Here we go

Roman v. Yampolskiy and Joshua Fox, Artificial General Intelligence and the Human Mental Model, Chapter 7 of Singularity Hypotheses.

“Hall* classifies future AGIs [Artificial General Intelligences], making the point that we should not expect AI systems to ever have closely humanlike distributions of ability, given that computers are already superhuman in some areas. So, despite its anthropocentric nature, his classification highlights the range of possibilities as well as the arbitrariness of the human intelligence point of reference. His classification encompasses

  • hypohuman (infrahuman, less-than-human capacity),
  • diahuman (human level capacities in some areas, but still not a general intelligence),
  • parahuman (similar but not identical to humans, as for example, augmented humans),
  • allohuman (as capable as humans, but in different areas),
  • epihuman (slightly beyond the human level), and
  • hyperhuman (much more powerful than human).”

*Hall, J.S. (2007). Beyond AI: Creating the conscience of the machine. Amherst: Prometheus.

I know what some of you are thinking. So and so is definitely hypo. Come on now. . .he’s talking about machines.

Zoned Out

Why and how we should seek to restore a free market in land


I once knew a man who was finishing his basement so that his daughter and son-in-law could live there. I spent a lot of hours down there with a nail gun before the city planners nixed the project. My in-laws in Modesto, California, had to move out of their house into a mobile home on their own farm, because their kids needed a place to live. The law, for some reason, allowed them to put a mobile home there if seniors would be living in it, but not to accommodate a young family.

In run-ins with zoning laws, ordinary people encounter the perversity of government firsthand in ways that should make them receptive to the message of freedom and property.

You see, modern American society does not have a free market in land. Government interference with land use causes many of society’s problems. For example, in recent decades, people have started moving out of richer states into poorer ones, as high-productivity metropolitan areas refuse to accommodate population growth, driving housing prices and rents sky-high. While expensive real estate reflects high demand, the distortions originating with urban planners have made it difficult for young people to get a start in life. Artificial limits on supply, including zoning laws, building-height restrictions, parking requirements, and rules on maximum occupancy and minimum lot size, drive prices higher.

Without restrictions like these, real estate developers could build more high-rises and townhomes. Housing supply would rise, prices and rents would fall, more affordable cities would attract more people, and metropolitan productivity would raise national GDP.

Exclusion Zones and Environmental Harm

Zoning can be a form of class warfare when rich people deploy government power to keep poor people out of their field of vision. In the early twentieth century, some officials used zoning laws to exclude racial minorities from white neighborhoods. Today, class has replaced race as a main motivator for exclusion. Even when officials claim other intentions, zoning’s effects are the same. Government interference with land use blocks people from stretching scarce dollars by sleeping more people in a room, for example, or converting single-family homes into multifamily homes. High property taxes and onerous construction codes make housing less affordable for everyone, especially the poor.

Zoning also harms the environment by forcing people out of cities, where they live less environmentally friendly lifestyles. Segregating residential, industrial, and commercial land use forces people to live farther from the places where they work and shop, causing more automobile dependency, asphalt, and urban sprawl. A free market in land would not eliminate sprawl, of course. Some people want a house and a yard. But the rise of suburbia in post-WWII America was driven not only by preferences, but significantly by zoning laws.

This Land Is Their Land

Zoning tends to have an antidensity bias, but it often frustrates lovers of the rural life, too. When I moved to central California two years ago, I took a liking to the orchards and vineyards that surround the city, and looked for places in the countryside. That should have been easy. Agriculture generates low value per acre compared to residential rents, so people like me, with city jobs but a taste for the rural life, could easily offer landowners more than the land’s agricultural opportunity cost.

Unfortunately, the Fresno County Division of Public Works and Planning has zoned most of the land here “exclusive agricultural” in order “to protect the general welfare of the agricultural community from encroachments of non-related agricultural uses which by their nature would be injurious”—how, pray tell?—“to the physical and economic well-being of the agricultural district.”

The name of this regrettable agency contains the telltale word planning. It is curious how often America fails to learn the lesson of its own victory in the Cold War: Markets are better than planning. Read a zoning ordinance and you will quickly get the strange sense of reading a Gosplan document. Why must non-agricultural operations be limited to 10 percent of a plot of land and three employees? Why are riding academies permitted (subject to director review) but arts and crafts schools prohibited? Why not leave such decisions to the market?

Externalities and Other Canards

The only legitimate economic rationale for zoning is that land use often has positive and negative local externalities. What I do with my land can affect my neighbors’ quality of life. If I fill my front yard with flowers, the whole street benefits. If I fill it with trash, I spoil my neighbors’ street views and property values. A factory next to a suburb is an eyesore. A cafe may enliven a neighborhood, but patrons compete with residents for scarce parking. In the face of local externalities, the usual theorems about market efficiency cease to hold, and zoning laws can, in principle, raise social welfare by mitigating activities with negative externalities and/or encouraging activities with positive ones. Possibly, though I doubt it, the Fresno County Division of Public Works and Planning could find some feeble argument from local externalities to justify allowing riding academies but not arts and crafts schools in “exclusive agricultural” districts.

But there’s a better way to deal with externalities, elucidated by Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase in his 1960 article “The Problem of Social Cost.”

Coase considered, as an example, the problem of a rancher whose cows sometimes stray into the neighboring farmer’s field and destroy his crops (a negative externality). Does the farmer have a claim against the rancher, or do the rancher’s cows have a right to roam where they will? Should fences be built? Should one of them halt operations? What is the efficient solution? What is the just solution? Coase claimed no insight about justice, but he showed why, if efficiency is our goal, it does not matter whose side the court takes, as long as (a) rights are defined clearly, and (b) they are tradable.

Suppose the following monetary values:
Rancher’s profit: $10,000
Farmer’s profit: $20,000
Damage to crops: $15,000
Cost of fencing: $15,000

The socially efficient solution here is for the rancher to halt operations. Fencing is too expensive. The rancher’s profits are lower than the farmer’s, and too small to offset the damage to crops.

Now, suppose a judge sides with the farmer, making the rancher liable. The rancher will shut down because his profits do not suffice to buy out the farmer or pay for the costs of fencing. But if the judge sides with the rancher, he will still shut down, because the farmer will pay him a little over $10,000 to do so. Either way, we get the efficient solution.

If, instead, the values are . . .
Rancher’s profit: $50,000
Farmer’s profit: $10,000
Damage to crops: $15,000
Cost of fencing: $15,000

. . . then the farmer will shut down, either because—if a judge rules against him in his dispute with the rancher—crop damage is causing him to lose money, or because—if a judge rules in his favor—the rancher buys him out. Whatever the efficient solution is, Coasean bargaining will find it, once the law clearly defines property rights in causing, or in being free from, externalities.

Bargaining Our Way to Pleasantville

Zoning laws should be replaced by a free market in land, with Coasean bargaining to deal with local externalities. The solution would be imperfect, due to transaction costs. But the system would get better over time, as entrepreneurial developers wanting to gentrify or commercialize neighborhoods would learn the best ways to acquire, from residents, the appropriate rights—perhaps involving complicated option contracts or Elinor Ostrom-style solutions to commons problems. And all of these alternatives would be supported by common-law approaches to dispute resolution and contract, which have been thoroughly crowded out by municipal codes.

By contrast, centrally planned systems tend to ossify over time, as they grow increasingly more starved for the market-pricing information that could provide signals about the efficient use of resources. Of course, the local knowledge of people on the ground is the foundation of community. That too is lost when town planners purport to know more.

Market flexibility is especially important now because technology wants to reorganize cities. Already, in an age of smartphones and laptops, when one hardly needs bookshelves or desks, young people with large student loans who want to live in Manhattan might find six-in-a-room lifestyles quite tolerable for a few months or years. Let the market decide. On the other hand, solar power and mobile data could open up attractive lifestyles in the foothills of the Sierras if they weren’t zoned “exclusive agricultural.” Let the market decide. Let the people decide.

In the future, cheap driverless taxis will make acres of urban parking obsolete. Even the home kitchen might become optional when driverless cars offer cheap 24/7 delivery of hot restaurant meals. Let the market decide. We need to get the old zoning boards out of the way and leave people and markets free to discover the lifestyles that best suit them in the 21st century.

Go to the sources, get answers

Okay. So the Prairie Times Advertisers are the reason I get this political fishwrap in my mailbox free – unrequested – every month, featuring diatribes and screeds from every present and past Elbert County Democrat Party official, Leftist candidate, former Leftist candidate, anti-oil&gas fractivist, and private-property-confiscating communitarian planner.

Fair enough. At least now I know who to talk to about it.

Maybe if each person out there picks just one advertiser to encourage, perhaps this excuse for news can develop into something worth reading some day.
Prairie Times Ads002

Debunking the Bunk

Since these New Plains articles will most likely show up in the next Prairie Times fishwrap, might as well debunk them now.

To Jim Duvall:

“citizens can’t go somewhere else for their government services”
“which takes away from the overall services the department can provide to the county”
“taking away from other services the county could provide”
“the public is frustrated”

I wonder what services Mr. Duvall is referring to? He never says.

To Susan Shick:

“Schlegel and Rowland directed the county attorney to prepare a standard MOU for all oil and gas development in the county that annihilated the extra protections afforded by an earlier MOU that was authored by a qualified citizen committee of engineers, hydrologists, lawyers, local and State oil and gas experts and concerned citizens.”

Perhaps the legendary Elbert County MOU of 2013 would have been more realistic had it included industry operators on ANY of the 3 years of edit committees.


“Today, State and Elbert County laws are way out of balance, forcing too much risk on too many. The mineral rights owners need to assume the majority of the risk because they have the most to gain.”
“. . .explore compromises in this debate over “property rights.”

Ms. Shick does not respect private property. Ms. Shick might find herself more at home in a totalitarian country that does not allow private property ownership.

To Tony Corrado:

“For the last two years this plant [Fukushima (sic)] has been using sea water to cool the reactor fuel rods in order to keep it from blowing up and sending nuclear radiation into the air, onto the land and into the sea. The water leaks thus far are 520 metric tons of water that leaked and over 300,000 tons that were intentionally released into the sea.”

1 metric ton of water = 264.172052357 gallons
1 acre foot of water = 325,851.429 gallons
520 x 264.172052357 = 137,369.467226
137,369.467226 / 325,851.429 = .4215709 acre feet

That’s less than 1/2 of 1 acre foot of leaked water. Most household well permits in Elbert County authorize at least 3 acre feet of water extraction per year.

This is Mr. Corrado’s foundation for concluding:

“Or should these “property rights” actually belong to everyone?”


customers eat, beneficiaries starve

Human nature is imperfect. It always was, and so long as we remain human, it always will be. The American Founders built a government system adapted to our imperfect human nature. No other system of government contains mechanisms to mitigate the harmful effects of our imperfect human nature.

The free market also resolves human imperfections. Suppliers and demanders imperfectly attempt to maximize their worth by agreeing on a price for a given exchange of goods or services. Price is the flexible point where they voluntarily meet, and price can be moved by either party to a transaction depending on how each deals with their imperfect circumstances.

The market flexibly harmonizes imperfections while providing the necessary incentives for trade to occur. Without trade, without a market, no substantial incentives exist. Without incentives, goods do not get made and trade does not occur. When trade does not exist, buyers don’t have anything to buy, and everyone stays poorer.

Humans are motivated by the opportunity to benefit themselves more than they are motivated by the opportunity to benefit others. The Left use the pejorative of greed when speaking of our human nature of self interest. But this is our nature. It is neither good nor bad. It’s just the way humans generally are.

With equal validity you could say that it’s human nature to have sex and therefore sex is bad. Oh wait a minute; a lot of people do say that. Let’s not kick that sleeping dog just now.

Which makes more sense to advocate – political and economic systems that offend our human nature, or ones that work with our human nature? The question answers itself and the overwhelming evidence affirms the answer.

Where humans have worked out their differences, their disequilibriums, their inequalities, and their variances through objective, constitutional, rule-of-law-based governments and associated free markets, they have done best.

Where humans have had their political and economic incentives removed through command economics and totalitarian governments, they have done worst.

This is the most important lesson of history, and the Left has still not learned it.

I read Jean Ziegler‘s Betting on Famine. Ziegler is a Social Democrat who worked for the UN and answers the question in his book, “Why the World Still Goes Hungry?”

He reasons that global corporate food oligarchies control food and associated supply-chain product markets to maximize profits, that these same markets inhibit subsistence farming around the world because it competes with their control of food, that sufficient food is a basic human right, that there is more than enough food produced to go around so that no one should starve, and that the free market misallocates food and causes starvation.

Aye yai yai.

Ziegler’s solution – “In parliaments, in international regulatory authorities, we can decide that there must be change; we can decide to make the right to food a priority, to remove food from the realm of market speculation, to protect subsistence agriculture in the name of national heritage and invest in improving it worldwide. The solutions exist; the plans and projects are already drafted. What is lacking is the will of governments.”

Ziegler, the Social Democrats, and the Left think we can just decide to change human nature. You might think, “But this has never been done.” And you’d be right. It’s never been done because it can’t be done. Our nature is our nature. Denying it will only result in predictably negative consequences that come from denial.

If you want to see starvation really take off and become much worse than it already is, put government in control of the food supply. Governments have already re-allocated food resources toward energy production. Governments are funding the growth of food, only to turn around and burn it up.

When governments make mistakes, they create invested constituencies who have financial incentives to resist changes to the government policy. Moreover, government programs are funded from taxpayer revenue which continues to flow regardless of the success of the program. There’s no outcome feedback loop to correct a government mistake. And there’s always the shouting constituency narrowly focused on their government benefit to drown out more sober analysis.

When markets make mistakes, they quickly self correct because no one buys the mistake and it quickly becomes unfunded and goes away.

Unsubsidized markets would have abandoned wind, solar, and food-robbing ethanol long ago. And fewer people would be starving today.

Elbert County endorses “fractivist” lawyer

From: The Campaign Goes On: ‘Ban Fracking’ Groups Target New Colorado Task Force

“An activist lawyer

For 12 years – from 1996 to 2008 – Boulder attorney Matt Sura worked for the WCC as a community organizer and, ultimately, the group’s executive director. Now in private practice, Sura has applied for a seat on the new oil and gas task force, and says he’s no longer an anti-energy activist. In March, Sura told The Colorado Observer: “[F]ar from being a fracktivist, I actually work on oil and gas development.”

Sura’s work came under close scrutiny when he was hired by local officials in Brighton, Colo., to help update the city’s oil and gas regulations. He then advised the city to impose a temporary drilling ban. The ban was overturned less than a month later after Brighton residents – many of whom work in the oil and gas industry – learned of Sura’s background in anti-energy activism.

Besides working for the WCC for more than a decade, Sura collaborated with activist groups during last year’s local “ban fracking” campaigns in Northern Colorado. He helped organize an event titled “Tools for Activism on Oil and Gas Development,” which was co-hosted by Frack Free Colorado, Food & Water Watch and several other anti-energy groups. And in November 2013, National Journal reported that Sura was working with activists in Greeley who wanted to impose a moratorium on drilling projects inside the city limits.”

EC activist lawyer Matt Sura

Could Elbert County’s inability to get Agave to perform thus far on all of the elements specified in the standard MOU + Schedule A have something to do with this? Has Elbert County’s CDS  gone down another primrose path of over zealous regulation that effectively precludes – or interminably delays – O&G development?