Finite World

The basic Concepts:

  • finite room
  • finite environment
  • finite resources
  • finite population
  • why do we care?

Finite Room

For well over a millions years humans existed on a planet that appeared limitless to the humans.  As the human population grew, new people could always explore new places to live.  There was always a new places to explore.

But by the 18th century, there were reasonable maps of the earth, but still large areas of land unmapped and unexplored.  During the 20th century humans reached the point where they could map every point on the entire globe to detailed level.

But in the history of mankind, knowing the entire globe occurred only very very recently.

Today we not only know the entire globe of the Earth, we have basically reached the point where humans have an allocated usage for virtually all land on the globe of the Earth.  There are still wilderness areas, but a large proportion of people believe at least almost all of what is referred to as wilderness, should permanently remain as wilderness.  This means that to add more people, we now have to fit more into the existing space. Into the spaces we have already declared ‘in use’.

Effectively Finite Room or Really Finite?

Vast areas of land in Australia, Canada, Greenland, Siberia and even North Africa are effectively wasteland.  It could be argued that transforming the landscape in these locations could be transformed and perhaps then house an additional perhaps 50% of  worlds current population.  It could also be argued that the impact on the planet if we tried would be horrific, but in the end even if we did …at the population growth rates of the 20th century doubling global population every 30 years, it would in fact make very little difference.

Either way, we are, from a room perspective, at the point of housing additional population by fitting them into the same space.

In fact not only are we not even trying to transform these new areas, urbanisation seems to now result in fitting more and more people into even smaller spaces.

Finite Environment.

The earth is huge.  At first it can seem the idea that somethings as relatively small as even the largest living organism could change the Earth itself seems unlikely.  However, records confirm that collectively living things have actually completely reshaped the environment of billions of years.

Back when there are a few humans, whatever humans did was absorbed by the environment.  People could just leave their rubbish, and even homes, and the environment would absorb the impact.  Then we created pollution that at least on a local level, the environment was clearly damaged.  Now we have invented plastics and inhabit so much of the Earth, that we can clearly see we can have an impact at a global level. Consider ozone depletion and chlorofluorocarbons.  A large significant percentage of believe the actions of humans may now be having an impact on climate.

The term Anthropocene has been coined to describe the era during which mankind can have significant impact on the environment.

While plagues previously have impacted local environments, as have humans at least since the beginning of the industrial age, and other organisms have even had global impact, this the first time and organism can actually decide what global impact the organism has.

Finite Resources.

Humans are rapidly consuming the Earth’s Helium supply. There are several other mineral resources where it has now become tangible that the supply is finite.  This limit of supply is an entirely new concept.  There may be solutions, but to actually exhaust the worlds supply of anything, in the very foreseeable future, given how long we hope humanity can continue is quite astounding.

Finite Population.

The world is headed toward a peak human population.  The idea that the population may actually stop growing may sound incredible given the recent period of unprecedented population growth, but is neither without precent nor without considerable evidence that the trend is on track for that outcome.  Those concerned about population will still be concerned that the actual population level that will be reached by the time there is stability will still be at frightening levels,  but on the other side, there those that feel ending population growth will represent a disaster

Why does it matter?

Many countries are facing the first time in centuries that generations are growing up with the expectation they will have less real wealth than their parents.  Unless we desire that trend to continue, it is best to understand why.  The world is facing many challenges, environmental, biodiversity, distribution of wealth, terrorism, and simply the ability of humans to continue to be able to enjoy the natural environment.

Understanding, and managing, the impact of ‘finite earth’ is critical to any solution to these challenges.



Free Education? Why not user pays?

The truth is there is no such thing as ‘free education’. There is always a cost so someone must pay, and the question is “who pays?”.  The choice is between ‘society pays’ (free?) and ‘user pays’. At first, the economic rationalist argument  “why should society pay for the university education of the elite?” appears compelling, but does it really work that way?

  • National Impact: Helicopter view
  • The impact on the individual
  • OK, who really pays?
  • Controlling studies: free market, vs university places
  • In depth, the fabric of the society we live in
  • Conclusion: The beneficiary pays

National Impact: Helicopter view.

“The individual should pay” because otherwise all society will be subsidising those will then have the highest incomes.  In other words, the individual paying will overall be more egalitarian.  But look at the countries where education is “free”.   This more in depth look at the debate in some of the main free education countries, free education is all about equality, and the countries offering free education include those that both value, and achieve, equality of citizens more than other countries.

So either these countries that both value and achieve equality so highly have it all wrong and only manage equality despite their free education systems, or the arguments for paid education representing equality are wrong.  So who has it wrong, those who best achieve equality, or those who have the worse record on equality?  If free education does deliver equality, why, and why would paid education fail?

The impact on the individual

The whole concept of paid education is that education is effectively an asset for the student.  The higher income earned from any asset, the better performing that asset, so the student should seek the asset which gives them personally the best return on their investment.  Each student should choose their degree based on which investment will provide them personally with best return.

The effect is to promote such studies as law and medical practice as opposed to subjects such as medical research or teaching.  Generally, careers which provide the greatest personal satisfaction, which can correlate to the public benefit that career provides, than areas where pay is the only motivator.  This means careers with a public benefit may have a higher study to income ratio, and therefore a lower economic yield as an asset.

Think of the idealised inspirational dreams of young children as in this video putting the case for ‘free’ education ( see 2:00) . End poverty, cure cancer, fix climate change.  All great aspirations, but none delivering the personal wealth required for a strong performing ‘university degree as a personal investment’.

But some noble aspirations do fit with the return on investment model.  Perhaps not merchant banking or even corporate law, but what about doctors?  Perhaps not creating the cures, but certainly administering the cures as a medical practitioner does provide for both: a real need within society and a strong return on investment?

Logically the laws of economics should ensure that the needs of society will be because the pay for needed careers will rise until there is supply.  So if a degree is expensive, then the market will ensure those with that degree earn sufficient to offset the cost. We need doctors, so doctors pay will be sufficient.  We don’t need a to eliminate poverty, fix climate change(at least not this week), or cure cancer.  In fact from an economic perspective, curing cancer could harm that section of the economy.  The problems thus should be restricted to the optional parts of the economy, or those things we need in the longer term.

So it is true not all aspirations are undermined by the user pays education system, as not all aspirations are long term, and surely in these shorter term aspirations and the things we need today, the system becomes more egalitarian?

Well… perhaps not…

OK, who really pays?

The case of a medical practitioner does sound like a strong argument for ‘paid education’ works for todays needs.  Society needs doctors, and paid degrees provides doctors because the pay for doctors increases until there is sufficient supply.  But this is also the problem, the cost of doctors rises to cover the cost of the degree.  If this is real, then doctors will receive highest pay in countries where degrees are most expensive, so doctors can in turn pay of the debt of their education. I did a search for the pay of doctors in the USA vs Scandinavia (where education is ‘free’). This comparison is actually the pay of doctors in a variety of countries, but the clear trend is the higher the cost of education, the greater cost of doctors.  Correlation is not necessarily causation, but the data does seem to confirm the prediction.

All this suggests that with paid education, the cost of doctors university degrees is in the end paid by those who visit doctors.  So ‘free’ education taxpayers pay, which puts the greatest burden on those who earn the most income, in place of the greatest burden of the cost falling to those who suffer ill health. The same rule will apply in each case, prices will flow through intermediaries until they ultimately reach the consumer.

Funding for medical degrees:

  • paid education: funding from those who suffer ill health
  • ‘free; education: funding from taxation revenue across all society according to tax rate

Generally the rules of economics ensuring the cost will ultimately be met by those with the need means the only reduction in society paying will apply only for services that are needed, but also have a strong export focus thus ensuring the cost is partially met from outside the tax base.

Controlling student expense: free market, vs university places

To my knowledge, there is no government in the world that completely eliminates spending on education.  At least some education is considered part of the function of government.  But at the other extreme, no government can be responsible for everything every citizen may have a whim to learn.  Paid education may suggest every citizen must full pay for all education, and ‘free’ education may sound like every student is indulged for whatever they desire, but neither extreme is correct.

‘Free’ education still will limit what courses are provided by state universities, for which citizens and non-citizens and for which courses, and countries with ‘free’ education will still also have fully paid education ranging from industry specific courses through to paid public education providers.

Paid education countries still subsidise courses and have state based universities, it is just that students still must pay.

Overall it is not automatic whether paid education countries spend more or less than free education countries.  Consider per capita spend on education between counties and there is little difference between free and paid education countries.


In depth, the fabric of the society we live in

Paid education ultimately forces a purely financial focus to education, and ultimately the choice of what people do in life.  Certainly a nail in the coffin of the sentiment “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

Conclusion: The beneficiary pays

The answer to the difference is “the beneficiary of the education pays” in each case.  So do we want society to be the beneficiary of education, or each individual for themselves?  Do we want a society where people consider the overall society, or only themselves individually.


Tribalism: Good, neutral or bad?

My definition of tribalism: Part of the nature of humanity that leads us to support those from the group we identify with, over those from other groups.

Most people watching an event at the Olympic games will support the contestant from their own country over those from other countries, even when they had not previously heard of any contestants in the event.

This I consider an a simple and benign example of tribalism.

In the case of the Olympics it may be a very tenuous reason to support one competitor, but it can generally be argued that many positives arise from this form of ‘tribalism’.  An even more passionate case can be mounted for the positive aspect of tribalism referred to as patriotism, that can motivate some of the greatest war heroes. But I suggest there  is also a negative side to this same ‘tribalism’ instinct that can drive discrimination, racism, terrorism and even be responsible for war.

Can we restrict tribalism to the benign? Aspects of tribalism will be discussed for consideration in a series of pages :

  • Tribalism and sport
  • tribalism and racism
  • tribalism and terrorism
  • the engine of war


How the ‘basic income’ proposal could change society

The current wealth distribution system is an already a broken system about to face severe attack. As discussed in Robots & Job Terminators, the role of employment is set to change.

canada20flagflagbigfinlandOn engadget, the post How will you survive when the robots take your job? outlines the ‘basic income’ proposal, as put forward by many in the tech industry and being experimented with in Canada, Finland and the Netherlands. This articles provides a great starting point and conveys the basic idea and if unfamiliar with the idea it makes sense to read that article first. This post is about looking further, in terms of thoughts about what else should change if a ‘basic income’ is introduced and what would be needed to make such an idea work. What would such a measure cost, and what would be the impact on society of a total package, of a ‘basic income’ together with a logical set of policies to create a total package? Continue reading

Is our wealth distribution system really broken?

pot_goldA first reaction could be: “ok, the people who voted for Donald Trump clearly feel it is broken, but I am not sure they are that smart”, or “I am doing ok, and I think the system is fair. Yes people like that Elon Musk character have ‘X’ times more than me but he is also ‘X’ times more clever than me so he deserves it!”.

But the system feels sufficiently broken to those who voted for Trump, that they were desperate enough to vote for him, and there appears to be some similarity with the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK.  Something has to change, even if it is just perception or we are going to keep having to live with these kinds of election results.

Also, either Elon Musk is really clever, in which case we should listen when he is proposing that we need to make changes to wealth distribution (soon, if not now),  or, he is not clever, in which case he does not deserve his wealth.  Either way, we need to consider changes.  Continue reading

Highlander Economics: Does it end with only one?


from IMDB

Back in 1986, the movie Highlander was released. It was actually sufficiently successful to inspire four sequels, plus spin offs and even a reboot. Something in the original clearly stuck a chord, and the tagline and concept ‘in the end there can only be one’  could be part of this.  The plot centres around a small group of individuals, immortals, who become ever stronger by defeating ‘competitor’ immortals in mortal combat.  The immortals all seem have a share of power. Defeat another immortal and grow stronger as the victors gain the power of the vanquished, until only one immortal remains, and the one remaining will hold all the power.  So how closely does the ‘rules’ of the highlander actually match the ‘rules’ for competitor companies?

How accurate is the analogy? Continue reading

How the wealthy become wealthy.

pot_goldIt was a reference to ‘trickle down economics’ that started me on this thought path.  The proposal that simply allowing the wealthy to become even wealthier could generate additional wealth that in a flow on process will trickle throughout the economy and result in everyone being wealthier.  Yes, even Wikipedia seems to largely discredit the idea, but it is still pushed by various politicians.  Cynics may point out those same politicians need to keep their wealthy backers happy in order to fund their re-election, but surely their must be some truth to the idea or we would not vote for them anyway?

Ok, here is my conclusion: the wealthy get wealthy by gaining a small share of wealth from each member of a large population.  To get wealthier, they require either a larger share from each individual, or a larger population. Continue reading