- Politics and Social Issues
Solve the World’s Problems – Get Rich Quick!
When we look at the problems facing the world today… pollution, species extinction, loss of environments, hunger, disease, war… all arise from a single root cause, poverty. Lack of money causes shortages and conflicts, and very bad choices about how you use the resources you have. Conflict regions are poverty regions. The answer to solving the world’s problems is simple. If you want a better world, happier people and longer lives, it’s time to make the world much richer, and we need to do it quickly!
That’s a tall order. But it is one that most politicians and political system have tried to deliver, for centuries. Up until the 1800s, we lived in an age of kings and monarchs, who ruled by divine authority. Monarchies are and religions are interested in the welfare of their people, but they consider the maintenance of order to be the greatest good for their people. An ever improving life is an ever changing life, and is a threat to that order. By the 1800s, advances in science had changed the world, challenging the teachings of religion and the monarchies they supported. New political systems arose that drew their authority from people, rather than religion or tradition.
Those systems... capitalism, socialism, communism, fought for control of the world throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, each claiming that they could deliver the greatest good for their people. By the early 21 Century, Communism lost and Capitalism won.
The top economies of the world operate under some version of Capitalism, but not every nation has seen the benefits they expected. Still, the age of capitalism has been the greatest age of wealth generation in human history. India and China were once the wealthiest countries in the world, but for centuries they have been the poorest regions for centuries. After becoming part of the Capitalist world, both countries have dramatically increased the wealth… and prosperity... of their people. We can see this is the best indicator of prosperity, live expectancy.
Life Expediencies Continue to Grow
Make More Money
The traditional way of thinking about wealth is that if you want to be wealthier, you need to earn more money. Which is true, as far as it goes. But national programs to get rich, often only make a small number of people rich, or increase pay for workers, but that increase in pay is often eaten away by inflation and a rising cost of living. Improvements are made, but even a wealthier county does not mean that he people who have the greatest need get any part of that increase.
For example, imagine that the average annual family income in your region of the world earns $10,000. In order to significantly improve their lives, it’s going to take more than a few percent increase in income. Any country could achieve a few percent change with a tax cut or a subsidy, or some sort of building program, or perhaps a food or housing subsidy. But these programs tend to run out of money, or support, after a few years. They may help, but the results have been mixed and very limited. And once the program is over, the benefits fade away. Some very small programs have been very successful, but they can rarely be reproduced or scaled up to help a nation or the entire world.
Over the last decade, America has become much richer, but the average wage has not risen. In poorer countries with greater inequality, wealth countries may be creating even more impoverished citizens. A country can become richer, without the benefits trickling down to individual members of society. There is however, a different way to become wealthy. Rather than giving every one more money, make everything free!
Everyone eats, and everyone pays for food, directly or indirectly. The laws of economics tells us that the poorer you are, the higher the percentage of your income that needs to be paid for food, and other necessities of life. If we look around the world,, in rich countries, such as the US, we only pay an average of 6.6% of income on food, while in India its 25.2%, and 47.7% in Pakistan. Making food free, would certainly improve the wealth of the world.
“Free Food” was the goal of the Green Revolution. Before World War II, many countries not only had day to day issues of feeding their people, they regularly faced the possibility of famine. In just the first 25 years if the 20th century, famines ravaged: India (1896-1902), China (1907-1911), Lebanon (1914-1918), Germany (1916-1918), Russia (1916-1917), Persia (1917-1919), Turkestan (1917-1921), Russia (1921), Tartarstan (1921-1922), and once again Russia (1924-1925).
The solution? Make our food better… higher yields, more disease resistance, generally hardier plants. Long before the age of genetic modifications, scientists examined thousands of food plants from around the world and tested the qualities of different variations of the same plants, such as rice. By matching the best plants to the different growing locations around the world, and using better farming techniques, farm productivity exploded.
Between the start of the green revolution and 1980, productivity greatly improved, but was not carefully tracked. From 1980 to today, cereal farming has been carefully tracked and we can see that world-wide productivity per acre has doubled. That’s a lot of wealth, and it is a key reason why exceptionally poor countries such as India, have had life expectancy rise by 50%.
Do We Need Genetic Engineering?
The Green Revolution worked. Famines today are very rare, and nutrition is better that ever before. But we still have a long way to go before everyone has enough food to eat. The Green revolution may have doubled food production, but world population has more than doubled from 3 billion to around 7 billion. The benefits of the Green Revolution are close to being exhausted.
The next round of productivity began with Genetic Modification, or GMO foods. These start with seeds bred in a laboratory, where the genes have been artificially manipulated. GMP plants are far more productive or more disease resistant or otherwise more productive than the best non-GMO plant. For example one GMO test in Spain showed a 10% better yield in crops, 20% in areas that had frequent pest infestations. Today, most of the soy, wheat and corn in the US is GMO. And many other crops are being examined for opportunities to be improved through genetic manipulation.
But some consumers strongly reject GMOs. There is a fear that GMO food may be inferior to “real” food, or that some new GMO plan could harm the environment. In Europe GMOs are often referred to as “Frankenfood”. Perhaps this is a reasonable reaction from wealthy countries, where citizens want the very best and purest foods. Elsewhere in the world, where having more food is the priority, GMO’s make sense. But the poorest countries cannot raise GMO crops, because any mixing of GMO and Non-GMP crops could get the produce of a whole nation banned from sale in Europe. With populations growing in the world’s poorest countries, is this the time to limit what they can grow?
How do you view technology?
Is technology a benefit or a risk?
Energy, The Next Revolution
If there is a single element in life that technology can improve that could free up massive wealth? Yes there is, it is the cost of energy. Almost everything that is near you, that you can touch, was made by a machine that was powered by something… probably petroleum. More than a century ago, the arrival of the age of Petroleum was a huge revolution. Power became cheap and easily available. The average American moved from candle and lamp illumination to the electric lightbulb. Refrigeration, radio, TV, your car, air travel and just about everything else in your life is power by petroleum (coal, gas, oil) or by electric power plants that use petroleum. What would your life be if power was free?
After World War II, America first realized that there were limits to oil, and looked for new sources of power. Commercial nuclear power could provide cheap energy for thousands of years to come. But, big mistakes were made. Commercial nuclear power became entangles with military nuclear uses. We used reactors that were not suitable for commercial use, and eventually there were frightening accidents with these power plants at Three Mile Island in the 1980s and in Japan just a couple of years ago.
Why did America build unsafe reactors? Because the military commercial reactors that were based on the ones used in submarines and aircraft carriers. This lower the cost for the military. It also ensured that there was abundant plutonium, which is produced by this type of reactor and is needed to build nuclear weapons.
Today, there are other types of reactors, such as Thorium reactors, to name just one technology. Using new reactor technology, the price of energy would essentially drop to zero. Thorium reactors produce about 1% of the nuclear waste of older reactors, virtually no materials to use in nuclear weapons, a lower cost of operation than other forms of nuclear power, and an inherently safer reactor design.
Thorium Reactor Benefits
Will the world keep getting richer?
- Cheap oil and fuel powered the world economy in the 20th century
- The Green Revolution doubled food production, but...
- The world's population has more than doubled since 1960
- Will "new" Nuclear power and Genetic Modification do the same for the 21st Century?
A Brief Explanation of Thorium Reactors
Is Thorium Free Money?
In the poorest nations, this would make a huge impact. For example, in Uganda, the poorest citizens pay about 16% of their income directly for energy. And still more for the energy costs that are embedded in food production and other goods. Naturally these countries depend on the cheapest, and most polluting, forms of energy, which also dramatically raises the incident of a wide range of killer lung and heart diseases. Thorium reactors are not only cheaper energy, they are much better energy than most of the world has access to today.
Super low cost energy is one of our best chances to cure the world’s ills. Anything new has risk, and big economic changes can mean unsettling economic shifts. But if we don’t pursue our best options to aggressively reduce the cost of power, we will miss the chance to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. At least, that’s my Niccolls' worth for today!
© 2015 Chris Niccolls