The High Frontier 2015

For most of recorded human history, the rate of advancement of scientific and technological knowledge during any one human’s lifespan was hardly noticeable. A thousand years could pass with little technological change observable by the average human. In contrast, most of the advanced technology that we use today was developed in the last 100 years, with the current exponential curve starting around the fall of the Roman Empire.

It is easy to assume that the rate of advancement in science and technology will continue at its current geometric pace. The problem with that assumption is that the role of human character, religion, culture, government, and economics in that advancement is critical. The idea of humanomics intersects ideas and economics.

Essential is a world view that the universe is governed by humanly discoverable laws of operation. Indeed, one can associate historically sustained high rates of advancement in technology with relatively free human societal organizations, relatively low levels of corruption in government and financial institutions, the rule of law, high availability of resources to individuals, and the motivation to use and benefit from those resources.

It is the last role — the motivation to use and benefit from individual access to resources — that is the focus of this article.

Two Competing Views

Since the 1970s there have been two competing world views that greatly influence individual and societal behavior, and potentially ultimately tip the balance in human progress.

Scarcity View

The first is a scarcity view, that is:

(a) The world has a finite limited set of available resources that humankind is depleting.

(b) Increasing population is accelerating that depletion.

(c) The future sustainability of humankind is dependent on minimal resource expenditure and minimized population growth.

(d) Population growth should come only after resources are made available through conservation or improved technology.

Let us call people with this worldview, scarcitites.

Abundance View

The second is an abundance view, that is:

(a) Human population is an economic and technology growth engine that results in a net increase in total resource availability.

(b) As a resource becomes scarce and increases in cost, it results in technological innovation that improves access to the resource or incentivizes the use of alternative resources or the extraction of more resources at higher efficiencies.

(c) The future sustainability of humankind is based on a continuing positive feedback loop of population, technological, and economic growth

Let us call people with this worldview, abundancers.

Consequence of world view

It is my belief that the world view that becomes predominant will make that worldview a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A scarcity worldview means that resources must be "fairly" shared. This requires more governmental control to manage the production and distribution or redistribution of wealth resulting in reduced incentives to innovate. Human impact on the environment must be minimized, resulting in more and more impediments to growth. The eventual result is a modern form of relatively static technological progress, and limited political freedom under government control.

An abundance worldview means that resources are potentially unlimited and therefore those that improve access to resources should be rewarded commensurately, thereby incentivizing rapid rates of technological innovation. The eventual result is a growth rate like Moore’s Law.

These consequences can be seen historically. The rates of technology growth in western civilizations correlate positively to relatively free societies with stable institutions. Contrast the knowledge explosion of the Greeks prior to Alexander the Great or the rapid advances in technology in medieval europe after the fall of the Roman empire and of course the historic higher rates of technology growth in the US versus less free countries.

Possible Concerns

Clearly there are problems with both world views. In an abundance society there can be large economic disruptions, as technological change displaces or removes the value of some individuals. In a scarcity society, there can be large political disruptions, as increased government power displaces or removes the value of some individuals.

Clearly the dire predictions made by the scarcitites in the 1970s did not come to pass. Most of the last 40 years provides case study support of the abundancer worldview, albeit with a few interesting exceptions.

But has that changed? The extended world wide recession of the last few years could be an inflexion point supporting the diminishing returns argument of the scarcitites, that is, ultimately technology can only do so much, eventually resources will run out!

So why not find more resources? Why limit ourselves to the earth?

Historically, many of the big jumps in technology occurred with big changes in available resources resulting from the intersection of a relatively free society and access to more resources such as land freed up by the Black Plague or land freed up by smallpox in the new world. Since the moon and asteroids are uninhabited and barren of life, there is no moral or ecological reason not to exploit those resources.

In the 1970s, a movement developed around the ideas of Dr. Gerald K O’Neill who devised detailed plans, using 1970s technology, to build large cylindrical spinning space stations (20 mi x 5 mi diameter) with artificial gravity and populations in the millions parked in orbit between the earth and moon (Lagrangian point, L5). The resources to build these space stations would come from the moon, the asteroids, and solar power. Once the first colony was built, future colonies would require little additional resources from the earth, enabling an exponential growth rate that could accommodate all future growth in human population. The recent movie Interstellar shows a glimpse of what life would be like in one of those space colonies.

In many ways the 2010s are a mirror of the 1970s both economically and politically. Interestingly enough, we are seeing real interest once again in colonizing space. More importantly, there is now development of lower cost, commercially driven launch vehicles. This could make a huge difference in the chicken and egg problem of building a space colony, as more launches will reduce the cost of launches, thereby motivating more launches.

By some estimates, the cost to build the first colony would be comparable to the government stimulus incurred as a result of the 2008 financial collapse. Had the stimulus money been spent towards building the first colony we could have started the largest wealth expansion in human history and removed humanity’s dependence on the earth for survival.


As a teenager, I thought about the implications of L5 colonies and Mormonism. Could the colonies be a way to save the righteous while the earth was destroyed? Could a Mormon L5 colony be the modern equivalent of the westward migration to Utah, only now on a higher mountain, that is, space?

Had we followed ONeill’s 1970 plans we would already have the first colonies built. Individual colonies could be built to suit different cultures and societal organizations and spaced far enough apart to provide effective levels of independence and self sufficiency, from thousands to millions of inhabitants, thereby fostering an explosion in creativity and innovation of all kinds.

When I lived in Samoa, where large extended family groups are the norm, if there was a conflict between family group members (for example a teenager not getting along with his/her parents), one means of resolving the issue was for the family member to move in with another part of the extended family, in another house or in another village. Likewise with independent space colonies, the internal environments and cultures could be customized, thereby enabling people to congregate with other like-minded peoples without impinging upon the unlike minded.

It is time to reawaken the abundance mentality and unleash potentially unlimited resources by colonizing space. It is time to popularize the concept so we can solve the problems needed to reach that goal.

Here are just a few references to get started on the concept of space colonization and abundance:

Space Colonies;

The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, 1976 ONeill

2081 A Hopeful View of the Human Future, 1981 ONeill'Neill_cylinder


The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future, 2012 McCray

Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, 2013 Drexler

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, 2012 Kotler

The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future, 2009 Ford.


How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity, 2014 Rodney Stark


The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. 2006, Deirdre McCloskey

Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can't Explain the Modern World. 2010, Deirdre McCloskey