The bottom line is with nearly 8 billion people alive there is no such thing as an original thought anymore and everyone is replaceable. So as a consolation even if these people died and continue to die it may not matter much in the grand scheme of things.
So what if there’s a replaceable genius. We still have people who are dying and slaving away not being able to contribute in a more meaningful way.
Is there a more noble goal than reducing human suffering and enabling people to maximize their potential?
If our population was halved, the cost of developing new cpu, new software or a new technology would stay the same, but the benefit would be halved, and therefore less of these things would be developed.
On the other hand, Czech antivirus business exploded with the advent of the Internet. Everyone and their dog needed some kind of protection against malware.
Our biggest obstacle, and our greatest opportunity for advancement (and the continued growth our system requires) is the fact that opportunity is not available to all.
The good news is that the problem is so vast there are parts of it everywhere. Every one of us can pick it up and help.
But I’ve come to see that waste of brilliant brains less and less as an unfortunate outcome in a non-ideal world, and more and more as intended.
The (western) world is full of mediocre yet privileged people who (consciously or subconsciously) do whatever they can to avoid competition. And this is the root of much evil in the world.
Or at least that’s how I increasingly see it.
The fundamental issue is that our system is built in such a way that one person's accomplishment is another person's loss.
Can you give some examples of this? The first that comes to mind is patent law.
That in order for a child to grow and achieve their full potential they have to be loved and supported by everyone in their family; this means brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, etc.
How is it that the way we structure the core social organisation in our grand societies is so at odds with the way we structure the broader structures? Not only that, but if you look at a classroom; what is the best for children? Encouraging hyper competition or collaboration between classmates? What is the best inside a business, collaboration or competition? What is the best for our governments, collaboration between the different branches or competition?
It seems as though everywhere we look at, we go "yes, people in an organisation have to collaborate with other!" from families to governments... yet... an organisation of organisations (a society) is in turn better served through competition?
We developed these massive societies to overcome the need for competition, but sometimes I feel like this ethos is being turned against us and that some people want us to return to a state of being where everyone is out for themselves in a cruel world that is filled with dangers. And I don't understand why.
This changes pretty abruptly at the boundary of the company into almost the exact opposite: a marketplace where it's every company for themselves, there's no common goal, and resources, money and ideas both, are jealously hoarded by each entity behind thick silo walls.
Obviously the analogy isn't perfect, but it's interesting how we're supposed to simultaneously operate in a much-vaunted capitalist context, but mostly interface to it through a thick layer of, basically, socialist systems.
On the other hand, I believe that competition, broadly construed, is the root of evil (competition is for losers). The more we can not compete with each other, but rather support each other in our own personal endeavors, the better.
There is certainly harm here, but I agree it's not all about competition - if the incumbent shares their knowledge and resources with others then, while revenue streams might go down for, more people will benefit and as a whole revenue streams will go up, or at least be distributed more fairly.
In a zero sum world, companies either avoiding competition or sharing is a burden, in a non zero sum world it is not.
I think ultimately the author is wrong - the idea that ideas can endlessly reap, it ignores the physical world - there are only so many available acres of land and goods at any given time. He dismisses Peak Oil, etc as a misunderstanding about the limits, but the reality is there are many limits, each one with different consequences as it is passed. Thinking the edge of the city is a block away and then discovering you were wrong is not proof that there is no edge to the city, but it does matter that you have to take a car versus walk a block - the limits are still there.
Arguments about peak resources should focus on the average income pressure a citizen is facing, an infinite number of ideas does zip for you if your citizens are too poor or in debt to be able to purchase the fruits of your ideas. Unless you want to start giving away money at a steadily increasing rate...and that has never worked out.
When I am writing my books, I am not trying to one-up anyone, but I still operate in a competitive environment where actions of other players influence both my inputs (paper, printing costs) and outputs (how much can the finished book cost and still be attractive to potential readers).
Same with SpaceX. They fly to space. Some others fly to space too, including some smaller startups like RocketLabs that are nevertheless very vibrant. This has some non-zero influence on SpaceX activity. For example, they want to be a trusted partner of NASA/US Gov, because NASA/US Gov rewards them with launches, even if it does not directly help their stated goal to make life multiplanetary and may even distract from it a bit.
People believing in "infinite growth" or even a scaled-down "sensible" version of it, are like people believing in perpetual motion machines, but with degrees and influence on policy.
It's even more tragi-comical when they become even more commited to it as infrastructure, growth engines, society, etc. is crumbling all around them...
Given enough eyeballs, all content is shallow.
Simple aggregation does not work for brains. Message assessment and discrimination are expensive.
How much exactly? Do you have an estimate?
A good rule of thumb for dismissing bad arguments is asking yourself: "would the same have been argued in the opposite circumstance?" Improving conditions for people in need is a moral imperative. If it were proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that this won't actually maximize economic growth or pace of progress, would you say "oh well" and abandon them? I'd wager you would not. This is one cause to suspect you are not arguing in good faith when you shoehorn their plight into this discussion.
Based of what we know about conditions in modern advanced economies, intelligence as measured by standardized tests is both a good proxy for scientific achievement potential, without any signs of plateauing in the upper ranges  and overwhelmingly genetic in origin, with a large number of specific associated polymorphisms already known  and parents and children getting closer in the trait rather than diverging with age due to random effects ; crucially, with little to no effect of social stratification on heredity . This all but rules out any significant impact of your laundry list of plausible harms – which are, nevertheless, issues that must be addressed for purely humanitarian reasons. (Purported evidence for significant impact is usually invalidated by genetic confounding).
What this means, however, is that there is very little or perhaps no low-hanging fruit left (it having been picked by Flynn effect over the last century), and we are unlikely to directly accelerate progress by any popular progressive policy, as it would not increase our labor pool for cognitively demanding work. And the hardest, highest-impact problems remain dependent on uniquely capable individuals – not lone geniuses but entire teams and organizations of them, sure, and only more scarce for it.
People who have wrestled with available evidence seriously tend to arrive at the idea that we need to institute a program of voluntary genetic improvement and ensure its availability to all. The tech is already here; the price can be driven almost arbitrarily low at scale. Whether we become a society of geniuses or one stratified by genetic enhancement  is a matter of policy – and willingness to look truth in the eye.
I am not a serious wrestler, but I do not want the government instituting genetic programs as a final solution to a perfect society.
It's great to read comments like these because it's one of the rare times when these people go mask-off and just tell you that they're eugenicists. Kudos for honesty.
Genetics and race-science cannot be separated, as they were forged in the same (American) fire . The role of the former in supporting the latter never goes away; it just changes forms. For every phrenology that's utterly falsified, there's an "omg but what about polygenic risk scores!?" that pops up in its place . Intelligence scores, IQ, psychometrics? Same thing: willing and enthusiastic handmaidens of selective breeding and strengthening the gene pool. Forced sterilization came soon after (60-70k people in the US).
Don't let these guys fool you: there's no "debate" about intelligence and heredity, or really any behavioral genetics, only a reactionary moral and political project: find the vulnerable, the poor, and the sick, and grind'em into dust.
> and willingness to look truth in the eye.
Mask on or off, this is a constant: "I'm a brave teller of hard truths in a world intent on hiding from them." You wonder if they'd really be exempt from their own "programs of genetic improvement."
Most parents, if they learn that their baby is going to have Down syndrome or another serious genetic defect, choose to abort it. Prenatal screening and acting upon its results is ubiquitous even in very liberal Californian circles.
With the advent of genetic manipulation in living humans, the cat will be out of the bag once and for all. There would certainly be people willing to try e.g. a genetic modification that massively lowers their risk of developing atherosclerosis while seemingly having no negative effect on people who have it naturally. 
> Let us discuss the genetics of Educational Attainment (EA) defined as the number of years of schooling and measured in adults over 30 years old. EA takes up a good part both of the book and the review. Using genetic data from more than 300,000 individuals of European ancestry, it was possible to develop a ‘score’ using the genomes of the people in the study (Okbay et al. Genome-wide association study identifies 74 loci associated with educational attainment, Nature, 2016). The details of the score are of lesser importance, but it’s important to realize that the score is a single number calculated from a genomic sample, by a fixed recipe. The score is correlated with EA at an enormously significant statistical level. This result was then replicated in an Icelandic study, using entirely different individuals from the first study. (Kong et al. Selection against variants in the genome associated with educational attainment, PNAS, 2017). Again enormously significant results were obtained.
> How do Feldman and Riskin explain these results? After a somewhat rambling diatribe complaining that choices were made in the details of the score, and how exactly the EA phenotype was chosen to study, they conclude that ‘researchers are [not] counting anything but their own projections’. How is this reasonable? A recipe is given, checked in a different study and the results replicated. (Incidentally a much larger study with more than 3,000,000 (!) individuals was completed just this month and the results again replicated). Are we somehow to believe that experimental error in Iceland is correlated with EA of a sample? This is truly absurd.
> ...This review is baffling. Feldman is a leading mathematical biologist at Stanford who I would have assumed understands statistical genetics, yet if I didn’t know who the reviewers were I would have thought that they were incompetent or ignorant.
> Perhaps Feldman and Riskin think that any argument is acceptable if it goes against results that they dislike?
Then you act like there is some continuing chain of "phrenologies" which have been falsified by science. In reality, the opposite is true – differential psychology and genetics are independent from any phrenological legacy, stand on their own and receive consistent confirmation, whereas, for example, both Gould (already approvingly cited in the thread) and Franz Boas, the founder of modern progressive anthropology, knowingly lied when grappling with literal skull shape data . Yet those are still cited as authorities on the matter.
You frame it into a narrative where duplicitous "eugenicists" feign being truth-tellers to reinforce their political agenda; aren't you practicing this very approach? But then the question is precisely who has truth on their side, and things Feldman&Riskin feel compelled to write in their review suggest it's still hereditarians.
> Don't let these guys fool you: there's no "debate" about intelligence and heredity, or really any behavioral genetics, only a reactionary moral and political project: find the vulnerable, the poor, and the sick, and grind'em into dust.
This is conflict theory in its essence  – or rather, conspiracy theory. You dismiss all evidence that conflicts with your political views because you a priori assume it is produced by a complex conspiracy with the aim to grind the vulnerable into dust. But this assumption forces you into a closed, totalitarian ideology. When you are offered a project of "genetic improvement" that does not involve sterilization, abuse or any denial of personal freedom, you are confused as to what is happening, and resort to plain denial and scare quotes. "How is this reasonable?", indeed.
> You wonder if they'd really be exempt from their own "programs of genetic improvement."
Why would I want to be exempt, though? You've taken time to find a statistical objection to GWAS data, but don't understand what embryo selection is about technically, and how it's most likely to hurt people you wish to protect by being limited in accessibility to the very rich, if at all?
What's the concrete scenario you have in mind here, really?
> "But the deeper reason is that there’s really no such thing as a natural resource. All resources are artificial. They are a product of technology. And economic growth is ultimately driven, not by material resources, but by ideas."
Arable land - i.e. topsoil - is not a product of technology, it's a product of geology and biology, namely the erosion of rocks and the accumulation of biomass. Yes, one can indeed make an artificial soil-like system (hydroponics), but this in turn requires raw materials (typically clay pebbles, plastic pots, plastic pipes, plus a complete nutrient mixture of simple chemicals) which are in turn made from limited material resources.
Similarly, fresh water is a limited natural resource, and in the absence of water, human populations do not grow. Just look at a population density map of the United States - note how few people live in the desert zones. Again, there are technological approaches: desalinate ocean water, pump it to the desert, and grow food hydroponically. This requires an investment of material resources and energy.
I get this feeling that economimsts who makes these claims about infinite growth have simply never studied the conservation of energy, or the conservation of mass. Every source I've looked at puts the minimal land area for food production for one human at about two hectares with traditional agriculture, and maybe half that with modern industrial double cropping methods. US farmland is about 166 million hectares, so that sort of fits, as the US population is about 330 million; exports of food also appear to match imports of food so that's a wash.
So clearly there are limits on the growth of the human population on a finite planet. If the question is, "can you have infinite economic growth with a fixed human population", well, whatever discipline makes claims like that is one entirely divorced from physical reality. Inflation maybe?
This isn't really true any longer. Desalinating seawater costs about $1 per 1000 liters. You need a relatively prosperous country to be able to afford that, of course, but an industrialized economy with reasonable levels of corruption is perfectly capable of desalinating enough water to make civilization work.
It's practically tautological that there's limits to population size in a finite world, and that growth cannot be infinite in a finite universe. But I think people often frame this question the wrong way. It's a bit of a straw man.
Economic growth is proportional to the amount of problems solved that humans care about. And the cost of the solution, of course, in terms of human effort. It isn't necessarily proportional to the amount of physical resources consumed or bound. It's a reasonable assumption that there's generally a positive correlation, but the function and coefficients don't have to be linear. That leaves a lot of headroom.
People should rather think about infinite (arbitrary!!) economic growth in terms of what can be done to make the lives of humans better, on average. Even in the Western world, we are so far away from the hedonistic limits that it's ridiculous. It's trivial to imagine a world with no illness, perfect health, indefinite lifespan, very high freedom and low repression, no seriously bothersome and mandatory chores for anyone and so on. What can be done to get closer to such a world? So much.
The limit isn't defined by how polluting our cars can be, or how much beef we're able to produce. Many of these arguments collapse into the completely unimaginative.
Ah... so if I'm in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and have no water, but I do have a dollar in my pocket, someone will deliver me 1000 liters of water, sourced from desalination of Pacific Ocean water? How much energy will that take?
It's the approximate cost, in aggregate, for supplying a city's worth of water using desal, after having made the infrastructure and such. If solar and other renewable energies could be scaled higher, this cost might be even lower.
When it comes to resources, humanity doesn't have much a track record of doing so.
The earth has a lot of matter in it - it is absurdly massive - technological advances in replicating necessary raw resources (and your topsoil one is particularly good to demonstrate this) have pushed us from looking at an absolute limit to instead viewing the perpetual creation of new components as a steadily rising economic burden.
One raw resource that is actually quickly depleting is river sand for concrete - our current consumption trends are extremely scary here and some governments (CoughIndiaCough) are doing an absolutely terrible job at properly enforcing externality costs on extraction leading to mass habitat destruction. But, if we suddenly found ourselves without easy access to rough river sand we do have alternative construction materials including processed wood in various forms that can be extremely resilient.
I don't really like the wording of the article in defining all resources as artificial - but the natural components driving the economy are quite abundant.
defined narrowly, yes, most of them, but consider ecosystem services as equally important economic inputs and the picture looks very different
on this view things like stable weather patterns etc are also natural components driving the economy, and we are rapidly rendering this and many others scarce
You yourself said that technology doubled the output with the same input.
The whole articles point is that tech enables us to get more from what we have, to support growth. Maybe enough smart Americans will find a way to double it again, so the US can support 660M people with our 166 Hectares. Maybe then we’ll support 1.2B after a new invention!
Maybe they’ll discover a way to grow plants with salt water allowing use of the ocean while saving the freshwater. Maybe then they’ll find a way to make hydroponics less material intense, and they’ll build floating farms on the ocean, giving us more “land”. Given enough smart people, there’s so much more room for growth. That’s the point. We’re not at the breaking point yet.
In the last 60 years, total fertility rate has dropped from 5 to 2.5 , and most industrialized nations are hovering right around replacement rate of 2.1 or actively shrinking (Japan, 1.4, Germany, 1.6, South Korea, 0.81). Albeit during COVID, the 2020 TFR in the United States was only 1.64, and has declined for the last four years in a row .
With technology, I'd still expect the overall "size of the economy" to grow, but it will be interesting to see how growth is affected by substantial changes in demography that play out over the next 100-200 years (if only I could stick around to watch!).
It's going to take a long time before this change sinks in for people who are still used to worrying about overpopulation, outside of the fringe groups panicking over "white replacement".
Telling them "it'll cool off in 20 years" is about the equivalent of telling them "yeah the problems we have now will continue another 20 years, deal with it".
I can't recall the last time I came across the arguments you put forward, and I've hardly ever discussed this with someone expressing worry about overpopulation who has argued the problem is just that it's not flattening out fast enough. In fact, I often face people who insist I'm wrong when I point out projections show us heading for population decline.
I'm not suggesting people believing what you're saying don't exist, but in my experience at least they're not the ones yelling loudest about overpopulation.
That said, with respect to people worrying about it not flattening out fast enough, we'd face far worse problems if it rates started declining faster. We're already seeing pressure for higher pension ages to offset the coming decline in a working age population in many countries. Pressure for higher tax rates, longer hours, later pensions will come in short order if the demographic shift happens fast enough, and it will be massive unpopular.
> But the deeper reason is that there’s really no such thing as a natural resource. All resources are artificial. They are a product of technology. And economic growth is ultimately driven, not by material resources, but by ideas.
That sounds far-stretched. The climate isn't an artificial resource, it's very natural and messing it up is going to seriously hinder growth. The fossil fuels that drove our growth for two centuries aren't artificial either, nor are they idea.
The limits to growth is still valid today: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth
There's no scenario in which growth is perpetual.
If people want to argue about perpetual growth, they should come with numbers based on known estimates of the resource available today. Otherwise, it's just faith and holds no scientific value.
Malthus wasn't really wrong, we just pushed back the boundaries farther than what he imagined. For example, there was a lot more farmland available than he thought or calculated; we grew up to and past that. We also increased yields per acre roughly 4x in the 20th century. There's no realistic 4x happening for that again; in fact, soil quality has been depleted to the point that yields are flat or even falling. (plus climate change supercharges weather patterns and lots of crops are lost). Though his words were clunky, he was basically saying that exponential growth will outstrip polynomial growth in the end. And that's inescapable.
Some resources on Earth are in tight supply, like helium and lithium, and others are super abundant, like uranium and water (though fresh water is tight!). But they are all limited and eventually the "ideas" we keep coming up to utilize them better will be no substitute.
Those turned out to be scarce and limited, and were used up quickly.
Well you really only need a small number of very talented brains. And continuing to grow the global population is probably not the most efficient way of getting them.
I find it almost aggressively misanthropic. That most people on the planet are basically there to serve an (unchangeable) percentage of those who have the luxury of thinking about abstract concepts all day.
Things like the Pareto principle suggest our ability to do science is greatly impacted by raising the total population and creating more outliers who do extreme contributions.
I might point at the fact that tenure-track professors are 25 times more likely to have a parent with a PhD than the general population (https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/6wjxc). Also, here's a good, factual article illustrating my general point: https://www.nature.com/articles/537466a
Reading between the lines, I think your view is that the valuable contributors (the extreme outliers) will find a way to contribute regardless of background. I think that's true, to some extent, but less common than we give it credit for. I also think that ignores the majority of scientists who are not outliers but make important discoveries just as a matter of course. Discoveries that may inform future breakthroughs.
Anyway, the truth is certainly somewhere in the middle. By growing the population of people who might make contributions (one way or another), we will increase the rate of contributions. I just think it's best from a moral, social, and ecological perspective to make the most of the minds we already have.
This is you reading in a total strawman.
There aren’t billions that would engage in science — there’s only 800 million in need of food security, total.
Of those, we’d expect only some small fraction to engage in science at all — maybe 8M, of whom a few hundred thousand will make substantial contributions and a few thousand groundbreaking work.
Of course we should help those people — but you’re off by orders of magnitude on your claims. I was objecting to your made up numbers, not whatever “between the lines” nonsense you read in to ignore that point.
And driving a total increase will require more people — because increasing the world by 2B population will drive more results than those 800M ever could. (While also being more realistic than “fix poverty everywhere”.)
In order to solve problems you don’t need “more people”. You need “more people with good enough living conditions so that they can work on solving problems”. This doesn’t necessarily means increasing the total number of people. It could go down. As long as enough people went from dispossessed to good enough, that would be enough.
no, this isn't true, because randomly feeding people isn't going to just magically make them able to solve problems like fusion.
What is needed is productivity increases, from perhaps existing investments or new investments, which is then used to fund research work. This funding can come privately, or via public taxation.
The popular image of an einstein like loner working in their own garage, funded by their own wealth (or some sort of social security funding), and creating world changing tech is such a mythos.
It could be argued that building high speed rail isn’t same as doing science. But it does provide excellent raw material for scientific research. I won’t be surprised if we start seeing scientific breakthroughs from China in next few decades.
We have hundreds of millions of people using most of their cognitive bandwidth just to survive. Imagine what’s possible if even a fraction of those stop worrying about their survival and start pursuing their curiosity.
So if you’re talking about a physicist, you’re talking about a tiny fraction. If you start talking about those who complete graduate studies, and the 1 in 100 of them who generates truly groundbreaking work… you’re talking about 1 in 50,000 or rarer.
If you keep a stable population and pay people based upon life expectations * skill, no one would need a retirement account.
But those with pull want to sit on their hands and do nothing, and throw around large sums of money, hence the ponzi scheme.
The optimal number of children is 2.1, for offspring to replace parents
When there is no population growth, no inflation or economic growth:
You might think that worldwide and US has <2.1%, but technology amplifies productivity, so it is not a 1-1 ratio
The reason that GDP growth is so important is because it raises the standard of living for those who aren’t yet born. If you accept the premise that lives in the future matter just as much as those today, then the vast majority of human lives are yet to be born and therefore deserve consideration about what to do __today__.
Even small changes in GDP growth (e.g. 1-2% per year) has dramatic compounding effects over a multi decade timeframe.
For a great book on this, I recommend Tyler Cowen’s Stubborn Attachments which discusses the ethics of economic growth: https://press.stripe.com/stubborn-attachments
assuming by standard of living we mean quality of life: to accept this one must ignore or rationalize the ways our pursuit of GDP growth is making the planet a less hospitable place for the yet unborn
if instead we mean material expectations, then yes, you're right, but part of the problem is our rapidly growing accustomed to lifestyles that can't be sustained under the present matrix of social and physical technology
Not only do we need more brains, but we also need robust knowledge transfers between generations (between current and new brains). I.e. for new brains to be effective, they must start from the point that the old brains stopped.
As I see it the opposite process is at play. For example, cloud computing decrease the need to understand hardware/os. Or, outsourcing remove new brains from entering the knowledge accumulation pipeline.
When I went to uni (and I'm only 35 so I'm not talking about the 80s) we learned about low level data structures, I took a course in relational algebra, operating system design, assembly language - these were necessary (imo) broadening exercises that have enabled me to better understand how to make things work performantly at a high level. Now a company may only need one or two folks like me with a passion for algorithm design among a dev team of fifty - but we don't all need formal training in every little thing.
Imparting the knowledge of how to learn, along with those pieces of basic information we deem critical, can be enough.
This is why Boeing can’t build planes anymore:
They decided midcareer engineers were too expensive and their crop of senior engineers are aging out — so they no longer have the expertise necessary, due to outsourcing and not supporting their young employees.
In the early days of aerospace, the search space was mostly unknown and there were tons of companies investing R&D in a wide variety of designs. Huge amounts of human capital were invested, and as in all things, some designs worked, some didn't. Many companies went bankrupt.
Eventually we find some good designs and the risk/reward of searching the space further just doesn't make sense. Only recently with improved tech and ML/AI + simulation has the cost to search been reduced enough that it makes economic sense to try again.
Nurses and doctors are all facing mental health crises. Violence against medical professionals is rising at rapid rates even prior to the pandemic. Many health professionals don't report assaults either because of their altruistic tendencies. More than half of nurses are thinking or planning on quitting their jobs. More than half of all doctors wouldn't recommend or don't want their children to go into medicine. Here's a fun little excercise for you. Google the nearest hospital near you and see how many openings they have. Especially for security. The hospital near me has never had a security officer. Now they have five. Hospital workers are being taught de-escalation techniques and taking self defense classes. Senior homes are facing record shortages of labor.
Who'd you rather have treating your loved ones? The nurses with decades of practical experience, or the nursing school graduates who will quit after 3 years of burn out and stress? We're starting to treat nurses as badly as we do teachers. What do we expect to happen? This is just one industry as well. A few fun links for your perusal.
Just a motivational speech.
Right now it's standard for productivity of a person to be the driver or benchmark of an economy, but once you can automate a process so completely that there is no human involved in it then you can scale infinitely regardless of population, even if it stagnates or decreases.
Raw resources aren't a exactly limited thing in the solar system, not on our scales anyway.
Technological progress is the result of ready access to fossil fuels. That is it is the result of our prosperity not it's cause.
The reason Malthus was wrong was because ready access to hydrocarbons made the Haber-Bosch process possible and easily scalable. In a world without massive amount of hydrocarbons the Haber-Bosch process is never discovered. We know this because technological advancement trail energy discovery.
I highly recommend reading through Smil's Energy and Civilization to get a better sense of this.
We are like yeast brewing in a giant vat of malted barely, seeing a what looks like an infinite amount of energy, expanding well beyond the sustainable carrying capacity of the vat. Suddenly some yeast scientists notice there is a concerning amount of alcohol in the atmosphere. Yeast economist point out this is nothing to worry about because we have solved every problem in the past, so there's nothing to really worry about.
I also can't stand the "look Malthus, Hubert and Jevons were all wrong!!!", on the scale of a 200k year species, predicted the ended within a few hundred years is pretty accurate. We just have trouble thinking beyond the time scale of a few human generations.
Finally, whale oil is a terrible example of a transition fuel. We stopped using it because we ran out of whales, but so far we've never decreased usage of an energy source that was still available to us . This is no different than yeast that will consume energy filled sugars until the poison themselves. But hey, at least we get beer.
The technology to move beyond fossil fuels has existed since the 1950s. No new inventions are required. If our leaders decided today to migrate primary energy to nuclear power climate change would be "solved" within 20 years.
I think this is inaccurate for several reasons
1. it takes human and financial resources to build a nuclear power plants, which most countries don't have
2. using the current technologies, uranium would quickly become a limiting factor
3. developing new technologies take times.
4. electricity is only a small part of the emissions of CO2
> Climate change is a political problem
Yes, this comes from the perpetual growth ideology.
This doesn't account for nations with ready access to fossil fuels who don't progress.
I have also read Smil's Energy and Civilization and I have to disagree on the causal arrow direction.
Coal formed ~300 million years ago . Anatomically modern humans have existed for more than 200,000 years . Complex city-forming civilizations have existed for more than 5,000 years .
Chapter 6 of Energy and Civilization shows the dramatic shift in recent centuries: consumption of coal and later other fossil fuels underwent explosive growth only after the 18th century. This even though coal and oil were known to people thousands of years ago  . Since people, fossil fuels, and civilization have existed in conjunction for several thousands of years, but usage of fossil fuels has become significant only in recent centuries, I believe that technological development is the proximate cause of fossil fuel usage. Once the early Industrial Revolution got under way it formed a feedback loop where technological exploitation of energy resources drove further technological development and energy exploitation. The early, inefficient Newcomen steam engine is a good example of this loop in action: its first successful application was in pumping water out of coal mines, to make more coal accessible .
Until ~150 years ago oil was a fairly useless sticky substance you sometimes encountered in nature.
Then the internal combustion engine was invented, which made oil a hugely valuable resource.
Another example among many: Lithium has recently become a very valuable resource because of advances in battery technology.
This is in contrast to the (incorrect) labor theory of value so popular with left wing economists.
Oil being valuable in China does not endow China with ample reserves of oil.
Demand does not create supply.
And humans are consuming oil at 5 million times the rate at which it was created.
Moreover, what made oil a viable resource was a chain of inventions and capabilities --- pipe for well casings and transportation, which require Bessemer steel, which required iron ore, coal, and massive transportation capabilities. The underlying drilling technology was thousands of years old (used for drilling for salt in China). Further metallurgical capabilities were required for automobile engines (a light, powerful power plant), which also, coincidentally, solved the heavier-than-air powered flight problem at virtually the same instant.
Even coal use emerged contingent on other technologies. Coal was known for a long time, but was challenging to transport. The US relied on wood --- most often locally available --- rather than coal, which require expensive overland transport.
Why the Industrial Revolution occurred in England is among the great confounding questions of all time. I'd argue that it was a mix of factors:
- A politically-stable island nation spared foreign invasion for well over a millennium. As with Japan, Hawaii, Madagascar, and New Zealand.
- An island country with abundant transportation both on surrounding seas and with many inland rivers through modest terrain. Already, Britain distinguishes herself from most contenders.
- An abundance of natural resources in the form of coal, literally falling out of cliffs onto the strand initially. Volcanic islands which lack the multi-hundred-million year geological history to form such resources can stand down: Japan, New Zealand, Hawaii.
- A developed polity of broadly shared power, also generally permitting free inquiry. Though the invention of steam power still largely required being remote from centres of power, and occurred in Scotland, not England.
- Ample food and ready applications for steam power, even in modest quantities. By 1800, there were about 500 steam engines, most producing a modest 5--10 horsepower (3-7 kW) throughout the country. These were low-pressure systems with power on the vacuum condenser stroke, not under high-pressure steam, due to James Watt's control of patents and refusal to permit high-pressure engines being developed. (That process began in the US and France, outside the scope of UK patents).
By the late 19th century, England had an advanced industrial, metallurgical, and financial system, as well as a large navy it was looking to convert to oil, all of which lead to it becoming a leading developer of foreign oil reserves in the middle east. (I cannot recommend Daniel Yergin's book The Prize highly enough. I disagree strongly with the author's views concerning oil's future, he is however an outstanding historian of its past.)
Lithium, similarly, is useful now thanks to a convergence of factors, though those might well prove short-lived. An automobile is at heart quite basic and requires a small number of distinct materials. An electric vehicle requires a large portion of the available periodic table, as well as abundant energy. I'm rooting for EVs. I'm not sanguine they will have a long or widespread application.
Ideas are an abstract thing. To realise an idea, one needs material resources.
The problem has nothing to do with either finite material resources or ideas. The problem is what those material resources get converted into. What we do is we transform one type of material into another during any activity. How we can limit ourselves to not transforming these useable material into unuseable material is what is the challenge for growth. We should only be promoting those ideas that have a better opportunity to transform one usable material resource into another usable resource without taking much time and without harming the ecology.
This is quite insightful. Biological systems have this characteristic. It uses the circular conversion of resources as a way to channel energy into whatever is useful for it.
Humans beings, as a type of biology do this, but have for a few centuries been converting a useful material (fossil hydrocarbons) into a comparatively useless material (C02) at rate faster than the ecosystem can reabsorb it.
The question is how we can return to something like the previous equilibrium where we rebuild our modern lifestyles around energy "springs" - aka energy storage and release mechanisms - that absorb and release it to do useful work for us, alleviating the need to burn and release long fossilized energy to achieve that.
also related to circular economics is the principle that tools should be easy to supersede when we discover undesirable side effects or invent new techniques
we build software to be easy to refactor, we might benefit from building societies and technologies with this in mind as well
an atmosphere full of carbon is not easy to deprecate, nor are pervasive hydrocarbon infrastructure, urban areas designed around the automobile, etc
before we deploy something at scale it may be wise to have some idea how to gracefully roll it back or put something else in its place
A salient quote from the first article, that I find very relevant:
> We have developed an unshakable faith in technology to address our problems. Its track record is most impressive… But we have to be careful about faith, and periodically reexamine its validity or possible limits.
The concern I have, especially WRT climate change, is this: We are not tackling climate change.
Yes, we solved ozone shrinkage, looming food shortages, deadly air pollution, acid rain (sorta), etc. all with technology. But we ACTUALLY tackled those problems; we banned lead gasoline, banned CFCs, starting scrubbing sulphur dioxide, improved crop yields.
And since we know that these new tools have learning curves that are becoming cheaper, we have prettt good estimates that the switchover will be a cheaper energy solution than fossil fuels, with greater energy independence for more countries, leading to fewer wars!
But current fossil fuel suppliers have fantastic political control of the US, and they sow seeds of doubt and fear and uncertainty in the population, and buy off politicians to prevent market solutions from coming to the market. Much less the great amount of industrial policy needed to scale what we need to scale faster to meet the needs of climate change.
The peaceful options that maintain our society and cultures are running out
Right now, rising prices are a massive boon for the environment. Less consumption, more investment in better technology.
But people are angry, and at this rate, will start raging. It may be quite a turning point, if we're not mostly under authoritarian governments by 2030 I'll be happy.
As a collective, we simply do not want to solve climate change. Unless it magically does not affect our lives, then yeah, [whatever group, just not me] can go for it.
Not true. The average person has very little control over their own patterns of consumption. The problems are systemic, and changing those will make a few very rich people and organisations a bit less (in some cases a lot less) rich.
This is a story of power where the powerful are burning the world and do not care.
We haven’t fixed the problem, although I agree there is some worthwhile pat-on-the-back for fixing the cause. The ozone hole is still there decades later, and will be there for decades more.
In New Zealand, they are affected by the extra UV radiation, and strong sunblock can be important.
The effect by UV should give us more understanding and sympathy for countries that will be drowned by climate change, even though our government isn't doing jack shit.
 NASA website says “Scientists have already seen the first definitive proof of ozone recovery, observing a 20 percent decrease in ozone depletion during the winter months from 2005 to 2016.” “Models predict that the Antarctic ozone layer will mostly recover by 2040.” Also see synthetic image of 2021 hole: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/2021-antarctic-ozo...
Sure. But it's recovering, acid rain isn't solved either, but it's getting better.
Climate change is getting worse, every, single, year.
That is absolutely not true. 2 examples in the US: the $7000 EV tax rebate, 80GW of new renewable energy per year. And the US is one of the worst developed nations, Europe and others are doing a lot more.
Current estimates are that we are on track for 2.5 degrees C of climate change, which would have been 6 degrees if we did nothing.
We're doing something. Just not enough.
Meanwhile the very eco-friendly single-use wooden utensils that I last used was Made in China.
Just putting smiley faces on the gas display when it starts to drop low.
That is correct. We are not tackling climate change
I think we're about to stress test this hypothesis via the Ukraine war.
> Rather, the lesson is that we must work within serious constraints to meet future demands.
Within just a few years, his spherical cow estimates of needs have been proven to not be very useful for scoping the problem. And his proposed solution of nuclear has proven to be infeasible and too expensive.
So what pretends to be an unbiased assessment based on physical principles is revealed to actually be a huge number of assumptions that are not reflective of reality, or useful for thinking about the future.
This is the exact problem that the original post talks about. We are too easily fooled by models that are simple, and wrong, like what dothemath presents.
>I’ll use lead-acid batteries as a baseline. Why? Because lead-acid batteries are the cheapest way to store electricity today.
That wasn't even true when the article was written. Pumped hydro has always been cheaper than batteries, and unless we've made some big improvements since I last checked the news, it still is.
>And lead is a common element, being the endpoint of the alpha-decay chain of heavy elements like uranium and thorium.
What's really incredible is that a physicist would make this argument. Lead is not common, and anyone with even a superficial familiarity with the process of stellar nucleosynthesis can easily explain why. A zinc nucleus needs to capture around 150 neutrons to produce a lead nucleus. All heavy elements are rare on a cosmic scale:
But the other glaring hole in the analysis is the lack of reference to prior work. Japan had already developed a grid energy storage system based on sodium-sulfur batteries in the 1980s . I would expect a serious analysis to consider the existing state of the art.
These mistakes don't strike me as arising from a lack of competence, but rather from a desire to inflate the apparent strength of the conclusions.
> Rather, the lesson is that we must work within serious constraints to meet future demands. We can’t just scale up the current go-to solution for renewable energy storage—we are yet again fresh out of silver bullet solutions. More generally, large scale energy storage is not a solved problem. We should be careful not to trivialize the problem, which tends to reduce the imperative to work like mad on establishing adequate capabilities in time (requires decades of fore-thought and planning).
He further goes on to discuss gravitational storage (e.g., hydroelectric dams and pumped storage), kinetic storage (e.g., flywheels), spring storage (e.g., compressed air), and chemical storage (e.g., batteries, fuel cells).
Again, the point is:
> With the exception of the feeble gravitational storage example, each of the ideas presented here are technically challenging, expensive, and sometimes dangerous.
And further, to contrast them to the miraculous gift that fossil fuels have been:
> A short digression to contrast the miraculous energy density in fossil fuels: our 3 days of electricity storage at 30 kWh/day requires just 12 gallons of gasoline (1.6 cubic feet; 45 liters) burned in a 20% efficient generator (it seems like the other 80% is noise!). The Earth’s battery—a one-time gift to us—turns out to be vastly superior to any of these other “solutions” in terms of energy density and long-term storage, measured in millions of years. It will be sorely missed when it’s gone.
Right, the point of the article is that storage is unworkable, and lead-acid batteries are used therein as a straw-man. You underestimate how much time I've spent studying this, and how many times I've read that absolutely infuriating article.
>He further goes on to discuss gravitational storage (e.g., hydroelectric dams and pumped storage), kinetic storage (e.g., flywheels), spring storage (e.g., compressed air), and chemical storage (e.g., batteries, fuel cells).
But he does not discuss the most significant existing application of batteries for grid storage. So when he says this:
>We can’t just scale up the current go-to solution for renewable energy storage
He hasn't even considered it! Granted, Na-S currently lags way behind Li-anything in costs, but that's a result, mostly, of innovation aimed at cars.
If storage is as workable as you say then it should be easy to demonstrate it mathematically.
Malthus made a correct calculation. But it was irrelevant, and led to a bad correction.
There's a difference between what we calculate and what we want to know. And when that "calculation" is limited to simple napkin math, it's even less likely to be relevant or interesting to the real world.
Taking simple physical limits and deriving calculations about the world has yet to offer insight about technological change. Perhaps one could do that to calculate a potential limit to Moore's law, by saying here's a minimum size of a transistor, and we are reaching thay. But what about going to more layers than we currently put in transistors, instead of simply shrinking the transistor size to increase transistor count in an IC?
I was nitpicking there, yes. Pumped hydro has an "asking if we [could/should]?" problem: extensive use of pumped hydro would be devastating to ecosystems. There are a number of "clever" strategies, such as allowing the lower reservoir to be the ocean:
but I did not intend for that sentence to be read as advocating widespread uptake of pumped hydro. It's convenient in certain places, and it can fill in gaps for communities in need, but it comes with a big cost not measured in dollars. And the use of saltwater makes this problem much worse.
Care to elaborate?
The article on battery capacity assumes a country would need to store an entire week of energy to have a dependable grid based on renewables. But it isn’t like the sun just might not rise a few days in a row (and solar panels produce a non-trivial amount even on cloudy days), and it is basically guaranteed to always be windy somewhere. Overbuilding generation capacity is also missing despite being a far more economical approach to dealing with long stretches of reduced wind/solar output.
The net result is he overestimates the needed capacity by probably 1-2 orders of magnitude.
As a smaller point, his math works out to $74/kWh (in 2012 dollars) which probably seemed outrageously low at the time, but thanks to Li-Ion tech and lots of investment might actually be reached in not too long
The paths of possible technology are a huge high dimensional space, but let's think of simplify it to a map of geographic space. He's taking out a telescope, pointing in a single direction, and sees a Cliff really really far off, and says "well I guess there are physical limits!" Which of course. But that's not interesting, what's interesting are which path are out there, and to explore that you have to point the telescope in lots of directions, or even better yet, start exploring territory by moving around. It might be that there's a hikable path right next to the cliff that you didn't see because of the narrow view of the telescope.
And those alternate paths are what the original article is all about. We didn't run out of food. Technology changes, and we become far more efficient and productive. And pretending that there's a physical limit somewhere without bothering to peak around is a classic way that we trick ourselves about the future.
He doesn't calculate single narrow routes. In fact that's almost entirely opposite the purpose of his articles, which is to take a step back and look at things from a very broad perspective: what's the scale of our energy use, what's the scale needed to replace it with something else, and what are some back-of-the-envelope calculations we can do to get an intuitive grasp of the problem?
It's essentially applying fermi estimation to the problem, which I think most people would agree is far from what you're accusing.
> We didn't run out of food.
This was never claimed?
> Technology changes, and we become far more efficient and productive.
This is addressed, particularly in the second article linked, which itself is a highly-summarized form of his entire position.
> And pretending that there's a physical limit somewhere without bothering to peak around is a classic way that we trick ourselves about the future.
There's no pretending. There are real physical and thermodynamic limits that physicists currently know no way to circumvent, and that we have increasingly convincing reasons to believe are fundamental. Pretending these don't exist is a classic way that we trick ourselves about the future.
Name one of these physical limits that pertains to the problem at hand.
Of course there are limits. That's not interesting. What would be interesting is a limit that imposes a course on our technological transformation. Lead ain't it.
Remember that political changes often don't do what the label says.
Something more concrete and non-code: Americans could start by redistributing some of the money belonging to people who earn 100K or more a year.
You made a more concrete proposal than many ever do - "100K or more". But you're still partly speaking in code.
Now, define "redistributing". Redistributing to who? To those making below 100K? Below 60K? Below 30K? And, how much is going to be lost in bureaucratic overhead? There's very little demand for taking money from those making 100K and using it to hire more bureaucrats making 150K.
Next, define "some". How much are you going to take from someone making 100K? 200K? 1 million? 10 million?
What are you going to do about those who make very little, but have large assets? Nothing, or something? And if something, then what is your definition of "large"?
Finally, what do you mean by "start"? How much further are you going to go?
But now I’m supposed to detail my armchair tax plan/redistribution plan when I started out being a thousand times more specific than you? Sure, seems fair. And then when I answer all of those inquisitive questions, then what? Maybe bring up how taxation is inherently violent? (Well, I have no idea what your politics are like since you are all about expressing them through “air quotes”).
But sure. More concretely I think that specifically SC software engineers who work for data harvesting companies should be taxed pretty heavily. I also think that anyone with an IQ over 115 should get mandatory, shall we say, night courses on socialist/government theory and praxis. And anyone with an IQ above 125 should have to submit their big brains to 100 hours/yearly government-mandated Extracurricular Activities so that those big brains can do something good (less time for SSC (old name) and HN). Like making better government IT infrastructure so that there is less need for bureaucratic overhead (some EU countries have much better government IT which helps to streamline all kinds of services aimed at citizens). Is that specific enough for you?
If you actually found my statement opaque, I shall try to me more clear. It's really easy for politicians to pass something, call it "fixing inequality", and completely ignore that it doesn't actually do anything to fix inequality. If you care about inequality, you don't want something labeled "fixing inequality"; you want something that actually does something about inequality.
For the rest of my point, see Paul Graham's essay Economic Inequality (http://paulgraham.com/ineq.html). He argues that attempting to fix inequality may reduce the creation of new, high-growth companies. That probably isn't the "fix" that we want - it will prevent the creation of a large number of new jobs, for one thing.
I'll ignore the personal attack parts of your second paragraph.
Your third paragraph is far enough out there for me to say that, if you're actually serious, I will oppose you as strenuously as I can.
The New Deal is also something that can happen when the capitalists would rather resolve the situation peacefully than to lose everything.
A New Deal won’t happen now because there aren’t enough actors who are forcing the hand of the capitalist class.
what do you mean that's not what you meant at all
(And I know that's what you're advocating from a different comment you just made about the New Deal.)
In a free market, the best allocators of resources are rewarded with more resources to continue allocating; the worse allocators are punished by losing their capacity to allocate. This is called capitalism.
Contrast that to a system where goverment eliminates inequality: Government allocates resources, meaning the worst people, people who are best at graft and pull, are rewarded. This is a disaster. We can already see this happening in the US. One egregious offender is the Dept. of Homeland Security which is siphoning off more and more national resources and growing like a cancer. The university system (which is in reality Federally managed) is an egregious offender. The medical system (which is Federally managed but run for profit through graft) is an egregious offender.
The latter system---the system of "government management," where the government doesn't let people receive unequal rewards for unequal success---is a path straight to the butcher's block.
My local DMV provides dramatically better customer service than most private companies I've interacted with lately. Government entities are also required to at least pretend to account for efficiency, whereas private companies have an unknown - but known to be massive - amount of waste, corruption, and outright fraud.
In any case, nobody is seriously advocating for a full socialist/government-planned economy. Looking at basic workers' rights and throwing a fit about OMG SOCIALISM is such a ludicrous level of libertarian delusion it borders on self-parody. In reality, it is very well known - by psychology, by statistics, and by empiricism - that societies that don't allow the most powerful to make unchecked decisions based on their current level of resources do better than those who do.
There are a few pretty obvious reasons why this is true. First, "currently having resources" is not a good indicator of skill in resource allocation. Second, there are problems of misaligned value functions - what is "efficient" for one actor may be extremely inefficient for society as a whole, requiring action by a government (or some equivalently collective entity) to properly account for externalities. Third, mismatched negotiating power (because employees must agree to some employment or else starve) mean that even those actually party to any given agreement might not be maximizing their own resource allocation by doing so. And fourth (not finally, but finally off the top of my head), there are problems of diversification in the face of uncertainty - resource-havers can take maximum-expected-value actions even when they have low probability of payoff (e.g., risky business ventures that will pay off 10x 20% of the time but go bankrupt the other 80% of the time), because they can afford to make those bets enough times to even out the variance; non-resource-havers must settle for lower-expected-value but lower-variance options, which limits their success even with perfectly skillful allocation.
You're also setting up a straw man with the comment about workers' rights. A call for the government to "fix inequality" with something like the New Deal is not a call for workers' rights. It's implicitly a call for the government to run much more of the economy than it already does. There is no other way to achieve the stated objective in the stated way.
Playing the old "fit about socialism" card is not impressive. I never used the word "socialism" because it's a slippery word that leads to low quality discussion. It's beside the point. Is every argument against government management magically defeated by the "OMG SOCIALISM" sarcasm that left wing people always trot out like this?
Also, probably needless to say, I disagree with your analysis.
edit: I will respond to the following:
> In reality, it is very well known - by psychology, by statistics, and by empiricism - that societies that don't allow the most powerful to make unchecked decisions based on their current level of resources do better than those who do.
That's simply not true that this is "very well known." And you are conflating political power (which is what we call "power") with economic power (which isn't what we normally call "power"). The power of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet is limited mostly to doing good or just losing their money. That has nothing to do with the power weilded by, say, the Dept. of Homeland Security, or the American medical insurance industry (which gets its power through regulatory graft backed by political power and ultimately force). Forceful power, i.e. "power," is just not comparable to the "power" one gets by voluntarily trading with others.
It's silly to say your non sequitur is "well known" by "psychology" or "statistics" (what do those have to do with it, anyway) or "empiricism." That's nothing like my saying that something is "well known" to history. 20th century history is straightforward and direct (and relevant) in a way that psychology and statistics are not. We have tried big government management many times and it always fails. Look at the many communist countries that actually stayed communist (i.e. China doesn't count, but it's a shit show anyway). Look at fascist-nationalist command economies like the Nazis and today's Russians. Those societies and economies evidently do not work. (I would add, look at the outcome of the New Deal, but that is more nuanced.) There is no way a psychology paper could have that kind of evidentiary power.
When you say it: just spitting facts, being no-nonsense.
When someone else uses the same device to say the opposite: vile sarcasm which is not on-point or even funny since it is obviously false (you hold the opposite opinion so of course it is: it is self-evident).
Using the "same device" would be saying, "I think the opposite is self-evident..." and then elaborating.
Sarcasm is when you repeat something without negating it, but indicating that you really think the opposite (negation). Saying “private sector management doesn’t work” and meaning it is not sarcasm.
"a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain"
I think the response I'm complaining about is satirical, so I think it matches sarcasm by this definition.
Anyway, even if hadn't been sarcasm, technically, it seems mocking and unkind. And it's not a big deal, but I think my response of "I don't appreciate that" was pretty tit for tat.
Where were you in 2008?
The government doesn't have a mechanism to self-regulate. Democracy was supposed to regulate the government, and probably can in small societies, or perhaps if formulated the correct way. American democracy definitely doesn't regulate government, and it doesn't self-regulate, so it's a system that's out of control.
You see the same mechanisms (plus others) in many societies in the 20th century. I don't see any evidence or reason to think the government can manage the economy. And a big part of the causal explanation is what I've stated above. Another is that the government isn't omniscient; it doesn't have enough information. Market solutions don't need to be omniscient and price serves to carry information.
As an aside, fun fact: Did you know that in the US, price controls are used by a government committee to set the price of the fundamental good, which is the US dollar? That does a lot to disrupt price as a signal of information. People think in the US we don't have government price fixing, and they are wrong. (I use the US as a pet example but I guess the above is basically true everywhere.)
China, on the other hand, as compared to the west, likes centrally planning things, but they can only lean on that opposing ideal so hard before they'd fail too, for reasons you have pointed out. Both approaches have yielded different mixes of central planning and bottom-up self-organization, and they're both necessarily mixes.
Hmm. Let's not forget that we have one planet, and if we fry it, there may be no ideas that can bring it back.
Do they have access to different reports that suggest global warming won't be as devastating as the scientific consensus broadly predicts? Is it nihilism/sociopathy, aka I'll be dead by the time it gets bad and I can't feel any sort of connection/care for my offspring, let alone my fellow humans? At the risk of memeing, is there a project to build Elysium going on that us plebs don't know about and that's what SpaceX/Blue Origin is all about? I just find it hard to square what the current message is wrt to global warming, a message that appears highly credible to my lay understanding, with the behaviour of the people who have the power to help nudge the direction our society is headed. Does anyone else get this, or have thoughts on it? I am genuinely asking here, because I can't resolve the contradiction and it weighs on me.
Large disruptions always create opportunities for a limited subset of people to do even better at the cost of everyone else doing much worse. The billionaire class is doing everything in their control to be in that elite subset, and so far they've been quite successful at that and there really isn't any reason in sight as to why their approach is going to fail any time soon.
Elysium is made out of people who live among us for as long as it is advantageous to them to do so, who can pay reputation consultants to keep the mobs with pitchforks away, who are pouring their money and influence into promoting a culture that makes everyone feel like the elite deserve their exalted positions and that if you don't feel that way, you're at risk of losing your chance of getting up there to be with them. And making us feel like that chance is real, it's just a breakout app away, and you'd better keep playing the game or you'll be driven into medical bankruptcy and your kids will get shot at school.
Scientists claim the earth is warming
News organisations gain more traction on fear-based claims regardless of motive
Politicians need to express their utmost urgency on whatever the above mentions
And yet there's no actual consensus on a realistic action plan. Like preventing a homocide before it happens. What point is there in preventing something that might not actually prevent anything but make it worse. To carry on like nothing's happening is the most rational choice. Like the food shortage that didn't happen.
Best to wait and see what crisis is most real and most urgent to prevent
But, even if we agree that we are nowhere near the carrying capacity of the earth, there must be some number which does exceed it. And so growth cannot continue forever. And in that time, what do we do? How do we back off growth without ruin? Why wait for that higher number? Why not learn how to back off growth earlier than the highest possible limit?
These are questions which I don't often see addressed when people discuss growth, stagnation, and the health of nations.
Because the assumption that we will grow our energy use indefinitely is flawed. Energy use has diminishing returns, eventually we'll run out of useful work we want to perform. At least in terms of material wealth and comfort.
There's probably also major opportunities for energy savings that extends this timeframe greatly. Incandescent -> LED lights have reduced energy consumption by a factor of 10. Technology improvements in just the last 5 years have halved the energy consumption of air conditioners.
Everyone understands? Why do you believe that? As far as I can tell, most people, especially economists, think it can.
If population continues to grow exponentially (it likely won't), I see no reason to think our energy use would not continue to grow exponentially.
Efficiency improvements are linear, not exponential. They cannot compensate for exponential growth in population.
Natural resources aren't limited to materials, natural processes also qualify. So it is also with fresh water... we won't "run out" of water, but we are exceeding the water-recycling capacities of the biosphere and thus this absolutely essential natural resource is becoming quite scarce in a lot of places. Theoretically you can replace it with artificial processes (desalination, treating contaminated water, etc) but to do that on a scale that can replace that natural water cycle is completely beyond our technology for now.
I would not describe relocating billions of people hundreds to thousands of miles north, often across country borders, as easy.
This article contains some stories of a few climate refugees of today:
This is utter nonsense. Progress never stalls (except if we happen to extinguish ourselves). It did not stall the last 10,000+ years despite very low population numbers except in the last 300 years. Of course, it might go a bit slower or faster depending on demographics.
But that is not important. We already have all the technology that could make a decent life possible for everyone on this planet. It's more a matter of applying what we already know. Of course, better technology might help with that -- as could a decrease in population. But if we do not get better in applying our knowledge for the benefit of all, we are doomed.
That said economic growth is not a bad thing everywhere.
Many parts of the world need economic growth (along with social development - democracy is what I recommend, but the Chinese have other ideas, still social development)
The technologies used will be better than in the past, and there needs to be a target, a place where the growth slows to a stop (looking at you Manhattan) and lives are enriched in other ways than increasing consumption.
But many many places absolutely require economic growth. Just not most of us!
> In fact, the greatest threat to long-term economic growth might be the slowdown in population growth. Without more brains to push technology forward, progress might stall.
It should be noted that the vast majority of human brains do not today get the opportunity to work with ideas or push technology forward. Many people don’t even get enough to eat or drink.
We have a loooong way to go on the basics of organizing human society before we need to worry about the intellectual constraint of total population size.
The fraction of humanity in poverty has dropped as our population has grown — because those larger, more capable nations have more means to feed themselves and greater wealth to care for the poor.
A stall in population growth or a population decline runs a serious risk that our standards of living regress and those conditions worsen.
We need to maintain our growth to impact the issues you care about:
More people -> More wealth -> Less hunger
Most devs don't live in poverty, but most devs also aren't doing innovative work. They spend their limited intellectual stamina trying to make the boss richer, not modeling out a cancer detection algorithm.
There are still so many low hanging fruit that even simple technology can improve
To name a different example, management has absolutely exploded. It's arguable whether this explosion has freed up brains more, or instead sucked up brain power. Meanwhile, most management jobs do pay well, to the point it's hard to consider a manager living in poverty. Personally, I believe we could easily slash management in half, permanently destroying those jobs and the accompanied bureaucracy to free up the brains, but that would result in those individuals having to compete for different jobs, maybe even less desirable jobs which put them back into poverty.
Regardless, the point is poverty and freeing up brains for innovation aren't necessarily correlated or even causal. They can even be negatively correlated. Solving poverty isn't the only requirement to free up brains, if that is a societal goal. That's all.
99% of the actual, serious, important problems right now are really really simple and have really dumb simple solutions. Not always the exactly optimal solution but there's one there that will do 90% of what anyone cares about, which we can do right now, but haven't yet.
I think it's great that devs have a choice. They can work at a company and have a relatively steady paycheck with benefits or they can make more and go off on their own and assume more risk.
For example. The speed of light. How much brain power do you need to surpass that speed? Many limits are actual limits and if you think anything can be achieved just by surpassing it with technology, then I think you're not looking at the problem realistically.
If you look at the amount of progress for the last 3 decades we are literally in the same place. Still driving cars and riding trains. The only area with massive progress is IT, but every other technology (including IT itself) looks like it's hitting some sort of hump in the curve. This is despite the increasing normalization of IQ scores across the world. On average, A person with 100 IQ today would have a higher IQ then the past.
Something like fusion which is the biggest technology changer I see on the horizon still requires targeted a huge amount of government effort and resources to achieve. Such ventures are less likely to arrive purely out of the commercial sphere.
The secret to America's success has always been immigration, whether by violent colonialism, accepting of refugees from persecution or war, or inviting talented people to become citizens.
Actually, no. Every few decades, American has mostly shut-down immigration for a few decades. The last opening was in 1965.
And immigration is a good way to help keep the population of developed countries growing. There really isn’t any reason why we can’t tap into the incredible human resources available in the world if we try.
1. “People in developed nations don’t breed due to stress, but meh we can just replace them” is a monstrous way to think.
2. You can’t import people as replacements above a certain rate, because it’s the culture of the developed nation which causes the success — and without maintaining that culture, the benefits cease.
Can you explain what you specifically mean by culture if it differs from an alignment of personal with social priorities?
2. This has been a popular theory among the far-right and white nationalists lately. But I’d be interested to see any evidence that immigration has a negative effect on society, because it sounds fundamentally racist and wrong to me.
How do you know it doesn't have a lot to do with having two oceans to protect it, and bunch of things that happened 400 years ago to federalize it and create what amounts to a massive economic union?
How do you know it isn't one of those things where a little bit of growth magnifies over time if not disrupted by war, just as what makes SF special is that a little bit of growth started there, and the concentration of intellectual and financial capital attracted more intellectual and financial capital?
Both of those explanations have nothing to do with a hand-wavey claim of "the culture."
And what do you mean that immigration is "a monstrous suggestion?" It sounds an awful lot like you're equating high rates of immigration with genocide. What on Earth is "monstrous" about immigrants? And why is that monstrous, but gentrification of SF by techies not monstrous?
Really, this comes across as generic nativism.
I do think discouraging thinking of humans as resources is a good thing, even if this has the potential side-effect of making things more difficult for immigrants.
I agree with that. There's a famous rant by a Canadian comic/media personality where he quotes a government slogan "People are our most precious resource" and points out that Canada's approach to "resources" is to clearcut timber and strip-mine minerals.
But we're talking about having enough population to maintain an economy of ideas. If we're talking about "There aren't enough people willing to work as flesh-robots in Amazon's warehouses, or if there are, they refuse to work in those conditions so we need desperate replacements from other countries" there's a whole different conversation to have, and it isn't really about declining populations, it's about things like living wages, labour standards, unionization, and recognition that the end-game is not competing with immigrants, it's competing with automation.
Companies have actively been trying to make intellectual and/or creative work streamlined so they can reduce risk factors and swap out the old cog for the new one. They benefit from the increased competition so long as we don't unite against the status quo, which is also why automation is a potential disaster if we don't rethink our ways.
This is not to fight against skilled immigrants making an effort to keep things at peace while carving out their place, no. But we've seen this scenario unfold a few times now with different things, and it turns out companies tend to be the main benefactors at the cost of everyone else already in the market, and quite a few people entering the market. That cost should be transferred to the richest people, not to the working class with less and less breathing room to spare. Both have to be tackled at the same time.
Considering Canada's history with Uranium mining I'm surprised that they didn't bring that into the fold as well - it's a delicate subject since a large amount of the costs of unsafe Uranium mining were born out by indigenous peoples, but for how few actual mines there were a lot of people have died from health complications.
An idea which was not present in the comment originally replied to, but OK.
But yeah, I get your point. The fact that we still rely on sweatshop imports proves there's something wrong with our society.
Human brains and social structures were never meant to operate at the scale of city civilizations. We were never meant to be more than 1000 monkey living in the same social unit. 10000 is already pushing it hard. By the time we reached 50000 or 100000 in a single social unit, we were already lost. I can't emphasize enough how much evil in recorded human history was due to us applying puny human social structures and concepts to social units several hundreds of times larger than they evolved to handle. What we're doing is fundamentally ugly, and clueless. I hate what we term "Civilization", I hate how we came to live in amorphous masses of millions, how we go to war in millions, how we do everything in millions.
We reinvented ants and bees, with vastly worse algorithms and data structures.
Instead of asking oneself "Can growth continue?", one must ask oneself, for fucking once, "SHOULD growth continue?". Should you add that one last nameless billion of souls to the log? Should you stretch the already meaningless primate social protocols beyond meaninglessness yet again by running it against larger and larger input? Should you keep putting more and more monkeys in the ever more claustrophobic jungle, seeing just how much more they can keep getting more irrelevant and expendable?
Before asking if you can, ask if you should.
Shortages cause price increases. Price increases make it more economical to pay up-front costs to develop technology whose per-unit costs permit extracting a profit compared to competitors who are not as technologically advanced, who die out and are replaced by new competitors who buy the technology off-the-shelf and reduce the price further in second-mover advantage, back down to the now-lower per-unit cost. Eventually demand develops to the point where there is a persistent shortage again and the cycle repeats.
The question is, what are the theoretical limits?
Will we run out of oxygen? Unlikely, the CO2 we breathe out can be recycled back into oxygen. Water? Also unlikely, for similar reasons. Food? With hydroponics, we're no longer limited by the amount of land we have, and it's renewable. Energy? The Sahara is a vast, untapped source of solar electricity which we haven't tapped because a) transmission lines are too expensive and b) security is too expensive. When energy costs rise enough to make those costs economical, the free market will get the underlying infrastructure built, and then we're good to go.
So yeah, growth will continue.
Innovation can eventually be produced, but it's an accidental sub-product. Innovation it's not the metric that markets are optimizing.
Sure, markets pick up innovations when they are profitable. But not otherwise, and I'm doubtful if the market economy is actually a net positive for innovation. What is innovation if it means finding another way to sell you stuff you don't need anyway.
If you want to pick a civilization whose gifts weren't subsumed into a larger, still growing civilization, you'd have to pick, what, Atlantis? A myth? OK then.
The idea that "ideas" can make up for a lack of resources is an old one. It holds for a while, if we ignore the overflowing sinks.
The economy is a physical system where resources flow from low to high entropic states. What we do with that flow is a useful application of technology in a long term view. Simply increasing those flows (moving from biomass -> coal -> oil -> nuclear) is not useful in the log term. In the short term economic growth is the result. In the medium term (as many societies have discovered) it leads to collapse.
As the "sinks" (where the high entropic waste ends up) over flow society gets less and less tenable. Then it collapses.
The pattern has repeated many times.
But: This time is different.
I think this bears repeating. It is counterintuitive and maybe even repulsive to some people.
If we play the next millennium right, everything about the humans of today can seem tiny by scale.
It takes 30 days to occupy half the pond.
How much time is left until the pond is full?
In other words: when we'll reach the limits, we won't have a lot of time to react.
Your analogy is off by several orders of magnitude, which leads to qualitative differences.
The trouble with humans is, because of ready access to fossil fuels and non-renewable energy, we have been able to artificially (or maybe more accurately phrased "unsustainably") extend beyond the carrying capacity of our ecosystem.
Indigenous populations of the Americas had populations in the millions but never risked, at least in North America, systemic collapse because they largely lived sustainably.
Ironically it's precisely because Malthus was proven wrong that we are in trouble. We have way, way higher energy demands than can be reasonably sustained without relying on a non-renewable source of energy. This completely disregards the additional problem of climate change. This sets us up for a type of collapse that is not usually a problem for most species, such as your lily pads.
In our modern world you'd like to think that as rational beings we'd be conserving these unsustainable resources to fund "important" things - but no, we usually just release strategic oil reserves to try and game our political system... and we decrease the resource intake to reap short term gains.
This message brought to you by individuals who have a vested interest in seeing growth continue.
Longevity would help but will also ossify the institutions. There is a reason why the mindshare in the corridors of power view the world as if it is 1991, they are too damn old and do not acknowledge the new realities.
It seems like we'd be better off if we could evolve out of the need for growth, or at least the sort of growth that depends on limited external resources. That's tough to do because the most ravenous consumers tend to win out and be selected for, so even if you have a movement of people who are more efficient with resources (resources per unit of well-being), they'll tend to be shunted aside by the greediest segment of the population. More efficient bacteria can win out, but only if the inefficient greedy subset is made to be affected by the resource constraints.
To address that, I'll make a modest proposal: find a valley somewhere and get all of the people most driven by external accumulation to move there. Make them compete with each other, creating ever more ostentatious and expensive ways for them to demonstrate their superiority. Create cultural barriers to moving anywhere else, except for people who are willing to let go of the rat race. Let nature run its course. Speed it up by seeding the population with a gender imbalance and cultural pressures to maintain or magnify that imbalance, so that breeding opportunities are limited. This will produce a lot of churn and waste in the process, so make sure there's a sandy substrate to allow for good drainage. That last part got a bit metaphorical, and would be even more so if I referred to this valley's sand by one of its principal components: silicon.
Back in the trenches, I'm thinking that people making "have a baby, or not?" decisions will not find "But you could have a SuperBaby!" to be a persuasive argument. Without plot armor, who's magically making sure that SuperBaby doesn't have some grim bugs, which might take a while to manifest? Any good reason to think that SuperBaby will need fewer diaper changes and less parental resources long-term? Will want to look after his or her non-Super "parents" in their old age? Or that the currently available version of SuperBaby won't be obsoleted by v2.0 in a year or two - with upgrades to v2.0 being "less than practical and satisfactory"? Really, it'd be smarter to wait until v2.0 comes out...wait until v2.4 comes out...until 3.0...wait...still waiting...still waiting...
Surely change is hard, inevitably have issues during the change, but change can bring richness without growth, they are conceptually distinct things, merged into one by the actual model, not by nature.
Long(er) answer is that the pace of growth experiences periods of acceleration/slowdown. On the grand scheme of things, we're still carried by the momentum of the Enlightenment. Postmodernism, socialism, and a lack of conviction from the enlightened few are the main headwinds at the moment. The cosmos is practically limitless in terms of energy and resources. But we won't be able to transform those into useful work within the current societal and political frameworks. Too many idiots with voting rights and too few smart folks in decision-making roles.
The principles of Western capitalism that drove growth for centuries are less and less reliable, so we need to adapt our principles.
All consumption comes from some combination of raw resources and the addition of technological input. In real prices, as the cost of raw resources increases over time, this means that technological innovation is not making up for how much of those resources are being consumed as compared to the population as a whole.
At it's most basic we can calculate the rate of change as the amount of time it takes the average worker to buy a gallon of water or food and shelter for a single person. These are resources that aren't substitute-able, and are required for life. Other costs are rather nebulous (how much does a college education cost and what does this say about society now versus how much technological innovation is necessary for the continuation of the species)?
So then the question then becomes, does the real rate of return for any particular company or the stock market as a whole assume that a potential future exists in which that real rate of return is actually possible to exist?
Let's assume, in a model as simplistic as possible, that there is one stock (or market) that represents all of the world's companies that has a real rate of return of 2.5 percent per annum that is compounded once per year. As a sum total of world wide growth this would seem rather modest. The worldwide initial capital we'll assume is $100.
So the growth rate is given by A = P(100 + r/n)^(nt) which would be in our case
(for an investment of 100 dollars) -
100x(1.025^10) = $128.
So for the real capital stock of $100 to increase to a real capital stock of $128 some combination of things must happen - the amount of capital stock in terms of raw resources must increase in real terms and the amount of technology must increase in order to make the use of these inputs more efficiently.
If technology remains constant then there must be an increase of 28% over ten years of capital. If capital remains constant then technology must make the current use of capital 28% more efficient.
Compound return over time is concerning in the long run, and hand waving it away is either ignorant at best or disingenuous at worst.
And capitalism is still the best distribution system we have come up with. Most of the world is working with a single overall social model, because it has been so successful, and we don't have a backup that's been shown to work in practice. My concern isn't in favor of Das Kapital or Marxism - who owns the product of labor and historicism over labor rights isn't as concerning as compound interest over all.
Most economists I've worked with don't seem to think that this is a problem or that technology will magically free market a utopian future of plenty for all. This is an article of faith.
Same is true for our glorious, of course unavoidable, an extremely resilient and fair economic system.
There is only black and white, zero and one, locusts capitalism and stalinistic communism...
What is, oil, anyways?
In essence, it is solar energy generated (via plant life) over millions and millions of years. Of course cashing in on that stored energy can cause massive "economic output." It's not just human "ingenuity," though. It really is the incredible amount of sunlight converted, over mind-boggling numbers of years, that made it possible. And we're burning right through it, consequences be damned. We'll figure it out, right, because we figured out how to burn oil! Right!? #@$#@$)(
Humans burn through petroleum at 5 million times the rate at which it accumulated.
The current children that replace them will be much more educated due to free information.
I don't see how this doesn't create a huge jump in productivity in the developing world (~50% of the population).
Misinformation is mostly affecting a relatively small portion (~10%) of the population that is predisposed to believe conspiracy.
It's not like your BiL who thinks Lizard People are running the world would've won the Nobel prize in Physics if it weren't for that Facebook post by your aunt that rotted his brain.
Information as a whole is good (so far).
The anti-vaxxer case is quite illuminating actually because anti-vax sentiment has seemingly only increased as the internet has become more popular. Good information does not win out in all cases.
Why? The vaccine isn't very effective in preventing transmission of Omicron (only ~40%).
Anti-vaxxers are not the thing preventing Covid from ending at this point.
I mean - sure, with a different virus where the vaccine is close to 100% effective at preventing transmission or the R0 is not much higher than 1.
But not with this virus.
Why are anti-vaxxers getting elected to congress any worse than people who believe in Lizard People getting elected to congress?
Ten years ago there was a lot of optimism that moocs we're going to bring education to the masses, make $40k/year tuition entirely obsolete, but that seems to basically have entirely failed.
It's amazing living with what seems like all human knowledge on tap. We haven't quite reached the point where you can call out "Tank, I need a pilot program for a B-212 helicopter" but damn it sure gets closer every year.
It's still great that useful content is there for those who want it, and arguably good that it is subsidized by the junk, but it's not like "useful content" is keeping the lights on for YouTube.
I still feel like you're being overly critical. There's a huge variety of content out there that appeals to a broad array of folks. "Useful" is highly subjective.
I pay for Youtube premium. My qanon-espousing mother (sigh) won't even log in to youtube. I couldn't even begin to speculate which content generates the most revenue - do you have any statistics?
That said, I'm not sure it's a guarantee that kids will be more educated and productive. I spent quite a bit of time in Africa (Kenya and Cameroon for projects, Uganda for holiday) last year and many people are relatively highly educated (e.g. local university degree) but still cannot get work, access to finance to start their own biz and be productive, or as soon as they make some money their business will get taxed (legally or illegally) to death. So other factors beyond education holding folks back, and even if it was just enabled from online learning, I think we'd see much more takeup of MOOCs and the like.
What happens, as the article indeed points out, is that many things keep breaking, and we keep fixing and repairing and improving and more things fail and stop working and then again we fix and replace them. And so on and so on. The main problem is that people suffers in that process. The system self-regulates, sure. Nature self-regulates all the time through natural selection, evolutionary pressure and competition. That doesn't make it right. We develop medicine because being human is the opposite of accepting the randomness, competition and cruelty of nature. We want to have control, we want people to be happy, we don't want to be exposed to arbitrary tragedy, unfairness, pain.
As I always say, don't confuse the comfort of your boat with the state of the sea. That you are comfortable riding the current wave of pressure doesn't mean no one is suffering. This doesn't mean we should never grow, but it means we should do it responsibly. Saying growth is already responsible because the world keeps self-regulating is just being blind to many of the dynamics of the system.
And ok, one may argue that finding an equilibrium is impossible. That when there are resources available, we will always start taking more and more, growing above our possibilities, taking water until we hit the bottom, dumping shit until it spills. Then pressure and competition kicks in, people fall, people suffer, self-regulation is the way and all is good again. I don't understand.
(sorry for the rant, I understand you may also have concerns about the rate of growth and welfare of people in the process, but I wanted to share this take anyway)