Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wrong! I wasn't very wrong at all. I was very nearly right.

My plan was to take a photo on 26th September 2008 as evidence of petrol being under $1 a litre in Townsville. Exactly two months later I can actually do this as followsevidence shot

My next prediction was for the low point of oil prices of light sweet crude. My theories are that the higher and longer the overshoot, the lower and longer the undershoot. Oil prices will stay so low for so long that we will begin to wonder if $100 per barrell will ever be tested again. More on the specifics another time

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pro ?

I had promised a detailed objective analysis on the state of play, and the future of abortion. Hopefully it is here

From axiom 1 I will try to go through the relevant assumptions I am going to make before I start. For the moment I will accept correspondence on how my conclusions ought not to follow from my assumptions and reasoning. Any correspondence questioning my assumptions can be made separately as comments to them where they are described separately.

The political line in the case of Abortion has Pro-life on one side and pro-choice on the other extreme."Symbolic" prohibition, such as that practiced in Australia (where abortion is technically illegal but with such a broad range of cases considered in the best interest of the mother's health and with doctor's given a free hand to make the call in that regards), is considered to be somewhere in the middle of the continuum. It is quite clear that no matter where on the line one places oneself, peers on the line tend to have very correlated viewpoints. I leave it as an exercise to the reader (yes. Both of you) to identify actual correlated viewpoints. True objectivity would allow us to explore ideas that take us well away from the line with views that would not normally be held as a combination
Laws regarding abortion can affect greatly the Game Dynamics at an individual level. The detail of crime enforcement at the individual level, by changing the risk/reward calculus, will have knock on effects far into the future. Like with animals that eat the shoots of young trees, disastrous effects will not be noticed until well into the future when those trees ought to be fully grown.

There is not much point taking time to lay Blame on any sector of society or individuals if one wants to remain objective.

Many in the argument over abortion have a vision of a future which is perhaps an ideal World. What I would like to do here is to find an Evolutionary Pathway from what we have now to potential futures that have a finite possibility of coming to fruition.

When looking at the effects of any law change one must take into account how Self-adjusting systems of the economy and especially democracy can introduce negative feedback on any piecemeal policy changes. In dictatorships that have a command and control economy, the feedback will only take hold in the long term if the demographic effects lead to revolution, or the economic effects gradually lead to ruin. To get from A, the here and now, to B the vision of the future, successfully, changes in policy need to be economy neutral and should not discriminate against any class of the voting public to avoid the negative feedbacks.

Pro-Life proponents have a vision of the future where abortion of a foetus is considered the same way as the slaughter of a baby.
Pro-Choice proponents have a vision of the future where every child is a wanted child without exception.

These views are not necessarily incompatible. The trick is finding policies that move towards one vision without giving the impression that it is moving inexorably away from the other, then visa versa for the next step, all the while avoiding situations where reversal of the policies becomes a popular concept.

Vision 1
Pro-Life proponents have a vision of the future where abortion of a foetus is considered the same way as the slaughter of a baby. To most, pre-Rowe-vs-Wade US or Catholic Italy in the 60's is a close analogue. However, when looked at more closely the abortion prohibition legislation/enforcement falls way, way short of any analogous infanticide legislation in any similarly modern country. For the vision to work analagously *all* legislation associated with birth needs to be pushed forward to at least early in the pregnancy if not to conception. The lack of analagous registration legislation gives a glimpse of why for one, the legislation failed to bring down (illegal) abortion rates to anywhere near infanticide rates even for these examples where, initially, abortion prohibition had majority backing. I will leave it as another excercise to the reader to find other items of legislation where the foetus/baby legislation is not analagous(yet).

Vision 2
Pro-Choice proponents have a vision of the future where no child is born to a woman who does not want one at that time. A close analogue is currently European countries such as the Netherlands or the Nordic countries, with particular emphasis on Universal sex education, access to contraceptives, access to family planning and parent counselling and importantly access to fertility clinics. Although it seems the analogues fit closely, desire for a child is a slippery concept compared to the obligation to ones child which is statutory. Because conception is still quite a lottery, angst about timing and control of the process makes us rely so much more on artificial quickfix to ensure conception or contraception. Abortion just gives a small window of opportunity to suit the mother's desire at the cost of a life. Also, there is no fluid process for babies who aren't wanted to be moved to families where they are a wanted child. Such a process would partially obviate the need for abortion or IVF for that matter. ie. those who have unwanted pregnancies ought to be able to offset those who cannot have children naturally. This would theoretically keep the endpoint of every child being a wanted child with less of the wastes of abortion and IVF.

One of the great ironies is that symbolic prohibition of abortion is not in itself helpful in reducing the abortion rate (approximate though it may be in prohibitionist countries). Because no prohibition regimen has ever reached the required condition of the crime not paying on average, rather than evenhandedly stopping abortions, it has the effect of increasing the price of abortion, thus becoming a demographic selection process based on lack of means. Proportion of "Unwanted" babies in poorer demographics is an immediate proxy for the demographic time-bomb that this can set up, with future crime rates being just one of the many possible ill-effects.

Another irony is that for all humans clever economic systems for efficient allocation of capital in free market economies, we cannot seem to get any clever liberal system that would efficiently allocate babies to those most able to raise them. The system that comes closest is the foreign adoption system, where for a nominal price, one can adopt a baby from a poor country of ones choice, usually at a time of ones choice. Although not technically "buying" a baby, this has some of the aspects of the kind of thing I'm talking about. I leave it as another exercise to the reader to dream up of an evolutionary pathway to a legal system that can do this for home grown babies.

Certain individual policies, especially those following the political continuum, create their own backlash once the side effects start to kick in. If abortion clinics are closed wholesale, the immediate effect is to dramatically reduce abortions for a short time, inconveniencing a small but potentially riled group. This group finds it easier to gain a large sympathetic group, especially using handpicked extreme cases (eg. rape, incest, very young pre-teen mother or combinations) which would normally not be publicised due to privacy concerns. The democratic feedback would generally work to simply reverse the policy change within at most a couple of electoral terms in modern democracies.

Thankfully, policies outside that of the pro -? political continuum can have effects on the long term abortion rate. General wealth and economic growth has positive effect on both reducing the abortion rate and reducing numbers of "unwanted" children. In Australia, generous and universal family payments, and especially baby bonuses may have considerably reduced demand for abortions based on economic hardship. For a wanted pregnancy, there is a class of crime of "murder of an unborn baby" for cases of violent acts with the intent of terminating the pregnancy against the mothers will. This appears to confer some rights to life for the unborn which are better than none. Many countries have health benefits that reduce the pre-natal health expense burden. Most mothers-to-be register to see a Gyn/Obst doctor for their pregnancy - there is no reason why laws enshrining responsibility for the unborn at that point would be controversial.

These policies don't appear to generate a democratic backlash, nor are they particularly burdensome for the Government, so I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be expanded in the direction of reaching closer to the ideals of both vision 1 and vision 2.

My Visions
I have a couple of possible visions I will call X and Y.

Both these visions are based on a subset of future society gradually becoming the norm and making the current "line" between pro-life and pro-choice completely irrelevant. They are based on technology that is currently being developed for reasons completely unrelated to abortion policy.

Vision X is expanding on technologies designed to aid achievement and detection of natural conception, and relies on market oriented ways of matching unwanted pregnancies with those that desire to adopt or have a child which are having trouble conceiving naturally. This vision keeps the probablistic attribute of natural conception and assumes the impossibility of it being anything else in the future. It imagines a completely transparent surrogacy/adoption regimen for those who sign up to the vision. It may appear to be both "Big Brotherish" and an unethical advocacy of the trade in babies/fetuses, but since it is only for people who understand their changed rights to privacy and to guardianship of the children involved, it really should not be an issue.

Vision Y assumes that IVF techniques expand and improve to the point that not only do they become almost 100% reliable, but that they become cost effective to the point that natural conception will have few advantages left.

Vision X Points
Technologies assumed:
1) Ovulation kit implant:(a) Growing Market - An absolute boon for couples trying to conceive naturally, an implantable device will be way more effective than the "kits" currently available. The market for these will grow regardless of any implications for abortion legislation.
(b) Other Uses - For those *not* wanting to fall pregnant, this implant can be attached to a watch/mobile phone alarm, and be a direct feedback as most unwanted pregnancies are somewhat related to naivety about ones own fertility at any one time. This is a potential growth market that *does* have implications for the level of unwanted pregnancies.

2) Switchable male contraception: (a) Growing Market - The technology has just now become available, and is essentially a switchable barrier contraceptive that works similarly to how vasectomies do. Its general convenience will give it a rather broad market base, likely to grow quickly.
(b) Other Uses - Because it is electronically switchable, there is potential for it to be automatically activated with proximity to an ovulation kit implant attached to a woman who has given it a setting of not wanting to fall pregnant. Since this would still be potentially desirable at an individual level, it would probably be a potential growth market as well as indubitably reducing unwanted pregnancies.

3) Implantable pregnancy kit: (a) Growing Market - Home pregnancy kits are becoming cheaper and more reliable, but the extra piece of mind in knowing precicely the circumstances and time of conception will make this device, if it becomes available, have a quickly expanding market for those trying to conceive.
(b) Other uses - Even for women not planning to get pregnant, this device could give the absolute most time possible to take all options into account. Its spread among women who do not have ethical or moral issues against abortion, may still help the long term vision X.

Self adjusting demand/supply issues
There is a link between issues of surrogacy, adoption, Foster parents, custody issues, fertility, family planning, economic values, family values, crowding etc.

Vision X envisions loosening of the statutory nature of genetic parents of children having automatic responsibility for the child. Responsibility is not generally transferable, which has a tendency to lock the economic and social consequences, making abortion such an irresistible economic/social option.

On the other side of the ledger, when couples (etc.) desire to have a child, timing is a great cause of stress. Again there is a window of opportunity when a new child is the most desirable, but no way to ensure timing, aspecially when alternatives such as adoption have so many conditions and delays, biological parents have veto rights, and the cost/benefit balance of IVF are not helpful in the grand scheme of things.

If a self adjusting system (such as an economic one) to match those that are expecting children they would rather not, with those that aren't expecting when they would want to, was possible, it would go part way to reducing the economic/social push to abortion.

Another required part is a "pricing" signal at the point of conception that would go anywhere from being a cost to there being a considerable reward for proceeding with the pregnancy depending on demand/supply constraints or population signals.

A third required aspect is a strengthening of the rights and responsibilities of adoptive parents and opening the way to softening the veto rights of biological parents where appropriate to enable the self-adjusting system.

These parts can be achieved in ways other than just allowing a free market for surrogacy/fostering/adoption/babies, which would have the obvious flaw of appearing unethical.

One obvious way would be for women of childbearing age to be allowed to voluntarily sign up to a society register, which would have a value determined by demand and supply within the society, of how much to charge for surrogacy within the group, how much family payment/health benefits surrogate mothers get if they get pregnant as they have pre-registered that they would not be the after-birth parents, and which baby is allocated to which adoptive parent. If there are more pregnant mothers than there are people looking to adopt from that pool, the charge for surrogacy would drop, and so would the payments to the surrogate mothers, and visa versa.

If signing up to such a register meant getting a baby exactly when you want one (even if it is not your offspring), and those that get pregnant before they are ready to be parents get paid hansomely for their trouble, then that may be enough to get a large starting set that could encompass all but the most traditional couples.

Vision X could therefore get very close to the twin goals of dramaticallly fewer abortions and dramatically fewer unwanted children.

Vision Y

Vision Y, in contrast, assumes that reproductive technologies expanding on IVF improve to the point that couples' (or individual woman's) desires to have children can be accomodated reliably and promptly. Safe in that knowledge, young males would feel confident enough to have their sperm frozen and have a vasectomy thus not needing to worry about unwanted pregnancies on their part.

Equally, women would also have equivalent surgery, completely relying on artificial means of conception when that is desired.

At the moment of course, the technologies assumed are not reliable to this point. While the technologies for vision X involve individual (and possibly private) knowledge about ones own fertility and a flexible, self-adjusting "market" for desired parenthood, vision Y's technologies involve mastering the genetic conception process artificially. Enough technological knowledge would be required to replace all the natural genetic checks and balances that occur in nature with artificial ones.

Vision Y envisions that the natural bond with the biological mother is crucial enough to offset the flexibility advantages of the increased number and fluidity of adoptions of vision X.

As to whether vision Y equally obtains the twin goals of every child being a wanted child and having negligible number of abortions also depends on overcoming current obstacles. With vision Y, one of these is for changed circumstances after a woman gets pregnant. It is quite easy to see that even if one goes through the process of IVF, that if it had become something cheap, easy and reliable, her reasons for changing her mind once she got pregnant may become more fickle.

On the other hand, it is quite tenable that the conditions of access to IVF etc. can be attached to rules that forbid terminations for those who have gone through this process as a condition for access.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Now a nineteenth anniversary, and I haven't seen a single mention of the anniversary on the news or current affairs shows. Maybe for the 20th people will see that it was a crucial turning point in Geopolitical history.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


It would be remiss of me not to mention the horse race(s) that are on today. I would like to say that predicting stockmarket indices values for any time in the future is like predicting the results of a horse race. Experts on horses can intimately know the details of every horse that is running in a race, but they generally can't beat the market(bookmaker). Similarly, the best predictor of the future value of an index is the current value of the index (similarly with commodity prices etc.) which doesn't mean it is likely to stay the same either.

On other news I have found an article that explains Why the free media is biased. Something that had bothered me since it was discussed on Klaus Rohde'd blog earlier in the year. It restores my faith in free media, especially over the government controlled sort.