Category Archives: Current Affairs

Ban the Bear

I applaud the SEC’s courageous move to ban short selling.  Isn’t that brilliant?  I wonder why they didn’t think of that during the Great Depression.

However, I feel that this valiant effort does not go far enough.

All selling of stocks should be banned.  Once you buy a stock, you have to hold it forever.

Sure, this might make the market a little less liquid.  But once stock prices can only go up, we’ll all be rich!

Or maybe we should just try something simpler: pass a law making it illegal for stock prices to go down.

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Singularity Summit 2008

FYI all:  The Singularity Summit 2008 is coming up, 9am-5pm October 25th, 2008 in San Jose, CA.  This is run by my host organization, the Singularity Institute.  Speakers this year include Vernor Vinge, Marvin Minsky, the CTO of Intel, and the chair of the X Prize Foundation.

Before anyone posts any angry comments: yes, the registration costs actual money this year.  The Singularity Institute has run free events before, and will run free events in the future.  But while past Singularity Summits have been media successes, they haven’t been fundraising successes up to this point.  So Tyler Emerson et. al. are trying it a little differently.  TANSTAAFL.

Lots of speakers talking for short periods this year.  I’m intrigued by that format.  We’ll see how it goes.

Continue reading "Singularity Summit 2008" »

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‘Anyone who thinks the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world is a t**t.’

This week is Big Bang Week at the BBC, with various programmes devoted to the switch-on of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on Wednesday morning.  Many of these programmes are covered in this week’s issue of the Radio Times—the BBC’s listings magazine—which also features a short interview with Professor Brian Cox, chair of particle physics at the University of Manchester. Asked about concerns that the LHC could destroy the earth, he replies:

‘The nonsense you find on the web about “doomsday scenarios” is conspiracy theory rubbish generated by a small group of nutters, primarily on the other side of the Atlantic.  These people also think that the Theory of Relativity is a Jewish conspiracy and that America didn’t land on the Moon.  Both are more likely, by the way, than the LHC destroying the world.  I’m slightly irritated, because this non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes things like intelligent design. [… A]nyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t**t.’ (Final word censored by Radio Times.) [1]

Who counts as a nutter and a t**t on this reckoning?  It is true that anyone who thinks there is a 100% chance that the LHC will definitely destroy the world is confused—but it’s probably also true that not many people really think this.  On the other hand, if anyone who thinks that it is worth taking seriously the (admittedly very slim) possibility that the LHC will destroy the world is a t**t, then there are many apparently very clever t**ts knocking about in our universities.  Among these are several of my colleagues: Nick Shackel has previously blogged about the risks of turning on the LHC, as has Toby Ord; and Rafaela Hillerbrand, Toby Ord, and Anders Sandberg recently presented on this topic at the recent Future of Humanity Institute-hosted conference on Global Catastrophic Risks. And, despite having chatted to each of these people about the LHC at some point or another, I’ve never heard any of them express sympathy for the view that the Theory or Relativity is a Jewish conspiracy or that nobody landed on the Moon.  So, are they t**ts or not?

Continue reading "‘Anyone who thinks the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world is a t**t.’" »

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Artificial Volcanoes

I’m a bit late to this party, but must report:  We’ve known for decades how to fix global warming cheaply!  Many fear devastation if warming continues, while others fear impoverishment from quitting carbon.  But we can cancel the entire warming effect for less than one part in ten thousand of world product!  No new tech is needed, nor much preparation to start fast or stop suddenly if problems appear.  We just copy the cooling effect already seen in volcanoes:  For a few $B/yr or less we take a tiny fraction of the SO2 humans already emit and put it way up in the stratosphere, e.g., via Naval guns, where it blocks sunlight.   

A burst of news about a year ago included this in Time and this in Nature.  It isn’t a perfect fix:

Carbon dioxide does more than just warm – it also acidifies the ocean. Even if the warming effects of ever-increasing carbon dioxide could be cancelled out, the effects on corals, shellfish and eventually the entire marine food web would still be disastrous. … The pattern of warming expected from carbon dioxide, and the pattern of cooling expected from aerosols, would differ in both space and time. … Volcanic eruptions … seem to have an unfortunate side effect; the 1783 Laki eruption in Iceland, for instance, weakened the Indian monsoon and cut rains in the Sahel, in Africa, to boot.

It would also increase ozone depletion a bit.  But these seem minor compared with dire warnings on warming.  And people seem to have unfairly lumped this very solid approach with far more speculative approaches, e.g., orbiting shades or iron ocean seeding.  Volcano shading is all well-understood physics and chemistry!  Worse, it faces serious ideological opposition and academic indifference:

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Anti-Foreign Bias

Tyler in the NYT Sunday:

The last 20 years have brought the world more trade, more globalization and more economic growth than in any previous such period in history. … Despite all these gains, the prevailing intellectual tendency these days is to apologize for free trade. A common claim is that trade liberalization should proceed only if it is accompanied by new policies to retrain displaced workers or otherwise ameliorate the consequences of economic volatility. …

What’s really happening is that many people, whether in the United States or abroad, are unduly suspicious about economic relations with foreigners. These complaints stem from basic human nature – namely, our tendency to divide people into "in groups" and "out groups" and to elevate one and to demonize the other. Americans fear that foreigners will rise at their expense or "control" some aspects of the economy.

Only on his blog does Tyler make his best point:

Virtually all of the "second best worrying" about trade could be applied also — in fact more so — to technical progress.  Or to trade across the fifty states.  Yet when it comes to foreigners, the worries acquire a more dangerous credibility.  That is the real second best problem, not any theorem you might derive about trade and externalities.

Nothing new here, but its worth a reminder from time to time. 

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The Future of Oil Prices 3: Nonrenewable Resource Pricing

Oil prices have been climbing rapidly in the past few years, and especially in recent months. Some point to speculation, others suggest that the fundamentals justify high prices. In 2006 I wrote a couple of posts here about how you could predict the future of oil prices. Unfortunately, reality did not align with theory, and my predictions were not accurate. Here is another approach to the problem which aims to look at the fundamentals and determine what is the rational market price for oil.

Continue reading "The Future of Oil Prices 3: Nonrenewable Resource Pricing" »

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Oil Scapegoats

Who to blame for rising oil prices?  Why not speculators

Hedge funds and big Wall Street banks are taking advantage of loopholes in federal trading limits to buy massive amounts of oil contracts, according to a growing number of lawmakers and prominent investors, who blame the practice for helping to push oil prices to record highs. … Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers allege that gaps in oversight are allowing deep-pocketed speculators to manipulate prices. …

George Soros, one of the nation’s leading investors, testified in a Senate hearing this week that index funds were contributing to the rapid rise in commodity prices and were possibly creating a bubble. If it were to burst, sending prices tumbling, the fallout could wreak havoc on banks, retiree funds and colleges across the nation. … Under pressure from voters, lawmakers are pressuring the CFTC to take even more forceful action to regulate the commodity markets.

This is nuts.  "Manipulation" is an action that causes a harmful chain of events that comes back to benefit the actor.  Maybe a large supplier like Saudi Arabia could "manipulate"  by holding back production and to benefit them by raising the price of what they sell.  But hedge funds are not suppliers.  By pushing up prices now via speculation they are betting on higher future prices, not causing them.  If anything, their act causes reduced usage now leaving more oil for the future, which lowers future prices, which hurts them.   They only gain via the chain of events whereby they win their bets and inform the rest of us that oil will be scarcer than we thought, which if true is exactly what we need to hear. 

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Wait For It

For the last few years the message we’d heard from our relatively liberal media is about how powerful is the U.S. president and how important are leader motives in determining policy outcomes.  Specifically, we’ve heard that U.S. outcomes are bad because of Bush’s despicable motives [added: and incompetence] — Bush has personally destroyed Iraq, New Orleans, the global environment, the deficit, oil and food prices, drug prices, the housing market, the mortgage industry, civil rights, and so on.

Odds are we will soon have a president Obama, and with him the outcomes won’t be much different – U.S. presidents don’t control that much after all.  So we will soon hear the media talking a lot more about how limited is presidential power and how important is other context in determining outcomes — Obama tried but was thwarted by congress, foreigners, interest groups, the weather, complexity, and so on.  Just wait for it.

Added 5Jun: We expect media to prefer a Democrat over a Republican president if we think they are more Democratic than Republican, in current political terms.  We need make not reference to US or world public opinion.  In general an ambiguous supporting argument should be read as making the weakest claim necessary to give the desired support – no further disclaimers should be needed. 

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Who Shall We Honor?

In the US, today is Memorial Day, when we are to honor warriors who died in our side of wars.  In addition we are to honor all our warriors on Veterans’ Day, and our first warriors and politicians on Independence Day.  We also have days to honor wartime politicians, one warring explorer, all mothers, all fathers, and "laborers" (i.e., most all of us). 

Yes warriors, dead and otherwise, deserve some honor, but to me this seems all out of proportion.   Not only do we overemphasize warriors of dramatic battles we won (e.g., not WWI trench doughboys), but surely many others deserve honor.  How about warriors who died on other sides, or in other wars?  How about civilians who died or sacrificed in wars?  How about those who prevented wars?

And surely war should not be the main source of honor in our world!  How about holidays to honor those who died for or sacrificed for or at least benefited the rest of us in other ways?  For example, why not a day to honor volunteers?  Or a day to honor all explorers, including intellectual, artistic, and business explorers?  Why focus so much on our winning dead warriors? 

Added:  Yes our ancestors probably evolved warrior honor to get people to defend their tribe.  But shall we on reflection endorse or repudiate these feelings? 

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Conference on Global Catastrophic Risks

FYI:  The Oxford Future of Humanity Institute is holding a conference on global catastrophic risks on July 17-20, 2008, at Oxford (in the UK).

I’ll be there, as will Robin Hanson and Nick Bostrom.

Deadline for registration is May 26th, 2008.  Registration is £60.

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