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« Getting High | Main | Powers of Ten (in years!) »

May 20, 2008

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Perry E. Metzger

You ask "Is the invisible hand of the market failing us" in the same posting where you quote this:

"Too many years—and, in the West, too many subsidies—are invested in the setup of big single-crop farms to let producers abandon them when the going gets tough."

Since when is a government managed and subsidized system in which the farmers are even required to pay into "marketing boards" and where there is no free trade a "free market"? You think the corn ethanol mandates of the most recent "energy bill" (what a laugh of a name) were an example of the "free market", too?

Mike Treder, CRN

Perry -- I also say, "The market, civil society, and governing bodies all have a role to play..."

What's happened over the last 30 years is that the pendulum of history has swung too far in the direction of a free market -- or, at the very least, that the market has been allowed to encroach upon areas where results have shown it can't achieve success.

More regulation and more government is not necessarily the right answer either. What we need is better regulation and better government, as well as far more engagement with civil society.

Jonathan Lee

The "fundamental" market failure that Sir Nicholas Stern writes about is actually the long term consequence of the largest market distortion due to government interference in history. Namely, the repudiation of private property rights in the air above your land. See Murray Rothbard's essay, "Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution", http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/air-pollution.html , for more details. Ironically, the nation Sir Nicholas comes from is a prime example of how private ownership of air would prevent the pollution problem we now have. In Britain, people have private ownership in streams that cross their property, and can sue upstream owners for polluting their water. Every other example you cite is similar in that the resource crisis mentioned is one where private ownership is minimal or not allowed. Species disappearance? Yes, see here http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2007/06/save-elephants-buy-ivory.html for an example of how private ownership of elephants has now allowed the species resurgence in the two African countries the allow it.
As the previous commenter mentioned, agribusiness is another large distortion of the "free" market, especially in North America and Europe. I live and work in the rural Tennessee/Arkansas/Missouri. It is a running joke around here about corn farmers getting up at the crack of 'noon to make sure no corn is growing, because the government is paying them not to grow crops.
Michael Berger of Nanowerk's comment about it not being market forces that got a man to the moon is true as far as it goes. What he failed to point out is that the benefits of that experience have not been passed on to common, every-day people as would have happened if commercial interests had done the same. Only now is the government monopoly on space travel slowly being eroded away. It has taken over 30 years to accomplish this. god help us if the government does the same for nanotechnology.

brian wang

The Nanowerk article ignores one of the biggest potential impactors for nanotechnology/nanoscale cleantech.

Advanced thermoelectrics (for better conversion of heat to electricity).

Nearly all of the world’s electrical power, approximately 10 trillion Watts, is generated by heat engines, giant gas or steam-powered turbines that convert heat to mechanical energy, which is then converted to electricity. Much of this heat, however, is not converted but is instead released into the environment, approximately 15 trillion Watts.

The more expensive bismuth telluride and its alloys get a lot better when 1D wires are 3 nanometer or less in diameter and a lot lot better when less than 1 nanometer in diameter. Silicon nanowires also work better at smaller dimension (nanowires and
quantum dots)

http://nextbigfuture.com/search/label/thermoelectric

the cheap production of nanoscale thermoelectrics will get us closer to the Carnot limit in conversion of heat to electricity.
So instead of 20-35% efficiency we can get to 50-80% efficiency depending upon temperature. Higher temperatures are more efficient.

This would effect cars and other vehicles, power plants (coal, natural gas and nuclear) and refridgerators.

Thermoelectrics are already funded as part of the FreedomCar project and some other funding which in total is few hundred million or maybe a billion or two. Big companies are working on this high potential area (GE, Catepillar, Cummins, John Deere and others) Car companies are looking to add more thermoelectrics into cars (for powering the electronics) They are already used in seat warmers and beer coolers.

Advanced thermoelectrics could replace or be integrated or retrofit into the steam generator part of power plants. 3000 nuclear, coal and other power plants could have their performance increased by 50-100% with advanced thermoelectrics without building new plants. The dirtiest and most polluting plants (coal) could be shutdown in some cases.

Another area is the coatings and configuration of nuclear fuel and using nanoparticles in the coolant. This has already been shown to work by MIT to increase an existing nuclear power plant by 30-50% power. Westinghouse is working on commercialization (10 years according to current pace and regulatory processes)

The combination of advanced uprating and advanced thermoelectrics could convert existing US nuclear from 20% of electricity to 50% before building new nuclear reactors.(which should still be built)

Making more efficient refridgerators, airconditioners, and cars would also transform the energy situation.

Perry E. Metzger

"What's happened over the last 30 years is that the pendulum of history has swung too far in the direction of a free market -- or, at the very least, that the market has been allowed to encroach upon areas where results have shown it can't achieve success."

Ah, so you're advocating the "well, X might be good, but clearly no one would suggest we should allow it to go too far!" position.

Lets try some analogs on for size and see how they sound.

"What's happened over the last 30 years is that the pendulum of history has swung too far in the direction of science -- or, at the very least, that science has been allowed to encroach upon areas where results have shown it can't achieve success."

"What's happened over the last 30 years is that the pendulum of history has swung too far in the direction of tolerance -- or, at the very least, that tolerance has been allowed to encroach upon areas where results have shown it can't achieve success."

"What's happened over the last 30 years is that the pendulum of history has swung too far in the direction of literacy -- or, at the very least, that literacy has been allowed to encroach upon areas where results have shown it can't achieve success."

Here's my claim. The belief that we can "improve upon" markets is a religious belief. It is a meme complex that was invented from whole cloth, it has little to no evidence backing it, there is considerable evidence against it, and lots of people continue to insist it is the case anyway because it offends their sensibilities to think otherwise.

Tom Craver

Perry - in general I agree that the past few decades are not examples of light market interference. But I can't help playing devil's advocate a bit:

Science - human experimentation without informed consent? Experiments that have a very small chance of destroying the earth or even the universe?

Tolerance - of nations that oppress their own people? Of rapists, pedophiles, and others with "different" attitudes towards sex?

Literacy - at what cost? What fraction of the GDP should be taxed from people to try getting the last 1% literate? No limits? If someone refuses to learn should we attemtp to force them (as we currently do)?

Markets - for slaves? Stolen goods? Government favors?

And note that the above are not hypothetical examples, but real examples of things done or advocated.

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