Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Bill Gates: My Plan to Improve Our World, and How You Can Help (wired.com)
392 points by digital55 on Nov 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 358 comments



"If you write great code or are an expert in genomics or know how to develop new seeds, I’d encourage you to learn more about the problems of the poorest and see how you can help."

Check, check, check. And actually it was a previous article of Bill's that made me want to become a scientist, and now we're Gates funded to develop more efficient crops.

Coders of the world - we have awesome data to play with. Come and help :)


"If you write great code..."

Sorry, but I nearly spat my drink all over my keyboard at that sentence. This from the man who a decade ago used all his influence to fight tooth and nail against the notion of sharing knowledge and code for the benefit of mankind instead of profit, and didn't blink at screwing over developing countries in this particular area to increase his profits

I'm sure he means well and does great things these days, but this is pushing it a bit.


Of course, it's quite important that you are not made to spit on your keyboard. Shame on Bill Gates.


Okay...

So, Selling code you wrote == Preventing sharing of knowledge.


No. But keeping the code you wrote a locked up secret and trying to discredit and destroy anyone that doesn't do the same is.


I am curious. Can you be more specific? If I am making my living writing software, and if you buy a copy of it and make it available to potential customers, why is it immoral to ask you not to do so?


If I have a copy of some information or software, and I can easily copy it to my friend, and my friend needs it, why should I deny him? Would I not be mean in denying him? If I would, then would you not be immoral for coercing me to be mean to my friend? That, in essence, is the argument.

You could argue that your business model requires me, i.e. all your customers, to agree not to give their friends (or anyone else) copies. But the world does not owe you a living. If your business model requires you to ask people to behave badly towards their friends, then it is destroying the social fabric of society, and you could rightly be called immoral.

Anyway, see https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/why-free.html if you truly want to read more.


That would make perfect sense if software grew on trees.

In the real world in which we live, people have to work hard to create new things. There is no magic software fairy. Software is not a right like air, water or food or speech.

Remember, the world does not owe you free software. ("free" as in "free beer")


Well, first, there are those who argue (although I’m not sure they are right) that all software the world would need would be written by people in their spare time; even many large complex software pieces have been made this way. I’m not sure if this will work, though.

However, you are implying something more insidious: That one must forbid people to share software in order to make money writing it. This is obviously false, with many counterexamples. In particular, there is a company which is mostly writing the Gnu ADA compiler which is reportedly making money hand over fist. If one were to assume that this (or variants of it) is possible in all fields of software, then there is no good excuse for forbidding sharing of software, which does some demonstrable harm.


Let us talk when things like Google search and Watson are built from scratch for free. If sharing the source code for Google does no harm, why have they not done it?

Another radical example: Github. Why is the source for Github not open or free? Why are they not sharing that with us? Surely a company so invested in open (and to a large extent free) software must know better right?


I would argue that some free software projects can be compared to Google search and Watson.

Sharing the source to Google would be better for society, but a bit bad for Google, and since Google decides, they are deciding not to. The same goes for Github. It’s the collective action problem.


You have good intentions that are not realistic. Your model would work if everyone is selfless, honest and moral. Everyone has to be a perfect moral machine.

More concretely: free software always mimics commercial software badly after someone takes risk building it. No free software is comparable to Google or Watson in both technical capability and market results. They need 100s to 1000s of PhDs working full time. These PhDs have already slaved off in academia for years.

If software should not be treated as property, nothing else should be!


I think you are projecting; what is my "model"? Why would it fail?

> free software always mimics commercial software badly

One could argue against this, but let’s assume that it is true. Does this have anything to do with the necessity of allowing software makers to forbid the sharing of software? Are you arguing that it is impossible to make money with software which is not forbidden to share, when lots of people are doing it today?

Let’s say the world stopped allowing ideas and other non-rivalrous goods to be considered property. Would the world still need software? Yes. Would the world still need people to write software? Yes. Would the world be willing to pay people to write software they need? Obviously yes.


>One could argue against this, but let’s assume that it is true.

Hmm. It is true. Which free software are people using to search more than Google search? Which free software won Jeopardy?

> Are you arguing that it is impossible to make money with software which is not forbidden to share, when lots of people are doing it today?

I never said that. But forcing people to give up their software would result in a bleak Soviet like future for all of us.

>Let’s say the world stopped allowing ideas and other non-rivalrous goods to be considered property.

Then why should anything else be considered property? Are you not denying my right to enjoy land that you claim to own?


> forcing people to give up their software

Well, I never said anything about any such thing, so I’m not sure which strawman you are arguing with. If you think I implied it, please show it, and be more explicit in your reasoning.

> Then why should anything else be considered property?

Because those are rivalrous goods. There is a difference, and I would suggest you look it up before treating them all the same.


> Well, I never said anything about any such thing, so I’m not sure which strawman you are arguing with. If you think I implied it, please show it, and be more explicit in your reasoning.

What is the negation of the statement below?

> Does this have anything to do with the necessity of allowing software makers to forbid the sharing of software?

> Because those are rivalrous goods. There is a difference, and I would suggest you look it up before treating them all the same.

I know what rivalrous goods are. What on God's earth makes them so special and different from non-rivalrous goods?

You are not born with a piece of land attached to your neck. Only a piece paper with words and ideas says so. Who says one should be entitled to anything permanently? If you have a rivalrous good X, why not use it only for Y years and give it to the public for the common good?

The whole idea that you own a piece of a rivalrous good is an unnatural and a relatively new social construct just like intellectual property and ownership of ideas. It is a good solution when we are confronted with scarce resources (land, ideas, software).

Once again, there is no "rivalrous good fairy" granting them special rights. We decided to so as the other option was barbarianism and anarchy.


(Let’s not discuss rivalrous goods; they are not relevant to the question at hand.)

> What is the negation of the statement below?

I don’t understand what you mean. The text below is a question, not a statement.

Software is not a scarce resource; once it has been created, it can be easily defined as non-scarce. And before it has been created, if there is sufficient need for it, someone will pay to have it created.

> why not use it only for Y years and give it to the public for the common good?

Well, some people think this would be a good idea. Other people call those people “communists” and/or “anarchists”. So, the question is hotly debated, but also, for our purposes, irrelevant. We are debating the property or non-property status of ideas, information and software.

> I know what rivalrous goods are. What on God's earth makes them so special and different from non-rivalrous goods?

[…]

> We decided to [grant them special rights] as the other option was barbarianism and anarchy.

And this is exactly why rivalrous goods are different. We have (most of us) decided that we agree they need to be granted “property” status.

However, I do not think that defining software, ideas or other information as a non-ownable non-property would be “barbarianism and anarchy”. If you think so, please elaborate.


> Software is not a scarce resource; once it has been created, it can be easily defined as non-scarce. And before it has been created, if there is sufficient need for it, someone will pay to have it created.

Ummm...creation is not a trivial process. As I said before, there is no software fairy creating new software. Who decides what is the proper compensation for creation? The creators! Not some political goon.

> And this is exactly why rivalrous goods are different. We have (most of us) decided that we agree they need to be granted “property” status.

Um... software has the same legal rights as land. So there is no difference.

Just because X is different from Y in aspect A does not mean we should treat X differently in all aspects from Y.

>However, I do not think that defining software, ideas or other information as a non-ownable non-property would be “barbarianism and anarchy”. If you think so, please elaborate.

We won't devolve into anarchy, but we will devolve into Soviet-style bleakness.


The creators of software, ideas and information do decide the price of their services. The “political goons” decide, however, if the software, ideas and information itself, once created, should possess the status of property.

I am arguing the side that claims that these non-rivalrous goods like software, ideas and information should be changed to no longer be considered property and have owners. I have demonstrated that there are compelling arguments why their status as property has downsides, and why eliminating their being owned should, at least, have no appreciable downsides, and could potentially be a boon to all society. You, however, seem to argue that since software, ideas and information are legally considered property (at least some of them, some of the time, in different forms), they are property. But this would be assuming that the law is correct, and you can’t do that, since this is the question to be resolved.

I would still like to know why and how we will “devolve into Soviet-style bleakness” if software and ideas would no longer be granted property status. As a comparison, you could look at the clothing industry. There are no ownerships of patterns or designs there, but the industry continue to be needed and people are still paid to produce clothes. The odd cases of illegal copies you hear about are about trademark law, i.e. things fraudulently claiming to be a particular brand, but this is an issue of fraud and consumer protection against low-quality knockoffs, not a design or pattern property issue, since the designs of clothes are not property.


Nobody dies because their clothing did not have a particular pattern.


Yes? Isn’t that an argument for my side of this debate, rather than yours? Please elaborate.


What's your definition of 'need'?

If your belief system relies on not compensating other people's hard work, then it is destroying the social fabric of society.

By not acknowledging software as property, you are entrenching the power of those who control other forms of property. We can make software through our own efforts, but we cannot make land, or other natural resources.

You may wish to trade your time to provide support for free software to powerful corporations, but that seems like a grim vision of what's possible for humanity.


> What's your definition of 'need'?

You're being weird. I'm using the word in its normal sense.

> If your belief system relies on not compensating other people's hard work, then it is destroying the social fabric of society.

Work does not intrinsically need to be compensated. The world does not owe you a living. It is up to you to do work that actually deserves compensation. It will not do to complain that everyone is using your work in ways you did not intend; it is for you to find a business model which takes the actions of people into account.

It is also your duty as a member of society to engage in actions which does not, on the whole, damage society.

> By not acknowledging software as property, you are entrenching the power of those who control other forms of property

Perhaps. But this does not leave you destitute; property is not the only form of wealth. You have the ability to work, which you can sell. You do not need to go the roundabout way of working to create software, and then create this constructed form of property so you can sell this new form of “property”. You can just as easily sell your labor directly.


The normal sense of 'need' is that a person will die without something. You might be thiking of the word 'want'.

You keep saying 'the world does not owe you a living' as though it means something relevant to this discussion.

What gives you the right to decide what duties and actions damage society? I think you are damaging society by trying to destroy developers rights over the software they create.


The normal sense of ‘need’ is as in “I’m going shopping, I need milk.”.

What does and does not damage society is certainly open for discussion. But when you frame it as “developers’ rights over the software they create” you are presupposing the conclusion. Why should ideas and other non-rivalrous goods be considered property? If I “own” an idea that you have a copy of, why should this give me power over you?


So by need you mean "want".

I said nothing about ideas. That is a straw man.

I am not presupposing the conclusion. I recognize that developer's rights are artificial. I also recognize that money is artificial as are all property rights.

The reason software as a non-rivalrous good should be considered property is because we value the creative output of individuals, and recognize that it takes individual time and investment to add value to the world through this art. In doing so, we are valuing and incentivizing creativity and ingenuity rather than clock hours of work.

Price competition can take care of making the fruits of this creativity widely available to those who want it.


> we value the creative output of individuals

This all sounds good, but it is very theoretical. Let’s look at the more practical effects. As noted by many, the fact that the creative output of individuals can currently be owned has rather large drawbacks. So what do we gain to potentially offset these drawbacks? Note that these gains would have to be things we would actually lose if creative output of individuals would cease to have property status. Finally, are these gains large enough to overcome the drawbacks?

Furthermore, there are many who argue that, should the creative output of individuals cease to have limits on their dissemination and use, society would gain more than enough to offset any potential drawback of this. It could also be argued that the cost would be entirely transitional, i.e. people would have to get used to new business models and move to different ways of doing business, and there would be otherwise no actual continuous loss by making the creative output of individuals non-owned.


This isn't meaningful - you have simply affirmed the consequent: "As noted by many, the fact that the creative output of individuals can currently be owned has rather large drawbacks."

I know this is your belief, but you haven't offered any argument to support it.

You also dismissed what I said out of hand, with the phrase 'This all sounds good but it's theoretical', which is also false on the face of it since it is the current state of affairs and has produced tangible results.

I know what you believe. I just don't think you have a coherent argument for it.


There are large collections of drawbacks; books have been written about it. The two I can remember the name of are “Against Intellectual Monopoly” (http://www.dklevine.com/general/intellectual/againstfinal.ht...) and “The Case for Copyright Reform” (http://www.copyrightreform.eu/).

I would rather not argue specifics, but instead get you and people in general to understand what the argument is, and to get people to honestly investigate whether the cost is worth the drawbacks.

I called your reply “theoretical” because it talked about principles, not about what society would gain or lose with any available options, without which no cost-benefit analysis can be made. Are you wedded to the idea that the principle should outweigh all downsides in this case? How much would you be willing for this principle to cost society?


Have you not considered the possibility that many people here actually do already understand what the argument is, and have already investigated the costs and drawbacks for themselves?

If so, it seems as though you're simply hiding a position that you're not willing to defend.


I sincerely doubt they have done so with the same thoroughness as in the references I gave. Anyway, the original question (which started this thread) was by cscurmudgeon: “I am curious. Can you be more specific? If I am making my living writing software, and if you buy a copy of it and make it available to potential customers, why is it immoral to ask you not to do so?” I was not, I think, disingenuous in laying out the argument for people who, similarly to cscurmudgeon, had not grasped the argument for the other side.


> If I have a copy of some information or software, and I can easily copy it to my friend, and my friend needs it, why should I deny him?

How about if you promised not to do that in your acceptance of the license agreement?

Your friends "need" isn't necessarily a valid claim on the fruits of the software authors labor. (A "need" for software? Come on.) It might make a very compelling argument that the author should choose to gift a copy to your friend, or offer an educational version (as many do), but I can't see the logic that a need is a valid claim, moral or otherwise, on someone else's work.


Lets put this into concrete examples. Let say there is a kid who want to learn physics, and I got study software that the child needs. However, the license agreement say I can't. The child could maybe, in theory, reconstruct the necessary experiments or read about them in the library.

Or let say that a cab driver see a child who missed the buss back home. However, the cab drivers contract says he is not allowed to pick up passages who can't pay. Without the drive back home, the child need to walk several miles.

This is what people call moral dilemmas. To help a child, or to follow the contract.


You could buy a second copy of the software for the child. You saw enough value in it to consider letting them use it and you saw enough value to buy it for yourself. Either you consider the asking price fair for what it delivers or you don't. If you don't think it's a fair price then you can either write something yourself for them or spend your own time helping them learn.

There's no dilemma preventing you from helping the child.


So someone should go to university and study to become a programmer, and in several years into the future when the child has grown up, you might be able to reproduce the program? Could you provide a more straw'ish argument?

It is possible that you can spend money to buy a new copy, in the same way that the cab driver could "pay" his employer the drive the child home. However, anyone who sees the child could also spend the money for the cab. Is the argument here that they are all equally moral bankrupt when they child end up walking all those miles home? Does it matter that the cab driver was driving in that direction anyway?

Many people around the world can say that they are helping children to become the best they can be. Someone who refuse sharing can not. Which one are you?


> You could buy a second copy of the software for the child.

This is a “let them eat cake” response. All problems could be solved if one assumes endless resources.

Also, you are assuming the software is still for sale. Perhaps it never was on sale; perhaps it’s a student-only edition provided by an institution. The point is: There are two choices: Obey the restriction the owner has decided and deny your help, or help the child and break your promise to obey the restrictions.


> How about if you promised not to do that in your acceptance of the license agreement?

I could do that, and then the ethical burden would fall on me to motivate why society would benefit more from my use of the software than it would benefit everyone I would potentially deny to receive a copy of it.

But, the way you phrase it (“claim on the fruits of the software authors labor”) presupposes that it is property, and a rivalrous one at that. However, software is a non-rivalrous good, and whether it should be considered property is the question we are debating.



A club good is simply an excludable non-rivalrous good. In this Internet age it is increasingly hard to maintain the illusion of the excludability of bits.


It is relatively effective. Most people don't pirate things because it's illegal. Especially corporations are less likely to pirate software because of the serious legal consequences.


Note that I said bits, not only software. Most everyone has their music collection. Also, in regards to software, show me an average person who hasn’t had a pirated version of, say, Photoshop or MS Office. Even in business office settings it is, I am given to understand, very common.

Also, does a mere legal barrier suffice to make something an excludable good? Could you turn, for example, the observing of the Statue of Liberty into an excludable good merely by passing a law mandating that only those allowed may observe it?


The World. It doesn't work that way and neither does the vast majority of commercial software despite what you "want".


Your Words. They do not make sense and you are quoting things I did not write despite what you “believe”.


The world wouldn't magically be better off without copyright, in fact it would be much worse as there would be little investment in producing it. Bill Gates wrote software and other people voluntarily chose to use it instead of something free. If you can do a better job for free then nothing is preventing you.


That's certainly pushing it too far. His "I don't recall" crap (and the downright lying in the judge's face) in 1998 threw the web a decade back. And that's just one horrible thing of many he did to technology.


people can change too. its not impossible. i really do believe in this case that Bill Gates' heart is in the right place.


If you are "sure" he means well when he says this, how is it pushing anything even slightly?


What can I do? I have a bachelor's degree in mathematics...mostly useless, I suppose. Been writing software professionally for 15 years. I've always wondered how can I make the jump, and contribute as a reasonably skilled and experienced developer (as opposed to in a scientific capacity, as a biologist could; bioinformatics analysis, etc. Although I'm kind of interested in that, too).


Many of the most promising potential routes to solving the hardest biology problems are heavily maths and software dependent. We use high-throughput techniques to generate a lot of data of different types, then use mathematical insights and computational power to reduce the data, then more maths and machine learning to extract meaning.

That maths degree probably means, at the least, that you're comfortable learning graph theory, combinatorics, discrete optimisation, probability theory, etc. These things are the foundation of systems and computational biology.

The software development skills are also sorely needed - a huge proportion of computational biology software is unusable outside of the lab that developed it, and well-engineered software underpins a LOT of successful research. Many great ideas go wasted due to lack of good programmers to implement them properly.

I would say there are two ways in:

1. Stay in your current job, and do hobby work collaborating with scientists to write scientific FOSS and publish it. If you're interested in this, I have a long list of ideas.

2. Transition to science - get a job in a bio lab or at a computational biology/genomics institute. Depending on the specific problem you want to work on and where in the world you are, I can suggest places.

Probably 1, then 2 would be a good idea.


Yeah. I have or could reacquire comfort with those topics.

I live in the Boulder, Colorado area, and I've even applied recently for a job at a biotech firm. There are plenty around here. Only saw that one job opening, though.

Beyond that, I just don't have the vision or lack the key insight on where to go or what to do next. That's where your item (1) would come into play, I suppose. I need to be guided. It's a difficult position to be in. I'm basically saying "I have skills and want to contribute, but need a step by step guide, and probably continuing guidance along the way, before I can contribute anything valuable."


I feel like there are probably a lot of people in that position. I'll write up some ideas and post them.


Great! Thanks.


I've been having fun beginning route 1. Would you be willing to post your list of ideas?


Commenting here so I can find your ideas if you post them, and to say I am also interested.


Could you elaborate more on #1? I'd like to read your list of ideas.


I'll put together a blog post and link back


I work as a computational epidemiologist, and believe me, there's plenty of room for good, committed developers - helping make tools for scientists run better, run faster, and be more accessible to people beyond just the folks that coded them.

Feel free to get in touch with me if you'd like to chat.


Thanks, I'm interested in chatting. No idea how to contact you though, and there doesn't appear to be any contact info associated with your user profile, that I can see.


There is now :)


Fomite - I was going to email you but couldn't see details in your profile. I'd like your input on an idea - could you drop me an email?


I too would be very interested in learning more about how to break in to this type of work. I am a few years out of school with a CS and Math degree, and no clue where to start. I didn't see any contact info in your profile.


Sent!


I was thinking that we need to optimize for growing crops indoors under minimal water and light scenarios. Living in your own apt/led greenhouse. To do this it would be nice to run thousands of experiments to find the optimal conditions, crowd source the variable space. Thoughts?


Instead of trying to build life-supporting systems from the ground-up, look to nature, which had been thriving with no human intervention for thousands of years.

Chemical fertilizer can't come anywhere close to the fertility and output of a rainforest. Look into holistic environmental systems; living soil, the role of fungi and bacteria in the capture and sustained release of nutrients, the role of animals in the growth/death cycle.

The world's food crisis is not caused by a lack of petrochemical distribution, but by the abuse (and thus death) of the soil.


Borneo is going to a lifeless rock in a couple hundred years after they have killed all of their soil from Oil Palm production.

After a plantation is dead from over fertilization, no life will grow. With nothing to hold the soil in place it will wash into the sea.


also food distribution....


Are there any civilizations you're aware of that, after soil rehabilitation, wouldn't have a local source of food? Except for the poles and extreme elevations, this entire planet is well suited for life.


>to develop more efficient crops.

Forgive me, I'm a bit out of my element here: I assume you're talking about "genetically modified foods"? How do you plan on dealing with the anti-GMO doomers? That perspective seems to be pervasive.


I'm relatively pro-GMO for a liberal, but I hang out with a lot of alarmists so I have a sense of their position.

There are some "naturalists" who are just fundamentally against it, but I think a lot of people just don't like that they're so untested. If we can do more long- term studies feeding animals these foods I think you could make inroads with those folks.

Also, though there's nothing inherent about GMOs that encourages pesticide use, in practice many of the existing GMO crops are designed to facilitate heavy use of Roundup, which makes people uncomfortable. Again, because there is limited science about what the long-term effects of that are.

So maybe when you're thinking about GMO research it's good to keep in mind that "research" includes not just development, but testing, which helps address the challenge you raise.


GMOs undergo far more extensive testing than any other type of new crop introduced. The people who don't like GMOs do so b/c they don't like industrial agriculture. GMOs are just the weakest link in industrial Ag to attack.


Is it really necessary to lab test wild (though bred over many years) varieties? It's natural; it worked before we touched it.

The biggest risk GMO has is over-confidence in human science.


It's not really necessary to test any food, but because people are scared of GMOs, we do. Being natural does not imply safety or health.


> Being natural does not imply safety or health.

Definitely agree with you there.

I was speaking to the "tried and true" or "test of time" aspect of traditional crops.


There are small amounts of toxins in every plant. Not enough to cause any real problems, but I doubt you could get them approved if you were to artificially create the exact same thing.


the REAL problem with GMO is this:

someone cross seeds, radiate them, etc... gets a seed that naturally produce a harmless parasite poison. He sacks that. Keep crossing, radiating, sprinkling magic dust, whatever those guys do... now he gets one that is healthy even after being bombarded with some common pesticide. But that common pesticide is public domain. So they keep doing their thing until they get a seed that survives whatever pesticide the company can patent and exclusively distribute. Is it better then the others? well, the pesticide to not have been patented have to use weird stuff that is probably carcinogen (good reason to not have been patented before) and the nutrients is probably worse than the others... but if they sack the research on the others nobody would have that option. anyway, i'm tired of typing. but you get the idea.


Who is we and what sort of playing is needed?


Click his handle, check the profile.


This sort of thing is in fact exactly what I've been doing for the last year. (Took a widely used, but no longer maintained, program and sped/scaled up the important parts by 2-3+ orders of magnitude; this will soon become the official new version.) I'm looking for other high-impact optimization opportunities, so if you've got any problems which currently require supercomputers but you have a nagging suspicion that they shouldn't, that nagging feeling is probably right and I'd love to hear from you.


Hey, I'd love to talk. I have a list of exactly such problems. No contact details in your profile, but please feel free to email me or let me know how to contact you.


Hey Blahah, I'm an undergraduate in Biophysics at a highly regarded US university. I have a few years of experience in coding, bioinformatics, computational biology, and wet lab research. I find the Cambridge Plant Sciences department's work really interesting- are there any summer programs or internships for foreign undergrads ongoing there, or any that you know of in the same field at another university?


Hey, email me - address is in my profile.


>it was a previous article of Bill's that made me want to become a scientist

I'm sorry that you had to take inspiration from a lowly businessman to become a scientist. That man was against open source software just a decade ago.


I didn't have to - it was just chance :). Regardless of what he did to make his money, he's spent more of it on trying to make the world a better place than anyone in history. I'm not ashamed to take inspiration from him.


Can you provide more information about how we can help? I'm interested in hearing more.


I'm working on a way to scalably allow good coders to get involved. In the meantime, please feel free to email me.


How can I help? Email me: davedx@gmail.com :)


Do you accept remote devs? :)


check, check, no check for me. Where is the link to the data?


The most interesting data is not yet public (and I'm not in a position to make it so). But feel free to email me if you'd like to talk.


"Wars are becoming less frequent."

He wrote, as we approach the centenary of The War To End All Wars.

No one with an appreciation of human history would write such a thing. Nor would they imagine that the technological innovations between us and that war have been marginally more important than those in the century proceeding WW I. The Green Revolution is fine, but it seems hard to believe its productivity improvements outstrip those from the mechanization of agriculture, or the use of railroads to move grain. Polio prevention is awesome, but its gains pale before those from imposing simple sanitation codes and providing clean water.

And perhaps the "salvation through technology" set should reflect on the impact of the addition of mobilization by railroad to the diplomatic problems following the assassination of Ferdinand. Or on the confusion, to horrifying cost, of military and grand strategy by the introduction of the machine gun. The unintended consequences of those innovations, and the complete failure of technology to solve them, made for the costliest and stupidest war to its date.

By all means, pursue better and better technology. But the world's deepest and most serious problems have always been political, and always will be, and will always be beyond resolution by better gadgets.


That's not just a soundbite, it's a measurable fact.

Even when we include the horrors of the world wars, the 20th century had fewer per-capita battle deaths (both civilian and military) than the centuries before it.

The same trend is detectable at decade timescales, and shows that we are still improving since the world wars.

Stephen Pinker's book "The Better Angels of our Nature" goes into the underlying statistics to support these assertions.


Some in the historical and anthropological community are critical of Pinker's approach and statistics:

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/1igscl/what_i...

http://www.reddit.com/r/Anthropology/comments/12gpj0/are_ste...

There are plenty more if you search in

reddit.com/r/askhistorians and reddit.com/r/Anthropology

So i'm not sure this debate is settled yet.


There are two arguments that are presented in both of these comments. The first is that the historic and pre-historic data on violence is incomplete. For this, there is no doubt and Pinker spends a lot of time talking about this. This is true for a vast majority of topics and its unfortunate that there is just a whole host of things we will never be sure about due to the non-existence of preserved evidence.

The second takes issue with his use of per-capita comparisons and suggests that an absolute rate may be a better measure. This is extremely silly and Pinker spends very little time discussing it because it really is absurd to entertain. For one, it implies the only true solution to any violence is massive population control. And two, it negates any comparison to cultural or behavioral change by simply pointing to the population size of the planet. Think of the statement, "Modern medicine has not advanced from the hunter gather days because more people under the age of 40 die every year than did 5000 years ago."

Edit: The second comment brings up a third point that the lower rate of violence does not imply we are better off, and is therefore questioning what we should define as violence. Pinker again readily addresses this issue by explicitly defining the type of violence he is analyzing, physical, and repeatedly stating that these issues are outside the scope of his book.


I don't think your comment is an accurate summary of the the links i posted.

For example, in the first link the author summarizes his long comment: " In short, he's extremely sloppy with his numbers and relies on almost no scholarly sources. I would not accept the type of work he puts in from an undergraduate.". So maybe Pinker does jump to conclusions that not necessary result from the data.

The third point , about how do we define violence is crucially important. I wonder if you counted the homicide rate in nazi germany before wwii or in soviet russia after wwii , you've get much lower numbers than pre-history(per capita). But it's hard to tell with a strait face those are "better" or less violent than pre history.


For example, in the first link the author summarizes his long comment: " In short, he's extremely sloppy with his numbers and relies on almost no scholarly sources. I would not accept the type of work he puts in from an undergraduate.". So maybe Pinker does jump to conclusions that not necessary result from the data.

Is he forgetting that Pinker writes mass-market books, not journal articles?


Even in pop-science books, there's often a list of citations at the end.


Centuries or a single century (20th)? I have no access to the book and I would be interested to see the numbers. It's hard to outdo the 20th century with the jump in the military technologies (starting with the machine gun, the first weapon of mass destruction), and two massive world wars. How, for example, do we compare to the 19th century?


There are quite a few resources on Pinker's website about the work. The FAQ is probably a good place to start: http://stevenpinker.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions-abo...

Here is a direct answer to the question. There's a ton more info on the topic and a huge portion of his book is dedicated to it:

*Wasn’t the 20th century the most violent in history?

Probably not; see chapter 5, especially pp. 189–200. Historical data from past centuries are far less complete, but the existing estimates of death tolls, when calculated as a proportion of the world’s population at the time, show at least nine atrocities before the 20th century (that we know of) which may have been worse than World War II. They arose from collapsing empires, horse tribe invasions, the slave trade, and the annihilation of native peoples, with wars of religion close behind. World War I doesn’t even make the top ten.

Also, a century comprises a hundred years, not just fifty, and the second half of the 20th century was host to a Long Peace (chapter 5) and a New Peace (chapter 6) with unusually low rates of death in warfare.


Thank you! The FAQ is very informative and indeed answers many questions.


Pinker's claim is per capita deaths.

I don't pretend to know if it is the correct measure, but it is at least an interesting measure of the human resources being put to war.


To whoever does not have the book but wants to get a gist of it here is a talk given by Steven Pinker on the subject:

http://edge.org/conversation/mc2011-history-violence-pinker


The claim is usually that inter-state violence has been falling steadily since the end of WWII, the same way that inter-personal violence has been falling since, well, basically since civilization started. He's probably referring to the arguments in this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Better_Angels_of_Our_Nature


How many democracies have started wars against other democracies?

Others have cited Pinker's Better Angels of our Nature, so I won't rehash.

But I couldn't disgree more with your comment that "the world's deepest and most serious problems have always been political, and always will be, and will always be beyond resolution by better gadgets." Technology CAN help. It can't help everything, and I don't think he was claiming that. But if you think your live would have been better in the 14th century, you're insane.


Funny you mentioned that. There is a wiki on this!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_between_democracie...

My favourite example is Finland v. Allies in WW2.


If we define democracy as liberal, pluralistic democracies with a respected constitution, then that list shrinks dramatically.


Inhabited solely, of course, by True Scotsmen.


Not really. When people say 'democracy', they generally mean modern states with universal suffrage. They don't mean to encompass "ancient greek states where only wealthy native men could vote" nor "enlightenment-era Polish noble republics". In this argument, I find that it's the people who claim any system that has more than one voter to be a 'democracy' as the ones bringing in the semantic ambiguity.

The spirit of the argument "there is no(t much) war between democracies" is that "when everyone gets a say, they generally don't choose to march off to war". Given the spirit of the argument, to then define democracy as forms of government with quite limited voter eligibility, is somewhat intentionally missing the point.


> "Wars are becoming less frequent."

> He wrote, as we approach the centenary of The War To End All Wars.

The diminishing in size and frequency of armed conflict is either evidence that we'll have less destruction due to war in the future, or more destruction due to war in the future. It's not clear to me what model predicts more war, when observing less war--can you explain under what circumstances your model would predict less war?


To reduce technology to gadgets (even if just hyperbolically) is just wrong and condescending.

Good luck solving the political problems of our day without technology to help.

I don't think anyone is arguing that technology alone will solve our most pressing problems, but you seem to take offense in that straw man. Do note that BMG is also focused on education (which to many is a good way to solve many political problems) and talks about influencing political decisions (noting that politicians are often risk averse, so that showing the way and reducing the risk with intelligent investments is another way to help).


Yes. Those damn peasants moved around too much thanks to this new fanlged railroad, and caused the war! Brilliant.

Here's the funny part: your claim may even have some validity. But increased mobility is a very good thing, in the long run. I would argue that we need much more of it. I acknowledge it can cause problems in the short term, especially when there are very large differences in living conditions. But as the poverty rates in different areas slowly converge, I think this will become less of a problem.


I agree with the point I think you intend to make, but I think you're going about making the point really badly.

Yes, the issues of the world are political. But demonizing technology doesn't help. Pointing out that technology didn't fix the problem would be a more reasonable way to make your point than "look how technology was used to make things worse".


I'm pretty thoroughly pro-technology. It leverages human behavior, and people are generally trying to do something positive, so technology is generally a positive. But it can and does amplify negative behaviors. More importantly, it is orthogonal to a large and dangerous set of human problems. I think Gates' piece dramatically overstates just how much can be hoped for from technology, and shows a disturbing ignorance of some important basic problems.


Give the original poster some credit. He's obviously not a luddite, he's just trying to push through the popular self-delusion that getting a big job, making money, and donating to charity can actually make a difference.


> "40 percent of Earth’s population is alive today because, in 1909, a German chemist named Fritz Haber figured out how to make synthetic ammonia."

More people living doesn't necessarily mean people living better lives. In a finite world with limits to growth, relaxing one bottleneck only leads to the next bottleneck.

(I use the term limits to growth in reference to the book Limits To Growth -- http://joshuaspodek.com/the_best_book_on_the_environment_eco... -- which strongly informs my perspective and I recommend to others as particularly relevant here. It offers a systems perspective -- http://joshuaspodek.com/systems-perspective-population -- necessary to create effective strategies to help everyone in the context of a finite planet.)

Reducing suffering caused by disease undoubtedly improves people's lives, but increasing the population without the ability to provide everyone resources doesn't. We know that simply having enough resources for everyone doesn't mean everyone will get enough resources. How we distribute resources matters and that's a social issue, not technical. Trying to solve social issues with technology doesn't work that well. Changing social patterns is much harder. Capitalism is great at increasing the pie, but poor at distributing it to those without capital.

I applaud his optimism and support for reducing suffering from disease and supporting education. I suspect he's helping create a world with similar fraction of people suffering versus happy, just more of them. And accelerating toward limits to growth, some of which we can't overcome with technology.

(If you challenge the belief that the planet has limits to growth or even that we're near any, I recommend the excellent blog "Do the Math" -- http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/post-index -- which looks at physical consequences to growth by a Caltech-trained physicist. I also recommend it if you like reading thoughtful, intelligent blogs by knowledgeable people who do the math behind what they talk about.)


This is glib Malthusianism. Population in the developing world is growing, but metrics for quality of life are improving --- we're eradicating disease, reducing malnutrition, enrolling students, and starting to enable bottom-up markets. The limits your comment refers to are abstract, even hypothetical, while the progress being made is concrete. "Better lives"? Polio: bad. Freedom from polio: better.


It's not just glib Malthusianism, it's neo-colonialism. It's paternalism and cultural superiority in green clothing.

In short: it's bullshit.

Oh, the poor little wogs, they lead such brutal lives, it's so sad that there are so many of them, if only there were fewer of them the world would be a better place. This is the sub-text that I see underlying these comments. It's "surplus population" crap yet again.

These are people. People with dreams and ambitions. People with lives and families. People who are capable of amazing things if given a chance. They're not just grubby uneducated unwashed masses. These are folks who will build the world of the 21st century, who will help lift their own countries out of poverty. These are people who will build fusion reactors, and space ships, and nano-technology. People who will cure cancer, create art, and music, and literature. They don't need people who think that they are wastes of resources, all they need is a chance, and just enough help to start building their own futures.


Well said. We shouldn't forget that the "Western World" (Europe, North America, Australia, Japan) makes up a tiny percentage of the world's population, yet it's consumption of resources (or "ecological footprint") far outstrips the rest of the planet.

On the question of population growth, families are getting smaller across the globe. If you're in the UK, I recommend this excellent programme presented by Hans Rosling.

Don't Panic: The truth about population http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03h8r1j

From the programme description: "With seven billion people already on our planet, we often look to the future with dread, but Rosling's message is surprisingly upbeat. Almost unnoticed, we have actually begun to conquer the problems of rapid population growth and extreme poverty."

Rosling is, of course, a well-known statistician so he actually presents his conclusions based on real data.


As an antithesis to the affirmative chorus to you comment--human life is essentially and effectively worthless. An excessive number of human individuals inhabiting the planet leads to ecological catastrophe. That we successfully circumnavigated Maltus' predicted calamities for a couple of centuries does not mean we'll be able to do that forever.


> Anyone that is a fan of Bill Gates cannot also be a fan of humanity unfortunately.

What utter nonsense. If you want people to take your opinions seriously, you should start having opinions that aren't obviously wrong.


Did you reply to the wrong comment? I think the one you want is a few lines down :-)


Haha, indeed I did. Not sure how I managed to quote it but then hit the wrong reply link. I'd suspect a bug but that seems quite unlikely.


I dance inside at your poetry of anger - please recieve this paltry karma point as it is meant - as a gift of a thousand.


I think you are missing the point. Imagine you magically added 20 billion more people to the planet overnight. They would still all be individuals with dreams and ambitions, and so on. But that wouldn't stop the fact there is no way we could support them all.

I don't think surplus population is the issue (in the present) because we do have enough resources for everyone. At least to give everyone a decent standard of living if not a first world one. And the way population growth is declining I don't think it will become a problem. Not the real problem anyways.

However yours is a terrible argument against overpopulation fears. It is possible for there to be too many people for the world to support, regardless what you think of them as individuals.


Agree. I will start believing in their sincerity once they are able to control their insatiable greed for consumption.


The population can be reduced via attrition, allowing everyone currently alive to be deserving of a great life.


Which is exactly what happens when poverty and disease go down and education up.


I am fairly sure equality may factor in to your equation.


This.

Bill Gates is a massive investor in Monsanto, if you are naive you might think Bill Gates is a saint. He is really just a globalist with an extremely stubborn perspective of the future.

Think of his contributions to IT: Proprietary software.

Anyone that is a fan of Bill Gates cannot also be a fan of humanity unfortunately.


Bill does both good and bad. He gets a lot less hero worship than Jobs, despite

a) bringing affordable / usable home computing to the majority (something I usually see Jobs credited with)

b) using a large amount of his vast wealth for good causes (I never heard of Jobs doing anything).


Jobs said he believed he could make a greater impact on the world by working at Apple than by using his time to organize charities. Given the title of his essay, Gates seems to agree.

Several parties have said Jobs donated to causes, but would often do so anonymously. Known is that he donated to the Democratic Party and to cancer research.

As for Gates: he is once again the richest person in the world. He could give away half of his wealth and he would still be in the top 6. Let’s not think too long about how he amassed his fortune, but I’ll give one example: under his leadership at Microsoft, he ’gave away’ tens of millions of Windows licenses to schools, so that kids would grow up being used to using Windows. It was presented as charity and Microsoft received tax benefits from doing so.


Thankfully, the situation is much more nuanced than you describe. If you are naive, you might think blanket statements are adequate descriptions of the situation.


Bill Gates is a massive investor in Monsanto

I take it you aren't a fan of GMO foods then? If so, then you are wrong. I'll leave it to former anti-GMO activist Mark to make that argument[1].

If you are talking about their business practices, then generally I agree with you. I can understand the point of view of people who think otherwise, though. I think people who agree with Monsanto's view are wrong, but that is a disagreement about methods, not outcomes.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/mar/09/mark-lyna...


Thats an interesting link. I've felt the same about left-wing activists - paying lip service to tolerance, while being very close minded in reality. Doesn't mean I agree with nuclear power and GMOs, but I respect anyone who bases his arguments on scientific reasoning.


Mark Lynas's quips against Herman Daly make me strongly question Lynas's credibility.

GMOs present numerous issues. Proprietary interest in seed corn and yet another usurpation of privileges by corporate interests are a key issue. It's not intrinsic to GMO, but it's quite the extant problem. Genetic drift is another. Encouraging use of pesticides (through resistance).

And ultimately, they don't address the root issue: humans have to live within ecological limits.


What does the body of your post have to do with the post you're replying to?

Also: oh boy, Monsanto = evil, haha.


100% agree. And I think it's important to talk about the late stages of demographic transition. As we urbanize, birth rate goes down. This has happen in many countries, including Japan, Italy, Germany and Sweden. Some of them even have the opposite problem, of population going down too fast!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_transition


Agreed. As another example, Singapore has such problems with birth rate that they need to have huge immigration just to maintain a stable population.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore#Demographics


I hope you're right. Or at least, I hope the changes you describe aren't just a blip. My worry is that the QOL improvements you cite seem largely based on depletion of capital stocks: Fossil fuel reserves, topsoil, fish stocks, aquifers, forests, uncultivated land are all being used far beyond their replenishment rates

What if all the progress we've built is not built on any solid foundation? How much of our QOL boosts are based on actual increases in carrying capacity vs. capital drawdown? What happens when we run out of capital and built a system dependent on it's continual usage?


I have a friend who is a Bill Gates type capitalist and a hopeless optimist. He argues that when/if we deplete some limited resource companies will engineer a way around it. Fossil fuel reserve gone? Well that's a good incentive to invent fusion power. Topsoil gone barren? So that's the queue to finally get around to develop those replicators. Too much CO2 to be able to breathe? So let's find and switch that gene that will allow us to breathe CO2.

The reasoning is that capitalism can solve EVERY problem that it creates, but not until that problem is right up in it's face (because you know, capitalism is so short sighted, which incidentally is not a bad thing, just an odd trait).

So we wait and hope that the capitalists are right, which they of course aren't, but then they'll say they're sorry and we will feel good again.


How often Malthusions say:

OOPS, we are sorry, our predictions did not pan out. Good that we didnt follow our own conclusions because life would have been so much worse and it was not necessary.


How many times do Freudians, physicists, socialists, economists, biologists, say "we are sorry, our predictions did not pan out."

I'm a Popperian. When the facts (best available science) changes, I change my opinions. Also known as "science".

Whatever their faults, the Malthusians made predictions. To be debated, validated, debunked. Far more useful than the techno utopian unverifiable views of the libertarian ostriches.


Just because a ship misses an iceberg doesn't mean that spotting the iceberg was a waste of time.


It's not capitalism per se but technology is increasing at an arguably exponential rate. The problems we have and worry about now simply might not be relevant to the future. Someone develops a really efficient battery next year allowing for effective electric cars, and suddenly we are laughing at the people who thought global warming would be an issue.

And capitalism isn't that bad. If a resource is running out, people can predict that decades in advance and have strong incentive to conserve it or invest in replacements. The price gradually rises over many years giving the world time to adapt, it doesn't just disappear overnight.


There is nothing abstract (or debatable) about ocean acidification, forests burning, desertification, thawing tundra, depleted aquifers, etc.

Malthusianism is correct in a closed system. Predictions of doom and gloom are as of yet unfulfilled because humans are clever and find new pockets of resources to exploit.

Do you believe our Earth is a closed system or an open system?

Malthusianism is incorrect in that they did not foresee ever increasing productivity leading to costs approaching zero. So reaching many limits has been postponed (e.g. peak oil is an economic issue).

I'm personally optimistic. We're in a bear race. I hope and work towards a sustainable economic model. Trivially, that means decoupling economic growth from resource consumption. I hope it happens.

But don't pretend the current situation is anything but dire. A positive outcome is far from certain.


The basic physics give us a lot of headroom.

* Earth is not a closed system, it receives an enormous influx of energy from the sun

* We are no where close to using even a fraction of that potential, or using too much of it, most of our energy use is in the form of digging up time-compressed solar energy.

* We are enormously wasteful in manufacturing, no where close to what can be achieved according to the laws of physics

* Life itself shows you that you can manufacture or an enormous quantity of material and continue to recycle it sustainable over eons. So while our current manufacturing techniques cannot sustainably scale forever, there's no fundamental reason why we can't have a manufacturing ecosystem that works more like a biological one

* Matter is neither created nor destroyed by our industrial processes, only rearranged. We benefitted by digging up low-entropy material filtered and concentrated by slow geological/biological processors, but again, there is no proof that we cannot, in an energy efficient manner, recover the used material. Whether through bio-technology or nanotechnology.

The basic premise that man is clever and keeps finding ways to postpone the Malthusian bombs is correct, but it's not just because we keep finding new pockets of resources to exploit, it's because we are getting more efficient at using those resources.

Not to mention the fact that the assumption that GDP growth is equal to manufacturing or population growth is wrong. The math allows value of goods and services to go up even as amount of energy, people, or raw materials used goes down.

We have clear challenges, and we should be scared enough to invest in them heavily. But if you're not a techno-optimist, that we will find ways to address and improve these issues without throwing away our entire style of life, and instead thing the world is going to renounce the last 300 years in favor of a return to life before the industrial revolution, you're backing a set of policies that will never succeed.

As I see it, if collapse is coming, only our smarts are going to save us, not a retreat.


> but it's not just because we keep finding new pockets of resources to exploit, it's because we are getting more efficient at using those resources.

There's something called "Jevon's Paradox". It asserts that increases in efficiency (via technology) increases consumption rather than decreases.


As I said, we're in a bear race. Can we switch to renewaable energies, and mitigate the atmospheric CO2 buildup, before catastrophe wipes the current era's slate clean?

And no, I'm not a Luddite. The only way is forward. Full speed. Any hesitation means humanity loses.


> There is nothing abstract (or debatable) about

The extent and degree of risk each poses to our life are debatable.

> Do you believe our Earth is a closed system or an open system?

The sun being a source of massive amounts of ongoing energy puts it squarely into open system territory in my opinion. Also, the human brain's ability to learn and build tools to improve upon what we are given by nature, as well as the ability for society to work together for common goals also to me distinguishes us from a classic closed system.

> But don't pretend the current situation is anything but dire. A positive outcome is far from certain.

These two sentences seem contradictory to me. I don't see anything particularly dire about our current state of affairs at all. Certainly we could be far better stewards of the planet, but I see very little that indicates a "positive outcome" (depending on your definition I suppose) is unlikely. At some point we may push the earth beyond its carrying capacity in certain areas, at which point we can simply shift to something else. Where I can agree is, some things are more important than others. If we lost the means of our current mass produced agriculture for example, we'd have to make some very serious lifestyle changes very quickly. But life would go on, and it may even be more fulfilling in some ways.


> I don't see anything particularly dire about our current state of affairs at all.

Misremembering, but there's a Soviet era quote about being 3 days away from revolt. People need to eat.

Yes, Life (sic) will find a way. But governments are far more brittle. Should we (humanity) experience food riots, things will get very bad very quickly.


Being constantly 3 days away from a revolt if we somehow had all our stored food stocks vanish isn't what I'd call a dire situation, considering most countries have been living under this state for a very long time. The only way to eliminate this highly unlikely possibility is for everyone to grow their own food, not exactly a recipe for a high standard of living. Personally, I'll gladly accept the risk associated with our present food supply mechanism and mitigate risks accordingly (my family could easily live for well over a month on the food stored in my pantry.)


Please name one country with severe chronic food security where you'd choose to live.

Food won't vanish, like poof. It's about the disruption. That's when "normal" channels drys up and food is only available thru the black market. During a famine, there's always plenty of food. But the speculators withhold supply and the consumers don't have enough cash. (Note that I said cash, vs credit or savings.)

That's when people starve. That's when civil society (law and order) breaks down.


Have we changed the subject? I was disputing the general assertion "don't pretend the current situation is anything but dire" to which you replied that at any time we (anyone, I presumed) are 3 ways away from revolt due to lack of food. Certainly there are regions in the world where the food supply is more tenuous than others, but in those cases it has nothing to do with environment and everything to do with politics and corruption.

I'm all for fixing corruption and increasing transparency of governance worldwide, including here at home.


Have we changed the subject?

Perhaps. I've been accused of having a random free association narrative most of the time. :)

We seem largely on the same page about the challenges. So we're cool. I'm far more pessimistic than most people. For instance, I believe we're already way past the tipping point on climate change, per the opinions of the experts, and most people aren't there yet.


Agreed. Don't know what it is, but I see this kind of comment all the time on HN, Slashdot, and the like, but rarely encounter it elsewhere.


The only other place I've encountered it was high school social studies.


You can look at the ICD9 to ICD10 transition we are finally making. ICD9 is 30 years old. The ICD codes can basically be used for classifying mortality. Polio is one of the first codes on the ICD9 list. I believe its rank had to do with the amount of people it killed. Thankfully, it is no longer #1 on the list.

There is an interesting Ted talk on this: http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_reveals_new_insights_o...


Oh come on that does not even make sense.

  >>> More people living doesn't necessarily mean people 
  living better lives. In a finite world with limits to  
  growth, relaxing one bottleneck only leads to the next  
  bottleneck.
Its not that people think gosh I have 1000 more calories, I will have another child, its that without those 1000 calories either the mother dies before or during pregnancy or the child dies after, of starvation.

Granted there are now lots of other things to kill the child, malaria etc, but I guarantee every single person on HN will rather take the chance of malaria than the certainty of not being born in the first place.

I also guarantee that most of HN places themselves on the "not yet happy" side of the fence, so I find your argument which seems to be "its no good bringing another child into this world, they might not die of starvation but something will get them, and they will never be happy" to fly in the face of, well, millions of years of evolution. We've always been unhappy.

More people is a good thing, more people, and in a world that knows it should use its wealth to provide decent sanitation, opportunities, education, peace and justice, it is an unalloyed good.


> but I guarantee every single person on HN will rather take the chance of malaria than the certainty of not being born in the first place.

Perhaps that's true. But what about kids in all the destitute places on the planet? Using an average HN user as your test case just shows how biased your perspective is. Personally I'd rather not be born than be born in a place where I have a high change of dying of malaria, or dysentery.


Exactly how is it relevant that you would rather not be born than be born in rural poverty? Congratulations. Nobody asked you, or anybody else. Now what?


Perhaps if you dusted off the old reading comprehension you would realize I was responding specifically to the claim that nobody on HN would X. I am someone on HN therefore my counter-point was very relevant.


> Nobody asked you, or anybody else.

Huh? And nobody asked you to reply to his comment. My goodness tptacek, this is a discussion board. Open-ended conversations take place here that drift off to all places. Sometimes they lead to interesting points, sometimes they don't. I see no reason to mock someone for that.


if Tptacek had said "nobody asked you " I would agree. But he said nobody asked you or anyone else. None of us chose to be born, nor born into the circumstances we find ourselves. As we cannot control if we win or lose the lottery of western luxury or extreme poverty, those on the winning side should say "let's fix this" not "well if I was that unlucky I would rather be dead, so why can't they all just die and leave me alone" which is rather the undercurrent I was reading.


> I'd rather not be born than be born in a place where I have a high change of dying of malaria, or dysentery.

Seriously? You prefer a 0% chance, over, say, a 60% chance?

But then I'd jump at the offer of a 4% chance of making it over a 0% chance any day, so I guess it's just a different mindset.


When people say things like this, I wish there really was a god we could invoke and offer these people the opportunity to put their life where their mouth is, put them in front of a god who offers them two buttons: push this one to never exists, or push that one to be born "in a place where I have a high change of dying of malaria, or dysentery" - I'd feel pretty confident betting money most of them would have a sudden change of heart.

EDIT: Come to think of it, if he's correct in his assumption that the non-privileged people of the world would tend to share his opinion, we should expect to see extremely high levels of suicide in these regions should we not?


Suicide is not the same not being born. Why is that concept so hard to grasp?

The whole idea of rather not having been born is specifically because that precludes any of those emotions that make it hard to off yourself no matter how bad your situation is. It also removes the usual arguments against suicide such as impact on your family and friends.


It's not exactly the same. But if the life is so harsh that it's not worth living, more people would commit suicide, at least those with no families.

I'm happy to consider that going through the act of suicide has some additional emotional overhead that could account for a lower rate than we might expect. But, will you consider the possibility that maybe life in a 3rd world country isn't actually so bad that it isn't worth living?


Sure I freely admit that life in a 3rd world country isn't necessarily so horrible that its not worth living. Of course, I'm a bit puzzled where you derived that implication from any of my statements.

My original statement was simply a personal preference that I would choose not to live a life of suffering out of some romantic idea of the nobility of suffering, and that I'm sure there are plenty of people (especially those who end up on the wrong side of the statistics of various diseases) who would agree. It's absurd to think that someone should want to struggle through any sort of adversity for the chance of making it through on the other side. The rationality of this choice would completely depend on the various probabilities involved.

>But if the life is so harsh that it's not worth living, more people would commit suicide, at least those with no families.

This also isn't true. The self-preservation instinct is a powerful force. One can rationally decide that life isn't worth living but still be incapable of actually ending it.


> Sure I freely admit that life in a 3rd world country isn't necessarily so horrible that its not worth living. Of course, I'm a bit puzzled where you derived that implication from any of my statements.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6719288 "Personally I'd rather not be born than be born in a place where I have a high change of dying of malaria, or dysentery."

Maybe it's a nuance of the language, but "rather not be born" and "not worth living" are roughly equivalent in my interpretation.

While life in the 3rd world, or places where you have a high change of dying of malaria, dysentery, etc is not a walk in the park, except for the very worst places people are probably far happier than you imagine. The human spirit is really quite resilient.

At the end of the day, I think we'll both decide to believe what we want on the matter. :)


The 0% chance is simply not existing. The people who fail the 60% chance (or your 4% chance) live lives of pain and misery. Perhaps talk to someone seeking euthanasia about whether life in pain and misery is worth living?


Ok, ask the people who have already decided that, for them, it's not.

But you don't exactly see millions of people offing themselves, so clearly the human spirit survives such adverse conditions?


Dying and never being born are two wildly different things.


Unfortunately it is currently difficult to ask the unborn, so you do one of two things:

1) Rely on their prospective parents decision. To improve the parents decision making you attempt to improve their education and increase access to contraception.

2) Enforce laws about how many children a couple can have.

Most places have followed method (1). China followed method (2) (but also increased education).

Both methods seem to have resulted in dramatically better standards of living in less than a generation, and many people from drastically poor areas have gone on to live fulfilling lives.

Indeed some have accomplished more than I ever will - for example, the greatest distance runner of all time[1] grew up as 1 of 10 children of subsistence farmers during the Ethiopian 83-85 famine[2]. You can't get much deeper in poverty than that, and yet he won 2 Olympic Gold medals, 8 World Championships and broke 27 world records.

I'm unconvinced he would think he should never have been born.

Also - as the linked article shows - it is possible to tackle problems like malaria relatively easily and cheaply, if there is the will for it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haile_Gebrselassie

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983%E2%80%9385_famine_in_Ethi...


>I'm unconvinced he would think he should never have been born.

Yeah... the 1 in a million person is always the wrong person to ask. Perhaps if you asked the millions who have suffered and died if they would have been better off not ever being born, you might get a more meaningful statistic.


> More people is a good thing

A sustainable population is better. There are many indications that the current world population is unsustainable. With the oceans being quickly depleted of fish, for one small example, I doubt that even 2 billion people can survive in the long run. Everyone eating Solyent is not a solution in my book.


I don't think you understood his comment fully. He was not claiming that "people think gosh I have 1000 more calories, I will have another child" it's that with increasing lifespans globally, the population is booming, but the "world that knows it should use its wealth to provide decent sanitation, opportunities, education, peace and justice" doesn't exist anywhere but your head. So the world pop is now 7 billion + but the things needed to keep that population in a good condition are not manifesting.

Essentially we are setting ourselves up for things like massive famines, biological diseases, etc.

It has nothing to do with happiness, and more people means more people suffering.


That's what Erlich said, while people like Borlaug successfully worked the problem.


> but the "world that knows it should use its wealth to provide decent sanitation, opportunities, education, peace and justice" doesn't exist anywhere but your head.

Incorrect, that idea exists in the heads of many people, and many of them are doing something about it.

> the things needed to keep that population in a good condition are not manifesting.

Incorrect. Standard of living is improving for most people.

> Essentially we are setting ourselves up for things like massive famines, biological diseases, etc.

I'm open minded and willing to be convinced, but it will take more than a mere opinion. I don't see anything compelling in the news that even suggests this is likely.

> It has nothing to do with happiness, and more people means more people suffering.

So we shall just ignore happiness, but focus on suffering? Got it.


Here are some good papers, there are lots more, but a small primer on what I am talking about.

Bottom line is this, I was replying to the response to this comment "More people living doesn't necessarily mean people living better lives. In a finite world with limits to growth, relaxing one bottleneck only leads to the next bottleneck." that said "this doesn't even make sense"

I'm showing that it does make some sense, though there is plenty of room for debate. I think too many people misinterpreted his comment for Malthusianism.

Here are a few papers on the matter:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1846696/pdf/brme...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3586590/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1811054/pdf/proc...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1332674/


>Granted there are now lots of other things to kill the child, malaria etc, but I guarantee every single person on HN will rather take the chance of malaria than the certainty of not being born in the first place.

Actually no. More people isn't automatically good. Taken to it's extreme this would mean just making as many people as is physically possible with the lowest standard of living possible. There has to be some trade off between number of people vs happiness per person.

Then there is the many worlds thing argument http://lesswrong.com/lw/ws/for_the_people_who_are_still_aliv...


"but I guarantee every single person on HN will rather take the chance of malaria than the certainty of not being born in the first place."

You would have to assume that anyone who didn't want to be here would have topped themselves already.


So you have read the "The Limits to Growth" (which was pretty scary in 1972) looked at what has happened over the last 40 years, and not figured out where it went off the tracks?

Quite simply it is this, extrapolation of closed systems always fails to predict the behavior of those systems. The two most interesting examples are the use of energy and birth rates. Birth rates go down as countries become more prosperous for a variety of reasons, but the effect is that once it gets below replacement rate (as it has in Japan and elsewhere) the extrapolating the population leads it going to 0. We intuitively know that it is unlikely a population will simply die off due to a failure to reproduce. But it is easier some how to imagine a crushing horde of people, too many too feed, crammed into pens. Why? Energy is another area where we've constantly predicted (again via extrapolation) the end of the world as we know it, and again it has failed to materialize again and again.

These are examples of the responsiveness of the system to forcing functions. People don't reproduce as much if they are not worried that their children won't live to adulthood, energy as an expense is minimized by gains in efficency, process changes. The US' carbon 'footprint' has remained flat for years, policy change, people change, the economics change.

So predictions based on extrapolation are fallible if not simply wrong.


I think it's more humane to improve sustainability by lowering birth rates, rather than letting existing people starve to death/die of sickness en masse. You argue that improving people's lives is only postponing the inevitable. I disagree, because the things Gates wants to do can facilitate economic development and provide a natural check on population growth.

As countries grow richer birthrates tend to trend downwards, for a variety of reasons. The one country that actually took population growth seriously and tried doing something about it (China) continues to get shit over its policies today (sometimes for good reason). Just providing people in developing countries with access to contraception ignores many of the reasons that people in those countries choose to have large families.

Finally, I've read that UCSD guy's blog, and while I respect his expertise, I can't get over the fact that his analysis often seems to rest upon rather shaky assumptions. For example, one of the blog posts he links to ("Galactic-Scale Energy") argues that exponential growth means that even a modest ~2% growth rate, sustained into the far future, would result in humanity needing to consume ludicrous amounts of energy. The math is sound, but the assumption is that the human population will also continue increasing exponentially (e.g. 1%), meaning that economic output continues to be divided among the current populace at a rate that is not necessarily exponential. However, if population growth really is slowing down (as statistics show [0]), then 2% growth into the far future with a constant or slowly increasing population results in a ludicrous amount of economic output available on a per-capita basis. The author's point is that unchecked growth is a bad thing; I don't think unchecked economic growth is even meaningful in the context of a population that is no longer increasing. Many of his other posts contain similar 'spherical cow' assumptions meant to make his mathematical models more appealing in terms of presenting his overall message.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:World_population_growth_ra..., data from US Census Bureau.


Lower birth rates is one thing, but lets sort out the fucking inequality first. People have more children in Africa, because they expect to loose some and because they will help out (be economically active). Both those could be solved by better distribution of wealth, an an accompanying does of education.

A child born in the west will consume vast amounts more resources than multiple children born in poverty.


Addressing inequity is precisely the strategy to reducing population growth.

Empowering women, with education, economic freedom, and reproductive choice, is the Correct Answer.

Fortunately, much progress has been made and will continue.


Why does everybody want to lower birthrates? We need to settle the solar system, not wait until the next ice age or meteor mass extinction in an "environmentally friendly" mode of existance...


It is naive and stupid to believe we will ever be able to export excessive population to Earth orbit and beyond.

It is naive and stupid to state that overpopulation increases the chances of a species' survival.


At exponential growth even that isn't an option. There were about 1 billion people on Earth in 1900. By 2000 there were about 6 billion. If the population grows 6 times every century then do the math:

36 billion by the end of the century. You would have to convert all the land on Earth to farms and you still wouldn't be able to feed this many people.

216 billion by 2200 Which is almost four times as many as we could support if every planet in the solar system supported the same amount of people Earth does now.

1296 by 2300 An absurdly large number of people. You need to start expanding to other solar systems if you haven't already because this one is running out of resources. Transporting billions of people interstellar distances would take a ton of energy also.

362,797,056 billion (363 quadrillion) by the year 3000 We are running out of planets in the milky way to house them all.

2.19×10^25 by the year 4000

1.33×10^33 by 5000 We are out of planets in the universe to house them all.

8.02^40 by 6000 Now we are running out of atoms to make more humans.

And this is only 4,000 years, not even the amount of time civilization has been around. Not even a tiny fraction of the length of time humans have been around. Barely a blink of the eye for the age of the Earth, let alone the universe.

Exponential growth is a serious force.


That's not going to solve overpopulation problems here, because it would be cheaper to feed someone for life (ie it would require less energy) than it would be to send that person outside of Earth's gravitational field.


it would be cheaper to feed someone for life (ie it would require less energy) than it would be to send that person outside of Earth's gravitational field.

Please show your work.


There was an error in my calculations, which are based on freshman college physics I took in the 90s, so never mind.

Attempt #2: Gravitational potential energy = kinetic energy = .5massescape velocity^2. = .5human bodyweight kg 11,200 m/s. Convert the units and you've got a few years worth of calories (which I think I mixed up with kilocalories the first time).


Yes, I get a few year's worth of kilocalories (1 kcal = 4180 Joules, and assuming a 2,000 kcal per day diet) for a 100 kg human.


How many billions of people do you think we need to solve the rocket problem?


It will add to the pressure of directing larger percentage of GDP or indirectly, serve as incentive for companies to make profit, to solve this problem. I am more concerned about a high birthrate in countries with religious fanaticism and lack of education than a high birthrate in general. Colonizing Mars and the Asteroid Belt will need billions of people more.


Outer space is very expensive and extremely hard to do right and safely.


Yes, it is currently. However, we need to innovate to change that and I believe we can!


Population growth is largely a solved problem. Not to say that it is totally under control, but rather that it has been successfully addressed in many large test-cases to the point where it's probable we can address it anywhere, given the appropriate level of governmental and social infrastructure.

Fertility is below replacement rates in China, and it's population will peak in the next decade. India's will peak by 2060. Population in Africa continues to grow, but with economic development there is every reason to believe that it can follow in the footsteps of India and China.

See: http://www.economist.com/node/21541834


Gates has actually addressed this specific line of thought. He originally spent a lot of time looking at birth control before switching to vaccination.

---

"In society after society, he saw, when the mortality rate falls—specifically, below 10 deaths per 1,000 people—the birth rate follows, and population growth stabilizes. “It goes against common sense,” Gates says. Most parents don’t choose to have eight children because they want to have big families, it turns out, but because they know many of their children will die.

“If a mother and father know their child is going to live to adulthood, they start to naturally reduce their population size,” says Melinda.

In terms of giving, Gates did a 180-degree turn. Rather than prevent births, he would aim his billions at saving the kids already born. “We moved pretty heavily into vaccines once we understood that,” says Gates.

---

http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2011/11/02/the-sec...


I think that in the long run, our biggest bottleneck is technological innovation, and not any static resource constraints. The return on new scientific breakthroughs is huge, and even if only 1% of the population can come up with and develop such ideas, the return will often be enough to increase the quality of life of the other 99% by orders of magnitude.


I think that's hopelessly techno-utopian.


Given that it's a very accurate description for the recent history of mankind from about the mid-19th century until the present I think it's rather tendentious to label it as "hopeless" let alone "utopian".


We're risking mass die-offs and mass migrations on that tech bet, hundreds of millions of people. Why not lessen the risk by focusing on a low-tech approach to reduce the population via birth control?


How crass.

On such a button-pushing subject linking to your own blog. As if you have the very best post ever written on the topic. Even if you did though (which I doubt very much you have) humility should lead you away from self-promotion. If your writing is that great others will eventually submit your posts and link to you, won't they? Also, a quick look at your submissions history shows that every single submission is one of your own blog posts. In short, you are nothing but a self-promoter.

> More people living doesn't necessarily mean people living better lives.

Yes. And. So. What? Where did you get that from the article? Better disease prevention leads to a _reduction_ in population growth. And this is the observed trend.

> limits to growth

Ok. So we have an energy growth ceiling. Yes. And. So. What? Where did you get in the article that Gates is calling for _unbounded_ energy growth? I read a lot of techno-utopianism, I read a lot about disease prevention. But _unbounded_ energy growth. Nope.

> Capitalism is great at increasing the pie, but poor at distributing it to those without capital.

This speaks directly to the article. Gater says that he is a fan of capitalism. He is suggesting that the current economic model is a good model. You are not. (I agree with you to some extent by the way.) You need to articulate a _better_ model instead of just disagreeing. Are you advocating more socialism? A Tobin tax? A carbon tax? What model are you proposing that better distributes wealth than the current one. Arguably Bill Gates's own action show that in order to address his needs he had to _go outside_ capitalism (i.e., he had to turn to philanthropy) to achieve his goals. This and his seeming antipathy to open-source and free-software are two very real areas you could take serious issue with Bill Gates rather than your overpopulation/finite_world/limits_to_growth schtick.

Pity I was late to this party :)


The first problems are disease and starvation. Once you've improved conditions with respect to disease and starvation, more people are alive, demanding more resources. Now able to function as economic actors, they work and produce economic output - wealth for the society they live in. In turn this wealth produces a middle class. People who move into the middle class reproduce less frequently, have fewer children.

So the best cure for overpopulation isn't limiting growth it is accelerating it.

As much as it sucks to admit, there's no shortcut here. You need to go through every stage of development. Societies can't skip from step A where there is rampant starvation and disease and basic needs aren't met to step D where there is a flourishing middle class and population stability and control, without first going through steps B and C where basic needs are met but there is also overpopulation and widespread poverty.

If you ask me, disease should be our #1 priority. Human beings can do almost anything if they are well, but if they are sick it becomes much, much harder to function and provide for their own basic needs. They are much more likely to starve if they are not well enough to go out and work.


There is something about humans striving for some ultimate goal? Living in horrible poverty, still having children, dooming them to that same poverty/disease/misery cycle? Or giving them a choice to rise up and get rich? What makes one to reproduce and doom they spawn into same cycle again and again? If thee was able to play all his life without worry for forced work to eat, would he be so keen on reproducing again and again?

Poverty fuels rich people? Most likely in some cases. Having layer of fear between these two. Either fear/like/hate other and experience themselves thanks to other.

Some play life seriously, some not so, one with serious face will try hang onto ledge for as long as he can, nailing others to the ledge so they won't fall off too. Success is achieved, people don't fall off, but nails in palm makes it no pleasure also.


Actually, my assumption would be less disease leading to more prosperity leading to smaller families. The current correlation between disease and population growth in any given part of the world is pretty strong. Hans Rosling has some good talks on the subject.


I don't think your viewpoint is really as far off from Gates as you pretend it is. Remember that he's also offered financial incentive for birth control / std prevention[1].

What alarms me is that there seems to be the morbid implication in your words that disease serves as population control. Improving quality of life and reducing unwanted pregnancy are parallel and not incompatible efforts. And I think they are two of the most important challenges of our generation.

[1] http://www.psfk.com/2013/04/bill-gates-condom-challenge.html


> More people living doesn't necessarily mean people living better lives.

I rather think living is a necessary prerequisite to living better.


> Trying to solve social issues with technology doesn't work that well. Changing social patterns is much harder.

Maybe it could e.g. when offering a 'globally funded retirement provision' to people who agree to only have one child. Or maybe if you only offer Malaria/Polio 'technology' to people who agree to this and that condition.


If your concern is simple overpopulation, work to end the oppression of women in the developing world and to find pathways out of rural poverty, both of which are key drivers for population growth.


Couldn't agree more. Fertilizer has been a major accelerator of unsustainable agricultural practices which, on the whole, have acted to centralize food production and agricultural land ownership in to the hands of industry, disempowering the world population and removing social and long term environmental sustainability concerns from the act of food production. Aside from poisoning vital and irreplaceable freshwater systems, the closely related practice of unsustainable water use has created salination poisoning agricultural land itself, and agricultural poisons further decay the remnants of the naturally sustainable and verdant ecosystems the industrial food factories supplant.

Given this situation, to then turn around and claim that GM is the answer is ludicrous. Modern civilization has clearly lost its way by diverging too far from nature, which abhors a monoculture. The obvious and sustainable path is a move towards heterogeneous planting patterns, and ideally toward greater decentralization in land ownership, production and the re-recognition of longer term concepts such as sustainability, social and environmental concern.

A simple example: I have read that many farms in the US are actually energy-negative, ie. they cannot produce enough calories in agricultural output to offset the oil they burn.

For those here wanting to improve the world through agricultural change, please consider reading some of the philosophy behind permaculture and the short but thought-provoking book The One Straw Revolution then applying technical knowledge to building robots that can efficiently harvest densely interplanted crops from potentially reformed large-scale agricultural operations that may accept a high variety of species and thus embrace natural methods for pest control and moisture retention, eliminating most agricultural overhead in existing operations. New operations should be smaller and decentralized, because we need exercise, nature is nice, and robots aren't free.

Tangentially, last night I met a guy who has spent three years trying to find ways to save coral reefs and said that on a global scale we're screwed - they're all going to be gone within less than a generation. I spent a few weeks in Sumatra last month and the rainforests for which it was once famed are almost gone. Meanwhile in many Asian population centers (I'm in Bangkok at the moment), a view from above confirms that concrete dominates a landscape of air conditioning and energy-inefficient floor to ceiling glass, pockmarked only by the nervous system of fossil fuel burning transportation infrastructure, the odd plane flying overhead about a brown haze, and the glimmer of thousands of unnatural lights feeding on the same fossils, while themselves produced through an alchemy poisonous chemicals. The virus that scarred the landscape this way, humans, potter at all hours throughout, concerning themselves with alcohol, fashion, colosseums of sports on television, and reproduction.


>More people living doesn't necessarily mean people living better lives.

But in this case it does, as quality of life over the entire earth has improved over the past 100 years and continues to improve.


You have swallowed the American dream / fairly tail! Inequality growing. More and more people (in the UK) relying on food banks. Falling real wages, with increased rents. Must depend on your definition of improving.


There are so many spheres that prove that our life Now is better than 100 years ago: how knowledge and information is spread, how fast you can travel, I bet you know at least several dozens of people around the world. Food, clothes, entertainment -all of these things have changed and for the best. Bill is right, it's fair to share the perks of nowadays life with those who live like hundreds year ago. It's like going back in time when travelling to the poor regions. We can and should welcome people from underdeveloped countries to the World of Today.


> You have swallowed the American dream / fairly tail! Inequality growing.

Growing inequality does not mean quality of life is decreasing (the point you are disputing).

> More and more people (in the UK) relying on food banks.

Has general standard of living decreased? By most any measure it has not. People have vastly more resources than their ancestors did, but if you make poor choices yes you may have a visit to a food bank in your future. And there is a food bank to visit.

> Falling real wages, with increased rents.

This part I can agree with in many cases. But, let's not forget the vast improvement in affordable entertainment options available now compared to the past.

You would have us believe everything is worse. This is not true.


100 years is a very short time period when referring to the human race.


Maybe it's safe to say that quality of life has generally improved for the human race over the last 100k years.


I think you should do a little more research before coming to that conclusion. Personally, I am not comfortable presenting any decision on that as fact.


It is not safe to say that. By many measures, including height, disease burden, and hours worked per week, paleolithic man was better off than his descendants until pretty recently.


Simple things that could be done now by simply "changing the rules"

1. Change "Foreign Aid" to be based on direct micro-loans rather than dumping excess agricultural commodities and destroying local markets and pumping money into corrupt governments that steal it.

2. End the Drug War. It's killing people and is the foundation of organized crime. And why grow food when you can make more money growing dope?

3. Recognize women's rights: unfettered access to contraception/abortion and education.

I realize the "sex" part of #3 may be controversial to some, but those who are offended can just fuck off.


I realize this is a social news aggregation site and not a diplomatic summit, but I think you'll find people a lot more receptive to your ideas if you can refrain from adding the last touch in your post. It reminds me of how I feel about Bill Maher: I agree with him on almost every major policy issue, but he comes across as so smug that it actually annoys you to hear him say things that you agree with.


Yeah....

It was kind of a play on words, however, the faction that it was addressed to is so militant that it isn't completely out of place. Try talking to an anti-abortion protester about preventing abortions via sex education and contraception and they will reject even that.

I'll do my best to be nicer next time.


Just stop being a pussy.


Unfortunately this is the internet, and you have no idea who I am, so I can't offer my personality as a counterpoint. I definitely understand the idea that catering to the overly sensitive part of our population is a losing battle.

However, to even bother posting something like that, you have to be trying to do one of two things:

(1) Trying to convert others with differing opinions to your side

(2) Make yourself feel superior and smarter by talking down to those with different opinions

#1 seems to be a more meaningful use of one's time, so I was offering some insight as to how to be more effective in doing that. If #2 is what you're after, then by all means, please continue.


Micro-loans has a lot of issues. The main problem being that poor people really require a steady source of income (a normal job). Not to experience all the problems with being a entrepreneur.


Are there any stable economics of the world that are not built upon natural resources?

When rich countries dump their excess food on a poor country, the local agriculture industry dies, and everyone on up the chain suffers. Cheap food sounds good in theory, but as you say, it is of little consequence if you have no steady source of income – which typically needs to start with farming, with services being built around that. Reducing/removing the external food supply and providing micro loans on which to build a local agriculture economy could have some benefit though, assuming you can actually get the resources to the people without corrupt powers taking over, of course.

I do see problems with our prolonged use of fertilizers and anything that can be done to resolve that is a good thing, but I'm not sure if it will really help the poor. It will just make growing food even easier for wealthy nations, making things even more difficult for those less fortunate.


Yeah, didn't mean to indicate that micro loans are bad in general.

> Are there any stable economics of the world that are not built upon natural resources?

Singapore?


Agreed, not the best phrasing but the intent was to provide the aid from the bottom up. And not everybody has to be the entrepreneur, those that are will ultimately need employees as they grow their business.


>unfettered access to contraception

This definitely seems the most obvious route to improving the world.


It makes me feel incredibly guilty for how much a lot of people (myself) hated this man over things that seem so petty now a mere decade or so later.


It's ok to hate Bill Gates (the Monopolist), and to admire Bill Gates (the Philanthropist).


I think it's reasonable to forgive the Monopolist because of the Philanthropist.


The ends justify the means?


The means were pretty mild. Leveraging a monopoly on desktop software to force people to see IE as their default browser, pricing your product so low operating systems centered around spinning teapots can't possibly compete, and so on?

The nerdrage over all that was a little hard to take seriously even before we had historical perspective on it.

edit: I'm actually HAPPY that MSFT were found guilty of abusing their monopoly power. I just want to keep it in perspective, not just in the omg BillG is saving the world perspective, but frankly in perspective relative to all the evil that corporations are capable of doing...


I fully agree with you in this particular case; it's clear the philanthropist has added more value to humanity than was taken away. Still, it's worth evaluating the person within different contexts: a ruthless businessman taking a run at Sainthood. Quite the dichotomy.


People can do both good and bad things. I feel this is very obvious but rarely acknowledged - perhaps due to our immensely polarising media which can only deal in simple narratives.


I doubt the people who's lives he ruined consider those things petty.


Ruined? Most businesses fail, and most large businesses cause many others to fail (this includes IBM, Google and Apple) as well as providing the means for many others to succeed and prosper.

Even if you were right, I don't think the lives of Silicon Valley yuppies have been "ruined" in quite the same way as some of the victims of Chinese factory production lines....


Yes ruined. Instead of having desk jobs these failed business owners could have had a shot at saving the world. The fact is he screwed people.


Fact is that Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidt and others also screwed people, and in some cases, probably more than Gates. None of them has done remotely as much to make up for it.

Indeed, while you are getting your panties in a twist about things you think happened in the 1990s, Gates has saved millions of lives.

Have you considered worrying less about a few capitalists being "ruined" (while living in the world's richest society and consuming a huge proportion of the world's resources) and worrying more about the millions suffering from war, starvation, disease and various other afflictions?


> Fact is that Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidt and others also screwed people, and in some cases, probably more than Gates.

I don't recall any of them being being brought up on anti-trust charges and losing.

And no amount of saving lives wipes away those you ruined.


Apple hit with U.S. injunction in e-books antitrust case http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/06/us-apple-ebooks-id...


Being found to have a monopoly (by a judge who explicitly excluded Macs and Linux machines) meant Microsoft was held to much higher standards. Other companies can and do behave far worse and get away with it.

You want to compare the effects of these lives "ruined" (whose exactly?) with the Chinese workers making your products committing suicide?


I made no such comparison and any such comparison is a red herring. Bill the businessman was ruthless and unethical and destroyed many a business via illegal means. Bill the philanthropist is a great man who's doing great things that I very much support. One does not negate the other. I can despise Bill the businessman and look up to Bill the philanthropist at the same time.


First, you're overstating things wildly. Unless you come up with some names (people and companies) I shall continue to believe that you're blowing smoke.

Second, Gates wasn't uniquely bad, and he had plenty of equally ruthless rivals including Jobs, Ellison and Noorda. He was, as mentioned, held to much higher standards.

Third, it still shows a profound lack of humanity to think that what was mostly antitrust-theatre has anything like the same importance as real life and death issues in the wider world.


> I shall continue to believe that you're blowing smoke.

Well fuck off then, we're done. I'm not going to waste my time reiterating Microsoft's crimes to someone's who apparently blind to them and continues to throw out red herrings.


You've already made it obvious you don't actually know anything about Microsoft's crimes. Which, sadly, I do.


Yes ruined, and most businesses fail because they're bad, not because of illegal monopolistic practices by the industry giant.

Chinese workers... red herring, nothing to do with this.


There's plenty of evidence that Netscape, for example, was a bad business and made countless mistakes, and that Microsoft did not compete unfairly under the rules. See, for example, Winners, Losers and Microsoft by Liebowitz and Margolis or Trust on Trial by Richard McKenzie.

Re Chinese workers, denial of concrete evidence is a good way to show you lost the argument. Also, that you are desperately short of common humanity.


> Chinese workers, denial of concrete evidence is a good way to show you lost the argument. Also, that you are desperately short of common humanity.

No, it's a good way to throw out irrelevant red herrings from someone who doesn't know how to even make an argument. Let it sink in to that tiny little brain of yours, how Chinese workers are treated by others has no bearing at all on whether Bill did something wrong in his past. Lacking any real argument, you're just flailing around foolishly looking for something to grab onto.


Unfortunately you have a marked lack of understanding as well as a lack of common humanity. Some things are more important than others. Gates's "crimes" -- which were only defined as crimes after the event -- were trivia compared to those of many US corporations including Enron (1), Pfizer (2) and Monsanto (3).

Anyone with a sense of proportion uses their bile to fight things that actually matter. No rational person today thinks that includes what Gates did in the 1990s.

(1) Fraud and conspiracy on a massive scale, plus money laundering, insider trading and other crimes. (2) Using Nigerian children as guinea pigs. Dozens died. (3) Illegally dumping thousands of tons of highly toxic waste in landfills.


Unfortunately you have a marked lack of intelligence and continue to employ fallacious arguments. Murder is a more serious crime than theft, that is not cause to dismiss theft as trivia nor do any other companies crimes no matter how serious lessen Gates past crimes. Take your ignorant fallacies and irrational red herrings somewhere else.

You've been told multiple times to stop throwing in those other companies as red herrings and since you're unable to have a rational discussion, we're done here. Take your ignorance somewhere else, I'm not interested.


You made a stupid comment and proved unable to justify it. Your loss.


Lost monetary gains of some vs the lives of so many. Guess it depends on your point of view.


Who can say what others might've done with the money? As someone who genuinely believes in democracy, I have to believe that a large sum of money will achieve more good in the hands of many than in those of few, or one.


Saving lives doesn't wipe away past wrongs. Your argument is fallacious.


What do you suggest he should do now?

Let the people die from malaria, do nothing about kids getting crippled from polio, let kids suffer from malnutrition??

What do you suggest he should do instead? Play golf and write management books all day?

A man made richest fortune on earth, and has now gone on a mission to tackle tough problems for the betterment of humanity and all you can do is find mistakes in his work?


He's doing great things now, but that's not in the slightest way relevant to the point I made. His wrongs were not and are not petty to those who suffered from them and pointing that out is not finding mistakes in his work nor is it disapproving of what he's now doing.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: