What We Read Today 14 February 2014

February 14th, 2014
in econ_news, syndication

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number accepted.

  • Giant Laser Complex Makes Fusion Advance, Finally (Kenneth Chang and William J. Broad, The New York Times) Successful control of a nuclear fusion reaction could effectively end the energy limitations of the planet earth.

    Follow up:

    It may sound like a perpetual motion machine, but it is theoretically possible to get more energy out of a thermonuclear fusion reaction than is put in to start it. That is because "trapped energy" within two hydrogen atoms is released when they fuse to produce a new helium atom. This is the enormous energy which has been demonstrated for the last 60 years in enormously destructive hydrogen bombs. The NYT article reports on a paper in Nature with 22 authors from the Lawrence Livermore (CA) and Los Alamos (NM) National Laboratories. The team has obtained more energy from a laser powered hydrogen fusion reaction than was put in, apparently establishing the first controlled thermonuclear fusion. There is still a long way to go for practicality, however. They got more power from the reaction than reached the hydrogen atoms involved, but only 1% of the laser's energy actually got to the reaction site, leaving a needed improvement of a factor of 100 before a useful energy production process is realized.
  • The Empathy of Self-Interest (Wendy McElroy, The Daily Bell) Hat tip to John O'Donnell. Wendy McElroy argues (correctly in Econintersect's opinion) that progress comes from the pursuit of self-interest. But she also argues (incorrectly in our opinion) that "any attempt to impose central planning runs counter to social harmony". This would appear to rule out the coordination of the commons and to deny the possibility of return on coordination, where the total of a community is greater than the sum of the individual parts. And another point: For McElroy's narrow definition, which depends on the "Theory of Moral Sentiments" and the "Social Nature of Man", to produce a maximization of progress shows naivite in our our opinion. We have read that 1-2% of humans are sociopaths and as many as 10% in high positions in finance suffer from that character flaw. Such people do not seem to be included in McElroy's view of the human population. How many sociopaths does it take to destroy the harmony of a village?

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