We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Optimal City Population Size

With the astounding pace of urbanization throughout the developing world and decline in popularity of suburbia in the developed, it is time to search for a golden middle of population size within a given area.

Is there a rough scientific population sweet spot for a city within a certain area or is it all just personal preference? If there is one it would have to be an optimal point between economic-energy efficiency and psychological well being. Sure, a million people can theoretically be crammed into a few square blocks with each block having a hyper efficient residential skyscraper. But our intuition tells us that this ant colony-esque arrangement may run into major psychological roadblocks. If restlessness and boredom often characterizes an isolated hamlet and stress characterizes a super cramped and futuristic megapolis then a search for a compromise is essential. A rapidly urbanizing society that figures out optimal population to land area ratio is then most likely to attract and retain human capital going forward as well as solve multitudes of problems facing it more effectively.

For those thinking that a city size can't be planned, even with incentives, and that a city size is determined by relatively mysterious organic migrations of people, the fact is that in the next 40 years we wont have much of a choice but to plan from the start. With 2 billion people soon to be added to world's population and countries like China adding a million people to its cities every week, having at least a population ceiling for an area will be crucial. Recent rapid formations of unmanageable mega slums throughout the developing world shows that peripheral "organic city growth" needs to be legally limited. In addition, infrastructure built has to be protected from population related strains from the start. Even well off Western cities like Austin Texas have quickly seen their populations nearly double with formerly solid road infrastructure simply failing to mathematically accommodate. Infrastructural failure may be hard to spot but being stuck in traffic for 2 hours every day in Los Angeles or Moscow is a sign that it is already happening.

Chinese example of orchestrated urbanization to the developing world.

China has been having relative success with accommodating breakneck urbanization via 1) rapid city construction with multiple neighborhoods built simultaneously (the current "ghost city" real estate bubble concerns notwithstanding as even so called ghost cities will be filled eventually since there isn't such thing as having too much shelter for humans) 2) having some idea of the total final capacity, urban density, and transport loads when laying infrastructure 3) having long term multi-decade regional plans encompassing clusters of new cities and linking the clusters by high speed regional transport network.

The Chinese approach with all its pitfalls has been the best given the difficult circumstances. Beijing is currently also developing and testing concept 80,000+ strong satellite green cities (where everything is 15 minute walk away) that can be scaled up as necessary if successful. State orchestrated urbanization will be the name of the game throughout large swaths of the planet as these methods are emulated and improved upon. That is why urban theorists need to start formulating an idealized population cap for areas so we don't one day find ourselves in a future we're not exactly comfortable living in.

Lets start with psychological essentials.

Space colony studies have shown that a human needs at the very least 40 sq meters (430 sq feet) to him or herself to be in a stress neutral state (in addition to olfactory, visual, thermal, air quality factors). This absolute minimum for avoiding neurosis should automatically be increased to 50 sq meters (538 sq feet) as a criteria for city housing. This would compensate for the effects of overcrowding in public spaces and provide common sense leeway since absolute space habitat standards are obviously restraining on earth.

In addition, every time one human goes within 0.5 meters of another, the amygdala triggers a stress response in reaction to this encroachment on personal space. Thus, we see that a city environment needs to allow at least 50 sq meters within a private dwelling and numerical minimization of unwanted personal space violations when outside it.

Beyond this, come the recent scientifically proven benefits to having a city as populous as possible. Physicist Geoffrey West has shown that:

"In city after city, the indicators of urban 'metabolism,' like the number of gas stations or the total surface area of roads, showed that when a city doubles in size, it requires an increase in resources of only 85 percent. ... the average Manhattanite emits 14,127 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide annually than someone living in the New York suburbs."

In addition to universal mathematical proof that larger cities anywhere in the world are simply more efficient in resource management (something that many already knew for decades with more localized data), West shows that economic and innovation benefits accelerate in an identical manner due to increased human infrastructure of social networks:

"every measure of economic activity, from construction spending to the amount of bank deposits, increases by approximately 15 percent per capita"

It's not just better sustainability and greater numbers of patents. Negatives are also represented by these laws describing cities in their current modern form:

"After a city doubles in size, it also experiences a 15 percent per capita increase in violent crimes, traffic and AIDS cases"

So far no city has shown a certain maximum point in population after which rise in population shows increasingly diminishing and then negative returns. Neither has any megapolis shown population related rises in neurosis, anxiety, stress, crime, or NYC level of income inequality reaching a point where the city begins to collapse. The flight from American cities in the 60s and 70s into suburbia is not a historical demonstration of such a point. Post-flight population decreases in many cities and corresponding economic downturns prove West's laws. Obviously race related tensions or violence can cause a population to decline but population rise in itself did not cause the flight into suburbia. Many cities currently are far larger in population than they were in the 60s.

Largest, densest cities currently create the most wealth most efficiently and this points to a certain future. One where cities don't just dominate and are the hearts of national and regional economies but also dramatically increase their political power to be sorts of mini countries within countries.

How can then we talk of "ideal city population size"? Isn't the sky the limit? Why not say that the ideal size is 5 or 10 million so we can more effectively drain the countryside of people and create sustainable engines of economic growth. Perhaps the rise in neurosis/stress can be collectively dealt with and crime and traffic managed the way Singapore and London do it? London copied Singapore's experience of charging cars more money the closer they drive towards city center for instance. And with the highest per capita CCTV camera rate in the world it's not hard to envision cities like London eventually turning into an oriental style police state where dropping chip bags on the sidewalk nets you an automatic and severe penalty. Taken to greater extremes, anti-anxiety prescription drugs can of course help segments of population most susceptible to stress inducing effects of overcrowding.

This points to another reason to search for optimal city population size. Namely, to not have a population so large that it now suffers from attempted solutions that deal with ills of overcrowding. It may be possible to turn a 30 million person megapolis into a super clean, regimented, policed, artificial mall like environment but which now suffers from new issues. Issues such as those 15% economic benefits from city doubling now partially neutralized on constant quality of life expenditures to combat neurosis and issues of new psychological ailments of living in a cramped artificial environment. Anomie, lack of sense of community, and alienation do not really disappear if densely cramped megapolis is scrubbed clean and has a policeman on every corner. For all the declining homicide rate in NYC, the city is more socially fragmented than ever.

For the purposes of this topic, we're discussing an optimum population city that has a relatively sharp cut off boundary with the surrounding countryside. 

This means not a dense urban core transitioning to less dense layers that ultimately transition to endless sprawl. Having written about sheer energy inefficiency of suburbia before and how experimental satellite cities tend to be positioned within nature (so inhabitants can walk from the urban core and find themselves in a surrounding forest), it makes sense to view an ideal city population size as being within an area that excludes sprawling low density edges. That is not to say that a city should not have a core of some sort but just that if a core is 5,000 people per sq kilometer then the city remains at 1,000-2,000 people per sq km at the edges and does not drop to village level of 200 per sq km. The actual layout can vary greatly. It can have a main core or be decentralized from the start by having multiple cores on the city edges as well as in the middle to more evenly spread the population. The lay out would of course be determined by the city's planned purpose if it has one (creating a purpose during initial city planning stages can aid in control of total population as well as help in achieving larger societal goals such as reindustrialization through science cities).

Migrations into cities and growth in their size is driven primarily by economic reasons and not by land scarcity or overpopulation reasons (see figure 1). People always underestimate how much livable land is on the planet's surface. That is not to say that we need to re-invent the suburban sprawl so everybody gets a shot at a backyard (which is theoretically possible albeit with a planetary ecological collapse likely given current resource management). What's essential to keep in mind is that ant hive cities of 10+ million do not necessarily have to be a part of necessary future development for all the world's people. Developing societies with favorable human to land ratios like Brazil and Nigeria may do well with clusters of 250,000-500,000 planned green cities. China appears to understand this even as it accommodates growth of dozens of 1 million + cities a year. Whichever techniques Beijing pioneers (for preplanned green city development) will then be readily copied by countries a lot more pressed in need for them such as Pakistan, Indonesia, India, and Bangladesh.

Figure 1. Overpopulation is a myth

Problems in political governance as a population ceiling.

So far we still got more pros pushing towards larger city sizes. Larger population making a city a more efficient engine of economic wealth generation and development sounds like an argument most people will side with at the end of the day. It seems hard to argue against the inertia and emulation of urban centers like London and Paris on the basis of psychologically uncomfortable overcrowding. This leaves more intangible values of effective political management and feelings of political empowerment.

So far the best governed countries in the world appear to be less than 10 million people each and primarily clustered in Northern Europe. They also have the best standards of living in the world and make a strong case that populations of entire sovereign countries should be limited to 10-20 million people. Their largest cities of Helsinki, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Zurich all fall under a million people and consistently rank in the top of livability indexes for urban areas. Obviously when you got a population of Sweden crammed within an area on which NYC sits, the people will not exactly feel a connection to their government. What use is an urban core being an efficient generator of wealth if that wealth is poorly managed and just flows through or out of it? Local governments are the last bastions of peoples will in the Western world and a city of under a million still allows some expression of it. National governments have become too distant, inaccessible, and corporately controlled for most populations of the planet and will remain increasingly so until technology allows some form of direct democracy later in this century.  This leaves the city as a political unit that can still be sort of managed from below. Population size comes into play here as a limiting factor to how much simple people can accomplish and communicate to the authorities.

In 2006, for the first time more than 50% of world's population lived in urban areas and when we hit 80% in the decades to come, city government will become as important as national one for large swaths of the planet. Having both layers of authority distant, alienated, and unmanageable is not something we'll want considering multitudes of other issues that need management. The brunt of this problem solving will be split between supranational blocks and cities on the local level. With this in mind, The Pragmatist makes a suggestion of optimum national sizes to be 10-50 million, optimum city size of 1 million and below for most major cities in a country, and exception for largest national city at no more than 5 million. These offer good middle points for manageability and quality of life. Actual area in square kilometers is not yet determined as major struggles between car ownership and public transit continue in both Western and developing regions.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Resource Based Economy Requires Electric Grid Modernization First

Those wishing for serious political change should take a look at electricity technology infrastructure. Major investments into smart meters, public energy ownership + storage, HVDC transmission cables, modernized electric grids, and a digital network to manage it all.

Let's provide a bit of context for advocacy of something as seemingly dull sounding as digital electric smart meters.

Conceptualizing and verbalizing political alternatives to current socioeconomic stagnation is widely understood to be preferable to mere critiques. As important and vital as a critique is, it has little power without provision of an alternative to fill the vacuum. Critiques are now a booming mainstream industry with today's internet enabled resurgence of muckraking journalism. Provision of serious socioeconomic alternatives is in the early stages of becoming a major trend as well. Online video debates and video replies to recorded educational speeches are a modern example of 18-19th century political debates via pamphleteering.

Similarly, provision of an alternative is toothless without certain technological infrastructural components to make it viable and workable. Tangible investments into physical precursors that make any major political alternatives possible ought to be focused on more than ever. All of the above 3 approaches to social change (critique/alternative/technology) gain maximum power when conducted in parallel with certain emphasis on actual technology induced physical change on the ground. For example, a political faction ought to focus on energy production and distribution regardless of whether the group advocates more political decentralization, more centralization, or a novel hybrid of both for different areas of societal management. Precise vast storage of energy, transmission of it over large areas, and precise computer tracking of production and distribution of vast quantities of electricity is needed to make each different political concept work.

For the most part, specific policy proposals currently are not often tied to technological solutions but rather monetary incentives and disincentives (there is currently an elite driven trend towards soft paternalism). This carrot and stick approach to prod the herd into an even more technologically complex society in the 21st century is inefficient. Considering that economics is an engineering challenge, there is a better way. Government ownership of electric generation used to be more widespread in the United States and contributed to rapid regional development from 1930s to the present. Surviving remnants of it such as the Tennessee Valley Authority are the best examples of a wide scale public system of beneficial power management.

It is immediately clear how ability to manufacture, transmit, and monitor electricity directly affects ability to provide a life artery to any policy proposal in raising human standards of living. The only discussion here concerning public ownership of a sophisticated electrical smart grid (acting as a sort of "skeleton" on which developmental and social projects can grow) is whether ownership is at the municipal, state, regional, national level, or a federated sharing combination. For instance, if a city owns a fission reactor and produces a megawatt of power, does it reserve 20% of it for use by its regional and national neighbors? Or conversely, does it receive a stipend of additional 20% of power from a regional outside authority? Does the city sub-network just continuously release surplus power into the larger grid or is it collected in local large scale energy storage facilities? [You may begin to notice here and in later articles that electric power achieves certain characteristics of money such as liquidity which can be taxed and redistributed as needed.] Various economic projects involving housing, employment, healthcare, and general infrastructure will require for municipalities to figure out their energy generating and energy sharing arrangements. For them to do so, they first need technological components to make futuristic power management possible.

This cannot be stressed enough. Vast majority of what The Pragmatist suggested over the last few years is not possible without the above. Electric smart grid (and overlapping digital data grid to monitor/control it) is the distilled essential for any future society. We can call it various colorful names to promote it (circulatory and nervous systems of a society for instance) but after much deliberation it is clearly the primary step to take. Even if a high tech liquid direct democracy is achieved, it will not be able to accomplish as much without public energy accounting that the grid allows. People's will and political will is shaped and checked by underlining physical technological realities. A lot of current political and social projects would not be possible in a society at a 19th century level of technological and electrical development. In this way, much like economics is an engineering challenge, so is politics and popular consciousness.

Resource based economy and resource accounting is not possible without very effective energy accounting first. Smart Meters and grids give rise to possibility of technocratic governance.

During the hay day of America's Technocracy movement in the 1930s, the main piece of literature (explaining the functioning, goals, and reasons for an empirically managed society) emphasized the need to measure the total amount of electrical generation on the North American continent in real time. This was to understand exactly how much power various extraction, production, and distribution industries use in order to drastically reduce inefficiencies in the national economy and to have the highest possible load factor at all times. This type of informational awareness was obviously not possible at the time especially considering the additional energy accounting complexities that Technocrats advocated (such as energy certificates to be issued to each individual).

Figure 1. Click to Enlarge
As of 2014, North America is covered by a handful of regional wide area synchronous grids (Fig. 1) that are themselves in the gradual process of merging into a continental Unified Smart Grid as mentioned in the previous article. The backbone of the Technocratic vision is thus forming. Potential susceptibility of smart grids to cyber attacks and infiltration necessitates public involvement for security reasons. As the most vital infrastructure component in the country, government authorities have a responsibility to ensure safe, constant, and reliable functioning of the grid as a whole. Military grade encryption will also be required here to ensure that this "Energy Internet" is free of outside disruptions. Subsequently, public control of the energy industry allows public leverage over all other heavy industry. "Security reasons" are a good way to market technocracy to groups in society which may not otherwise be as open to it.

The energy usage of machines that dig up, process, turn raw resources into finished product, and transport it to your locality can now be tracked accurately. The flattening of production and distribution chains that has occurred in recent decades under the guidance of such multinationals as Siemens and Wall-Mart already allows careful monitoring of the entire process. A two way directional energy grid further enables the measurement and control of energy usage of every piece of hardware within this chain. Efficient public industrial and infrastructural policy is now possible via these precise assessments of non-monetary costs. Currently, the cost of any project is measured in money where many blind spots, inefficiencies, and corruptions can be found (such as bloated overhead, middlemen, and undue distortions from non-physical financial sector.) Smart meter management software allows projects of the future to have a transparent real time digital record of the entire process on the physical level. This enables audit of records at any time and subsequent rapid corrective actions.

This ultimately will result in ever increasing representation of technical experts in governmental bodies at all levels. Fusion of technical cadres with governmental cadres is the smoothest way to gradually and peacefully replace the latter. Government cadres increasingly filled with greater and greater proportion of electrical and software engineers is by definition a growing technocracy. This may not exactly be 1/3 of the national legislature staffed with technical experts and scientists like in France but the necessity of greater physical efficiency in government puts us on the road towards legislatures staffed like that.

HVDC cables allow regions, provinces, and counties to act like metropolitan areas

With rapid projected urbanization for most people throughout the world, it may look like very large cities will inevitably become dominant political actors that leave scattered towns, small cities, hamlets, and villages between them increasingly economically and socially isolated. This doesn't need to be the case as hundreds of towns and/or entire counties can band together via efficient high powered long distance transmission HVDC cables and function as singular large cities. Much like diverse energy sources of various strengths can join together into a virtual power plant, local governments can collectively function as one unit without actually politically merging. For example, rather than the economy of New York State being dominated by New York City, counties in upstate New York may use the smart grid technology to work together to manage their energy, resource, and development needs. Hundreds of small spread out populations and political units can thus create a decentralized entity with population, economic size, and political bargaining power similar to a nearby metropolis. Additionally, being able to see precise electrical data for any sized political unit allows municipal role modeling behavior, emulation of successful technical projects, mutual learning, and rapid adaptation of what works. There is no need for small city mayors to wait for urban sprawl from nearest two large urban centers to swallow the town so large infrastructure projects can begin. Distributed generation of electrical power on a regional scale finally enables them to collaborate and pull resources together on projects larger than would otherwise be possible. A highly spread out region of 5 million people can create a similar concentrated economic focus as a densely packed and compact city of 5 million.

First resource based economy (RBE) experiments will likely be conducted in smaller cities. Their success will not only depend on their ability to generate their own power independent of the larger grid but their ability to trade surplus power to the larger grid as well as cooperate with fellow resource based economy settlements via HVDC smart grid network. As mentioned earlier in the article, regardless of whether one's policy requires more municipal autonomy/localism, municipal collaboration, or centralization, these emerging electrical platforms facilitate any proposal. However, our focus here is infrastructural ability of say, 10-30 small RBE cities to act in a synchronized political unison even if separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometers. Much like transnational corporations achieve certain critical mass with economies of scale, smart grids will allow spread out political experiment social units to reach economies of scale with collaborative energy use.

Regardless of where a person stands on the political spectrum, it appears that a political faction that makes best use of modernizing the electric grid first will begin to dominate in the market of ideas.

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Unified Electric Global Smart Grid

click to enlarge Fuller's Dymaxion Map
Communication and transportation grids are secondary in importance when creating a Type 1 civilization. Proper digitally controlled unification of major continental electrical grids is the essential physical foundation of a truly global society.

Gross world product increased an estimated 530% in the 19th century and grew an average of 5.3% annually between 1800-1900. World wealth then grew an exponentially greater 3,600% in the 20th century (even when taking into account damage from conflicts) at an average of 36% per year. This astounding increase was made possible due to automation, effective fossil fuel exploitation, periodic rapid war recovery reconstructions, and consumer culture for the masses.

Then there has been a noticeable paradigm shifting slowdown in world's wealth generation towards the end of the 20th century, primarily in the western world. Slowdown in recent decades has been substantial enough that even with Eurasia coming online in the 1990s, the average annual gross world product growth has been only 2.2% on average annually between 2000 and 2012.

Obviously much of the world product is unaccounted for due to the size of the black market and unreported/non-quantifiable activity. But to make 21st century exponentially more productive than the previous one (the way 20th was to 19th) and to successfully and rapidly pull 9 billion projected humans towards dramatically better standards of living, a couple things need to be considered. These are unified energy and communication grids that function as public utilities. These would provide the foundational base on which globalization can continue evolving more evenly, smoothly, and equitably.

Even with solid transnational transport systems, markets will remain fragmented if synchronous grids of different regions remain disconnected from each other. Recent efforts by US authorities and private interests (General Electric, T. Boone Pickens, etc) are promising since they are pushing for electrical unification in North America that would copy and build on European experience. On the one hand, these efforts are due to economic profit based needs requiring US to use cutting edge tech to incorporate scattered steadily growing renewables (just look at the recent exponential efficiency growth in solar that is finally becoming competitive) as well to incorporate the explosion in non-renewable sources from fracking. On the other hand, efforts towards an American supergrid are also driven by existential necessity: alarming regional climate related calamities and increasingly third world nature of the continent's electrical infrastructure.

click to enlarge
Unitary planetary energy SuperSmart Grid and its characteristics

Efforts to unify largest electrical grids in the world are ongoing and largely unreported due to their rather mundane technical nature. Recently, power entities responsible for control of 70% of world's grid capacity met to discuss standardization, interconnections, and unification. Well respected experts have described an eventual ultimate goal of the world becoming just a giant room with wiring. One where any family, business, or country can add an electric socket and into which new diverse energy sources can be added on a plug and play basis. The entirety of energy on the global grid at any given time would be measured continuously as well as all major expenditures and additions. The recent breakthroughs in high voltage DC circuit breakers and US funded GE smart grid research allows energy to be properly circulated, redirected where needed, prevent cascading shut down failures, deal with massive energy influxes and influxes from semi constant supplies (wind/solar), and to store excess energy in energy reservoirs to be fed back into the system as needed. Emergence of a global common electrical grid before our very eyes also requires an emergence of almost a "secondary Internet" to regulate the energy flow. As we keep hearing more and more about the emerging "Internet of Things", this secondary energy regulating Internet will naturally become a major factor for discussion, promotion, and implementation.

To become a water type utility in popular global consciousness, electrical grid needs to become a sort of rough giant continuous "energy trough" constantly collectively added to and taken from.

To effectively move away from a future annual monetary income stipend (that would be introduced to mitigate disruptive social effects of automation) and onto an annual electrical energy consumption stipend, the grid needs a few things:

1) A minimum of doubling of world's energy production and a minimum of doubling of efficiency of current energy systems (in energy transport and use). This would quadruple energy as human population grows from 7 billion to eventual stabilization point of around 9 billion and maintain annual energy growth well above annual birth rate.

2) Transparent, real time, easily publicly accessible energy data within the system for every locality. So if a person wants to check real time consumption of electrical energy by Chicago or Kyoto or a small town in Argentina he or she would be able to do so. Personalizing electrical streams within a global "trough" would create same psychological connection to energy that people are currently developing towards Internet broadband (dealing with broadband via a similar "global broadband trough"/global Wi-Fi is also a good complementary idea).

Energy, transport, and communication are essential factors for creation of a smoothly functioning world technological and social organism. These issues stand above all other issues in this regard. Even proper evolution of political institutions is not possible without addressing these factors. Breakthroughs in hardcore circuit breakers for long distance HVDC underwater cables will allow connections thousands of miles in length between low power and high power grids and thus propel SuperGrid emergence (see current HVDC cables turning Europe into an energy nexus on the right).

The HVDC cable lengths keep breaking
their own records and are rapidly being
constructed as we speak, it is already
doable to connected Iceland to
North America and Siberia to Alaska
[insert alarmist melodrama here]: "These are all ridiculous and obvious platitudes! There are insurmountable political obstacles to all of this! First there's the banking cartels that have been carefully stifling physical industry to not overproduce so as to keep profit rates up for over 100 years in the Western world. Now that systemic sabotage system has been globalized. Plus even if the banking leash was removed from generating industry for socially useful ends, the sheer influx of energy use talked about will ruin us through ruining our environment!"

Panic and resignation make some amount of sense given the full spectrum kaleidoscope of obstacles but we need to approach this using numbers.

It was estimated in the 1930s, that if all the buildings in America were demolished and rebuilt with cutting edge energy efficient buildings in their place, the energy savings would break even in 20 years with the entire energy amount taken for this gargantuan effort.

Nothing that drastic needs to happen now that solar is becoming competitive with fossil fuels (see the massive deflation in solar panel products) and now that China is leading the global nuclear energy renaissance. Roughly half of 60 third generation nuclear power plants being constructed around the world right now are located in China and the country is well on track to making a breakthrough in economies of scale production when it comes to fission reactors. It is also worth mentioning that every successive generation of a particular industry (from making cars to making computers) becomes more energy efficient in terms of electrical input to product output. This means that the reindustrialization in the Western Hemisphere that The Pragmatist keeps mentioning will not be as exponentially more energy intensive as currently thought. The impact on the environment will be smaller than previous waves of industrialization and it is important to keep in mind that true clean up of polluted regions of the planet will only be possible by the large scale machinery of reindustrialization

The popularity of going off grid in North America has created progress in plug and play modular connectors for solar panels that are easy to operate for the average person. This nicely combines with recent rapid emergence of overcapacity in Chinese solar panel production and German efforts to remain competitive with China through solar subsidies.

It is hard to say whether Hydraulic Fracturing, Nuclear, or Solar will become the primary driver behind supersmart grid emergence. What is clear is that the process towards it is moving full steam ahead, is inevitable, and that eventually we will see energy "too cheap to meter" as a whole planet gets access to a trough to take from and fill with easy tracking of the entire process.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

World citizenship and world passport

Globalization can be better structured through reward of world citizenship upon completion of qualified technical and scientific institutes. This creates cadres for international infrastructure management and aspirations to join such cadres.

Currently, it appears that the next step in globalization will be transnational government owned corporations in energy, transport, and various other very capital intensive production. This stage would naturally evolve from the current system of transnational and mostly private financial-corporate rule that is heavily subsidized by state governments. The deepening of the global crisis (yes it is still there) will be responded to via eventual large scale re-industrialization in the northern hemisphere. This will require government assistance in every stage of the process from providing demand to ensuring rapid heavily regulated implementation. The current Western corporate system of fully privatizing the profits and semi socializing the costs will thus transform into one where costs are fully socialized and profits are semi privatized. The Gazprom structure of half the profits going to fund the state is the minimum starting point for similar Government Transnationals (lets call them transgovcorps) in railroads, large ships, nuclear reactors, etc. Barring very rapid collapse of major bond and stock markets (accompanied by mass social in instability), shareholders will only allow states to take control of the majors via this gradualist approach. I've already roughly outlined why pushing for anything like this becomes increasingly necessary in decades to come.

Even transnational finance may go public via merger of development banks and/or cooperation of sovereign wealth funds. Recent decision of BRICS to start a joint development bank and even US president pushing for one is early indication of this tendency. Public control of financing and capital provision for large and long term projects may seem absurd given existing oligarchic power dynamic but there appears to be an elite shift towards it. The death of Margaret Thatcher was very revealing with many key perception forming media outlets calling the current crisis the result of Thatcherist neoliberalism.

Under these conditions (and the threat of globalization stalling and melting into revived regionalisms), reviving globalization with transgovcorp entities operated by a growing body of world citizenry makes functionalist sense. Some observers may say that it makes more sense for "soft" transgovcorp structures to arise first. For example, through merger of already unprofitable enterprises of US postal service with German, French, Russian, and Japanese postal services. However it makes even more sense to start with heavy industry that requires constant cross border professional human capital flows. This is due to such capital intensive projects allowing official government sanctioned global workforce to emerge. A professional yet non-elite "world worker" and "world citizenship" starts a certain chain reaction of functionalist solidarity that can complement UN action. Barriers to human migration are the most persistent roadblocks to further peaceful planetary consolidation (or at least such political consolidation within the Northern Hemisphere where most of the war reduction benefits from such action would be located anyway). World citizenship as applied and rewarded to actual technical personnel does substantially more for international cooperation than current cultural and elite top down efforts. The natural sphere where to start growing a body of world citizens is resource exploitation of the arctic circle, creating intra and interregional high speed transport links, and various (often profitable!) efforts to fight climate change via terraforming deserts, bolstering coastal areas, etc. The neo-feudal menace of current transnational corporations can be flipped on its head without deconstructing them substantially. With challenges of exponential technological change in the background, we need to work with what we have. Engineering and science are even more cosmopolitan ways of communicating than food, music, and film.

The title of "world citizen" does not have to be a cliche and functionally meaningless hippy catchword for a well traveled and globally minded person. Neither does it have to be a description for a member of an exclusive informal club of most interconnected and powerful planetary elites. Making world citizen into an increasingly functional and institutionalized title that is awarded can create a sort of transparent and democratically controlled meritocratic bridge (or human buffer) between bottom up globalist efforts and top down globalist efforts. Lets not yet speak of them being a safety buffer between the haves and have nots in the more distant future.

Previously I have discussed a number of tendencies already present which could accelerate globalization in the future: universal themes for global cinema rooted in biological needs rather than cultural archetypes, international police reform, and expansion of UN extraterritorial areas like heritage sites. World passport as a reward rather than as a right goes the furthest.

World passport and world citizenship tackles a number of key issues:

1) It counters mass technologically induced social fragmentation via creating solidarity and an anchor of stability for diverse societies and subsocieties within them.

2) Tapping into inquisitive restlessness and international travel of Western youth to guide them towards contact with planetary infrastructure creation and to provide them with larger sense of purpose beyond sensory experience.

3) Controls immigration by providing a guiding channeling framework for migratory flows of educated non-Westerners

4) Augments tangible soft power of United Nations (if citizenship is extension of UN or if there is cooperation with it).  People will associate blue helmets with not just guns, food, medicine, and blankets but with transport, energy, airplanes, and actual permanent arrival of progress and civilization. UN acquires greater legitimacy by seeing an emergence of a parallel virtual "country without a country".

5) Help build an infrastructural global community of technocrats as a future hedge and counterweight to financial, lawyer, and merchant technocrats thus... (see 6)

6) Takes a step towards eventual UN owned infrastructure such as UN power grid and certain other future utility functions (I'll get to futuristic provisions in later articles) under organically grown legitimacy.

I have covered the growing tendency within global industrial development to create competition between 2-3 regional super clusters. This phenomenon is based solely on growing physical continental links in energy and transport that will eventually merge into a unified standardized global energy grid and high speed rail grid. Large amounts of engineers, scientists, and various supporting technical personnel will be required to service these grids. It is in the best interests of regional actors to support financing and creation of this transnational personnel. World passport and citizenship is one great way to do so. Many of the "world citizen" cadres will still find themselves serving the home countries due to inertia.

The process mentioned above does not truly threaten great powers within each regional cluster since they will acquire leadership role within them. Thus we see US in North America, Brazil in SA, Germany in EU (and whatever EU evolves into following the crisis), Russian Federation in Eurasian Union, China in east Asia, etc. Some short term and often desperate intraregional struggles are inevitable as currently seen between secular Arab nations (Egypt, Syria) and traditionalist Arab monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) for control over who leads in providing the political culture and ideological substance to a regional block. Eventually, each region will have settled with a center of force guiding it, most likely the most industrialized country. Hopefully that industrialized power will engage in empirically proven methods of reducing poverty and inequality (Venezuela for instance has made serious progress in reaching all its UN development goals: Venezuelan strategy infecting Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, and India will do wonders). The Schengen area equivalents in each continent and region will do preparatory work to further enable global citizenship.

"I bet Brangelina will get to have a world passport?" says the jaded reader? Ok that's actually a great idea to reward it to a few celebrities as marketing. In the 21st century, the developmental and nuclear war preventing integration should be aggressively sold by whichever means are effective. Obviously rewarding a certain number of various athletes, entertainment personalities, and heroes creates necessary buzz for the passport (primarily given for achieving relatively dull technical expertise). Besides the benefits the citizenship may start with, eventually additional benefits can be added to get people around the world to get into fields they may overlook. The number of passports given at first may number in just a few million but be expanded depending on how the merger of public services into transgovernmental services continues.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Increasing Redundancy in Government and Technological Systems

There are dangers in seeking efficiency above all other values in social and material engineering. Redundancy and efficiency are often two sides of the same coin.

Here at The Pragmatist, we really value efficient government and energy distribution systems. Going as far as to promote a special branch of police under the executive to make periodic efficiency audits and raids on various organizations and key institutions to see how they could be streamlined (a 21st century throw back to the efficiency movement of 100 years go).

Having said that, we must keep in mind a few things:

1) Increasingly high tech advanced planetary civilization has very elaborate hierarchies fed by ever more complex energy feeds, human capital feeds, and resource production/distribution chains. This makes many of said hierarchies (and institutions they oversee) more fragile than they appear and this fragility will continue to increase. The amount of various environmental and social shocks will continue to increase as well and exert unexpected devastating ripple effects. For example, the recent Japanese earthquake/tsunami has made many machine part assembly lines go offline for months causing ripple effects in large economies oceans away. Considering that many of the advanced countries on earth are and will continue to be plagued by gerontocracy (US and Japan spring to mind), these shocks will be even more severe. That is, since the effectiveness of government institutions in the 21st century will be measured by how rapidly they absorb, comprehend, and meaningfully respond to new and novel stimuli. Just like a biological body of a young athlete versus the one in a nursing home.

2) Greater societal efficiency is not incompatible with having larger government as this Pragmatist piece has shown. Technology allows dramatically more government services, more redundancy (more on that later), while raising overall societal efficiency. The false artificial monetarist dichotomy between "spending and cutting" is no longer relevant as will soon be discovered by popular consciousness. The effectiveness and quality rather than the quantity of government red tape is at issue. Systems alongside expansion/contraction of the money/debt token supply system can also co-exist without a problem.  Even the popularly hated neoliberal propaganda outlet, The Economist, begrudgingly acknowledged the successful expanding statism of Norway that is acquiring leaner/efficient characteristics while also preserving and expanding human autonomy:

"And as the Asians introduce welfare states they too will look to the Nordics: Norway is a particular focus of the Chinese."

 [ sidenote: There are also other very macro institutional efficiency creating political mechanisms that were mentioned by The Pragmatist. These are to be addressed at the highest levels of nation states and political subunits. We wont go into into this again presently.]

3) We also recognize that human beings have physiological and affective needs of safety, security, and that their sole purpose is not subservience to keeping mechanical and social arrangement at being maintained at “peek efficiency”, "equilibrium","stasis", "calculated material expansion within narrowly defined band", etc. 

Very often when you hear theorists talk of making the economy or society more efficient they are really talking of streamlining financial flows to the controllers and top tiers of society. A good and rather ridiculous argument from the side of efficiency is the concept of “natural unemployment” within 3-4% range. Proponents of such inhuman and relatively recent bourgeois concept say it makes economy as a whole more "efficient" with competition among wage slaves fluid and dynamic bringing the best fit for the job. In this case, it is not really the entire economy that is being made more efficient but efficiency applied to streamlining the profit generation of stockholders, management, and well to do controllers.

The recent news of the United States Post Office deciding to stop mail delivery on Saturdays by August 2013 is a good example of how some societal functions should not be subject to overall efficiency/for profit standards (obviously new technologies should be implemented and efficiency increased on a micro level without losing sight of the larger picture). Efficiency would really not be cutting overall reach of post office but expand it to operate 24/7 by robotics at 2/3 of current electrical energy and material expense.

The value of Redundancy in the Societal Sphere

Sometimes the safety of society and human welfare requires extra efforts towards redundancy, reliability, predictability, and multiple non-profit driven fail safe guards.

Efficiency: accomplishment of an ability to accomplish a job with minimum expenditure of time and effort

Redundancy: the provision of additional or duplicate systems, equipment, etc., that function in case an operating part or system fails, as in a spacecraft

Let's take for instance a jumbo jet passenger airplane. Many people feel fear at absolute psychological lack of control when sitting in an enormous metal whale with tiny wings. They have to put total trust in computer navigation systems and the engineering behind the giant engines and the plane's tail (most plane crashes result due to the stabilizing tail falling off).

A redundant transport jumbo jet system would look at the concept of A-10 Thunderbolt 2 (warthog) military plane that is an armored tank and is designed to fly even if 1 of 2 engines, 1 of 2 plane tails, and half of one wing is missing. Redundancy is absolutely compatible with human welfare while efficiency often isn't. The enormous airbus A380 only has 4 engines and 1 tail while the new Boeing 787 also has 1 tail and only 2 giant engines overall regardless the giant size. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from Antonov An-225 Mriya that has 3 engines on each wing, two tails, as well as ability to accommodate an additional engine on top of its tail intersection and on its back (it carried a space shuttle on its back once so not a big deal).

This is a good visualization and example of efficiency suffering at the hands of extra physical redundancy (in additional to existing triple module redundancies practiced on planes) yet less efficiency in this case extends the lifespans of thousands upon thousands of humans and cargo. Governments can subsidize the extra fuel for these extra engines by cutting down on plane sorties over many primitive occupied territories.

ISS uses more major redundant systems and subsystems than
many hurricane prone areas even though far less humans
and money is on the line
If one could visualize a technologically complex 21st century civilization as being a heavy duty airplane (the airplane in this comparison, regardless of whether it is the Shuttle, is still a lot less complex than human society), then we need to make our society the Antonov An-225 Mriya with additional engine on the tail, on the belly, and on the back. This means redundancy in agricultural production systems (vertical farming), parallel self sustaining seats of government in cities designed to govern from scratch, satellite cities to experiment with mass producing ways out of systemic shocks, research and development clusters, and many others. In a globalized world that is increasingly functioning as one giant country, we can't put all our eggs in one basket/country whether the basket produces electronics, food, human capital, or raw materials. There needs to be more so called eggs, they need to be smaller, they need to be more decentralized (and tastier and more energy rich, you get the point). Same goes for the baskets.

Redundancies can be expanded into many territories of society in both material and intangible realms. This would keep economic costs from repair and from disruption down. 

Other redundancies should naturally be scrapped. Rather than having 15 intelligence/police agencies all performing similar tasks and poorly sharing information and time in the limelight due to ego concerns, it often makes sense to consolidate certain government agencies and institutions as much as possible. As written previously, with sufficient technology a modern policeman may do the job of 5+ policemen from the late 20th century. Many economists on both sides of the political isle often argued for public transport to be free and not rely on profit due to the enormous range of total social and GDP benefits of unlimited flow of human capital. Eliminating the redundancy of various subway and metro controllers and ticket checkers while doubling the number of repairmen and actual railroads (more parallel railroads are redundant yet better than the most efficient one after another train scheme on just one) will do a lot more for smoothing the functioning of not just transport but the human herd at large.

We will return to proper balance between redundancy and efficiency in later articles. We are beginning to see that these are sides of the same coin. A society is perhaps less than an airplane but even more like a body. An increasingly overburdened, sickly, and ever more connected and skilled body may require a couple extra kidneys, another heart, another liver, more eyes as well as a hyper efficient new cybernetic/neural circulatory system to keep all of this feel the lightness as if only 1 or 2 organs exist at all!

Enough with the examples, I think we're done here.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Military Lessons from Syrian Civil War

It is still too early to say whether the alliance of Western, Turk, Saudi, Qatar funded mercenaries and foreign Al-Qaeda fighters will "liberate" Syria the way they did Libya. 

But 2 years gives us some time for observation on modern civil wars.

Observers trying to be neutral in seeing what is happening in Syria start off with a customary disclaimer. "Assad regime is rather shady and vicious, we don't support it but perhaps chaos that will replace it will be worse".

We will do the same. By all means, Assad government is a lot less benign than was the genuinely popular government of Gaddafi. Libya, a country of 6 million (with half of it lasting and maintaining military operations for 7 months under constant NATO bombardment), demonstrates this fact along with the objectively high social/infrastructural spending on the population. Without direct NATO bombardment of Western Libyan infrastructure, Gaddafi's forces would have easily occupied and pacified eastern Libya within 1-2 months and neutralized destabilizing foreign mercenary, special forces, and terrorist elements. In fact, during battle for Misurata, Gaddafi's troops attempted precision targeting of hostile elements rather than current Assad strategy of neighborhood isolation and blanket bombardment. That show of humanitarian tactics ultimately hastened Libya's slide into current sectarian decentralized chaos.

Assad father's semi-reactionary coup within the Baath party in the 1960s greatly moderated socialist factions and allowed current batch of corrupt business elites to ultimately emerge. Assad dynasty has also mismanaged its influx of funds from recent partial opening to globalism and neoliberal theory. Libya mismanaged funds as well but to a lesser degree. History shows us that cold war attempts to find a third way between socialism and capitalism (such as Baath party's fusionistic ideology of socialism, nationalism, pan-Arabism, state capitalism) gradually degrades towards something blatantly fascistic, stagnant, and opportunist due to lack of ideological clarity.

One constant in secular nationalist modernizing Arab republics appears to be strong state and military apparatus that inevitably partially "sells out"/merges with the Western-phile business classes. To be fair, occasionally they genuinely do create social progress via emulating parts of previous experiments (ex: Nasserist, Peronist, Kemalist, Leninist, and FDRist practices).

Another constant is that due to strong nationalist military tradition of these ungodly "third way" hybrid regimes, they prove difficult for the neighborhood. They are just too willful, independent, too sovereign for current process of globalization. Thus we see today's opportunism of neighboring states (local hereditary mafia monarchies, neoliberal Turkey, and Western governments) to ride/redirect the protest wave and overthrow third way regimes to better exploit them. A pattern emerges that when a third way state tries to create a peaceful outreach and make new friends, they get stabbed in the back (watch the interview of Assad by Charlie Rose and note the experience of Libya giving up chemical weapons and becoming more normal only to be stomped).

But it isn't easy. If you fear you may be targeted by ambitious vultures who want to use social unrest in your country to forment regime changing unrest, then you should keep some lessons in mind. Because there is nothing worse than an artificial civil war that doesn't follow the will of the majority (think about alternate history outrage of UK intervening on the side of the Confederacy during American civil war and having Confederates win and occupy the north, makes the blood boil don't it? Or if China was stirring secession unrest among American tea party types with generous funding and advanced weapons, unthinkable!).

However if you got a genuine civil war on your hands that is strictly indigenous and if you got the support of Western capital and weapons and you still don't seem to be winning, then you're definitely on the wrong side of history. You may want to call on French/Saudi/etc military to help you out and take chances with that.

Lesson 1: Outcome depends not on domestic factors but either interference or non-interference of global and regional powers.

The global media bubble of disinformation that Western governments can achieve around a targeted country is monstrously powerful and very difficult to breech. If you are on the wrong side of the transnational slander campaign, you best get powerful friends.

UN is split into faction A) [US, France, UK] that disregards basic UN premise of national sovereignty in favor of corporate transnational neo-feudal police state and faction B) [China, Russia] that fight to protect UN status quo and thus perhaps even UN's legitimacy with a statement of  "what happens inside a country's borders is not NATO's/UN's business". Eventually of course, during UN's evolution we may first see some global police apparatus develop but it'll be more along lines of multilateral government agreements, continental security/economic blocks, and not just one security block arbitrarily browbeating UN to cater to its needs. It may even be possible to have various large security alliances have their own representation in UN as a collection of global gendarmes with their own respective neighborhoods to patrol.

Lesson 2: Military installations deep inside a country need to be better defended since many don't plan on being attacked by well armed civilians or foreign mercenaries/adventure seekers pretending to be civilians.

Many military bases are located in dangerous zones such as by forests or by hills that allows them to be bombarded. This applies to all military bases including the ones inside powerful states like France, UK, US as well. The bases are not civilian proof (due to expectation of civilian areas being safe) and thus could be rapidly surprised and looted. A country fearing attack by NATO pirates and their proxies (Algeria you're next considering France is picking up the war on terror torch) best double cement wall their bases, clear nearby brush, and prevent construction of residential areas in the vicinity. Even a large big name base is ridiculously vulnerable to 100-200 well armed people storming it to grab even bigger guns. Thus installations in countries vulnerable to civil war should copy base protection methodology employed in Afghanistan.

Lesson 3: Give in to protester demands early. :)

Now not just any protester demands (not the demands of the bourgeois children who want free flow of capital, privatization, and "free speech" for their capital) but those demands concerning economic freedom of the poor. Thus, any government in fear of "being next" should make overtures to the local communist party apparatus, secular/socialist community organizers, etc to co-opt them and then use these connections to route out foreign infiltrators and create community support. Rationing should occur immediately to create popular dependence of the poor sectors of society on government for subsistence. This means, bread, sugar, petrol, basic children supplies, etc. Make an economic outreach to Cuba, they may send some help over.

Lesson 4: Determine early whether it genuinely is a civilian protest that can be handled by combination of political outreach and police action or whether it's total national security threat requiring major mobilization to secure strategic areas with triple rings of defenses. Do not gradually escalate and allow insurgents to adjust. If threat is serious and Western hyenas/neighboring government jackals are beginning to side with protesters go to Lesson 5.

Lesson 5: Protect the main cities first to maintain illusion of normalcy, maintain popular support, and create large safe havens from those fleeing the countryside. Gradual isolation of enemy infected neighborhoods in the city of Homs was a success but it shouldn't have come to that. An ounce of prevention (military quarantine of a city) is better than a pound of cure.

As tempting as it is to use all your might to chase a bunch of dangerous religious rednecks across the country and attempt to maintain security across the whole country, that is often is simply not possible. Major cities (and substantial buffer zones around the cities) should be first priority in order to prevent emergence of a center of power for an alternative government (that can then rely on drawing educated cadres within the city). Military installations, borders, arms factories, and energy supplies should obviously come second.

Create rural pockets where insurgents can operate and herd them into those pockets. If some cities developed an infection already, isolate the neighborhoods and starve them out. Religious extremists are similar to zombies from a bad Hollywood movie only they feed off people's broken hopes and their radicalization once infrastructure and the economy have been destroyed.

Lesson 6: Pay large amounts of money to PR firms of a neutral country so they run ads on news channels of Western countries if possible, wage prolific Internet campaigns. In the era of declining American empire, even a monolithic media offensive will have cracks in it.

Lesson 7: Maintain refugee camps within areas of government control and use the dispossessed males for recruitment. It is not helpful to have them sitting in a neighboring country without supervision or being indoctrinated into the opposing camp. Plan for creation of refugee camps on your own territory in advance, preferably in urban areas where they can provided with physical needs, security, and propaganda umbrella of the government.

Lesson 8: Invest in cheap decoy tanks, airplanes, helicopters which have their own heat signature. Western governments may be feeding satellite information to insurgents and decoy tanks used by Serbs during NATO Yugoslav bombardment were very effective at confusing the enemy. Set up fake targets to attack as traps. Religious insurgents are not too bright to begin with considering their devotion to self-sacrifice and superstition so tricking them will be easier than secular insurgents.

Lesson 9: Maintain illusion that all government facilities are functioning normally but store all vital records underground or in other locations to prevent fire damage from car bombs. Record keeping is essential to maintain food/supplies rationing mechanisms running in a hearts and minds campaign. Relocate some essential government offices to more secure military bases if possible.

Lesson 10: Set up a transnational intelligence sharing center on potential threats from Western powers and their lackeys. Create a database of known mercenary networks. Set up a multi-billion dollar assistance fund in faction B country to use for aid if a foreign backed civil war should happen to you. Don't allow New York Times, BBC, or any Western media agents into your country, they are affiliated with intelligence services. Use Chinese or Russian media channels from Faction B.

Any country may find themselves in danger even if so much time has passed that they think they're safe. Cuba, Venezuela, Algeria, Iran, and every strategic willful country in Africa/Central Asia/Middle East should collaborate on how to prevent humanitarian catastrophe from foreign physical and informational infiltration and NATO bombs from falling on their territory.

P.S. Having said all of this, not all civil wars are created equal. Some governments simply have a more difficult time accommodating opposition due to their feudal structure. Entities such as Saudi Arabia perhaps deserve to be destabilized as these feudal theocratic absolutist monarchies are not a force for human progress by any objective measure. Neither are the other vicious caste based monarchies. Karma will have their way with them when their "subjects" wake up and turn republican or when Saudi extremists refuse to go abroad and turn their attention inwards. Considering that the entire region is similar to pre-WW1 Europe, it is better for all nations in the region to be on the same republican level of understanding and progressing towards greater secularization, fertility lowering education, and modernization. Secular educated people are less likely to sign up to fight in wars and more likely to demand socialist leaning style of development.

And here is an interview with Assad just a couple years ago after he was visited by senator John Kerry and after he made outreaches to Turkey, Qatar, and the West.

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