it would be a bad idea to defeat ageing. This is mainly because they fear the unknown, since the world would be very different without ageing."
That's from a great interview with gerontologist Aubrey de Grey about aging and life extension. It doesn't delve much into his specific approach the the problem of ageing, but contains some excellent insight into the marketing challenges in his field.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Few Thoughts on the Sharing Economy

Medium has a pretty interesting article that purports to be a general critique of the new sharing economy concept. A few thoughts:

1. What is the sharing economy? Simply put, it is the increased variabalizeability of services driven by a reduction in transaction costs. This is essentially the service and flow economy described in the seminal book Natural Capitalism.

2. Although the sharing economy might have a cultural and marketing affiliation with anti-capitalists wishing for a "righteous return to human society's true nature of trust and village-building that will save the planet and our souls", the sharing economy is still very much a market by and for massive-scale urban populations.

3. The sharing economy drives resource efficiency on the intensive margin, which probably encourages some level of rebound effect. It seems to me that one of the greatest avenues for a sharp critique of the sharing economy is the potential for the rebound effect magnitudes to outweigh any resource savings in an absolute sense in some socially undesirable service.

4. Another possibly powerful critique (also absent from the article) concerns rent-seeking. The increased ability of owners of service-producing goods to derive income from leasing out their goods might reduce their incentive to engage in economically productive behavior.

5. The resentful undercurrent in the article about how the sharing economy is being driven by poverty and unemployment--and therefore is somehow blameworthy--is totally incoherent.

6. The argument that the sharing economy supports and continues existing institutions and systems of racism, classism, and social inequality--and is therefore bad--is weak. Just because a new technology doesn't solve your particular moral hobbyhorse doesn't say anything about its potential effects in other areas.

7. That said, I suspect the sharing economy would actually help in this regard relative to the current status quo. The market mechanism and competition are powerful tools for eliminating discrimination. The sharing economy, by reducing the transaction costs and fixed costs associated with obtaining and selling services, will probably widen the circle of people and activities participating in markets.