Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This May Sound Strange Coming from Me

Is it possible that we over-invested in nuclear power plants in the 1960s and early 1970s? Just because we would eventually need to build them doesn't mean we had to build them then … especially when we hadn't finished coming up with designs.

It's possible that those nukes we did build kept fossil-fuel prices artificially low in the 1980s and 1990s. That, in turn, discouraged building more nukes and also contributed to a climate in which the capitalists who would have otherwise insisted on building them were reluctant to press for them.

Maybe it's just as well we had a no-nukes movement. If it weren't for them, there might have been a speculative bubble in nuclear reactors in the late 1970s. The long-predicted oil shortage combined with the actual increase in oil prices (in hindsight we can see that that was a monetary phenomenon but it didn't look like one at the time) would have encouraged an attitude of “there's no way to lose money with nukes” followed by a chain of really spectacular bankruptcies a few years later. (We had one or two anyway, but there would have been far more.)

Besides, the no-nukes movement makes it possible to answer liberals pointing to creationists. We can match them fool for fool.

While I'm at it, I've noticed that science fiction's biggest prediction failures have tended to be in areas backed by central planning. Nuclear power, space travel, artificial intelligence, large-scale urban planning, brainwashing (this applies to dystopian predictions too), …


Anonymous Cambias said...

Science Fiction has a weakness for centrally-planned one-size-fits-all Big Tech solutions. It goes back to Wells, if not before him.

Aside from mid-century liberalism and its built-in assumptions about how to do things, I think it's also the result of narrative convenience. It's easy to depict Wernher Von Braun masterminding a space program -- but how do you show the dispersed, bottom-up process of how e-commerce developed?

Big Projects have a narrative.

8:01 AM  

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