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Tax-deferred retirement accounts make sense if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than now. I expect tax rates to increase, so would rather pay the tax now than when I take the money out. In US, Roth IRA allows that.
"Your Money or Your Life" is worth reading. Build up your savings and decrease your spending until earnings on savings equal spending. After that, you don't have to work for money. Worthwhile work still enhances health and happiness, though.
Robert Frank's books on economics make the point that relative income is more important than widely recognized. Two examples he may have missed:
1) it's not just how much education you have, but how it compares to the competition. So the best-educated get the best jobs, but that doesn't mean everyone would have a good job if everyone was better educated.
2) losing health insurance is a disaster if you are competing for health services with the insured. But if everyone loses health insurance (e.g., Medicare collapses), doctors will have to lower their fees.
You might like the "simple practice cases" in my recently published book, Darwinian Agriculture. Has natural selection favored solar tracking by leaves because it increases photosynthesis, or because it decreases the photosynthesis of competitors? What sex ratio (in reindeer, say) is favored by natural selection, and what sex ratio maximizes meat production from a given amount of lichen? Why do rhizobial bacteria provide their legume hosts with nitrogen, if healthier plants will indirectly help other rhizobia infecting the same plant -- their most-likely competitors for the next host?
It's even a little trickier than that. If overall population is increasing then one offspring this year may lead to greater proportional representation in the gene pool than two offspring next year. What few people recognize is that the opposite can be true if the population is decreasing.
But I think the original post assumed "all else being equal", to allow focus on the main points.
I think that only works if you say "even if that were true, which we don't need to discuss now, I would argue that..."
It's much harder to get someone to accept "for the sake of argument" something they strongly disagree with.
For example, I would only accept "morality comes from the Bible" if I had a convincing Bible quote to make my point.
You may find this story (a scientist dealing with evidence that conflicts with his religion) interesting.
In addition to the emotional issues you raise, there's the question of thresholds and scalability. If the puppy program already exists, giving $10 will help more puppies. But, for many scientific research projects, there's no point in even starting with less than $100K in hand. That could be $10 each from 10,000 people. An easy decision, perhaps, for the 9999th person, but who wants to give the first $10?
Elsewhere I've suggested "Social Escrow" as a solution. You pledge a certain amount, contingent on enough other people doing so and perhaps on other objective criteria. "Send us two checks. We'll tear up both if not enough other people send checks. We'll tear up the second if the research doesn't meet kilometerstone X by date Y."
Kickstarter has some of these features, but doesn't seem to fund science.
I agree that some "limits" have proved illusory. But do you have an example where a limit based on conservation of matter or energy was surpassed?
I assume solar technology will continue to improve, but it would take several orders of magnitude of improvement for food-from-solar cells to be cost-competitive with cattle grazing low-value land. What does an acre of solar cells cost?
Yes, we should start with the low-hanging fruit. For example, nutrients in human waste are a small fraction of what's in animal waste, and the latter should be easier to capture. Even so, much of the manure still gets applied at pollution-causing rates near barns and feedlots, rather than paying the cost of transport to where it is most needed.
But your point about food availability and social stability is more important. Recycling urine seems like a good idea. But a society that needs to recycle urine will be a society where many people are spending most of their income on food and others are going hungry, as was the case for the societies mentioned above.
Whatever past trends were, the rate of progress must slow as we approach physical limits. For example, there must be some minimum size for a reliable resistor. So even if we accept the inevitability of certain past trends, extrapolation is risky.
Once we've used most of the oil (or phosphate, for which there's no substitute), past trends driven by culture, technology, or economics won't continue. In agriculture, best-farmer yields haven't increased much since 1980, although averages go up as they buy their neighbors' land. (My recent book on Darwinian Agriculture discusses some prospects for improvement, but still within limits.) Cheap computer power may substitute for previous forms of education, entertainment, and travel, but not for food. I doubt that enough people will upload their brains to make a difference.
I agree with your main points, but it's worth noting that corporations and governments don't really have goals -- people who control them have goals. Corporations are supposed to maximize shareholder value, but their actual behavior reflects the personal goals of executives, major shareholders, etc. See, for example, "Dividends and Expropriation" Am Econ Rev 91:54-78. So one key question is how to align the interests of those who actually control corporations and governments with those they are supposed to represent.
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