Finally, some good news! The Japanese are building a space elevator to get us off this planet. Not a moment too soon, either. We gotta get outta this place!
Just 36 short years from now, the construction firm Obayashi reckons it will have the resources and technology to build a 96,000 kilometre cable to space. The cable will be made of super-strong carbon fibre nanotubes. It will be ‘anchored’ to a platform in geosynchronous orbit with the Earth.
This is awesome, to use a scientific term. Using chemical fuel in rockets to escape Earth’s gravity well is expensive. But right now, it’s the only way to get people and cargo into space. A space elevator is really a car that ‘climbs’ up and down the cable. If the Japanese can build the space elevator — originally an idea from the mind of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke — it will be a giant leap forward for the future of the species as a going concern.
Planetary civilisations are doomed to failure unless they make a leap to the stars. They consume all their resources before they develop technology sophisticated enough to mine asteroids and live in space. This is an idea you’ll pick up in the work of science fiction writer and mathematician Vernor Vinge. I’ll come back to Vinge and technology tipping points in a moment.
But let’s take a quick look at the markets as we begin the week. The Australian dollar and the iron ore price are doing a merry dance of death. The dollar dropped below 90 cents against the greenback. Meanwhile, the iron ore price is down 40% year-to-date and is at a five-year low.
The two are directly related, of course. The high iron ore price and record exports to China boosted the appeal of the Aussie as a pro-growth, pro-China currency. It also contributed to national income via jobs, investment, and taxes. Now all that seems to be working in reverse, to the detriment of national income. It also lowers the appeal of the dollar. You can see that quite clearly in the chart below.
Maybe the market will get some relief today. Scotland’s voters rejected independence from the United Kingdom. The disaster predicted by bankers and politicians has been averted. But don’t be surprised if the push for independence gains steam globally. Why?
The bigness, blandness, and indifferent meanness of globalisation — especially globalisation dominated by the interests of banks and financiers — is deeply unsatisfying to many people. Perpetual growth through debt may be great for Wall Street and the Big Four. But Scotland’s independence movement is a sign that people are not happy with being mere cogs in a global machine run by elite bureaucrats and transnational progressives.
71% of voters aged 16–17 voted ‘yes’ to independence. Only 27% of voters over the age of 65 voted ‘yes’. Maybe the young, lacking experience, are rash and emotional. Or maybe retirees, with more to lose from unexpected change, are prudent and wise. But it does make you wonder.
Specifically, it makes me wonder if most people are too afraid of change to risk true independence. With true independence, you’re accountable for your life. Your actions have consequences. There may not be anyone there to bail you out if and when you fail.
Most failure doesn’t kill you, though. It might wound your pride. Or, if it’s financial, you might lose money in an investment or rack up a large debt. It takes time to recover from costly financial mistakes. But that is how most of us learn anything really, by trial and error.
The promise of the Modern Welfare/Warfare State is that no one ever has to fail at anything. Risk can be eliminated by regulation. That regulation isn’t just financial. It’s the regulation of all aspects of life, in the name of protecting you from yourself, your neighbours, and the world. If the government is big enough, it can protect you from everything.
That’s a big fat lie, of course. Who protects you from a big and powerful government? The voters of Scotland may have rejected independence. You could have predicted this with some basic knowledge of ‘loss aversion’ from investment thinking. People tend to fear losses more than they desire gains. In the voting booth, the Scots chose a ‘known known’ over a ‘known unknown’.
But give it time. People are most open to change when they have nothing left to lose, especially economically. Western Capitalism in its current form isn’t really capitalism. It’s fascism masquerading as benevolent representative democracy. Elected politicians and unelected policy makers govern at the behest of big banks, big defence contractors, and big technology firms.
This state of affairs can’t last forever. Financially, it’s impossible. For example, take the various clowns, court jesters, and fools who met in Cairns for the G-20 meeting of finance ministers. This meeting precedes the November meeting of the heads of State in Brisbane. The heavily indebted governments of the Western world will meet to decide how to achieve a global growth target of 2%
They really believe they are ‘creating’ growth! What a bunch of self-important morons. Janet Yellen couldn’t run a lemonade stand at a profit. Yet the G-20 leaders believe that setting targets and policies is the key to human progress. If they wanted to do the world a favour and promote genuine growth, they’d all fire themselves and go do something productive with their lives, like washing dishes or peeling potatoes.
All they really do is a great deal of damage while drawing a big fat salary and a guaranteed pension. Let’s hope the space elevator is working in three score years. We can round up all the world’s monetarists and Keynesians and send them to a penal colony on the moon. Then we’ll see if they have any real survival skills.
Which brings me back to Vernor Vinge. In 1993, Vinge wrote a paper called The Coming Technological Singularity: How to survive in the post human era. That paper popularised the term ‘the singularity’. According to Vinge, the term comes from a statement made by the polymath John von Neumann. Neumann was concerned with the:
‘[E]ver accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.’
Human affairs would cease because the convergence of technology with biology would create a new, post-human species. Humanity, as we know it, would be redefined. That’s not what von Neumann or Vinge, wrote, by the way. It’s my understanding of the singularity. And for some people, the idea is an abomination.
But philosophical implications aside, technology is going to revolutionise the world far more than a statement released by G-20 leaders. It’s happening already. Sam Volkering is on the case at Revolutionary Tech Investor. His latest idea — and investment opportunity — is also a technology Japan is heavily invested in.
For The Daily Reckoning Australia