back to article Fix capitalism with floating cities on Venus says Charles Stross

As an economist, Charles Stross might just make a very good science fiction writer, because he's just suggested colonising Venus is a fine way to ensure the continuation of the species while also solving the crises afflicting capitalism. In a post challengingly titled The prospects of the Space and Freedom Party reconsidered …

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  1. James 51 Silver badge

    A man with vision if not the cash. The problem who have accumulated that amount of wealth is that with the odd exception they tend to want to keep all they've got and want to accumulate more. Still, more power to him.

    1. LaeMing
      Meh

      Yes, people at that end of society have far transcended the hierarchy of needs. Personal wealth becomes more of a high-score issue at that point.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        The ultimate gamification of life.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          > The ultimate gamification of life.

          The one who dies with the most dollars wins.

          1. James 51 Silver badge

            I prefer the version were the one with the most dollars loses.

          2. ShadowedOne

            "The one who dies with the most dollars wins."

            The one who dies with the most dollars, is just as dead as those who die with the least.

            1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

              If we are looking for a money pit that interests rich selfish people ...

              ... how about cures for heart disease and cancer?

              1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

                Re: If we are looking for a money pit that interests rich selfish people ...

                how about cures for heart disease and cancer?

                You can't "cure" cancer per se. Cancer is just one side of drifting away from the highly unstable equilibrium that all multicellular organisms exist in - the balance between cytogenesis and apatosis. You can't cure it any more than you can cure thermodynamics.

                The vast resources spent on oncological research have not substantially improved overall five-year morbidity, though there have been striking successes with some specific cancers.

                I'm not arguing against cancer research - I'm in favor of it, broadly speaking - and I'm not a proponent of trying to put big balloons in Venus' (highly corrosive and violent) atmosphere, with or without people inside them. But arguing "rather than your fantasy project, why don't we fund my fantasy project" is not, y'know, super convincing.

      2. Tom_

        You're right, but that's why we need to come up with ways that these people can increase their high scores while making life better for the rest of us as well.

    2. hplasm Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Good ideas Need cash

      We need more Elon Musks and fewer Donald Trumps.

    3. Dr Stephen Jones

      Read your Piketty

      All capital becomes income, eventually.

    4. Oninoshiko
      Joke

      In fairness they probably hold on it it because people with bizarre harebrained schemes keep coming and asking them to do things like build floating colonies on Venus.

      As to curing heart disease or cancer or even something as simple as dengue fever, they (well some anyway) are already spending money on it. Labs are funded, researchers are researching. I know it's hard to understand, but money really does not solve every problem.

    5. Tail Up

      In every galaxy I visit

      It's always so. Failed on Earth - go Venus.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Tom 7 Silver badge

    So this capitalism thing

    is all about taking money from people who haven’t got it and moving it as far offshore as possible and calling that growth?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So this capitalism thing

      I'd ask Bernie Eccleston for advice on off shoring.

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: So this capitalism thing

        Off-shoring's old hat. We're talking off-planeting - try getting your hands on my cash when it's tucked away in a Venusian bank account.

    2. Roger Pearse

      Re: So this capitalism thing

      Certainly is.

      Particularly since all the western economies are so in debt that the debt repayments made by USA taxpayers are actually paying for the entire cost of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

      Stross is just an old socialist: take the money from the middle class and spend it on junk projects. Rich people never pay any tax, and never can be made to do so (because all the countries in the world are run by rich people). Poor people pay tax all the time for everything they buy, but are only a small part of the tax base. So the money comes from the people who work for everything, pay for everything, save to provide for themselves, while the bloodsuckers make up airy-fairy schemes to take their savings.

    3. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: So this capitalism thing

      I think the idea is that the money would have to be spent on Earth to get people to Venus.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So this capitalism thing

      Yes indeed, and that does dovetail rather nicely with the plan for Zeppelins defended by frickin' laser beams cruising the skies of Venus to serve as the ultimate offshore tax haven for the capitalist class.

    5. TheTick

      Re: So this capitalism thing

      No, it's nothing like that at all.

      Capitalism is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services whereby both parties gain value from the trade.

      Socialism is where people with guns force capitalists to give them some or all of the stuff they have produced and traded.

      Crony-Capitalism is where scumbags get the aforementioned state to fix the rules in their favour so that everyone except them gets stolen from, in exchange for throwing a few smaller bungs to a few key people in the state as sweetners.

      What you were describing was Crony-Capitalism and should have a different name because real Capitalism is the polar opposite of it.

      1. Otto is a bear.

        Re: So this capitalism thing

        Hmm, someone who doesn't know what socialism is about then. Just because the Soviets and Chinese like to call themselves socialists, as indeed did the Nazis, does not mean they are, they are in fact State Capitalists. Back in the real world, socialists tend to be the last people to use guns, think you'll find that in the west as a whole, it's the right wing that are far more ready to use state violence. Look on socialism as being nice to each other, and looking after those less fortunate, just in case they rise up and stick your head on a pole.

        1. TheTick

          Re: So this capitalism thing

          Name me one single thing socialism stands for, separate from any other ideology, that does not involve, at some level, taking things from others or ordering others about backed up by the threat of force?

          Healthcare? - Taxes/Inflation/Debt

          Welfare? - Taxes/Inflation/Debt

          Education? - Taxes/Inflation/Debt

          Union rights? - Backed up by force

          Some of these might be argued to be good things, but the socialist method of providing them is by threatening others to provide the resources to do them, not by encouraging free and volutary exchange like Capitalism does.

          State Capitalism is a better name for Crony Capitalism thank you.

          1. Roj Blake Silver badge

            Re: So this capitalism thing

            Look at this picture: http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BmdTmjqCQAA_7cB.png

            Which of those countries has the least socialist method of providing healthcare? It's the USA, which is also the highest spender by far.

            The obvious conclusion is that socialism is the more efficient way of paying for healthcare.

            Union rights? Since you seem to be against them, I suggest you print and sign this pledge: http://www.local70713.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/anti-union-eng.png

          2. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: So this capitalism thing @The Tick

            I'd rather live in any form of socialism than any form of capitalism. Looking after the weaker members of society is a duty on all members of that society, not just those who it makes feel better about themselves. Those who abrogate that duty (by e.g. not paying taxes) deserve to be be punished and forced to pay.

            By the way, your nom de plume is fitting - a parasite with no thoughts for its host ...

            1. Apriori

              Re: So this capitalism thing @The Tick

              Yeah, all those happy North Koreans (you know, the not-dead-from-socialist-induced-starvation ones). Or Venezuela, with its mass poverty and huge murder rates, or Cuba, where any kind do independent thought gets you banged up. Or 1930s Ukraine. Or the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's Cambodia.

              Your stupidity insults the victims of that hideous and murderous system.

      2. strum Silver badge

        Re: So this capitalism thing

        >Capitalism is the free and voluntary exchange of goods and services

        Nope. That would be 'trade'. Not the same thing at all.

  4. Sander van der Wal
    Alien

    Sounds great. Seeing nothing but fog for the rest of your live.

    OTOH, for Britons there would not be that much difference, wouldn't it?

    1. TheOtherHobbes

      At least it would be warmer.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Devil

        There is another major advantage. When someone on your space zeppelin upsets you, then you just chuck them out the door. As they fall into the more unfriendly parts of the atmosphere, they can die in many interesting ways, simultaneously.

        Much more fun than sharks, to have them crushed, boiled and dissolved.

  5. Grikath Silver badge
    WTF?

    ummm right....

    The author does realise those clouds are, last time I checked, rather acidic? And that wind speeds at the altitude he proposes are rather troublesome? And... Floating a balloon in that stuff with rather...uncomfortable.... conditions to crash right in to makes for a nice suicide bet.

    I'll have some of those mushrooms he's having...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ummm right....

      "The author does realise those clouds are, last time I checked, rather acidic? And that wind speeds at the altitude he proposes are rather troublesome? And... Floating a balloon in that stuff with rather...uncomfortable.... conditions to crash right in to makes for a nice suicide bet.

      I'll have some of those mushrooms he's having..."

      All fair points, but I think the fact that he's talking in terms of huge amounts of capital to make it happen reinforces the point that the idea is easier than colonising Mars, not actually easy. As for the mushrooms, you'll need to get them off Landis at NASA, who proposed it first.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: ummm right....

        And... Floating a balloon in that stuff with rather...uncomfortable.... conditions to crash right in to makes for a nice suicide bet.

        Like, living on Earth during the cold war wasn't pretty much the same? (We came within minutes if not seconds of mutually assured nuclear destruction more than once). Come to that, how much better are things today?

        People still live in Tokyo, Istanbul and San Francisco ... what are their chances when the big earthquake hits? Definitely when, not if, though maybe when is after their life comes to some other natural end. That's the key.

        What are your chances if an airliner in which you are crossing an ocean develops a major mechanical malfunction? I'd expect a floating city to have a fair degree of self-repair capability, and lifeboats, both conspicuously missing from our airliners.

        I can actually imagine the idea of floating cities above Venus working, but not in the near future. First, we'd have to solve the problem of getting raw materials to first build and then maintain those cities. Robot miners working down below (at 600C in Sulphuric Acid vapour)? Or mining asteroids, and delivery from above ... how, exactly?

        Maybe five hundred years hence, if we don't wipe ourselves out or develop the social equivalent of senility.

        And I think O'Neill colonies in Earth orbit or Earth's Lagrange points might be easier.

      2. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: ummm right....

        The thing is, there isn't a major problem on Earth to which the answer isn't "We need to get into space". Energy, natural resources, population, security from major disasters, etc ... all require diversification off the one planet we have. Now is the time to do it, whilst there are still energy and natural resources to invest in getting at all those resources out there.

        We have to many eggs in one basket - the future requires huge steps at high cost.

    2. Tom_

      Re: ummm right....

      You just need to make your balloon secrete baking soda, like your stomach lining does and you'll be protected from the acidity. As for the winds, stick windmills on the side and use them to generate power.

      Mushrooms will also grow well in the warm, dark, damp conditions. :)

    3. Martin Budden

      Re: ummm right....

      The building I'm sitting in right now has a rather neat failsafe: if something goes wrong with it, e.g. it catches fire, I can simply go outside. The building's designers have even provided handy emergency exits for me, just in case. I feel quite comfortable knowing that I can leave whenever I want or need to.

      A Zeppelin in Venusian cloud has a problem: if something goes wrong, where is the exit?

  6. Qarumba
    FAIL

    Weights and Measurements

    Can we have The Register equivalent measurement of a 'fuckton' as I have no idea how much that weighs. It suggests though that the guy is an illiterate economist at best and therefore would never make a very good writer.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: Weights and Measurements

      Being a bad writer hasn't stopped Dan Brown (unfortunately).

      1. Dr Stephen Jones

        Re: Weights and Measurements

        Or Charlie Stross, who isn't quite as bad as Dan Brown to be fair.

        Seriously, was this rambling drunken blog post really worthy of a Register article?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Weights and Measurements

      "Can we have The Register equivalent measurement of a 'fuckton' as I have no idea how much that weighs."

      This should help straighten things out.. I tend to stick to the imperial fuckton myself.

      "It suggests though that the guy is an illiterate economist at best and therefore would never make a very good writer."

      Yes, he's clearly an amateur with only 20+ novels to his name. Only one Hugo and one Locus award (for shame). How's your writing career coming on?

      1. kleinman

        Re: Weights and Measurements

        I think more specifics are needed. Was that a short or long fuckton?

    3. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Weights and Measurements

      His published books suggest that he makes quite a good writer.

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        Re: Weights and Measurements

        Are you refering to Charles Stross or Dan Brown?

      2. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

        Re: Weights and Measurements

        > His published books suggest that he makes quite a good writer.

        He's also One Of Us (for small values of us). I'm rather chuffed, having done a quick google, to find that 15 years ago he and I were posting to the same fora about cheap tape drives, programming in perl and general BOFH style recovery.

        1. Dr Stephen Jones

          Re: Weights and Measurements

          "He's also One Of Us"

          An angry bald man?

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Weights and Measurements

          He's also One Of Us (for small values of us). I'm rather chuffed, having done a quick google, to find that 15 years ago he and I were posting to the same fora about cheap tape drives, programming in perl and general BOFH style recovery.

          Stross was quite a Usenet presence back in the day, in a handful of groups, as I recall. Don't know if he's still there. I, alas, have not had time to read Usenet in quite some time.

    4. Nigel 11

      Re: Weights and Measurements

      Stross is a completely awesome writer of entertaining and thought-provoking fiction.

      As for economics, I have yet to be convinced that anyone understands economics. As a physicist, I know that fluid dynamics is really hard, and climate modelling even harder. Now try climate modelling with particles (people) that make their own decisions about how they are going to behave, based on the conditions in which they find themselves. You really think you can do that?

      Most economists I've talked to don't know enough maths to recognise an (impossibly?) hard problem when they see it. They just catalogue what's (mostly not) worked in the past and suggest on that basis things that might work in the future. Like one would expect,they mostly don't work. But what hey, sometimes you luck out, and then you're famous and influential and enjoying tidbits from the tables of the seriously rich.

      To the extent that they are reminding us of the bits of history to remember rather than repeat, they're not entirely bad. Compared, say, to parasitic "professional managers" who claim that they don't need to know anything about the business activities that they are in charge of and the lives they fsck up.

      1. Bob Wheeler

        Re: Weights and Measurements

        "Now try climate modelling with particles (people)"

        Was this not the basis of the Issac Azimov 'Foundation' books?

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: Weights and Measurements

          Was this not the basis of the Issac Azimov 'Foundation' books?

          Sure was. And that's fiction. Which was pretty much the point I was making.

    5. Arthur the cat Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Weights and Measurements

      "It suggests though that the guy is an illiterate economist at best and therefore would never make a very good writer."

      Actually Paul Krugman has praised Stross' Merchant Princes series of books as being one of the few works of fiction that actually understand economics - the whole series is founded on ideas from development economics, specifically why aid from advanced societies given to feudal ones doesn't work.

      Charlie is also prone to intellectual trolling and downright flights of fancy. As an example of the latter, see his latest post on "books he won't write", which has a plot with Vladimir Putin marrying Sarah Palin and the two of them winning the US presidential election in 2016.

    6. Adrian Midgley 1

      Interstellar economics is the core

      plot element in one of his rather good novels, actually.

      I tend to the Metric fucktonne which is quite a lot.

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    Just make Venus the ultimate tax haven

    But only if you actually live there, and then have all the greedy fat-cats see how they like clouds of sulfuric acid. As a side effect, that might encourage them into terraforming Venus very quickly

  8. Valeyard

    "may make a good sci-fi writer"

    Well technically the merchant princes was sci-fi, though i still see it more as fantasy. El reg gets a few mentions in his books too (Mostly in the laundry files iirc)

    Trying to read halting state at the moment. Who the hell writes in 2nd person?

    "you adjust your blouse?"

    i do? so.. i'm a woman? or maybe i just like their clothes? I've never been a woman, this is strange

    "you see jenny"

    who the hell is jenny? do i like her?

    "och aye i fookin hate you jenny" you say

    oh so i hate her, but apparently i'm also scottish.

    I've never given up on one of his books before, and i've read a lot of his stuff, but reading as THREE separate characters in 2nd person is horrible.

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: "may make a good sci-fi writer"

      "Halting state" is written in the second person. It didn't bother me that much. It's the sort of thing that authors do as part of being creative. I wasn't convinced it added anything compared to the conventional mode of narration, but I didn't find it hard to process.

      Have you ever tried Iain Banks' "Feersum Endjinn", in which one of the narrators is dyslexic? Or (the book) "Clockwork Orange"?

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: "may make a good sci-fi writer"

      Halting State was written in 2nd person singular because it's about gaming. How did the original computer games describe what was going on?

      "You are standing on a road. There is a cottage to your right. There is a fork in the road.

      > Take fork.

      You pick up the fork."

      The sequel, Rule 34, was also in 2nd person singular, but for a different reason that also made sense when you realised why.

      1. Valeyard

        Re: "may make a good sci-fi writer"

        I have rule 34 sitting waiting for when i finish halting state, so trying to ignore the multiple-character 2nd person stuff

        Sorry if my rant made it look like I don't like his stuff. I really do, just not the 2nd person stuff. I was intrigued with it as a concept but it just distracts me too much, especially when introducing characters who i supposedly already am.

        I much preferred the merchant princes and the laundry files series, i can't wait to grab the next one due out, that's where he shines

      2. Bucky 2

        Re: "may make a good sci-fi writer"

        I have NOT read Rule 34. But the most obvious reason to use second person would be:

        1) You don't want to use third person, because you want the sex of the person in question to remain ambiguous. Especially if cross-dressing is involved, you might want to pull some cheap-ass trick on the reader, a la The Crying Game.

        2) You can't use first person, because the person in question dies at some point.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: "may make a good sci-fi writer"

          You can't use first person, because the person in question dies at some point.

          There are novels written in first person in which the narrator dies. I am hesitant to name any, lest I release the dread spoiler, but I know I have two on the same bookshelf in the other room right now.

          If the narrator's already unreliable, what's a little demise going to hurt?

  9. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    possible B Ark?

    nuff said

  10. Frankee Llonnygog

    Oh no, we can't possibly think of colonising the Americas

    They be full of dragons and stuff.

    Pusillanimous poltroons - I'm off to Venus!! Who's with me?

    erm ... anyone ...?

  11. kurka

    Finding ways to spend other peoples money is also my pastime, that said I love these ideas, the only future I can see for humankind is a hi-tech one.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: "solving the crises effecting capitalism"

      Capitalism caused by crises? Interesting thought… …. Symon says

      A more interesting notion and virtual reality and practised actuality, Symon, is capitalism causing crises, in order to have the masses otherwise otherworldly engaged in not thinking about their condition and how it is arranged.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: "solving the crises effecting capitalism"

      Out of the mouths of incorrect homonyms....

      Perhaps Mr Sharwood is a Schumpeterian.

  13. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Investment?

    I am a fundamentalist evangelical and orthodox believer in the manned space exploration and I would like to see a city floating in Venerealusian clouds as much as anyone, but...

    Spending a lot of money on building something big does not in itself make an investment. It will all be wasted unless the asset you build generates income and to do that such a cloud city must produce something of value.

    So, the key is not to find three g'zillions of dollars of capital but to understand where the return on investment will come from.

    Initially, it can be something as simple as tourism and sales of living space to ultrarich retirees and ousted dictators but will it be viable long term? It has to generate new cash constantly, otherwise it will just fall apart and sink to the surface one day - a familiar fate for a lot of "flagship" government-funded projects all over the world.

  14. Vociferous

    Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

    Politically. Compared to building floating cities on Venus.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

      Progressive taxation? We already have progressive taxation, haven't you heard? And it has already reached the max limit of what it can ever be. What then do you actually propose?

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

        > Progressive taxation?

        Yes.

        > it has already reached the max limit of what it can ever be

        Of course it hasn't. It's at a historical low, and decreasing. The continuing dismantling of progressive taxation is the reason we're starting to see massive money-hoarding at the top.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

          People will never accept having to give away half or more of what they personally earn (in fact, they already give away more than half if you count the NI and indirect taxes but it does not count quite as much psychologically). The higher you put the tax rate, the less tax you will collect.

          1. Vociferous

            Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

            >People will never accept having to give away half or more of what they personally earn

            In the USA, the top rate under Roosevelt was 90%, although few people hit that rate. That's the beauty of progressive taxation, if you don't earn much you don't pay much, and if you earn vastly enormous sums you pay enormous sums. The rich still come out ahead, but you don't get the "mountains of gold" effect seen in the USA and UK right now.

          2. AbelSoul
            Headmaster

            Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

            People will never accept having to give away half or more of what they personally earn

            Except that they did accept giving away more than half.

            90%, as it happens.

            1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

              Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

              "Except that they did accept giving away more than half."

              LOL! No, they didn't - which is why the system had to be changed. When you are taxed that much it becomes better to risk the consequences and evade tax than to pay up.

              1. Otto is a bear.

                Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                Us poor bar stewards who, in the UK, use a system known as Pay As You Earn, and actually can't avoid paying tax, and if you are in the 40% tax band, then you pretty much pay 50% anyway, when you include National Insurance, (That's the tax that was supposed to pay for the NHS and Unemployment Benefit) Go over £100K and it's worse, and there is very little you can do about it, other than become self employed.

                1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

                  Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                  And if you add the VAT (20% of most things you buy except food and books) - you are actually paying closer to 70%-75% if you are in the "additional" tax band.

                2. Vociferous

                  Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                  > Go over £100K and it's worse

                  But over £1M and it's easier again, and total tax pressure dips to 30%. Can't punish CEO's and bankers, you know, they are after all the basis of the UK economy now.

                  1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

                    Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                    "But over £1M and it's easier again, and total tax pressure dips to 30%."

                    Where did you get that from?

                    1. Vociferous

                      Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                      > Where did you get that from?

                      For instance here

                      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

                        Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

                        Well, thank you. That confirms my point rather nicely, doesn't it?

                        Better avoid or evade than to pay a silly-number tax, even if that costs your tax lawyer's fees or carries a slight risk of a claim from HMRC.

                        Look at the French and their mighty NapoleonHollande - I have not heard of any Frenchman, who falls into their upper tax band, paying nearly as much as expected.

                        You have to remember that this ultra-high tax bands are there not to actually raise revenue for the Treasury but to score a populist PR point for the respective Government.

        2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          @ Vociferous .... Re: Because the alternative, progressive taxation, is just too hard.

          This is something which might be of interest and comfort to you, Vociferous ......... "Mansion Tax" Coming To New York, Compliments Of Mayor de Blasio

          PS ... Any chance of reinstating the time and date stamp of posts, El Reg, in order to make references unambiguous. Such was a very fine feature which told so much else about posters and their habits and/or strengths and/or weaknesses and servers.

  15. David Pollard

    Scientology?

    Didn't L. Ron Hubbard spend quite a bit of time on Venus and head off there when he became immortal?

  16. Pallas Athena

    Solution for what?

    This guy seems to think that spending a lot of money on high-tech space exploration would somehow trickle down money from the very rich to the middle classes and the poor. Sorry to break it to you - but such big risky projects are ALWAYS government projects, as no sane investor wants to invest in something that might eventually turn in a profit long after he is dead. So it's not the very rich, but the tax-paying middle class whose money is spent. And the money is going to top-grade engineers and high-tech companies. How is this achieving any of the stated goals?

    1. Robert Brockway

      Re: Solution for what?

      The entire point of the proposal is to _force_ private interests to invest, recognising that they won't do so voluntarily. The problem is that neither public nor private institutions are prepared to invest in truly long term projects today and he's arguing we need to change the rules so that these investments are viable. One option, for example, would be to require investors to invest $1 in long term projects for every $10 they invest in anything else. Such things are possible through government regulation and proper oversight. Any such effort would have to be international of course.

      Many of the economic institutions of today, such as a central bank and income tax, are quite recent inventions. Just because it hasn't happened before doesn't mean we can't do it, and people born in 50 years time may be surprised to discovered it was ever otherwise.

      What we would need would be widespread buy-in that it is necessary. That's what we don't yet have. Hence, I presume, why this idea has been publically proposed now.

  17. frank ly Silver badge

    Let's go all the way ...

    ... and build a Ringworld.

    1. ShadowedOne

      Re: Let's go all the way ...

      I would suggest a.....Discworld!

  18. deadlockvictim Silver badge

    Fuckton

    I like the term 'Fuckton'. I hadn't heard it before. The result of sheltered life, no doubt.

    Now that billions have become commonplace, I propose that we make this wonderful term standard in the world of money.

    "Over the last 30 years Bill Gates has spent several fucktons of money developing the world's first fusion power'd interplanetary Zeppelin service. The success of Nokia after Microsoft's takeover has suprised even Gates and without the immense popularity of the smartphone Vista 8.1, this project would have been merely the dreams of economists and science fiction writers.

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: Fuckton

      It's a nice idea, but unfortunately doomed to become outdated. Once trillions become commonplace (and they will) the term fuckton for a piddling little billion will seem ridiculous. For this reason, the word cannot be pinned to a specific amount. It could however be pinned to a relative value, for example a set percentage of that country's GDP. The advantage of this system would be that even though an American fuckton would be worth a lot more than a Peruvian fuckton, owning a Peruvian fuckton while living in Miraflores would be just as impressive/abhorrent as owning an American fuckton while living in Beverly Hills.

  19. Faye B

    A brief restatement

    Surely what he is trying to say is that we might as well try and get rich people to pay for balloons on Venus as try to get them to part with their cash in a bid to solve the crisis in capitalism. That crisis being, as it as has happened before, that the poor are now so poor that nothing can make a profit for the rich. This is usually resolved by the banks collapsing or the stock exchanges failing so that the rich get financially slaughtered, but this time the banks and exchanges got propped up by governments so now the Fat Cats are now even more fatter and harder to support, while at the same time even more reluctant to allow their wealth to be used to support the economy they feed off.

    Basically the only solution is for them to be the first against the wall when the revolution comes! Don't believe the propaganda put out by the wealthy that redistribution of wealth stifles investment and closes factories. It does exactly the opposite. A prosperous middle class is more likely to invest, save and purchase goods than the impoverished masses we have today. Small businesses flourish when they don't have huge multinationals undercutting them, doing backdoor trade deals and dragging them through the courts to protect their profit margins. Small local businesses also PAY TAXES unlike some companies I could mention. We need to stop listening to the threats made by the rich and bite the bullet with radical tax reforms. With over 50% of the country's wealth held by only 10% of the population there has to be a point where the system will collapse, either in revolution or anarchy. The alternative is to wage a war on your neighbours, just look at what Putin is doing!

  20. Amorous Cowherder
    Facepalm

    Anyone else think "Golgafrincham" while reading this?

    Send all the rich tosspots off to another planet, cut all communication with them and then spread their wealth around the rest of us back here on Earth!

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: Anyone else think "Golgafrincham" while reading this?

      I'm afraid I thought of pretty much the opposite, as written in Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons". (Classic SF from the 1950s - I think it actually predates me).

      1. Semtex451 Silver badge

        @Nigel

        We're just glad you're not 11

  21. Neil Stansbury

    What crisis?

    There is no "crisis in capitalism", the crisis is in the perversion of the so called "free-market".

    The actual crisis is in allowing politicians to fabricate vast swaths of magic money out of thin air to finance their vote buying - and their supporting the banks to be allowed to do the same.

    Being a banker isn't a license to print money - mere mortals need to print money, bankers and politicians pluck it straight from their imaginary fractional reserve money trees. That is why they get richer - if you are allowed your own private money tree, after harvesting as much as you want and then lending your imagined money to other people it's pretty hard not to get richer.

  22. Otto is a bear.

    A new frontier

    Up until the beginning of the 20th century, the world still had room to expand, new places to go, gain great wealth, and abuse the natives. The masses, at least in the west could always look forward to new and exotic lands, they had hope. In this enlighten age we have none of that, we are stuck with what we have. A major move into space, would primarily revive the hope of untold wealth in the far flung solar system, though it's doubtful that it would be real. Sure we would incur lots of debt, but debt is only a problem if it catches up with you, which happens when you stop growing. For governments and corporations to start pushing into space, they need to generate demand, make people want to go and live on Venus, or Mars, find high value minerals, produce low gravity products, and buy stuff from Earth. Mars looking dodgy, ok lots of Nicke/Iron in the asteroid belt, plenty of water to generate fuel, and so on. I suspect the engineering challenges of building for Space would generate a whole raft of products we didn't know we needed, like Teflon or Velcro. Think of the entire economy of the world as a giant Ponzi scheme, which in a way it is.

  23. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Mayday, Mayday, Mayday .....

    ”Or should we try and take their hoards away via some other means? And if so, what?”

    Yes …. we should, and are, … and by every and all means possible and likely probable, and that is what is spooking them, and more than likely having the smarter ones in their crowd fearing realistically for their future lives, for they realise that they are not near;ly clever enough to stop such actions as are being taken, with its virtually anonymous and autonomous and astute proaction/HyperRadioProActive IT Methodology.

    The smarter ones though, will be the ones to make a sweet sticky deal with those who are more intelligent than them and who are able to save them from all manner of pain and retribution from mobs who are easily advised of the architects and hosts of their afflictions. Failing that simple course of action, will primitive nature just take over and lay waste to what is destroying quantum leap progress into futures which are beyond one’s wildest dreams and fab fabless fantasies …… where Venus rules and Mars servers her every insatiable XSSXXXXual desire with addictive pleasure to be experienced to be believed and remotely captured as a willing slave and lifelong fan …… AI LOVER …. Advanced IntelAIgent Live Operational Virtual Environment Rover.

    :-) I Kid U Not :-)

    Happy May Day.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Mayday, Mayday, Mayday .....

      And if one knows and can realise/virtualise the global money system as a not necessarily physical cyber system ..... and Neil Stansbury uncovers it beautifully succinctly here .....

      There is no "crisis in capitalism", the crisis is in the perversion of the so called "free-market".

      The actual crisis is in allowing politicians to fabricate vast swaths of magic money out of thin air to finance their vote buying - and their supporting the banks to be allowed to do the same.

      Being a banker isn't a license to print money - mere mortals need to print money, bankers and politicians pluck it straight from their imaginary fractional reserve money trees. That is why they get richer - if you are allowed your own private money tree, after harvesting as much as you want and then lending your imagined money to other people it's pretty hard not to get richer.

      .... the following is what needs to be implemented ... BUT .... the system will collapse if it is systemically flawed and a rigged inequity still pursued to deliver unfair considerable advantage to .... well, the problem to be dealt with and removed would be the likes of Bank of England Monetary Policy Commissioners which have conspiring counterparts in every governing national bank ....... for their subjective decisions are what creates the difficulties and debts which the world and its billions of native inhabitants suffer, because of their love of paper money and the command and control which its withholding supplies to supposed wise folk who would think to be ruling over everything from behind a big fancy desk in a city/the City.

      In cyber systems, the distributed nature of the system poses serious difficulties in maintaining operations, in part because a centralized command and control apparatus is unlikely to provide a robust framework for resilience. Resilience in cybersystems, in general, has several components, and requires the ability to anticipate and withstand attacks or faults, as well as recover from faults and evolve the system to improve future resilience. The recovery effort and any subsequent evolution may require significant reconfiguration of the system at all levels—hardware, software, services, permissions, etc.—if the system is to be made resilient to further attack or faults. This is especially important in the case of ongoing attacks, where reconfiguration decisions must be taken with care to avoid further compromising the system while maintaining continuity of operations. Collectively, we will label this recovery and evolution process as “reconstitution.” Currently, reconstitution is performed manually, generally after-the-fact, and usually consists of either standing up redundant systems, check-points (rolling back the configuration to a “clean” state), or re-creating the system using “gold-standard” copies. For enterprise systems, such reconstitution may be performed either directly on hardware, or using virtual machines.

      A significant challenge within this context is the ability to verify that the reconstitution is performed in a manner that renders the cyber-system resilient to ongoing and future attacks or faults. Fundamentally, the need is to determine optimal states of the cyber system when a fault is determined to be present. ..... http://cryptome.org/2014/05/cybersys-reconstitution.pdf

  24. John Savard Silver badge

    Radiation

    It's an interesting thought that a breathable atmosphere might be sufficient to keep a blimp in the part of Venus' atmosphere where temperatures are reasonable.

    But that still wouldn't make Venus suitable for colonization; it gets more radiation from the Sun than the Earth does. At least on Mars, the temperature doesn't prevent you from placing colonies underground, where they are also protected from radiation.

    But Mars is sufficiently short of nitrogen that Martian resources wouldn't be sufficient for terraforming it. So Martian colonization indeed can only go so far by itself.

    Gerard O'Neill's idea of not wasting the energy it takes to go out into space by going back down another gravity well seems to make the most sense. At least you can get water, methane, and ammonia from comets, Centaurs, and Pluto. So you've got a good start on biomass. Mind you, since asteroids wouldn't have all those nice geological processes that separate out elements on Earth, perhaps colonies on Mars would be needed too, for potassium, phosphorus, and stuff like that.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: Radiation

      > it gets more radiation from the Sun than the Earth does

      Yes, but it has a thicker atmosphere. Radiation isn't the problem, but trying to base an economy solely on gas will be (it'll be very difficult to mine the surface, with it's extreme pressure and superheated sulphuric acid atmosphere).

      > At least on Mars, the temperature doesn't prevent you from placing colonies underground

      The martian atmosphere is thin, but sufficient that radiation on the surface isn't a significant problem there either. Any base on Luna, however, needs to be under ground, as the radiation on the surface is half of that in open space, and if there's a solar flare the radiation on the surface is lethal.

      > Mars is sufficiently short of nitrogen that Martian resources wouldn't be sufficient for terraforming it

      Yes. Mars can never become Earth, it will always remain very dry and cold. That's not a serious obstacle to colonizing it.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Radiation

      At least you can get water, methane, and ammonia from comets, Centaurs, and Pluto

      I don't care how much you feed a centaur, you'd still get more methane and ammonia from a cow. No need to go exotic.

  25. poopypants

    Having spent far too many hours on internet forums

    I am far from convinced that "continuation of the species" is a desirable goal.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: Having spent far too many hours on internet forums

      Oh it is. We just need to grow up and start taking responsibility for things like our reproduction.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Having spent far too many hours on internet forums

        Oh it is.

        Why?

        1. Vociferous

          Re: Having spent far too many hours on internet forums

          > Why?

          Well, firstly I personally quite like humans. Secondly, humans are the one single hope any life on Earth has of escaping the inevitable death of our planet and sun, and I really like plants & animals. Thirdly, any species, even a big, violent, destructive, and rather ugly monkey like Homo sapiens, has an intrinsic right to exist. Fourthly, because without humans there'll be no future machine civilization. And, lastly, I do believe humanity can be house trained and start behaving itself -- it just needs to outgrow its primitive delusions and get control of its own reproduction -- and once that happens humanity isn't much of a problem any more.

  26. John McCallum

    Chuck realy should stick to writing about imaginary worlds .

  27. CommanderGalaxian
    Unhappy

    I feel let down.

    I thought we were supposed to be building a Death Star?

  28. Robert Brockway
    Linux

    Fix capitalism be damned... I just want floating cities on Venus! :)

    1. Robert Brockway

      Seriously though, the idea of settling the clouds of Venus has been floating around for a while (sorry).

      It is clear there are serious problems with our current short term economic thinking. Our choices are to address these problems or not. If we don't address them we will take our chances with the consequences.

  29. Tail Up
    Boffin

    How to make the species continue

    I just think that everyone should grow an own pair of bushes of Cannabis Indica.

  30. Matthew 17

    When I first learnt about the atmospheric makup of Venus..

    I thought 'hey a cloud city would be possible, awesome!' However, it is possibly the driest place in the Solar System, always going to be foggy too.

  31. Miami Mike
    Boffin

    Unaffordium, sorry.

    I was a speaker at the 100YSS seminar sponsored by NASA in Orlando a few years ago. The idea was to build a starship for a 100 year mission (evidently one way).

    Technology aside (a "minor" issue, to be sure), my topic was "What would this thing cost?"

    The answer was quite discouraging. Taking the weight and cost of a 747-800 as a reference point (200 tons/$300,000,000, or about $1.5MM per ton, and comparing it to the weight and cost of the ISS (450 tons/$100 billion, or $222,000,000 per ton) I found that the ISS costs about 150 times as much as the 747 per ton.

    The 100YSS was projected to weigh 5,000 tons (guesstimate), and at the same ratio (150 times per ton of the ISS), it would cost some $165 trillion (plus tag, tax, title). That doesn't include any ground support, salaries, add-ons, cost-overruns, reworking, etc.

    The Gross Planetary Product of our entire world in 2009 was $72 trillion. If we started NOW, the project would consume the entire output of the whole world for the next three years, and probably more.

    By 2100 AD, the GPP is projected to be about $1,000 trillion (a quadrillion dollars), and the project would then consume something like 7 percent of the entire economic output of the planet for a year, assuming the costs did not escalate spectacularly from today's numbers.

    Basically, welcome to Magrathea, you can't afford our products.

    1. ShadowDragon8685
      Boffin

      Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

      The real problem, the real, true, brain-boggling problem with space flight is the cost of getting it from the surface of the planet Earth into orbit. The reason for this is that the cost of transport rises exponentially, because the amount of fuel you need to put that payload into orbit expands exponentially.

      Once you get something into orbit, of course, you're half-way to anywhere. The problem is that unless you *only* want to go to orbit, any fuel (and engines, et cetera,) you need to do the rest of your stuff is now additional payload for the lift *into* orbit, and that's where everything goes wonky. I'm not really very learned at this, I can't bust out equations or sums, but if you want to get an *instinctive* grasp on this problem, go play with Kerbal Space Program for a while.

      That's why the things we've launched further than the moon tend to be much, much *lighter* than the things we've taken into orbit. Even the 1960s-era space race budget wouldn't have been up to the task of sending something the size of the shuttles (themselves now decommissioned largely for budgetary reasons,) to Venus.

      Of course, some dreams are basically impossible in terms that anyone living today will see, but others are not. I expect that, barring some kind of age-longevity treatment (which will of course be available primarily or exclusively to the rich, at first,) nobody alive today will live to see the fabled permanent sky-cities on Venus even seriously begin as a project beyond a bunch of futurists sitting around throwing ideas around. Seeing a man in orbit of or on the surface of Mars, though, perhaps. But far more likely would be some kind of installation built to exploit resources available in-situ on the Moon, and maybe some asteroid mining/retrieval programs, and if we're very lucky, the start of construction on a space elevator, which would make all of this *so much simpler*.

      (As a side-note, exploiting resources available in-situ on the moon is a fantastic idea, because it means that you only have to lift your actual payload into earth orbit, then you can fit its engines and fuel which were made on the Moon, and were much easier to get /off/ the moon.)

      1. Vociferous

        Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

        @shadowdragon: If you think it's expensive to build things in Earth orbit, you should do the math on how much it would cost to launch things from Earth to build and maintain high-technological factories on Luna capable of building spaceships. Hint: it's more difficult and more expensive than building them at the bottom of the Marianas trench.

    2. Vociferous

      Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

      @Miami Mike: The ISS is a bad example, as it's both a prototype and a PR project (i.e. not intended to do anything besides being built), and it was built in the most expensive way imaginable (with the space shuttle, which cost 6x more than a normal rocket per launch). Arguably the ISS main task is actually to soak up money; certainly that's what it does best.

      That said, the 100YSS is probably still in the trillion dollar range. It'll need major technological breakthroughs to become viable.

      1. Miami Mike
        Boffin

        Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

        Even if it is a bad example, at the moment it is the ONLY example. And, yes, it does soak up money with a vengeance. There is some actual work going on in the ISS, though. Experiments on long-term living in zero G (world's most expensive and exclusive motel room), metallurgy (perfect spherical ball bearings), plant growth in zero G (needed because there's no McDonalds - that we know of - on the way to Alpha Centauri). Check with NASA and deduct 50% for puffery.

        Everything like this is a prototype and thus astonishingly expensive for the first ones. Personally, I'll wait, let someone else take the depreciation and buy an older model, even if it does take 14 parsecs to do the Kessel run instead of twelve.

        1. Vociferous

          Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

          > There is some actual work going on in the ISS

          Sure, but it's very pedestrian stuff, and all of which could have been done more cheaply without the ISS.

  32. ShadowDragon8685

    So, evidently Mr. Stross has been reading Eclipse Phase.

    That's a good thing. EP is a fantastic table-top RPG, and if any crowd can enjoy that, I suspect El Reg's readership is more likely to than most.

    Still, cribbing your ideas from a futuristic science fiction game where they have a number of very important technologies which enable things like gigantic aerostats colonizing the troposphere of Venus isn't a very good idea, because we explicitly don't have those technologies - like practical fusion power generation, or nanofabricators, or (and this is an important one,) the ability to recover from a small medical condition called "death" by restoring yourself from the state you died in thanks to that brain-recorder in your brain stem.

    Plus, it's basically impossible to extract the mineral wealth of the planet Venus at this stage of the game. There would be little industrial point to colonizing Venus at this juncture, it would just be a bunch of gigantic, really-hard-to-get-to cities for the rich to isolate themselves and their fortunes on.

    Still, at least he is talking colonizing other planets, which is a hell of a lot better than so many other stupidly wealthy people.

  33. Josh 44

    I would prefer the money applied to traveling faster than light speed. It opens up more opportunities for additional projects like visiting exoplanets.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I hate to burst your bubble, but you seem to be labouring under the misaprehension that it is Einsteins theories that stands in the way of FTL travel. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is Newton who must first be avoided, not Einstein. Do a little arithmetic and you will discover what a collision with a singly hydrogent would be like at the speed of light or some significant fraction thereof. Disasterously energetic outcomes in such collisons. They cannot be shielded agains by any known means.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Truth.

    Capitalism, qua Capitalism is not at risk. In fact, no one anywhere on Earth has ever lived out their lives in a truly Capitalist society. Capitalism will work for you as well as you work it. You must be a true Captialist to actually understand Capitalism, but you need not have a full understanding of it to prosper under it. Capitalism is like the rising tide. It lifts all boats, including yours, provided you did not do something stupid to your boat. Like tying it to a heavy object with a short rope, or punching a hole in the hull of your boat while never even reading the manual on how your bilge pumps are operated. There is not, however, any room for the indolent in a truly Capitalist society.

    This article is about a book that someone wrote to counter a socialist smear job of Captialism, but that was an obvious mistake. Capitalism needs no defense. It stands on its own. It has worked on its own everywhere it has been tried to the exact degree it has been allowed to work. Socialism, on the other hand, is sputtering wreck that will only deliver you into poverty. It has failed spectacularly everywhere it has been put into practice. France is an outstanding example of Socialism at its worst.

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