Re: POL: Reaction to Microsoft Ruling

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Apr 17 2000 - 03:14:38 MDT

On Sat, Apr 15, 2000 at 03:59:47PM -0400, Michael S. Lorrey wrote:
> > Clue: I am _not_ a libertarian; I'm a liberal, in the classical sense
> At least we know where you stand now..
Gee, does that mean I get my own entry in your database?

> > In dealing with a finite resource?
> >
> > You gotta be joking.
> You are making the infounded assumpution that it is a finite or
> practically finite resources. This is an incorrect assumption.

Uh-huh. You've just _asserted_ that it's an incorrect assumption. We're
sitting on a planet that masses about 10^27 kilograms. I'd say that puts
a fairly clear cap on any particular resource that's embedded in our
planetary crust!

Facetiousness aside, your point about the methane hydrates, Atlantic
fields, and so on, is taken. However, there are two problems with taking
it at face value:

Firstly, petrochemicals _can_ be extracted from these deposits, albeit at
a cost greater than today's oil price. However, the price of oil is dictated
to some extent by demand, which in turn depends on how useful the stuff is
to us. If it costs $1000 in today's terms to extract a barrel of oil, then
I very much doubt that anybody would consider burning it for energy. Other
energy sources will be around, and cheaper, at that price. As a bottom
line, it doesn't make sense to extract petroleum for fuel when the
energy cost of extracting it exceeds the energy it contains (plus any
other intangibles, like the fact that it's readily transportable).

Secondly, if you keep on burning this stuff we ultimately run up against
a different limit: oxygen. Believe it or not, it's possible to admit that
we _do_ inhabit a planet where the oxygen mostly gets generated by C3 and
C4 photosynthesis cycle organisms, which in turn get their ATP by devious
means from sunlight. This may strike you as a reductio ad absurdam, but
even if our planet's mantle is swimming in dissolved hydrocarbons, there's
a limit to our ability to oxidize them without fucking over our breathing

> >
> > > There won't be a shortage, this is bull. The market will finally meet the demand
> > > at a market determined price, not a producer determined price. If the british
> > > oil unions go out of work, well, I won't cry for them.
> >
> > There ain't no such animals; just high-tech companies that specialise in
> > extracting oil from under half a mile of frigid and turbulent ocean.
> >
> Good, so answer my other point.

What other point -- that we should all bow down before the holy market,
because the invisible hand knows best?

Markets are a _tool_, Mike. We use them because they work, and they're
remarkably flexible and general -- but like all tools, they have their
limits. I don't buy your religious belief that because you understand
how a hammer works, it follows that all problems are nails. From the
outside, you'd be surprised how similar market fundamentalists look to
Christian fundamentalists, or _any_ other followers of irrational
orthodoxy. Whether the followers reflect the veracity of their belief
system accurately is, of course, another matter: but it's not a promising

-- Charlie

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