20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sat Dec 02, 2017 2:09 pm

20171202 Adam Smith Thread

Note quotation from Adam Smith in Analog: Fact article on supernovae

The issue is Vol. CXXXVII November/December 2017
Article in Science Fact: “Fatal Starlight” by Paul Fisher
Page 32
Begin Quotation:
...a century earlier by Adam Smith in his classic 1759 work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.”
End Quotation.
This is Fisher's citation #8: Smith, Adam, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, 1759. Reprint Cambridge University Press, 1994.

From Reference #1:
Page 1022 Paragraph from “” In the northern colonies,... “”

In this short paragraph, Mr. Smith reports that when colonies are unable to trade goods they have produced themselves in return for the goods they desire from England, they are obliged to find gold and silver to settle the trades, and he asserts:
Begin Quotation:
...this balance they generally find.
End Quotation.

In Chapter 4 of Reference 2, Mr. Beattie discusses at some length, the “destructive power of natural wealth”.

The title of the chapter is “Natural Resources”
The subtitle is: “Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth”

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sun Dec 10, 2017 2:25 am

20171209 Adam Smith Thread
From Reference #1:
Page 1022 Paragraph from “” In the sugar colonies,... “”

In this paragraph, Mr. Smith discusses the circumstances of colonies which produce more than they import, and concludes that where gold and silver are needed to balance accounts:
Begin Quotation:
...this balance too is generally found.
End Quotation.

In Chapter 5 of Reference 2, Mr. Beattie discusses at some length, the topic of religion and its influence on economic developments over extended periods.

The title of the chapter is “Religion”
The subtitle is: “Why Don't Islamic Countries Get Rich”

I found the subtitle to be a bit jarring, because I tend to think of oil wealth as a significant factor in countries where the Islamic faith is predominant. Mr. Beattie considers multiple religions in this chapter, and from my point of view, he seems to end up in an agreeable place, advancing the proposition that societies can “choose to succeed”, regardless of the predominant belief system.

In the discussion, I got the impression that religion was often used by individuals and groups throughout the centuries, to advance their own agendas.

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Mon Dec 18, 2017 7:46 pm

20171216 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1023 Paragraph from “” The difficulty and irregularity of payment... “”

Mr. Smith asserts that “speculations of the planter” are to some extent responsible for irregular payments from sugar producing locations. He draws a connection between the amount of uncultivated land in a location, and the temptation on the part of growers to extend their productive capability.

It seems to me quite natural for growers to try to extend the cultivation of the land they control, so while it sounds to me as though Mr. Smith is mildly disapproving, I find it interesting that he draws attention to the inconvenience caused by development of the land.

Chapter 6 of Reference 2 includes a quotation from Mr. Smith, and extensive discussion of the history of England's acquisition and development of sugar producing territories.

The title of the chapter is “Politics of Development”

On page 167, in discussing the Mercantile System and the exports it encouraged, Mr. Beattie says:
Begin Quotation:
...to think of exports as evidence of strength. The argument of their importance in building up shipping was later accepted even by Adam Smith, generally a staunch supporter of free trade.
End quotation.

In this chapter, Mr. Beattie presents a history of the successful influence of economic policy by small groups who are small enough to coordinate their efforts, and to shape the economic policy of a nation to suit their interests. This behavior is most certainly continuing to the present day, in the United States, and quite likely around the world.

As an introduction to Chapter 7, Mr. Beattie says:
Begin Quotation:
And the coca trade is a good entry point to look at how trade has evolved to create the oddly unbalanced and far from flat world of the present day---and one in which the seamless free market of the economics textbooks fails, once again, to operate.
End Quotation.

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Mon Dec 25, 2017 2:51 am

20171223 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1024 Paragraph from “” It is not, therefore, the poverty of the colonies ...“”

The line in Mr. Smith's comments here that stands out for me is his repeated complaint:

Begin Quotation:
… they are too eager to become excessively rich.
End Quotation

Mr. Smith was writing long before the present era, but to my ear, his complaint reminds me of present day financial analysts who are worried about quarterly profits far more than they are about longer term considerations.

Chapter 7 of Reference 2

The title of this chapter is: “Trade Routes and Supply Chains”
The subtitle is “Why doesn't Africa grow Cocaine?”

In this chapter, Mr. Beattie reviews the history of trade routes, and reviews the development of human relationships and practices which gave significant advantage to those who possessed them. He also reviews the impact of technology on relative advantage, and develops a recurring theme that the skills needed to sustain a new technology go far beyond the initial idea.

Since Africa is a focus of the subtitle, I note that on page 217, Mr. Beattie considers the North-South orientation of Africa as a barrier to efficient and effective development of the region by either its native peoples or the Europeans who came in to scoop up profits where they might.

The sentence that stands out for me in this chapter appears on page 220:
Begin Quotation:
As Western Europe's rapid recovery after the Second World War showed, roads and factories can always be rebuilt as long as there is an invisible framework of education, the rule of law, and a functioning economy to support it.
End Quotation.

In this single line, I see encapsulated the essential elements of an economy that might be created from scratch on another world, or even (conceivably) on Earth, if such an effort were to be undertaken.

There are certainly plenty of people displaced by natural and manmade disasters sloshing round the globe in 2017, and it is not impossible to imagine a subset of them might be invited to participate in an experiment to build an economy from scratch in a region free of people, but the challenges of creating Beattie's “invisible framework” would be significant.

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sun Dec 31, 2017 5:38 pm

20171230 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1025 Paragraph from “” It is not contrary to justice ...“”

In this paragraph, as indeed, in this entire section, it seems to me that Mr. Smith is arguing in the face of a hurricane of change that is well underway. While Ireland is very likely to have decided to contribute to the wellbeing of Great Britain, the American colonies certainly did not.

In Chapter 8 of Reference 2, Mr. Beattie discusses:

Title: Corruption
Subtitle: Why did Indonesia prosper under a crooked ruler and Tanzania stay poor under an honest one?

In this chapter, Mr. Beattie lays out the purpose of this book, as clearly as I have seen it so far.

On page 224
Begin Quotation:
For our purposes, because we are interested in how the actions of governments and states have determined economic history, …
End Quotation

In this section, Mr. Beattie had been considering the difference between corruption and fraud, and for the purposes of this book, he assigns the word corruption to governments and fraud to private enterprise. The distinction he makes is based upon who is injured.

Like Adam Smith before him, Mr. Beattie seems (to me) to be writing for policy makers, and while the audience for Dr. Dartnell's book will presumably have a much smaller work force than those described in this chapter, the lessons Mr. Beattie sets forth seem (to me) timeless in their scope.

On page 223 Mr. Beattie states:
Begin Quotation:
Corruption is a form of self interest that thrives on a lack of information and a lack of competition.
End Quotation.

In the chapter, Mr. Beattie considers several nations aside from Indonesia and Tanzania, including the United States and China.

On page 235, he says:
Begin Quotation:
A lower rate of bribe means more businesses can flourish;
End Quotation.

In 2017, in the United States, the Republicans have undertaken a mighty gamble that a lower rate of taxation will cause the economy to grow sufficiently to not only pay for the lost revenue, but to chip away at the national debt as well.

As a side note, Mr. Beattie mentions the stuggle for independence of the American colonies in the context of a trial of officers of the East India Company, which (I gather) was a state sponsored system of organized graft.

In the end of this chapter, Mr. Beattie has undertaken to support the thesis that the organized and controlled corruption of Indonesian dictator Suharto was better for his country than the honest leadership of the first President of Tanzania, who allowed corruption to run unchecked among the bureaucrats of the state.

On page 252, Mr. Beattie offers what looks to my eye like timeless advice:
Begin Quotation:
Honest civil servants need to be paid well.
End Quotation.

(th)
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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:03 pm

20180106 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1025 Paragraph from “” By a union with Great Britain, ...“”

In this paragraph, Mr. Smith argues the case for Ireland joining Great Britain as Scotland had done previously. Mr. Smith died in 1790, so he did not live to see the union when it came in 1801.

I went to Wikipedia to find out when the union occurred, and Google served up several articles on the history of the on again, off again relationship between England, Scotland and Ireland over centuries.

In Chapter 9 of Reference 2, Mr. Beattie discusses:

Title: Path Dependence
Subtitle: Why are Pandas so Useless?

In this chapter, Mr. Beattie compares Pandas to domestic cats, and observes that Pandas have followed an evolutionary pathway into a cul-de-sac where they are becoming increasingly dependent upon human beings for their survival. He then goes not to draw parallels between evolution of creatures and of cultures.

On page 257 Mr. Beattie says:
Begin Quotation:
But in the same way that pandas could go down the wrong track and get stuck there, so can societies and their economies.
End Quotation.

In the discussion that follows, Mr. Beattie considers Russia, India and China, and shows how history of each of these nations has influenced their experiences leading to the present time. In contrast to Russia and China, which have long had centralized and authoritarian cultures, India is shown to have a great variety of competing subcultures, notably characterized by a well established caste system.

I was interested to learn that the word itself did not come from India.
Begin Quotation from page 276:
...casta had been used in sixteenth century Spain and Portugal in discussions of botany and animal husbandry to denote species or breed. The term was carried to India by traders and became a loose expression that could refer to community, bloodline, birth group, or religion.
End Quotation.

In closing the chapter, on page 285, Mr. Beattie summarizes:
Begin Quotation:
But many nations have gone down routes that they would not have chosen had they foreseen where they would lead.
End Quotation.

I find these words interesting to ponder. Mr. Beattie's formulation implies that he thinks that “nations” can make choices.

I do not think of groups of people as large as a “nation” make choices as a unit, but certainly the sum of individual choices can give that appearance.

However, thinking back to Mr. Beattie's review of Russia and China as authoritarian states, I can see that populations can be “trained” to accept authoritarian leadership, and thus to act in substantial union.

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:09 pm

20180106 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1025 Paragraph from “”No oppressive aristocracy ...“” through Page 1026 “... moderate peace establishment”

In this long paragraph, Mr. Smith continues development of his idea to retire the national debt of Great Britain by enlisting Ireland and the American Colonies to pay more taxes than they were doing at the time.

In a curious misreading of the situation that prevailed in the American colonies, Mr. Smith said:
Begin Quotation:
In the case of a total separation from Great Britain, which, unless prevented by a union of this kind, seems very likely to take place, those factions would be ten times more virulent than ever.
End Quotation.

While I can understand (to some extent) why Mr. Smith would have held such a pessimistic view of the human race as they existed in the American colonies at the time, in actual fact, only two major factions operated within the population. Those who desired to separate from Great Britain were opposed by a significant fraction of the population who were loyal to the Crown, and preferred NOT to undertake separation. Eventually, the loyalists moved back to England, moved to Canada, or made their peace with their neighbors.

In Chapter 10 of Reference 2:

Title: Conclusion
Subtitle: Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie (Quotation from William Shakespeare)

In this chapter, Mr. Beattie brings his discussion full circle, by considering Argentina in the context of the DOHA talks of 2008, organized by the World Trade Organization. In particular, he points out the power of agricultural lobbies in various countries to block progress toward lowering trade barriers.

On page 298, Mr. Beattie opens a paragraph in which he attempts to summarize all the lessons that might be learned from the book, with the words:
Begin Quotation:
But certain basic ideas command wide acceptance.
End Quotation.

In the last line of the chapter and of the book Mr. Beattie says:
Begin Quotation:
The experience of history should lead us to hope and strive to make the world better, not to despair and resign ourselves to fate.
End Quotation.

This sentiment seems (to me) a good match with the overall theme of “The Knowledge”. While Dr. Dartnell has kept his focus upon physical principles worthy of preservation over the long term, Mr. Beattie makes a valuable contribution by considering the behavior of groups of people, and by pointing out both positive and negative consequences of various policies and behaviors.

***

In a contemporary discussion of economics, Robert J. Samuelson wrote recently on the topic of policy of the American Federal Reserve bank,

http://www.dispatch.com/opinion/2018011 ... -tinkering

As this thread is built upon the writings of Adam Smith, I find it refreshing that Mr. Samuelson says:
Begin Quotation:
The dirty secret of economics is how much economists don't know.
End Quotation.

Mr. Samuelson presents a proposal offered by a third party, to set inflation at 4%, instead of the current Fed target of 2%. I appreciate Mr. Samuelson's disapproval of the 4% idea, and his support of the established policy. I am persuaded by a preponderance of opinion of the authors I've had a chance to study, that a moderate inflation is a good idea for any economy, because it acts as a stirring agent for the broth of economic activity, allowing for introduction of competing product offerings and gently encourages accumulation of wealth.

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Sat Jan 20, 2018 5:10 pm

20180120 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1026 Paragraph from “”The territorial acquisitions of ...“” through Page 1027 “... which they already pay”

In this paragraph, Mr. Smith introduces an idea which President Trump might find familiar, in 2018! He points out that the territories governed by the East India Company are already paying taxes, and he proposes to REDUCE the tax burden. He proposes to increase revenue from those territories, despite reduced taxes, by:
Begin Quotation:
...by preventing the embezzlement and misapplication of the greater part of those which they already pay.
End Quotation.

From time to time, a contemporary writer mentions Adam Smith in a piece, and that occurred once again in the Column by Jonah Goldberg of the American Enterprise Institute, published locally on January 28, 2018.

Mr. Goldberg quotes Adam Smith (page 148 of the Edwin Cannan edition):
Begin Quotation:
People of the same trade seldom meet together...contrivance to raise prices.
End Quotation.

Goldberg's column is entitled: Protectionism always hurts the public.

In this piece, he is arguing against the recent announcement of increased tariffs against solar panels and washing machines.

Towards the conclusion of the column, Mr. Goldberg makes an argument I find interesting and worth considering:
Begin Quotation:
If the government promises cheap, below-cost bread for all, the bakeries will go bust unless they are subsidized. Those subsidies would come from taxpayers, so we'd be paying the real price anyway.
End Quotation.

In these two sentences, perhaps without realizing it, Mr. Goldberg is making an argument FOR Basic Income.

The people in the United States (at least) who would benefit from bread which is sold at prices which are affordable but which do not cover the cost of sourcing, manufacture, distribution and sale, are most likely NOT paying taxes. Thus, the burden of caring for those who are not enrolled in the economic gravy train falls upon those who ARE. To my way of thinking, that is as it should be.

(th)
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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Mon Jan 29, 2018 12:42 am

20180127 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1027 Paragraph from “”If it should be found impracticable...”

Because this is the second to last page of “The Wealth of Nations” (Reference #1) I will change to considering only one sentence at a time, in order to extend as far as possible the benefit of using Mr. Smith's work as a foundation for this thread.

After having considered possible ways of increasing income to the nation of Great Britain, Mr. Smith now turns to the option of reducing expenses.

Before leaving the general theme of sources of income for a nation, I would like to point out that the search for answers to the need for income continues unabated in current times. I asked Google a question to challenge it's artificial intelligence, and although it did not serve back a specific answer, it did deliver a number of guesses about what might be resources to help. One of these was the web site: http://www.oecd.org.

However, moving on to Mr. Smith's new focus, of reducing expenses, it seems to me that this too has been and must always be a concern for nations, organizations and even individuals.

Reference #4 was added to the inventory for this thread, because a book by the same author is on order.

Reference #4 was published ca 2005, so an update 12 years later should prove interesting and worth while.

However, since this work includes many of the elements of a future economy, both on the Earth and away from it, I think it is worth reviewing before the update arrives.

This book is not organized in chapters in the usual sense, so I'll identify the pages to be considered for each post here as “sections”

The “section” for this post is entitled “How to Make” … up to “Almost Anything” (Pages 1 - 17)

Because of the length of this section and its density, I'll highlight only a few elements:

On page 3...
Begin Quotation:
...what's being personalized is our physical world of atoms rather than the computer's digital world of bits.
End Quotation.

The entire theme of “FAB” is personal manufacturing, which I anticipate will become widely available in coming decades.

On page 4...
Begin Quotation:
If the world is a computer, then the science of computing is really the science of science.
End Quotation.

Humans have spent most of their millennia of self-awareness trying to understand their environment as an analog situation. It is only in recent centuries that the confirmation of atomic structure led to the ability to understand the environment as a digital one, albeit more fine grained than human senses can differentiate.

A central concept appears on page 4 …
Begin Quotation:
In “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the replicator is an essential plot element that is capable of making whatever is needed for each episode.
End Quotation.

In that short statement, Dr. Gershenfeld captures the essence of the vision I share with (surely) millions of others, of a future within which physical objects can be created as needed by anyone without regard to social status. This state of affairs depends upon human mastery of atomic energy so that sufficient energy is available to meet everyone's basic needs, so that the incessant squabbling over scarce resources moves away from the physical realm and toward the psychological.

At the same time, I recognize the need to establish and to maintain a level of education and understanding of the digital manufacturing equipment and processes so that individuals can support themselves comfortably in an economy built around small digital manufacturing stations.

In developing a course on personalized manufacturing at MIT, Dr. Gershenfeld reports on page 7:
Begin Quotation:
...the learning process was driven by the demand for, rather than the supply of, knowledge.
End Quotation.

I like this sentiment in the context of Dr. Dartnell's forum.

In anticipation of an economy built upon personal manufacturing stations, Dr. Gershenfeld's observation about students may offer insight:
Begin Quotation on page 9
None of the students needed to convince anyone else of the value of their ideas; they just created them themselves.
End Quotation.

In an economy built upon digital manufacturing stations, I expect there would be negotiation for machine time between parties to meet different needs through exchange, just as humans have been doing for millennia. While individual human skill in hand crafting objects will surely remain a valued capability, the well being of an individual and dependents would not depend upon them. Instead, the ability to market machine time in negotiation with others will become the mark of greater or lesser success in meeting the needs of an individual and dependents.

In-as-much as stability of income is a critical factor in supporting the decision of a family to take the risk of creating and raising children, the ownership and management of personal manufacturing stations should increase confidence.

Later in this section, Dr. Gershenfeld considers the phenomenon of open source software. On page 15:
Begin Quotation:
In a world of open-source software, ownership of neither computers nor code alone provides the basis for a proprietary business model; what's left is the value added by creating content and delivering services.
End Quotation.

It seems likely to me that digital plans for objects will be created on an open-source basis, and shared between individuals. However, the risks of defective design, or of deliberately injurious design, will necessitate a rigorous inspection and certification process for such plans.

That said, it seems to me likely that just as open-source software can be studied and (potentially) improved by anyone in the world of 2018, digital object design plans will be studied and (potentially) improved by any member of society with access to the network used for sharing.

Also on page 15, Dr. Gershenfeld says:
Begin Quotation:
Similarly, possession of the means for industrial production has long been the dividing line between workers and owners.
End Quotation.

I have no doubt that not everyone in a future society based upon personal manufacturing stations will have ownership of such stations. The sources of power will most likely continue to be owned and controlled by individuals or groups, so unless an individual can acquire a source of power to support a personal manufacturing station, negotiation for power will be part of the economy.

Finally, materials themselves will (no doubt) be the subject of control and exchange just as they are now, and have (almost) always been. What I am seeing in the vision Dr. Gershenfeld is developing is a movement away from the gigantic organizations which have developed over recent centuries as a logical progression of capitalism writ large. Even entire nations controlled by command economies can be viewed as corporations which singlemindedly attempt to maximize their profits on the global stage.

On page 17, Dr. Gershenfeld concludes this section with the observation:
Begin Quotation:
Rather, the biggest limitation is simply the lack of knowledge that this is even possible. Hence this book.
End Quotation.

While the work of the MIT faculty and students in 2005 shows a path forward for an economy better able to distribute “the Dignity of Work” among the members of the population, we humans appear (to me at least) to be a long way from the goal.

In the next section of “FAB”, Dr. Gershenfeld continues with a section entitled “... Almost Anything”

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Re: 20160413 Variations on a theme of Adam Smith

Postby tahanson43206 » Mon Feb 05, 2018 4:07 am

20180203 Adam Smith Thread

From Reference #1:
Page 1027 Paragraph from “In the mode of collecting, ”

Because this is the second to last page of “The Wealth of Nations” (Reference #1) I will change to considering only one sentence at a time, in order to extend as far as possible the benefit of using Mr. Smith's work as a foundation for this thread.

In this section Mr. Smith compares the revenue collection and expenditure practices to European neighbors, and the expense of the military establishment, and concludes that savings in these areas are unlikely to:
Begin Quotation:
...admit of any considerable reduction of expense.
End Quotation.

This presentation seems comparable to the 2018 debate in the Congress of the United States, which just voted to borrow heavily to pay for ongoing military needs and for domestic programs. In Smith's time, and in the present day United States, it seems to me the government is in need of much greater tax revenue to support the needs of the society, but unable to see a way to increase revenue achieved by individuals so that they will be able to afford to share with the government, and to help meet the perceived needs of the society as a whole.

Indeed, the Republican controlled Congress of the United States has recently enacted tax reductions of a significant nature, on the gamble that reducing taxes (primarily on businesses) will stimulate productivity and (potentially) tax revenue. The down side of that gamble is significant, because the national debt may well increase instead of decrease, and interest rates to service that debt may go up.

In an attempt to understand how new technology might help the United States to address the present dilemma, this thread will include discussion of “FAB” by Neil Gershenfeld:

Reference #4 Pages 19-21
Title: “Kelly”

In this section, Dr. Gershenfeld introduces an artist named Kelly, who took a class entitled: “How To Make (almost) Anything”.

The product Kelly imagined, designed and built was intended for a market of one person.
Begin Quotation:
A truly personal computing device is by definition not mass-produced, or even mass-customized; it is personally designed.
End Quotation.

In my own quest here and elsewhere, I am looking for paths that will lead toward one or more of a class of futures described by numerous science fiction writers over the decades. Without regard to the location in time or space, I've noticed that science fiction authors often assume the presence of a combination of technology which allows an individual or small group to live comfortably. The circumstances often involve a space ship with artificial intelligence which not only transports the heroine to her destination, but provides for every material need, and often for psychological needs of the human.

Humans on Earth in 2018 seem to me to be accumulating knowledge which would facilitate such comfortable living circumstances, and indeed a few exceedingly wealthy individuals are able to approach them. Examples include yachts able to travel around the world. In 2018, to the best of my knowledge, no such vessel is able to operate for a year without restocking supplies. However, apparently there exist nuclear submarines able to operate under water for months at a time without surfacing for anything.

Such submarines show a pathway that can (and does) work when the vehicle is enclosed in a heat sink fluid which provides elements needed to replenish oxygen and water supplies. A space ship such as envisioned by so many science fiction authors would “swim” in a vacuum into which heat could be dumped via radiation.

A cabin in the woods, updated from 1870 to 2070, might include:
<> A power supply using fission or fusion to meet all needs for human occupants
<> Water and air treatment to insure pure supplies of these components
<> Food growth facilities to insure ample supplies of fresh produce
<> Manufacturing facilities able to make components of any equipment needed by the facility
<> Communications facilities to keep the cabin occupants in touch with the outside world as desired

Modern travel vans show capabilities that point in the direction outlined above, but like yachts, they are good for only stretches of a few months or so without resupply.

(th)
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