Converting To Renewable Energy

It seems to me….

In reality, Republicans have long been at war with clean energy. They have ridiculed investments in solar and wind power, bashed energy-efficiency standards, attacked state moves to promote renewable energy and championed laws that would enshrine taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels while stripping them from wind and solar.” ~ Jeff Goodell[1].

Wind and solar power exceeded 10 percent of the total U.S. electrical energy generation for the first time in March 2017 and was projected to exceed 18 percent by the end of 2018. The national power grid has rapidly evolved and improved in recent years as utility companies have developed innovative ways to move electrical power around the country to account for weather fluctuations. Once the average price of green energy has been innovated down below the price of fossil fuels, further adoption will expand rapidly. Cost is already comparable in California (along with Arizona, Hawaii, and locations within several other states) and would be almost everywhere if power companies were not highly subsidized or if environmental costs and negative health effects were factored in.

Similar to many other issues, Liberals and Conservatives typically view environmental issues and energy production differently. Many liberals believe global warming is a critical consideration, that carbon-based energy is a major source of greenhouse gases, and that other non-polluting sources of energy need to be explored. That the government must produce a national plan for all energy resources and subsidize (partially pay for) alternative energy research and production. That support must be increased for development of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power. And that all government support of fossil-fuel industries should cease.

Conservatives believe that oil, gas, and coal are good sources of energy and abundant in the U.S. That oil drilling should be increased both on land and at sea. That increased domestic oil production creates lower prices and less dependence on other countries. That support of nuclear energy production needs to be increased. That wind and solar sources will never provide plentiful, affordable sources of power. And that we need to support private ownership of gas and electric industries.

Many opportunities to advance renewable energy development have been wasted. Solyndra, a recipient of an Energy Department loan guarantee declared bankruptcy in 2011, which was highly criticized at the time primarily by conservatives, though the funding was insufficient and took too long to approve to prevent the company from failing. Expanded research investment is necessary, not less. Only with public investing in developing technologies prior to their being commercially attractive to venture capitalists will such technologies ever become successful. Other such innovations are frequently initially funded through ARPA, NASA, or in federally supported university research labs. Mistakenly, there have been significant federal funded research reductions since 2007 and that must be reversed if the U.S. is to maintain its technological leadership.

I happen to be one who believes the investment in Solyndra was beneficial. Anyone driving by the old Solyndra headquarters on I-580 in Milpitas, CA, will see it still is a photovoltaic developer under a new name. Solar technology was originally developed here in the U.S. but President Reagan opposed it. In another instance of too little too late, China acquired the U.S. research rights and now the two leading solar providers are both Chinese companies (the third leading provider is German).

It’s not environmental politics that will sink the fossil-fuel industry but price. The cost of renewables has steadily declined and new carbon-fueled power plants risk becoming “stranded assets” before the end of their life cycles hinting at a looming tipping point against investment in fossil fuels.

In industrialized nations, growth has somewhat shifted from physical “things” to digital services which require much less energy consumption. This incredible technological progress could lead to a renewable-powered electrical grid and fully electrified transportation within the next 30 – 40 years. More importantly, cheap renewable energy could permit less-developed countries in Africa and South Asia, such as India, to follow a different, cleaner path to industrialization without sacrificing living standards.

Texas leads the U.S. in wind capacity with more than 20 gigawatts installed though California has ample wind and leads the nation in solar power plants and photovoltaic rooftops. One difficulty with solar energy is that collectors produce an electrical surplus beginning at sunrise every morning, sometimes more than the grid can absorb, and then terminate in the early evening when consumers still demand large amounts of power. Additional investment is necessary to better balance these incongruities.

California has officially become the first U.S. state to require new homes to have rooftop solar panels (though some economists doubt the rooftop rule will prove the most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)[2]. The requirement is part of new building energy-efficiency standards the California Energy Commission (CEC) passed earlier last year (2018). New homes under the revised building code, which takes effect starting in 2020, will use an estimated 53 percent less energy than existing homes built under 2016 standards and could cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 700,000 metric tons over three years according to CEC estimates.

The estimated direct impact of California’s rooftop solar initiative eliminating about 700,000 metric tons of emissions over three years remains considerably less than 1 percent of the state’s total annual emissions (about 440 million metric tons). The estimated emissions reduction will have approximately the same impact as removing 115,000 fossil-fuel vehicles from California’s roads. That comparison would still amount to slightly less than half a percent of the more than 25 million cars registered in the state. Emissions from homes accounted for just 7 percent of California’s overall greenhouse gas output in 2016 whereas transportation contributed 41 percent of all state emissions.

Unlike grid-scale solar farms, rooftop panels provide onsite power to homes in a way that does not require additional land or supporting infrastructure and rooftop solar’s distributed power approach could strengthen the grid’s resiliency against power failures, natural disasters, and wildfires.

Requiring rooftop solar panels will raise upfront costs for California homeowners at a time when San Francisco and other cities already struggle with the lack of affordable housing. The CEC estimates the new standards which also include energy-efficient lighting upgrades, will raise the cost of new home construction by about $9,500 but could save $19,000 in energy and maintenance costs over a 30-year mortgage. The requirement will most likely primarily benefit wealthier home buyers who can afford the upfront costs while saving money over the average length of home ownership.

For renewables to fully displace fossil fuels, it will also require major changes in the entire national energy distribution system. Energy generation, while a major consideration, is not the only remaining obstacle to full conversion to renewables. There also are infrastructure, political, and vested interests that must be considered.

Wind and solar power will not become the major energy sources until a nationwide transmission grid is designed based on local, daily weather variations[3]. If builders continue to ignore weather-driven variability, future grids will become increasingly challenging. What is needed is weather-smart grid design, directed by meteorology and built on long-distance transmission lines that can manage weather inconsistencies. Such a system could provide large quantities of renewable power across North America to link supply with demand regardless of weather, location, or time of day.

Heat waves and cold snaps produce the peak strain on a region’s grid. Typical planning boils down to ensuring the system can deliver during those most demanding hours of extreme weather days. The rapid scale-up of wind and solar power plants is forcing planners to greatly boost the grid’s weather intelligence. Unlike conventional coal, natural gas, and nuclear generators, wind turbines and solar panels strongly react to the weather adding a large variable that constantly changes throughout every day of the year.

The grid across the U.S. is divided into three large, isolated regions. This balkanization means each region must manage weather variability on its own. The Eastern Interconnection and Western Interconnection, the two alternating-current (AC) power grids that serve most of the U.S. and Canada and a bit of Mexico, exchange almost no power; they exchange even less with Texas which operates its own AC grid. Consumers are unaware of the mounting difficulty renewables may cause since all the wind turbines and solar arrays combined currently supply only a fraction of U.S. electricity. Grid operators still have thousands of conventional power plants they can ramp up and down to balance these gyrating sources. But renewables’ share is rapidly increasing. California has mandated that it will reach 50 percent by 2030 (not including large hydropower plants); Hawaii intends to hit 100 percent as soon as 2040. Unfortunately, most utilities and transmission operators are not attempting to design weather-wise grids to handle the coming demand for wind and solar power.

Computer simulations indicate the greatest benefit would come from uniting the Eastern-Western power grids that currently divide the two along their common border with either several large direct-current (DC) power lines or by crisscrossing them with a network of longer DC lines from the Pacific Coast to the Midwest with an additional main line from Louisiana to Florida. DC wires are preferable since their power loss is less than AC wires over long distances making distant connection more economically.

Converting the U.S. from fossil-fuel energy production to renewables is occurring more quickly than for which most energy utilities are capable of being fully prepared. Though the current Presidential administration is attempting to delay, if not reverse, such development, it is now obvious that it will occur regardless of official federal policies.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Jeff Goodell is an American author and contributing editor to Rolling Stone magazine. His writings are known for a focus on energy and environmental issues.

[2] Hsu, Jeremy. Experts Aren’t Taking a Shine to California’s Rooftop Solar Rule, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/experts-arent-taking-a-shine-to-californias-rooftop-solar-rule/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tech&utm_content=link&utm_term=2018-12-18_top-stories&spMailingID=58066678&spUserID=MTc0NTk2OTk1MTc5S0&spJobID=1542526153&spReportId=MTU0MjUyNjE1MwS2, 13 December 2018.

[3] Fairley, Peter. Weather-Smart Electric Grids Are Needed For Wind And Solar Power To Surge, Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/weather-smart-electric-grids-are-needed-for-wind-and-solar-power-to-surge/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tech&utm_content=link&utm_term=2018-07-17_more-stories&spMailingID=57011692&spUserID=MTc0NTk2OTk1MTc5S0&spJobID=1442051237&spReportId=MTQ0MjA1MTIzNwS2, July 2018.

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Economic Challenges

It seems to me….

We could solve all our problems if only we were the efficient, rational human beings of standard economic theory and had politicians willing to think in the long-term interest of their people rather than their own.” ~ Jeremy Grantham[1].

My basic undergraduate business and economics classes (in which I less than excelled) were back in what now is considered by many to be the dark ages. Granted I have since read a small amount on those topics but they remain considerably out of my field of expertise. That has never previously discouraged me from expressing my opinion on a subject and probably never will. So….

The U.S. economy currently appears to be strong and has continued its growth following recovery from the 2008 economic crisis. The basic foundation created under President Obama was sufficient to have, at least so far, withstood all possible challenges. It is totally understandable that while Trump desires to claim credit for this growth, the most he can actually claim is not yet having managed to end it.

Most investors and analysts continue to report strong confidence in the U.S. economy. While confidence continues to build confidence, there must eventually be an end to any such period of extended growth. For now, there are many alarms but nothing indicative of an impending adjustment.

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the 2019 January-March period, the strongest pace for a first quarter since 2015. That said, the growth was led mostly by factors that could prove temporary; a restocking of inventories in warehouses and on store shelves and a narrowing of the U.S. trade deficit. By contrast, consumer spending and business investment, which more closely reflect the economy’s underlying strength, were relatively weak.

Labor has traditionally been an economy’s most important resource – first the good news. The unemployment rate in April 2019 fell to a five-decade low of 3.6 percent from 3.8 percent though that drop partly reflected a rise in the number of people who stopped looking for work[2]. Most job growth occurred in services which includes both higher-paying jobs in information technology and lower-paying temporary work. Average hourly pay rose 3.2 percent from 12 months earlier – a strong increase matching the increase in March.

Still, it seems quite likely that Trump’s current political motivated expansionary policies are for unrealistic and unsustainable increases in the economy. Such policies often result in short-term political benefit though an inflationary gap can occur when actual aggregate production output exceeds potential output. These policies possibly could eventually result in higher inflation that might be difficult to control since the national debt/GDP ratio, which is already excessive, also continues to increase. A nominal debt/GDP ratio of 60 percent is often considered a prudent limit for developed countries – the current U.S. ratio is in excess of 105.3 percent and Trump continues to push for additional spending without any corresponding tax increase to pay for it.

There are numerous difficulties that can result from excessive national debt such as loss of confidence in monetary creation policies or by simply “crowding out” where the government competes with private corporate needs for investment financing resulting in increasing interest rates and a correlated decrease in corporate expansion.

The Federal government must essentially purchase the nation’s way out of any sufficiently serious crisis such as happened in 2008. Primary options include either a monetary policy implemented by the Federal Reserve of managing the short-term interest rate level affecting the overall availability and cost of credit in the economy or through Congressionally approved fiscal policy adjustments such as taxation changes or direct purchase of goods and services by the government that put money directly back into the economy, which has the greatest multiplier effect but takes substantially longer to implement.

The U.S. is not sufficiently prepared for any possible downturn at this time. The federal financial interest rate is much too low for rate reductions to provide sufficient stimulus while avoiding a potential liquidity crisis as occurred in 2009. Qualitative easing, the only other alternative, would significantly further increase the national debt. The U.S. economy is obviously sufficiently overheated that the Federal Reserve should continue rate increases.

Other additional considerations that should be affecting the economy do not seem to be having any appreciable affect though the actual reason is not readily apparent.

While not directly specified, the short-run Phillips Curve implies an inverse relationship between unemployment and inflation[3] which should be relevant to policymakers who need to consider potential trade-offs between the two given delays inherent in any attempted Federal economic corrections.

The Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU) is the unemployment rate consistent with maintaining stable inflation. According to standard macroeconomic theory, the short-run Phillips Curve predicts inflation will tend to rise if the unemployment rate falls below the natural rate. The NAIRU is difficult to model and changes over time but models that allow the NAIRU to vary generally have greater predictive power for inflation and wage growth.

Some estimates of the NAIRU from the model, as well as the uncertainty around these estimates, are that the NAIRU peaked in 1995 at just over 7 percent of the labor force and has declined more or less steadily since then to around 5 percent in early 2017. The actual U.S. unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in April 2019; the last time it was at 5 percent or higher was in January 2016. It obviously has been well below the theoretical NAIRU for a significant length of time.

U.S. inflation was 2.93 percent in January 2019 and 2.87 percent in February. With both inflation and unemployment having been well below theoretically desirable levels for this long, it is not apparent why inflation has not appreciably increased as theoretically predicted.

Three possible reasons for the current relatively slow growth in inflation are: a higher number of long-term unemployed who left the labor market following the 2007 recession than was previously realized and only now are once again seeking employment, impact of post-industrialism, or consequences of economic inequality. It most likely is the result of a combination of the last two: changes resulting from post-industrialism and growth in economic inequality.

The U.S. has transitioned from a manufacturing-based economy to a service-based economy becoming the first nation with greater than 50 percent of its workers employed in service sector positions. Such postindustrial societies transition through subsequent related societal restructuring. This transition is similar but occurring more quickly than a similar transition at the start of the Industrial Era: it is obviously impacting our economy in ways not yet fully understood.

The U.S. has the mixed fortune of leading the world in not only manufacturing output but also productivity growth (though productivity growth contracted starting in 2016). Manufacturing jobs, which at one time provided substantial employment opportunities for middle and lower-class workers, have gone from about 30 percent of total employment in the early 1950s to just over 8 percent at the end of 2016.

Robotics and automation have been linked to those lost manufacturing jobs. The addition of one robot per 1,000 workers reduces the employment-to-population ratio (the number of people actually employed in an area divided by the number of people of working age) by 0.18 to 0.34 percentage points and reduces wages by between 0.25 and 0.5 percent[4]. On the low end, this amounts to each new robot replacing around three workers. The impact is most pronounced in manufacturing (particularly in the production side of the auto industry), electronics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals among others.

The labor market for college-educated workers remains extremely strong and they continue to be well paid. Occupational opportunities available to people without a college education have dramatically contracted as a result of various factors but automation has been the primary reason. The decline of earnings and fortunes of people without college degrees is an important aspect of the increased economic inequality observed over the past several years.

Manufacturing job opportunities have improved for skilled workers, especially for those with advanced degrees, even as overall manufacturing employment has fallen – primarily for those with only a high school degree or less. Manufacturing is becoming a highly skilled occupation that requires less manual labor but increasingly needs multi-skilled workers rather than the low-skilled workers who in the past filled most of those positions. Unemployed low-skilled workers who find jobs are likely to only find jobs at declining pay levels as a higher number of potential workers are competing for a decreasing number of openings.

The U.S.’s extremely high rate of economic inequality (the U.S. Gini index is 41.5[5]) is also a contributing factor whose importance needs to be better understood. The U.S. has become a highly bifurcated society based primarily on educational attainment: high education, high income; low education, low income.

The credentialed elite, composed of the top 20 percent of the working population in income, mostly includes those with technical or professional degrees and business owners who continue to enjoy ever greater opportunities. It is not just about getting a college education to be sufficiently credentialed to command high incomes, it also is about getting the right education and training that fits the new economy. This inequality is self-perpetuating as those with high incomes are able to additionally increase their wealth through surplus income investment. Such rentier capitalism increases capital flow to physical factor owners and away from lower-income workers serving to somewhat moderate inflationary pressure.

Somewhat troubling is that the economy under Trump is following a pattern similar to that under President George W. Bush: leveraged lending has risen under Trump while regulations have been rolled back; both Bush and Trump cut taxes and increased deficits during times of low unemployment contrary to standard theory. Hopefully the results will be different as Bush’s Presidency ended in a global financial crash and worldwide recession.

Something obviously needs to be done. While the combined goals of both extremely low unemployment and low inflation are admirable, at a sufficiently low level they are misguided as eventually one will preclude the other. If current policies are permitted to continue over sufficient time, we eventually will have neither.

Another U.S. downturn could also be problematic for other nations whose economies generally follow that of the U.S. There are very good reasons for concern in addition to Trump’s policies – the U.S. economy has been growing for 10 years and recessions become more likely as expansions continue. Given how long the current expansion has lasted, the probability of the U.S. entering a recession within the next year is estimated to be in the 30-40 percent range[6].

The U.S. economy is large and similar to a large ship; difficult to quickly change course. Being slow to react to change, careful planning and consideration of potential results of any action is necessary. That does not seem to be occurring with current U.S. economic policies which appears to be ignoring potential long-term consequences. Current policies either appear to be either pushing us toward an economic slowdown or at least not adequately preparing us for one.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Robert Jeremy Goltho Grantham CBE is a British investor and co-founder and chief investment strategist of Grantham, Mayo, & van Otterloo, a Boston-based asset management firm.

[2] Rugaber, Christopher. Unemployment Hits 49-Year Low As Employers Add 263,000 Jobs, Time, http://time.com/5582712/unemployment-rate-low-new-jobs/?utm_source=time.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=the-brief-pm&utm_content=2019050318pm&xid=newsletter-brief, 3 May 2019.

[3] Hawtrey, R. G. Milton Friedman And The Phillips Curve, Uneasy Money, https://uneasymoney.com/2018/01/12/milton-friedman-and-the-phillips-curve/, 12 January 2018.

[4] White, Gillian B. How Many Robots Does It Take To Replace A Human Job?, The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/03/work-automation/521364/, 30 March 2017.

[5] GINI Index (World Bank Estimate), World Bank Group, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SI.POV.GINI, 2016.

[6] Portier, Franck. The Next US Recession Is Likely To Be Around The Corner, Centre For Economic Policy Research, https://voxeu.org/article/next-us-recession-likely-be-around-corner?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=338b2fc404-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_05_03_09_20&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-338b2fc404-85658801, 3 May 2019.

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A Lunar Repeat

It seems to me….

It is time to kickstart a new U.S. space transportation industry and time to spread that industry into space itself, leveraging our space station legacy to ignite imaginations and entrepreneurship so that we can move farther out, back to the Moon, out to the asteroids, and on to Mars.” ~ Rick Tumlinson[1].

NASA has announced its intent to return to the Moon by 2024 and a number of private companies have correspondingly announced plans to develop the capability enabling them to also get there by that date.

There are several obvious problems concerning this announcement making that date very unlikely. Unless it is only intended as another publicity stunt similar to what the U.S. accomplished fifty years ago way back on 20 July 1969, there is inadequate funding and a total lack of preparation for the establishment of a permanently manned base which logically should be the next goal. The U.S. has unquestionably had the technical ability to return to the Moon any time since last there but has lacked the motivation and has been reluctant to invest in a project that would be extremely beneficial to our nation. Given the extensive elapse of time since the last mission, anything less than establishment of a permanently manned base is nothing less than a repeat of what was done over a half century ago. As it is being pushed by both Trump and Pence, the cynical suspicion is that the primary motivation is not science or exploration but publicity enhancing their personal image in preparation for the 2020 Presidential election. NASA’s leadership has shown such little interest in manned space exploration that U.S. astronauts even have had to rely on Russia for traveling to the International Space Station (ISS) after the U.S. Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

While there supposedly has been considerable technological advancement in manned space capabilities since the last time we were there, it is not readily apparent from released mission plans. Whatever technological advancement there might have been over that interval, it is obvious there has been even less corresponding political progress. NASA’s heavy rocket boosters still essentially rely on the same Saturn V engine design that propelled the last mission a half century ago. The Orion manned capsule appears to be very little more than an enlarged Apollo; both are similarly shaped but as the Apollo was designed to hold only three passengers, the Orion will accommodate six. That is not what most people would consider to be fifty-years of progress.

NASA’s primary launch vehicle development project, known as the Space Launch System (SLS), has a modular design comprised of interchangeable parts supposedly able to accommodate improving technology and capable of supporting varying mission goals. Boeing serves as the primary contractor on SLS and is responsible for designing, developing, producing, and testing the rocket’s core and upper stage as well as its avionics.

The initial SLS Block 1 version is intended to lift a payload of 95 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) which will be increased in the Block 1B and the Exploration Upper Stage. Block 2 will replace the initial Shuttle-derived boosters with advanced boosters and is planned to have a LEO capability of more than 130 metric tons. These upgrades would allow the SLS to lift astronauts and hardware to destinations beyond LEO such as to a circumlunar trajectory as part of its lunar Exploration Missions 1 & 2 with Block 1 (and possibly to Mars with Block 2). The SLS would be used to launch the Orion Crew and Service Module and possibly support trips to the ISS.

As part of its human spaceflight initiatives, NASA wants to build a space station in orbit around the Moon, called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), which would serve as a waypoint for astronauts traveling to and from the lunar surface. Elements of the LOP-G would be delivered to lunar orbit using the SLS Block 1B. Similar to construction of the ISS, NASA hopes to build the Gateway in pieces by launching one module at a time and connecting them together in lunar orbit. NASA has proposed launching the first piece of the Gateway containing the solar panels and propulsion systems on a commercial vehicle.

The House Appropriations Committee released a spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year providing $5.13 billion for NASA’s exploration account, an increase of a little more than $100 million from NASA’s original 2020 request but so far ignores an amended White House budget request for an additional $1.6 billion. Larger increases for Orion ($159 million), SLS ($375 million), and ground systems ($193 million) are offset by a reduction of $618 million to exploration research and development which funds development of the lunar Gateway and lunar landers. Providing the additional $1.6 billion in NASA funding in fiscal year 2020 would be an important step toward meeting the stated 2024 goal but would also require substantial and sustained increases in funding over the next five years.

The agency has been requested by the Trump administration to put astronauts on the moon on an accelerated schedule and making a manned mission to Mars another top priority – all with his recommendation of a $500 billion reduction in the overall 2020 NASA budget[2]. NASA is politically touting the request as somehow good for the agency claiming its original target was to send humans to the Moon by 2028 (though they now believe it could be achieved as soon as 2024).

The budget proposal would effectively cancel development of the more powerful version of the Space Launch System (SLS) known as the Block 1B, which would have a powerful upper half called the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), that could simultaneously carry a significant amount of cargo as well as crews. This is problematic as initial delivery of materials is critical for establishment of any permanent manned lunar base.

There is a common apocalyptic misconception that with a warming planet, ocean acidification, impending mass extinction, and immense resource depletion, civilization as we currently know it could potentially encounter the possibility of a catastrophic event sometime within the not too distant future. While serious problems admittedly exist, an entirely new frontier in space is opening. NASA, rather than sending astronauts on bold missions beyond our planet, the space agency for the past fifty years apparently forgot its intended purpose and relented to the caprices of successive administrations leaving it directionless and underfunded. But now, the future of space travel appears to have been reenergized as private enterprise increasingly claims leadership where NASA fears to tread.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, belongs to a new generation of moneyed entrepreneurs working to reduce the cost of lifting materials and people into orbit[3]. Along with SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin have all developed working versions of spaceships. Branson has kept his focus on space tourism while Bezos and Musk are developing new classes of reusable rockets for space exploration and commerce.

But Musk, Bezos, and Branson are only the first of a small army of new companies entering space enterprise. Today, in 2019, the global space economy is valued at $350 billion[4] with predictions it will rise to $1 trillion dollars by 2040. Just in 2018, space companies received $3.9 billion in private investment.

Lockheed Martin revealed its proposed plans to build a lunar lander. Lockheed’s lander (which has yet to receive a proper name) would be part of the company’s “early Gateway” infrastructure for a sustainable human presence on the Moon.

Space exploration is more than just rockets. Companies like Planet Labs and Spire Global are seeking ways to offer space-based continuous monitoring of Earth’s agricultural, environmental, and industrial factors. Space manufacturing represents opportunities for companies such as Made in Space already exploring 3D-printing techniques for zero gravity.

One of the primary problems about the intended return to the Moon is that all the information released so far is extremely short on details as to its intended purpose and what it hopes to accomplish. If the intent is to establish a permanent manned base, there does not seem to be sufficient planning or preparation. If not, there is very little new to be gained.

Similar to here on Earth, one of the primary considerations on the Moon is location, location, location. The Moon provides a realistic proving ground for testing of critical deep space exploration technologies in close proximity to Earth but there are only a limited number of prime locations in which to establish an initial base; it is likely that if not developed relatively quickly, China will be able to claim first choice.

The lunar lowland basin at the south pole provides several crucial resources in which to establish a more permanent presence on the Moon such as water, in the form of ice, and sunlight, for solar power where some thin crests, peaks, and crater rims have sunlight for as many as 200 lunar days at a time. Shoemaker, Haworth, Faustini, Sverdrup, and Shackleton craters might have the most abundant ice deposits. Given resources, the polar environment makes surviving the lunar night a more manageable engineering problem.

Early pioneers spreading westward across the U.S. did not take construction materials with them, only the means of construction. Materials transport costs are the largest expenses of establishing a permanent base. Astronauts will need to bring their own life support systems, which can be prohibitively costly to transport. Without lightweight flexible technologies that can manufacture a variety of products using limited resources, initial base occupants will quickly encounter challenges. It therefore will be critical to develop basic modules necessary to support life prior to establishment of any permanent base but also fabrication capabilities for construction of all additional essentials.

Any base will need to become self-sufficient as quickly as possible – any prolonged dependence on continued materials from Earth will quickly become politically infeasible without relatively rapid expectation of full cost recovery (profit). Initial emphasis must therefore be on life support systems; e.g., air, water, other basic sustenance items; and facility expansion to accommodate future additional personnel. Only when the facility is operational should scientific research begin so extended stays and exploration can be supported without necessitating continuous frequent supplies and materials from Earth.

Development of a life support system capable of providing basic human necessities; air, water, food…; is one of the greatest challenges to prolonged residence – development of such technology would be equally beneficial here on Earth. Human waste is both problematic and unavoidable but also the greatest available resource; typically generating more than half the waste on a typical space mission. This obviously includes urine and feces but also carbon dioxide and water from crew respiration, perspiration and hygiene; food waste, packaging waste, and even dead skin cells.

Considerable development is essential prior to establishment of any permanent operational base. Non-pathogenic microbes might be part of the solution for future space exploration[5] as they are able to convert a wide variety of raw materials into a large number of essential products. Using engineering principles, synthetic biology could be harnessed to turn microbes into tiny programmable factories which possibly along with genetically modified plankton, krill, and/or algae should be sufficient to meet basic human needs. A minimum of two prefabricated life support systems capable of providing nutritionally sufficient nourishment, air, and clean water would need to be pre-deployed to the intended base site prior to initial personnel arrival.

Oxygen, metals, and silicon are raw materials that will be required for long-term habitation, production of all structural materials, and other items including solar arrays. Extraction of key mineral items from lunar soil will be essential to provide materials such as aluminum and glass used for construction and fabrication. The main mineral composition of lunar regolith includes oxygen, silicon, iron, calcium, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium. Anorthite is similar to the ore bauxite from which aluminum is produced on Earth and several possible extraction techniques have been developed that could be used in the lunar environment. It would be necessary to pre-deploy fully operational mineral extraction modules, along with associated fabrication modules, prior to personnel arrival.

The lunar environment will be highly hazardous and regardless of how thorough risk analysis and anticipation of any and all real or theoretically improbable contingencies might be, injuries and fatalities will regrettably occur. It must be assumed that Murphy’s Law will apply and such incidents must be anticipated. Medical diagnosis and treatment capabilities will be necessary immediately upon initial arrival as rapid transport to emergency facilities here on Earth is not an available option.

In the event of critical module failure, replacement cannot be quickly provided. Redundancy is therefore extremely essential. Pre-deployment of all necessary modules will require numerous shipments of items and adequate supplies from Earth prior to any personnel arrival. As of now, none of these modules have even been developed much less packaged in a form suitable for transport. Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be any public estimate of what initial establishment of a lunar base would actually cost. Cost estimates would be extremely high but once fully operational could relatively quickly begin to provide cost recovery.

People initially sent to the Moon, or eventually Mars, will out of necessity be specifically selected for the skills they can contribute. Management organization will initially be highly hierarchical. Population settlement will not become less restrictive until a permanent base of several hundred people is well established. As soon as a couple of hundred people are living extra-terrestrially, fundamentals like healthcare, education, policing, and elderly care become increasingly important – and there isn’t any necessity for those services to be organized and operated similarly to those on Earth.

Whether the U.S. will return to the Moon by 2024 is doubtful. Unless that return is merely a repeat of the last visit, something we have had the ability to do for over fifty years, there has been too little preparation and too little budgeted to support establishment of a permanent base within that time frame. Realistically, NASA’s budget would require an additional $20 billion and a multi-year commitment for sustained support rather than a one-time allocation of $1.5 billion. Still, any increased interest into once again resuming the long-delayed expansion beyond our planet is commendable.

How can anyone even begin to comprehend the amazement and wonderment of the totally inexplicable universe? There is so much to learn and see that never can be done from the confining limitations of a single small rock isolated in an extremely small area of all that exists. We have to go. So many reasons exist for going and essentially none to not. There are critics of the initial expenses but the potential rewards are unimaginable and far exceed any potential cost. Who are those who lack the dream of unlimited frontiers? Of freedom from Earthly bonds? Our future has to be outward. It is our future, our destiny. It is time – past time – to take those initial steps. If not now – WHEN?

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Rick Tumlinson is the co-founder of several space companies and non-profits including Deep Space Industries, Orbital Outfitters, the New Worlds Institute, and the Space Frontier Foundation.

[2] Grush, Loren. The President’s NASA Budget Slashes Programs And Cancels A Powerful Rocket Upgrade, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/11/18259747/nasa-trump-budget-request-fy-2020-sls-block-1b-europa, 11 March 2019.

[3] Frank, Adam. The Future of Humanity Is Interplanetary, Medium, https://medium.com/s/2069/the-future-of-humanity-is-interplanetary-e9bd32de2f5f, 31 January 2018.

[4] Foust, Jeff. A Trillion Dollar Space Industry Will Require New Markets, Spacenews, https://spacenews.com/a-trillion-dollar-space-industry-will-require-new-markets/, 5 July 2018.

[5] Blenner, Mark. Microbes Might Be Key To A Mars Mission, Scientific American, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/microbes-might-be-key-to-a-mars-mission/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=tech&utm_content=link&utm_term=2019-01-15_more-stories, 14 January 2019.

Posted in Aluminum, Anorthite, Apollo, Blue Origin, Boeing, China, Craters, Elon Musk, EUS, Exploration, Exploration Upper Stage, Extinctions, Faustini, Global Warming, Haworth, Healthcare, Injury, International Space Station, ISS, Jeff Bezos, Life Support, Lockheed Martin, LOP-G, Lunar Base, Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, Moon, NASA, NASA, NASA, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Orion, Oxygen, Plankton, Regolith, Richard Branson, Rocket, Russia, Saturn, Shackleton, Shoemaker, Silicon, SLS, Solar, Solar, Space, Space, Space Launch System, Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Sverdrup, Technology, Trump, Virgin Galactic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time To End Ideological Rancor

It seems to me….

The American people deserve truthfulness, not more political campaigning. The American people deserve a responsible government that seeks to address their needs, not more ideological dogma.” ~ Jose Serrano[1].

We now are once again at the start of what in reality is a never-ending election cycle. I never have attempted to conceal my distain for Trump or his deleterious policies and only can hope for a change in leadership. With that perspective, it is time for a change; not only in the direction in which our country is being led, but in the very nature of how our political discourse is conducted. It is time for the affairs of our nation to once again be based on fact rather than ideological hyperbole.

The question is how to get there. Politicians realize strict adherence to fact is ineffective. Fact-checkers are ignored. But there are no alternate facts. Anything not factual is untrue and frequently a politically-expedient lie. It is time for the public to demand an end to acceptance of duplicitous mendaciousness and prevarications.

Admittedly obvious impediments exist – too much money and vested interests are involved, campaign financial reform is needed, elimination of gerrymandering…. Too much of our politics is still dominated by old white men. Many of our nation’s problems seem to remain basically the same merely evolving over time and need to be viewed from a fresh perspective. It is time for youth to be served; time to once again recall John F. Kennedy’s declaration “Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace.”. A time for fresh ideas and idealism. Yes, experience is valuable and much comes only with time. But it is time to set aside the old, much of with which we have become complacent and overly comfortable and to explore new directions.

There are too many on opposing sides who listen only to the echo chambers of supporting beliefs vehemently refusing to accept any factual statement not in total agreement with their unsupported absolute convictions. Who throw brickbats of disdain at any opposing idea while cheering “Hurray for our side”.

It is time to constrain the exceedingly shrill voices constantly hurling condescending thunderbolts of acrimonious invectives and derisive rejection. While nothing should prevent anyone from holding strong personal beliefs on an issue, there needs to be greater acceptance of opposing positions worthy of consideration. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom or always are correct. Regardless of the strength of one’s personal convictions, incivility is never politically acceptable other than in response to direct threats to individuals or societies.

We are told by those whose words and opinions we accept that others with whom we disagree politically are ruining our country, that ideological differences are not merely a matter of differing opinions but reflect moral turpitude, and that our side must utterly vanquish the opposing side. Both political parties now view compromise as unacceptable and willing accept nothing less than total capitulation by anyone in disagreement, taking a stand behind their respective parapets demanding absolute total acceptance of their proposals, the only acceptable compromise being nothing for anyone.

Candidates wary of offending anyone who might potentially contribute to their reelection campaign stand on their soapboxes preaching platitudes and bromides at a chorus of believers rather than facts. Voters seemingly do not want the truth preferring promises of how everything will be better if they elect whoever – though supposedly knowing better having been led down that primrose path to disillusionment so often in the past.

Hopefully in the upcoming Presidential election both major political parties will select more centrist candidates willing to disavow negative campaign strategies and instead emphasizing their more positive program. Hopefully, they will espouse progressive, both conservative and liberal, policies rather than only attempt to vilify their opponent. We need candidates at all levels able to unite the moderate majority rather than divide – candidates who forego falsely labeling that with which they disagree with pejorative or derogatory labels.

The embattled U.S. political environment currently struggles under the rancor of opposing ideologies[2]. The fervor of tribal members is more often motivated not by reason but by assessment of events filtered through partisan passion; where neither side acknowledges the merits of opposing proposals but only the mores and demands bombastically “shouted” by their side. Each political party willingly accepts the other only in caricature – not as what actually is factual, only as what it supposes to be truths.

Frequently we only listen to the voices of an efficacious manipulator, someone seemingly on our side of the debate: a media figure who always affirms our views, a politician who always says what we think, or a professor[3] who never challenges our biases. Someone who declares the other side to be abhorrent, irredeemable, unintelligent, or in some other manner contemptable – said in a manner that we accept it as well.

In so doing, everyone should concede such overt contemptuousness and rejection of possibly superior proposals fails to benefit our nation. Neither side has a monopoly on exceptional ideas and both gain through meaningful debate and compromise. Partisanship is not intrinsically undesirable but the resulting current political stagnation is not advantageous to anyone, especially our nation.

It is time to move on; to attempt to heal the wounds and apply reason rather than rancor. On most issues, acceptance of verified facts should be sufficient to prevail rather than blind unhearing affirmations of unsupported suppositions. To do so, necessitates a willingness to think prior to deciding; to judge fairly prior to choosing sides. Everyone, not only elected politicians must place benefits to our nation above self-serving pomposity.

Politics in the U.S. has always been part loony, vicious, hateful, deceitful, wacky, and vitriolic. The mordant and angry ideological chasm characterized by bile, distrust, and harsh words politically dividing us today is almost as wide as prior and during the Civil War[4].

There have been many similar times throughout our nation’s history when dissent claimed precedence. While unaware of any substantiating research, it is doubtful that prior to the Declaration of Independence, the majority of colonists favored independence from England. Intense personal political rivalries resulted in Vice President Aaron Burr fatally shooting his long-time political antagonist Alexander Hamilton, one of the U.S.’s founding fathers and the chief architect of its political economy. Demonstrations opposing the war in Vietnam divided our nation resulting in widespread protests in the streets and on college campuses. The civil rights movement protesting discrimination against African American led to boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches or walks, and similar tactics primarily relying on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance, standing in lines, and, at times, civil disobedience frequently provoking vicious retaliation.

Now, we find ourselves once again divided by a culture of contempt. Progress is forced to languish due to hyperpartisan dissent. It is time to end such acrimonious antagonism where no side can – or should – win. In any such stalemate, it is our nation and its citizens who lose.

It is who we are – we are not a homogeneous nation. We are a republic made up of separate states initially intended to be governed as small nations with their own values, laws, and cultures. We are filled with a wide range of religions, beliefs, cultures, value systems, foods, and moral and ethical codes, as well as superstitions, enmities, grudges, and upbringings. And yet, somehow, it mostly works.

As prevailing wounds healed following the Civil War, current lesser strife also can be overcome if we so choose; let’s let it be so.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] José Enrique Serrano is a U.S. Democrat from New York who has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1990.

[2] Meacham, Jon. Mueller Offers A Lesson In The Power Of Reason, Time, http://time.com/5560225/jon-meacham-lessons-from-mueller-report/, 8 April 2019, pp28-29.

[3] Disclosure: I am a retired professor.

[4] Gewirtz, David. Mueller Report Confirms The Worst: National Sovereignty Is At Risk Worldwide, ZDNet, https://www.zdnet.com/article/mueller-report-confirms-the-worst-national-sovereignty-is-at-risk-worldwide/?ftag=TREc64629f&bhid=19956896469219522010026124510895, 28 March 2019.

Posted in Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Candidate, Civil Rights, Civil War, Elections, Gerrymandering, Kennedy, Politics, Vice-President, Vietnam War, Voters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Truths About Immigration

It seems to me….

America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.” ~ James Madison[1].

A U.S. core competitive advantage over the past half-century is that it has handled immigration better than most other countries[2] which will prove extremely beneficial if that policy is allowed to continue. It has taken people in from all over the world, assimilated them better, integrated them into the fabric of society, and has been able to maintain an environment in which new immigrants feel as invested as in their home country.

The 1967 U.N. protocol on refugees, signed by the U.S., defines a refugee as someone outside their country of origin who is afraid to return because of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or public opinion”. Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1979 committing the U.S. by law to grant asylum to anyone meeting that criteria. Originally primarily applicable to Cold War refugees, the definition fails to consider migrants fleeing rape, corrupt police harassment, violence, severe hunger, or climate-related conditions. The U.N. General Assembly in 2018 adopted two compacts addressing migration, one of which, the Global Compact for Migration (currently not supported by the U.S.) created a comprehensive global approach to international migration.

The total number of international migrants – defined as people living outside their country of birth – is now estimated to be 258 million. Many left their homes in search of medical care, better jobs, or education. Many left to escape the depredations of war and violence. Others have been displaced by climate change induced catastrophic weather.

The U.S. has been the world’s humanitarian for most of the past 75 years providing the largest amount of foreign aid and accepting the most refugees[3] taking in about 50 percent of the total number of those who were resettled from foreign lands. But not any longer. U.S. aid in the Syrian crisis has been matched by the European Union though neither has been doing enough.

What the U.S. is now doing to assist refugees has become an embarrassment. It had pledged to take in 10,000 Syrians but in 2015 accepted only 2,192 and has struggled to take in more even though, thanks to its distance from the conflict, it could be selective. Canada, meanwhile, with a population about one-tenth of the U.S., already resettled more than 25,000 Syrians. For its part, Germany registered nearly half a million applicants for asylum just in 2015 according to the New York Times.

The world’s richest nations are being put to shame by some of the poorest. Lebanon now has more than 1 million registered refugees, making up a quarter of the country’s population. Jordan is not far behind with more than 650,000. And Turkey houses nearly 3 million. These countries need aid on an entirely different scale than they are receiving.

In addition, Washington has traditionally taken the lead in setting the agenda for humanitarian action, corralling other countries to make donations, accept refugees, and provide forces for peacekeeping operations. The administration is now acting on some of these fronts, but it is still not commensurate with the enormity of the suffering.

More than 159,000 migrants filed for asylum in the U.S. in fiscal year 2018, a 274 percent increase over 2008 though the total number of apprehensions along the southern border has decreased by 70 percent since fiscal year 2000[4], their lowest level since 1971. Most immigrants arriving between 2010 and 2017 came from Asia (41 percent) rather than Latin America. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, there are fewer undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today than in 2007.

While there currently are over 5,000 migrants waiting in inexcusable conditions to apply for asylum in the U.S., border authorities are processing only 40 to 100 requests a day. In June 2018, less than 15 percent of asylum applicants were permitted to proceed, down from 33 percent a year earlier.

The U.S. was originally founded primarily by Europeans fleeing persecution but decades of asylum law and immigration policy are now being subverted. Political leaders use migrants for self-serving purposes claiming miles-long caravans moving through Central America or arriving in boats on Mediterranean shores to persuade native-born citizens of an eminent threat and to lock down borders, lower social safety nets, and jettison long-standing humanitarian commitments to those in need. Those most opposed to immigration tend to be older, right-wing, non-college educated, low-skilled, and working in immigration-intensive sectors. Contrary to conservative claims, immigrants are less likely than U.S. native-born to commit crimes.

Current politically motivated reactions fail to accept that migration is nearly always beneficial to a host country. The Congressional Budget Office has determined that migration, as a whole, raises the nation’s total economic output. By increasing the number of workers in the labor force, immigrants drive demand for goods and services making the U.S. more productive and contribute financially, both nationally and to individual states, an amount estimated to be about $2 trillion in 2016, about 10 percent of annual GDP.

Majorities of those surveyed in top migrant destination countries say immigrants strengthen their countries. In the U.S., the nation with the world’s largest number of immigrants, six-in-ten adults (59 percent) say immigrants make the country stronger because of their work and talents, while one-third (34 percent) say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits[5].

On average, migrants are more productive than native born citizens. Though migrants comprise only about 3 percent of the population, they generated about 9 percent of the global GDP in 2015. 45 percent of immigrants have college degrees compared to only about 35 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans. They frequently are entrepreneurs and innovators, provide inexpensive labor, and they overwhelmingly repay any economic contribution accepted in short-term social service.

Earth has more people over the age of 65 than under the age of five for the first time in history and that ratio is growing. Migrants however, in general, are younger than the native population. In 2017, 75 percent of all migrants were of working age compared to only 57 percent of the global population. The U.S. has both an aging population and a fertility rate well below that necessary for replacement, both important for economic growth. Migrants often act as an economic boon to aging nations helping the very people who most fear them. This has definitely proven true in the U.S.

Regardless of political rhetoric, increased immigration is beneficial not only morally but economically. Immigrants increase our nation’s cultural diversity and standard of living. They provide younger workers in an aging population. They are a source of skilled workers in employment sectors unable to locate sufficiently qualified applicants. The list goes on….

Rather than rejecting a resource which we desperately need, we should be grateful they are willing to come. Let’s reopen the entryways to our nation and welcome them as we have welcomed others throughout all of our history.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] James Madison Jr. was a U.S. statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth U.S. President. He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights. He also co-wrote The Federalist Papers, co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, and served as the fifth U.S. Secretary of State.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. If Trump’s New Immigration Stance Is Here To Stay, It Could Lead To Powerful Compromise, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/fareed-zakaria/?utm_term=.68d07c0f54b7, 5 April 2019.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. How Long Will We Ignore Syria’s Suffering?, Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/06/03/how-long-will-we-ignore-syrias-suffering/, 2 June 2016.

[4] Edwards, Haley Sweetland. The Stories Of Migrants Risking Everything For A Better Life, Time, http://time.com/longform/migrants/, 24 January 2019, pp22-43.

[5] Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana, and Phillip Connor. Around The World, More Say Immigrants Are A Strength Than A Burden, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewglobal.org/2019/03/14/around-the-world-more-say-immigrants-are-a-strength-than-a-burden/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=6f16f12a53-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_15_01_18&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-6f16f12a53-400092341, 14 March 2019.

Posted in Asylum, Canada, Canada, Climate, Crime, Economy, Education, Employment, European Union, Germany, Global Compact for Migration, Illegal, Illegals, Immigration, Jordan, Lebanon, Migration, Refugee, Refugee Act in 1979, Syria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

U.S.-China Relations

It seems to me….

China and the U.S. need each other very badly. Yes, we should argue about some things, but it’s not an ‘us versus them’, it’s an ‘us and them’ type scenario.” ~ Bill Gates[1].

U.S. foreign policy toward China has been remarkably consistent over 40 years and eight Presidents. Washington has sought to integrate China into the world economically and politically. This policy has been good for the U.S., good for the world, and extremely good for China[2].

The Pacific will be the arena that defines the 21st century[3]. According to the World Bank, in just 10 years four of the five largest economies in the world will be in the Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. will be able to shape the 21st century only if it remains a vital Pacific power. To accomplish this, it will be necessary to strengthen Asia’s complex legal, security, and practical arrangements that have underscored four decades of Asian prosperity and security. It will require bolstering freedom of navigation, free trade, multilateral groups and institutions, transparency and accountability, and such diplomatic practices as peaceful resolution of disputes.

The most vital priority of these is trade. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the sine qua non of the U.S.’s pivot to Asia because it would have simultaneously worked at many levels: economic, political, and strategic. The U.S. withdrawal has opened the door and China is stepping forward to replace it. This will only encourage China to also take a more active role in areas of U.S. interests including South America. U.S. participation in the TPP would have boosted growth, shorn up U.S. alliances, sent a powerful signal to China, and most importantly, written the rules of the 21st century in ways that were fundamentally American. Without it, China will draft very different rules in ways more favorable to itself.

The U.S. is the nation with the largest market. It therefore has the most leverage and, as foreign officials have often complained, it has used that strength to demand exemptions and exceptions available to few other countries – results of the TPP would have been similar. The TPP, prior to its cancellation by Trump, was erroneously under assault from every quarter in the U.S. though for workers, the TPP’s gains would have far outweighed any potential losses.

When a rising power challenges an incumbent one, war often follows. That prospect, known as the Thucydides Trap after the Greek historian who first described it, looms over relations between China and the West, particularly the U.S. So, increasingly, does a more insidious confrontation.

If the U.S. wants to avoid an actual war in the South China Sea, its only defense against China’s policy of gradual encroachment is a U.S. system of free trade and democratic alliance-building that buttresses its military posture and counters China’s own imperial system.

Power is not only military and economic, but moral: the constancy of one’s word so that allies can depend upon you. Only with that will littoral states such as Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan see it in their own interests to keep a safe distance from China. Geography still matters and because the U.S. is so distant from that part of the world, its only hope is to offer an uplifting regional vision that anchors its military one.

The West needs to respond to China’s behavior, but it cannot simply throw up the barricades. To ensure China’s rise is peaceful, the West needs to make room for China’s ambition. But that does not mean anything goes. Open societies ignore China’s sharp power at their peril.

The U.S. must depend, at least in part, on counterintelligence, the law, and an independent media which is the best protection against subversion. This necessitates Chinese speakers who grasp the connection between politics and commerce in China. The Chinese Communist Party suppresses free expression, open debate, and independent thought to maintain its control. Merely exposing those tactics and shaming sycophants would counter much of its effectiveness.

The Republican Party has now reversed itself entirely on two of its core beliefs, immigration and trade, and has gone from being a party of openness to one advocating walls and tariffs thus further opening the door to China’s growing strength.

Republicans persist in viewing the world from the past trapped in a perspective where the U.S.’s primary adversary remains the Soviet Union failing to recognize that Russia is now only a second-rate power (granted, one with nuclear weapons). In the 2012 Presidential campaign, John Huntsman was the only Republican candidate that acknowledged the new world order; none have since. While there certainly will be areas of friction, our primary foreign policy emphasis should be Southeast Asia, especially the rising influence and affluence of China. Now is the time to recognize that political shift and reach cooperative agreement with nations in that area rather than risk competition and possible future conflict.

Neoconservatives and some Pentagon officers voice alarm over a perceived developing Chinese threat more likely to exert its economic and political skills to achieve its objectives rather than resort to military force. To some extent, much of this reaction is primarily psychological projection. The U.S. needs to reverse its normal policies and respond instead to a Chinese asymmetrical strategy of expanding their economic and political sphere of influence which otherwise could eventually result in gradual U.S. regional impotence.

Many people assumed that given its enormous arsenal of strength, China would begin to assert itself geopolitically. Which it has done, especially in Southeast Asia, but China has also become a status quo power, comfortable with the world in which it has grown rich, wary of overturning the global system into which it is now integrating.

China is shifting its strategy away from manufacturing and their next five-year plan will include an increased focus on innovation. The government is expected to create programs to subsidize innovation by both small and large companies substantially funding the information and communications technology sector and other industries considered “strategic”.

A strong U.S. advantage has been our native innovation. China already recognizes it does not have an innovation culture and thus has more than 300,000 students in the U.S. – not only studying at our universities to get STEM degrees essential for tech jobs – but at increasingly younger ages to develop the ability to problem-solve, probe, and create. China now has more K-12 students in the U.S. than all other foreign nations combined.

China must be recognized as a growing competitor striving to surpass the U.S. in innovation. China’s weakening manufacturing infrastructure is less a threat to us than their increasingly intense focus on innovation. We would be wrong to not take China’s overall innovation strategy seriously. It’s not about manufacturing, as Trump foolishly thinks; it’s about who will lead the world this century in innovation.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] William Henry Gates III is an American business magnate, investor, author, philanthropist, and humanitarian best known as the principal founder of Microsoft Corporation.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. China is not the world’s other superpower, The Washington Post, http://fareedzakaria.com/2013/06/05/china-is-not-the-worlds-other-superpower/, 5 June 2013.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. Obama Is Now Alone In Washington, Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/09/01/obama-is-now-alone-in-washington/, 1 September 2016.

Posted in AI, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Asia, China, China, Communications, Economy, Education, Jon Huntsman, Military, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Soviet Union, STEM, STEM, Taiwan, technology, Thucydides Trap, TPP, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eating Our Seed Corn

It seems to me….

To get away from poverty, you need several things at the same time: school, health, and infrastructure – those are the public investments. And on the other side, you need market opportunities, information, employment, and human rights.” ~ Hans Rosling[1].

The national economy and sense of well-being is on a downward slide that has accelerated in recent decades. Manufacturing has mostly vanished as factory jobs have largely disappeared from the interior of the U.S. where they anchored cities and counties from World War II through the 1980s.

There is an old adage about not eating your seed corn. Farmers always knew to never eat all their corn. Some always had to be saved as seed for planting the following year so as to forestall starvation. Eating one’s seed corn was a desperate measure since it only postponed disaster. Today, the expression “eating your seed corn” refers to any desperate action that creates a disastrous situation in the long-term done in order to provide temporary relief.

But recently, that is exactly what we have been doing: eating our seed corn. Medium- and long-term effects of massive drops in public investment comes on the heels of decades of declining spending (as a percentage of gross domestic product) on infrastructure, scientific research, skills training, and core government agencies. The U.S. can’t coast on past investments forever.

Many cities have fallen into decline. Starting after World War II, the government and industry promoted suburbia abandoning scores of cities to the mostly non-white poor (white flight). Detroit’s carmakers bought and dismantled public transit which led to today’s costly transportation system where a nation of commuters purchase expensive private vehicles, gas, insurance, and spend hours away from home.

Healthcare cost increases have left wages frozen. Average wages have not risen, after being adjusted for inflation, for decades primarily due to healthcare cost increases impacting middle- and lower-class wealth.

Public education is vastly underfunded. Suburban schools in wealthy enclaves might be highly rated, but nationally, half of high school graduates are not at the same level as graduates of other countries and their better achieving peers foreclosing opportunity.

The government is not reinvesting in America. This is not simply about neglected roads and bridges. The U.S. government supports a bloated military-industrial complex that accounts for 40 percent of global spending on weapons. This may be domestic spending but it is not spending on domestic needs.

Decades of criticism, Congressional micromanagement, and underfunding have taken their toll. Agencies such as the IRS are now threadbare. The Census Bureau is preparing to go digital and undertake a new national tally but is hamstrung by an insufficient budget and has had to cancel several much-needed tests. The FAA lags behind equivalent agencies in countries such as Canada and has delayed upgrading its technology because of funding lapses and uncertainties. The list goes on and on.

The prospects for discretionary spending look dire, with potential cuts to spending on roads and airports, training and apprenticeship programs, healthcare research and public-health initiatives in addition to numerous other programs.

While the U.S. economy’s position relative to other nations has actually improved in recent years. Over half of the world’s top 100 companies are now American, and those that dominate the digital age – Google, Facebook, Amazon… – are almost all American. But the U.S. has not invested nearly enough in its workers – in their skills, education, infrastructure, and access to capital – so that they could prosper along with the country’s corporations.

The U.S. government spends a pittance on job retraining and related measures: 0.1 percent of our gross domestic product compared with 0.8 percent in Germany and a staggering 2.3 percent in Denmark[2]. The U.S. spends a lot on education, but inefficiently and mostly for the already wealthy and well-prepared children. Infrastructure is bad, and public transportation worse, so workers cannot move easily to new jobs. Those types of investments would allow U.S. workers to share in the prosperity of the general economy.

Unfortunately, recent federal budget proposals did little to correct many of those problems and, in many ways, only served to make them worse. E.g., some of the 2019 proposals were[3]:

A 42.3 percent cut to all “non-defense discretionary” spending, from the currently planned level of $756 billion in 2028 to $436 billion. This category includes funding for government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, certain safety net programs like Head Start, law enforcement spending at the FBI and Department of Justice, and scientific research through the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

A 33.7 percent cut to the EPA, a 29.5 percent cut to the National Science Foundation, a 22.2 percent cut to the Army Corps of Engineers (a major infrastructure program), a 21.4 percent cut to the Labor Department, and a 26.9 percent cut to the State Department, among many other discretionary spending cuts.

A $777 billion boost to defense spending over 10 years, supposedly partially paid for by reducing “overseas contingency operations” spending (also known as the war budget). By 2028, total defense spending will be lower, but over the next few years it will be significantly higher (7.9 percent higher in 2020, for instance).

A 7.1 percent cut to Medicare by 2028, due to reforms meant to cut payments to providers and reduce wasteful treatment without limiting access to health care. The Affordable Care Act in 2010 included many similar provisions with related goals.

A 22.5 percent cut to Medicaid and Affordable Care Act subsidies by 2028, through repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

A 27.4 percent cut to SNAP (food stamps) and a 20.1 percent cut to Section 8 housing assistance by 2028.

The U.S. once again is considered to have the most competitive economy in the world, the first time it has topped the ranking since 2008[4]. It ranks first overall in the world in three of critical areas: business dynamism, labor markets, and financial system. It comes second in another two; innovation (behind Germany) and market size (behind China).

But this only serves as a façade shrouding a weakening social fabric…and worsening security situation (ranked 56th): the U.S. has a homicide rate five times the advanced economies’ average. It is far from the frontier in areas such as checks and balances (40th), judicial independence (15th), and corruption (16th). Rounding out the top five most competitive economies are Singapore, Germany, Switzerland, and Japan.

And little or nothing is being done, or even proposed, to improve our obvious failings in other areas. These kinds of funding proposals will not help solve the problems currently facing us. It is merely a further example of eating our own seed corn.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker.

[2] Alden, Edward, and Bernard L. Schwartz. How America Stacks Up, Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/competitiveness/america-stacks-up/p37438, February 2016.

[3] An Analysis Of The President’s 2019 Budget, Congressional Budget Office, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53884, 24 May 2018.

[4] Whiting, Kate. These Are The World’s Most Competitive Economies, World Economic Forum, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/most-competitive-economies-global-competitiveness-report-2018/?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=972e46875b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_10_17_07_24&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-972e46875b-85658801, 16 October 2018.

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