Friday, December 20, 2019

Why the colonial-sounding framework, right down to the old British laws? The justice system is more important than the tax breaks: a functional code of laws is a leading indicator of economic success

The Hottest New Thing in Seasteading Is Land. Lizette Chapman. December 20, 2019.
Patri Friedman started Pronomos Capital, with more money from Peter Thiel, to establish mini-city-states.

Patri Friedman is sick of the jokes about floating tax havens. About a decade ago, the former Google software engineer (and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman) co-founded the Seasteading Institute, a nonprofit with the stated aim of developing a model for self-governing offshore communities. The idea was to allow people to set up more laissez-faire laws for themselves on mobile, artificial islands resting in international waters. An invaluable experiment, he calls it now. Also: “Baggage.”

The institute’s Silicon Valley backers most prominently included Peter Thiel, the conservative billionaire and future Trump adviser, and traded in no small part on Thiel’s imprimatur. But the effort was as impractical as it sounds, and it drew criticism from local leaders and good-government groups as a form of neocolonialism. In 2018 locals defeated a commercial spinoff’s attempt to establish a seastead off the coast of Tahiti. Seasteading, like vampirism, is now on the unofficial list of topics not to raise with Thiel, who hasn’t written the institute a check in at least five years. Nonetheless, he’s become the anchor investor for Friedman’s new venture capital firm, which is trying to create some similar-sounding communities on land.

Pronomos Capital, which Friedman incorporated in August, is supposed to bankroll the construction of experimental cities on vacant tracts of land in developing countries. Pronomos is set up like a venture fund, making investments in local organizations that do the work of securing government approvals, finding tenants, and hiring retired U.K. judges to enforce the new legal framework, to be based on British common law. The firm says it’s discussing semi-autonomous cities of varying sizes with foreign and local businesspeople in countries where officials have seemed receptive to exempting them from area laws, including Ghana, Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Nigeria, and Panama. A given community could start as small as an industrial park, Friedman says. Most will be aimed at foreign businesses seeking friendlier tax treatment.

While other organizations with names such as Free Private Cities and Charter Cities Institute are advising similar efforts around the world, Pronomos is the only one with seed money from boldface names including Thiel, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and Bitcoin evangelists Roger Ver and Balaji Srinivasan. In describing his new firm, Friedman isn’t shy to use seasteading as a reference point. “I’ve been putting these ideas out there for 20 years, and they’ve grown and compounded,” he says, sipping well water at his mountaintop compound south of San Jose. “What we get excited about is the ability to do this repeatedly.”

Why the colonial-sounding framework, right down to the old British laws? Dressed in a well-loved Slytherin sweatshirt, Friedman says it’s the best fuel for a fledgling economy and property values, and to assure global investors that their money will be safe in Pronomos projects. The justice system is more important than the tax breaks, he says, citing research that suggests faith in a functional code of laws is a leading indicator of a region’s economic success.

That’s been less than reassuring to politicians and residents leery of ceding land to unaccountable foreigners, in exchange for theoretical network effects. Fierce local opposition has halted a plan to create an independent area on a stretch of coastal land in Honduras, for example. The proposed tax incentives and other benefits for foreign investors were about as popular as you’d expect. “That land belongs to someone,” says Silvio Carrillo, the nephew of assassinated Honduran rights advocate Berta C├íceres.

Pronomos “will only go where we are wanted,” according to Friedman. He also says, with a straight face, that if Pronomos can get local officials to agree to its plans, “we have a credible shot at eliminating poverty.”

Friedman’s grandfather spent his life attacking government oversight in the field of economics, but his father, a law professor at Santa Clara University, has advocated for a kind of anarcho-capitalism on a legal basis. At age 43, Patri Friedman has pushed his family’s do-what-you-feel ethos to some other extremes, advocating for communal living, polyamory, and human-machine hybridization. He’s spent most of his career at Google, including his Seasteading Institute years. He left Google this summer to work full time on Pronomos.

“Do I want to create the first venture-backed city-state? Hell yeah”

The venture firm has raised about $9 million so far (more than half from Thiel), well short of Friedman’s initial goal. He says that’s only enough to cover basic fact-finding expenses for his local partners, and he’ll raise more to buy and develop land once governments approve the plans.

Similar ideas have gained some support beyond fringe libertarian circles. Honduras amended its constitution in 2013 to allow the creation of special economic zones outside the country’s legal framework. Erick Brimen, a startup founder who has coordinated development projects in Central America, is informally working with Friedman and others on Prospera Honduras, a local business advocacy group there. Brimen says it’s too early to discuss publicly. Other groups aiming for these kinds of extralegal territories have announced priorities including tax holidays and privatized health care and police forces.

“Our vision aligns” with Friedman’s, says Taavi Kotka, who runs an Estonian organization advocating for looser employment and tax laws to attract immigrants. “He’s a pioneer in setting up these special zones,” blockchain enthusiast Barak Ben Ezer says of Friedman. He and Friedman are working to turn the Marshall Islands into a tax haven similar to the Caymans. Friedman says he hopes to back more than a dozen projects in the next four years.

Yet even if Friedman and the other landsteaders can assuage concerns about colonial-style exploitation and the flouting of local laws, there are few guarantees in the world of quasi-sovereign states. In April a couple proclaimed their small fiberglass pod, 14 miles off Thailand’s coast, was its own nation, and the Thai government sent its military to destroy their new home, calling the proclamation an act of war. The couple has been in hiding since then. That’s why, says Friedman, he’s making sure any Pronomos projects have local officials on board. Further out, “Do I want to create the first venture-backed city-state? Hell yeah,” he says. “That’s what I’m in it for. That’s the long-term goal.”

Correction to The reverse racism effect: Are cops more hesitant to shoot Black than White suspects?

Correction to The reverse racism effect: Are cops more hesitant to shoot Black than White suspects?

Text: We would like to acknowledge our misuse of the term “Reverse Racism” within this article's title and content. We did not account for the deeply controversial racial context surrounding the term within race/racism scholarship, and its implication that subordination of communities of color no longer occurs or has been replaced by subordination of whites. In hindsight, our use of the term to describe officers fearing the consequences of being perceived as biased and modifying behavior accordingly would have been better titled “The Counter Bias Effect.”

Check, from 2016... The reverse racism effect: Are cops more hesitant to shoot Black than White suspects? Lois James, Stephen M. James, Bryan J. Vila. Criminology & Public Policy, January 14 2016.
Research Summary: Race‐related debates often assume that implicit racial bias will result in racially biased decisions to shoot. Previous research has examined racial bias in police decisions by pressing “shoot” or “don't‐shoot” buttons in response to pictures of armed and unarmed suspects. As a result of its lack of external validity, however, this methodology provides limited insight into officer behavior in the field. In response, we conducted the first series of experimental research studies that tested police officers and civilians in strikingly realistic deadly force simulators.

Policy Implications: This article reports the results of our most recent experiment, which tested 80 police patrol officers by applying this leading edge method. We found that, despite clear evidence of implicit bias against Black suspects, officers were slower to shoot armed Black suspects than armed White suspects, and they were less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than unarmed White suspects. These findings challenge the assumption that implicit racial bias affects police behavior in deadly encounters with Black suspects.

American Heart Ass'n recently published a meta-analysis that confirmed their 60-year-old recommendation to limit saturated fat (SFA, saturated fatty acid); but design and methodological flaws reduce the recommendation's strength

Dietary saturated fat and heart disease: a narrative review. Jeffery L Heileson. Nutrition Reviews, nuz091, December 16 2019,

Abstract: The American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a meta-analysis that confirmed their 60-year-old recommendation to limit saturated fat (SFA, saturated fatty acid) and replace it with polyunsaturated fat to reduce the risk of heart disease based on the strength of 4 Core Trials. To assess the evidence for this recommendation, meta-analyses on the effect of SFA consumption on heart disease outcomes were reviewed. Nineteen meta-analyses addressing this topic were identified: 9 observational studies and 10 randomized controlled trials. Meta-analyses of observational studies found no association between SFA intake and heart disease, while meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials were inconsistent but tended to show a lack of an association. The inconsistency seems to have been mediated by the differing clinical trials included. For example, the AHA meta-analysis only included 4 trials (the Core Trials), and those trials contained design and methodological flaws and did not meet all the predefined inclusion criteria. The AHA stance regarding the strength of the evidence for the recommendation to limit SFAs for heart disease prevention may be overstated and in need of reevaluation.

Keywords: heart disease, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, meta-analysis, polyunsaturated fat, saturated fat, trans fat

Strong, negative link between worship attendance & cat ownership; maybe pets are a partial substitute for human bonding and interaction & those embedded within a religious community may have less need (or time) for pets

How Religion Predicts Pet Ownership in the United States. Samuel L. Perry, Ryan P. Burge. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, December 18 2019.

Abstract: Over 60 percent of Americans have some sort of family pet. Although studies have explored the personality and demographic correlates of pet ownership, none have considered whether religious characteristics may influence not only pet ownership, but the kind of pet Americans own. Drawing on data from the 2018 General Social Survey, we examine the religious antecedents of pet ownership in general as well as owning a cat or a dog, taking into account factors previously associated with owning certain pets (e.g., urban vs. rural residence, political affiliation). Although religious tradition and biblical literalism generally do not predict pet ownership, frequent worship attendees and the most conservative evangelicals report owning fewer pets. Religious characteristics also predict Americans’ ownership of particular pets. Most notably, we find a strong, negative association between worship attendance and cat ownership. We theorize potential mechanisms. On the one hand, certain personality types might simultaneously attract some Americans toward religious participation and away from pets, and cats in particular. Alternatively, to the extent that pet ownership is a partial substitute for human bonding and interaction, Americans more deeply embedded within a religious community may have less need (or time) for pets generally, and specifically more independent “roommate pets,” like cats.