Saturday, July 04, 2015

Moving Towards Post Scarcity

If you want a world where no-one is poor, or hungry, or suffers... It's impossible.

However, a world where poverty and hunger are rare is entirely possible. In fact, we could do it right now, today.

... Though not through the means that most of those who loudly claim it as their goal, would think... or approve of.

The way to get there is by moving towards a post scarcity economy. Not to redistribute material wealth, but to make everyone so materially wealthy, that there would be no point.

And that IS possible.

We already live in a world where we can produce enough food, cheaply enough, for no-one to ever be hungry again.

... but most of it is wasted (seriously, most... between 60% and 80% of all food grown in advanced economies is wasted), because of government corruption, stupidity, or outright tyranny (most famines are not the result of nature, but of government).

That wasted food isn't given away for free, because high energy costs make transportation too expensive, and because government makes laws and regulations against doing so,mor that make doing so too risky and expensive.

What about other goods?

The three biggest components of the cost of most material goods, are labor, energy, and legal and regulatory costs (including taxes).

Material costs for most goods are a small fraction in comparison, rarely exceeding 20% of the total cost of an item, and often comprising less than 5%.

...And even then, much of the costs of the raw materials are themselves, labor, energy, and legal and regulatory costs (including taxes).

It's not greedy evil profit that makes and keeps things expensive... It's the cost of energy, the cost of labor, and the costs imposed by government and the legal system.

Right now, today, we could dramatically reduce the wasteful overheads imposed by government and the legal system, without hurting safety a single bit.

We could dramatically reduce taxes, and regulations, keeping only those that demonstrably improve safety to a reasonable degree for the costs they impose.

We could make industries far more competitive, by reducing barriers to entry created by governments.

We could dramatically increase employment at the same time, and wages, as businesses competed for workers, who had more money to pay those businesses.

We know all of these things work, because they always have, and always do. When we get out of the way.

But the single biggest thing we could do, to dramatically increase the material wealth of the world, and to dramatically improve the human condition...

Cheap energy.

If we could deliver energy so cheap that we didn't have to bother metering it, then we could achieve a near post scarcity economy, almost immediately.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we can achieve matter synthesis for many substances relatively easily.

With enough energy, cheap enough, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, silicon, and many other currently expensive materials, become dirt cheap.

With enough energy, cheap enough, plastics and anything derived from petrochemicals or other hyrdocarbons, become so cheap as to be effectively zero cost.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we have effectively unlimited clean fresh water, and can easily clean the air.

With enough energy, cheap enough, we can synthesize whatever fuels we want... Or mostly not bother, because the only thing we'd need chemical fuels for anymore was highly efficient long distance bulk cargo transportation, and air travel.

If you're really worried about carbon output from the human race... How about eliminating more than 80% of it, permanently?

With enough energy, cheap enough, we don't have to worry about efficiency of transport and storage technologies... though we will still develop them so that we can replace chemical fuels in air travel and bulk cargo transport, and to improve range and grid independence.

With enough energy, cheap enough, the cost of manufactured goods falls anywhere from 20% to more than 80%... and employment booms, and economies boom, and everyone gets much wealthier... rich and poor alike.

With enough energy, cheap enough, about 90% of the world's troublespots, stop being troublespots, and most of them we wouldn't have to care about.

If you want to "end war" it's impossible, but if you want to make it much rarer, smaller scale, and less destructive... cheap energy is the best way to do that.

Guess what?

We could do most of this, in less than 20 years, simply by deploying a widely distributed localized grid, of thorium reactors (technically, encapsulated pebble bed, low temperature and pressure gas coolant, thorium reactors... and/or natural convection, low pressure thorium salt reactors).

They have functionally negligible waste, their fuel cost per gigawatt is negligible, and they are many times safer than current coal and natural gas power. They are incredibly cheap to build and operate, they can't be weaponized, they can't have a meltdown or other destructive catastrophic failure... if you don't believe me, don't believe the propaganda, go an do the research yourself.

If we decided to get out of the way and get behind this entirely, we would have power at a cost of pennies per megawatt hour... a tiny fraction of a percent of the cost today (in the U.S. average is something like $0.13 kwh right now with taxes and fees adding about 20% on top of that. Some states run several times that, and much of Europe several times that again).

This isn't some pie in the sky dream, it doesn't require 50 years of engineering work or basic science. There are no breakthroughs required... Unlike EVERY OTHER FORM OF POWER that could possibly be an alternative to today's power infrastructure. Solar, wind, geothermal, none of them could ever be more than a fraction of our needs at ridiculously high cost. Fusion requires both basic science breakthroughs and much more engineering work to be viable (if it ever is). It's all decades away at best, if ever.

We could do this today.

Not 50 years from now... TODAY.

The 20 years isn't for more development, it's just how long it would take to complete the world wide economic transition to a cheap energy economy and infrastructure.

So, if what you really want, is to make a world where no-one goes hungry, and no-one is homeless... Then work for cheap and safe energy, and a huge reduction in government induced overhead. And it will happen.

Otherwise, what you really want, is a world where everyone is poorer, but where "evil profit" is eliminated, and "the rich" are punished, and everyone is economically "equal"; where the "right people are in charge", and will arrange the world the way you think is right, and punish the people you think are wrong.

Because that's all you're ever going to get, with more expensive energy, higher taxes, more government, and more redistribution.