Myhrvold’s Terrorism Paper

Nathan Myrhvold released a lengthy paper analyzing the technological nature of terrorism and critiquing the American strategy of counterterrorism thus far. I particularly liked his Richter-scale for ranking potential threats. In his paper, Myrvhold suggests a far more proactive policy of investment in counterterrorism R&D. He concludes by stating that, in the likely event that his advice isn’t followed, it’s more likely than not that we will see an attack within the next decade that kills 100,000 – 1,000,000 Americans.

I think he’s correct about the nature of the threat, and I think he’s correct in his prediction. More worryingly, I think he’s right about the political constraints that make proactive measures very unlikely. However, I’m concerned that his prescriptions focus too much on the technology angle, to the exclusion of the domestic policy angle.

Joe Studwell’s “How Asia Works” is one of the best economics history books I’ve read. It’s as if Studwell sets out to prescribe the cure for the disease described in “Confessions of an Economic Hitman“, and succeeds brilliantly. The cure he prescribes dates back to Meiji-era Japan and German economist Friedrich List. The antidote explicated by List was applied successfully by Japan, South Korea, and modern-day China. Ironically, the antidote was forcibly administered by Americans, in the first two successful instances — in the case of Japan, by General MacArthur.

The first rung of the development ladder prescribed by List (and successfully implemented in Japan, South Korea, and China) is “land-tenure policies that support smallholder farmers”. Studwell compellingly argues that, without this first rung, no country has ever reached the higher rungs of development. Ever since the dawn of agriculture, the inexorable trend is for rent-seekers to capture an increasing share of the value, and eventually enslave 90% of the population in serfdom. This is the topic of Perkins’ book (and the genesis of what we call “bullshit jobs” — a topic for another post). But in the case of MacArthur (and List), the antidote was clear: land-tenure polices that redistributed land from rent-seekers to smallholders, resulting in full employment and skin-in-the-game for everybody. Overall profit drops, but individual productivity skyrockets.

When we fail to follow List’s (and MacArthur’s) advice, we see exactly the situation that Perkins predicted. Studwell holds up the Philippines as an example of a country that did a particularly poor job of agrarian reform (echoing the often-hilarious accounts in “Sons of the Yellow Emperor“). The rent-seekers capture government, and the fringes fall away and become sympathetic to “terrorist” groups like Abu Sayyaf.

The necessary reforms are unlikely to come from within, and simply forcing countries to become “democratic” isn’t the answer. But imposing these policies from the outside has been successful in the past, and would be a better use of our influence.


Sade “Bring Me Home” and “Skin”

There is still some good poetry coming from the secular realm. Sade’s voice isn’t what it used to be, but her poetry is unimpeachable. This from “Bring Me Home“: Put me on a plate with petals and a fire And send me out to sea Turn my angry sword against my heart And let me […]


A Typical Dream

This is how my dreams go. In the dream, I discovered some public information about myself that I previously believed to be private. The information appeared to have been deliberately stolen and disclosed, and was selectively presented in a way that portrayed me negatively. I felt confident in my ability to handle blackmailers and those […]


A Function for Consciousness

One of the biggest open questions for naturalistic science is, “What function does consciousness serve?”. If evolution is true, it would have been far more efficient to endow persons with consciousness-like behaviors without having to resort to actual consciousness. This was the point of Chalmer’s zombie thought experiments. Philosopher John Searle considers consciousness to be […]


The New Godwin’s

Charles Stross recently revealed that he uses a software package called “Scrivener” to keep track of the complicated plots of novels he’s writing. His disclosure prompted an interesting discussion about the functions of literature, the uses of software, and Tolstoy. One bright bulb, however, took umbrage at all of this talk of literature, and tossed […]


Not To Keep

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Immortality

A puzzling question I sometimes hear is, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die in two months?”. A closely related admonition is, “Live each day as if it’s your last”. Presumably, these sorts of statements are an invitation to live life to the fullest, “Carpe Diem” or something like that. […]


Reverse Solipsism

In the previous post, you were challenged to convince yourself that real people are imaginary. But most people would rather do the opposite. Most people spend a lot of time convincing themselves that imaginary people are real. The imaginer mistakenly imagines that his imagination is fully under his control, so he assumes that imaginary people […]


Puzzling About Solipsism

I’m not sure how to frame this. Imagine that you’re talking to someone about imagination, and you exclaim, “I’m not even convinced that you are not a figment of my imagination!”. Now, it is easy to imagine saying something like this. But can you imagine saying it convincingly? The best way to sound convincing is […]


Contemplation

To arrive at the simplest truth, as Newton knew and practiced, requires years of contemplation. Not activity. Not reasoning. Not calculating. Not busy behaviour of any kind. Not reading. Not talking. Not making an effort. Not thinking. Simply bearing in mind what it is one needs to know. And yet those with the courage to […]