Discussion List—June 2, 2011

The Matrix: Agent Smith Speech


  1. Classified Humans as a virus.
  2. What type of society was he talking about?
  3. A hunter/gatherer society—food is obtained from wild plants and animals. People largely depend on nature as they find it. This is truly an "unsustainable" model for society.
  4. This needs to be contrasted with an agricultural society, where people depend on ranching and farming, and commerce for their food.
  5. What is the key principle needed to change a hunter/gatherer society into an agricultural society?
  6. Property rights--ownership.

Jared Diamond—Guns, Germs and Steel Part 1 of 18

  1. Diamond was a biologist who was studying birds in Papua New Guinea.
  2. He spend 30 years answering this question:
    "Why you white men have so much cargo and we New Guineans have so little?"
  3. The result was his book Guns, Germs and Steel

Hernando De Soto Polar

  1. Peruvian economist—president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), Peru.
  2. Known for his work on the informal economy and the importance of property rights.
  3. Raised by his parents in both Peru and Switzerland
  4. Spent years studying why these 2 countries are so different.

Julian Simon vs. Paul Erlich

  1. The year 1980 was a time when many people thought that the earth was running out of its precious natural resources. Julian Simon, an economist (who died in 1998), contended that human ingenuity would always come up with substitutes if needed. Thus humanity would never run out of key materials. In contrast, Ehrlich, a neo-Malthusian biologist, contended that overpopulation and excessive consumption were already forcing shortages of key materials and that this trend would continue.
  2. Simon and Ehrlich agreed that rising prices would be a sign that raw materials had become scarce. Simon offered to bet that any raw materials selected in one year would be lower in price ten years hence. Convinced that prices would go up over the next decade, Ehrlich and two colleagues responded to Simon's offer.
  3. So, in October 1980 Ehrlich and his colleagues picked five different metals (chrome, copper, nickel, tin, and tungsten), spending $200 on each metal. The total investment was worth $1,000 in 1980 prices. If, in October 1990, the value of the five metals at their original 1980 quantities, adjusted for inflation, turned out to be greater than $1,000, then Ehrlich would win the bet. If the value were less, Simon would win the bet. Whoever lost would be required to send a check to the winner equal to the difference in value.1
  4. In October 1990, the price of the basket of metals had fallen substantially below its 1980 level. All the metals had experienced a drop in value. Moreover, the drop was so substantial that Simon would have won even if the values hadn't been adjusted for inflation. Ehrlich and his associates sent Simon a check for $576.07 (Tierney 1990, 81).
  5. So one possible lesson of this is that natural scientists should confer with economists before making predictions about the future based on their own interpretations of the past... Such as Diamond and De Soto.

June 2, 2011