## Saturday, November 30, 2013

### Gene Callahan as the New Thomas Malthus

Thomas Malthus is known for making some absurd mathematical calculations that resulted in his making the embarrassing prediction that population growth would far exceed growth in food production and thus lead to global starvation.

Is Gene Callahan trying to one up Malthus? It appears that in a recent post Callahan is predicting that, when genetic engineering becomes a reality, men will be 12 feet tall and even continue growing from there! He writes, taking on an example from Schelling:
Schelling offers the following example that I believe shows they don't: Let us say human beings gain fine-tuned control over the height of their offspring, due to advances in genetic engineering. Most people are not that concerned with the height of their children, we will assume, but no one wants their child to be a "runt." So everyone asks there friendly genetic engineer to make sure their child is not the bottom 10% of the height distribution.

What will happen? The human race will get taller. Because of course, there must be a bottom 10% of the height distribution, because of what a distribution is. So that 10% will just keep moving upwards, along with the average height. And note that this benefits no one: the amount of food necessary to feed this population will go up as well.

We have a classic collective action problem. No one meant to raise the average height of the human race, but their actions did so anyway.

But how absurd is this? I seriously doubt parents are going to walk into the genetic engineers office and say, "Make our sons height somewhere above the bottom 10%." What is more likely to occur is that parents will ask for a specific absolute number, "Please make our son 6 feet tall." And, thus, instead of an ever growing height of humans, height becomes tighter around the mean.

#### 13 comments:

1. The crazy part is that you don't realize that you're using the exact same methodological pluralist position that Gene is attempting to prove. This is not to say that Gene has proven this, but only that you fell into his trap (by using statistics).

1. What is wrong with using statistics if they are the correct statistics? Are you against all statistics? However, as a further point, it doesn't seem like Wenzel is using statistics to prove anything. It appears he is using statistics as a summary point to indicate what the trend might be. Do you have any f'ing idea as to what you are talking about? Finally, Wenzel's point appears valid, parents are likely to "order" a genetic size, not "give me at least 10% from the bottom."

2. Fetz- I agree. A 12 foot tall human would die- gravity, human frailty, engineering limits all put a maximum healthy height at 7 feet or less. Even the healthiest human made of carbon and flesh would be dead at 25 at 10 feet tall.

Hell, at 6'4" I already have back problems!

Fitz

3. Jesus, some of you are entirely obtuse. I was merely pointing out that Gene's post was about methodology (more specifically, against putting methodology before science, something that he picked up from Voegelin), and that methodological individualism was the case that he was critiquing. Yet Bob's response either ignored this entirely (i.e. didn't even notice it), or at least fell right into the methodological pluralist position that Gene was subscribing to. Funny that.

4. There is a big difference between ignoring and not noticing---yet you write and claim they are the same thing. We are not obtuse. You are one confused dude.

2. Let's assume that it were actually possible for humans to grow taller ad infinitum without any deletrious effects on their health. Callahan fails to explain why this is a "collective action problem." If the provision of food were socialized, only then would "height control" policies be needed to tamp down on food costs, since there would be no prices to regulate the demand for food. In a free market, people would adjust their behavior (including the choices they made as to genetically engineering the height of their offspring) in accordance with the economic reality conveyed by prices. If people still wanted taller children, it would be a reflection of their individual valuations, and as such would be their own business, not that of Callahan's "collective."

3. The bigger question is, why is this a problem?

1. Toilet seat size.

4. Callahan's thinking also ignores other issues. It has, I think, been shown that short people tend to live longer. This would mean that causing children to become taller will tend to make their lives shorter. Parents will then have to make a choice about how tall they wish the child to be given the estimated probability that this will shorten life span, or they will have to pay even more to also fix the life span problem. Only in a cost free world would or could parents make their children 12 feet tall.

5. The notion of genetic engineering to make 12 foot tall humans isn't even that original, as anyone who's watched Promethius knows.

6. A lot of warmists would likely want shorter children which would have smaller carbon footprints

1. I'd probably pay for a couple of "mini-me"''s for around the house chores and general menial work if they could grow them fairly quickly in a test tube or something.

A nice, small footprint means less cost to feed and less space to house.

7. 12ft. tall in a world of 8ft. doorways.