Monday, November 17, 2008

The Green Revolution Is A Class Struggle

The idea for this post came to me as I was reading Tom Friedman's important new book Hot, Flat and Crowded in which he advocates a green economy as a way out of the current financial, environmental and geopolitical crisis. He envisions a wholesale transformation of the current Dirty Fuels System into a new Green socio-economic paradigm. Let's call this The Green Revolution - a rapid and radical process of change towards an alternative system. So far, so good and I strongly agree with him.

However, he believes that technology - as yet unspecified and undiscovered - will be the sole key in accomplishing this shift by providing cheap, clean and plentiful electrical energy to sustain our current growth model. In other words, technology will find a solution so that we can keep Permagrowing. Like every other economic analyst lacking a solid grounding in science and engineering, he confuses the massive application of cheap (fossil) energy in the last century with fundamental scientific advancement. He is blindsided in believing that what we did with cars and computers we can do with energy. Sadly, he is completely wrong.

I won't go into a great explanation of why, because this blog is geared towards those with a solid understanding of the physical world. Suffice it to say that Permagrowth requires huge amounts of concentrated energy sources to produce useful work (it is work that matters, not energy) and that diffuse solar, wind and geothermal simply cannot substitute for oil, gas and coal. Please look up the Second Law of Thermodynamics if you need more background. In the words of Sir Arthur S. Eddington : " .. if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation." Technology can't "save us" because science itself simply can't (technology being the application of science).

So, I am afraid that Mr. Friedman, though well intentioned, is making a parallel mistake to Mr. Greenspan's who, having witnessed what the computer revolution did for information systems, believed that financial engineering could similarly revolutionize finance (e.g. CDS). An extremely costly mistake, to say the least.

In plain words, Green Permagrowth is simply not possible. Instead, we should aim for and work towards Green Sustainability.

OK, let's move to the more contentious "class struggle" part of the title, one that I am sure instantly evokes anti-Marxist howls of protest. After all, the term was essentially monopolized by erstwhile communists. (There are a few readers who even call me a commie. Ha! I am about as bolshie as Warren Buffett is poor). Instead, I use the term "class struggle" in the spirit of the American and French revolutions, the Civil War , or the racial and feminist movements . All were based on class struggles revolving around the evolution of a "middle" class.

Which brings me to this point: the current Sudden Debt/Permagrowth/Dirty Fuel System produces an unprecedented concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of society. In the US, a miniscule one percent of the population now owns 40% of ALL wealth, including bank deposits. The so-called "middle class" has been eviscerated, indebted and increasingly stuck in a low-pay job environment. In effect, there is no middle class: there is a 5% sliver composed of the ultra, super and comfortably rich and then there is everyone else.

So, how are we to embark on a Green Revolution, which will by necessity require the creation of a more evenly distributed energy system (remember the Second Law), if society is not similarly and more equably composed? Will the rich elite, created and concentrated by the outgoing Permagrowth system voluntarily promote this necessary transformation, or will it do so only after a "class struggle"? I don't really know, but I must observe that history points us to the latter conclusion. After all, the Industrial Revolution followed the French/American Revolutions...

To close on a musical note: from Handel's opera Rinaldo the incredibly beautiful aria Lascia ch'io pianga, performed by Sarah Brightman. The lyrics are quite apropos...

Let me weep
over my cruel fate
and sigh for freedom.

May my grief
mercifully break
those chains of anguish.

Sarah Brightman sings Lascia ch'io pianga
The Internationale it is most definitely NOT, signore Greenie! ;)


  1. Dear Hell,

    Let this be clear that I wholeheartedly agree with the visions that you present, but not in the means to reach there.

    In my book, a commie=someone who promotes centralization of power, non-commie is someone who promotes small government and decentralization of power. So, believe it or not, George Bush is as much a commie (or more) as our newly elected Prez. Although the idiot prince talked about 'free economy' and so on, everything he did so far was exactly the opposite of what he said.

    You are right that perma-growth model is not sustainable. Is a centralized government the best group of people to get us to the alternate path? I do not think so. Perma-growth, debt-financed society, perennial current account deficit, etc. are all outcomes of large centralized government who get huge amount of tax money too easily, as well as are allowed to inflate the global reserve currency. Decentralize the government to state and local levels and give minimal power to the ones farthest away from the people. Everything you complain for will be naturally solved by the people.

    It is not that people in this country do not recognize their problems. It is that after paying 30 percent of income as Federal taxes to be wasted on military, insolvent banks and treasury interests, they have too little left to improve their own small worlds.

  2. Dear greenie,

    We agree then. I am all for effective decentralization, too, as you can easily surmise from this post.


  3. The middle class will continue winding the handle of the vice it has around it’s head. Eventually the pressure and the pain will become too much, and they’ll come looking for a scapegoat. Doesn’t matter if the pain was 50% their doing, they’re gonna blame the 5% sliver! It’ll be “torches and pitchforks” vs the horsedrawn Hummer cavalry!

    We could, if we wanted to, “vote” to keep the worst of it from happening, because every lifestyle change one of us makes towards sustainability (and decentralization) today, is a pledge towards non-violence in the future. Honestly, why would anyone pick up a weapon and fight in this revolution IF they’ve got a sustainable and productive rooftop garden, a handful of solar panels and an electricity producing windmill?

    So Hell, you’re looking for a way to stem the tide of revolution? Go to Cuba and do a little research. Our trade embargoes have given us
    a rich and valuable resource. With nothing coming in, Cubans were forced to make do with what they had. Turns out, Havana is now the most sophisticated system of urban sustainability (and decentralization) on the planet. Most of the food they consume is grown IN the city in small community gardens. All you have to do is take away the oppressive government. Invest in small scale sustainable energy production, add the internet and... Voila!

    It’s not an IDEAL system... it’s a WORKABLE system which can be amended to over time. One that requires sacrifice though.

    But there’s also a HUGE generational issue here. You boomers out there are the ones addicted to centralization. Me and mine have already made the transition. We won't be sacrificing anywhere near as much!

  4. Communism is the centralization of production = Wall Street plus the Feb.

    Capitalism = Freedom to trade, freedom from excessive taxation (Fed printing money), ...

    You have been dupped into thinking that you have been a capitalist for the last 20 years.

  5. History is not on our side since the middle class has been decimated by there own self interest's. This is a implosion
    of a civilization to avarice and the road's to serfdom as warned given mixed market incompotence.
    Take the time to reread Rerum Novarum. When human nature forgets it declines. I have watches Corporates degrade to the point that the common good is less taxes and the socialization of Union's has debased there reason also. You cannot save society when it does not understand value. I have worked Union all my working life and who is by virtue right with reason.

  6. Watt's first engines were installed and working in commercial enterprises by 1776: so much for the French Revolution (and the American "Revolution") having much to do with the Industrial Revolution.

  7. James Watt, Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, was born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, Scotland. He worked as a mathematical-instrument maker from the age of 19 and soon became interested in improving the steam engines, invented by the English engineers Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen, which were used at the time to pump water from mines. I am a Power engineer by trade. I work in the global chemical supply chain. We only utilize maxwell theory. We are global and America is screwed since you cannot save selfish people from themselves.
    We only know what is shared by others.

  8. Market Development at Oerlikon explains, “We see a clear path to improve the performance of this technology to deliver the capability to produce PV modules at significantly under $1.00/W within the next two years.”

    The new process, called Amorph High Performance, optimises the use of Zinc Oxide (ZnO) material, which has superior light-trapping properties. The technique means that amorphous silicon can be deposited over a much larger area than is possible when crystalline silicon is sliced to form ‘wafers.’

    The breakthrough marks an important step in the race towards the mass adoption of solar technology, and is likely to be closely watched by competitors such as NanoSolar, First Solar and Miasole.

  9. Hellasious:

    This is an excerpt, I think I referred to this on this site before.

    Louis-Gilles Francoeur | The Rich Stand Accused
    The Rich Stand Accused
    By Louis-Gilles Francoeur
    Le Devoir

    Saturday 06 January and Sunday 07 January 2007

    "...A journalist who specializes in the environment for Le Monde, Herv Kempf has taken his work to the four corners of the planet and frequented - as is the privilege of an environmental chronicler - the cream of the scientific community, "people who tend to be rather calm and steady." Yet, from these contacts and the issues patiently compiled for the newspaper where he works, he retains two observations, he writes at the outset of Comment les riches d truisent la plan te [How the Rich Destroy the Planet], which will be available in Qu bec February 6th.

    First, he explained in a telephone interview yesterday, the planet's ecological situation is worsening at a rate that neutralizes all the efforts of millions of citizens and ecological militants, to the point that the planet is in danger of crossing a threshold of irreversibility "within the next 10 years," he believes, on the basis of the speed at which negative outcomes are piling up.

    The second observation of this attempt to provide a veritably comprehensive explanation of the environmental crisis is that "the social system that presently governs human society - capitalism - blindly, doggedly rejects the changes necessary if we want to preserve the dignity and promise of human existence."....."

    Best regards,


  10. Hell, if you want to go down this route then I suggest you add a moderator for topics such as genetics, culture, fertility, mortality, etc... as it is absurd to not acknowledge that all these issues are just as intimately related to your suggestions as finance and energy.

    I might suggest the following book before you get too wedded to the notion that a world without permagrowth will be any prettier than the one we live in. It might fool the few who don't think much about these things, I am fairly certain that you and many of the readers of this blog are not amongst them.

  11. Hell, please don't listen to Thai

    True knowledge comes from understanding relationships between various groups of knowledge, so as soon as you start compartmentalizing it and giving it lables you compromise the brains ability to make those connections.

    Besides, I listened to Thai once... and rapidly found myself on a 2 month long binge of chaos theory, mandelbrot and fractals. Now "stochastically self similar" is a regular part of my vocabulary, and it never fails to elucidate groans from my friends after the first few syllables!

    Thanks a lot!!!

  12. 1st step in the revolution: The middle classes withhold all payment of debt.

  13. Agree about Friedman, enough said.
    The current financial meltdown impacting, preferred shares, RE, Hedge funds and other pipes within the finacial sector impacts the wealthy more then any other class. Not saying they are headed to the bread lines but while society in general will or is experiencing a lower standard of living the very wealthy will also get a haircut. Just saying.
    A little note this morning about the economy as Citi Bank lays off another 50K employee's as it moves towards BK scares the hell out of the society. CNN is reporting that the Treasury Sec is the most important position in the new adminstration, says volume about what is and is not import to the consumer driven economy.

    "According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, 41% of Americans believe the Secretary of the Treasury will be the Obama administration member who will matter most to the country's future. That compares to 25% who said the Secretary of State will be most important and 24% who said the Secretary of Defense will be the next president's most important cabinet decision."

  14. Agree with your vision but the reality is probably closer to a Palin McCain future. Palin acted as if all we had to do was drill more wells and McCain mocked Obama for his aversion to coal.

    Coal, that's the future of this economy. What's a little damage to the lungs or the polar bears when we have hundreds of years of coal power. Not quite as concentrated as oil but real cheap and abundant.

    Given the choice--higher taxes for renewable sources of energy or coal technology for a hundred more years of happy motoring--which do you think the Rush Limbaugh public will choose?

  15. Dear Hell,

    I'd really like to grasp your point about Hot, Flat and Crowded defying the second law of thermodynamics. I'm not an engineer and I always thought that that law was just about energy spreding out -- entropy or something like it.

    Please explain why renewable resources can't efficiently be channeled into useful work. Aren't we talking about using using renewable sources like wind to power batteries and other concentrated "things".

  16. Hellasious,

    I want to compliment you on (and you thank you for) your all of you very well thought-out blog entries and analysis. You are a genuine critical thinker, and a voice like yours is essential for real debate and progress.

    I have been a long-time reader of your blog and am very glad to see you have maintained it.

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work.


  17. Anonymous@1:17pm Aren't we talking about using using renewable sources like wind to power batteries and other concentrated "things".

    To give some idea of the energy in gas, compared with sunlight: Think of a gallon can of gas (or milk). If I've converted from litres correctly, a gallon of gas represents about 36kWh of energy.

    Now think of a car battery: last time I had a car it had a 120Ah battery. 120Ah at 12V (Volts x Amps = Watts) is 1440Wh -- 1.44kWh so you'd need 25 normal car batteries to replace 1 gallon of gasoline.

    Compare the size and weight of 1 gallon of gas and 25 batteries.

    To charge those 25 batteries you'd need a load of PV panels or a windmill. The size of these will depend on your location. But on my old, European (i.e. small) house I have 30m^2/35.8sq.yd of south facing roof. Due to shading only 1/3 is suitable for PV, so I could fit about 2kW(possible) of panels. At 55N I can expect those 2kWp of panels to collect between 7kWh/day (in the summer) and 1.2kWh/day (in winter). So to charge those 25 cells I'd need 7 roofs in the summer and 30 in the winter.

    But I'd want to have a spare set charged up for cloudy days -- 14 or 60 roofs of PV panels for 1 US gallon of gas.

    So it can be done, but sunlight and wind just aren't concentrated enough to make things easy or to keep the world motoring.

  18. there is nothing in the second law of thermodynamics which precludes a level of green energy consumption in the future higher than the level of fossil energy consumption in the present. the sun is part of our system and it provides enough megawattage to power the earth. the limiting factor is the vast, unallocated terrestrial surface area which could be dedicated to solar energy capture. energy from diffuse sources can be concentrated at local points as needed without violating the second law.

  19. Beautiful mail.

    Yet the whole "American dream" that has been so effectively sold to the masses teaches that anyone can become a billionaire in America. Actually it is almost a civic duty to aim to be one. Or in any case gather as much as you possibly can.

    And sadly that does not spell like sustainability, but rather more of this same old...

    And yes, Cottonblogging, Cuba may have gone long way on that road, but to suggest that Americans would learn anything from them... It makes me laugh to think about the first politician to propose such and the response he will get...

    I am sure that the great American marketing machine will teach the Cubans the all about the joys of spending and consuming the very moment the borders open up.

    Of course, there are already some people who take the sustainability seriously, an excellent article:

  20. This is wkwillis posting, livejournal does not work for my laptop on this site.
    I hate to agree with Tom Friedman, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
    Most solar and wind energy is used from and for diffuse sources and applications, like farming, forestry, home heating and cooling, clothes drying (especially in third world countries that don't have dryers), etc., but the remainder is used to generate electricity, the third most concentrated form of industrial energy after nuclear particles and laser photons.

  21. H,

    Good blog - get people thinking horizontally rather than vertically!

    Think, (I mentioned this before), food, freshwater and shelter. Now overlay the number of persons on the planet, and where they are located. Big, big problem!!!

    Cuba. Your an island, with a good growing climate, and a relatively stable population. Lucky you.

    In promoting 'alt' energy sources you must discount out the 'energy cost' of trapping, converting, transmission and losses. Mounts up pretty fast. You may not have sufficient nett available for useful work absent a significant reduction in end users.

    High technology systems require lots of high quality personnel to keep system functioning and updated. So how will the farms be worked? The water be cleaned and transported? The shelters be built. Oh I forgot: we are all going to be living beneath the ground. Right?

    Any bets on a reverse of 'The Grapes of Wrath'. The Slickers migrating back to the prairies.

    Brian P

  22. Eventually the pressure and the pain will become too much, and they’ll come looking for a scapegoat. Doesn’t matter if the pain was 50% their doing, they’re gonna blame the 5% sliver!

    No, they'll blame the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America.

  23. There's nothing quite like hearing dyed in the wool capitalists, even ones who are attempting to modify their conception of capitalism, expounding on what is and isn't Communist and/or Marxist.

    Poor Marx, he had so much to say that was worthwhile, but between Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, and myopic western ideologues, the worthy parts of the Master's discourse tend to be lost if not wholly denied. Lest you think I'm a Communist, I'm not. But then neither am I a Capitalist. Having said that, some of you folks might want to brush up on your Marx.

    I strongly suggest not starting with The Communist Manifesto.

    Now on to other matters. Profound decentralization is a certainty. I think the reason why ought to be coming clearer daily as the U.S. government spectacularly fails in its mission to preserve a whole host of key institutions. Keeping themselves intact will be government's next major endeavor, and I predict failure there as well.

    Total system failure is like that, and since that, in my view, is what we are experiencing, every area of life (as we know it) is set to fail. Things are going to be chaotic going forward. Order will not be the order of the day for quite some time though there will be herculean efforts to maintain "order." Think of how chaotic things were when the Soviet Union collapsed and now imagine an order of magnitude greater than that because this is a global phenomenon.

    Here is but one example of what to expect going forward.

    Today it was reported that the largest oil tanker to date was hijacked off the coast of Kenya. The hijackers who customarily work off the coast of Somalia appear to be expanding their area of activity. Notice a key sentence in the report:

    "The seizure points to the inability of a multi-national naval task force sent to the region earlier this year to stop Somali piracy."

    The demise of the dollar regime, which despite the
    recent impressive short covering rally, is still absolutely on course, in conjunction with the inevitable retrenchment of the U.S. military will create a vacuum such that events like the aforesaid hijacking will become the norm all over the globe. It won't just be Somali pirates creating mayhem going forward The world is fast turning feudal. Witness what is happening in old Mexico with drug cartels and the government in ever escalating bloody territorial conflict.

    Globalization was the epic success that preceded what now ought to be viewed as epochal failure. Decentralization? In the argot of the ghastly Sarah Palin, "You betcha."

    You make an excellent point Hell about the utter futility of attempting to defy the Second law of Thermodynamics, but I think your idea that the fossil fuel matrix can not be replaced is overstated. It can be done, though the replacement of oil for use as fertilizer and plastics is a particularly tall order. Otherwise, for purposes of providing abundant, clean, and fungible energy, the sun and wind and ocean tides will work very well, BUT

    we have greatly reduced our chances of making the transition in anything but a very labored and painful fashion, because we did not heed the call to commit to the necessary and inevitable transformation decades ago. They say timing is everything, and boy have we &*!!ed that up.

  24. Hi,

    Please can you get in touch, I have a question about your site.



  25. So Edwardo, I am sensing you don't see us all coming together to solve our national 3-dimensional tragedy of the commons? What are the biggest roadblocks for the major playersin your view?

    Hell- I just came across another glimpse of 'nothing new under the sun'- seems fractals apply even to humor. Since you seem a lover of things Greek, I thought you might enjoy the link.


  26. Thanks to the two posters who answered my question about the second law of thermodynamics.

    I think I get this now. Energy from renewable sources is already "spread" so it would be difficult and costly to get it back in the tube.

    Got it.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.


  29. i wandered here from a link at rge monitor. Great post.

    An economist who is not afraid to talk about class struggle. I thought i had to go to counterpunch to get that. who knew!

  30. Thai asked:

    "So Edwardo, I am sensing you don't see us all coming together to solve our national 3-dimensional tragedy of the commons? What are the biggest roadblocks for the major playersin your view?"

    It's really an international tragedy, or so it seems to me. In any case, I'll focus on the U.S. now. The biggest roadblocks for the major players?

    Well the major players here in the U.S. are government figures and their corporate masters. The corporate masters have vastly overshot the mark here as this downturn was, I imagine, intended to provide an opportunity for what are periodic attempts to consolidate their already existent over lordship. Unfortunately, for all of us, their strategy involved the massive proliferation of a destructive credit virus which is now out of control to such a degree that it threatens their and our very existence.

    At present, the gambit by the overlords is to have you and I pay for their plan of domination gone wrong. A greater or more fantastic obscenity can hardly be imagined.

    "We're terribly sorry, but our original plan, which set in motion the proliferation of credit instruments that we knew would eventually wreak absolute havoc, but subsequently allow us to clean up in the aftermath, an aftermath that was destined to cause tremendous collateral damage to you, didn't work as planned.

    As such, you will now, to your very great detriment, (via trickery and outright mendacity), save us from the failure of our original dastardly plan, which we hasten to remind you was profoundly contrary to your welfare. Have a nice day and please pay the lady behind the bullet proof glass before you leave."

    I posit that the populace will wake up to this scam of scams in due course. And it is not idealism that leads me to this conclusion. The "major players" have overstepped the mark against other "major players" who don't call the U.S. home, but their response will, in turn, create conditions here at home that will, in due course, cause our zombified fellow citizens to ascertain, more or less, what has transpired.

    Suffice it to say that there will be hell to pay, and the outcome will not allow for the sort of cooperation required to allow us to move forward in a manner conducive to a healthy, functioning society. Not before things have gotten a tad chaotic.

    I hope this answers to some substantial degree your question concerning the biggest roadblocks faced by the major players.

  31. Great analysis Edwardo, so few are willing to contemplate the premeditated nature of this crisis. The notion that the vast majority of financial professionals couldn't see this coming a mile down the road is ludicrous, especially when there were people like Mish, Schiff, Roubini, Grant, Denninger, Hel, etc., etc. screaming at the top of their lungs, in detail and years in advance, about why and exactly how the system as designed had to collapse.

    Anyone who has passed a course in Fin101 could easily see the self-collapsing nature of bubblenomics. How many times are financiers going to be allowed to act surprised when the bubbles they blow pop before they are dragged off to the gallows.

    Viva Madame Defarge.

  32. So would it be correct to paraphrase you the following way:

    The major payers are-will be angry at each other as they come to see their expectations of the future were nothing more than an illusion sold to them in a premeditated way by a few who knew the truth and many who blindingly believed them for their own self gratification?

    i.e. it is the anger itsef, stage II of loss, on an illusion itself, that will be the roadblock to solving the collective national- international 3-dimensional tragedy of the commons?

    And as a result- government will not work with industry in the US and vice versa, and the same will will happen with all the equivalent major players all over the rest of the world?

    No possibility for 'turn the other cheek' once the illusions are all recognized?

    Is this the only illusion out there believed by a major player?

  33. Yes, Thai, but you leave out perhaps the major component that I referenced, our great zombified populace.

    They are destined to become most unruly going forward as they ascertain what has transpired. This is not going to be like the Great Depression in many ways, and one way it won't be like it is that the Federal government's ability to corral the sheeple will be deeply constrained by comparison.

    I'm not saying they won't try to quell civil unrest and lawlessness, I'm saying that it will be much more difficult because a.) the unrest will be greater, and b.) the government's wherewithal will be diminished, and c.) so much of it will be, for all intents and purposes, understandable if not justifiable. Cooperation? There will be lots of it, but only within a number of groups who are seeking either autonomy over themselves, or power over others.

  34. Dink,
    In case you're interested:

    It's questionable how much longer the center can hold.

  35. Yoyomo,
    "In case you're interested:"

    Always! Terrified, but interested.

    Interesting stuff on London Banker, too. I can't help to think that something will quickly evolve to fill the vacuum created by the destruction of the current financial system, but then that is probably innate human wishful thinking. I recently delved into googling Avian Influenza; its a hell of a lot more close to a major pandemic than I thought.

    Sounds like both of us will be seated at the kid's tables this holiday season to avoid upsetting the adults:)

  36. Dink,
    Combining LB with bird flu; I read an article 2-3 years ago in AARP by the CDC scientist (can't remember name) in charge of monitoring the spread of avian influenza and he is so worried about it that he keeps a 4-6 week supply of bottled water and canned/dried foods in his home in case quarentines disrupt food/fuel delivery and power generation.

    One more reason to be paranoid in addition to finance induced interruptions of global trade.

  37. Yo, I have a bunch of friends at FDA who will fill your ear with stories for hours on the dangers of AF if you get them going. In fact as I think on it, one physician friend of mine did stock his home with supplies exactly as your CDC scientists did (and oddly as I think on it, he is also a peak oiler).

    The anthrax scare freaked a lot of people out around here when they learned it was going to be nearly impossible for anyone but 'key' federal and state workers to get Cipro. After the whole thing subsided, a lot of people started taking the matter into their own hands- though I think it is against the law??

    So it's really not uncommon in the DC area anymore to learn that people have stockpiled personal supplies of Tamiflu, etc...

    Though I don't really think it is quite as necessary anymore- Homeland Security built up an enormous stockpile of these meds (and they probably don't even work anyway).

    AF is way scary.

    See Dink, Yo is right, the risk is always against us, so why not just cooperate?

  38. I had colds as an adult and assumed it was the flu; not fun, but no reason to call in sick for a week. Then two years ago I caught the full-blown flu and it SUCKED.

    So then I read about the 1918 flu and came to understand it sucked worse because your immune system goes beserk and kills in 2%-5% of the cases. Then I read that AF is estimated to kill >50% of those infected. No human-to-human transmission yet, but the virus mutates frequently. Sooooo.

    I want to cooperate! Or at least I want to want to cooperate. But how can I trust the majority of people? They'd rather shoot insulin than stop drinking beer! Obama winning helped my grinch heart grow admittedly.

    One of you push Hell again for his PM opinion.

  39. I hear you, I really hear you.

    But remember, there is always the possibility that our spouses could have affairs on us (and vice versa), and yet does that possibility stop us from cooperating? (I guess for some the answer is "yes")

    Have you ever asked Hasidim Jews in the diamond business about theft? Every one I have ever asked has unequivocally always said to me the same thing: "one of us may lose one from time to time, but we never see theft from one of our own". Every time I asked this question of a different Diamond merchant I met, it was always the same answer. It's gotten to the point I believe their answer (I was was always fascinated by this little window on the human psyche).

    I once read a book called The Diamond Cutter (which I now realize is another Buddhist book I forgot I read... and come to think of it it also had a very fractal like view of the world- I will need to go back and look at it)... anyway it basically said the same thing about honesty amongst Tibetan diamond merchants.

    Assuming these guys are were all telling the truth, why do you think that is? What implications might it have for all of us?

  40. Man, I'd love to live in a village with that kind of trust. But I have to believe that human nature is to get away with as much as you reasonably can. These diamond guys operate in such small communities that they can't be anonymous so can't reasonably get away with much. They have diamonds in Tibet?

    BTW, Scientific American came in the mail today. The cover mentioned an article about a "Triple Helix". Sounded dangerous so I start flipping through to it, but stopped at an article about the economy. It mentioned "fractal pioneer" Benoit Mandelbrot stated in 1999 that the "lapsed physicist" quants didn't have their models straight. Good times!

    So I've been kicking this idea around. Humans establish a "pleasure set-point" which they instinctually try to maintain. When there is a dramatic event (i.e. war, natural disaster)their entire perceived community has to cut down on resources/pleasure. So their set-point is recalibrated lower, but their community "rank" stays the same. So Americans will change, but it has to be perceived as fair (i.e. sucks for everyone). How I would love for Obama to say "I've shut down Coke and Pepsi. Look, diabetes is out of control. Realign your standards of pleasure. Good night." Do the same for tobacco and cattle. Sweeeeeeet......

  41. I totally agree with your idea.

    Now throw in all the infinite other variables we know such as globalization, the north-south divide, and the evolution of: cultures, economic systems, the environment, ideas, science, etc... and try to come up with some kind of notion of 'fair'.

    Then to simplify matters further further throw in the whole issue of 'boundaries'- i.e. which groups should we worry about in the first place. If there is change and you are worried about "keeping up with the Jones'", then which Jones should you be concerned about: your cultural peers, your ethnic peers, your national peers, your linguistic peers, your socioeconomic peers, etc...?

    I agree it gets tough.

    And yet, as my mental mentor Steven Pinker reminds us from his simple observations, violence is decreasing on all timescales according to fractal properties all over the globe. (I know I have said this before), i.e. the boundaries of our society are coming together.

    So while it won't happen in my lifetime, over the long term, I would take your aliens in a bar bet ANY day of the week.

  42. "and try to come up with some kind of notion of 'fair'"

    Its tricky, all right. But worth aiming some neurons at.

    Re: Pinker

    He's great. I picked up a book called "What's Your Dangerous Idea?" which is a compilation of authors. He wrote the preface and was outrageous. Someone else wrote that we may have to much information to effectively compile in our own heads and certainly too much to pass to a new generation. Dawkins wrote the conclusion. Not all the ideas were so dangerous, but still interesting.

  43. Great reading!

    I do want to question your number regarding the concentration of wealth though.

    I've read others who have said anywhere from 95% of wealth in the upper 5-10% to 90% in the upper 1%.
    There seems to be no accurate way to assess this. I questioned someone else about this and he stated that for many of us with 401Ks we own shares of mutual funds which in essence are just parts of the returns on stock certificates which someone (in the upper 1-5%) else holds. Most of us do not own any of that asset (stock). I understand that Bonds are even more concentrated (true?). The bond market dwarfs the stock market and almost all of that market (I've been told) is controlled by an ultra small portion of our society.

    I think it is important to get an accurate picture of this because I do believe that without a reversal of this concentration true economic freedom for most of us is impossible.

    I'm not questioning the veracity of your number, I only want some direction as to how we can begin to accurately determine the number.


  44. Anonymous,

    Good question; you may want to repost in on the most current Hell entry. I have no idea how those figures are calculated, personally.

  45. Other commenters have dealt with this, Please explain why renewable resources can't efficiently be channeled into useful work and I'll second what they have to say. Green sources are way too distributed to be useful.

    There's also the problem of scale. We consume terawatts of power, green sources provide megawatts. Replicating green sources in sufficient quantity to make an appreciable dent in power generation makes them no longer green. Imagine paving the countryside with solar panels and windmills and the roads to bring in repair crews and the power grid to access them and ...

    The conclusion is that the green economy is just an illusion. It's an inefficient use of resources. You'd get the same result by using nuclear, coal and oil and then setting fire to mountains of dollars.