Friday, March 24, 2017

Minimum Wage and Earned Income Tax Credit

157 days until class.

My job in the last 24 hours has been to write up a position proposal for the Party of Reason and Progress. I originally thought they wanted a short paragraph that they could post - a brief description - which I did not like to do because I like details. What I wrote ended up being three paragraphs and I feared it was too long.

I discovered that they want a description of the policy complete with statistics and references. This was more to my liking.

What follows is my first draft.

I must admit, I felt some sense of pressure to come up with a liberal document - not because of anything everybody said, but just because I felt it would be received better. However, what I presented was a proposal that I think is grounded on the evidence. The minimum wage issue is one in which I judge people on the left and right both to argue about poorly - embracing evidence that supports their position and ignoring conflicting evidence. It was not written to try to secure votes, and we will see what PORP does with it.

I had this draft finished before I came here and saw faithlessgod's recommendation attached to yesterday's post. One will see in this provision a recommendation to provide assistance to those who are have employment difficulties for such reasons as health and education/training. The options that faithlessgod pointed to provide ways of dealing with that.

Anyway . . . let me repeat . . . I am not speaking for PORP at this point. They claim to be a party that wants evidence-based positions, so this is my proposal for an evidence-based position on the minimum wage and earned income tax credit.

A Living Wage

In a society as wealthy as the United States, if somebody is willing to pull their weight by working the
equivalent of a full-time job (e.g., two half-time jobs), they should earn enough to cover the basic needs
– food, clean water, clothing, basic medical care, transportation, and some entertainment. Several policy
options exist to try to achieve that end.

Two of these are the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit (EITC).

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, with state minimum wages minimum ranging from
$5.15 (Georgia) to $11.00 (Massachusetts, Washington state).1

The EITC is a wage subsidy that effectively adds a tax refund payment to earned income to produce a
higher overall household income. A single mother with two children with a full-time job throughout
2016 earning the current Federal minimum wage will have $15,080 in earned income, and qualify for an
earned income tax credit of $5,572. This would be a combined income of $20,652 – the equivalent of
9.92 per hour.2

The Minimum Wage

The standard argument against a minimum wage appeals to a standard principle of liberty. If one person
is willing to receive $5.00 for an hour of work, and another is willing to pay it, then it is intrinsically
wrong to come between them. One could respond that this intervention comes in the name of
exploitation – coming from the fact that the worker is being forced by desperate circumstances (e.g.,
starvation) to accept $5.00. However, this option is blunted by the employer’s option to pay nothing,
whereby the intervention makes the worker even worse off. In the name of preventing exploitation, the
intervention forces the worker to accept the desperate circumstances she was trying to avoid – but at
least she is not being exploited.

A recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco estimates that the effect of a 10%
increase in the minimum wage would result in a 1% to 3% loss in employment for the target population.3

If we assume a 2% loss of jobs among minimum-wage workers with a 10% increase in the minimum
wage, it follows that an increase would help 98% of the workers in that range. Those workers would not
be forced to accept the desperate circumstances they were trying to avoid – they would be helped to
further distance themselves from those desperate circumstances. But for the other 2%, the results
would be catastrophic. Furthermore, this 3% will be made up of people who already have employment
disadvantages such as implicit and explicit bias, health issues, insufficient or low quality education, and
family commitments that interfere with work schedules.

Even if total employment does not decrease, there is an issue with job transfer. A higher minimum wage
makes these jobs more attractive to the voluntarily unemployed in middle-income households seeking
additional income. These workers are generally more highly skilled and tend to suffer from many of the
employment disadvantages of current minimum-wage workers. Consequently, businesses have an
incentive to replace their current minimum-wage employees with these alternative employees –
providing its benefits to middle-income households rather than the poor.

Up until 1994, there was a consensus among economists that an increase in the minimum wage would
decrease employment. The vast majority of households with minimum-wage workers would benefit
from the increase, but some households would suffer potentially catastrophic economic results from
those who lost their jobs.

At that time, David Card and Alan Kruger published a study that compared the employment effects in
one state that increased its minimum wage, with an economically similar state that did not increase its
minimum wage. By using the former state as a study group, and the latter state as a control group, they
could control for some confounding variables. Their study showed a slight increase in employment,
rather than a decrease.4

Possible explanations for this include (1) lower-income households tend to spend their additional
income on goods and services which, in turn, create additional jobs, and (2) employers generally would
be willing to pay the higher wage but do not do so because the economic power they have over
potential workers desperate for a job.

Attempts to replicate their findings have produced mixed results. More importantly, they have produced
no consensus among economists as to the employment effects on employment. In 2014, 600
economists including 7 Nobel Prize winners endorsed an increase in the federal minimum wage to
$10.105, while 3 Nobel Prize winners joined 500 economists in opposing the increase.6 In 2014, when the
Congressional Budget Office was asked to estimate the effects of an increase in the federal minimum
wage to $10.10 per hour, they estimated that it would reduce total employment by 500,000 jobs.

Some economists who think that a higher minimum wage produces a job loss still support a higher
minimum wage because – overall – it increases the purchasing power of the poor. The CBO estimated
that a $10.10 minimum wage would give households below the poverty line an additional $6 billion, and
households between the poverty line and three times the poverty level an additional $12 billion.7 This
additional income produces the side effect of stimulating those businesses that provide goods and
services to lower-income households, as opposed to businesses that cater to the very wealthy.

PORP rejects the traditional practice of embracing studies that support a favored result and ignoring
other data. Until economists come to a consensus on the effects of a minimum wage, PORP considers it
to be irresponsible for non-economists to declare one side or the other the victor in this debate purely
because if that side were right it would support a favored policy.

What we do know is that an increase in the minimum wage will help a significant percentage of those
households earning less than what would be the new minimum wage. However, there is a risk (though it
is not certain) that a percentage of low-income households will suffer catastrophic economic hardship
through loss of employment, and that these costs would fall on workers who have employment

There are good reasons to support a higher minimum wage. However, this program should be
considered alongside programs that would provide assistance to those who have employment
disadvantages. One option, for those employees, would be to provide wage subsidies to employers who
hire such individuals.

Recently, several states and municipalities have increased their local minimum wage. This will provide
fertile ground for research.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

The EITC answers several of the challenges made to the minimum wage.

(1) The benefits go exclusively to low-income households, whereas much of the benefit of a higher
minimum wage goes to middle class and even upper class households with members seeking a second
source or independent source of income.

(2) It does not give employers an incentive to fire workers since the cost of employment to employers
remains constant. In fact, it has been argued that the EITC provides a subsidy to employers who hire
workers from low-income households because a part of their wages is paid through the wage subsidy
rather than the business.

(3) It does not give the voluntarily unemployed in middle-class households an incentive to enter the
labor force seeking additional income – taking job opportunities from poorer heads of household.

(4) The financial burden can be placed entirely on the very wealthy individuals and corporations through
direct taxation, rather than burdening smaller and struggling businesses.

The EITC, as it is currently being implemented, has two significant problems.

One disadvantage with the earned income tax credit as currently designed is that those who qualify get
a lump-sum payment when they file their taxes after a year of hardship. Some low-income households
lose a percentage of that assistant by borrowing against it in the year of living on low wages. Or they
have to put off important purchases, such as medical care or home repairs, until the money comes in.
Another disadvantage comes from the bureaucratic red tape associated with the program. A worker
needs to know that she is eligible to apply for the assistance. The IRS has an online "EITC Assistant"8 to help people decide if they qualify and for how much. Because of this, many poor people do not acquire
benefits to which they are entitled. In addition, government reports show that much of the money is
paid to individuals who, strictly speaking, do not qualify for the benefit (or as much of the benefit as
they receive). Some of this is fraud. However, the General Accounting Office attributes much of this to
the complexity of the law and difficulty in determining eligibility.9

The EITC has another disadvantage over a higher minimum wage, though this is entirely cosmetic. The
EITC shows up in the government budget in terms of tax revenues received and benefits paid out. With
the minimum wage, the money transfer goes directly from employer to employee and the amounts do
not show up on the government ledger. A money transfer is required in both cases. This makes it
politically easier to oppose the EITC in spite of its advantages, and easier to support a higher minimum
wage in spite of its flaws.

The EITC is not an alternative to a higher minimum wage. In fact, the EITC and minimum wage can work
together. An increase in the minimum wage provides households with additional earned income, which,
when combined with the earned income tax credit, provides the household with greater overall income.
If the single mother at the start of this entry received a pay increase due to a higher minimum wage to
$10.50, she would still qualify for $4,806 earned income tax credit for a total income of $26,646 - an
income equivalent of $12.81 per hour.

Policy Proposals

In principle, PORP supports the objective that anybody working the equivalent of a full-time job earn
enough to cover basics needs. We support the use of both an increased minimum wage and increased
earned income tax credit to accomplish these ends. We also support wage subsidies for people who are
unemployed due to employment disadvantages such as implicit and explicit bias, health issues, and
education/training. We support improving the EITC by arranging for qualifying workers to get their
benefits throughout the year, and simplifying and expanding the eligibility requirements.

1 Labor Law Center, State Minimum Wage,,
retrieved 03/23/2017.

2 Internal Revenue Service, “EITC, Earned Income Tax Credit, Questions and Answers”,
individuals/earned-income-tax-credit/eitc-earned-income-tax-credit-questions-and-answers, Retrieved

3 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, "The Effects of Minimum Wages on Employment",

4 Card, David; Krueger, Alan B. (September 1994). "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-
Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania". The American Economic Review. 84 (4): 772–93.

5 Economic Policy Institute, “Over 600 Economists Sign Letter in Support of $10.10 Minimum Wage, retrieved 03/23/2017

6 “A Statement to Federal Policy Makers,
ion=0&alloworigin=1, retrieved 03/23/2017

7 Congressional Budget Office, The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income,
February 18, 2014.

8Intrnal Revenue Service, "Use the EITC Assistant",
tax-credit/use-the-eitc-assistant, Accessed 03/24/2017.

9 U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Improper Payments: Inspector General Reporting of Agency Compliance
under the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act ",,
retrieved 03/24/2017.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Assignment from the Party for Reason and Progress. Minimum Wage and College Tuition

158 days until class.

I am trying to get into a new lifestyle.

In terms of my use of the internet, this site is to be used as a journal and where I sketch sketchy ideas.

The brand new desirism site is where I post (or work on) more formal presentations of ideas. I have just posted a new blog post describing the basics of desirism as applied to the morality of lying. As mentioned before, I post my papers as I work on them. I am considering moving the desirism wiki site here if I can figure out an easy way to do it.

This is continuing to work out well for writing discipline as I try to update the "in progress" item every day. I put the most recent draft up there last night. I am continuing to work on the thesis that moral instruction provides a reason for adopting the position that morality is concerned with molding sentiments and not with the expression of the sentiments one has. I think I can finish that section tonight and, tomorrow, begin on another section that tries to understand the emotion of "anger" (perhaps including a distinction from "hate").

There's also the desirism facebook group - which seems a good place for discussion.

I have also been trying to position myself to do some work for the new Party of Reason and Progress. This will allow me to make a contribution that, at least in its initial intent, seeks to promote evidence-based policies. I am entirely in favor of this option.

A member of their platform committee has asked that I provide a draft of policy proposals governing the minimum wage and college tuition. The minimum wage is an issue that I have researched - and I think I can produce a quality evidence-based product. I hope they like it. My intent is to turn around this assignment quickly.

If anybody wants to point me to some relevant evidence for drawing an evidence-based conclusion about either of these issues, I would be grateful for that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Implications of Moral Instruction on Moral Theory / The Party of Reason and Progress

159 days until first class.

My accomplishments in the past 24 hours include continued work on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Sentimentalism".

The part that I am currently working on aims to show that the evidence Prinz points to in his argument from moral instruction not only fails to support moral sentimentalism - it directly contradicts the theory.

Prinz defines a wrong act as the act that one would be disposed to morally disapprove of under conditions of perfect information - dismissing those biases the agent herself judges to be irrelevant. (In other words, something is a bias if and only if the agent judges it to be a bias.)

One of the arguments he uses in defense of this thesis is the fact that a parent's moral instruction of a child involves emotional conditioning. It involves reward and punishment and ostracism in order to link the misbehavior to a negative emotion. This demonstrates that emotions are central to morality.

It may do this. However, my argument is that the use of techniques of emotional conditioning such as praise and condemnation - techniques that aim to change the sentiments the child has - demonstrate that the sentiments can be out of alignment with the moral facts and must be brought into alignment. This, in turn, implies that there are moral facts independent of the sentiment of the assessor - and that those sentiments, if used as a guide to right and wrong action, can give a false reading. To make the sentiments more reliable, they need to be properly calibrated.

Yet, Prinz argues that there can be no such thing as an improperly calibrated sentiment. It is like saying, no matter where the compass points, that direction is north by definition. "North" simply means "the direction the compass points when I look at it."

As I will try to always do, I will be posting my most recent drafts on the brand new, ugly, but utilitarian Desirism website as I write them - updating them nightly with that day's changes.

What a wonderful incentive to write.

In other news, I have been putting in effort to become active in the newly forming Party of Reason and Progress. I have mentioned here that I am interested in my ideas being put to practical use to making the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. Some work in improving the real world seems in order.

In this, I have been posting comments on some discussions arguing for getting involved in the primary process in both major political parties in order to select science-friendly candidates.

My argument is that, let us assume you have a group in a legislative district with 100 members and each person can bring in the political support of 10 more (on average) for a voting block of 1000 voters.

You have two options.

Option 1: You run your own candidate and draw 1000 votes away from the most science-friendly major party candidate, giving the office over to the least science-friendly major party candidate.

Option 2: You get involved in the selection process of the dominant party in the district - the one that will likely select the candidate that, due to party voting, will win the general election - and make sure that major party selects a pro-science candidate in the primaries.

Your 1000 votes are going to be a lot more effective pursuing the second option than the first.

I hope I have successfully planted the idea in at least a few heads.

I received a message from their new head of policy formation to contact him - which I have done. We'll see where that goes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Anger, Hate, and the Democratic Party

160 days until classes start.

Accomplishments yesterday include more work on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Moral Sentimentalism".

I am posting the drafts of this paper as I word on them on the in progress section of my Desirism website. If anybody is interested in seeing what I have so far, they can take a look. You will see that it is clearly a work in progress. I am posting it as I write it. It will improve and change over time.

I was also involved in a discussion yesterday that brought up a distinction between anger and hate.

Anger is sometimes justified. If I were to discover that somebody had taken or done harm to property of mine for no good reason, I would be angry. That anger would provide me with motivation to engage in some moral instruction - in the form of punishment and condemnation - of the responsible parties. Yet, anger can be justified when it is directed to an actual wrongdoing. It may even be necessary and good insofar as it actually motivates the moral instruction. It may need to be tempered, though, as anger runs a risk of inflicting more harm than is morally justified, which - in turn - promotes anger on the part of the other party - who then retaliates - and we end up in a war.

Hate, on the other hand, has the effect of encouraging people to invent things to be angry about.

The type of hate that I am referring to is one that emerges in tribal psychology. This concerns the human disposition to divide the world into "us" and "them". They then promote injustice by allowing "us" to get away with things that, when those things are done by "them", result in condemnation. Examples of us versus them tribal thinking include racial prejudice such as white supremacy, nationalism, religious and anti-religious bigotry, factionalism such as that found between political parties, and sexism.

Trump is a champion of tribalism with his unjust treatment of Mexicans, Muslims, and other immigrants.

Bernie Sanders in the 2016 campaign also championed tribalism, targeting "billionaires" and "establishment democrats" as "them" to be hated.

A part of the effect of tribalism is that it creates a bond among members of the "us" group, creating fierce loyalties and, as mentioned, unjust preferential treatment of members of the in group to go along with the unjust hatred of all members of the "them" group.

Hate, as I am using the term here, is an integral part of tribalism. The "us" group is united - and, unfortunately, strengthened - by its unjust hatred of the "them" group.

This is where the distinction between "anger" and "hate" comes in. One can be justifiably angry at another for wrongs done, but anger does not apply to groups. At least, righteous anger does not legitimately apply to groups. It applies to the individuals who have done the wrong. Applying it to innocent members of the group who have done no wrong is unjust.

What "hate" does is inspire members of the "us" group to invent reasons to hate members of the "them" group. If they cannot think of reasons to be angry, they invent those reasons. They come up with conspiracies, re-interpret events (communications and actions in particular) to give them the most sinister interpretation, and otherwise manufacture what they need to give their hatred of "them" an appearance of legitimacy.

This "us/them" psychology, left unchecked, is that which motivates wars between nations and civil wars between peoples within a nation. It is that which made slavery possible, and produced genocides such as the Holocaust. In less severe forms, it gave us such things as Jim Crowe laws and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

The Tea Party is a tribal group of this type - motivated by and strengthened by hatred.

As if to make up for lost time, tribalism is coming to dominate the Democratic Party as well. You can see it in the hate-filled rhetoric, the imagined wrongs, and the eagerness to misinterpret words and deeds targeting "establishment Democrats".

This is not something new or unique. It is common. It explains much of human history. The rise of hate-motivated factionalism in the Democratic Party, in fact, is to be expected, given human nature.

Yet, while it is something to be expected, it is also something to be lamented.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Websites and Aesthetics

161 days until the first class.

I am taking additional steps to preparing myself for a new, more academic, lifestyle. In 148 days, I will switch to being a part-time employee, providing me with 20 extra hours per week to devote to academic pursuits.

This weekend - on an impulse, I bought the domain name and set it up as a website. I will be doing some blogging there, and that is where I will be posting my papers for people to read and comment upon.

So, here's the new the new desirism website.

As some have already pointed out . . . the aesthetics is terrible. I am not a designer.

I have a theory of aesthetics that fits in with my overall theory of value. All value relates objects of evaluation to desires (defined broadly to include emotions, sentiments, and the like). Morality evaluates malleable desires according to their relationship with (tendency to fulfill or thwart) other desires. Beauty - or aesthetics - evaluates that which is seen or heard according to their tendency to fulfill desires directly.

It actually takes some knowledge about these relationships to be able to do aesthetics well - and this is something I never studied in any detail. I have been interested, instead, in the relationships between malleable desires and other desires. Consequently, my ability to do aesthetics, or even to judge aesthetics, is poorly developed. And one can see that on the website.

A person who is good at aesthetics has determined, through training and experience (and perhaps a bit of talent) the relationships between those things that are heard or seen and human sentiments or desires. They have acquired an understanding of what will generally cause human approval or disapproval, and they put that knowledge to use in the creation of art, theater, movies, music, buildings, parks, and web sites. It is simply not the case that something that an amateur like myself can put up and have it be done well. As is obviously the case by looking at the desirism site (at least as it exists today).

A person concerned with aesthetics also has to be concerned with usefulness. In my writings, I do devote some effort to those aesthetic elements that help to improve understanding. For example, I have rules that require avoiding large paragraphs. One could ground this on the fact that big, blocky paragraphs look ugly. I ground my decision on the fact that the human brain needs bite-sized pieces of information to digest. I try to create reasonably sized bites to put on the page.

I am generally more concerned with content than appearances, but I do have an interest in aesthetics when it influences the content - or, at least, the user's ability to understand that content.

I am not denying that appearances matter. In fact, I would deny that appearances do not matter. When one creates valuable content, it is still the case that one needs to get eyes onto the content before it can do any good. It's the aestheticist who gets the eyes on the content.

We are told not to judge a book by its cover. However, how else are we supposed to judge a book? We certainly do not have time to read every book and then judge after reading them which are worth reading. We need a way to determine the quality of the book before opening and investing too much time in it. The same is true of a web site or a philosophy paper. (Now you see why I have given short descriptions of my papers on the web sites - so that people can judge whether the content seems worth reading without a huge investment of time.)

If somebody wants to give me aesthetic advice, then I would be pleased to get it. This would count as one of those cases, such as those I discuss in my writing, concerning a harmony of interests. In my writings, I frequently illustrate my points with a reference to the harmony of desires between Alph, with a desire to gather stones, and Bett, with a desire to scatter stones. These desires work well together, and provide an argument for the conclusion that, in some areas at least, we do not want everybody to value the same thing.

There could be a harmony of desires here between me - with my interest in content - and somebody else - with an interest in aesthetics.

I am not that person - and doubt that I have the time or inclination to become that person.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Bigotry and Intellectual Recklessness

163 days until the first class.

I am feeling the tug between moral theory and practical moral philosophy.

I have a strong sense that moral theory, though interesting, is of limited practical value. All of the various theories floating about have had little impact on the way that people actually debate moral issues. To have an impact on substantive issues one has to actually apply the theory to those issues. Yet, the very tension I feel is the tension between working on the theory and working on the practical application.

Those who look through the desirism group see the difference when I post something on a substantive moral issue. I generally preface these posts with something like, "This is an application of desirism. However, if this posting contains any errors, this does not necessarily imply that there is a problem with desirism. Making this inference would be like claiming that, because somebody made a mistake in adding a column of numbers, that this calls the whole practice of addition into question. A better explanation can likely be found by looking at whether the author applied the principles correctly."

There are two issues of practical value that I would like to write on. One is the bigotry exhibited by the Trump administration. This is embodied in his hate-mongering; giving emphasis to crimes committed by immigrants in order to promote a hostility towards (hatred of) immigrants to make unjust and bigoted legislation against them "feel" legitimate. The other is on the topic of intellectual recklessness, using as an example the Trump Administration's attitudes towards climate change.

But now I have an additional time constraint since I want to get a paper done for this Philosophy pseudo-class I am taking written on time. And that, as it turns out, is a paper on moral theory. Though I am trying to squeeze some practical moral philosophy into it by applying the theoretical elements under discussion to bigotry in general and the American civil war more specifically. The way this paper is starting to turn out, it is almost shaping up to be addressing the question, "Could moral knowledge have averted the Civil War?" Or, "Was the Civil War caused by a moral mistake?" Or, "Was the Confederacy objectively wrong?"

The answer to all of these questions is "yes," by the way. The Confederacy was objectively wrong. An understanding of moral facts in the Confederate states and a willingness to do what was right would have saved a lot of lives and prevented a lot of slavery.

At the same time, the Union was not as objectively right as it could have been.

Still, I am bothered by the fact that I do not have the time to write up a couple of practical moral issue papers on the Trump Administration's bigotry and intellectual recklessness.

On the issue of intellectual recklessness, we have the decision to stop all efforts on stopping or even studying climate change as a waste of money.

Imagine being a passenger on the Titanic. The lookouts have just shouted, "ICEBERG! DEAD AHEAD!" Upon hearing this, the Captain says, "You're fired! Get down off of there." He then commands, "Full speed ahead."

This is the type of negligence that, in the world of everyday people, would be declared criminal. Those who practice such negligence would be deemed deserving of punishment - and harsh punishment at that. It is only in the halls of political power that a person can engage in this level of negligence without facing legal ramifications. But this does not mean that the rest of us will not suffer the harms that the laws of physics dictate will follow from their actions. Cities will be destroyed. People will die. Others will suffer greatly. And those who cause this will pocket billions of dollars. This time, we're not going to lose a ship load of passengers. We are putting a planet at risk. Some of us may survive in lifeboats, but a number of us are going to perish because of the intellectual recklessness of those in charge.

It is truly a sickening state of affairs.

This actually relates to the issue of slavery as discussed above. I discussed this issue in an earlier post where I compared the intellectual recklessness of the Trump administration with the "theories" of pro-slavery doctor Samuel Cartwright. (See EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, and the Perversion of Science.

On the issue of bigotry, the Trump Administration practice of scapegoating immigrants is perhaps the most morally objectionable public policy since the Jim Crow laws. Trump's executive order commanding the government to focus attention on the crimes committed by immigrants is like a government order commanding law enforcement officials to draw additional attention to crimes committed by blacks - only to justify laws, policies, and even private attitudes that are detrimental to their interests.

The relevant term here is "hate mongering".

A site that focuses on the crimes of a particular group can be readily identified as a site belonging to a hate group by this fact alone. Thus, the Trump Administration has turned the U.S. Government websites into those of a hate-group, containing and promoting hate-mongering bigotry.

These are two points that I would be anxious to develop and write about in more detail if I had the time.

But, currently, I am facing a restriction in that I MUST get a paper done on "Bigotry and the Immorality of Moral Sentimentalism" written and polished by May 11.

But, at least I will be posting that paper on the Desirism site.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Imagining Future Cities

165 days until the first class.

One of the things that I enjoy doing is imagining possible futures for humanity.

Before I start, I would like to comment that many readers may not like this vision of the future. And, admittedly, I consider it a possibility, not because I consider it ideal, but because I consider it likely. Yet, I do think that such likes and dislikes are cultural and malleable - what we dislike future generations may learn to value. Our likes and dislikes determine our own preferences for our own lives - it is a mistake to think that they identify something of intrinsic value.

As I have written about before, I think that this future involves the colonization of space. I have written about how the material in the asteroid belt, if converted into space cities, can create the equivalent surface area (not land area, but surface area) of 30,000 earths. Of course, this would not be 30,000 space cities the size of earth, but a cloud of millions of space cities orbiting the sun - most of them in the region of the asteroid belt out to the orbit of Jupiter. Jupiter's moons can be harvested to create several million more.

But . . . we actually do not need to go into space to do this. In some of my imaginings, I imagine something similar being done on Earth.

Think about taking 25 square kilometers of desert - largely unused land. Consider adding a second level onto this - a second floor. It can be rather high up; say - 30 meters up (100 feet) with pale blue lighting. And a third floor. And a fourth.

The top floor has a glass roof. It could be used for a recreational park, or for farming, or for a little of both. After all, any of the lower floors could also be used for farming. Compartmentalized, climate control, and free from pests (thus no need for pesticides), it would allow for perfect growing conditions year round. The productivity of 25 square miles of cropland built within the city would be substantially higher than a comparable amount of farmland open to the atmosphere and subject to the natural variations in weather.

Long distance travel - both vertically and horizontally - could be carried out using a type of subway. Seriously, if we can have a town that takes up 25 square miles horizontally, then we can also have a town that can be 25 kilometers high, as long as we provide vertical forms of travel that are approximately as efficient as horizontal forms of travel. That would be over 800 "floors" tall at 30 meters per floor - for a total surface area of nearly 21,000 square kilometers - about the size of New Jersey (which has a population of about 9 million).

This would be a community that fully recycles its water and waste. That's not to say that it would be entirely self-contained. It will still engage in trade - and its participants would engage in travel. There will be a need for imports from other communities and an interest in exporting goods and services.

Ultimately, the one thing that this community would need from the outside is energy - and the best source of energy would be the sun. With respect to space cities, one imagines large solar power stations providing these cities with power from direct, uninterrupted, unfiltered sunlight. Plans exist for solar power satellites beaming their power down to earth.

One of these disadvantages of building such a self-contained city on earth rather than in space is the existence of gravity. The structures on the lower levels would have to hold a great deal of weight. This would be a significant engineering problem. On the other hand, the space city will have to deal with creating artificial gravity and with keeping out cosmic radiation and small asteroids.

In space, the relevant engineering problem could be solved by the use of counter-rotating city sections built inside of an enclosed stone shield about 1 meter thick that would stop cosmic rays and small asteroids. On earth, this would require engineering the structure to support these weights.

Admittedly, gravity also provides advantages - sufficient advantages to justify creating artificial gravity in an orbiting city.

There will be wealthy districts and poor districts, of course - and some parts of the community will be parts that one would be reluctant to visit.

I do wonder about the effects of homelessness. Since the whole city is enclosed and climate control, I wonder if there will be people who are voluntarily homeless in the sense that they have a bed somewhere and little more than that. They would not need to worry about freezing in winter or having rain pour down on them as they struggle through a night. The reason for a home is to have a place to store one's possessions - and some may well decide that they do not have that much to store, or can store what they have in a locker.

I am not actually predicting or advocating that such a thing be built. Instead, I would argue for a transition to something much like this. The next step comes from noticing that, when we have two large sky scrapers next to each other, we can - for much less money than was spent in the construction of either building, create a third building between them that unites the floors on each. Instead of four sky scrapers on each of four city blocks, we get a sky scraper that covers four city blocks. Eventually, we cover eight, twenty, and a hundred.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from this, it is to question the assumption that the future needs to be much like the present. It is a mistake to think that we are confined to conventional cities, conventional farming techniques, and conventional methods of transportation. There are a lot of options available to us. Constraining our imaginings of the future to simply different-looking models of what we say today will almost certainly be inaccurate.