Posts from Science

The Limits of Capitalism

I am a capitalist. Contrary to the occasional community members who call me a socialist or a techno communist, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of markets to efficently determine what's best in most cases.

But I am not an absolute capitalist. I believe that markets do break down from time to time and we need to recognize when those things happen and do something about it. The labor movement, when it was not corrupt for the most part, is an example of a societal response to a market breakdown.

When we stare into the future, we see that our cars will not have drivers. We see that the stuff we buy from Amazon will be delivered by drones. We see that the foundations and structures of our homes will be built by 3D printed concrete. We see a world where many jobs will not exist anymore. Taken out by technology. The very technology that many of us here at AVC are working hard to create and that many of us here at AVC celebrate.

My partner Albert has been talking about this on his blog for a long time. If you want to see the totality of Albert's thinking on this topic, read the economics tag on his blog. One of Albert's thoughts is that we may need a basic income guarantee to redistribute the consumer surplus we will be creating when we no longer have to pay for drivers, delivery people, and construction workers in our lives (and many others). He's now doing a research project to look into this idea in greater detail and is looking for a research assistant.

But Albert is not the only one thinking about this stuff. Bruce Bartlett, a senior policy advisor to the Reagan and Bush administrations wrote a piece in the NY Times earlier this week advocating for a basic income guarantee.

And if you haven't read David Simon's rant on this topic in the Guardian, I would suggest you do.

I am not sure about the basic income guarantee. It feels like welfare to me and that system destroyed many productive lives. People need to work. They need to have something to feel good about doing every day. Work is a big part of self image and self worth. Any system that makes it possible for people to sit at home eating bon bons (as the Gotham Gal likes to say) is not a good system.

That said, we do need to recognize that technology is taking massive costs out of our collective P&Ls and creating a large surplus for many of us. At the same time, the people who made up that cost structure are out of work and struggling to put a roof over their head and feed their families. Shouldn't that surplus, at least part of it, go to assisting those people?

So I welcome this debate and I will not be principled on this point. I will not let ideaology and orthodoxy drive my thinking here. And I don't think anyone else should either. Because this is an important discussion to be having. And not just for the US, but for the entire world.

Video Of The Week: String Theory

This past week, my son Josh asked me to explain String Theory to him. That was a tough task because I don't know much about String Theory myself. But with the help of Google and Wikipedia, we worked through most of the basic concepts in about an hour and he had the guts of a five minute talk he planned to give at school the next day. Phew.

The next day I asked Zander, our resident physicist at USV, about String Theory. He pointed me to a TED Talk by Brian Greene. Which I just watched. And Zander is right, if you have 20 minutes and want to get the essence of string theory down, watch this video. It is great.

Video of the Week: Peter Thiel and Garry Kasparov

Tyrone sent me a link to this video sometime in the past week and I watched it yesterday morning. These are two fascinating guys talking about fascinating things. I enjoyed it very much. It's about 50 mins long so a good candidate to put on the big screen and play while you do other things. Thanks to Airplay and Chromecast, that's getting easier and easier to do these days.

Funding Math and Science Projects For Young Women

In prior years, this community has participated in the Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge during the month of October. We've won the Bloggers Challenge in the tech category three years in a row with total giving amounts of about $30,000 each year. We were dominant in the tech category and a few other blogs were equally dominant in their categories. As a result Donors Choose has decided to stop doing the Bloggers Challenge and encourage the blog communities that were regular winners to do something on their own.

What we are going to do here at AVC is make November our Donors Choose Month. We are going to try to raise a bunch of money for Donors Choose projects this coming month. In that respect it will be a lot like prior years. However, there are two important twists (one borrowed from last year).

The first twist is that we are going to focus on science and math education for young women. We've curated a giving page for this community and we've filled it with projects that focus on science and math and young women. I have kicked off a month of giving with $250 of contributions to five projects. Here are the five that I selected:

Donors choose gifts 10-31

Our Giving Page is full of projects like this and we will keep it filled with them for the entire month. I am excited to be doing something real and tangible for young women to get them prepared for the world we live in. I hope you all are too.

The second twist, borrowed from last year, is that we are doing a Meetup on December 8th from 6pm to 8pm in NYC. The Meetup will happen in a public school in NYC. I will be there and I hope the Gotham Gal will be as well. We will have a number of NYC public school teachers and a few people from Donors Choose as well. Anyone who participates in this month of giving and contributes via our Giving Page will be invited to attend.

So that's what we are doing this coming month. I'm excited about this new way of doing this. The competition with other blog communities was getting boring because we beat them so badly three years in a row. Now we can make this all about our community and the projects we are supporting. We will launch a giving widget for this effort on the right sidebar sometime in the next couple days. Until then, go to the Giving Page and get started.