"In A World of Finite Resources, We Have to Make Choices"

Stone Street Advisors's picture

This is from Stone Street Advisors

Contrary to the ignorant and naive (to put it gently) beliefs of people like Michael Moore,
we do not live in a world of infinite resources.  Time, money, oil,
life, whatever, all finite resources.  This is a fundamental tenet of
Economics, so for those of you even remotely familiar with the field,
feel free to ignore the following, as it is intended for those who flap
their jaws making normative proclamations as if we lived in some magical
utopia of the infinite.

In the link, above, economist Milton
Friedman tears a young (allegedly) Michael Moore a new one, when Moore
asks (in the form of a statement, a curious approach) how Ford isn't
wrong for deciding that spending $13/vehicle to make the Pinto
(presumably) more safe would cost more than paying any lawsuits from
(wrongful?) death lawsuits.  Let's put aside for a second Moore's
assertion that "Ford produced it knowing full-well that in any rear-end
collision the gas tank would blow-up," based of an "internal memo" which
was later revealed to have been nothing of the sort, or any of the other "facts" he states which were all easily refuted.

simple fact of life, as economics teaches us, is that not only are
resources finite, but as Friedman says in his reply to Moore, "these
things are a little more subtle and sophisticated than you were at first
led to believe. You can't get easy answers along this line."

I read about a real-life example of a problem similar to the
(semi-imagined) one faced by Ford (according to Moore).  The fundamental
question we - and Friedman - need to consider is whether in a world of
finite resources, Is Reducing Risk Always Worth the Price?
This is exactly the question Los Angeles citizens and politicians have
been asking themselves for years over potential LAX runway
reconfiguration plans which would reduce the number of deaths caused by
runway accidents.

panel looked at three options: leaving the runways as is with the
landing plane crossing the takeoff runway at an acute angle, moving them
100 feet farther apart and adding a third center taxiway that would
enable the landing plane to cross the takeoff runway at a 90 degree
angle, and moving them 340 feet farther apart and adding the center

Using actual pilots and controllers, the panel did
simulations and came to the conclusion that LAX’s north airfield was
extremely safe under the current configuration with the risk of a
passenger death caused by a runway collision being 1 in 150 million.
But, separating the runways by 100 feet would reduce that mortality rate
by 40 percent, and separating the runways by 340 feet lowered the
mortality risk by 55 percent.

The panel’s conclusion? Don’t bother.

“If a number is incredibly small, reducing it even by 50 percent might not mean that much,” Barnett says.

the last decade, 750 million passengers flew in or out of LAX. During
that time there were five deaths caused by runway accidents and 75
deaths by other accidents, for a total of 80 deaths. Reducing the number
of runway accident deaths by 40 percent lowers the actual number to 3
deaths, which, added to the 75 deaths by other accidents, brings total
deaths to 78. Thus, the runway reconfiguration would save two lives in a

I'm not one of those cold-hearted actuaries
who use  opaque (to most) mathematical formulas to figure out the value
of a life.  Quite the contrary, all it takes is a few seconds of putting
yourself in the shoes of someone who's lost someone to understand the
very real sadness, grief, and suffering associated with death, a feeling
I'd prefer none of us ever had to experience, were it possible.
Unfortunately, death is not only possible, but inevitable, and we'd be
only fooling ourselves to think otherwise, explicitly or otherwise.  The
resources we use to prolong life/prevent (untimely) death both finite
and scarce, but in using them for such, have a non-zero opportunity

“If it costs a billion dollars you might say,
‘Might we not be able to spend a billion dollars in ways that might save
more lives?” he says, suggesting improving highways or funding cancer
research as possibilities. “In a world of finite resources we have to
make choices.

“Air travel has become so safe that attempts to improve it marginally may not pass a cost/benefit test,” Barnett says.

People like Michael Moore live in a fantasy land where the production possibilities curve simply
does not exist.  In such a world, we'd have unlimited money, time,
labor, land and raw materials with which to update the runway layout to
save those two precious lives/decade, but unfortunately - with my most
sincere apologies for bursting the bubble of anyone still suffering from
Moore's particular set of delusions - such is not the case.

you still don't understand why, give it another read while not high or
tripping on shrooms.  If, after doing so you're still not convinced,
please disconnect and go live on a hippy commune and leave the rest of
us alone.  If you couldn't tell, we have enough with which to deal
without your ignorant rants/protests/vigils/etc.  Thanks in advance!

The Analyst

Stone Street Advisors

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AchtungAffen's picture

The one living a "stoned" fantasy is you sir. Too much name calling "Michael Moore", looking legitimacy for arguments throwing names around (Milton Friedman dixit, as if he should be taken THAT seriously, specially on these sort of constraint issues...). So, in Fukushima the chance of something like what happened happening was so low that they never even took it into consideration. But that happened. The problem with finite resources is not investing in making things better, but the perverse incentives which lead us to waste those same resources.

If you think the possibilities of something so low as to not consider it, and thus saving costs and "resources"; you'll be able to produce more and more for a better profit, consuming lots of resources. And if in the end, that unthinkable happened, you would have wasted way more than doing it right from the beginning.



PPagan's picture


A mix of accurate theory and gratuitous cultural bias, liberally (or should that be conservatively?) spiced with arrogance.

michigan independant's picture

We all know risk models. I rather focus on Utility. A woman from Florida ran stop sign and my Son demolished the Subaru. The other side of the equation was my the Jeep won and my Son basically walked away rattled to say the least. As the Jeep was towed home my Son learned Utility.

What puts you at ease and a physics lesson. I do believe we must acept risk based on Imperfect information only. Also when Consumer's find better information it is there Utility which should be placed in action. As for the Pinto buy the $13.00 part. Also I bought another Jeep but hope I never meet a Mack truck. It is not how we get information but when. I think both had validity in argument and maybe they could of supplied a $7.00 part to fix the Pinto paradox. In reality fees, liability, tax ad infintum from interference suggest size does matter. Over time I have closed two Business for many reason's. I work Corporate now since times do change, and people, and they decided I was worth the risk. The Consumer in the long run decides all good or bad. This covers issues no one will acept from the top on down on models which sadly Americans will find out since the World is growing up albeit slowly. Risk is the lack of better knowledge other than trust. Musing of a old fool, and may your decisions count.

Zero Govt's picture

oh oh here come Crone Street Advisors

whilst i agree Michael Moore should give away all the millions he has made to a socialist charity using the wonders of the capitalist system out of guilt and join a hippie commune i once again disagree the Earths resources are finite. To put it another way Earths resources are infinite (will never run out) in our lifetimes.

All the following resources are finite, which ones have we run out of to date Stupid Street Arsewipes???

- water

- oxygen

- sunlight

- carbon dioxide

- oil

- natural gas 

- wood pulp

- parsely, chilli, caviar

- Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron etc etc

Have we run out of any of these 'finite' resources yet Stunned Stupid Advisors??????

So welcome to reality rather than your academic dreamworld, and STFU while you're about it

IdioTsincracY's picture

I do not  mean any offense, so here it goes:

Yo, Loser! You forgot to turn on your brain today (if it even works)

The only reason we have not run out of many natural resources yet is because most of the world lives in poverty and cannot consume at the level you do ...  but we're getting there, aren't we? .


Zero Govt's picture

yes you shrill ignorant retard, we're always "getting there", doom is always just around the corner (or maybe its your loony character that has arrived?) ...it's the cry of the loony left for oh, 200 years now and personally i'd like you all to shut your big running-on-empty gobs until we run out of even 1 resource just so thast you have at least 1 example to support your publicly embarrassing loonatic behaviour 

what you need to enter into your vacuous shit-for-brain-cells is that industrialisation is more productive and more efficient than being a poor hippy eating chickpeas and your own toenails... Germany is both the most advanced industrial nation on the planet, and if you ever go there, also one of the most green and pleasant lands

so none of my above list of natural resources has ever run out but you say "yet". Which one will run out first, take your pick Einstein?

AchtungAffen's picture

I'm sorry, but if resources don't renew themselves, consuming them will eventually lead to their depletion. That's the truth. You say, not in our lifetimes. May be, but what, in your children's lifetime? Or your grandchildren? To what generation you want to leave the depletion problem to deal with?

"depletion" is probably not the best term. Probably there will never be a complete depletion as there'll be a time when extracting the resource will cost more than it can be sold. That's the problem for example with oil. All the cheap oil is gone. There's only the hard to get oil. And there'll be a time when for 1 barrel extracted you'll need more than 1 barrel of oil, thus going negative. And for all intents, that will be depletion as that resource will not be extracted again.

falak pema's picture

well we can contribute in our posts to make it better. That is our way of saying thank you to ZH for having us. Even if we don't figure on their rostrum as writers.

nah's picture

there may not be infanate resources and labor, but there is a whole lot... michael moore doesnt control any of it by the way


i blame the government for the pinto


Fíréan's picture

I don't know who decides which commentary from other websites is reposted here ( obviously this website isn't a one man show) yet the quality of posts is obvious on the downside as of recent.Was better whe they sruck to posting their own script. I guess it attracts alot of attention from the likes of the persons responding which gains advertising revenue.

Ban me if you wish, for not using obscenities or insulting retort, but this use to be a much better quality website.

Beancounter's picture

Bernanke thinks dollars are infinite... just sayin'....


And LA is not a toxic waste dump,well, not all the time...

dcb's picture

In  world of finate resources we wouldn't be spening billions in Iraq and Iran for almost no return. Instead we would be spending it on infrastructure, education, care safety, food safety, medical care, environmental safety/clean up

the choice of things the pundit mentions is a reflection of political leanings. how much for one soldier/ how much for each al- queda member.

Zero Govt's picture


i see your very valid point about pissing away Billions on a zero-return murderous foreign war. But can you help me see why we should also piss away billions on, "..care safety, food safety, medical care, environmental safety/clean up."

Have you first hand suffered from any of these afflictions?

I can tell you i've only suffered 3 times from poor food, none of the others you mention. Are you proposing i can continue to be robbed for the rest of my lifetime by the parasites of Govt on the hysterical shrill fears they continue to raise about these non-events??

Personally i'd like a choice: i'd like the Govt to spend precisely fuk-all on all of them, put the useless meddling Govt crones out of work and let me in a free market decide. Is that ok with you?


IdioTsincracY's picture

Are you for real dude?! WTF I thought the likes of you had disappeared with the bubbonic plague of Middle Age memory.

Anyway, I'll give you only one example:


PS: seek professional help, please!

Zero Govt's picture

your link works like your brain . . . . it doesn't

i'm guessing you vote 'Democrat'

ebworthen's picture

Ah, the sharp edge of CHOICE.

Good points you make, and the Friedman video is classic.

I see in it the clash between emotion and intellect on top of the economic and argument of principle.

Should we spend infinite resources to protect people from themselves or should we let people choose?

At what point is it just to tax those who make good choices for the those who don't?

Think of the Toyota accelerator pedal "problem".  A nebulous software glitch in a computer controlled system addressed with a physical solution because the average person could not grasp the software loop, and even if they could it would make them more nervous and upset.

Answer: a metal "linkage" that was put in that people could "see"; meanwhile the software was reprogrammed while the car was in the shop.

Wall Street has many too many software loops and not nearly enough people in prison.

cdskiller's picture

This is the most ignorant and worthless post I've ever read on ZH. A stain on the the website. Shameful filler, I guess. The reasoning is specious, the writer's language skills are unacceptably low, it's nothing but slime, and its target audience- a group of people who believe we live in a magical utopia of the infinite- does not actually exist. Moving on.

John_Coltrane's picture

Even baryons are finite so stating something is finite is trite.  Its the ratio of humans to natural resources that's important and its clearly out of control.   But a global pandemic may be able to rectify that situation. But the poster who call live without the electricity or the internet yet still make posts to the latter is quite amazing.

Arch Duke Ferdinand's picture

Canadians Banished at the U.S. Border: Ensnared in customs hassles post 9/11


Jay's picture

It's a tough question for sure. Is it a good idea for 1000 (or whatever) people to work their entire lives paying for the runway improvements to save 2 lives? If fate gave me the choice, and I was one of the two to be killed in a runway accident, would I wish slavery on 1000 others to spare me from that runway accident? I don't think I would, but I'm typing on a keyboard and not looking at that 747 bearing down on me.

Mec-sick-o's picture

If the world is finite in resources, then we should use them differently.

For starters, nothing goes to landfills, it must be recycled.

Population, no more than 1 or 2 kids per family (to slowly reduce population).

Stop using compounded indexes and interests.  It is unsustainable to expect a 2-3% growth each year.  You need to double output (whatever is measured) every generation and quadruple every two.

We have supercomputers, space satellites and mathemagicians that may estimate how to better optimize resources per-se, and profit would be a secondary by-product, if still necessary.

OldTrooper's picture

You are perfectly free to do all of that right now.

You can use your resources however you like.  You can recycle your waste and probably even talk your neighbors into giving you their waste too.  You can limit the number of children you have (though hopefully you choose to sterilize yourself before reproducing).  You are free to save up and pay cash for each and every purchase.  You are free to start a business that consults with people on how to optimize resources.

But that's not enough, is it?  No, you would force everyone (or is it really everyone else?) to live this way.  Collectivism - ideas so good we have to make it mandatory!

IdioTsincracY's picture

"If the world is finite in resources .."


No IF needed ... it is as finite as they come

Mec-sick-o's picture

In a large time scale, all is finite.

In lesser scale, most of the important stuff we need is renewable.

Plants, animals, water, air... are renewable.

Plastics, metals are recyclable.

Underground oil is finite.

Sun is finite too, but we will get hit by a comet or meteorite before the sun extinguishes.

IdioTsincracY's picture

Wow ... what a wonderful contribution to ZH.

So well written ... just amazing!

But WTF are you talking about?!?!

As for Michael Moore:


so once again: WTF are you talking about?!?!

Captain Planet's picture

What the fcuk are you guys smoking?

falak pema's picture

this is a non smoking zone...

Mec-sick-o's picture

I'm casual, just wearing jeans and leather jacket.

bobzibub's picture

The real issue that affects us all is the wildly uneven value placed on human life in cost benefit analysis used by the powers that be.
For road safety, they use a value in the order of $100k, hospital $1M and homeland security is probably $1B. (Forgive me, my first two numbers are from memory and the third is speculation, but I'm pretty sure they are generally correct.) The point is that Michael Moore is indirectly right in that highway safety is a fantastic way to save lives while Homeland Security is not.
Yes, limited production exist, etc. But money ought not to be the only deciding factor. Consider these two hypothetical options:
1. Ford could have fixed their Pinto for $13/car, saving 30 lives.
2. Ford could have introduced "new Cab Forward" technologies for $13.50/car and sold more.
Both options improve the bottom line by say $12/car.

I'd hope that Ford would choose option one ceterus paribus, because even given the slightly worse profit, human lives *are* more important than just the bottom line. Or in cost benefits terms, a "human life dollar" ought to be worth at least slightly more than a "sell an extra car dollar".

Kayman's picture


 Or in cost benefits terms, a "human life dollar" ought to be worth at least slightly more than a "sell an extra car dollar".

Aside from the article being incomplete analysis generally, Ford failed to take into account the bad publicity risk, loss of market share risk, and loss of reputation risk.

This certainly added up to more than $13 per Pinto.

Cammy Le Flage's picture

I disagree with Michael Moore but most cancer is caused because humans live in toxic waste dumps. That is well known. Not many clean places left.

I ain't trying to save anyone's life. It all needs to blow up right now. But have no worries - the fast train to the brick wall is speeding up. Thankfully.

sun tzu's picture

Humans are living longer now than ever before. Everyone is eventually going to die of cancer, accident, violence, heart attack, Alzheimers etc. 

dcb's picture

yes insead of death by malnutrition, and sepsis, we die by man made disease.

sellstop's picture

Why is spending a billion dollars on cancer research better?

It would only be better if a cure for cancer was found that was not exploited for all of it's emotional value. ie, if it were inexpensive for all with cancer to use.

But in a "free market" something that can save a life commands the highest price. This is the extortion of the consumers in the medical arena.

Medical ethics deals with the problems of asking patients to make decisions under duress. Who can refuse lifesaving treatment at any cost? Answer: few.

"Saving lives" has become the great American pastime.


Cammy Le Flage's picture

"Stone Street Advisors" - fools on parade for the money game. Come on Earth - kick our ass. Massive death. I am ready. Massive cleansing of this parasitic mess. I am ready. I see the depression around me every day and will not listen to this foolishness anymore. We are a ship with no rudder in amazingly rough seas. We need real sailors and not geopolitical power hungry fools who don't really know how anything truly works. Note to Stone Street Advisors - the many uncontacted tribes are doing just fine thank you even though they don't have enough raid for the parasites that modern man is on this planet. It all goes to ca ca - those tribes will be there - you will not. Everyone throws their money out in the road - everyone - things will change. But they won't so doom it is. Can't solve our current crises with old solutions. Insanity.

And no, there has been no real innovation available that does solve problems because profit screws that up.

cossack55's picture

But what about GDP growth. Growth is everything. If you stop growing there is less money. Money is everything. Fuck the volcanos, earthquakes, floods, asteroids, nuclear meltdowns. Just give me money. More money, More and more money. Only money makes me happy. If you try to take my money, I'll fucking kill you. Killing makes me happy. Killing for money makes me happy. I want to be a banker or Wall Street stooge.

falak pema's picture

You know its a bit late in the game for the US oligarchs and their media mouthpieces to suddenly realise that resources are finite. Since over sixty years the whole world knows that ME oil is the king of all resources as its fed the american/world way of life, after Rockafella/H.Ford built it on indigenous reserves in the first half of the century.  Cheap oil was the name of the industrial age post war miracle until 1973-1979 (and the current ongoing stand off in the ME patch). Then came Iran, and Carter said 'synfuels hi-ho away!' as conventional oil is expensive. When RR became elected in 1981 he said 'no way' as this confounded, the new FIRE sector supply side paradigm of USA/USA : 'Reaganomics', and Saudi opened the tap in 1982 onwards to comply. So oil stayed cheap until 2000.Now we're back in the shits BIG TIME as the world has bought into the OIL mantra hand over fist with china/india/russia/brazil.

So who is the immense ass hole who wouldn't say 'no cheap oil' to the world  in 1981?

Yes, now you know. Living off a myth, building a mountain of debt on risk assets made out of smoke, now crying why oh why will the mountain collapse on our faces...is a little tryst...

Better late than never, I say, but lets first clean all this debt mountain away...right? right?

Or are we still in the 'Alice in wonderland' of the American Reaganistic dream?

Your choice Main Stream USA! And if its wrong...the world better walk away!

dcb's picture

the only infinate thing is the fiat us dollr and debt. those never end, but that is because those obsessed with money contro the presses and the distribution of it, and by printing and crediting ever more can make sure they have an ever larger slice of an ever dilluting pie.

sun tzu's picture

Synthetic fuels - so easy to produce that Germany, France, UK, Japan, Sweden and all the other advanced nations of the world have no need for fossil fuels. 

IdioTsincracY's picture

C'mon now... don't be upset with me just because I like to have fun with your mom

IdioTsincracY's picture

Carter and Reagan .... one the most underrated president, the other the most overrated

OldTrooper's picture

Carter and Reagan .... one the most underrated president, the other the most overrated

Absolutely, Carter is highly over-rated!

sun tzu's picture

You're the Mississippi River of stupidity and ignorance.

IdioTsincracY's picture

President Carter:

"If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions....

It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.

We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us."

it sounds so contemporary and relevant, but that was 34 years ago ... we chose differently, and I'll leave it at that

Cammy Le Flage's picture

Actually, if our resources were not controlled by the few; innovation was enouraged to so that humans could use ingenuity to solve problems and not money - which is all fiat anyway - even the GOLD if you look at the true value of such - the Earth does this cool thing call regeneration.  But the cash/profit/greed/have "stuff" and lack of ability to dispose of our waste properly and with conscious regard for the Earth and illusion of lack will reign supreme.

Anyone in the money business is holding up progress.  It is time for real change.   Human beings are currently parasites but have the absolute ability to do it differently but until human beings change how they think and live then this will continue.   Proft is not natural and is a human created construct created out of thin air.    Sheep.

All of you reading that post and believing it to be true - sheep.   Profit motives limit it all.   Thanks for flooding our food sources to save industry.  I like food more than Oil and yes I can cook on fire and live without internet and electricity.    Flood the food to save the money.

Humans are currently insane.   I still can't believe any humans playing the money game.  That is all it is.  Earth always wins.  Always has.  Always will.  Universe is bigger and much more powerful and operates according to natural laws that cannot be ignored.

sun tzu's picture

You're not playing the money game? Are you living in a cave while spending your days at the soup kitchen helping others? Take your holier-than-thou bullshit somewhere else.

dcb's picture

I am afraid you are factually wrong, you should spend some more time living in the third world. having lived in the jungle I know one can live without money. I think the pundit was really talking about the living for the all important search for money. But it makes sense that in a society like pour those consummed with ealth and power would attain those positions and as such make the society serve their own ends. If I am not as greedy or power hungry as the next person he will alwats be willing to take that step to get ahead that I won't. It's the main reason all the wall street bankers are sociopaths. it is the selected trait oin their little world. I am not going to argue this point (the sociopath one), because it is so clear it's beyond dispute.