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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

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I can't provide 100% certainty that human life on Earth is the result of intelligent design. But I can get to around 99.99% certainty.

By intelligent design, I mean Earth is seeded with DNA provided by human-like inhabitants of another planet.

I'm borrowing my argument from others. None of this is original, and I've written about it before. What's new is that we're getting close to being able to seed another planet with our own DNA. And there's talk of doing just that because there's a non-zero chance that humans of the Earth variety won't survive unless we seed other planets.

I imagine we'd launch one big rocket into space that would leave the atmosphere and divide into thousands of small rockets that can make tiny adjustments to their direction but otherwise use the inertia of the mother rocket as propulsion. These tiny rockets can scan planets on the fly for earthlike properties and navigate toward ones that look promising, ending in a parachute landing.

If we decide to seed other planets with our DNA, which seems inevitable, it's likely we'd send thousands of seed rockets, not one. Sending one rocket would be a bad bet.

And since scientists are already talking of doing something like that now, and apparently we will have the ability to do so, it stands to reason that our genetic spawn on those planets will someday evolve to have the same impulses and capabilities. Then they will send out their own DNA seed ships.

So the odds are that planet-seeding will happen not once but thousands if not millions of times as one seeded planet begets thousands of others and so on.

We have no reason to believe we're the original humans. Sure, we evolved from lower creatures, but that might have been exactly how the seeding works. You start with the lower forms of creatures and let them evolve until humans have plenty to eat when they come along later. That's how I'd play it.

Or maybe the dinosaurs were seeded by some alien species whereas mammals came from human-like aliens. There are lots of possibilities.

What seems least likely is that we're the first humans on the first planet with an original idea about seeding other planets. It's far, far, more likely we're somewhere in the middle of the trend. We might be one of thousands or one of millions of planets seeded.

You might be tempted to quibble with the timing of things. But perhaps evolution on the newer planets is sped up by the designers. The original humans might have taken a billion years of evolution to arrive. By the hundredth iteration of humans seeding humans, perhaps the process has been compressed to a million years. That seems within the realm of possible.

So I say there's a 99.99% chance we are the result of past seeding by earlier humans. If you still believe we're the first, perhaps that is a case of feeling special more than a case of rational thought.

What's wrong with this line of reasoning?

[Update:

1. The seeders couldn't guarantee creating humans just like us. But we know, for example that eyes evolved in at least two separate lines of evolution on earth. I'll bet intelligence is also likely to increase over time in at least one species. And once intelligent, that creature would need less speed and strength and even hair covering. So I think evolution might create weak, hairless, intelligent creatures with eyes as often as not. Add some symmetry and limbs and you're close enough. 

I allow the possibility that the race seeding us looked more a customer in a Star Wars bar scene than like Brad Pitt. Close enough. 

2. I'm surprised how many people think we won't ever have the technology to launch rockets that can sniff out the remote signature of habitable planets. Not in a thousand years? Really?

3. As to whether we would be motivated to seed other planets, all you need is one billionaire who wants to give the universe a facial. You think that guy won't exist in the next thousand years?]


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Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the most thoughtful graduation present

 



 
Excuse the sloppy wording of this question, but I think you'll get the idea. Physics isn't my field.

This question is inspired by the discussion of ion harvesting in my prior posts.

If you were to instantly remove all of the positive charges from the particles in a given cubic meter of the atmosphere, what happens next?

Do those de-charged particles go someplace and reacquire a charge? And does that happen at the speed of light?

How fast does the cubic meter you drained of energy "refill" to the level before you drained it?

Does the space drained of electrical charge act like a vaccuum to suck in more charged particles? And if so, does the recharging happen at the speed of light or slowly?

I ask because I see a lot of folks saying there is a limited energy potential in the atsmosphere so no matter how efficiently you harvest the ions you have no hope of generating meaningful amounts of energy.

It seems to my physics-challenged brain that the rate of replenishing is as important as the quantity in existence at any given moment. Or to put it another way, if the energy you take out of the atmosphere is backfilling fast enough, and you are sucking it out fast enough, don't you have something like unlimited potential?

I assume the answer is no, but I'd like to hear it from an authority.

Who can give me the simple answer to these questions?

Follow-up question:

If I understand the answers so far, the speed with which a given space in the atmosphere can repopulate with electrons depends on the speed of the airflow and the physical composition of the air "dust."

So my follow-up question is whether you can boost the efficiency of an ion antenna by putting it in a natural wind tunnel (or high in the atmosphere) and perhaps introducing some type of optimal "dust" in that air to carry charge.

And is there any way to move charged electrons through a vaccuum that contains the ion antenna and also introduce new electrons into the vaccuum without opening it and without using more energy to do it than you create?

Thoughts on Scaling

According to yoru comments, the factors influencing the amount of ions you can harvest are wind speed, altitude, weather in general, and surface area of the antenna.

So let's say you "painted" a windmill with graphene and connected it to the same electronics handling the wind power. That saves you the expense of land, government approvals, elecronics, transmission, etc. 

You could have about a thousand times more area on the windmill compared to the hobbyist's antenna.

And since windmills are in windy places, and they have elevation, you get perhaps ten times more ions. Just a guess.

Now because the wind mill blades are turning perpendicular to the incoming wind, you have the speed of the wind on top of the speed of the propeller cutting sideways throug the wind. 

It can't be cheap to cover a windmill in graphene, but those costs will naturally come down.

I believe none of this gets you to good economics, but I just got you closer.







 
Don't read this update unless you are familiar with the topic from my posts here and here. And be sure to read the comments as well.

Okay, if you are playing along at home, you know I asked the company to do two things to demonstrate the credibility of their claims:

1. Tell us how much wattage the device produces over X period of time. 

2. Provide a video that is a continuous tracking shot of the working prototype from antenna to operating appliance, with no edits. 

I'll pause to remind you that 99% of claims "like this" turn out to be complete bullshit. I'm not backing the claims, just giving them their time in the sun to see what happens. I find this fascinating no matter the outcome.

I predicted that if this is a scam, the wattage estimates would be delayed or there would be some excuse for why they can't be produced. And if this is a scam, I predicted that the video of the continuous tracking shot of the prototype would never arrive.

So how'd they do?

The company produced for me a video of the technology from antenna to capacitors but it included an edit break before the working appliance. I rejected that video as being exactly what a scammer would produce. They acknowledge my point and plan to reshoot without an edit. The reason given for the edit break is that the camera had to be put down because it takes two hands to start the appliance safely in the lab environment. They will shoot again with one camera person and one operating the appliance.

Keep in mind that a video would not show how long it took to charge the capacitors, and one could never be sure there are no hidden power cords or batteries. But if the company can't produce a video showing the prototype working from antenna to appliance without an edit break, there's nothing here.

The company also offered this video, taken this week by another hobbyist who visited their lab because he works on the same sort of stuff. This video doesn't have the continuous shot either, but you'll see a lot more detail about the company's claims.

Next, I asked about the average wattage produced. Their lawyer, who has an electrical engineering background, produced what follows. I don't understand any of it, and I'm intensely curious whether they would dare to publish complete bullshit about electronics on this particular blog. That would be the worst scam strategy of all time.

My personal bullshit filter says that anything this complicated is intended to confuse. But that's just a bias based on pattern recognition. I'll let you decide how real it is.

Here's the LinkedIn profile of the lawyer/EE:

And here is his website.

And here is his wattage estimate analysis.


Analysis Procedure:
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The Median Values Estimate, far bottom, is derived from calculations averaging a highly active ion harvesting period with a low active ion harvesting period to arrive at a Median Values Estimate.

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Highly Active Ion Harvesting Period:

15 minutes to charge 75uF to 17.5kV.  With those numbers:

We have charged 75uF of capacitance to 17.5kV in 15 minutes. To calculate the current it takes to charge the capacitors to that voltage in that time, we use the following formula:

I=c(dV)/(dT)

I= 75x10^-6  x 17500 / 15(60)   The factor of 60 is introduced because the formula uses seconds, so we multiple 15 minutes by 60 to get the amount of seconds.

So, I=1.45mA

To calculate the power available, then, we multiply 1.45mA by 17,500 and we get 25.4W from the single collector.

Multiplying this by 4 to get an hour, a single collector produces approximately 100Wh or 360,000 Joules.

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Slow Ion Harvesting Period

In the case in which it took 2 hours to charge 75uF to 4kV:

We have charged 75uF of capacitance to 4kV in 2 hours. To calculate the current it takes to charge the capacitors to that voltage in that time, we use the following formula:

I=c(dV)/(dT)

I= 75x10^-6  x 4000 / 120(60)   The factor of 60 is introduced because the formula uses seconds, so we multiple 15 minutes by 60 to get the amount of seconds.

So, I=41.7uA

To calculate the power available, then, we multiply 41.7uA by 4000 and we get 167mW from the single collector.

Dividing this by 2 to get an hour, a single collector produces approximately 83mWh or 300 Joules.

 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Median Values Estimate:

So for median values, we have

I = 745uA with a /- 25% tolerance gives a range of 559uA to 931uA

P = 12.78W with a /- 25% tolerance gives a range of 9.59W to 15.98W

W= 50Wh or 180kJ with a /- 25% tolerance gives a range of 37.5Wh (135kJ) to 62.5Wh (225kJ)

Scalability and Economy of Scale:
----------------------------------------------

A preliminary test indicates that 1 ion collector of determined length located at 300 feet altitude approximates similar output compared to the combined proof-of-concept harvesting towers at 130 feet altitude, subject to repeatability tests and confirmation. The "two balloon" experiment conducted in 2006 strongly suggests that this technology is scalable, subject to repeatability tests and confirmation.

Preferred Method:

The preferred method of determining an average output is through the use of a Data Logger/Recorder. In the absence of owning a Data/Logger Recorder, the above estimates have been substituted.

------------ end ------------

Did they answer my question of how much wattage is produced on average?

Some of you asked why they don't just get a local university or other experts to take a look and validate their technology. I can confirm from my own experience trying to find an expert for that task that no one who answers to a boss knows how to get permission for this sort of thing. It looks like a career suicide mission.

So while failure to get an expert's opinion fits the pattern of a scam, it also fits the pattern of an inventor with no credibility and a lab in a cow field.

I'll remind you again that things "like this" turn out to be bullshit 99% of the time. Don't lose that context. But let's reject ideas based on data, not pattern.

My personal view comes down to this. The basic idea of getting energy from the air is proven science. You can see other experiments of this type on Youtube. The company's claim is that they tried different antennae until they found one (graphite/graphene) that works far better than others. That seems plausible to me because it would be surprising if all antennae performed the same.

What we don't know is whether the new antenna is so much better that it could make this technology economical. The inventor doesn't know that either. He's asking for money to find out.

The critics among you have pointed out that it is unlikely there is enough energy in the air to be harvested economically. I say that if the invention can (for example) collect ions for three hours and light a bulb for half an hour then that feels like something worth developing further. But the company hasn't shown that it can do what I described in a way I find credible.

I'll close by reminding you again that this sort of thing turns out to be bullshit 99% of the time. Skepticism is warranted.

What do you think now?

---------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a great graduation present

 

 

 

 

Update: China is building pyramids. Sort of. Well, they're tall and pointy. The concept is similar.


You hated my idea of building canals all across America. And you don't trust the company that claims to harvest usable energy from the atmosphere. But you'll love my pyramid idea.

Imagine an enormous pyramid in the middle of a desert, miles wide and reaching miles into the sky. The purpose of the pyramid is energy production. And it does so in a variety of ways.

For starters, the inner core of the pyramid is hollow from the ground to the sky. Air enters through holes in the base and is drawn up through the hollow center because warm air rises. That gives you enough airflow to generate electricity.

If you put some scrubbers in the device I think there's a way to deal with pollution and climate change too. I saw some sort of tube-to-the-sky concept that was supposed to do that but I'm too lazy to search for the link. So let's say we fix climate change with our pyramid as a bonus. Perhaps that requires a separate hollow tube in the same pyramid.

We'd also cover the sunny sides of the pyramid with motorized mirrors to reflect sun down to generate solar-steam power on the ground. I think that's more economical than using photovoltaic cells but maybe not.

If it's possible to collect ions from the air in useful quantities (which most of you doubt) then we know there is a higher concentration at high altitudes. So perhaps someday we have ion antennas near the top of the pyramid too.

And let's not forget the temperature differential between the desert floor and the top of the pyramid. That difference could power Stirling generators.

And I would expect lots of natural wind a few miles up, so maybe we can have windmill-type generators on whichever side of the pyramid gets the least sun.

If your desert is within pipeline access to the ocean, I think that turning salt water into steam gets you desalinization. I would think you could make fresh water with the byproduct of your solar steam generator.

None of this works if building the pyramid is too expensive. So I wonder how hard it is to fashion suitably strong bricks out of sand. If it's only a case of heating the sand until it becomes hard as glass, all we need is giant magnifying glasses aimed at our brick-making oven on site.

We'd need robot laborers, and lots of them. Their job would be moving and placing each brick of the pyramid, which isn't terribly complicated work. That seems feasible with current technology.

To power the robots, you need to start your project by first building a solar power plant on the desert floor. That too would be the type that concentrates the sun to create steam power. And the solar power plant wouldn't go to waste because if the first pyramid works, you can keep building more nearby and power the robots continuously. When you're done building pyramids, the power plant connects to the grid.

When aliens helped the early Egyptians build the original pyramids perhaps they were leaving a clue for future generations. That conversation probably went like this:

Alien: We need to tell future generations of humans about pyramids. It will save them.

Egyptian: I can write a message on a wall.

Alien: I've seen your hieroglyphics. They're shit. Look at that one. (Points at wall.) I can't tell if that guy is winning a war or trying to date his ox.

Egyptian: I just realized you guys are made of meat. And if I'm not mistaken, you're boneless.

And that's why the pyramids exist but there is no evidence of aliens.

 --------------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Did you buy a graduation gift yet? Don't forget this book.

 



 

 

 

Where have I seen this advice before?
 
In my prior post I described a small company that claims it can harvest useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere. Is this a case of a bold scam or is it simply an inventor who is more optimistic than qualified? Or - and this is the least likely possibility by far - could it be a legitimate breakthrough?

Whatever it is, I think we all agree on the following fact: Almost every part of the company's pitch fits the pattern of a classic scam.

If you knew nothing except what has been presented to you so far, including the information and calculations provided by the sleuths who left comments, you would be generous to assume a 1% chance that this is a legitimate scientific breakthrough in green energy. On the face of it, you'd have to give it a 99% or better odds of being bullshit. If you tell me the odds are more like 99.9999% bullshit I'll be happy to agree because I'm not that good at calculating the odds of things.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Do you know what else can sometimes look exactly like a scam? Answer: A legitimate breakthrough.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it must be a duck, right? Unless it's a hunter with a remote-controlled duck. There's always the thing you didn't consider.

What interests me most about this situation is that the company has been consistent from the start in asking for both public attention and qualified scientific scrutiny. They even offered to ship me a desktop prototype that I can witness lighting a bulb.

Are they bluffing?

That's an interesting question. Let's take a journey to find out. I hope you'd agree that unmasking scammers (if that's what happens) would be interesting.

Based on your comments, I asked the company this question yesterday: "How much useful wattage does the prototype produce?"

If the wattage estimate is trivial, or for some reason unavailable, or delayed for a variety of excuses, I think we're done. Would you agree?

The company claims that its technology is different from the devices you can see on YouTube that are harvesting too-trivial-to-matter electricity from the air. That technology is decades old. And they say their technology doesn't use the EM from radio stations. There's no way for me to verify that from a distance.

If the wattage estimate that they come back to me with is in the useful range, I would next ask for a video that tracks end-to-end from the antenna to the intermediate equipment to the working household device (light bulb, fan, etc.).

And I would also ask for their location relative to the nearest radio station.

If the video and the wattage estimate are still intriguing, and they aren't too near a radio tower, I say we put a qualified expert in the same room as the prototype and have some more fun.

Would that plan entertain you?

[Update: Yesterday the inventor provided me with some wattage figures along the lines of "keeps a 15-watt bulb lit for x minutes." I asked a follow-up question of how long the device needs to collect energy before releasing it for those x minutes. He informed me that he was called away on a family emergency and would follow up. If you are following along at home, this is exactly what a scammer would do. That doesn't make it a scam. But the pattern is consistent with one.]

[Update 2: The comments that support the company didn't show up for a few days because our comment system puts new accounts in a limbo zone for reasons I don't understand. See comment from BrahmsKeith in particular]

[Update 3: I have received wattage information from the company in a few email exchanges but I am pressing to get that information in the form of "On average, my prototype produces enough wattage in x minutes to power a bulb of a certain type for Y minutes." What I have received so far doesn't tell me how long it takes to charge a capacitor to light a fluorescent bulb for a period of time. This is the response all of you predicted.]

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a book with a name that doesn't sell books.

 



 
Imagine you have two choices. You can either...

Do nothing, or... 

Do something simple that has a 1% chance of helping billions of low income people live substantially better lives, but it comes with a 99% chance that the only outcome is your own permanent embarrassment. 

Here I'm talking about the kind of embarrassment that follows you around forever. If you have a Wikipedia page, your embarrassment will end up on it. Every time you go to a party, someone will bring it up. When your obituary is written, it will be mentioned. Your credibility will forever be defined by this embarrassment.

Do you take that 1% chance?

This isn't a thought experiment. I'm dealing with that decision right now. Luckily for the world (maybe), I don't feel embarrassment like normal people. So I'm all in for the 1% chance of helping the world. I live for this sort of thing.

Here's my story.

About a decade ago I got an email from an engineer/inventor who claimed he could make electricity out of air. It had something to do with harvesting ions or some such blah, blah, blah. I was interested because I have a nerdy curiosity about green energy projects, but I assumed that this would be like most ideas in that realm and it wouldn't pan out.

The inventor formed a tiny company and the company stayed in touch with me by email as they filed their patents and worked on their prototypes. Patents were granted. Bigger and better prototypes were built. I've seen their videos of the prototypes powering household appliances.

If the videos are to be believed, the prototypes are harvesting useful amounts of electricity directly from the atmosphere, day or night, rain or shine. What the company doesn't yet know is how well it scales up, and whether or not normal engineering improvements in the process can make this economically feasible. The company thinks the odds are good.

If it scales up, and proves to be economical, the world will be transformed.

I like to think my bullshit filter is better than average. After ten years of following this project, I have concluded that the people are real, the patents are real, and the prototype does create electricity from the atmosphere. I could be wrong, so you should be skeptical. And I'm encouraged by the fact that the company doesn't claim to know it can scale up; they are looking for funds to find out.

And just to be super-clear, things that are in the "too good to be true" category turn out to be bullshit 99% of the time. That's our context.

But I'm going to take the 99% chance of embarrassing myself along with the 1% chance of helping the world by giving some attention to this technology.

I give you the company's crowd funding link.

I don't have a financial interest in the company.

The company has offered to fly me out to their tiny field laboratory in some godforsaken Florida cow field to see the prototype myself. I said they should spend their money showing it to atmospheric physicists (to further validate the potential) or investors in the green energy field.

If you are one of those types, I can put you in touch with the company. Depending on your credentials, I might even pay for your trip to see it. Contact me at dilbertcartoonist@gmail.com if you're interested.

Here are the patent links:

Patent 1

Patent 2

Patent 3

[Update: Read all of the comments before forming an opinion. And keep in mind that this is in the class of things that are bullshit 99% of the time.]

[Update 2: I'll forward to the company for response any simply-stated question you have about the technology or the economics of scaling up.]

[Update 3: And please stop categorizing me as gung-ho for an idea I have described as being in the class of things that are 99% likely to be bullshit. It's going to be hard enough to keep "Cartoonist involved in scam" off my Wikipedia page.]

[Update 3: For some reason there are comments I can see on my CMS that aren't getting posted. If you put a phone number in your comment, that might be why. Try an email address. The comments getting omitted include an alleged eyewitness to the prototype. And there are a few comments I can't comment on because my CMS doesn't work. -- Scott]


--------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

This book explains why I do things like this

 



 

 

 

 
What do you think of this actor, Adam DeVine, to play Dilbert in a live-action movie?

He's quickly becoming one of my favorite comedy talents. He's the right age and look too.

I'm hoping to write a  Dilbert movie script this summer and it helps to have an actor in mind even if the actor isn't aware of it.

[Update: Please stop saying Drew Carey in the comments. He would have been ideal about 20 years ago. The story I have in mind is more of an origin story in which we see a younger Dilbert freshly into the cubicle world. He would age in sequels.]



 
How good are you at predicting commercial hits?

Amazon has a new feature that shows the percentage of reviewers who "liked" a book. That's a combination of 4 and 5-star reviews divided by the total number of reviews. I decided to see how my nine original books came out on the "liked" ranking. I was curious if sales were aligned with reviews.

Liked              Title

90%     How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
88%     Dobert's Top Secret Management Handbook
87%     The Dilbert Principle
82%     Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel
78%     The Dilbert Future
76%     The Religion War
71%     The Joy of Work
68%     God's Debris
67%     Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain

So given those user ratings, let's see how good you are at predicting hits. In this case you're predicting the past, but since you don't have complete data you still need a lot of intuition or experience to answer these questions.

1. Which two books have been read by the FEWEST people? 

2. Which two books has been read by the MOST people? 

If you can answer even one of those questions correctly, you would be the best book publisher in the world.

Scroll down for the answers.

 

 






Answers:


The two books that have been read by the FEWEST people include the one that is least liked (67%) and the one that is most liked (90%).

The two books that have been read by the MOST people are The Dilbert Principle (88% - 3rd place) and God's Debris (68% - almost tied for last place).

If you ask a publisher (and I have) how well they can predict hits, they'll tell you no one has that ability. The quality and likability of a book have no correlation to sales.

I've been talking to a lot of folks who work in the venture capital field (including seed and angel) as part of the CalendarTree.com ramp-up. Start-up funding is a bizarre world in which everyone holds these two contradictory views:

1. A successful start-up must have the following elements (x,y,z...) 

2. No one can predict which start-ups will succeed. 

As far as I can tell, the only reason for the first item on the list is so folks have something to talk about in the meetings. Obviously there are some minimums, such as the ability to create an actual product, but beyond that no one can predict anything.

Publishing has the same absurdity. It goes like this.
  1. Bob, it's your job to pick our next hit book.
  2. Bob, no one can predict which books will be a hit.
I'll bet you're having the same kind of conversation at your job. It goes like this.

Boss: Add this new feature to our product even if you have to work nights and weekends.

You: Will that increase sales?

Boss: Beats me.

-----------------------------------------
 
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 



 
 

 

 

 
If you could snap your fingers and magically double the wealth and income of every human on earth while somehow keeping inflation in check, would you do it?

Before you answer with some version of "Duh, yes." keep in mind that you would be severely worsening income inequality. And that, as we are often reminded by the media, will destroy civilization.

I'm not entirely clear why income inequality leads to doom, all other things being equal, but I hear it has something to do with the French. The analogy, as I understand it, is that Marie Antoinette and her historically inaccurate philosophy "Let them eat cake" is exactly like Bill Gates pledging his fortune to eradicating malaria, fixing education, and providing clean water to the poor.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THAT HEDGE FUND GUY AND HIS HIGH FREQUENCY TRADING????

You can kill that guy with a shovel. That has jury nullification written all over it. I haven't looked into it, but I'm fairly sure there are a few assholes among the middle class and poor too. Can we ignore the outliers for now?

One of the odd things about my career, and where I live, is that I meet a lot of billionaires and hundred-millionaires in the normal course of my work. Allow me to label my experience anecdotal and rare before you do. Anyway, my experience is that all the super-rich people I meet seem to have a few things in common:

-          They don't need to work.

-          They all work 60+ hours per week.

-          Every penny they make from now on will be spent by others.

-          They are trying to find the best way to give away their money.

-          No one likes higher taxes.

I don't think we want the rich to stop working. We're all lucky that Steve Jobs didn't quit before Pixar. But if the rich keep working, inequality is likely to keep getting worse. So how do you solve the problem of helping the rich give away their money in ways that help low-income folks the most while being meaningful to the givers?

Before I answer my own question, I'd like to introduce an economic concept that someone probably already thought of. I call it Predicted Personal Lifetime Consumption (PPLC). That's the amount of money that a rich person can reasonably spend on himself and his immediate family members over the course of a lifetime.

There are two big limiting factors on personal consumption. The first is decision fatigue. At some point you want to stop making choices about your personal spending so you can enjoy life. There just isn't enough time to make all the buying decisions necessary to spend a billion dollars on leisure.

The second limit on personal spending for the rich is that at some point you run out of big, expensive items worth buying. Maybe you buy a jet, an island, perhaps a pyramid or two, and soon you're running out of ideas.

My point is that there are a lot of rich people wishing they had a better and more meaningful way to get rid of excess wealth. Most of those folks have a pro-business attitude and, one imagines, a low opinion of how the government uses taxes. So what do you do?

How about a private entity creating some sort of venture capital funding program that allows the rich to leverage their experience and their cash in ways that best help the economy? Think of it as micro-loans to low-income borrowers but with the kicker that the lender can offer mentoring, contacts, and even training.

If you had a choice of paying an extra $100K in taxes, or loaning $100K to a low-income person who has a reasonable business plan and might need some mentoring and contacts, which would you prefer? Paying extra taxes feels like shitting on your own money and burying it where no one can find it. Helping someone who is struggling to create a business feels like a meaningful use of your mind and your resources. It's no contest.

The problem is one of information.

There's no way to match poor people that need some mentoring, training, and investment with rich people who might be happy to help.

Making loans to low-income people is a high-risk, low-return game. That's why no one does it. But the rich can do it without answering to shareholders and without risking a change in their own lifestyles. And while the low-income people are struggling and failing (mostly) they are also building up their skills, creating contacts, and stimulating the economy even as they fail. The economy as a whole benefits even as individual low-income ventures go under. That's how capitalism works; it's mostly a failure engine for individuals while being a benefit to the whole.

So imagine an online service that matches rich people with low-income folks who need some help. When you get a rich person as a mentor, you get his entire network of contacts by extension. That's way better than a bank.

And rich people like to keep score. So this imagined micro-loan and mentoring service needs to track the performance of each rich person's investments in the poor. You would track data to keep things competitive among the rich, to make sure the system is working, and to allow you to identify best practices among investors.

That's my idea for today. How bad is it?

---

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

According to Amazon.com, the best reviewed book I've ever written is this one.

 


 

 
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