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What is energy, actually? (2011) (jancovici.com)
254 points by gorpovitch 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 267 comments





The argument is based on looking a the world as a whole.

In developed world energy intensity of GDP is decreasing even when you take into account imports. Post-industrial economies can grow while decreasing energy use.

What the author is suggesting is that the developing world should stop growing. I can't agree with that. They need their electricity and washing machines.

GDP per unit of energy use (constant 2011 PPP $ per kg of oil equivalent)

EU: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.GDP.PUSE.KO.PP.KD?lo...

US: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.GDP.PUSE.KO.PP.KD?lo...


They need their electricity and washing machine, but do they need exotic vacations and long commutes in powerful cars? Do they need clothes that are made to be worn for a very short time? Do they need technology that's cheap to the point of it being wasted without an afterthought?

> [...] long commutes in powerful cars?

People in developed countries don't need that either. Commuting being a hard requirement for modern life in an industrialised country is both a fallacy and perpetuated cargo cult.

Most people working in offices today effectively wouldn't have to commute but they still do because employers require them to do so, basically because "that's the way it's always been".

Doing away with lengthy commutes will be key to addressing many of today's problems, including climate change.


So are you in favor of government telling people where to live and work? I've seriously heard your position many times but no one ever puts forward a solution to making it happen other than the government forcing people to do it. Sounds like a dictatorship to me. and no I don't think employers are all gonna just let people not "come in" to work.

No, that's not at all what I'm saying. I argue for people to change their inveterate, cargo cult ways of thinking about what constitutes work and the conditions required for it.

We need a new mindset not new government policy. That change can't and must not be mandated but has to come from each and everyone of us.


>Most people working in offices today effectively wouldn't have to commute but they still do because employers require them to do so, basically because "that's the way it's always been".

A million times this.

My entire office could do their job from home as even when we need something we have to email our team leads and CC our manager so I could be doing that at home, in comfortable clothes, not fighting 50-something men for access to 4 stalls and not fighting 100 something people for 2 microwaves. I mean, to be honest, getting 4-5 hours of my time back every week would actually a huge compensation... after you remove my vacation that's like 8 days a year of free time I'd get back.

But alas, my employer would never hear of working from home. Likely because of the ages of the corporate leadership: Chairman & CEO is 75, President & COO got his first degree in 1987 so is 'young' at 54~, CFO & EVP is 66, CIO is 59, VP of ops is 58, Information Services EVP & CIO is 60...

Good luck selling remote work to corporate leadership types that have 30-50 years of old-school corporation under their belts.

I'm sure any cost savings would probably be kept by the company and not not passed on to employees but I'd save 20-25 minutes of commuting a day (plus the half hour every day I waste sitting at my desk off the clock because the tardy policy is terrible, accidents are frequent on the way in and logging in to your computer and getting the time keeping software open can take as long as 5 minutes) so once you remove my vacation weeks that would get me 8~ days of free time back which alone would be nice. Plus the reduced mileage/maintenance/fuel etc for my car.

I wish I could find remote work so bad, or that my employer would adopt it.


I friend of mine always asked during job interviews how many bathrooms the office had.

The reason for this was that he spent a considerable amount of time in an office, where there was one bathroom for somewhere around two hundred people. Madness.



The place I work allows to work one day a week from home. In my team of six only one person takes advantage of this policy (not I). The others don't - or only occasionlly. So, I don't really expect anything to change even if the policy was expanded to allow home office 5 days a week.

That said, out of 100+ employees almost nobody drives by car to the office. It's public transport or bicycle.


> The place I work allows to work one day a week from home. In my team of six only one person takes advantage of this policy (not I).

For me, the question in that case always is: Why is that?

Often, presenteeism (or put less favourably: butts-in-seats) is used to paper over organisational inefficiencies.

For instance, a common argument against remote work is that meetings, particularly informal ones, so-called water cooler talk, help with solving problems or interfacing between people, teams and departments.

However, I'd argue that - more often than not - the situation that brought about the need to have these meetings in the first place really is to blame: If you need to have a lot of meetings in order to make progress chances are you don't have the appropriate processes and systems in place that help you with making decisions and have to fall back on lengthy in-person discussions for almost every issue that comes up.

> That said, out of 100+ employees almost nobody drives by car to the office. It's public transport or bicycle.

Let me guess: You're located in Amsterdam ;-)


> Most people working in offices today effectively wouldn't have to commute but they still do because employers require them to do so, basically because "that's the way it's always been".

It is not just the employers — I’ve worked with many people that think nothing of commuting an hour to work ONE WAY (in their pickup trucks and SUVs no less), even when living closer to work is a perfectly valid option (this is particularly true in the large Texas cities that have a huge amount of suburban sprawl).


I imagine there's a big difference between a 15 minute commute with a tiny car that doesn't have time to warm up and ends in a crowded parking lot, and an hour in a comfortable roomy Cheverolet Movie-Theater SUV with music playing and heated seats and no family or work or pedestrians and being in the biggest vehicle on the road.

A big SUV is one of the most expensive, most luxurious, nicest things, nicest places to spend time that a lot of people will own - way more overall spent on that seat and its driver-supporting-surroundings than on any Lay-Z-Boy or Aeron chair.


There's a difference but even driving just 30 minutes per day in a tiny car that otherwise just sits around doing nothing is still a tremendous waste when you could just not drive at all and work from anywhere.

No, I mean, it's no surprise to me that people would enjoy an hour commute in a huge vehicle; not seeing it as "ugh an hour out of my day" but instead "yay an hour of luxury time and escape from life".

Yes in many terms it's a "waste" but your suggestion of not driving and working from anywhere changes a morning from "get up think about home and family, escape to comfortable car for an hour think about anything, start working for customers" to "get up and think about family, immediately pressured to start working for customers". I'm trying to frame it as daily psychological experience, rather than cost of hydrocarbon burning. Driving is at least "a change is as good as a rest", and on low-traffic big roads, pretty low effort too; and if it's "forced upon you" by circumstance, well geez I just have to go sit down and listen to music for an hour while you're stressing out, what can you do, y'know, byeee. Driving as socially acceptable rest without accusations of laziness.


There is an important argument here about how not all GDP is created equal. In both developing and developed worlds - a lot of people just buy wasteful garbage.

How are people in developed countries who have exotic vactions etc. going to tell people in poorer countries that they should do without?

Do we need a future? If we aren't going to stick to higher density fuels like fossil, nuclear or some sort of interesting synthetic then we are going to struggle to get off the planet earth.

There are two very-long-term futures. One where humanity ends up in space, and one where we get the Chicxulub treatment. One of those paths involves us having so much energy that wasting a bit on holidays is irrelevant, and the other raises the question of how much we need to conserve for future generations anyway given that we're going down the nihilistic path.


The way I see it the two paths are: sobriety then fusion then space ortherwise waste then generalized Syria-like conditions then low-budget mad-max reruns.

Indeed, you can run a lot of new fridges in the developing world on the kWh budget of a heated private swimming pool.

Do you have any family or friends in the developing world? Have you ever tried convincing anyone of this view offline?

yes

You can not get exponential increase of energy efficiency. In some cases you even obviously already know the limits. At one point or another you will always be caught by physical realities; if all your activities are tertiary and highly valuable, great! But what do you eat? How do you heat? How do you move the basic goods to you?

So the best you can get from where we are now are constant factors, either in a direction interesting for us (increase of energy efficiency) or not really interesting (from the energy needs point of view) but much needed and even ineluctable (lowering carbon emission and/or lack of petrol resources) -- and that's because we are already VERY far beyond the negligible impact on Earth point. Classic economic models are based on the approximation, now long gone, that resources are free. Still some are attempting to replace physical activities by virtual ones, to save the models (I don't really understand what's the point, but whatever): this does not hold, because you can not replace everything and worse: even just the essentials are problematic.

So the question is actually not: "[do] they need their electricity and washing machines?"

The question is rather: is there even a physically/politically/etc. reasonable way for everybody to get that; and actually even just to stay durably in a not too much chaotic world.

And frankly this will be a HARD problem to solve. To the point relative peace in the industrialized world is clearly at risk, IMO.


I'm sorry, but this a debunked myth – you need to take into account all the material flows, not just import of goods. There's actually no decoupling going on. See the following article: https://www.pnas.org/content/112/20/6271

That paper is looking at raw materials, not carbon.

"Energy use" is an extremely poor metric. We need to emit less CO2. How we do that has a of options, none of which actually require reducing energy use (improvements in efficiency on the other hand are a massive contributor to GDP growth).

There is some decoupling, or actually some decreasing coupling; however we need strong negative decoupling right now, and nothing hints that it's even remotely possible.

Somewhat tangentially related: I wrote this in a private note to a friend last year. I don't believe this 100%, but the idea is worth exploring in my opinion:

1. Corporations desperately pursue continuous growth, even when they're already profitable, and do so at the expense of the environment, employee welfare and sometimes, the rule of law.

2. Corporations pursue growth because investors demand it.

3. Investors demand growth because they want a certain minimum return on investment.

4. Investors need to invest money in instruments with a certain minimum ROI because if they don't, inflation will erode their savings.

5. This continuous growth requirement forces companies to compete for larger and larger portions of market share, which in turn forces their competitors to compete harder in response.

6. The end result is a sort of "Red Queen" effect where everyone is forced to compete harder and harder just to maintain his/her existing standard of living.

7. We know that the more extreme a competition becomes, the more ruthless the participants become, often to the point of acting immorally.

8. Therefore, we should focus on curbing inflation to curb the pace of overwhelming growth, and thereby restore some measure of social justice.


Inflation is already almost zero in much of the West. People demand growth because they want to get richer, regardless of the prevailing conditions.

I would also like to point out that if there were to be no growth and no inflation (edit: and a static population level!), then the only way to add a dollar to your pile is to permanently make someone else a dollar poorer. That seems likely to accelerate the lethality of the billionaries vs. hungry poor conflict rather than de-escalate it.

> inflation will erode their savings

> compete harder and harder just to maintain his/her existing standard of living

These are two different things. Savings are a stock, "standard of living" is a flow. The distinction matters here because GDP measures flows; the two are related through the money equation "MV=PQ".


> Inflation is already almost zero in much of the West.

pet theory: Inflation is way way more than zero almost everywhere (prices of services and rents reflect this), but high inflation is masked by increased supply chain efficiencies, cheapening (in some cases worsening) of products and other factors, which keep prices of physical products relatively stable.


There's a real discussion to be had here, but we have to be careful not to move the labels too much. The economics term for differential inflation in various goods is "Baumol cost disease": https://www.vox.com/new-money/2017/5/4/15547364/baumol-cost-...

Tremendous graph there.

Basically, services that have to be provided by western labour in the west have got much more expensive, while goods that can be imported have got much cheaper.


> Basically, services that have to be provided by western labour in the west have got much more expensive, while goods that can be imported have got much cheaper.

This is broadly true though the bit about the West and imports is unnecessary. Manufactured goods have gotten cheaper whether imported or not in real terms, and services get more expensive in relative terms as a consequence. Some of this is probably a result of government misregulation but not all. Cosmetic surgery isn’t covered by insurance, nor is LASIK or hair loss treatment and in inflation adjusted terms prices have been basically flat for over a decade, neglecting the huge increases in quality. Education probably has similarly large inefficiencies, even outside institutions that exist only because of easily available student loans and non-existent quality control like the University of Phoenix.

But Cost Disease is the inevitable product of economic growth. The more capital you have the more labor will be paid because Money is just less valuable to you when you have lots and labour vice versa.

A long report on Baumol’s cost disease in the US context and internationally.

https://www.mercatus.org/system/files/helland-tabarrok_why-a...


> This is broadly true though the bit about the West and imports is unnecessary. Manufactured goods have gotten cheaper whether imported or not in real terms

This must be interpreted in the context of a large fraction of manufacturing moving off shore in the last 75 years. Manufacturing which remained has become significantly less labor intensive (because that which didn’t has moved to lower labor cost locations).


I don't think it's about imports / foreign production, but about the requirement of labour of high income workers generally. Domestic agriculture and manufacturing have experienced less inflation than medicine and education because they have reduced their dependence on labour with greater mechanisation and efficiency.

I think there's also an effect that people are increasingly able to tolerate working very low economic value jobs, because productivity increases in basic necessities of survival, like food and transportation, make this possible. These people are then priced out of healthcare, education, and quality housing. The decreased consumption of expensive labour-based services then decreases their weighting in measures of inflation, allowing them to further inflate, yet overall inflation stay low.


Inflation is the opposite of cheapening, so I don’t see how that can be.

What you may be feeling though, and what isn’t calculated in any numbers, are the increases in volatility, which is itself a cost. The volatility of not living in the few economically burgeoning regions, the volatility of having to keep moving up the ladder or else falling behind, increased years of education and loans for what may or may not be a lucrative career, etc.


Parent is probably referring to "shrinkflation": rather than charge 10% more for a box of cereal, make it 10% smaller for the same price. Or otherwise reduce the cost of inputs.

> volatility

Definitely worth having a discussion on this, although we need to define the reference period - volatility was high in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Arguably it was only low in the ""end of history"" period between the fall of the Berlin wall and the 2008 crisis.


Cheapening was just one of the above comments points... strange to try and dismiss it on that part alone.

But yeah, if I add filler to my soap so that it costs me 20% less to make, but requires you to use 20% more for efficacy, I've cheapened the good, and inflated it's cost.


It's asset inflation, which is where most of the Fed's inflation (eg many trillions of dollars of overvaluation into the stock market) via artificially low rates has gone since the Clinton and Bush years when they helped to spark the stock market bubble (#1, #2 and now #3) and then the housing bubble that way. Then they openly admitted to intentionally reinflating the housing market with their various market interventions and low rates.

Whenever economists claim inflation is low, they're almost always exclusively talking about traditional consumer goods (in which case it is low for the most part). They comically go out of their way to ignore the inflation in housing, healthcare, education and various asset classes.

Warren Buffett likes to regularly point out that the Fed's rates act like gravity on stock valuations. The lower the rates, the less gravity. The same is largely true of how housing is affected by the Fed's rates. If you want to absolutely crush housing prices, push Fed rates back up to where mortgage rates are at 15-20% again. What that all really means is, the lower the rates, the more asset valuation inflation occurs. It's just that for amusingly convenient reasons (ie to pretend inflation is lower than it is), most economists like to pretend that asset inflation doesn't count as real inflation in their models.


> Whenever economists claim inflation is low, they're almost always exclusively talking about traditional consumer goods (in which case it is low for the most part). They comically go out of their way to ignore the inflation in housing, healthcare, education and various asset classes.

This is false. The CPI weights the basket of goods that comprise the index based on the types of goods that people actually consume, which includes housing (either in the form of rent or mortgage payments), energy, as well as food and consumer goods. It adjusts for consumption patterns monthly, and re-weights the entire index every 2 years.

The BLS surveys rental prices as well as calculating something called “owner equivalent rent” for owner-occupied housing.

> The OER and Rent indexes have the largest weights of the 211 item categories (item strata) that comprise the CPI market basket. As of December 2008 their shares of the total weight (their relative importances) in the CPI for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), were 24.433 percent and 5.957 percent, respectively.

[1] - https://www.bls.gov/cpi/factsheets/owners-equivalent-rent-an...


> Warren Buffett likes to regularly point out that the Fed's rates act like gravity on stock valuations. The lower the rates, the less gravity. The same is largely true of how housing is affected by the Fed's rates. If you want to absolutely crush housing prices, push Fed rates back up to where mortgage rates are at 15-20% again. What that all really means is, the lower the rates, the more asset valuation inflation occurs. It's just that for amusingly convenient reasons (ie to pretend inflation is lower than it is), most economists like to pretend that asset inflation doesn't count as real inflation in their models.

I know what you're proposing will be very unpopular but I have an idea that will be even more unpopular: a federal property tax on land + buildings at (five percent of property valuation) per year. There will be absolutely no exceptions for anyone. Everyone must pay. This money will mostly go back to local governments, toward infrastructure and utilities (mass transit, water, electricity, fiber Internet, sewage, garbage collection, education, ... ideally automated as much as possible) and a portion will go to supplement VAT to pay for supplemental universal basic income (in addition to the freedom dividend) that more than covers the new property tax on a one bedroom somewhere in the continental United States (so not necessarily midtown Manhattan).

The key difference in what I propose is the lack of exceptions. Everyone must pay regardless of whether it is a strip club or a church. You don't pay, you get evicted within fifteen years or however long we decide. I recommend eviction should happen when unpaid taxes reaches 100% of property value.

My Hope is that this will absolutely crash the housing market and stop this irrational speculation in the housing market.


What you're describing would completely cripple the economy and raise rents rather than lower them, the opposite of what you hope for.

A severe tax on property would simply force property owners to raise rents. This in turn would price people out of the market. The housing stock would suffer as property owners would have no excess funds to make improvements and repairs to property. Building of new property would slow as the market for property deteriorates.

Beyond that...

VAT has had disastrous effects on European economies (go look at the price of goods in Europe. Significantly higher in real terms than in the US). Part of this lies in the way VAT obscures the tax portion of cost, allowing governments to surreptitiously raise taxes. This has happened in most developed countries where VAT is implemented.

You also mention government doing many wonderful things with its newfound revenue, but the reality is that government spending is usually wasted on bureaucratic bloat and other inefficient allocations.


> A severe tax on property would simply force property owners to raise rents. This in turn would price people out of the market. The housing stock would suffer as property owners would have no excess funds to make improvements and repairs to property. Building of new property would slow as the market for property deteriorates.

I am not an economist but this implies property owners are leaving money on the table right now. I don't think that is the case. The market already charges as much as renters can afford to pay. There is not much room for rent to go up.

> You also mention government doing many wonderful things with its newfound revenue, but the reality is that government spending is usually wasted on bureaucratic bloat and other inefficient allocations.

I absolutely agree with you on this one. This is why I want as much automation as possible. However, having worked in the private sector, I can assure you bloat and inefficiency happens in both public and private sector. The main difference I think is that things are much more transparent in the public sector.


In what way have the VAT had disastrous effects on European economies? Goods are more expensive, but that is no disaster.

Normally we use the term "evicted" to imply someone with a lease no longer gets usage of the property; but in this case, these people own the property, so what are you saying happens then? Does the property get given to the government, who then... sells it? I am not complaining (yet), I just want to understand what happens in your mind after the "eviction" as the term isn't clear for me in this context.

> Normally we use the term "evicted" to imply someone with a lease no longer gets usage of the property; but in this case, these people own the property, so what are you saying happens then? Does the property get given to the government, who then... sells it? I am not complaining (yet), I just want to understand what happens in your mind after the "eviction" as the term isn't clear for me in this context.

exactly. the property returns to the market to someone who is willing to pay the property tax.


Why 5%? That's enough to very nearly double the recurring cost of my house (mortgage, insurance and taxes), which seems overly punitive. Does this get offset somewhere else? Looking at a few quick numbers from Google, just residential property alone would add 50% to current US tax revenues. I'm guessing that means we'd be in the ballpark of doubling Federal tax revenue. I guess that's not necessarily a bad thing, but how do you make sure that money actually goes to the things you listed instead of the military?

It would likely halve the market value of property, causing a massive wave of strategic foreclosures and also mean the revenue would be more like 2.5% of current property valuation.

It would also likely be a massive long-term boost to equity markets, though the transitional financial chaos would be a short-term drag.


It would cause a massive wave of something. The more I think about it, the more insane this idea sounds. If I'm renting and my landlord's costs double, is she going to double my rent? Even if you eased in the tax at something like 0.5% per year, this seems like it would result in an absolute bloodbath in which renters and mortgage holders get wiped out and the lucky few with large cash reserves and no property-backed debt buy up all the land at fire sale prices.

> Why 5%?

I need to make it high enough to 1. make home ownership expensive enough that people who own "too much" pay their fair share 2. to pay for the supplemental basic income that covers this high tax for a modest one bedroom unit so I don't end up killing people who are willing to scale down.

I actually wanted it to be slightly higher than seven percent so you end up paying the sticker price of the house once every about ten years but that seemed a little too extreme.


Why do so many plans such as this exist which serve to enrich our government with so much more funding when they are currently incredibly bad at spending what they have? The US spends more per capita on education than many countries who are ahead of us. Construction of public transportation is filled with corruption and inefficiency. So many tasks still require snail mail or physically going and waiting in a line when they could be done online. Why don’t we focus on getting our government to spend effectively before giving them more to spend?

Why can't we work on both problems at the same time?

You're begging the question of whether both are problems. There are plenty of people who would argue that the US Federal government already has plenty of income.

I think "everyone must pay" is even more politically infeasible than setting the tax at 5%, sadly.

> I think "everyone must pay" is even more politically infeasible than setting the tax at 5%, sadly.

This surfaces how little say individuals have in our public policy. I specifically added a clause that would more than offset this tax for a modest one bedroom unit for each individual over the age of eighteen. However, I suspect you are right. However, there will be massive lobbying to kill this proposal before it can even gain any traction. Huge data centers, ware houses, grocery chains, malls, sports stadiums and all these things don't actually pay that much in property taxes and claim that they operate on such razor thin margins that they simply can't exist without a zero percent property tax. These institutions threaten to pull out from our communities if we don't give them rebates on property taxes. Well I'd like to see where they move to when we have a federal property tax!


Outside of the US is my guess for data centers.

Some other assets besides houses and stocks that you see inflation in are education and health...

> Inflation is already almost zero in much of the West

I'm not an economist, but the Big Mac Index would suggest otherwise.

> then the only way to add a dollar to your pile is to permanently make someone else a dollar poorer

What's suggested is not to stop the production of wealth, but the rate of growth of production of wealth.


Please please please can you (and everyone else) be clearer about whether we're talking about stocks or flows, and whether we're talking about money, financial assets or physical capital assets when we say "wealth"? Otherwise I can't make sense of this.

Efficiency gains from technology advances in past 20 years have masked inflation. Look at industries like houses, healthcare, and education which tech hasn’t optimized to the same extent and you see massive inflation

Inflation, using the usual definition, cannot be 'masked by technology' as technology is one of the things that legitimately determine general price level. Inflation counts and always counted general price level with effects of technology advancements taken into account. So the poster you are replying to has it right: inflation is low.

I think the argument is that technology "should have" led to a massive deflation as the price of a bunch of goods and services crashed due to automation; but, instead, that value has been being captured by a combination of people "at the top" simply making more money (hiring fewer people but keeping prices the same somehow, maybe due to supply chain oligopolies or intellectual property barriers <- this is all ancillary to the point, btw, and yet the point doesn't feel complete or honest if I don't add this first effect) and the levers that can be used to cause inflation (which I think are what people are really talking about here when they say "inflation": not the measurable result, but a specific set of deliberate causes of an upward force--whether or not the sum of all forces, in total, is up--on that measurement), the latter of which then leading to an "on average" leveling of the inflation measure where the price of things that can be automated goes down slightly (instead of dramatically) while the price of things that can't be automated goes up.

I agree that technology advances would have lead to massive deflation without all the money printing. The point of money printing is to do precisely this, so that the measure of economy does not get out of sync with the size of the economy. https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Finance-Bankers-Broke-World/dp/... is a great book that touches the topic -- it also shows this discussion is not new.

I also agree that the chosen transmission mechanism of money creation (buying bonds and stocks by central banks) might have lead to worsening inequality. I like the Yudkowsky treatment at https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/tAThqgpJwSueqhvKM/frequently... .

But I still think that the inflation is low and if we want to describe the problems that are happening even though it's low, we should create new language, not shift the current one.


It’s not zero sum, even during recession, because each year the economy is still adding its GDP even if it is not growing. You don’t have to take someone else’s, but you might all take less than the potential.

> because each year the economy is still adding its GDP even if it is not growing

Er .. "economic growth" and "increasing GDP" are usually considered to be synonyms? Do you have alternative definitions?


I believe they may be referring to the idea that not everything is consumed in the year it’s produced. Infrastructure, for example, is useful years or even decades after it is built (and, presumably, counted in GDP).

To make it concrete, if there are two people in the economy: Alice and Bob. The only products that are exchanged is clothes and shoes. Every year, Alice sells 100 Galleons of shoes to Bob and Bob sells 100 Galleons of clothes to Alice. So the GDP of their economy is 200 Galleons. But assuming that shoes and clothes don't decay in one year, Alice and Bob will become wealthier and wealthier in apparel every year.

They will still earn the same number of Galleons each year though, so GDP stays the same.

Perhaps surprisingly, neither capital stock nor asset price inflation is counted.

If your GDP is $100 billion and your growth rate is 0%, you're still adding $100 billion to the economy every year (assuming that not all wealth is not consumed within the same year).

If your GDP is $100 billion and your growth rate is 0%, then next year your GDP will be $100 billion. This is normally considered to be "economy is the same size", not "added to the economy".

GDP is nothing to do with wealth and entirely to do with income.


Do you know if your assumption is true? GDP ignores depreciation/destruction.

> I would also like to point out that if there were to be no growth and no inflation (edit: and a static population level!), then the only way to add a dollar to your pile is to permanently make someone else a dollar poorer.

Is this really true? Aren't you mixing up production growth with production?

Imagine I live alone on my small farm in the middle of nowhere. I produce 20 bags of wheat every year. I eat 19 and save one. So every year I add one bag of wheat to my pile. No one else gets poorer. Or does the existence of the wheat in my barn somehow decrease the value of all other wheat in the world?


> Or does the existence of the wheat in my barn somehow decrease the value of all other wheat in the world?

If you are so remote that the wheat is guaranteed to remain off the market forever, no matter if your starving neighbour comes and offers you a fortune for it? Perhaps. Otherwise the answer has to be yes.

It's not just me saying it, it was one of the more important cases the US Supreme Court heard in the 20th century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wickard_v._Filburn


> It's not just me saying it, it was one of the more important cases the US Supreme Court

They might be the authority on who can tax who, but I don't trust them to know how the economy "really" works.


I think more accurate assumption would be that any increase of productivity on your farm (say going from producting 20 to 25 bags per year) would need to be met with a corresponding decrease of productivity somewhere else in the economy - it's the only way to maintain zero growth.

Yes, that is obviously true. But that is not what was claimed in the comment I answered too.

Your growing pile of wheat incurs increasing storage and maintenance costs over time. This will be measured as positive growth, and if growth is 0 in the overall system, by definition it needs to be negative in some other locality.

> Your growing pile of wheat incurs increasing storage and maintenance costs over time.

That is quite neglible. The barn will stand there wether there's any wheat in it or not.


Eventually you will need another barn

For the argument I can stop saving wheat after the first bag.

Inflation is not zero. In terms of consumer prices, yes, but inflation goes into the stock exchange and props up values for absolutely no reason. There is no massive increase of productivity across the board so net valuations of companies have no reason to grow that fast as we see now. That is pure inflation propped up by cheap money you can borrow with minimal risk.

>I would also like to point out that if there were to be no growth and no inflation (edit: and a static population level!), then the only way to add a dollar to your pile is to permanently make someone else a dollar poorer.

That's fine when wealth distribution is "the 0.01% owns 80% of the wealth".

Plenty of dollars to go around...


How real is that wealth? Tesla is worth billions, it hasn’t ever had a profitable year.

The more I learn about how money works, the more I think of it as a convenient work of fiction — and worse, one that means fundamentally differently things to normal and super-rich.


The wealth of billionaires is quite 'real', as long as it's much smaller than the overall amount of money available.

To take a simpler case, take "quantitative easing", QE, which is a euphemism for printing money. Is that money real? Yes. And it will continue to be until people lose confidence in the currency. Remember that money is data - to print a billion dollars a central bank tells their software to do a quick `moneyToLoan += 10e9`.

The wealthy do play a different game, though. The game you play as labor is to keep yourself and your family alive, healthy, and comfortable. This game, call it game 1 is winnable! And when you win that, you get to play another exclusive game, call it game 2 which is 'allocating capital to make even more capital'. (Of course, you don't have to wait to win game 1 to play game 2, and since most people consume in proportion to income, the goalposts move, effectively keeping them in game 1 forever). But game 2 is the game that government plays, but in miniature. It's the game of power; a nice pot of money lets you reach out into the world through labor and do anything the human hand or head can do. The geeky idealists want to do something really big, like settle Mars. The cynical egoists just want MORE, and are willing to commit planetary suicide for a little extra.


It’s real, but it doesn’t always take the form of dollars (probably the most popular misconception). Warren Buffet is a billionaire, but most of that wealth is locked up in businesses that are producing products. If he really wanted all of that cash, he’d have to find a buyer or liquidate those businesses (probably at a loss).

> Inflation is already almost zero in much of the West. Not sure about the USA, but real inflation is closer to 7-8 percent in Europe, wage growth falling behind.

"Unbiased private-sector efforts to calculate the real rate of inflation have yielded a rate of around 7% to 13% per year, depending on the locale — many multiples of the official rate of around 1% per year" https://www.businessinsider.com/if-people-knew-the-actual-in...

In my country (Hungary) grocery prices rose an average 38% from last year for example.


Housing prices in my region are up 33% in 10 years. But I can buy a µC with internal memory, ad converters and countless I/O ports and interfaces for the price of a coke. The coke is actually significantly more expensive.

I like µC, but housing is really great too.


What you are referring to is called biflation. Unfortunately in the current economic climate things that actually have impact on quality of life (housing, food, etc) are becoming more expensive while electronics and other things more on the cheap entertainment side are getting cheaper.

No it really is not. CPI-U is manipulated to make it seem like inflation is almost at zero therefore limiting the cost of living increases for SocSec and other government programs.

So instead of having a 2% CPI, we actually have closer to 9%

It also allows companies cover for Wage Compression because many employers base at least part of annual raises on "Cost of living Adjustments" so if the government is saying Inflation was 1.9% well then the cost of living adjustment for my salary may be 2% with another 2% for performance based or 4% total. But if actual cost of living went up by 9-13% which is likely my real buying power for the next year dropped by 5%.


Question is whether you deserve salary gains to cover financial inflation, or if price cuts did to technology advancements are good enough.

Rent, Food, Gas, Utilities are the biggest drivers for personal cost of living increases, these do not have price cuts due to technology.

All 4 of the big household expenses are increasing at a rate of 7-20% depending on where you live


Where is this actually true? I split my time between the Bay Area and rural Oregon and in neither of those locals has any of those 4 items gone up by 7% in the last year.

Where are food prices going up? I can't say I've noticed it where I live.

Make sure your package sizes aren't getting smaller. 12oz cans are 10.5oz cans in most places now. Also in commodity foods, research if the government has increased subsidies to farms so the price stays the same for the end user.

Then you are not accurately tracking your food costs by unit of measure. Nor tracking pricing at restaurants.

I have seen a combination of both Shrink and Price increases. The cost of eating lunch at my favorite restaurants has steadily increased, and the Average price per unit for normal groceries has increased on a weekly basis. Even if your bill remains the same, that 32oz Ketchup is now probably 28oz

Looking at some commodity index's Beef is about 2x the price it was in 2009, Bananas are about 40% higher than 2009, Milk over 2x higher than it was in 2009.

So I really do not understand what data you are looking at that shows food prices are not going up? Both Empirically and Anecdotally my food costs are increasing


What data sources are you looking at? According to this website which is basing their data off of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic, it shows beef is up 40% [0], bananas are down 5.58% [1], and milk is up 8.56% [2] since 2009 which is way less than what you are quoting and even the beef only averages out to 3.44% inflation per year.

[0]: https://www.in2013dollars.com/Beef-and-veal/price-inflation/...

[1]: https://www.in2013dollars.com/Bananas/price-inflation/2009-t...

[2]: https://www.in2013dollars.com/Milk/price-inflation/2009-to-2...


I track my spending to the penny and this simply isn't the case in the Bay Area.

If we assume that economic efficiency grows over time even in a non-inflation society, then it seems to me that the zero sum game argument doesn't exactly hold.

> Inflation is already zero in much of the West.

There is no way this is true. Real world inflation (the kind all working people experience directly) is somewhere between 5-10% year-over-year in the US + Canada today.


You can't just make that claim with absolutely no evidence to back it up.

I've long been of the opinion that the public trading of companies is directly responsible for much of the social injustice we see in the West.

As soon as there's a fiduciary duty to maximise ROI, morals go out the window. If you as an officer resist, the collective of shareholders will replace you with someone who will make more money.

There's a dissolution of responsibility that comes with the distributed nature of shares. The owner of a private company probably feels a certain amount of responsibility for the welfare of their workers. I'd be willing to bet most Amazon shareholders don't.

It's probably a naive opinion to hold, and I'm not saying every Amazon shareholder is personally responsible for the warehouse workers that can't use the bathroom without fear of reprisal, but the system is rotten.


There's no legal basis for the shareholders to insist on maximizing ROI: https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2012/06/26/the-shareholder-v...

There's not a legal requirement, but generally people are investing because of the expected returns. That creates a competitive requirement, with people investing most in the most profitable companies. The pressure towards maximizing profit is systemic.

> As soon as there's a fiduciary duty to maximise ROI ...

Your premise is wrong.

As the U.S. Supreme Court recently stated, "modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so." ( BURWELL v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC. )


And yet these corporations behave as if it is the law.

Its just amoral people justifying amoral actions in order to satisfy an unquenchable desire for wealth.

> If you as an officer resist, the collective of shareholders will replace you with someone who will make more money.

How? Shareholders are either to small to wield power, or big enough to be equivalent to a private owner. There are plenty of boring public companies that don't fight for 10+% share price growth every year.


They vote.

I have had the following thought: what if we institute a rule where any shareholder who exercises his right to vote must hold his stock for at least 2 years?

You can but to fix what problem exactly? There are downsides and unintended consequences for constraining liquidity. It isn't a free lunch, especially given that I'm not sure what the problem is.

Can you really vote with public amazon shares?

Yes. Shareholder receive voting packets in the mail, or can exercise their votes online at their brokerage website.

But how many of the shares of any major company are owned by funds with other companies doing the voting for thousands or millions of investors?

Every single cent I have in the market is via index funds.


>I've long been of the opinion that the public trading of companies is directly responsible for much of the social injustice we see in the West.

Based on what? And in contrast to what?

I suspect we differ in our fundamental ideological assumptions, especially if you subscribe or are friendly to Marxism - because I completely fail to connect Apple (or GE, or some publicly traded mid-size company) to any sort of 'social injustice'.

>As soon as there's a fiduciary duty to maximize ROI, morals go out the window.

No, they don't. Certainly, if you're a widget company, the focus is on making the best widgets within your constraints (and not solving homelessness) but that's as nefarious as a saying a carpenter doesn't have morals because he focuses on carpetry.


Regardless of who owns shares in a corporation, there will be a drive to efficiency, reduced cost and profit maximisation.

« Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite. »

> If you as an officer resist, the collective of shareholders will replace you with someone who will make more money.

and eventually you're left with sociopaths running the show.


Eventually? Inevitably, and for many companies that is a reality today.

Ahh you forgot the thing that makes America great: a new invention opens an entire new industry that attracts investors away from current businesses that are stable and not rapidly growing discontinuing the negative spiral you described. Furthermore, companies are not obligated to perpetually take on investors. Perhaps they simply pay a regular dividend instead on the profits they already have like what power utilities do

I don't think companies need to grow at a certain rate to get more ROI than the inflation rate. The value of a company expressed in currency should already go up with that currency's inflation rate, even if the company stays exactly the same.

#4 is super important once you notice that "investors" includes pension plans.

yes, that is a systemic weakness

> 6. The end result is a sort of "Red Queen" effect where everyone is forced to compete harder and harder just to maintain his/her existing standard of living.

Nice pocket philosophy, if only the world was a zero sum game, but it's NOT.

The past 300 years of growth in human prosperity should make that abundantly clear.

Past 30 years the world has reduced extreme poverty by half. Not because we in the developed world got poorer.

The only fix we need is to gradually increase taxes on resources until they match the environmental impact. Sure we nee to also regulate the market, etc. To avoid draconian schemes.

But a well regulated market with solid incentives can fix many problems.


That will probably mean some industries would disappear, if they can't innovate their way out of their externalities.

The same way other inefficient industries disappear when they are outcompeted.

We see bank tellers replaced with ATMs because ATMs are cheaper. Humans are adaptable, if done gradually over time it'll probably be fine.


On a quick first read of your list everything strikes me as half true at best.

They are all absolute statements, but I don't believe they're true most of the time.

1. I think most corporations are small companies

2. Microsoft didn't grow for almost a decade. Then they tippled in size. Are you suggesting that Microsoft didn't grow for a decade because investors didn't demand it, but were ready to triple in size whenever their investors showed up and demanded it?

3. This is true of any investment and not just true for professional investors.

4. This is true of everyone.

5. Most corporations pursuing continuous growth is a fallacy. The competition you describe is called Capitalism and it has many benefits. Not least of which are lower costs and better products/services for the consumer.

6. I disagree with the premise so I disagree with the conclusion.

7. Capitalism can amplify greed and greed can lead to acting immorally, which is bad, but I maintain this is rare.

8. I've been toying with the idea of the benefits of curving inflation in my mind. You're going to have to define what 'social justice' is and what restoring it looks like.


An interesting though experiment would be to investigate what you expect to happen against what happened in Japan, which had basically flat inflation from 1992 to present: http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/201...

Investors demand growth as part of a risk vs. return tradeoff. There's probably quite a bit of "waste" involved in pursuing excessively-risky opportunities that have not shown profitability, simply to obtain a shorter time-to-market than competitors. OTOH the social returns from this activity could still be positive if it means that a broader variety of opportunities is being pursued at any given time.

> 1. Corporations desperately pursue continuous growth, even when they're already profitable, and do so at the expense of the environment, employee welfare and sometimes, the rule of law.

And sometimes its to the benefit of the environment, the employees and its in accordance with the rule of law.

> 4. Investors need to invest money in instruments with a certain minimum ROI because if they don't, inflation will erode their savings.

Inflation are low and predictable in the West. And investors would want to make money no matter what the inflation is.

> 6. The end result is a sort of "Red Queen" effect where everyone is forced to compete harder and harder just to maintain his/her existing standard of living.

That really isn't a logical conclusion.

> 8. Therefore, we should focus on curbing inflation to curb the pace of overwhelming growth, and thereby restore some measure of social justice.

I would recommend to you to really get into economics. You are making a lot of assumptions that really don't hold up.


>And sometimes its to the benefit of the environment, the employees and its in accordance with the rule of law.

Yes. Sometimes lottery is also the right investment: in the 1/10000000 of cases where you win...


Do yourself a favor and go down the list of every major industrial process and compare its waste stream and environmental impact, its pretty evident that the majority these process are more efficient and less wasteful.

Companies make thins more efficient, and thus they impact the environment less.


>Do yourself a favor and go down the list of every major industrial process and compare its waste stream and environmental impact, its pretty evident that the majority these process are more efficient and less wasteful.

Compared to what?

Surely not with not doing them at all...


The companies that do exhibit social and environmental responsibility rarely make it into the news, since they don’t support the daily need for outrage or the narrative that Corporations Are Evil. It’s mere selection bias.

>The companies that do exhibit social and environmental responsibility rarely make it into the news,

That's because they're either insignificantly small, or environmental theater (a la Apple).


I think that there is a misconception about cause and effect when it comes to corporate greed.

We tend to think that all companies inevitably pursue monetary growth regardless of other costs. If you look at the average corporation that will likely not be true.

Big corporations tends to be greedy because that's how they got big. Not so greedy companies either don't grow or they get bought up by more greedy companies.

The majority of corporations may not agree with the philosophies of the big ones at all. But the big corporations eat more of the cake. One way to counteract this is to starve the bigger corporations of workforce.


We already pretty much curbed inflation. The issue is that people still expect high returns and high interest rates, but these have fallen especially risk free rates, but also maybe returns on risky investments.

An alternative would be to forming an co-operative unit that distributes wealth more evenly. More automation only leads to joblessness causing more inequality. Also natural resources are plundered more aggressively by few who become multi-billionaire causing more environmental degradation. Though, greed is necessary for development of society, concentration of wealth to a selected few does not bode well for society. Private profits or shareholder profits are better for society if business model evenly distributes it.

Corporations often need to grow just like countries (with their GDP, which normally leads to tax income growth) in order to outgrow their debt. They're also affected by inflation and the resulting increase in costs. Our whole economic system is driven by debts, if we want to stop growth, we should first learn to live with deflation and then see what happens if we make debt-financing investments and expenses/consumption hard or impossible.

Logically, this would never work if other countries don't do the same.


I would like to bring another concept to this discussion, which is the cost of externalities.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Externality

How much corporate growth is directly the result of taking from the environment? Could a regulating body apply the true cost of corporate growth back to the corporations so it were no longer profitable to take from the environment for the sake of your bottom line?


It's a mistake to assume I'm looking for 0% inflation-adjusted-growth.

Assume there is no inflation. If I have invested $625,000 and I want to retire with the ability to spend $25,000 per year on food, housing, medical care, taxes, travel, and insurance, then I require 4% growth (or dividends!) for that to be sustainable.


Inflation may occur due to uncontrollable factors, like scarcity of resources as they are consumed at a basic rate. Increasing scarcity means everyone must now compete harder to get the same basic rate of consumption from the reduced resource pool size, regardless of whether corporations or investments or governments even existed at all.

Another source of inflation is increasing wage & benefit demands, especially from large middle or lower classes who want to afford to consume more because they value the greater consumption as an important part of life, a noble and intrinsically morally good goal of bettering one’s self through self-determined hard work such that the value of your labor and skill increases over time.

In direct response to large classes of workers demanding more pay & benefits, companies will raise their prices to pay for those increases, again totally regardless of whether a stock market exists.

I think really inflation is a side-effect of nature, and thinking along the lines of how to long-term control or remove it is counter-productive, compared with accepting that it is inevitable and then trying to come to terms with living in the future world that this implies.


Inflation is a side effect of monetary and fiscal policy; central banks are now quite good at adjusting interest rates to keep inflation in the 0-2% band.

> In direct response to large classes of workers demanding more pay & benefits, companies will raise their prices to pay for those increases, again totally regardless of whether a stock market exists.

How well this works is down to the "tightness" of the labour market. Central bank policy affects this: raise interest rates -> decrease investment -> increase unemployment above the "NAIRU" ("non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment") -> workers are unable to demand pay increases as they may be replaced by eager cheaper workers from the pool of unemployed.


Even in a barter economy with no government, money system or central fiscal planning there can be inflation. Inflation is nothing more than sustained higher prices for the same amount of goods or service, no matter the cause. Prices could be denominated in fiat money, currency, bartered physical goods, time, whatever. Inflation could be localized to a cafeteria where kids are trading lunch items for the best desserts, or span the globe in ways that transcend any given government’s ability to use fiscal and monetary policy.

Inflation caused by Federal Reserve actions is just one (minor) type of inflation.


> quite good at adjusting interest rates

and manipulating measurements


I think the weak premise is 4.

Agents in economics are typically modeled as maximizing wealth or utility, which is different from 4, which says agents want wealth to be non-decreasing.


4. Isn’t true.

Even at zero actual growth, you would have nominal growth that matches the inflation rate.

Inflation means that the prices of the products that the companies sell increase as well.

Inflation doesn’t matter


It absolutely does matter, particularly for owners of debt (bonds). Inflation will eviscerate returns on bonds and all other fixed-income investments.

Inflation is already priced into bonds. It doesn’t matter as long as it’s more or less predictable.

it’s a lot simpler than that. People need growth. Nobody wants a pay cut, you would be really unhappy and leave because it messes up your plans, you can’t make your mortgage payment, etc. The need for growth is universal at all scales and layers. Wealthy or poor, Society to cellular. BTW check out Macro Voices podcast.

Most of these issues are ineffective regulatory systems.

Companies that don’t grow are either dying or turning into DMV.


Inflation ensures the status quo is never good enough. This drives technological progress to achieve better efficiencies. Good regulations provide the constraints of the game - maintain clear air / water /power etc...

What you call social justice in reality would cement the status quo and deincentivize technological progress. See the lack of innovation in socialist countries. Great at copying, bad at inventing.


There's a book called Capital, by a guy named Karl Marx which explores this concept fairly deeply. I highly recommend "Reading Capital with David Harvey" which is a lecture series recorded this year that breaks it down and provides modern examples to illustrate the concepts.

you re-discovered or independently discovered the basis marxism, sort of.

I guess you're being downvoted because of the M word, but you have a point; it's very similar to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tendency_of_the_rate_of_profit...

Can somebody explain the stigma regarding Marx on HN? I mean, I get that this a forum for a VC firm but isn't it also a place for academic discussion? It's pretty hard to discuss things like income disparity, automation, etc without a mention.

HN is okish at academic discussion, despite the constant risk of "middlebrow dismissal" (as the moderation guidelines call it). But people aren't widely read in certain areas outside STEM.

The legitimate objections to Marx are that he's old - Marxist analysis is like Freudian analysis, there's a big risk of pretending that nothing has happened in the field for a century. And therefore he's not great on the influences of technology; he pre-dates the microchip and the internal combustion engine.

Less seriously, Marxists have a tendency to be annoying jargon-spouters (see Orwell on the subject), and there's a big contingent of fanatical anti-communists who will kick of at the merest mention of his name.

In my long list of round-tuit projects is "see what of Marx can be rescued from the Marxists".


Thanks for a thoughtful answer.

It's not HN-specific, it's the general culture stigma against Marx bleeding through. And it's not entirely unjustified, because you definitely want to filter out low-effort, thoughtless Marxism.

Identifying problems != providing a better solution.

Everyone being equally poor hasn't worked in history yet.


While that is all true, at least to me it sounds like the old explanation of why Communism failed - "It was indeed superior, but all the world had to agree so for it to work".

Say one country develops this utopia where everyone doesn't have to compete to survive, either companies or individuals.

Its neighbour though remains with the old Capitalist model. In a generation or two the struggling capitalist country could overtake the utopia one in production, wealth or even by force. Then you're back to square one.


I'm merely suggesting that we maintain the money supply at a level that does not result in any inflation.

Per other comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21664066 ; inflation is already near-zero, and this is controlled through interest rates rather than simple M0.

I do agree with this, but what of pension plans? At 2% inflation, a fund of $10,000 will deplete to slightly over $6000 (inflation adjusted) in 20 years...

We're back to Picketty and "r > g" here; you're not holding the pension as cash, so you're making a return, so what rate is the return at? And how does the aggregate rate of return compare to the rate of growth in the economy?

Or are people seriously proposing having 0 GDP growth and 0% interest rates and 0% expected stockmarket returns? A strange world that's almost certainly unstable.

(There is a much broader question that if you expect a dollar to buy you a loaf of bread today, is it really reasonable to expect the same dollar to buy a loaf of bread in 40 years? And what level of stasis would be required to achieve that?)


The states goal of the Fed is to "maintain the rate as close to zero as possible while keeping it safely positive.".

Very impressed to find Jancovici here. I've been watching his intervention for 6 months and I found he has one of the most rational approach to our coming world. It is bleak but not desperate, although his main message is : technology/economy (based on our consumption of fossil fuel) will not have time to catch up on the coming catastrophies and the inevitable pic oil. We have shaped the world to our convenience now we have to adapt to it and the illusion of infinite resource needs to end or it will end us.

French speakers, don't miss Jancovici's appearances on Thinkerview. Along with Bihouix, his talks are clear and enlightening.

And his recent (2019-11-07) interview on France Culture https://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/linvite-des-matins/tr...

Also his whole course on climate change on youtube. I'd never imagined JMJ linked here.

That's easy to say from the First World, where they already traded our (global) environment for (local) gains. But what are the people in poor countries supposed to do? Just stay poor forever?

We traded our local environment too.

I mean South America is 35% Old Growth Forest vs. less than 3% in Europe.[1]

In Europe, pretty much only the Białowieża Forest remains. We destroyed everything else over the millennia.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old-growth_forest#Locations_of...


The problem of excessive energy consumption isn't caused by the people in poor countries though.

Depends how you look at it. Perhaps - since it's often claimed it's our fault that they're poor - we're preventing it by keeping them poor.

For sure, economies with 1b+ population could have problematic consumption if they developed quickly, like India and China.


It isn't now, but most countries that used to be poor and then ceased to be, did that by increasing energy consumption.

China is a recent example, hopefully India will soon be another.


However, poor countries achieving consumption (and energy consumption) levels comparable to developed countries would definitely be excessive energy consumption, simply because there are so much more people in these poor countries.

And who defines excessive? If you happen to be talking about CO2 emissions, the level in the UK (1% of total emissions) has been reduced to that last experienced in 1890. Aside from CO2 what's the problem with energy consumption in itself? There are plenty of people in the UK who have a financial problem in keeping warm in the winter. I see a figure of 4 million from 2016. That's not at all likely to get smaller as renewables push up from providing 22% (inc. non carbon) of the energy demand in the UK at present. https://gridwatch.co.uk/

> Aside from CO2 what's the problem with energy consumption in itself?

I agree with this entirely. Some countries managed to reduce CO2 emissions from their electricity production. However when you look at primary energy consumption, including heating, industry, transportation, no country manages to reach a low-CO2 energy profile.

> There are plenty of people in the UK who have a financial problem in keeping warm in the winter.

There are plenty of people in the UK who live in old, precarious buildings with very poor insulation. Mandatory paid-for insulation in these buildings would reduce energy consumption, CO2 emissions and increase comfort of living. That's part of the measures pushed forward by Jancovici.

> And who defines excessive?

That is, indeed the key question of our times.


Here's the secret: few in the first world consider developing countries. No one cares about the brain drain (it's just people choosing where to live, right? lol) or their non-competitiveness due to rules imposed by first world countries. They got theirs, now we all need to work together snickers.

To be fair, EU investment for example, is biased towards equality instead of excellence, i.e. invest in poorer states to bring them up to speed instead of dumping everything on the best performers. Probably because of the nature of the union, where everyone has a decent say. Even so, some developed countries benefit disproportionately. But the world as a whole is not the EU.

What people in developing countries should do is say "yes sir, certainly", then proceed to work towards their own benefit. Like China did (the one thing they did right).


A lot of charts and napkin math to reach an obvious conclusion. Better discussion would be, "A) Why do we worship GDP, and B) how do we stop?"

My own answers (shared as a starting point rather than a destination) would be:

A)

- old westerners are really attached to the pensions they promised themselves

- marginally-skilled people prefer the illusion of agency offered by employment over being total dependents of the state

- people who have never experienced certain products and services attach much more value to them than those who already have--new toy vs old hat.

- plutocrats are very interested in keeping the machine well-oiled so that they may enjoy their lives in peace and keep the guillotine at bay.

and B)

- short of civilizational collapse, I'm not sure that we can.


The elephant in the room is the continual neglect or the downright (intellectual) hate shown to anyone who had dared mention Malthus in the last 25-30 years (his thoughts had a bit of intellectual resurgence in the 1970s, but that was pretty much it). It seems like in the last 2 or 3 years we have tried and tried to reach his same conclusions in very convoluted ways, ignoring his very existence.

The good thing at least is that some of us have at last reached the conclusion that some sort of planet-wide environmental growth limits have been reached, even that wasn't the case until not that long ago, when any mention of a possible limit was met with "we'll technologically surpass that, we always have".


Malthus is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many "forbidden charts" that people can lose their jobs over these days!

Outside of global warming--all we plebes get are Pinker-nuggets on how everything is just fine.


Curious. Care to give some examples?

There is so much wrong with this.

> from 1880 to 1975, when energy per capita is strongly growing, the world undergoes just one major economic crisis, in 1929.

> since 1975, after the rate of growth dramatically decreased, there has been a crisis every 5 to 10 years: 1975, 1980, 1991, 2000, 2008, 2012, and it would be no surprise to have a new one in the coming years.

These statements are just totally wrong. There were many more economic crisis between 1880 - 1975 and often those were worse then those since 1975.

These statements are just 100% opposite of every history of economics I have ever seen.

It seems he gets the causation totally backwards.

> and recurring recessions will become something normal in our economic system

Recessions are absolutely not linked to energy supply.


I'm mostly commenting here to be able to find this guy again later.

But now that I have listened to him he is 100% spot on about most things.

The only problems this guys has are:

1) He's biased for nuclear because it feeds him. Nuclear cannot be built without hydrocarbons and toxic nuclear waste is not something you can dig down into the ground without hydrocarbons, even if the radiation is only hazardous for 1000 years, we're not going to have enough energy to handle the waste.

2) He does not understand money enough yet. Fiat money cannot have value without hydrocarbons. GDP is 99% debt because today money is 99% debt and therefore neither has value. Money is something humans have arbitrarily invented without being inspired by nature, it does not exist!

3) He does not understand that some things run and use energy whether you use them or not. For example the routers on the internet because processors are synchronous. The solution is async. processors, but our economic system doesn't encourage energy saving research, at least before it's too late, which is now.

That said, if the energy density of uranium is 1000000x that of oil, which in it's turn is 1000x more than batteries; this guy for president?


Great discussion. My favorite definition of energy is that it is a replacement for the labor and time of human beings. Energy gives us freedom to choose how to live our lives because it does stuff for us that we don't want to do. This is why so few of us are farmers. Energy leads very directly to high quality of life.

As such, per capita energy usage isn't just linked to GDP, but also to Human Development Index (a composite index to quantify quality of life that includes GDP).

Here's what HDI vs. per capital electricity usage looks like: https://i.imgur.com/8otdGxP.jpg

Bubble size is proportional to population. While correlation does not imply causation, it's quite clear that as quality of life improves, so does energy usage, to a point.

The striking thing is the knee. The knee is mentioned in the parent article from a GDP point of view but I think that's only part of the story. On the low-energy side, you can see that a little bit of energy can dramatically improve your quality of life. At the very low end is where people are cooking with indoor stoves and dying to the tune of 3.8 million per year from indoor air pollution.

Then you see for places like the USA, we could cut our per capita energy usage in half and probably not be affected from a quality of life standpoint. We're saturated.

There is a worldwide moral imperative to increase per capita energy usage of people at the low end of this curve for quality of life reasons. They deserve the ability to choose how they spend their time. Doing so requires about a 2-4x increase in total world energy production.

Energy sources that can enable that kind of gain without causing more air pollution deaths and without causing climate change are well-known. Here they are as a function of carbon emissions (equivalent) per kWh generated: https://i.imgur.com/8LQFVMO.png


It is ludicrous how few economists are willing to take thermodynamics as a limiting theory to the economy when it's so critical in finance and science.

Not as crazy as the fact ISLM doesn't capture private debt, but still a huge problem


It would make far more sense to massively increase energy efficiency across all segments. This will further decouple GDP from emissions.

What do you mean "further decouple"? It has never been decoupled in any real sense.

https://yearbook.enerdata.net/total-energy/world-energy-inte...

Yet, reduction of energy use per unit of GDP is not impossible. In the last 28 years there has been reduction by 35% overall.


> The term “GDP per energy unit” is nothing else than the energy efficiency of the economy: the more efficient the economic system is, the more GDP is produced with the same amount of energy. In other words, when this term increases, it means that for the same amount of kWh (or BTU!), we can have more furniture, glasses, cars, frozen peas, buildings or coffee machines.

FWIW, i want to point out that this is an often-overlooked leverage point for improving our situation. Our systems today are grossly inefficient. For example, something like 30%-50% of the electricity we generate (okay, transform) is lost in the grid on the way to the consumer. Much of it is lost after that too.


> For example, something like 30%-50% of the electricity we generate (okay, transform) is lost in the grid on the way to the consumer.

I don't think it is that much.

Plus electricity is not our main energy consumption.

And most of our machines have actually a decent efficiency. And/or it is hard to optimize. ICE for example have not even progressed that much in several decades. One or two dozen % maybe? And they will also not improve much in the future.

So we can not sustain by merely efficiency improvements. Because we are talking about reducing the energy consumption greatly. Like x2, 3, 4. But of course efficiency is crucially important, and part of what will be required.


> I don't think it is that much.

I can't find a good reference, and I think it's gotten better since the 70's, but yes, depending on who you ask and how you do the accounting (and which nation or region you're talking about) losses are from about 10% to as much as 70%.

I'm glad you're not against improving efficiency but you should check it out, the scope for improvement just in efficiency is great.

I. e., ICEs emit streamers and blobs of unburned fuel (not to mention other still-useful chemicals that instead become pollution). You can install a spark plug in your tail pipe and send 5m flames shooting out the back. People used to do it for kicks, I'm given to understand. There's a whole cottage industry of fringe-tech gadgets to atomize fuel more finely to improve cars' fuel efficiency.

Or consider the refrigerator, it opens like a cabinet spilling cold air on the floor every time.

We can get 2x improvement in energy consumption just though greater efficiency.


We make more things, but we consume less resources to do it today than ever before. That was the essential point of Andrew McAfee's book and his discussion on Econtalk the other week.

https://www.econtalk.org/andrew-mcafee-on-more-from-less/

That appears to be backed up here too; this article reports that the $GDP per kWh is increasing over time.

Does this then mean that reducing GDP will have disproportionately LESS of an effect on energy consumption than it will have on value? I.e. we will have to take a much bigger hit on value produced to effect energy consumed.


You are conflating KWhr with KWhr/production. KWhr is increasing because production is increasing faster than efficiency is increasing.

I don't think the author is suggesting reduction of GDP, but the reduction of GDP growth...

I think there is only limited correlation between physical energy and money. Money is directly tied with human work: wages for time and effort. Physical energy can vary widely depending on the specific work, even when the price is the same.

The cost of fossil fuel is low because the human work necessary to extract it is very low- it's a problem for the ecology due to no (immediate) human work cost for the Co2 damage. The cost of solar is even lower (which is why it's disruptive)- once you have the solar panel, you don't need any human work.


labor that are still uneducated and do physical work like mining are plenty. so there is not shortage of labor and that keeps wages low. When something is produced on a mass scale, the costs gets lower and that explains why panels are cheap.

In a market economy there is a lot of deliberate inefficiency. Commercial economies are driven, primarily, by transaction quantity, which is most typically exchanging end goods/services for money. Exchange quantity goes up as wages go up and unemployment goes down. Therefore it is in the interest of companies and government that people are employed, as many as possible, even if each person does very little to substantiate the wages earned. This line of thinking falls apart when an economy enters a correction.

Likewise, people will require less energy when wages shrink or disappear all together. Energy consumption is one of many indirect parts of the market economy. When people have less money they will travel less and shop less, which decreases the need for fuel and manufacturing.

---

Reducing energy consumption is a very bad deliberate goal though. Energy efficiency is a natural goal from the collision of increased demand versus fuel cost. The economic desire to increase energy efficiency does just result in lower prices but also cleaner fuel sources. This has trended true over the last 150 years far before people became aware of environment consequences from rising fuel consumption.

Since rising demand, a product of rising consumption rates, drives technology interest in fuel efficiency it is healthier for future economies, and the environment, to encourage greater fuel consumption at consequence to the economy, and environment, at the present. That statement will remain true only so long as up scaling increase of efficiency outpaces up scaling rates of consumption over time. So far the difference in scale has shown true since the start industrialization and there is no indication that the difference in scale will decrease.

Another way to think about this is energy equivalence. As energy sources become cheaper, cleaner, and more available over time they allow greater access to energy by people with less purchasing power. A poor third world economy can grow in ways it could not before because less investment is demanded to achieve growth independence. These new and emerging energy sources and distribution methods are not created for humanitarian reasons. They are created from expensive investment to satisfy expensive first world energy demands. The people who benefit most are those with the greatest need in developing economies under high market pressure without the luxury of expensive investments in infrastructure or logistics. An under-developed economy with high market pressure is one where there is huge demand for raw goods/resources but that economy lacks the finances to invest in itself, such as Ghana under the cocoa industry.


How do these ideas of energy relate to things like google search and software in general? I know server farms use a ton of energy and I also am pretty sure the human brain is by far the biggest consumer of energy in the human body. Maybe it is just that different forms of value creation take different amounts of energy. I suppose it takes much more energy to create a car than to add a new software user.

Why do we need public companies?

I'd more ask why we need corporate charters sponsored and endorsed by the government. They solely exist to exonerate private persons from responsibility for harm done.

In the not so distant future, energy could become abundant thanks to solar energy. On the other hand, physical resources (rare earths but also the molecules contained in oil) are limited. I think it is more important to seek better recycling, reduce waste than to reduce energy consumption.

All countries in the world pursue growth. Forcing them to reduce their energy usage, is a non-starter.

Your best bet would be to reduce the energy consumption of things and have more power sources that have no CO2 emissions like hydro-electric and nuclear.


For millennia, there was no growth because available energy was strictly limited. GDP of a country was a function of its population, itself strongly related to its agricultural capacity.

Read ancient history; you'll see that empires, for ages, relied entirely upon pillaging their neighbours for their own enhancement. The world economy was a strictly zero-sum game basically forever.

The political constructions of the past reflected that state of the matter. There was no social mobility because resource scarcity commanded that as a son of a mason, you couldn't be anything but a mason. And of course, 90% of people had to work in agriculture, anyway, just to feed everyone. There was no way out. Of course society was driven through rigid hierarchies.

Then at some point some guy discovered America, and a strong, growing influx of riches began pouring into Europe. People discovered absolute, continued growth. Then as this trend continued and England had cut down all its trees, they started using coal, and the movement accelerated itself, and went on until now.

As Jancovici remarks, we always went from some energy source to a more powerful, denser, more reliable one: hunting to agriculture, windmills and hand pumps to coal, coal to oil. We never went the other way around, but at some time we'll have to. How to cope?

Now let's talk for a minute about GDP. I had quite heated argument with people with economics background. Basically, they say that GDP can grow eternally because GDP is related to value, which has no physical existence. So though GDP generally implies some form of materiality (be it in the form of ore, grain, industrial goods, or services) it's not mandatory because you could for instance build a better car using no more materials than the previous one.

However it seems to me that this quickly wanders into philosophical territory: what is value? In economics, it seems related to human satisfaction. As the number of human beings on earth is physically limited (we could be 10 billions, 100 billions, but not an infinity), at some point that implies that individual satisfaction can increase indefinitely. That's a stretch, however you see it. That would mean that two humans exchanging a given set of resources in a closed room could increase indefinitely the satisfaction they get from their relationship, and so any arbitrary small country with as few inhabitants as you want could have an infinitely growing GDP, and reach individual nirvana and beyond. BTW I fail to see the point of free trade at this point... Standard neoclassic economics are full of such logical holes.


Unless births are also somehow limited, limiting GDP growth will eventually cause large amounts of poverty.

Nobody wants to admit that the only real way to limit energy consumption is a horrible dystopian future.


Birth rates have plummeted around the world, the reason we have a growing population is people living longer.

The only exception is Africa but even there the highest emitting countries like South Africa have a birth rate barely above replacement levels.


If we entirely give up growth the world's standards of living will freeze where it is.

I'm very very unconvinced by this, why can't we have a green jobs revolution and sensible environmental protections and growth! These are not exclusive, just caused by a lack of imagination.


Kind of amusing that this idea is posted here on Hacker News, the center of people seeking jobs and companies that are the definition of growth.

If you didn’t have growth, you’d all be waiting for your promotion at the power plant when someone dies and frees up a position for you.


> Kind of amusing that this idea is posted here on Hacker News, the center of people seeking jobs and companies that are the definition of growth.

But that's the good kind of growth, you see?

I'm being sarcastic, of course. The ironic (and to me: annoying) thing about the really vocal moralists is that the concept of self-reflection seems to be entirely foreign to them. The problem is always with other people, and those other people just need to change, no matter at what cost.


> The ironic (and to me: annoying) thing about the really vocal moralists is that the concept of self-reflection seems to be entirely foreign to them. The problem is always with other people, and those other people just need to change, no matter at what cost.

That's your assumption, and I believe it's pretty wrong. Advocating for changes that go against your own immediate self-interest isn't lack of self-reflection; if anything, it's often a signal of a correctly pointing moral compass.

No man is an island. Rare is the person whose friends and family work in the same booming industry as they do. Even if you benefit from exploiting other people, you might want to that exploitation to cease for the sake of your own life, or the society you live in.


I believe you misunderstood my point. I wasn't talking about people advocating for change against their own immediate self-interest, I was talking about people suiting their own self-interest by advocating for other people to change, regardless of what that entails for those other people and, most importantly, without consideration for whether the advocacy is merited and just, given their own position.

> Advocating for changes that go against your own immediate self-interest isn't lack of self-reflection; if anything, it's often a signal of a correctly pointing moral compass.

People like to advocate for change a lot, and they often do so whilst working in the opposite direction of that change. I consider that hollow.


It is the good kind of growth, the dematerialization of the economy is a major factor in the lower energy elasticity in developed countries...

It's absolutely not obvious whether digital technologies reduce energy consumption globally.

E-mail reduced the amount of letters, but Amazon increased the amount of packages.

Over-the-air TV broadcasts consumed way less energy than FHD personalized YouTube streams.

Americans own more than 20 electronic products per household.

etc.


What dematerialization? Facebook's entire business model is advertising, in other words: getting you to buy things. It used to be Google's and Amazon's entire business model, too, until they diversified into cloud services.

It's the exact opposite of dematerialization.

Edit: To clarify, I'm not at all against these things. On the contrary. My point is that among those people most vocal in demanding (sometimes radical) change from others, I frequently see a complete lack of self-reflection.


It doesn't really matter whether the people calling for radical change are hypocrites or not. That has no material affect on whether there really is a need for radical change. It does make them rather annoying and gives those resistant to change something to criticise them over but it doesn't alter the facts of the situation.

It affects the discussion of the situation and, by extension, the politics surrounding it, and thereby ultimately the one force that might actually effect the necessary change.

What makes it amusing is the assumption that people's thoughts should be consistent with their behaviour. Being interested in growth could be a consequence of being interested in material safety. This last concern is perfectly consistent with reducing energy consumption, given climate change is a threat to material safety.

... and more generally, players in a game can play by the existing rules, while still advocating a change to the rules.

> you’d all be waiting for your promotion at the power plant when someone dies and frees up a position for you.

I already am.

I've been at my job for 13 and a half years, I"ve moved up exactly 0 times. Someone has to quit/retire, get fired or die to free up positions and even then you only have 2 jumps until you're manager, from there you only move up to senior manager and then you're into corporate level positions. My senior manager has been here for the better part of 30 years and probably has another 15-20 in her at which time she'll almost certainly be replaced by someone from another office in another state as her boss's position was when she retired a few years ago (her direct reports were just given to someone already in a similar position in another state).


> the center of people seeking jobs and companies that are the definition of growth

I discussed in many threads closely or loosely related to this topic and many HNers don't share this idea.

You can be a dev in any kind of company and hold any type of beliefs. Outside of SV and a few other places being a dev isn't that crazy money/career growth wise.


Growth is a synonym for progress.

Progress, as in "your cancer progressed to stage 4". Growth can have downsides, be it what is growing or the costs of growth.

The title is misleading in that it's not exactly the conclusion the article arrives at.

The article has it quite the other way round: Once energy consumption doesn't grow anymore we either need more efficient means of growth (i.e. less energy consumption per growth unit) or we have to forego growth.

It's pre-Industrial-Age Malthus all over again: Barring paradigm shifts that allow for more efficient production planet Earth can only sustain a maximum number of people (roughly 1 billion around Malthus' lifetime).

However, Malthus' theory has been disproven time and time again precisely because there have always been such paradigm shifts that allowed us to sustain more people with fewer resources, in others words to increase GDP/NRJ as well as NRJ/POP.

If NRJ/POP becomes stagnant either GDP/NRJ will have to grow rapidly or there won't by any GDP growth - and by extension population growth - anymore.

I just don't get the seemingly recurring obsession with artificially limiting growth. Yes, thermodynamically the energy available ultimately is limited but that doesn't mean we should start to behave as if we've already reached thermodynamic equilibrium.

What supporters of artificially limiting GDP growth often don't acknowledge is that placing such a limit also places a hard limit on population growth or even necessitates a reduction in population.

In fiction, one staunch proponent of such an approach is Avengers villain Thanos, who doesn't want to decimate half of the Universe's population for a lark or because he's simply evil but because he's on a mission to free the Universe from growth and overpopulation.

I suggest that instead of obsessing with the NRJ/POP term in the equation we focus on GDP/NRJ instead.


I guess we should give some props to Malthus - he may actually have the single most successful/impactful Zombie Idea (per Krugman's definition) in the history of the world.

It's rather telling that even a place like Hacker News has trouble understanding what technology is, what it has done and what it can do.


> If NRJ/POP becomes stagnant either GDP/NRJ will have to grow rapidly or there won't by any GDP growth - and by extension population growth - anymore.

If i'm not mistaken that's a non sequitur. How do you link GDP growth and population growth? Why would an ever growing population even be a goal?

> there have always been such paradigm shifts that allowed us to sustain more people with fewer resources

No, paradigm shifts have allowed to sustain more people with more resources. Sure resources per people were smaller (eg more efficient processes), but global resource usage has always been growing (apart from recessions and other "bad" events where people actually died from stuff not working). This efficiency / resource usage counter-intuitive correlation is known as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox.


Resource usage per capita has never been higher, because the goal is not to do the same work with less, the goal is always to achieve more with more (or at least the same).

Achieving “the same with less” at a macroeconomic level is actually impossible. Because if you reduce your inputs, you are by definition reducing demand for someone else’s outputs, leading to ultimately less demand for your outputs, i.e. a recession.

The “way out” is for the increasing output to be more ecological harvested, less polluting, and more recyclable than before.


> How do you link GDP growth and population growth?

GDP growth and population growth are inherently linked: In order to provide sufficient resources for a growing population resource production has to increase, either by more energy input or by more efficient production.

If on the other hand population growth suddenly stopped and consumption per capita remained the same the only way for GDP to continue to grow would be to increase output per unit of work (i.e. the GDP/NRJ term from article).

> Why would an ever growing population even be a goal?

It's not as if someone purposefully sets this as a goal. Population growth given sufficient resources up to a point seems to be a naturally occurring phenomenon.

If on the other hand we decide to deliberately constrain the availability of resources this in turn means putting a constraint on population growth as well. Ultimately, this means deciding who gets to live and who doesn't.

If for whatever reason population growth stops naturally there's no need to establish growth as a goal for its own sake. However, artificially constraining growth seems inhumane to me.

I can't remember the exact quote but somewhere in the epilogue of the first Dune novel Frank Herbert has planetary ecologist Liet Kynes say (or rather write because he's penning guidelines for educating the Fremen) something along the lines of: "Life is its own tool for ever more efficiently making use of the energy available within a system."

In my opinion, that's a profound insight.


"There have always been paradigm shifts, therefore there will be more", isn't that the very definition of wishful thinking?

Jancovici's proposal isn't to artificially limit growth, it's to do realistic accounting. When you pull out a barrel of oil from the ground, you gain something (in GDP, etc) but you also lose something. If you never account for the losses in biodiversity, resources, clean water, etc then you can pretend you're "growing" while actually having net losses accumulating.


> "There have always been paradigm shifts, therefore there will be more", isn't that the very definition of wishful thinking?

It'd be wishful thinking if there was no evidence to back up that claim. However, these paradigm shifts have happened in the past: hunter-gatherer society -> nomadism -> husbandry -> agriculture -> crop rotation -> industrialisation -> information age / green revolution -> digitalisation

Extrapolating from that there's no reason to assume this will suddenly end.

I'm in favour of doing realistic accounting. However, the original title was something along the lines of "In order to reduce energy consumption we need to give up growth.", which turns Jancovici's conclusion on its head.

Not taking into account or neglecting the GDP/NRJ part of the equation and solely focussing on NRJ/POP is tantamount to falling for the same defeatist Malthusian fallacy that we're doomed anyway.


> It'd be wishful thinking if there was no evidence to back up that claim.

Sorry but no, this is a hint at best. This not evidence. Everything comes to an end, eventually.

Regarding the GDP/NRJ ratio: the coupling is somewhat less strong, however we're far from the strong negative coupling that would be necessary for our coming energy landscape. As Jancovici said (in this article or another), we always went from an energy source to a better one ( hunting to agriculture; muscles to wind to coal to oil); we never experienced going back to less concentrated ones.


> I suggest that instead of obsessing with the NRJ/POP term in the equation we focus on GDP/NRJ instead.

That's what absolutely everyone has been doing for the past 70 years. What happens usually when energy efficiency is called the rebound effect. We will create more with as much energy, not create as much with less energy.

Also, note that creating as much with less energy will limit GDP growth as well, as the GDP is based on creation of goods and services.


> I just don't get the seemingly recurring obsession with artificially limiting growth.

At a basic level, it's a cognitive bias regarding economics, the idea of ultimate scarcity: a pie that's forever limited in size and that we all must share (opposite of a view of "abundance"). It however contradicts most of our experience of economics; throughout history champions of "abundance" (who dare to create it) are known as great kings and merchants and soldiers and religious figures. Facts are much less favorable to proponents of scarcity — such mindsets usually lead to economic crisis, under-development, stagnation.

The scarcity view here would move that Earth is already saturated, no more room for anything / anyone, and thus we must all reduce our hopes and start sharing what little is there. Obviously, this is scientifically and economically absolutely wrong, the problem is more about distribution — the Earth is the kind of planet that can sustain 1,000 times more population, and that's low-balling it in terms of thermodynamics. It really is more a problem of energetic efficiency and now externalities (space industry to the rescue).

On a cultural level, technology and development seem to map on a spectrum of perceptions ranging from "technological utopists" to "luddites" (believers in a technological doom). Both extremes are unlikely so most people/cultures fall in-between, around the center usually.

It seems, again from history, from literature, that the best kind of development stems from a culture 'rather slightly positively biased towards technology' (with limits and caveats, what we could call a 'problem-solution driven society'). This was basically the bedrock of innovating Damascus around 1200, of innovating China (key moments throughout the last millennium), and of the scientific revolution in Europe, as well as 20th/21st century tech centers in America and Asia.

My problem with anti-growth beliefs and scarcity proponents is they usually stop short of describing the whole picture, what implementing it actually does to populations, what economic slowdown or depression mean in real-felt terms for real-people. In my mind it's just as dangerous as saying "oh let's build a fascist state because that will be better to solve our problems, that's a risk worth taking!" On paper, maaaaaaybe, you might think that, as a thought experiment; in real life it just never worked. Never. That cure has always been worse than the disease. True for fascism, true for economic shrinking (and there's no "minimizing" growth, the minute you stop aiming for growth which isn't easy nor granted by the way, you find yourself in a world of depressed indicators and it becomes uncontrollable).

Sometimes I feel like people don't realize that piloting a global economy is more like dog fighting or F1, it's not a walk in the park that we are free to take casually and amend to our liking — "oh, let's take this nice little path here!". No, it's hard, and when we fail too much, people die. It's not a toy to play with, it's a freaking hard tension between survival and progress. Idealism is very dangerous when met with complacency.


They can't. Capitalism can only exist in growth. To give up growth you would need to give up Capitalism.

You should do both.

Edit: Do people who downvote me disagree that Capitalism necessitates growth to function? Or do they disagree that we should get rid of it?


Give up population growth. This really is key but too often overlooked.

Most of the "western world" already has barely growing or declining populations: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_decline

What you are proposing is thus an imperialist dictate on African and Asian countries, which is an obvious no go.

Instead you should advocate for improved standards of living and flourishing economies in all these countries, which is strongly correlated with stabilizing population levels.


Not necessarily.

Africa, with 1.+2 billion inhabitants, has a tiny carbon footprint compared to the US (which as less than 1/3 of Africa's population).

Source: https://unfccc.int/files/press/backgrounders/application/pdf...


They have a tiny carbon footprint because they are overwhelmingly poor compared to the West (granted, the US have a particularly large footprint).

So either we tell them that, sorry, but they have to stay dirt poor and also to stay away from their rain forests even if they starve, or the aim is to eradicate poverty on the planet, but in that latter case their resources footprint (this is more general than carbon alone) is bound to increase.

That's why the global population is a key factor in fighting climate change and protecting the environment.


Only a (smallish) portion of the western carbon footprint is directly correlated with having a decent life.

Yes, the entire world cannot buy larger cars than what we need them for, we cannot fly around the world on vacations, we cannot throw away half the food we produce, we cannot buy clothes to use them once, and so on.

Such needless things, often more related to consumption culture than living standards, is responsible for a large portion of emissions.

Not only that, but we live in societies with an enormous capital in infrastructure built up from previous emissions.

I think westerners should at least start thinking about not emitting CO2 just for the fun of it, before telling others to not have too many children.


I would dispute your claim that our resources (again, it's not just about carbon) footprint is not directly correlated to basic standard of living.

But the key issue with your reply is that this is not 'us' doing this versus 'them' doing that.

We must reduce CO2 emissions and we must stop population growth. Both 'we' mean humankind as a whole.


Population growth is slowing, and population is predicted to flatten out. So yay!

That falls very short of what should be done to limit our impact on the planet for the sake of protecting the environment and remaining wilderness.

I really don't understand this disconnect between the message of urgency about the environment and the climate, and the widespread complacency about an actual root cause of the issue (as illustrated by your comment), which is population growth: "Oh it's slowing and will probably stabilise at 11 billions... that's fine. On the other hand, we must be emissions-neutral and stop using plastics by tomorrow." That's totally incoherent.


Most of the world is empty: https://geoawesomeness.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/world-...

We just need to learn to be efficient.


If I look at the density map you posted: Oh look at the Amazon, it's all empty so we still have space to expand farming. Yay.

The world is not empty. It's either exploited to cater for human needs or wilderness that should be protected at the point we've reached.


Perhaps you missed the empty desserts the other commenter has pointed out. If we want to colonize Mars, we should be able to colonize desserts.

To illustrate the same point differently: if the USA had the same population density as the UK, there would be 2.5 billion people living there, instead of the current 327 million.

Math: 327 million US ppl * 274 UK ppl per sq km / 35 US ppl per sq km.


Most of the "empty" space on the map world is an inhospitable desert. Sahara, Australian Outback, Namib, the Arctic, North American West, Tibet, Kazakhstan, Antarctica, Patagonia.

Granted, a few pockets of wild forests left, Amazon, parts of Central Africa, New Guinea, Siberia. Under intense development pressure. Hard to call that "most of the world".


> Most of the "empty" space on the map world is an inhospitable desert.

Southern California is an inhospitable desert, but tens of millions of people live there nonetheless.


There certainly are ways to live there. Granted, it needs some colonization effort - still easier than colonizing Mars, and actually producing some technologies for that.

The past 200 years is the era of energy-intensive technological innovation. What is the evidence that the technology innovation pattern we've experienced so far can shift into ultra-low energy mode at scale? In inhospitable environments to boot.

PS. Mars colonization is folly.


The need to find new places to live, perhaps combined with regulatory effort.

Many European countries already did, collectively. Now it's up to developing world to do their share.

Give up your Social Security benefits. Some has to work to pay your (and mine) SS benefits...and to change our diapers.

Natural population growth is not occurring in rich countries


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