Why Price Gouging Is Good

When a natural disaster strikes, it is almost guaranteed that there will be yet another uproar about price gouging. Media pundits will take to the airwaves to virtue signal against people who would dare to exploit disaster victims. Government officials will use the crisis to score political points by portraying themselves as defenders of the common people against greedy capitalists. But how accurately does this reflect reality? Let us explore the nature of price gouging to see the economics of such a situation and explain the behavior of journalists and state agents.

Economic Forces

In order to intelligently approach the concept of price gouging, one must first define it. Price gouging is a sudden, sharp increase in prices that occurs in response to a disaster or other civil emergency. Though this defines the act well, it does not explain the mechanisms behind it. When a disaster approaches, there are certain goods that people wish to acquire in greater quantities than normal, such as clean drinking water, non-perishable foods, wooden boards for protecting windows, and so on. If supply is held constant, then this sudden increase in demand for such goods will produce a sudden increase in their prices.

If left unhindered by the state, this upward pressure on prices will produce important benefits. First, it serves as a signal to producers and distributors of those goods that more supply is needed. The producers and distributors thus learn where their goods are most urgently in demand, allowing them to engage in mutually beneficial transactions with disaster victims. This is how free markets are supposed to function in order to meet the needs of customers.

Second, price gouging encourages proactive preparations. A potential business model for a firm is to invest in equipment that allows it to operate when a disaster would otherwise force it to close, and use the proceeds from price gouging to amortize the cost of the equipment. This helps consumers by allowing them to purchase goods at higher prices rather than be left without essential items during a crisis.

Third, price gouging provides an important benefit by conserving the fixed amount of resources which are present before more deliveries can be made to the disaster area. The higher cost of scarce goods disincentivizes people from buying up supplies that other people need, thus helping to keep the items in stock. This keeps scarce resources from being wasted on marginal uses, directing them toward their most valued uses and the people who most need them instead.

Markets And Malice

Unfortunately, not every instance of price gouging is so benevolent. Business owners who seek to exploit vulnerable people in order to make money do exist. But engaging in such behavior in a free market produces a short-term gain followed by a long-term loss. In a pure capitalist environment, reputation is everything for a business. Whatever profits may come from gouging disaster victims in the present will be more than outweighed by the sales that one will lose in the future because of the damage that this does to one’s brand. After all, most people would view such behavior as adding insult to injury and vote against it with their wallets. Though it is impossible to accurately count sales that do not happen, to dismiss this effect as nonexistent is to commit the broken window fallacy.

Enter The State

Most people are economically illiterate, so they tend to focus on the malevolent type of price gouging and be unaware of the benevolent type. In a democratic state, this has predictable results. Politicians and other government agents will frown upon price gouging and seek to punish anyone who they believe to be engaging in it. But it can be difficult to distinguish the natural effects of demand spikes and limited supplies upon price from the efforts of greedy exploiters of disaster victims, especially for government officials who are too far removed from the disaster area to be intimately familiar with the economic dynamics there. Thus, all price gouging is suppressed by the state, and while this may protect a few people from exploitation, it causes more harm than good by disrupting the market signals which would have informed producers and distributors that their goods need to be sent to the disaster area. The end result is that scarce goods are depleted and not replaced, leading people to once more blame the market for failing them when the actual cause of their shortage was a government failure.

Suppression of price gouging has several deleterious effects. First, by placing price controls on goods, the state deprives entrepreneurs of the profit motive to bring additional supply to the disaster area. Without state inteference, people who live outside of the disaster area and are willing to travel there in order to bring supplies could charge enough for their goods to recover their travel costs and be compensated for the inconvenience of spending time in a disaster area, all while making enough profit to make such a venture more attractive than other economic opportunities. Price gouging laws remove such action, leaving only state agencies and altruistic private groups to provide aid. Note that like all government regulations, price gouging laws are subject to regulatory capture by the largest businesses.

Second, removing the incentive for proactive preparations makes untenable the business model for operating during a disaster described above. Third, removing the conservation effect of price gouging forces business owners to sell goods below their market-clearing price. This incentivizes hoarders to buy more than they need and scalpers to buy goods for resale. The existence of scalpers also makes desired goods more difficult to find, as resellers will be more difficult to locate than established stores. Thus, laws against price gouging do not eliminate the practice, but rather shift it from primary markets to secondary markets and cause a different set of people to profit. Taken together, these effects result in artificial scarcity that makes conditions in a disaster area even worse.

A Pair of Razors

Given the clear case in favor of price gouging, one may wonder why so many people in positions of political power rail against it. Reece’s razor suggests that we look for the most cynical explanation when attempting to determine a motive for state policy. No other possibility prioritizes the self-interest of politicians and their minions over the lives and properties of citizens quite like the idea that government officials want to suppress the natural response of markets in order to make government disaster relief agencies look effective and necessary, thus justifying their existence and expansion, so Reece’s razor selects it.

However, it is not in the rational self-interest of elected officials to increase the suffering of disaster victims who are capable of removing them from office in the next election. A better explanation is offered by Hanlon’s razor, which says that one should not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. In this view, government officials are not trying to increase the harm done during a disaster; they simply know no better because they are just as economically illiterate as the electorate, if not more so. This razor is a better fit for the available logic and evidence.

Conclusion

It is clear that price gouging has an important economic role in ensuring that goods both go to those who need them most and remain available in times of emergency. Market prices are important signals that tell producers and distributors where their goods are most urgently needed. When the state interferes with this process by imposing price controls, it turns off the signal and incentives for market actors to send aid, encourages hoarding and scalping, and discourages conservation and farsightedness. These effects mean that laws against price gouging harm the very people that they are ostensibly supposed to help. Therefore, price gouging should not be punished by the state or demonized by the press.

On Immigration and Outlawry

By any objective measure, the immigration system in the United States is a joke. Current estimates find at least 11 million illegal aliens living in and working in the United States. There is a possibility that the real figure is significantly higher, given the fact that criminals do not normally volunteer to tell census takers about their criminal exploits.

If one needs any more proof that American immigration policy is a logical mess built on wobbly legs of moralism, then one need look no further than the current controversy over DACA. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which produces so-called DREAMers, is nothing more than warmed-over pablum about each new arrival making America more “American.” The Left fights for illegal immigrants and their children because Hispanics and Asians, who make up the majority of America’s immigrant population, are among the most solidly Democratic voters in the country. Mainstream Republicans tend to favor “amnesty” or “immigration reform” because their corporate overlords have an unending appetite for cheap labor. The mushy middle either keeps silent or pretends to support DREAMers and other illegal aliens simply because they do not want to look like the “bad guy.”

Curtailing illegal immigration is a public safety issue. Contrary to establishment media propaganda, illegal and legal immigrants are overrepresented in American crime statistics. They are nine percent of the U.S. population overall, but make up about 27 percent of the federal prison population. It is also a cultural issue that directly weakens the original American promise of liberty. Freshly arrived immigrants and well-established immigrants both use welfare at higher rates than the native-born. 48 percent of all immigrant households are on some kind of welfare. Hispanic immigrants alone use 73 percent of this 48 percent share. Such welfare dependency expands the vampiric state, and in turn promotes the continuance of anarcho-tyranny (more on that shortly). Such a state will never voluntarily shrink itself; therefore, the more immigrants America has, the more the American Leviathan will expand and consume.

Illegal immigration has helped wages for working-class Americans to either stay the same or decrease since the 1970s. These Americans, many of whom have failed to get the stamp of approval of the neoliberal world order that is known as a college diploma, the opportunities for ascending the economic ladder have virtually become null and void. This is a direct suppression of economic liberty via the coercive force of the state and its unwillingness to enforce its own laws.

Finally, curtailing illegal immigration means protecting the unique heritage of the United States. America is not a “proposition nation,” nor can such a thing really exist, despite all of the starry-eyed propaganda to the contrary. America and its culture can be traced back to the English Reformation of the 16th century. New England received the rebellious Puritans, who dissented from the Stuart’s practice of the divine right of kings and the supposedly godless idolatry of the “popish” Anglican Church. Virginia on the other hand became the home of Englishmen from the Vale of Berkeley, a part of old, Anglo-Saxon England with a strong tradition of slavery and hierarchical social relations. Subsequent waves of Scots-Irish, French Huguenot, and German Protestants added to this English culture, thus creating a firmly Anglo-Celtic and Protestant nation by the 18th century. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution did not make America; these failed pieces of paper merely tried to document a culture and a people that already existed. This culture is precious and should not be beholden to the whims of transnational corporations or academic aristocrats who control the moral economy.

A true libertarian alternative to America’s broken immigration system would emphasize the concept of outlawry. This pre-modern designation, along with attendant penalties, would not only help to decentralize border enforcement, but it would also prioritize punishments for those individual aliens who enter the United States illegally and who commit crimes against people and/or property. By branding illegal aliens who also attack Americans as outlaws, enforcement would fall to local jurisdictions, not to the monolithic federal government.

Anarcho-Tyranny

The term anarcho-tyranny was first coined by paleolibertarian writer Samuel T. Francis. According to Francis, this is a state of affairs in which real crimes are not policed, while innocents are tyrannically controlled. Francis’s concept echoed the wisdom of 18th century conservative Edmund Burke, who noted that “Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more of it there must be without.”

When it comes to state-enforced multiculturalism, freedom of association is curtailed under the auspices of keeping the peace. Ingrained tribal prejudices must either be shamed out of existence or injected with happy drugs. Christian bakers must create wedding cakes for gay couples so that the neoliberal state maintains the consent of homosexual voters. Americans who exercise the right of self-defense in some states have to deal with the prospect of police officers invading their homes and confiscating their guns because someone claimed that they were crazy. All of these are examples of anarcho-tyranny in practice.

Anarcho-tyranny can be seen when Antifa and Black Lives Matter agitators are allowed to riot while the Unite the Right demonstrators faced down riot police after suffering the slings and arrows of the control-left. Every violent protest in recent memory could have been put down with extreme prejudice against radical leftists, but the police almost invariably hang back either because they do not want to be called “racist” or because their superiors told them to give the rioters room to blow off steam. (When they do not hang back and instead form and hold a protective line, events tend to remain nonviolent.) These decisions not only cost private businesses and business owners millions of dollars (when was the last time that violent protestors in America seriously attacked state buildings?), but they also directly oppress law-abiding citizens. After all, what does the state do better; capture real criminals or harass individuals exercising their liberty?

When it comes to illegal immigration, the state has the money and resources to enforce existing immigration laws. It simply refuses to do so because it is in its rational self-interest to behave in this manner. A multicultural society with low trust levels between citizens is the ideal state for those who seek to create statism. When neighbors do not trust each other or do not even interact with each other, each threat, real or perceived, becomes the job of outside forces, namely the police. What this does is remove the responsibility of personal and communal defense from individuals, thus further legitimizing the idea that the state is the only entity that has a right to use violence.

The Concept and Practice of Outlawry

In pre-modern societies, outlaws were those individuals or families who directly threatened the security or private properties of the community. Since these communities managed their own security and made their own laws, they had a very visceral idea of why branded outlaws were dangerous.

In ancient Greece, organized thievery was considered a somewhat legitimate way of earning money. Later Balkan cultures (for instance Serbia) relied on bandit warriors named hajduks in order to resist Ottoman Turkish control. British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm would later characterize the hajduk figure as an “invented tradition”—a masculine folk hero that lived outside the cloying strictures of both Turkish and official Serbian rule.

The ancient Romans did not take the Greek view of banditry. The Roman Republic considered outlawry to be the antithesis of Roman virtues like Industria (industriousness) and Severitas (self-control). The later Roman Empire similarly took a dim view of outlaws. The punishment for banditry was fierce—all outlaws became “non-persons” and were barred from maintaining or earning Roman citizenship. Furthermore, outlaws, which were known in Latin as latrones, faced the threat of losing all property rights, crucifixion, or being used as animal bait during gladiatorial games.

Several famous outlaws struck against Rome, thus showing why the Senate and the Caesars took outlawry so seriously. Between 147 and 139 BC, Viriatus, a Lusitanian sphered led a rebellion against the Roman government. After surviving praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba’s massacre of the Lusitani, Viriatus swore revenge and created a peasant army in what is today Portugal and Spain. Viriatus’ army initially had the upper hand during the Lusitanian War, especially when Celtiberian tribes decided to join his cause. Ultimately, Rome crushed the insurrection by renewing the war after Viritaus agreed to a peace with Fabius Maximus Servilianus. Servilius Caepio bribed war-weary Lusitani emissaries with a money and peace if they assassinated Viriatus, which they did. Rome would rule Hispania until the 5th century AD.

In the medieval world, outlaws continued to plague private citizens as well as the state. In medieval England, outlaws were those individuals who were considered “outside of the law” (hence “outlaw”). These individuals had been accused of crimes in court, and if they failed to appear before a local judge, the sheriff was sent to get them. Robin Hood is the most famous outlaw of this period. In the late medieval courts, outlaws were those who committed treason, rebellion, or murder. A special writ of capias utlagatum could be issued by the Crown or Common Pleas. In these instances, sheriffs could seize the property of outlaws, which was then forfeited to the Crown.

As recounted in the work of Michel Foucault, pre-Enlightenment Europe disciplined all outlaws and criminals very publicly. For instance, in 1757, Robert-Francois Damiens, a domestic servant who tried to kill King Louis XV, was drawn and quartered by the command of the king. Such punishments seem ghastly to us today, but that is only because the Enlightenment took a completely radical approach to the entire concept of criminality.

Thanks to social reformers like Jeremy Bentham and others, crime became something that could be cured, or, at the very least, hidden away from society. This idea of criminality as something “antisocial”—as something against the mass of individuals that make up so-called society—led directly to the growth of the impersonal penal state. Rather than be punished and made to perform restitution by the Crown or the process of common law, modern-day outlaws are institutionalized by prisons that operate very much like schools and hospitals. In essence, outlaws are still those who go against the wishes of the state, but the modern state sees it as its duty to try and rehabilitate these criminals. Of course, the government seizes money from private citizens in the form of taxes in order to carry out these hare-brained designs.

For A New Outlawry

Officials in the modern state have no real conception of interpersonal violence because the state is not controlled by a small set of private individuals. The state is a monstrosity that moves forward with its own internal logic, regardless of which political party is in power. In order to reclaim any sense of liberty in the modern world, America must embrace the pre-modern sense of security and responsibility as primarily the province of local communities.

Rather than rely on labyrinthine state and federal laws that only seem to allow repeat offenders to constantly cross back and forth between borders, a more sane alternative would simply brand those illegal immigrants who commit serious crimes as outlaws, seize their property (if they have any), deny them the possibility of ever obtaining American citizenship, and force them to pay restitution to their victims.

Furthermore, like the “civil death” doctrine of medieval Europe, immigrant outlaws should face the wrath of the civilian population. Rather than promote further statism through the use of federal agents or local law enforcement, private individuals should be able to take the reins of enforcing immigration laws. In preparation for a stateless society (or at least a society that does not fit the current definition of the neoliberal state), free associations of individuals should be tasked with not only securing their properties and the border, but should be authorized to apprehend outlaws and bring them to court.

As dangerous as these laws may sound, they at least would show that this country and its people take immigration laws seriously. Similarly, so long as illegal immigrants only fear deportation, they will consistently break American laws in order to get on American welfare or to work for better wages in this country than elsewhere.

Physical Removal

Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues that culturally destructive forces like Marxism, both economic and cultural, should be physically removed from libertarian societies in order to guarantee the survival of liberty, free association, and voluntary transactions. Continued illegal immigration is clearly a threat to America’s precarious liberty, and as such should be met with a form of physical removal. This removal should be accomplished by private citizens or groups of private citizens.

First and foremost, the police, in the words of Robert Taylor, “do not exist to protect you, defend private property, or maintain the peaceful order of a free society.” Taylor further notes that the primary function “is to make sure that the state’s exploitation of the public runs as smoothly as possible.”[1] Therefore, security should become a private affair. This includes enforcing the law against illegal immigrants who directly threaten communities.

Criminal illegal aliens should answer for their crimes in front of the communities that they have injured. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes:

“Families, authority, communities, and social ranks are the empirical-sociological concretization of the abstract philosophical-praxeological categories and concepts of property, production, exchange, and contract. Property and property relations do not exist apart from families and kinship relations.”[2]

There is no need for a government corrective here. Immigrant criminals, many of whom come from countries where socialism is the norm, not only carry the possibility of political warfare (in the form of voting for or giving a raison d’etre for anti-liberty statists), but they expressly threaten the organic unity of American families through violence. As ever, the democratic state can grow from the chaos of illegal immigration, and as such, stopping criminal aliens without the overview of the state is one way of circumventing state power.

Objections

Such a draconian proposal is certain to meet with objections from both the political mainstream and from left-libertarians, so let us attempt to address some of the most likely criticisms. First, left-libertarians consistently make the argument that open borders are the only truly libertarian solution to the problem of state power and statism. However, as has already been noted in this publication, “maintaining a distinctive culture is a good reason to restrict immigration.” Of course, immigration has economic benefits, but all libertarians should ask themselves whether immediate economic benefits are worth the cost of potentially dissolving any chance for a libertarian social order. After all, Taylor correctly notes that the left-libertarian case for open borders often conflates state with nation. He notes that “the state is artificial, arbitrary, and coercive,” but calls a nation “a national identity, protected by borders.”[3] This is healthy and natural so long as private property rights on the border are respected.

Another possible libertarian criticism of the entire concept of national borders is the problem of state coercion, namely the fact that immigration laws are fundamentally about states using force to welcome or remove private individuals based on sloppy thinking or criteria that seems highly flexible and dependent on the whims of Washington bureaucrats. An answer to this criticism can be found in the words of Murray Rothbard, who summarized why libertarians should never overlook the fact that “nation” is a category separate from both “state” and “individual.” Rothbard writes:

“Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is born into a family, a language, and a culture. Every person is born into one or several overlapping communities, usually including an ethnic group, with specific values, cultures, religious beliefs, and traditions. He is generally born into a country; he is always born into a specific time and place, meaning neighborhood and land area.”[4]

To ignore this is the height of political autism.

A third criticism is that implementing outlawry encourages murder. The plan described above only labels unrepentant, determined aggressors as outlaws, and killing aggressors is defense, not murder. Furthermore, anyone who tries to kill an outlaw but instead ends the life of a non-outlaw would be guilty of premeditated murder and thus subject to life imprisonment or capital punishment, thus providing a strong deterrence against overzealous outlaw hunters.

Finally, the most likely objection to this plan is that it would lead to vigilante justice, but in a sense, that is precisely the point. And is not vigilante justice preferable to anarcho-tyranny? A world wherein outlaws are chased down is better than a world wherein immigrant criminals rape and murder, get deported, then rape and murder some more before being thrown into a money-making machine run by the state.

Conclusion

The outlaw solution would encourage communities, towns, and counties to mobilize their independent resources to protect their own people from the threat of criminal illegal aliens. If a serious crime is committed, then these localities could extract just punishment from the criminals without feeding into the state’s prison system. Outlawry not only takes away the state’s monopoly on violence; it is also preferable to any open or quasi-open borders situation wherein wanted and unwanted immigrants used public roads and public property that once belonged to private individuals.

The concept of outlawry as a way to combat illegal immigration may only be feasible in a truly libertarian state. However, certain measures could be put in place at present that could dramatically change the on-the-ground reality. Namely, the rise of border militias like the Minutemen is a positive development. America should go further by abolishing the Border Patrol and replacing it with private security agencies that have to answer to those citizens who own the land on the American border. Unlike federal employees, these private agents could be fired for doing a poor job and/or for colluding with Mexican drug cartels.

Illegal immigration has not only helped the cause of “Brazilification” in America, but attendant criminality is a direct threat to all private citizens, their properties, and their freedom of association. Given this reality, criminal illegal aliens who return to the United States after being arrested, convicted, imprisoned, released, and deported should be treated as outlaws and should face the possibility of death for impinging upon American liberty. This proposal has the added benefit of legitimizing decentralized power structures in the face of anarcho-tyrant state.

References:

  1. Taylor, Robert (2016). Reactionary Liberty. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 125.
  2. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy – The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order. Transaction Publishers p. 203.
  3. Taylor, p. 221.
  4. Rothbard, Murray. Nations by Consent: Decomposing The Nation-State. Journal of Libertarian Studies 11:1 (Fall 1984). https://mises.org/library/nations-consent-decomposing-nation-state-0

Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5