Is a capitalist-socialist economy inevitable?
The American economy may be locked into an unhealthy cycle that only benefits a select few. Is it too late to fix it?
ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: Wealthy corporations and people love to ask the question: What can I do? What should we do? What can we start? What program could we launch? I would say to the billionaire change agents and corporate social responsibility departments of our country: Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what you've already done to your country.
TIMOTHY SNYDER: The United States is a country which is among the least equal in the world. According to Credit Suisse, which is a Swiss bank and not some kind of crazy left-wing organization, we are second in the world in wealth inequality after the Russian Federation. In the United States since the 1980s, basically 90 percent of the American population has seen no improvement in either wealth or income. Almost all of the improvement in wealth and income has been in the top ten percent and most of that's been in the top one percent and most of that has been in the top 0.1 percent and most of that has been in the top 0.01 percent, which means that not only are people not moving forward objectively, but the way they experience the world—and this is very powerful—is that other people are on top.
JOHN FULLERTON: Living systems have what are called healthy hierarchies—so it's not that hierarchy is bad. It's that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable. So, take the lion in the forest or in the jungle. The lion is at the top of the food chain, but the lion sits around sleeping most of the day rather than eating and killing all day. And the lion, therefore, serves a very healthy hierarchical purpose in the food chain keeping the herd, keeping the balance between smaller animals and larger animals. But when the king of the jungle decides to extract as much as possible for its own benefit, you have a very unhealthy system. And unfortunately, that pretty well describes how the modern capitalist system works, where there are benefits of scale; the bigger get bigger, they get more powerful, they get more political influence. But their intention is to maximize shareholder value because that's what we do. So, the cycle of growing inequality is sort of locked into the system design.
GIRIDHARADAS: Before you want to start something of your own—a little private, unaccountable venture—do an audit. What do you pay people? Do you pay people enough? Do you use subcontractors to avoid responsibility for those workers? Do you pay benefits? When do your benefits kick in? What do you lobby for in Washington? Do you lobby for things that make everybody have a better life in America, or do you lobby against social policies that would cost you something? What's your tax avoidance situation? Do you happen to be this earnest company that wants to change the world? I mean, is this company paying its full measure of taxes? Does it use tax havens? Does it do the double Dutch with an Irish sandwich tax maneuver? Does it send money to the Cayman Islands and then back and do all this complex routing?
ALISSA QUART: Now to be middle class, you might not be able to have a summer holiday. You might not be able to own your home. You certainly wouldn't have two cars. What interests me is also we had this idea of the middle class as a solid thing and now it's a shaky thing. We also had this idea in the middle of the twentieth century of it as a humdrum, boring thing that we wanted to escape, kind of like Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates. And now it's like everyone just wants to get into it, into the dream, the American Dream of the middle class that's now so unstable. One of the things that happened was unions weakened. It used to be that 30 percent of employees were in unions in the '60s and now it's seven percent in the private sector. And that's a pretty huge drop off. And at the same time, you're seeing a lot of the workforce become gig-ified or turn into freelance contingent, et cetera. Not stable, not with healthcare, not with a promise of security and long-term employment. There are other reasons why the middle class has been under siege. One is the concentration of wealth. You see the rise of the one percent, the rise of the wealthiest. Since 1997, the income of the top one percent has grown 20 times the rest of us. They're an ownership class so they tend to own many of the corporations that are, say, creating the Uber economy or hiring people to drive part time or the companies which employ people at hours which mean that they can't take care of their children—hours in the middle of the night or odd hours in the early morning.
SNYDER: One of the fundamental problems with our American, right-wing politics of inevitability is that it generates income and wealth inequality and it explains away income and wealth inequality. And so, you get this cycle where, objectively, people are less and less well off and subjectively we keep telling ourselves this is somehow okay because in the grand scheme of things this is somehow necessary. Individuals and families no longer think 'I've got a bright future.' They no longer believe—and this is something Mr. Trump got right even if he has no solution and he's making things worse on purpose—they no longer believe in the American Dream. And they're correct not to do so. If you were born in 1940, your chances of doing better than your parents were about 90 percent. If you were born in 1980 your chances are about one in two and it keeps going down. So, wealth inequality means the lack of social advance, means a totally different horizon—it means that you see life in a completely different way. You stop thinking time is an arrow which is moving forward to something better and you start thinking hmm, maybe the good old days were better. Maybe we have to make America great again and you get caught in these nostalgic loops. You start thinking it can't be my fault that I'm not doing better, so whose fault is it? And then the clever politicians instead of providing policy for you provide enemies for you. They provide language for you with which you can explain why you're not doing so well. They blame the other, whether it's the Chinese or the Muslims or the Jews or the Blacks or the immigrants and that allows you to think okay, time is a cycle, things used to be better but other people have come and they've taken things away from me. That's how the politics of inevitability becomes the politics of eternity. Wealth inequality, income inequality, is one of the major channels by which that happens.
GIRIDHARADAS: If you're telling me that there are companies that do none of this stuff, that pay people well, that don't dump externalities into the economy, that don't cause social problems. If there are such companies that exist, yeah, then once you've taken care of all that, great, doing some projects to help people is great. But I haven't found very many such companies and more often than not when companies do a lot of CSR it's because they understand that they're not on the right side of justice in their day operations, so they want to do virtue as a side hustle. And the problem is a lot of these companies tend to create harm in billions and then do good in the millions. And you don't need to be a mathematician to know that we're the losers from that bargain. And you look at the B Corp movement, there's a lot of companies that actually have an interest in trying to invent a new kind of company that is not predatory. There is, in the B Corp movement, a certification process for those companies now. The challenges of them is that it's a great thing but it's fundamentally voluntary and what this does is it means that if you're an already good, virtuous company you may be motivated to get into this club. But if you're Exxon or Pepsi you're not going to be in this club. One of the things I'd like to see is how can we actually use the power of public policy to get more companies to sign up to simply not dump harm, social harm, into our society whether that takes the form of toxic sludge or obese children or workers with unpredictable hours and income.
QUART: You know the job numbers may look like they're up but, first of all, they often speak to how many jobs people are having, multiple jobs, which is not a great state of affairs for a lot of people. People now have more jobs. Each person has more jobs than they did in 2016, like individuals. It's up by two percent or something like that, so it's substantial. You can be looking at these job announcements and you could be thinking: What's wrong with me? Why can't I figure it out? Why can't I get that second or third gig? But the point is why should we have to have all these side hustles? Why should we have to have second acts when we're 42?
ERIC WEINSTEIN: Traditionally, technology has moved us from low-value occupations into higher value occupations. So, while we always decry the loss of jobs, we usually create new jobs which are more fulfilling and less taxing and therefore those who have cried wolf when they've seen technology laying waste to the previous occupations, those people have usually just been wrong. But the problem with software is that software spends most of its time in loops. Almost all code can be broken into two kinds of code: Code that runs once and never repeats and code that loops over and over and over. Unfortunately, what jobs are is usually some form of a loop where somebody goes to work and does some version of whatever it is they've been trained to do every day. Now, the danger of that is that what we didn't realize is that our technical training for occupations maneuvers the entire population into the crosshairs of software. It's not just a question in this case of being moved from lower value repetitive behaviors into higher ones, but the problem is that all repetitive behaviors are in the crosshairs of software. So, I think it's really important to understand that where we are is that we may need a hybrid model in the future which is paradoxically more capitalistic than our capitalism of today and perhaps even more socialistic than our communism of yesteryear because so many souls will require respect and hope and freedom and choice who may not be able to defend themselves in the market as our machines and our software gets better and better. And this is one of the reasons why something like universal basic income comes out of a place fiercely capitalistic like Silicon Valley, because despite the fact that many view the technologists as mercenary megalomaniacs—in fact, these are the folks who are closest to seeing the destruction that their work may visit upon the population and I don't know I think of any 9-, 10- or 11-figure individual at the moment that I'm familiar with who isn't worrying about what we're going to do to take care of those who may not be able to meet their expectations with training and jobs as in previous models, whether it's truck and car driving as one of the largest employers of working-age men threatened by self-driving vehicles or any of the other examples. For example, computers that are capable of writing sports stories from the scores alone. So, in all of these cases, I think the technology is actually forcing those who are most familiar with it to become most compassionate and whether or not we are going to leaven our capitalism with some communism or start from some sort of socialist ideal and realize that if we don't find a way to grow our pie very aggressively with the tiny number of individuals who are capable of taking over operations of great complexity, I think that we are going to have some kind of a hybrid system. I wish I could tell you what it was going to look like, but the fact is nobody knows.
WENDELL PIERCE: We have gotten away from the idea of true capitalism. Now we have people who claim to be capitalists saying: I want to restrict our resources. That we have a finite amount of resources, so I've got to make sure only my kids get opportunities at school, and we're only going to have access to capital, that my tax rates are going to be here at the expense of other folks. And that's actually not true capitalism. We grew as a country when people said hey, listen, it's important that everyone has access to a good education. It's something of great importance because that means the more people that are educated, the more ideas, the more growth we're going to have and that's what capitalism is based on. And I go back to art, music. It's what jazz is all about. It's an American aesthetic. It's freedom within form. Yes, there's confinement and restriction and technical proficiency, but the idea of the jazz solo as improvisation is a finite amount of notes with an infinite amount of combinations. And so that's what capitalism is. There's ultimately an infinite amount of possibilities with this finite group of people. But the more people that are in the mix, the more ideas are going to come about which produces growth.
YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Brute power, determining in the spoils. Civilization was all about moving away from a situation where brute strength and power determined the quality of life of the members of our species. That was the theory. To a very large extent, we moved in that direction and this is something we should be very proud of. But we're very, very far away from having created social relations between us—a legal framework, a way of organizing economic life—that takes power out of the equation of civilization. Economic surplus is essential for humanity to develop. If we don't have an economic surplus, we cannot grow, not just physically but also spiritually. We cannot create new literature, we cannot create new film, we cannot create new theater. We need to have a surplus in order to be able to invest it in all those activities that make human life richer. But the question is who controls the surplus? And, of course, in societies that are very asymmetrical in terms of who owns the means of production, whether we are talking about slave-owning societies where there's a few slave owners, or feudalism, or capitalism where you've got 0.1 percent owning most of the productive abilities or machinery and factors of production in society. They can, in order to preserve their property rights over those means of production, they use debt, they use political power, and they use the monopoly position that their property rights afford them in order to skew the whole process of creativity of production in a manner that, for instance, in the end, in the case of the media world we have 50 channels of rubbish to watch from. We have industries that are dedicated to producing things that we neither need nor want, destroying the planet in the process. We have billions of people working like headless chickens, driving themselves into depression and going home and crying themselves to sleep at night if they have a job, or consuming antidepressants and becoming obese and seeing shrinks if they don't have a job. In the end, we have a joyless economy. Even those who are extremely powerful, in theory, the haves of the world, are increasingly feeling insecure. They have to live in gated communities because they fear all the have-nots out there that envy their wealth. In the end, we have developed fantastic means of escaping need and escaping want which we are not putting to good use because, in the end, we are developing new forms of depravity and deprivation and universalized depression, psychological depression, which is incongruent with our fantastic advances at the technological level.
GIRIDHARADAS: I think what is undeniable in this country is that for 30 or 40 years many people on the left and right have felt that things were not going right, that the country wasn't working for them, that it felt rigged to them, that it felt impossible to secure the life that they were promised by this country and to give their children something better than they had. And all that while there was a lot of richsplaining to those people by the American elite that 'No, no, no. Things are great. Trade is good. Trade's great. It'll be perfect. It's going to lift everybody up. Globalization, perfect. It's great. Look, there's a couple of bumps but no worries. And the aggregate all will be well.' I mean, as though anybody lives in the aggregate. 'Tech. Don't worry. Don't worry about the fact that everything got automated and your jobs all went to Taiwan. Don't worry about it. We'll be better off on the whole.' And there was just a lot of this kind of richsplaining. I grew up and I remember studying this stuff in college when I took economics classes. I went to the University of Michigan. I was sitting in Michigan in Econ 101 and I remember getting this lecture on how all this stuff was for the good and we would be better off. And right around us, all around us in Michigan in 1999 the state was falling apart. These long tectonic shifts were basically like—work was disappearing and trade was not benefitting most people and globalization was not a walk in the park and aggregate effects were not really of any comfort to anybody. And how was it possible at the University of Michigan in 1999 with all of that evidence all around us that we could sit in an intellectual cocoon and explain to ourselves that rising tides lift all boats, essentially.
There is a way in which American elites, and this is not just a couple of greedy hedge fund billionaires, the American intelligentsia also has been complicit in a false story. Rich people and wealthy corporations spent a generation waging a war on government, defunding government, allowing social problems to fester and allowing their own profits to soar. And then with government weakened, social problems multiplying and their own pockets full, they reinvent themselves as the new replacement of government which is instead of trickle-down economics we now have trickle-down change. Let them make their fortune and then they'll just throw some social change down from the mountain. Well, we have to decide in America if that's the kind of change we want. But what I do know is if you project that kind of change backwards throughout time, we wouldn't have created most of the change that we all take for granted today. There would, frankly, have been no New Deal. There would be no modern American economy if we had depending on the powerful to throw down scraps. Many of the most important things in American life had to be taken from the powerful and given to the many. It's time that we reclaim that heritage again.
- What will the economy of the future look like? To answer that we must first consider the current trajectory and the ways in which modern capitalism operates, who it benefits, and if it is sustainable.
- In this video, historians, economists, and authors discuss income and wealth inequality, how the American economy grew into the machine that it is today, the pillars of capitalism and how the concept has changed over time, and ways in which the status quo can, and maybe even should, change.
- "It's not that hierarchy is bad," says John Fullerton, founder of Capital Institute, "it's that hierarchy where the top extracts from below is definitely bad and unsustainable." He says that the modern capitalist system works this way, and that it perpetuates the cycle of growing inequality.
- What is socialism—and what it isn't? - Big Think ›
- Empathy can create a new economic system | World Economic Forum ›
- Why Capitalism Needs Socialism to Survive - Big Think ›
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A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.
A year of disruptions to work has contributed to mass burnout.
- Junior members of the workforce, including Generation Z, are facing digital burnout.
- 41 percent of workers globally are thinking about handing in their notice, according to a new Microsoft survey.
- A hybrid blend of in-person and remote work could help maintain a sense of balance – but bosses need to do more.
More than half of 18 to 25 year-olds in the workforce are considering quitting their job. And they're not the only ones.
In a report called The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work – Are We Ready?, Microsoft found that as well as 54% of Generation Z workers, 41% of the entire global workforce could be considering handing in their resignation.
Similarly, a UK and Ireland survey found that 38% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in the next six months to a year, while a US survey reported that 42% of employees would quit if their company didn't offer remote working options long term.
New work trends
Based on surveys with over 30,000 workers in 31 countries, the Microsoft report – which is the latest in the company's annual Work Trend Index series – pulled in data from applications including Teams, Outlook and Office 365, to gauge productivity and activity levels. It highlighted seven major trends, which show the world of work has been profoundly reshaped by the pandemic:
- Flexible work is here to stay
- Leaders are out of touch with employees and need a wake-up call
- High productivity is masking an exhausted workforce
- Gen Z is at risk and will need to be re-energized
- Shrinking networks are endangering innovation
- Authenticity will spur productivity and wellbeing
- Talent is everywhere in a hybrid world
"Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says in the report. "Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly – inclusive of collaboration, learning and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in, when, where and how people work."
Organizations have become more siloed
While the report highlights the opportunities created by increased flexible and remote working patterns, it warns that some people are experiencing digital exhaustion and that remote working could foster siloed thinking. With the shift to remote working, much of the spontaneous sharing of ideas that can take place within a workplace was lost. In its place are scheduled calls, regular catch-ups and virtual hangouts. The loss of in-person interaction means individual team members are more likely to only interact with their closest coworkers.
"At the onset of the pandemic, our analysis shows interactions with our close networks at work increased while interactions with our distant network diminished," the report says. "This suggests that as we shifted into lockdown, we clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside. Simply put, companies became more siloed than they were pre-pandemic."
Burnout or drop out
One of the other consequences of the shift to remote and the reliance on tech-based communications has been the phenomenon of digital burnout. And for those who have most recently joined the workforce, this has been a significant challenge.
The excitement of joining a new employer, maybe even securing a job for the first time, usually comes with meeting lots of new people, becoming familiar with a new environment and adapting to new situations. But for many, the pandemic turned that into a daily routine of working from home while isolated from co-workers.
"Our findings have shown that for Gen Z and people just starting in their careers, this has been a very disruptive time," says LinkedIn Senior Editor-at-Large, George Anders, quoted in the report. "It's very hard to find their footing since they're not experiencing the in-person onboarding, networking and training that they would have expected in a normal year."
But it is perhaps the data around quitting that is one of the starkest indications that change is now the new normal. Being able to work remotely has opened up new possibilities for many workers, the report found. If you no longer need to be physically present in an office, your employer could, theoretically, be located anywhere. Perhaps that's why the research found that "41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer this year".
In addition to that, 46% of the people surveyed for the Microsoft report said they might relocate their home because of the flexibility of remote working.
A hybrid future
In looking for ways to navigate their way through all this change, employers should hold fast to one word, the report says – hybrid. An inflexible, location-centred approach to work is likely to encourage those 41% of people to leave and find somewhere more to their tastes. Those who are thinking of going to live somewhere else, while maintaining their current job, might also find themselves thinking of quitting if their plans are scuppered.
But remote working is not a panacea for all workforce ills. "We can no longer rely solely on offices to collaborate, connect, and build social capital. But physical space will still be important," the report says. "We're social animals and we want to get together, bounce ideas off one another, and experience the energy of in-person events. Moving forward, office space needs to bridge the physical and digital worlds to meet the unique needs of every team – and even specific roles."
Bosses must meet challenges head on
Although the majority of business leaders have indicated they will incorporate elements of the hybrid working model, the report also found many are out of touch with workforce concerns more widely.
For, while many workers say they are struggling (Gen Z – 60%; new starters – 64%), and 54% of the general workforce feels overworked, business leaders are having a much better experience. Some 61% said they were 'thriving', which is in stark contrast to employees who are further down the chain of command.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president at Microsoft 365, writes in the report: "Those impromptu encounters at the office help keep leaders honest. With remote work, there are fewer chances to ask employees, 'Hey, how are you?' and then pick up on important cues as they respond. But the data is clear: our people are struggling. And we need to find new ways to help them."
Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Buildings don't have to be permanent — modular construction can make them modifiable and relocatable.
- Modular construction involves building the components of a habitable structure in a factory, and then assembling those components on-site.
- The history of modular construction stretches back centuries, and it became briefly popular in the U.S. after World War II, but it's never quite caught on.
- Construction firms like iMod Structures, which constructs buildings that can be modified and relocated, may soon change that.
Modular construction is on the rise. Once a marginal sector focused on building affordable homes, modular construction is now building an increasing share of structures used for commerce, healthcare, and education. By 2028, the modular construction market is projected to be worth $114 billion.
What is modular construction? It's like building with Legos but on an industrial scale: standardized block-shaped modules are constructed in a factory, transported to a building site, and assembled together to form a habitable structure.
What's most striking about modular buildings isn't appearance but the speed of construction. In 2015, for example, a Chinese construction company built a 57-story glass-and-concrete skyscraper made of 2,736 rectangular modules in a record-breaking 19 days. That's three stories per day.
In addition to speed, modular construction promises to be more modifiable, more transportable, and less wasteful than traditional construction methods. The method could transform construction, which, despite being one of the world's biggest sectors, is one of the slowest growing in terms of labor productivity and digitization.
One modular construction firm aiming to bring the sector into the 21st century is iMod Structures, which builds shipping container-sized modules that can be assembled into buildings. The modules can then be disassembled to modify the existing structure or transported to a different site to build a new one.
Freethink recently visited iMod Structures to get an up-close look at its unique spin on modular construction.
Do buildings have to be permanent? | Hard Reset by Freethink www.youtube.com
Techniques like this could help bring construction into the 21st century. But despite its futuristic and transformative appeal, modular construction is far from a new idea. In fact, the history of prefabrication — the broader category of construction to which modular belongs — goes back centuries.
Prefabrication: From 17th-century cottages to diners to skyscrapers
One of the earliest examples of prefabrication came in 1624, when a colonial American fisherman commissioned an English construction company to fabricate components of a building and ship them overseas to the fishing village of Cap Anne.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, English firms also shipped prefabricated structures — storehouses, cottages, and hospitals — to Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. In the U.S., prefabricated homes became popular during the Gold Rush when California towns had too many people but too few houses.
In the early 20th century, mass-production made modular construction more practical and, sometimes, more popular. From 1908 to 1940, Sears sold about 70,000 kit homes across the country; some of the cheapest models started around $160. (Kit homes were like IKEA products: the manufacturer builds and precuts the parts, and the buyer assembles them.)
Still, prefabricated homes weren't particularly popular in the first half of the 20th century; homebuyers generally viewed the structures — especially the metal and experimental ones — as strange and undesirable.
Pre fabricated house shipped via boxcarThe Aladdin Company via Wikipedia
But appearance wasn't a major concern during World War II. Facing huge demand for cheap and simple housing for soldiers in the early 1940s, the U.S. produced hundreds of thousands of Quonset huts — prefabricated, semi-cylindrical structures made of corrugated galvanized steel — which about six unskilled laborers could construct in a day.
A Quonset hut being put in place at the 598th Engineer Base Depot in Japan, post-World War IIUS Army Corps of Engineers via Wikipedia
After the war, millions of U.S. soldiers returned home, and the nation faced a housing shortage crisis. Hundreds of companies entered the prefabricated housing market, with several receiving support from the federal government. One of the most iconic models was the enameled-steel Lustron house, which cost $7,000 to $10,000, took two weeks to assemble, and promised to "defy weather, wear, and time."
By 1958, roughly 10 percent of all homes in the U.S. were prefabricated. In addition to homes, the prefabrication industry also built thousands of diners throughout the 20th century, especially after World War II when owning a prefabricated diner was a decent small-business opportunity. Popular in New Jersey, the narrow diners could easily be shipped to buyers by rail.
Interior of a 1938 Sterling manufactured diner, with curved ceiling, in Wellsboro, PennsylvaniaI, Ruhrfisch via Wikipedia
Despite the post-war boom, modular construction never really caught on in most parts of the world, though many architects and builders have long been attracted to the method. Some of the reasons include consumer perception that modular homes are unattractive, technological constraints, and the high costs of researching and developing new building techniques.
These challenges can be prohibitive, especially for large-scale projects.
"Building anything over 10 stories in modular is something no one has wanted to do because you have to invest in research and development," Susi Yu, executive vice president of residential development for the Forest City Ratner Corporation, told Fast Company. "There's science behind it that you need to figure out."
But attitudes on modular buildings may be shifting.
"Today, modular construction is experiencing a new wave of attention and investment, and several factors suggest it may have renewed staying power," noted a 2019 report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. "The maturing of digital tools has radically changed the modular-construction proposition — for instance, by facilitating the design of modules and optimizing delivery logistics. Consumer perceptions of prefab housing are beginning to change, particularly as new, more varied material choices improve the visual appeal of prefab buildings."
The report goes on: "Perhaps most important, we see a change in mind-set among construction-sector CEOs, as many leaders see technology-based disruptors entering the scene — and realizing it may be time to reposition themselves."
In recent decades, construction firms around the world have built all kinds of modular buildings, including modular skyscrapers in the U.K., U.S., and China; containerized homes in Mexico; and classrooms in rural South Africa.
"In many countries, modular construction is still very much an outlier," McKinsey noted. "But there are strong signs of what could be a genuine broad-scale disruption in the making. It is already drawing in new competitors — and it will most likely create new winners and losers across the entire construction ecosystem."
The benefits of modular construction
Modular construction has the potential to deliver $22 billion in annual savings to U.S. and European markets, mainly because of the inherent benefits of building components in a controlled factory setting. The Modular Building Institute lists a few examples:
- Shorter construction schedule. Because construction of modular buildings can occur simultaneously with the site and foundation work, projects can be completed 30 percent to 50 percent sooner than traditional construction.
- Elimination of weather delays. 60 to 90 percent of the construction is completed inside a factory, which mitigates the risk of weather delays. Buildings are occupied sooner, creating a faster return on investment.
- Improved air quality. Because the modular structure is substantially completed in a factory controlled setting using dry materials, there's virtually no potential for high levels of moisture (which can cause mold growth) to get trapped in the new construction.
- Less material waste. When building in a factory, waste is eliminated by recycling materials, controlling inventory, and protecting building materials.
- Safer construction. The indoor construction environment reduces the risks of accidents and related liabilities for workers.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of modular construction is relocatability and modifiability.
Future-proofing buildings and cities
Buildings are hard to modify and practically impossible to move. That's a problem for many organizations, including the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district currently maintains thousands of decades-old trailers it built to accommodate a fast-growing student population.
Seeking to replace those trailers with structures, the district partnered with iMod Structures to build "future proof" modular classrooms that can be reconfigured and relocated, depending on fluctuating enrollment levels.
"If you have one of our classrooms in a particular location and 5, 10, or 20 years later, you need them across town at another campus within the school district, you simply disassemble, relocate, and reassemble them where they are needed," Craig Severance, Principal with iMod Structures, said in a statement. "And it can be done within a few days, minimizing school [downtime] and disruption of our children's education."
iMod Structures classroomiMod Structures
Founded in 2009 by former real estate investors John Diserens and Craig Severance, iMod Structures takes a hyper-efficient approach to modular construction. Instead of making many types of prefabricated components, the firm makes only one standardized block-shaped frame, each roughly the size of a shipping container. The firm builds the frames in factories and then outfits them with walls, windows, and other custom features the client wants.
Because the frames have the dimensions of a standard shipping container, they can be easily transported to the building site by truck or rail. On site, the frames are connected together or stacked on top of each other. Once the structure is intact, workers finish the job by adding plumbing, electricity, and other final touches.
The process saves a lot of time.
"Typically, it would take nine to 15 months to manufacture a classroom out in the field," said Mike McKibbin, the head of operations for iMod. "We're doing that in twelve days."
Today, iMod Structures is focusing on future-proofing classrooms in California. But it's not hard to imagine how this kind of modular construction could transform not only the ways we build buildings but also organize cities. For example, if a company wants to set up offices in a new part of town, it could build an office park out of iMod Structures frames.
But what if the company needs to expand? It could attach more modules to its existing structure. If it needs to shut down? Instead of demolishing the office park, the structure could be modified and converted into, say, a hospital or apartment building. Alternatively, the modules could be removed from the site, and reused elsewhere, so the city could construct a park.
Under this kind of framework, cities could become far more flexible and dynamic, able to quickly adapt to changing needs. And with no need to demolish buildings, modular construction could prove far more sustainable than any method the industry uses today.
"We don't want our buildings to ever end up in a landfill. Ever," said Reed Walker, head of production and design at iMod Structures. "We want to take that system and use it again and again and again."