Michael Battalio


Friday, November 29, 2013

Serious conversations (part 53):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifty-third and fifty-fourth entries begin a discussion on wealth.



        This set of discussions start what will hopefully be a lengthy conversation on wealth, including its generation, destruction, and use. These first two entries consist of a broad overview of what we think. Later we will begin a survey of “The Origin of Wealth” by Eric D. Beinhocker.



Where does monetary wealth come from?  If it's true that the only way to make money (or break even) is to export goods or services to the outside, how can that be sustained in a closed system?  If your city is making a profit, does that mean that somewhere, some other city is losing money?



Are natural resources necessarily the ultimate origin of all wealth?  Even if your city is a service economy and you export services to other cities, the people who provide those services have to be fed and clothed, so you have to import goods to take care of that.  You're just farther up the economic food chain.  Somewhere down at the bottom is a farmer and a miner.



So maybe we should take a step back and define wealth first of all.  For that I go back to Adam Smith and "The Wealth of Nations" where wealth is the produce of the people and land, and produce is something that satisfies a human need where I would refer us to the classical Maslow hierarchy of needs to define human need.  Now having said that I think it's clear that in a closed system wealth can be generated because the Earth is a closed system at the moment.  The continued growth of planetary wealth is a result of the further exploitation of the natural resources of the Earth.  We are creating wealth by taking it from the ground and using human labor to facilitate the taking.  So at its most basic, the generation of wealth requires two things: time and effort.  We extract material from the earth and then with effort create some good that has some monetary value.  Wealth is thus not just created from nothing or taken from someone else; it is generated through work.  


        I, then, disagree that wealth only comes from export.  Consider those very isolated tribes of people that live apart from the globalized economy (wikipedia has an article on them "Uncontacted peoples").  It seems a group is discovered every so often. When they have first contact with the globalized economy they have wealth, not very much, but they have it in their clothing, tools and domiciles.  That wealth was generated independently.  It can certainly be the case that cities can exploit other cities to generate additional wealth, but I don't think it is a necessary condition that wealth can only be generated though the taking from others.  

Friday, November 08, 2013

This I Believe (part 23):

        After about four years it is time for a revisit of my “This I Believe” series. As before, I’m still having trouble defining exactly what it is I prescribe to as a worldview. I hope to figure some of what I believe here.



Before in the series I explain my current beliefs and said that I really want God to exist. Let me elaborate on that.



        I want God because of two reasons.  First, praying to God allows you control things you couldn't otherwise control.  I can't tell you how tempting it is to pray to God when Rebecca is having a flair up of her Crohn's disease because otherwise all I can do is sit and watch her be in pain.  If only I could pray hard enough I could perhaps convince what should be a merciful God in the first place to heal her.  Prayer gives the illusion of absolute control.  People love that; I would love that if it were actually true.  


        Secondly, I’d like to not not exist. I am not necessarily afraid of ceasing to exist, I just don't want to.  I'd like to at least exist for longer than the 100 years or so I'd have otherwise.  If we get to the singularity in our lifetimes this won't be my problem anymore, and to some extent the singularity will mitigate my need for absolute power as well.  If I can live in a computer or have a perfect android body, I won't need a celestial magician to grant me wishes.  That's really it, I don't find comfort in thinking there is some being greater than me.  To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the universe is amazing enough that I don't need omnipotent beings in it too.



        I have always been afraid of death.  I can remember crying myself to sleep occasionally when I was five or six being worried about dying.  I have been preoccupied with this for the entirety of my memory.  Thinking about death while sitting in my grandmother's lap is one of my first memories.  I don't fear pain or loss, but it terrifies me not to exist.  I guess so much of it has to do with me really liking existing.  Although it also has to do with me concerned about leaving a legacy.  It is quite doubtful that I will leave a large enough mark in scientific literature to be remembered much past the decade after I die.  Very few scientists ever do really leave a profound jump forward in knowledge.


        One might speculate that it is my indoctrinated Catholicism that has caused me such fear. I suppose some of my fear comes from religion.  Catholicism is awfully concerned about guilt, reconciliation and repentance, but even as a child I was more worried not about salvation but about not existing.  I can't explain it any better than this.  I don't have a concrete reason for being so afraid; perhaps it is why I'm so cautious (sometimes to my own detriment) in my decisions.  Actually, I wonder how so many people can not be afraid of death.

 
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