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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Eliminate Poverty:

Commonly, we look back on ancient times and mock the denizens of the past for their obvious and blatant sins.  It could be slavery, sexism, racism, classism, superstition, aggressive warmongering, or any number of common ancient deeds.  One of my biggest complaints with the past is their inability to conduct fair and just trials, condemning untold numbers of people to death or torture with no evidence or such blatantly fraudulent witnesses as you could never dream of.  However, what's the use of sitting on our morally superior high horse when the people of today are less virtuous than any generation that has ever lived?

I'll pass over some of the other terrible deeds our society does without even thinking twice about it:  condemning children for 1/3 of their lifespan into useless and fruitless 'education' camps that are no better than prison cells;  Cheating on and dumping half of every marriage pair, leaving shattered hearts and shattered homes where children have to navigate a world of poverty, distrust and despair for the rest of their lives.  Relentlessly grinding out the established scientific/empirically proven truth in a variety of spheres in favor of government sponsored propaganda and punishing people who still wish to live a true, honest, decent and honorable life for not getting with the program.

In other words, there's actually a variety of ways this generation is less moral than any previous generation on Earth, never mind slavery or war.  The crimes we do to people on a daily basis are more chronic and leave longer lasting scars than the occasional rape and pillage of a defenseless village.  They cause more pain overall through the patented Chinese drip drip water torture method, and certainly to a larger number of people, now that the world numbers in the billions.

But the sin I want to concentrate on in this article is of a different and higher magnitude.  I am talking about the existence of poverty in this era of affluence.  To think that there are still children starving to death, malnourished and victims of preventable diseases, homeless and dying of exposure to severe cold or hot temperatures for lack of a temperature-controlled shelter, needlessly dying to every little flood or earthquake for lack of up to standard building codes, roaming the streets as prostitutes or selling drugs as gang members because they couldn't gain access to a more peaceful and secure standard of living, poisoned by bad food, bad water, bad air, or inadequate sewage because the nation doesn't upkeep decent environmental standards, lacking access to electricity so they automatically lose half of their day to darkness, while in other parts of the Earth people wear jewelry enough on their own body to feed the mouths of an entire nation for a year.  Or people engage in ludicrous parties and feasts that cost more than the entire GDP of some nations.  Or people own ten, twenty houses none of which they even live in.  Or people collect a fleet of cars that just sit in a dusty garage somewhere.  Or own a thousand pairs of shoes, none of which they ever wear.  Or casually throw away half the food they buy because they let it spoil unused in their fridges.  Or spend billions on obnoxious advertisements in order to incentivize someone else to waste their money on a frippery they never thought about wanting or needing until that point.  Or in any other way are wasting money, literally trillions of dollars, on health care that doesn't actually prolong length of life, on education that doesn't actually teach anything useful, on a military that never actually fights a just war, on residential property prices which are simply an arms race to escape bad neighbors rather than having any feature qua house that would explain the price of the structure.

As the affluent live up lives of luxury, blowing and wasting vast fortunes on a daily basis without a care in the world, to the point where even the hyper rich like Hillary Clinton describe themselves as 'dead broke' and lament their impoverishment of only having a couple million dollars in assets and a presidential pension for life that can take care of their every conceivable need, children all around the world die, just like in the Russian tale of the match girl left out in the cold while she watched a happy family eat a turkey feast inside a warm home right outside their window.  When she ran out of matches to light with which to warm herself with, the last of her 'seed corn' she was supposed to use to earn an income that day, she died of exposure to the cold, while the happy family partied on five feet away from her, refusing to acknowledge her existence or need to the very end.  This is the ultimate sin of the world today, the inexcusable, unforgivable sin.  Poverty is everywhere, and we act like it doesn't exist, even though it would be so easy to solve, even though simply reducing our own waste would be more than enough to take care of everyone.

The 2013 estimate of the world's economy gives the per capita GDP of the world at $13,100.  No doubt, since 2014 has begun, that figure is now even higher than it used to be.  If every one on Earth were given $13,100 a year, in a perfect communist system, there would be no want and no suffering left on Earth.  Everyone could have everything they ever wanted.  A family of four would be bringing in an income of $52,400 a year -- that's higher than the median household income in America.  The world is patently rich enough to take care of its children.  This isn't an issue of 'the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.'  Poverty is a designed and chosen alternative, an active sin, not a lamentable fact of nature.

Opponents will argue that inequality of wealth and income distribution is necessary for the smooth functioning of the economy.  Though I actually doubt this (Russian scientists, according to Solzhenitsyn, worked diligently in gulags for no more than an extra egg at the end of the week), let's just grant the hypothesis for the sake of argument.

Even so, this does not mean what libertarians think it means.  The world economy today, I just explained, makes enough money so that everyone can live as well off as the average American.  IE, the world is sufficiently productive, right now, to give everyone a lavish and cushy life beyond their wildest dreams.  And this world economy, right now, is operating with an average tax rate of 30.3% of GDP.

Which means, at the bare minimum, we can tax away at least 30% of people's wealth without putting the economic dynamo wealth creating engine out of whack.  Whatever fears people have cannot possibly apply to a tax load that the system is clearly putting up with quite well already.  So let's say that, instead of a perfect communist system, we simply tax 30% of people's income and redistribute it as a 'human rights dividend' to everyone on Earth.  This would give everyone on Earth $4,000 a year.  For a family of four, that would amount to $16,000 a year.  Certainly not the lap of luxury, but enough to afford food, shelter, clean water, electricity, and sewage.  Enough to afford everyone on Earth a basic level of human dignity, a right to life, which today they still don't have.  In other words, without taking a single additional dime from anyone's pockets, we could end poverty today, if we simply willed it so.

This $16,000 is just what we could accomplish today.  Recent advances in technology allow a much more fruitful future if we just allowed them to happen, or sponsored their explosive entry into the market.  For instance, we could radically reduce the price of food by increasing crop yield.  If we just applied the technology behind US farming worldwide, we would double crop yields worldwide.  Half of US food production is thrown away as waste.  It either spoils before it is sold (ie, if it were given away as charity this would never happen), is thrown away off the plates of full people (ie, if they weren't pigs they wouldn't order so much, or they would save the rest for later and make sure to eat the food they ordered as a moral necessity), is deposited into the obese fat deposits of an overweight world (it would be healthier if they gave that food to the starving for both parties), or it spoils in the fridge because people buy entirely too much and then forget what to do with it.  So we could be producing 4 times as much food as we currently do.  In other words, food could be sold at 1/4 its current price, according to the supply/demand/price curve.  That could reduce the cost of food from $8,000 a year for a family of four down to $2,000 a year, with no futuristic advances needed.

However, futuristic advances are available that could drive down prices yet further.  The goal of any humane society is that food should be free to the consumer.  It should be so plentiful and so varied and so nutritious that no one should suffer from stomach pains ever again.  This is the world we see in science fiction universes such as David Zindell's Neverness.  There is no reason why we couldn't live in this world too.  Using CRISPR, we can genetically modify our wheat, corn, and rice crops, which make up the vast majority of our world calorie intake, into hyper efficient models never before seen.  The Chinese just recently used this technique to make wheat immune to a fungus disease which has been plaguing our fields for quite some time now.  The ways in which we could improve yield are manifold.  We could reduce the need for irrigation, reduce the amount of fertilizer needed, turn more of the crop into the eating portion and less into the stem portion, make it immune to diseases, weeds, pests, fungus, etc.  With genetic modification, the sky's the limit to what our crops could do.  Recall the humble beginnings of the corn plant when Amerindians first arrived on this continent, compared to what corn looks like today.  That difference in magnitude is easily repeatable today, that same giant leap in productivity could happen again, once we have complete control of corn's genome and can make, literally, the perfect corn plant.

Genetic modification isn't the only tool in our arsenal.  Greenhouses using cheap LED lights that shine only in the wavelengths that crops use to harness energy and grow with could eliminate all weather-related waste to our crops, drastically reduce the need for irrigation and topsoil, and eliminate all foreign predation on our carefully controlled growing areas.

Genetically modified fish could be fed specially designed fish feed instead of wasting their time roaming the open oceans in a darwinian struggle for survival.  Fish that spend their time growing fat off of agriculture instead of off of other fish waste far fewer calories because herbivores are more efficient than carnivores in preserving, ultimately, solar energy.  If we replaced a huge section of our diet with scrumptious seafood, made on the cheap using the combination of fish designed to grow bigger and fatter, and fed by designed cheap fish food, the meat portion of our food costs could plummet to near zero.

But even if we insist on eating beef or pork (though who would turn away when offered a catfish or bass is beyond me), there is a method to make that cheap as well.  Artificially cultured beef from petri dishes will revolutionize the meat industry shortly.  Just think, if all the energy that goes into making beef were preserved, instead of wasted on the cow growing unnecessary, non-edible portions of its body (like organs, muscles, bones, brains, etc), how much could we gain in savings?  In addition, artificial beef doesn't wander around, wasting its energy on locomotion.  The cost of shipping live and potentially dangerous cattle or pigs around is reduced to zero, as the meat can just be shipped off in boxes straight off the assembly line.  Whereas pigs and cows catch all sorts of nasty diseases and whole herds have to be slaughtered wastefully as a preventative measure, manufactured meat can be cultured in a controlled environment where diseases can never reach.  Artificial beef would drastically lower the price of meat, while also humanely ending the slaughter and torture of other living beings that have feelings and suffer just like us.

There's no such thing as a free lunch.  But when self-driven tractors farm enormous fields of genetically modified wheat, in order to fill up the bellies of hyper-growth fish farms, served with a relish of petri dish beef and a greenhouse grown salad, it can get pretty darn cheap.  If taxpayers covered this expense to feed the hungry, which is every Christian's duty anyway and what every religion has proclaimed as a moral necessity, they'd barely notice a dent in their pocketbooks.  The efficiency gains that are out there right now, but currently forbidden due to weird government regulations and paranoid public fears with zero scientific evidence behind them, are enough to eliminate food entirely from any budgeting concerns.

In addition, electricity is about to become a resource so abundant it basically doesn't exist.  Let's say electricity currently costs a household $1,200 a year.  What happens if we legalized fracking everywhere and started genuinely making use of our abundant natural gas resources?  We could half the price of natural gas down to $30 a megawatt hour from its current $65.  Meanwhile, solar power continues to make enormous progress yearly (the price has dropped 80% in the last five years).  If we assume the same progress over the next ten years, and we have no reason to doubt said progress because new solar efficiency improvements are cropping up in the news daily, we can reduce the price of solar an additional 90%.  The current price of solar is $130 a megawatt, only twice that of the cheapest alternative, natural gas.  With a 90% discount, we get $13 a megawatt, or twice as cheap as even our potentially half-as-cheap natural gas electricity.  In other words, in ten years, if our rate of solar power progress continues (and there's no reason to doubt this, since like Moore's law solar power prices have been continuously dropping now for decades at a steep and continuous pace), the price of electricity will cease to exist in household budgets.  It will be about $100 a year.  Taxpayers taking care of the poor by giving them free electricity won't even notice the difference.

Now let's discuss transportation costs.  Two advances are occurring simultaneously which will drive the cost of transportation down to near zero.  Like usual, transportation should just be free (as it is in Neverness), once you take into account how cheap technological advances will soon make this field in the economy.  The first advance is self-driven cars.  If cars are self-driven, a variety of improvements automatically occur.  First, nobody needs to own a car anymore, because they can just zip up a 'taxi' at any moment.  This means around 1/4 as many cars need to be built to service mankind as were previously required.  Second, there are no accidents anymore, which means not only do cars not need to be replaced, and many lives are saved, but most of all there's no cost of car insurance any longer.  Computers, unlike humans, are incapable of making mistakes.  Virtually all car accidents are due to human error.  Get rid of human drivers and car accidents become a thing of the past.  Next up, traffic congestion becomes a thing of the past as computers can effortlessly network with each other to never collide by just carefully adjusting their speeds.  There will be no need for stop signs or red lights -- all cars will proceed through the intersection simultaneously and the flow of traffic won't be interrupted at all, the cars will simply pass through the gaps in each other's driving by carefully adjusting their speed.  Cars will not need two seconds of space between each other to ensure safe driving, they can all drive bumper to bumper like a train convoy without ever getting into an accident because no one will suddenly brake in front of them.  This also helps eliminate fuel losses due to drag and wind resistance, as cars will be drafting each other just like the Tour de France.  Plus cars won't be idling during traffic jams so no energy will be lost.

The second advance cars will undergo is the transition to the electric engine.  The cost of batteries is plummeting and every day some new advance is discovered in the battery world.  But this isn't all.  Once solar power is providing our electricity at $13 a megawatt, the cost of fuel, previously paid in oil, will plummet as people turn to cheap solar power instead.  Filling up our cars with oil is a major portion of everyone's budget, and it effectively ceases to exist with the adoption of electric cars.  In addition, the electric engine is much more efficient than the combustion engine, so we get more bang for each buck of electricity than we did with oil.  Combine the adoption of the electric engine with the self-driven car and you get -- 1/4 as many cars need to be built, no fuel price, no insurance price, huge time savings and fuel savings due to lack of congestion and lack of wind resistance.  Add it all up together and you get cars at 1/4 the original price (so from $16,000 down to $4,000) and no upkeep costs (so from $6,000 down to, oh, say, $500 in electricity/replaced battery packs)  You've just saved the poor the lion's share of their transportation expenses.  Therefore, paying the rest out of pocket will be a trifle for the affluent of the world.

Transportation and food are two parts of the largest expenses in a household budget.  The third is the price of the house itself.  I already explained how the price of utilities is going to reach near zero, but I haven't yet mentioned that the price of a house itself is about to plummet down to near zero.  In China, houses have just been made by 3D printers in the course of a single day, using cheap materials like fast-drying concrete and mining tailings that were previously considered just a waste product.  These 3D printed houses have included in them full wiring, pipes, cables, etc -- 3D printing can create a blueprint of any complexity without any extra cost, so all the expensive professionals which used to turn your structure into a home have now all been rendered irrelevant.  The total cost of these houses is perhaps $5,000 to manufacture.  It costs virtually no labor (one day of unskilled labor is all you need) and no materials.  Imagine a world where houses were as cheap as skittles packs, and that's basically where we stand today.  The idea that we can't afford to shelter the homeless when we've got as many houses as we want for just $5,000 a pop is absurd.  Now, real estate will still cost a lost if you place your house in a prime location, but remember what we just learned about self-driven cars.  There's no need to be near your workplace or convenience store if your car can go get groceries for you, or you can commute to work while still asleep on a nice car-bed.  Imagine watching tv as you whisk to work or go shopping, or playing on your playstation, or surfing the web and chatting with friends.  The moment transportation costs neither time nor money, all the land in the world becomes equally 'prime' real estate.  Housing can be plopped down in the most remote corners of the wide open plains and the homeless would still be better off.  Land that is outside of city limits, which isn't good for farming, is virtually free.  Combine that with a virtually free house and voila, the world now has free housing.  Let's say the cost of the manufacturing plus the land amounts to $10,000.  A one time purchase, not a yearly expense, of just $10,000.  Taxpayers could pay all that out just by diverting the money already used for HUD housing and Section 8.  They'd never even notice a change.

Physical poverty leads to mental and spiritual poverty.  Numerous studies have shown that better nutrition leads to higher IQ later in life, and higher IQ leads to higher productivity in the workplace.  Investing in our children today leads to a higher return in the future.  Studies have shown that hungry people become irritable and cannot focus their heads on anything but how hungry they are.  It is impossible to educate children in such an environment.  Once we put food in their bellies, they will calm down and listen to their teachers, and actually learn something.  In addition, crime rates and rates of domestic violence will go down.  When violence goes down, communities become more proactive and business thrives.  When violence goes down, people emerge from the 'shell-shock' of domestic abuse, where they really can't think of anything except how stressed they are, and begin to re-engage with the outside world.  Keeping people fed, with the right temperature (neither too hot nor too cold), with access to baths and toilets and soft mattresses for beds, will improve their physical well being to the point that their mind and spirit brighten up and blossom too.  There is no easier path to happiness and health than just taking care of the physical basics.  Once everyone is well off, they do less crime, they drink less, they take fewer drugs, and they get along better with their families.  Poverty is often looked at as a 'self-caused vice' because people can always point to what the poor are doing wrong.  However, it's backwards.  The poverty itself leads to the vices, which they otherwise wouldn't engage in.  Numerous studies have shown that those who are down on their luck, who lose their jobs, turn to vices as an escape which they previously did not engage in.  Drinking, drugs, smoking, gambling, they all are a response to poverty, not a cause.  A stress relief valve.  Remove the stress, and the relief valves become redundant.  In addition, the major cause of poverty in this country is divorce/single motherhood.  The major cause of breakups in relationships is poverty/unemployment/money troubles.  Everyone, when they are poor, becomes irritable, ashamed, guilty, angry, and lashes out at each other.  Obviously even lovey-dovey couples will eventually succumb to the accumulated stress of physical hardship.  And since our culture loves to demonize the poor and blame them for all their woes, it's only natural for the wife and husband to attack each other and follow social cues that somehow their hardship is a moral failing in their partner.  Get rid of poverty, and you get rid of divorce and single motherhood, because everyone can just stay in love and cuddle like they used to.

In addition, poverty creates a sort of tunnel vision.  No one can concentrate on beauty, truth, or love, when they're stuck just trying to stay alive and alleviate physical pain.  Marlowe's pyramid of actualization explains it well enough.  How do you get to the upper layers when you're still stuck at the bottom and can't even get enough to eat?  If we provided everyone with their basic needs, they could grow spiritually to more resemble the face of God, which gave them such precious emotions as love and aesthetics to begin with.  The more people who are calling for Shakespeare or Mozart and the fewer who are clamoring for bread, the better off the world will be.

I would predict that the price of taking care of our poor is actually negative.  IE, if we took care of the poor by directly giving them money sufficient to buy all their basic needs, we would see indirect public costs go down -- more people would find productive employment.  IQ's would go up so workers would be more productive and skilled.  Health problems would go down because fewer people would smoke, drink, overeat, etc as a stress relief.  Households would stay together so there would be the gained efficiency of pooled living costs and incomes.  Crime would go down, so we wouldn't have to lock up enormous numbers of people into extremely expensive to maintain prison complexes.  Businesses would head back into the neighborhoods to provide goods and services to the underserved, who would suddenly have money in their pockets to spend.  These businesses would then hire locally to provide for their new customers, and suddenly unemployment would go down and even more money would be in people's pockets, attracting more businesses, hiring new employees, in an ever-upward virtuous cycle.  I can think of so many ways poverty alleviation helps not only the individual, but the community and the nation as a whole.  However, I shouldn't have to rely on such an argument.  The mere fact that people are suffering who could be helped is already intolerable enough.

With current tax rates, we can afford to give $4,000 to everyone on Earth.  The majority of taxes already go to poverty alleviation in national budgets today.  But let's just be even more generous and say half of those taxes are needed for other programs, like the military or health care or infrastructure.  In that case, with just $2,000 a year, how much poverty could we alleviate?  We've said that a car will cost $4,000 plus $500 a year in upkeep.  A house will cost a one-time price of $10,000.  Food will go down in price to $500 a year.  Electricity will cost $100 a year.  So if we gave everyone $140,000 over the course of their lifetime ($2,000 for 70 years), they would have to subtract $14,000 for their house and car, plus 70 year of food at 500 dollars a year, plus 70 years of electricity at 100 dollars a year, plus 70 years of car upkeep at 500 dollars a year.  That would leave people with $50,000 left to spare to address any other needs.  So, if we took the current taxes already geared towards alleviating poverty, and actually gave it to people in cash terms, and combined that with deregulating the food and energy and housing and transportation sectors so that innovation could flourish in the private sector, we can eliminate all poverty with $50,000 per person to spare.

There is no physical constraint that is keeping us from ending poverty.  Every year, the world's per capita GDP rises yet higher, making these programs yet easier on taxpayers every year this noble work is delayed.  Every year, the price of basic goods goes down as technology improves, making the cost of living decrease even as our GDP is increasing.  There is no reason we can't eliminate poverty today, but even moreso, there's no reason why we have to put up with it ten years from now, or 20 years from now, or thirty years from now.  Any argument that states "This is unaffordable."  Or "This can't be done yet."  Is not a real argument against relieving poverty, because these arguments would have to admit at a certain threshold or deadline that poverty relief in fact should be implemented.  The question of when exactly this should be done is less important than whether it should be done at all.  Any technical arguments are just obfuscation of the larger point that poverty relief is a moral necessity and must be implemented sooner or later.  The only argument that can stand against poverty relief programs is the idea that poverty is good and it is right and just for people all over the world, most of them children, to starve to death, die of exposure, not get treated for easily prevented diseases, get poisoned by polluted water supplies, etc.  I cannot fathom how people could make this argument without simply being worshipers of Satan, so I don't even need to explain to these adherents of darkness why their thinking is wrong.

Once we die and go to heaven, I expect we'll prance in front of God saying we should be allowed into heaven, because we weren't racist, we weren't sexist, and we didn't hold any slaves.  And then he will point to the bible and say, "I was hungry and you fed me, I was cold and you gave me shelter."  Or all the times Christ told people to give their money away to the poor and that the rich would not enter heaven.  And he would sit in perplexity, sheer bewilderment, that we imagined we weren't destined for Hell and somehow had been oblivious to His teachings from the very beginning, all while pretending to act in His name.  This world is composed of 2 billion christians and 1 billion muslims who have direct divine orders to eliminate poverty.  That's half the world's population, and the majority of the most affluent portions of the globe.  If religious people were simply doing their religious duty poverty would already be gone by now.  The fact that these hypocrites are defying their own Gods, their own almighty Lords, who they praise as 'Most Good,' in order to not help the suffering people all around them is more despicable than any sadist.  At least sadists aren't hypocrites.  At least they'll openly admit what they're doing, without pretending to be some sort of spotless lamb destined for the pearly gates.  Every single religious person on Earth is destined for Hell, because they are not listening to their own prophets.  I can't even imagine how Jesus is feeling as he looks down upon his flock right now.  Did anyone listen to anything he said at all?

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