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The blind spot. .  .  musings
Posted: 08 February 2011 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Jeciron - 08 February 2011 03:27 PM

On a more human level, I think there’s a good chance the pessimists are right, but even accepting that the wings may well have already fallen off the airplane, it’s a lot more fun to be engaged and tinkering with it.  I mean, if all’s lost, what’s there to lose in even a futile search for solutions.  It’s not like things are coming apart so fast that I won’t be awful tired of having my head between my legs, kissing my ass goodbye when we hit.  Give me a good reason why dogged optimism is any less constructive than utter despair.  One of my many half-assed ideas is I might as well act like I’m alive until I’m dead. 

Excellent point, I’ve hung onto that thought a long time. Though it get’s harder than it used to be.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 01:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 04 February 2011 11:24 AM

Why this irresistible school of thought that endless growth is possible?  It seems like their whole existence depends on it… thus they can’t visualize anything that interferes with that faith.

Based on the context of the comments in this thread, I think that this interpretation is fundamentally wrong.

First of all, is there a specific organization that says what you are venting about?  If not, this whole thread is nothing more than letting off steam.

Secondly, I know of no one who really believes that endless growth is possible, and I think that this is an overly simple way of representing the argument, essentially a form of a straw-man.  What I think that many people DO believe (and I think that they’re right) is that if I want my group to succeed, my group needs to claim and use more resources than enemy groups.  That way, when the resources do dry up, my group will be the last one standing because my group’s resources dry up last.  This is how wars are won.

Furthermore, gnashing of teeth over destroying the environment under such pursuits is nothing more than that - gnashing of teeth.  It will only get you worn-down molars and won’t solve the problem.  Any serious attempt at solving this problem needs to take into account human nature at the individual and group levels, which no one in this thread has even attempted to do yet.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

Secondly, I know of no one who really believes that endless growth is possible, and I think that this is an overly simple way of representing the argument, essentially a form of a straw-man. 

Well, I have heard the argument a few times, especially referring to Malthus: his law of limited growth never applied to humans in general. The explanation of his critics is that growth is unlimited because of innovation. Any shortage is compensated by new technologies. I heard this so many times, that I do not believe that it is a straw man. The simple version is: ‘science will find a solution’.

TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

What I think that many people DO believe (and I think that they’re right) is that if I want my group to succeed, my group needs to claim and use more resources than enemy groups.  That way, when the resources do dry up, my group will be the last one standing because my group’s resources dry up last.  This is how wars are won.

That is possibly true. But nobody says it loudly.  And we need the third world: a lot of raw materials are imported from there. What if these sources dry out?

TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

Furthermore, gnashing of teeth over destroying the environment under such pursuits is nothing more than that - gnashing of teeth.  It will only get you worn-down molars and won’t solve the problem.  Any serious attempt at solving this problem needs to take into account human nature at the individual and group levels, which no one in this thread has even attempted to do yet.

Solving the problem always begins with seeing the problem. As long as this is the biggest barrier to become active, philosophising about this topic makes sense. It might support people in their struggle with deniers.

Your remark about human nature hits an important point. It is a remarkable omission of the social sciences, that they do not devise a strategy how we can get people to act to avoid the coming disaster.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 07:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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GdB - 09 February 2011 03:57 AM
TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

Secondly, I know of no one who really believes that endless growth is possible, and I think that this is an overly simple way of representing the argument, essentially a form of a straw-man. 

Well, I have heard the argument a few times, especially referring to Malthus: his law of limited growth never applied to humans in general. The explanation of his critics is that growth is unlimited because of innovation. Any shortage is compensated by new technologies. I heard this so many times, that I do not believe that it is a straw man. The simple version is: ‘science will find a solution’.

A good example of this is a Tanzanian island in Lake Victoria called Ukara. The population of the island reached its capacity of almost 20,000 about a hundred years ago, IIRC. What is interesting here is that the island never suffers from famine or a shortage of water and it grows enough food not only to sustain itself but it also produces enough food for export. The agriculture in Ukara is more intensive and sophisticated than in the rest of Tanzania, with people supposedly working ten hours per day. Seems like the Malthusian Trap does us good.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 08:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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George - 09 February 2011 07:33 AM

Seems like the Malthusian Trap does us good.

Hmm… Don’t you think there would be some limit to how many people can inhabit Ukara before they must import food? Obviously they could have a few more inhabitants when they are exporting food now. And do they use imported technology?

And I think Malthus’ idea works only on ‘closed systems’. But now that we live in a globalised world, the earth as a whole is a closed system. We are not wearing out of local resources anymore, but on global.

Malthus might still beat us, only later than he thought, because technology temporarily can shift the moment that resources are done.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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I don’t know about their technology, but where Ukara differs is in the private ownership of the property (literally every foot of the island and even every tree) compared to the rest of the rural Africa where people merely use the resources. But you’re right, Malthus’s theory doesn’t really apply here as the people who are unable to own land are driven out of the island. I dunno, maybe if they had nowhere to go, the fertility of the Ukara population would drop below the replacement rate of 2.1 and Ukara could soon see their very own industrial revolution.

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Posted: 09 February 2011 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

Secondly, I know of no one who really believes that endless growth is possible, and I think that this is an overly simple way of representing the argument, essentially a form of a straw-man. 

I have heard of this endless growth idea from history and economics classes.  A few hundred years ago European businessmen believed in mercantilism, which is the idea that for one country to increase wealth it had to take wealth from other countries (zero sum game).  This theory has been proven false by history.  When countries trade with each other it is possible for both countries to increase their wealth.  The wealth of western countries since this theory have grown far beyond what would have been predicted back then.  So far wealth continues to grow and nobody knows when it will stop.

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Posted: 10 February 2011 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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GdB - 09 February 2011 03:57 AM
TromboneAndrew - 09 February 2011 01:20 AM

Secondly, I know of no one who really believes that endless growth is possible, and I think that this is an overly simple way of representing the argument, essentially a form of a straw-man. 

Well, I have heard the argument a few times, especially referring to Malthus: his law of limited growth never applied to humans in general. The explanation of his critics is that growth is unlimited because of innovation. Any shortage is compensated by new technologies. I heard this so many times, that I do not believe that it is a straw man. The simple version is: ‘science will find a solution’.

But this is not even true in history.  There are many examples where civilizations crash after consuming too many resources, and their science does not find an “out.”  Find me an example of such a critic who influences world economic policy.

brightfut - 09 February 2011 04:20 PM

I have heard of this endless growth idea from history and economics classes.  A few hundred years ago European businessmen believed in mercantilism, which is the idea that for one country to increase wealth it had to take wealth from other countries (zero sum game).  This theory has been proven false by history.  When countries trade with each other it is possible for both countries to increase their wealth.  The wealth of western countries since this theory have grown far beyond what would have been predicted back then.  So far wealth continues to grow and nobody knows when it will stop.

Based on what you describe, I’d characterize this as growth with an unknown ceiling, not an endless ceiling.

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Posted: 10 February 2011 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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TromboneAndrew - 10 February 2011 07:14 AM

But this is not even true in history.  There are many examples where civilizations crash after consuming too many resources, and their science does not find an “out.”  Find me an example of such a critic who influences world economic policy.

You are quite correct, there are lot of examples of civilisations dying out because of lack of resources. But not of the biological species home sapiens. We are with 7 Billions now!

See here a few examples of this way of thinking.

The American economist Henry Charles Carey rejected Malthus’s argument in his magnum opus of 1858-59, The Principles of Social Science. Carey maintained that the only situation in which the means of subsistence will determine population growth is one in which a given society is not introducing new technologies or not adopting forward-thinking governmental policy, and that population regulated itself in every well-governed society, but its pressure on subsistence characterized the lower stages of civilization.
...
Some 19th-century economists believed that improvements in finance, manufacturing and science rendered some of Malthus’s warnings implausible. They had in mind the division and specialization of labour, increased capital investment, and increased productivity of the land due to the introduction of science into agriculture (note the experiments of Justus Liebig and of Sir John Bennet Lawes). Even in the absence of improvement in technology or of increase of capital equipment, an increased supply of labour may have a synergistic effect on productivity that overcomes the law of diminishing returns. As American land-economist Henry George observed with characteristic piquancy in dismissing Malthus: “Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens; but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens.” In the 20th century, those who regarded Malthus as a failed prophet of doom included an editor of Nature, John Maddox.

Economist Julian Lincoln Simon has criticised Malthus’s conclusions. He notes that despite the predictions of Malthus and of the Neo-Malthusians, massive geometric population growth in the 20th century did not result in a Malthusian catastrophe. Many factors may have contributed: general improvements in farming methods (industrial agriculture), mechanization of work (tractors), the introduction of high-yield varieties of wheat and other plants (Green Revolution), the use of pesticides to control crop pests. Each played a role. The enviro-sceptic Bjørn Lomborg presents data showing that the environment has actually improved. Calories produced per day per capita globally went up 23% between 1960 and 2000, despite the world population doubling during that period. Anthropologist Eric Ross depicts Malthus’s work as a rationalization of the social inequities produced by the Industrial Revolution, anti-immigration movements, the eugenics movement and the various international development movements.

From Wikipedia.

Enough? So there are many people who think that Malthus does not apply, just because we will always be able to shift to other resources, thanks to our technological capabilities. In my opinion we just shift the Malthus point further in time than any civilisation before. But Malthus will get us, and all of mankind will be involved, thanks to our global resource usage, and global environmental changes.

I also think that Schumpeter would not agree with Malthus:

Schumpeter starts in The Theory of Economic Development with a treatise of circular flow which, excluding any innovations and innovative activities, leads to a stationary state. The stationary state is, according to Schumpeter, described by Walrasian equilibrium. The hero of his story, though, is, in fine Austrian fashion, the entrepreneur.

I have no idea if Schumpeter made any thoughts about limits. He was an economist, not a biologist as Malthus was.

Take care,

GdB

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Posted: 11 February 2011 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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Well, damn.  That looks pretty convincing to me . . .

raspberry

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