Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Industrial Literacy (rootsofprogress.org)
330 points by sien on Oct 1, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 192 comments



> they propose tearing it down, because they don’t see the use of it.

Speaking for just myself, it isn't as if I don't know the various points outline in the basics. It is that my current thinking is that the extractive-value paradigm of the industrial processes has done far more harm than good. Both people and land have been turned into resources by which value is extracted and capitalized. This has lead to a wide-spread devastation in our ecology, in our communities, and our human potential. It's a process that is moving towards degeneration, and we see many of those effects -- from growing equality gaps, to the radicalization of angry young people, and so forth.

Although I feel an antipathy towards all of this (in the sense of watching a dumpster fire), I have encountered some work that does not involving burning anything down (literally or metaphorically). It does require a change in paradigm and epistemology.

The work I am referring to comes from Carol Sandford. I'm still learning it and slowly applying them in my life. She has been at it for over 40 years now, and have worked with Fortune 500 companies ... though I don't know how much of a transformative effect she has. Nothing that made the news in a big way.

But take the idea of having to use synthetic fertilizers and pest control. There are better ways, but they eat at the profit margin if you were only to maximize on profit, yield, and market value. If the goal, however, is towards the well-being of the community and the land in which things are farmed, then there are many methods with which we can accomplish that while still feeding people without requiring a huge amount of labor. But it comes from a different way of seeing the world.


> But take the idea of having to use synthetic fertilizers and pest control.

The corresponding "industrial literacy" element is the statistic that half of the nitrogen in human bodies in the world was fixed from the atmosphere through the Haber-Bosch process. That doesn't mean that we should assume that there's no other way to get nitrogen fixation, but I imagine it means we should realize that changing that in order to do without synthetic fertilizers, or even reduce the use of them dramatically, is a really, really big undertaking.

(I've been vegan or vegetarian for the past 80% of my life, but my carbon footprint is still way above the global average because of my heavy use of airplanes. Well, not this year, maybe. Anyway, one way I notice that I'm lacking in industrial literacy in the sense of this article: I honestly don't know whether my diet puts me above or below the world average in ratio of Haber-Bosch-fixed nitrogen in my body! I think noticing my uncertainty about that makes me more sympathetic to the idea of the original article, though.)


> The corresponding "industrial literacy" element is the statistic that half of the nitrogen in human bodies in the world was fixed from the atmosphere through the Haber-Bosch process. That doesn't mean that we should assume that there's no other way to get nitrogen fixation, but I imagine it means we should realize that changing that in order to do without synthetic fertilizers, or even reduce the use of them dramatically, is a really, really big undertaking.

Some years ago, I read an American defence analyst claiming that USA is just 4 biggest fertilizer stockpiles away from starvation, if no imports are possible. And the globe as well is dangerously reliant on a dozen of so "megaplants."


I also think this understanding of vulnerability is a benefit of industrial literacy.


>It is that my current thinking is that the extractive-value paradigm of the industrial processes has done far more harm than good. Both people and land have been turned into resources by which value is extracted and capitalized.

Before industrial society, people and land were also resources from which value was extracted, often quite literally belonging to a small group of people.

I don't think that a purely extractive-value paradigm is the only way for an industrial society to run. For example, if we better priced the harm that comes from things like fertiliser run-off and emissions from fertiliser manufacturing, would we still use synthetic fertilisers? Almost definitely yes, we would just be more careful about using it only where really required.

>It's a process that is moving towards degeneration, and we see many of those effects -- from growing equality gaps, to the radicalization of angry young people, and so forth.

I think we need to be quite careful with our history here. The systems that were replaced by the early modern civilisation and then subsequently by industrial civilisation, were much more deeply unequal than our modern system, at least in NW Europe which is the history I know best. Those systems, often not quite accurately described as "feudalism" were much more sustainable but also not very pleasant for most people who lived in them.

I think the whole point of the OP was not that we shouldn't think carefully about how we want to run our society so that our descendants can still live happy lives on it 1,000 years from now, but that we shouldn't simply say, "Industrial civilisation? Feh, it's bad" without really understanding how it works.


> often quite literally belonging to a small group of people.

1. Almost all capital belongs to a small group of people today. Humans don't, but that doesn't go as long a way as you would hope.

2. For most of pre-industrial history of our species, it was not the case that a small minority owned most of everything. In many countries it was only relatively recently that village/tribe communal holdings or land use rights were abolished in favor of private property.


> Before industrial society, people and land were also resources from which value was extracted, often quite literally belonging to a small group of people.

Extractive value is the basis for most of civilizations, whether they are industrial or not. That's where we get the exploitation of labor (slavery, serfdoms, indentured servitude, etc.) and wars over resources (most of them) although the ecological footprint is much smaller compared to that of industrial societies. Many of those civilizations still devastated ecologies, communities, and human potential.

What I am asserting is that it is not the industrial practices themselves but the whole paradigm of value-extraction (and its offshoots) that is the core problem. Industrialization mainly scaled up the problem.

> I don't think that a purely extractive-value paradigm is the only way for an industrial society to run.

Carol Sandford with the regenerative paradigms and to some extent, permaculture, has offered up non-extractive-value paradigms.

> For example, if we better priced the harm that comes from things like fertiliser run-off and emissions from fertiliser manufacturing, would we still use synthetic fertilisers? Almost definitely yes, we would just be more careful about using it only where really required.

That's coming from a "Do Less Harm" paradigm that's a typical response to "Value Extraction". It doesn't really address the core issue. Usually, the response to "Do Less Harm" is "Do More Good", but that has its own problems.

At the core of extractive value is that some outside, externalizing process is controlling or regulating the behaviors of the people involved. Regenerative paradigms inverts that, where the intrinsic motivation of individuals are connected to some meaningful contribution. In other words, each individual looks for ways to contribute value to the society and whole, and their capabilities for doing so are developed so that they can.

> The systems that were replaced by the early modern civilisation and then subsequently by industrial civilisation, were much more deeply unequal than our modern system, at least in NW Europe which is the history I know best. Those systems, often not quite accurately described as "feudalism" were much more sustainable but also not very pleasant for most people who lived in them.

"Sustainability" is, I am sad to say, a "Do Less Harm" paradigm. Yeah, the not-quite-feudalism you speak of were sustainable as far as ecological footprint when compared to modern, industrial practices. They were still devastating to human potential, and to communities (all the various wars fought by various polities). Here, instead of trading houses that extracted value, the polity itself still exploited (extracted value) from their peasantry.

While not all polities used their surpluses of food for wars of conquests, many did. The Roman Empire, for example, expanded until it collapsed. Qin Dynasty Chinese used their agricultural surplus and standardization of weapons manufacture (let's call that proto-industrial) in wars of conquest.

Or look at the Hundred Years War in Europe -- conditions and incentives that lead to a period of brutality (to put it mildly).

> what we shouldn't simply say, "Industrial civilisation? Feh, it's bad" without really understanding how it works.

As I stated in my very first comment: It isn't as if I don't understand how it works. I make my statement because I understand how it works.


You seem like a smart person who writes well, and I’ve met a few such people with an interest in permaculture. What do you think about the claims that it’s pseudoscientific, and prescribes agricultural methods that couldn’t possibly feed the current global population? I’m not advancing these claims myself – I know very little about permaculture – but I have done a few searches to try to learn more and I’m really put off by the lack of a clear definition and the conspiratorial, anti-science views that many proponents of the concept (philosophy? theory? movement?) seem to express. I’m also thoroughly confused by the relationship between permaculture and agroecology, which seems like another word for the same thing to me.

I found an article in a permaculture publication [1] which acknowledges unscientific thinking as a major problem for permaculture, while defending the concept as something to be promoted and advanced in a scientific way. I’d be interested in reading more work like this, or preferably, something published in a mainstream science journal which permaculture advocates like you accept as fair comment. The author of the article I’ve mentioned seems to dismiss my preference for those sources as “fetishizing the outputs of big-money science” – do you agree with that?

[1] http://liberationecology.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Ferg...


I've been studying permaculture/regenerative agriculture for a couple years. I think part of the problem is that you will find a broad spectrum of practitioners. From hobbyists, that just apply a practice because somebody else had success with it. To professionals, like Joel Salatin and Richard Perkins, that record everything, perform experiments, and improve process. The professionals are less Mollison style permaculture design and more regenerative agriculture. The basic idea is the same. Work with nature instead of against.

Permaculture as a hobby is just another school of gardening with an eye to efficiency and permanence. You will find as many opinions of the "best" way as there are people. It doesn't help that some practices are very specific to local climate.

Papers on soil microbiome and rhizosphere interactions are the basis of regenerative agriculture practices. If you want to understand how these practices can feed the world I would start there.

PS Now that I have written this, I realize it doesn't really address your criticism. Look towards regenerative agriculture to feed the world over permaculture. While permaculture can be applied at large scale it is more of a homestead practice of planning your land use for efficiency of your own food production.

Agroecology and agroforestry are terms for building ecosystems that provide agricultural output. Something like a nut tree forest with berry understory and mushroom production on rotting logs with farm animals roaming about. An agricultural plot planned to perform as an ecosystem with as many niches producing output as possible.



I think you have very valid points on all of these.

@tastyfreeze's comment had said a lot of what I wanted to say. I'm going to add to that.

When we think about "feeding the world", what frame are we using to look at that? If we were to look at it in terms of total yield distributed for everyone, we'd probably fall short with permaculture.

That set of calculations can be done from a top-down, mechanistic view of the world, wheere all inputs, processes, and outputs can be adequately described. Implicit in this view is that the these living systems, ecologies, and communities can adequately modeled, predicted. And that it can be deployed in a way that can get the results that we want.

However, as James Scott had argued in his book Seeing Like a State, there is a tendency to force these systems into forms that makes it easier to observe, measure, and control, and in doing so, fail. (https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-call...)

We can't actually know what happens when something falls outside of the model, and there's a bias to avoid considering how complex adaptive systems behave when you can no longer model or control it.

Permaculture design principles were developed from a different frame: it is a way to work with, cultivate, and evolve a complex adaptive system (the local ecology) such that human communities can thrive within the ecology it belongs to. That is why you see design principles as "Slow and Small Solutions". Permaculture is something that isn't just decentralized, it must be implemented in a decentralized, site-specific, community-specific way.

Even with this, it is true that getting to 100% food self-sufficiency for a single family is extremely difficult. There was someone who made the news in the permaculture circles who accomplished it for a year. He did it to prove a point, but it wasn't expected that everyone does this. Instead, what where we are talking about is slowly increasing the self-sufficiency of a family, and gradually including others in the neighborhood.

If you are looking for the academic core of permaculture, check out Bill Mollesin's and David Holmgren's works.

I don't know if there are published studies done when we start considering the whole, or studying these living systems as complex adaptive systems. If you come across something like that, I would be interested in checking it out.


> But take the idea of having to use synthetic fertilizers and pest control. There are better ways, but they eat at the profit margin if you were only to maximize on profit, yield, and market value.

Society relies on their being massive agricultural surplus so that only a few people need to be farmers and the rest of us can go and do other things.

If farm yields drop, more land (and people) need to be farmers. If profit margins shrink from changes in farming technique, then either either less is being produced (again, requiring more land & farmers) or more resources being consumed (requiring more raw materials being diverted away from producing comfort and towards producing food).

Profits and yields are not small matters, they are ratios in the equation of how many people we free up from being farmers. We have made enormous strides by freeing up people from toiling away as farmers. There is a long debate to be had about whether taking steps to wind that back is a good idea.


> There is a long debate to be had about whether taking steps to wind that back is a good idea.

It depends on what you exactly mean by "winding that back".

Putting ecological and global warming concerns on the table-of-consideration along with market imperatives is not only reasonable but responsible.

Ironically, the best example of profit/yield imperatives above all else is the corn/fructose industry. This industry is heavily subsidized because of decades of political finagling. They're bad for the environment and not really profitable without subsidies. The corn industry has "won" the race to the bottom and maximized yield at the expense of everything else.

Supply chain technologies are now starting to enable small farmers to provide sustainable goods and still make a living without being a cog in a huge corporation. Suppliers are increasingly doing that. Is it going to completely replace the corn/fructose industry? no, but it can move us in the right direction over time.


You seem to believe fewer farmers is better. There are people out who would like to be farmers but can't pull it off because the current system makes it hard to start small and build up.


Do you realize that if the price of food rises, some people on the low side of the income distribution will starve immediately? Some of them will happen to be the ones dreaming of becoming independent farmers.


And if existing farms become less productive, you need more land and more capital investment to start a farm. When GP talks about more labor being needed for food production, these are not more farmers, these are more field hands and laborers.


>>It is that my current thinking is that the extractive-value paradigm of the industrial processes has done far more harm than good.

Not for humanity. The rate of extreme poverty has declined at its fastest in human history over the last 30 years.

I don't know if you've ever had close contact with people living at or close to extreme poverty. It's hard for me to imagine anyone having such a familiarity, and not believing industrial civilization has done more good than harm, at least when measured in terms of the quality of life of people.


To nuance this once again by Jason Hickel:

"If we use $7.40 per day, we see a decline in the proportion of people living in poverty, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as your rosy narrative would have it. In 1981 a staggering 71% lived in poverty. Today it hovers at 58% (for 2013, the most recent data). Suddenly your grand story of progress seems tepid, mediocre, and – in a world that’s as fabulously rich as ours – completely obscene. There is nothing worth celebrating about a world where inequality is so extreme that 58% of people are in poverty, while a few dozen billionaires have more than all of their wealth combined."


He says the rate of progress seems tepid. But tepid compared to what?

This has been the fastest reduction in the poverty rate in human history. And this reduction in the poverty rate has occurred amidst a massive population explosion, unlike say the 14th century's poverty decline, which happened as 1/3rd of the population died from the Black Death, which raised the area of arable land per capita.

Also, to nuance your nuance, Hickel cites just the poverty rate. The rate of extreme poverty has dropped much more drastically:

"The World Bank Group’s goals are to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. This mission underpins all of our analytical, operational, and convening work in more than 145 client countries. There has been marked progress on reducing poverty – the first of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals – over the past decades. According to the most recent estimates, in 2015, 10 percent of the world’s population or 734 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day. That’s down from nearly 36 percent or 1.9 billion people in 1990."

No, the cynical outlook has no legs to stand on. Humanity is succeeding magnificently at improving its own condition, according to all direct indicators and historical standards.

My only major concern is the damage industrial civilization is doing to the larger ecosystem, as thousands of species are driven to extinction as human settlements and farms engulfs their natural habitats.


> But tepid compared to what?

Compared to the fact that this is not an issue of a lack of resources? Extreme poverty in the midst of an extremely rich world. That should be pretty humbling and not a cause for celebration. It's an embarrassment.

If China is removed this "Good News Narrative" falls flat. Should we be praising the CCP and authoritarian state-capitalism?

> The rate of extreme poverty has dropped much more drastically

The problem is that people with more than $1.90 a day are still living in extreme poverty. That figure simply doesn't work in reality.


>>Compared to the fact that this is not an issue of a lack of resources?

It is an issue of a lack of resources; places with fewer resources have more poverty.

Assuming the resources of humanity are collectively owned and should be equally shared is not realistic. The very resource expansion you allude to has depended on private property rights - people keeping what they earn. There is no realistic alternate history where wealth increases as fast as it did, and is equally distributed.

The private property ruleset has resulted in the massive increase in productivity and decrease in poverty that we have witnessed. The progress is more rapid than during any other period in history, and other periods of history are all we have to compare to.

>>Extreme poverty in the midst of an extremely rich world.

On a per capita basis, the world is not extremely rich..

>>If China is removed this "Good News Narrative" falls flat.

It doesn't: https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2016/0207/Progress-in-the-gl...

>>Should we be praising the CCP and authoritarian state-capitalism?

We should praise the CCP for emulating Hong Kong's private property ruleset:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-pol...

>>The problem is that people with more than $1.90 a day are still living in extreme poverty.

That was a problem before too. Thanks to the economic development the world has experienced, that problem has gotten less severe, especially for the subset living in the most extreme state of poverty.


Sigh, I just can't understand why I keep trying to discuss anything with HN's resident Propertarians and their dogmatic private-property theology.

> private property rights - people keeping what they earn

Interesting rhetoric given that there are usually Socialists suggesting that the workers should keep what they produce. But I guess the most important part is that the owners get to keep what they "earn"?

> Assuming the resources of humanity are collectively owned and should be equally shared is not realistic.

But why not much much better than today?

> The private property ruleset has resulted in the massive increase in productivity

Just repeating your gospels time and time about doesn't make them more true.

> On a per capita basis, the world is not extremely rich..

It's rich in the sense of being able to provide the basic needs of people. But what incentive is that to your dear private property owners? To not have cheap labour with bad labour regulations?

> It doesn't: https://www.csmonitor.com/World/2016/0207/Progress-in-the-gl...

That's a long article, what part of it do you argue rejects that China doesn't represent a large part of the people raised from poverty?

> We should praise the CCP for emulating Hong Kong's private property ruleset: > https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-pol...

Once again a long article that seem to mostly be about some economist arguing for Charter Cities. Why don't you actually paste your point?

> That was a problem before too. Thanks to the economic development the world has experienced, that problem has gotten less severe, especially for the subset living in the most extreme state of poverty.

What is even your point with this world salad? The people are still in absolute poverty? Maybe that particular person has $2.30 per day instead, but so what if it doesn't cover basic expenses?


>>Interesting rhetoric given that there are usually Socialists suggesting that the workers should keep what they produce.

Workers have a right to what they produce under contract law.. that's why they're able to sell it under employment terms that guarantee them a wage for each hour they work.

>>But why not much much better than today?

Can you rephrase the question? I don't understand it.

>>Just repeating your gospels time and time about doesn't make them more true.

This according to economists who have studied development, like Nobel prize winner Paul Romer. The market reforms in numerous countries, including India and China, were followed by significant accelerations in their respective rates of economic development, and poverty eradication.

>>That's a long article, what part of it do you argue rejects that China doesn't represent a large part of the people raised from poverty?

Here:

>>By best estimates, the number was down to around 700 million in 2015, and falling. The change is widespread, going far beyond China and India to include countries as far-flung as Indonesia, Mozambique, Ghana, Brazil, El Salvador, and Mongolia. In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

And the article says economists attribute this acceleration in development largely to the adoption of market institutions.

>>Why don't you actually paste your point?

Copy-pasting:

>>At a time when much of East Asia was ruled by nationalist or Communist strongmen, Hong Kong’s colonial authorities put in place low taxes, minimal regulation, and legal protections for property rights and contracts; between 1913 and 1980, the city’s inflation-adjusted output per person jumped more than eightfold, making the average Hong Kong resident 10 times as rich as the average mainland Chinese, and about four-fifths as rich as the average Briton. Then, beginning around 1980, Hong Kong’s example inspired the mainland’s rulers to create copycat enclaves. Starting in Shenzhen City, adjacent to Hong Kong, and then curling west and north around the Pacific shore, China created a series of special economic zones that followed Hong Kong’s model. Pretty soon, one of history’s greatest export booms was under way, and between 1987 and 1998, an estimated 100 million Chinese rose above the $1-a-day income that defines abject poverty. The success of the special economic zones eventually drove China’s rulers to embrace the export-driven, pro-business model for the whole country. “In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,” Romer observes drily.

This is hugely important, so I hope you don't retort with another dismissal.

>>What is even your point with this world salad? The people are still in absolute poverty? Maybe that particular person has $2.30 per day instead, but so what if it doesn't cover basic expenses?

My point is that the situation is better than it was before. Progress is being made. There's a difference in misery between living on $1 a day and living on $2.30 a day.


Can't you see that you're going in circles using the same flawed World Bank $1.90 number for all of your links and arguments?

People under e.g. $5/d have not been raised from extreme poverty if the $1.90 should be said $5 to properly represent reality.

> Can you rephrase the question? I don't understand it.

That there's a dogma here where the only way for the rich world to help the poorer world is if the world are allowed to exploit their cheap labour to produce more wealth and produce for the already wealthier populations of developed countries.

> going far beyond China and India to include countries as far-flung as

This doesn't say anything about their proportions?

> And the article says economists attribute this

You should not assume economists to be objective.


If a smaller percentage of the world is living on less than $1.90 a day than before, that means there's been an improvement. I don't see how you can even disagree with this, regardless of how you want to define 'extreme poverty'.

>>People under e.g. $5/d have not been raised from extreme poverty

What percentage of the world lives on less than $5 a day, and what was that percentage 30 years ago?

>>That there's a dogma here where the only way..

That doesn't help me understand what you were asking me. Can you rephrase the question itself?

>>This doesn't say anything about their proportions?

Yes it does. This part in particular makes an assertion about the proportion of people who are in extreme poverty:

>>In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

Maybe you don't want the establishment to be right about what kind of economic system works, and that's why you're so determined to dismiss evidence that it's working..?

>>You should not assume economists to be objective.

This conspiratorial view of Economics is no different than the paranoid view of Medicine exhibited by anti-vaxxers.


> I don't see how you can even disagree with this, regardless of how you want to define 'extreme poverty'.

I don't disagree that this would be an improvement, neither did Hickel in my first quote. However it's very much not at the jubilant level that's being spouted about by you among others - hence the suggestion to be a bit more humble.

> Can you rephrase the question itself?

Why should we accept that the only way to lift people out of poverty is by exploiting their cheap labour for a century for our own benefit when the resources are already available, just locally scarce? This is a sociopathic "what's in it for me?" state of affairs.

> Yes it does. This part in particular makes an assertion about the proportion of people who are in extreme poverty:

What? No, it doesn't! That's just listing a number of countries, not the amount of people in each country.

> This conspiratorial view of Economics is no different than the paranoid view of Medicine exhibited by anti-vaxxers.

This is both incredibly naive and unsurprisingly dogmatic.


>>However it's very much not at the jubilant level that's being spouted about by you among others

Which goes back to my earlier point, that the cause for jubilance is not in the current state of poverty, but in the rate at which it has improved, which is excellent by the only objective measure we have, which is in reference to other periods in history.

>>Why should we accept that the only way to lift people out of poverty is by exploiting their cheap labour for a century for our own benefit when the resources are already available, just locally scarce?

It's not that we have to only accept this method. It's that it's the method that Economic scholarship has found works best.

And no, the resources are not available. If all wealth had been evenly divided in 1960, everyone would live on $451 a year, meaning everyone would be in extreme poverty.

Global per capita GDP has risen to $11,428, which while not evenly distributed, allows for a much higher proportion of the world population to not be in poverty.

source: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD

You're assuming that economists are lying when they say that the most effective means of raising per capita GDP and reducing poverty is to encourage profit-motivated investmemt, and that the most effective way to do that is to protect the right to own private property and freely contract with it, and you are not examining the evidence they are providing to that effect.

>>No, it doesn't! That's just listing a number of countries, not the amount of people in each country.

One more time!!

>>In all, more than 60 developing countries around the world have seen a decline in the number of extreme poor, despite continued population growth.

A decline in the number of people in extreme poverty with growing population means the proportion of the population that is in extreme poverty has declined.

I shouldn't have to spoonfeed this to you. Your treatment of what I'm presenting is being done in bad faith.

>>This is both incredibly naive and unsurprisingly dogmatic.

No different than what anti-vaxxers say about those who trust Medicine and the findings and conclusions of medical experts.


To assert that being skeptical towards economists bias amounts to the same thing as being an anti-vaxxer is just another level of free market fundamentalism. So your honest opinion is that every socialist alive is at the level of an anti-vaxxer, who wrongfully rejects the objective science of (free market) economics?

> And no, the resources are not available. If all wealth had been evenly divided in 1960, everyone would live on $451 a year, meaning everyone would be in extreme poverty.

Why on earth would you think that I mean something as stupid as just splitting everything by capita? The point would be to help people without requiring cheap labour or natural resources in return, or at least at much better conditions and without the profit motive incentivizing to milk it as long as possible.

> I shouldn't have to spoonfeed this to you. Your treatment of what I'm presenting is being done in bad faith.

Seriously? My assertion was that if China is taken away, the amount of people lifted out of poverty looks very different, since then you've been totally unable to figure out what I mean by "the amount of people per country" and just keep listing countries which has nothing to do with how many people each of those actually amounts to. (As a side note, those countries are most likely using the same flawed $1.90 number to measure their decline).

> It's not that we have to only accept this method. It's that it's the method that Economic scholarship has found works best.

This is not true, US foreign policy being the most obvious example. Countries have been coerced into it and isolated and/or invaded if refused.


You're being skeptical toward economists' bias to the extent that you are discounting the broad consensus among economists about what types of economic systems are most effective for raising productivity and reducing poverty.

This is tantamount to someone being skeptical toward medical professionals' bias to the extent that they discount the broad consensus among medical professionals about vaccines being effective and safe.

>>Why on earth would you think that I mean something as stupid as just splitting everything by capita?

I recommend you study some economics, instead of making comments like this, that belie ignorance of the factors that contribute to poverty and its alleviation.

Low per capita productivity results in people not being capable of meeting their needs, and thus being in poverty. Per capita GPD is the absolute maximum consumption that the poorest can possibly enjoy, assuming zero income inequality. A low per capita GDP is a low ceiling on quality of life, and that's irrespective of the legal status of property, the role of government and the dominant motive behind economic interactions.

>> The point would be to help people without requiring cheap labour or natural resources in return, or at least at much better conditions and without the profit motive incentivizing to milk it as long as possible.

I addressed your point, and you completely ignored what I wrote. One more time: if you take away the proven means of productivity growth, the people of the world will not see their means of reducing poverty and raising quality of life improve as quickly.

I gave you a thought experiment to show you what this can mean in the extreme: if a policy that is completely debilitating to GDP growth were instituted in 1960, and resulted in all income being evenly distributed, the entire world would be in extreme poverty to this day.

Due to the productivity gains since 1960, poverty could decline. Economic scholarship strongly suggests that protecting the right to private property, and thus allowing income inequality, is the most effective means to raise producitivity.

This productivity growth has far more benefit to humanity than evenly distributed income.

I'm arguing that the policy of spreading resources out evenly by government mandate, instead of allowing market forces (e.g. the profit motive) to allocate resources, as you advocate, would debilitate the ability of society to raise productivity, and that this would be a terrible trade-off, as the thought experiment shows most dramatically.

>>Seriously? My assertion was that if China is taken away, the amount of people lifted out of poverty looks very different,

I claimed that omitting China, the proportion of the world in poverty has declined. You're disingenuously moving the goalposts now that you see I've supported that claim with the excerpt from the article.

>>This is not true, US foreign policy being the most obvious example. Countries have been coerced into it and isolated and/or invaded if refused.

I don't understand what you're saying. Can you rephrase this statement, and explain how it addresses the point you quote?


This is pointless, you're just going around in circles and adding some "please learn [free market] economics" bullshit to it.

You think that economics (only the free market version ofc) is an objective science like vaccines and medicine. It's clearly not. And everything you spout about is solidly within the box of free market capitalism. Not a grain of ability to imagine a society outside its hegemony. You seem to think that the Free Market Economy is some deity controlling man rather than the other way around. Without the Free Market Economy, man simply loses all capability to produce and achieve progress.

There are other ways than profit-driven exploitation that's available to help people out of poverty. They're called cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity.

> You're disingenuously moving the goalposts

Moving the goal posts? Citing myself from start to finish:

> If China is removed this "Good News Narrative" falls flat

> that China doesn't represent a large part of the people raised from poverty?

> This doesn't say anything about their proportions?

> That's just listing a number of countries, not the amount of people in each country.

> My assertion was that if China is taken away, the amount of people lifted out of poverty looks very different


Economics is an objective science, every bit as scientific as medicine. Economists have by and large concluded that a market unencumbered by restrictions on mutually voluntary economic interactions and protective of people's right to their property is the most effective at raising productivity.

That the conclusions of economists strengthens the case for free markets does not suggest that economists are ideological, or biased. That assumption is simply your own biased and conspiratorial view of the world, that assumes a vast conspiracy by the capitalist elite to recruit the economics profession into its propaganda campaign.

Like I said, your conspiratorial view of economics/the-free-market is no different than anti-vaxxers' conspiratorial view of medicine/vaccines.

>>There are other ways than profit-driven exploitation that's available to help people out of poverty. They're called cooperation, mutual aid and solidarity.

No, the evidence suggest these other means are comparatively ineffective, as they can't sustain large-scale cooperation. Socialism has an absolutely terrible track record and the economic theory explains why.

>>Without the Free Market Economy, man simply loses all capability to produce and achieve progress.

The market is an emergent system of individuals, property and processes that people collectively create through distributed action, without centralized coordination. It's a phenomenon of unimaginable complexity and effectiveness, that is created by the aggregation of trillions of interlocking actions by billions of unique individuals.

Discarding the market based on an anti-free-market conspiracy theory is the height of folly.

>>If China is removed this "Good News Narrative" falls flat

I quoted you an excerpt from the article that asserts the opposite: that the good news narrative remains even when China is removed from the picture.

>>My assertion was that if China is taken away, the amount of people lifted out of poverty looks very different

Even removing China, which is a clear example of the benefits of protecting market rights, the global poverty rate has declined. Yes the picture is better when you include the world's most populous country, and the number 1 success story of pro-market reforms.

Is that the mental gymnatics you're resorting to to continue your stubborn insistence on dismissing the statistics and maintaining that the case made by economists for free markets is motivated by ideology instead of science?


> Economics is an objective science, every bit as scientific as medicine. Economists have by and large concluded that a market unencumbered by restrictions on mutually voluntary economic interactions and protective of people's right to their property is the most effective at raising productivity.

No one can do anything about this kind of fundamentalism. You're writing as if I'm a heretic questioning the holy scriptures. I give up.


Your insistence on dismissing a well established social science, that is based on centuries of rigorous scholarship in the top academic institutions in the world, as nothing more than an ideologically biased arm of capitalist propaganda, is the "fundamentalism" you accuse me of.

It's no different than the anti-science conspiracy-theory/quackery of anti-vaxxers.


Extremely glad to see your measured response to this article. Seeing the tacit approval of synthetic fertilizers in the article made me reel. It's a shame that farming methods like permaculture aren't a part of this conversation by default. For the reason they're not often discussed, I defer to your conclusion about needing to adopt a new perceptual framework and value system to effect certain kinds of change.

It's been several years since we last spoke Hosh, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself agreeing with your comment here. Hope you and your family are well!


Have you actually done any permaculture, and/or run the numbers on what it would take to move away from synthetic fertilizers? The reason permaculture isn't part of the default is because it's a pipe dream. A hobby for those interested in it, but not a real, scalable alternative for what we have now.


If we are trying to scale up permaculture practices to the kind of mega-farms we are talking about, I don't think that is practical either.

If we are talking about many smaller sites more evenly distributed to where people are living (and likely, not people not aggregating into large metropolitan areas), I think it can work.

A lot of stuff would have to change. Permaculture isn't just about farming. Other things like human waste would have to be made as part of the nutrient-cycle. We have a lot of compostable food wastes going into landfills generating methane. We have landscaping practices that eat up water, or get rid of what could be fed back into the ground. We have a ton of food that never makes it to the supermarket because they are not in standard sizes fit for the retail market. You have planting practices that makes it easier for machines to harvest, or to grow to standard types, but it generates a much greater need for synthetic fertalizers.

You can't just run the numbers the nitrogen input of the farms. You also have to look at where all that stuff is going, and a lot of where it is going never makes it back as input.


I just asked for some pro-permaculture sources in this comment [1], and would appreciate it if you could also point me in the direction of some further reading on the claim that permaculture is a pipe dream.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24648887


Organic agriculture has much lower yields than conventional agriculture for most crops [1]. I believe permaculture is more restrictive than US-Organic. It would take some big changes in our diet to absorb such a loss in productivity.

[1] https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/02/16/usda-data-conf...


There's also the little pickle that manure from an industrial feedlot is considered an organic fertilizer.

(I'm not suggesting it's directly a problem, the issue is that it's real hard to figure out the nitrogen budget society ends up with if all synthetic fertilizers go away)


Have you looked at this? https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/cubas-urban-farm...

During the economic sanctions, Cuba was forced to stop using synethetic fertilizers, pesticides, and even tractors. They could not import enough to be able use those at scale. The people there had to adapt and work out how to live.


So I typed a 10-paragraph post here arguing my case but ended up deciding there was too much identifying and non-public information in it for me to be comfortable posting it here. If you post an email address or add one to your profile, I can send it to you privately.


Hey man, glad to see you about! Hope things are going well. Send me some email sometime and let's catch up.


> There are better ways, but they eat at the profit margin if you were only to maximize on profit, yield, and market value. If the goal, however, is towards the well-being of the community and the land in which things are farmed, then there are many methods with which we can accomplish that while still feeding people without requiring a huge amount of labor. But it comes from a different way of seeing the world.

These goals are compatible. They require a government body, representing the well-being of the community, willing to tax externalities and use the funds to invest in revitalization.

However, expecting government to be economically responsible is about as likely as expecting profit-maximizing corporate entities to be socially responsible.


Those better ways I mentioned do not require a government body, or use of tax externalities.

A lot of the exciting things in permaculture are coming from people putting things into practice first and then lobbying for those results. Permaculture has a lot of design principles and practices that can be deployed in a decentralized way. They do not require collective action or policy-making at a large scale. Ordinary people can make enough impact in their local ecology and community, and they can do it in a way that makes sense for their locality that may not make sense elsewhere.

Furthermore, using Carol Sandford's method of deconstructing a frame, "requiring a government body" like you are talking about are:

1. The paradigm of behavioralism (rewards and incentives)

2. The idea that change requires heroic effort (something outside of you, such as the government, to make large scale changes)

3. Regulating these actions are a type of"Do Less Harm" or perhaps "Do More Good" paradigms. Those are reactions to "Value Extraction", and they don't really work, not enough to solve the fundamental problems of Value Extraction.


> Those better ways I mentioned do not require a government body, or use of tax externalities.

They do if the profit margins are meaningfully lower. All it takes is a few actors to ignore costs that have no financial incentive to outgrow and overtake all of the competitors.

Behaving better on your own is nice, but that’s not a societal solution because people throw away a lot of unnecessary niceties when the going gets tough.

A majority of the population wants to stop climate change but the lack of a carbon tax means people still burn massive amounts of fuel and pay nothing to offset it. Instead we are taking this path of carbon-shaming and “do your best to reduce emissions” and it’s failing spectacularly. Without pricing externalities, you end up with assholes flying on private jets thousands of miles to give a talk on the importance of dealing with climate change without ever even offsetting their own footprint.

People are consistently too stupid and too selfish across all populations to A) have even a rough grasp of their inputs/outputs from/to the environment and B) to make meaningful sacrifices if it actually requires a significant change in lifestyle. Just look how many people still buy gas cars that cost as much as electric cars because of “range anxiety”.

Carol Sandford’s methods are likely not having any meaningful impact because they ignore the hard realities of economics. Behaviors need incentives and not using the government to implement those incentives through taxation/credits/fines just means trying to do it through social pressure. Social pressure is slow and ineffective at scale.


> Both people and land have been turned into resources by which value is extracted and capitalized. This has lead to a wide-spread devastation in our ecology, in our communities, and our human potential. It's a process that is moving towards degeneration, and we see many of those effects -- from growing equality gaps, to the radicalization of angry young people, and so forth.

The problem with this kind of points of view like this one is that it never considers that the population are consumers too and are motivated to work and "extract capital" from themselves for themselves.

Once those who promote those ideas move from opposition to those who occupied it they are confronted to the exact same problems to solve but without the "evil" solutions.


> The problem with every this kind of points of view like this one is that it never considers that the population are consumers too and are motivated to work and "extract capital" from themselves for themselves.

Unless you are working for yourself, you're not really "extracting capital" from yourself. There was an article I recently read here on HN about negotiating salary as an engineer. I have been leaving a lot of money on the table. Depending on who you work for, the corporate organizations don't really care who you are. If you are able to frame your work in terms of how much revenue you can generate for them, you can negotiate terms that are much more favorable to you.

> Once those who promote those ideas move from opposition to those who occupied it they are confronted to the exact same problems to solve but without the "evil" solutions.

I have written elsewhere about a different way of viewing it. There are people who see "Value Extraction" and go on to "Do Less Harm" or "Do More Good", but those do not fundamentally address the problems with "Value Extraction".

One of the things that shift it completely out of value extraction is to invert it. Rather than being a consumer of value and regulated by extrinsic motivation, you as an individual find your intrinsic motivation to contribute meaningful value to the world.


> Unless you are working for yourself, you're not really "extracting capital" from yourself.

You are selling programming as a service to a company. That’s extracting capital in the same way that the company will when they sell a SaaS or even directly resell your programming.


So, I don't know that profit, extractive-value, market-value, capitalizing are really the right frame, here. Alternative systems like the Soviet Union had similar paradigms without necessarily relying on profit. These industrial processes are necessary for addressing quality of life (including quantity of labor required, lenghth of working day required, etc) regardless of whether that system is profit-seeking or not. The Soviet Union had cars, fertilizer, pesticides, plastic, lots of oil and gas, antibiotics, vaccines, sanitation, and appliances for the same reason they're profitable in the West: it actually helps people's quality of life.

That's why the essay is framed in terms of industry, not economic systems. Because that's somewhat orthogonal. (And I do think Chesterton's Fence would be a valuable point, here, too... Money and profit are tools for understanding and facilitating the efficiency of different activities, and to me the negative conditions of capitalism are a side effect of the efficiency it facilitates. If we're going to replace profit with something else, we must address how we're going to establish similar efficiencies. IMHO, a more established path than tearing down capitalism entirely would be to keep capitalism and profit, but just redistribute and rebalance, i.e. cut off the ends of the distribution to keep things from going crazy and eating itself.)


The Soviet economy borrowed technology from the market economies of the West, because it generally could not compete with the market-driven sectors of the Western economies in innovation. It had almost no ability to advance its own semiconductor sector for example.

Without a larger market-driven world to borrow from, it's doubtful it would have acquired fertilizer, factories, automobiles, etc.

The Soviet economy collapsed in the end, with millions dying in the early 1990s as the support network it administered broke down.

That it was able to last as long as it did is because it also did have a massive black market, that supplied people with much of their necessities:

https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/rees-577-fall2016/2016/...

The corruption in Russia today is a legacy of that Soviet-era black market.


> The corruption in Russia today is a legacy of that Soviet-era black market.

Not just of black market, the centrally-ran economy was corrupted to the core. Most decisions (who gets the job, who gets the apartment etc.) were routinely made based on bribes or favors.


Indeed, the latter corrupt ness is kind of a natural state of humanity in large enough groups that direct accountability isn’t feasible. Capitalism, including the rule of law that upholds it, is one fairly proven mechanism for addressing it (but it probably also relies on some culture of honesty to keep from collapsing back to corruption). Nonetheless, the Soviet Union lasted an extremely long time and I think people underestimate the effectiveness of industrialization. Industrialization meant the Soviet Union could last the better part of a century in spite of the problems you pointed out.

(Also, I think it’s a mistake to talk about the Soviet Union’s economy as purely parasitic on the market economies of the West... tons of science and engineering was done there and technology was developed. The Soviet Union’s system was super bad and shouldn’t be emulated but I think sometimes people go too far in saying how ineffective it was. It was effective enough to last a long time and provided a real scare to the West in terms of what system was more or less effective, at least for a decade or two... think the space race.)


The Soviet system was clearly inferior (say it was running at 10-30% efficiency of a market system), but wasn't completely dysfunctional.

Combine this with large population population of the Soviet block, the fact that that population was effectively used as slaves at many times and also had very little consumption goods available (most output went into building out further industrializationn to catch up to the West as well as into military and propaganda projects, such as space race) and you can see how it still managed to cough up some respectable output, at the cost of misery of the people working behind it. However, as industrial processes became more complex and reliant on specialized high-level skills (such as in semiconductors or software), it was clear that the system has reached its limits and just cannot do these things well at scale. The rampant incompetence and nepotism were just not incompatible with things like modern chip factory.


EDIT: I reread the comment above and realized I did not adequately address it and I had misunderstood some of what the commenter was saying. I revised my answer below:

I disagree that we necessarily need to have synthetic fertalizers, pest control, etc.

There are a number of methods from permaculture that does not require synthetic fertilizers, weed killers, and pest killers. The whole site is analyzed together and designed in a way there there is a cycling of nutrients back into the soil, or amendments such as biochar or mycological growth help with that. (Synthetic fertilizers actually deplete soil fertility in the long run, so you have to keep adding more and more with every cycle). Interplanting, plant guilds, and "integrated pest control" (chickens, duck, goats, and developing habitat for the pest's natural predators). The maximum yield may be lower, but designing a site this way accomplishes two things. First, it is far more resilient than the industrial agricultural method. Second, it puts fertility back into the land faster than it uses it up, and as such, it has the potential to restore the ecology. These are things people are already putting into practice around the world.

Furthermore, what the Soviet Union had was still essentially value-extraction. That value was distributed in a different way, but it is still value-extraction. It is still stuck in the same paradigm, and arguably worse -- too rigid, too unable to adapt to changing conditions.

A regenerative paradigm does not put profit first, but it doesn't necessarily dispense with it either. (In the permaculture community, that is the third permaculture ethic: Fair Share). It is as decentralized as a free-market, but is not centralized like the way capitalization tends towards aggregation of resources. One key difference between a regenerative paradigm and the value-extraction:

Free-market is driven from profit motive, the selfish actor.

Regenerative living is driven by individual's own sense of what value they can contribute to the greater whole, and developing their own personal capabilities in order to accomplish it.

So one is a value extraction and the other is a value generation or value adding (not to be confused with "value-added", which is something from the value-extraction paradigm).

Even if we were to say, ok, this regenerative paradigm works, and let's shift to that, it is not something that can be done through policy changes.


Responding to the guy who asked:

> What are you doing about it? Farming?

I started applying permaculture design to my backyard and front yard, slowly growing more food. It is not perfect and it is a work in progress. I am doing the shovel work on my landscaping to add rainwater harvesting. I am moving more towards drought-resistant white clover, or possibly developing a meadow. I am in the process of a long-term plan to develop a perennial food forest. We already have chickens. I am saving seeds and starting selective breeding for gardening varieties that will work in my local area.

I have been putting together what I experienced to help people who are interested in this stuff to get started.

I have not reached out to my neighbors and local community. I feel aversion to that, but I know at some point, it is something I should try.

I am currently deep diving Carol Sandford's work. Her podcasts, her blog posts, her books. She has been very influential in the permaculture community, but her work is mostly directed towards transforming business. Those very same principles that she has for developing employees and an organization also work for educating children. I have a son due for birth in December, and I will be trying to educate him with these things in mind.

I am trying to learn how Sandford teaches this stuff to ordinary people, so they can make a bigger impact even if it is in an non-heroic way. If I ever make the transition from an individual contributor role at work, I am going to try applying all of this.

I am putting the same kind of effort into transforming myself and how I view things as I have done with martial arts, training my body and my mind. Thank you for engaging. It is helping me articulate and organize these ideas with my own voice.


> Even if we were to say, ok, this regenerative paradigm works, and let's shift to that, it is not something that can be done through policy changes.

It doesn’t even sound like a paradigm change. Being focused on making land re-usable fits perfectly in with value-extraction. Investing in something now to get more out of it later is as old as business itself.

If it doesn’t make sense financially to take a regenerative farming approach, a policy change could very easily tax the fertilizer/pesticides/etc to a point where it does make sense.

Your broader notion about changing people to view what they can contribute instead of what value they can create/extract to personally profit is orthogonal to the entire discussion of regenerative farming because people make long-term investments over short term profits quite frequently for purely selfish reasons.

Quite to the contrary of your point, many who work on farms focused on short term maximum yield are driven by the value they are contributing to the greater whole. I know people who farm because they are “feeding society”, not because it pays well. Good luck telling some corn farmer with a few thousand acres that they are just selfish and not contributing to the greater whole because they use synthetics and deplete their soil.


> The work I am referring to comes from Carol Sandford...I don't know how much of a transformative effect she has.

Just want to correct a spelling error: it's Carol Sanford. Her website is https://carolsanford.com/ .

I'm very interested to know how much change Sanford and people like her are making to businesses. My sense is significant change comes only when there's pressure from without, and only when failing to respond to that pressure will affect the bottom line. Businesses are not altruistic, and that's by design.


> It is that my current thinking is that the extractive-value paradigm of the industrial processes has done far more harm than good.

Entropy can only be reduced locally. All life is mining.


Sure but how and what you mine matters. The sun is local and we are able to mine its energy directly rather than indirectly via a buffer (fossil fuels).


The article mixes together some good points, some true but somewhat slanted positions and some highly debatable points. And calls this "literacy", in analogy to very basic, object things everyone should know. It's extremely off-putting.

Example of highly debateable position: "That automobiles are a lifeline to people who live in rural areas (almost 20% in the US alone), and who were deeply isolated in the era before the car and the telephone."

Automobile based urbanization has entirely reshaped the landscape of rural America rather than just giving previous here a way to get around. Where I live, once there were small cities, 1000-2000 people in walking distance of each other, dotting the landscape. Now it's a carpet of dispersed single family homes. Many debate the value of the landscape - in California, huge level of urban-wildland interface development has rather disastrous consequence, being a significant factor in our massive fires.


Have you lived in a 1000-2000 people town/village without a car ? I did at one point when I was younger - our islands here have plenty of such places.

I can't see anyone with the ability to drive chose not to in this situation - even the basic things like shopping - there's usually one or two small stores arround but getting to a bigger shopping mall was 30km round trip, doctor comes to town ambulance three times per week and if you have a medical emergency you're at the mercy of your neighbors or lottery that the ambulance from the closest ER is not busy, taking your children anywhere involves planning bus trips with limited time windows, if they miss a buss to school they are out for the day. And not to mention about 70% of people need it for work.


Have you lived in a 1000-2000 people town/village without a car ? I did at one point when I was younger - our islands here have plenty of such places.

-- I called the points debatable. The entire argument strategy is looking point X in history and then point Y in history, noting Y is better than point X and then saying essentially that anyone questioning the steps that took us from point X to point Y is a complete moron and doesn't deserve to have their position addressed further.

I'm actually living in one of the few surviving original cities of the area (Nevada City, official population 3,000).

I could drive my car 1-2 a week before Covid and drive it even less now. Of course, as hip, hippy town the place now benefits from it's connection Sacramento and the Bay Area. But those longer connections could happen primarily by rail, in places in Europe, these connect do happen by rail. Brighton wouldn't be Brighton-as-it-is without rail connections to London.


If anything that's just an argument to move most people(other than those strictly necessary for agriculture) from rural towns into dense cities.


There are unique opportunities in such small communities and qualities that cannot be replicated in denser urban areas. Once my children grow up I could see myself living there. Suggesting that we shouldn't live that way because it nececitaces a car ridiculous.


In my opinion living on the country side is a luxury. Sure, feel free to live in a small town, but please pay for all the externalities yourself.


Those would be minuscule per capita, and are already included in high gas taxes we have around here.


The cost of giant road network connecting a patchwork of exurbs is vast. If the exurbs wind-up being considered a luxury and inhabited by those who can afford, the cost per-person goes up. Even more, if the US gets rid of its extreme wealth/income imbalance, the number who could afford it would go down even further.

Essentially, Exurbia is millstone around this country's neck, effectively moving the place palpably to disaster via fire, unhinged ideologies and generally unsustainable infrastructure.


What makes you think fuel taxes are already including the cost of carbon capture?


Because they are higher than carbon taxes on industry from what I remember.


Where "dense city" is still a pretty small town. A five digit population can easily support a hospital, a school, a train station and other basic necessities of life (e.g. jobs that don't require commuting to the next urban core).


Farms take up massive areas so farmers can not live in cities. Natural resources like minerals are unlikely to be located close to major population centers, so miners can not live in cities. Between population centers there must be people maintaining the transportation infrastructure, these can not live in cities. All of these people who can't live in population centers need various services, the providers of which also can't live in cities. The people in rural areas are overwhelmingly there because they need to be. People want to live in urban areas, it's a real problem that people leave rural areas despite the need for their services, and thus the rural communities are no longer capable of providing good quality of life, leading to even more people leaving until only those who can't escape remain. If the communities providing resources to the cities collapse, what happens to the cities?


That's already happening. You don't need to "move" people. More and more people live in dense cities.


How do you propose to force people to move?


Urbanization is already happening anyways. It could probably be sped up if we get rid of the implicit subsidies of rural living.


I see this not changing the fact that genuinely rural populations genuinely need an automobile.

Yes, American urban population, and city builders can certainly consider going without a car, and building cities without making car ownership a prerequisite to live in.


Yeah, but this works both ways: people live in rural places where they absolutely need to have a car, because they have access to cars. Without cars, less people would live there. Society adapts to the existence of the car.


They've lived there before there were cars though. They just didn't have options to go to the next town, or the hospital when they'd need it.

People lived before modern medicine as well. Without modern medicine, less people would live. Society adapts to the existence of modern medicine.


I don't think "genuinely rural" means anything. Plenty of places in the US and around the world have been abandoned when no economic opportunities existed. As I said, the cities of 100 years ago are abandoned - rural population of that era has moved - some a short distance, some a long distance. The US has made decision (consciously or by default) to encourage dispersed rural/exurban/suburban development fueled by the private automobile. It probably can't reversed entirely but there's no "genuine, authentic rural thing-in-itself" that cries for automobile without history.


Before automobile, people were using horses and buggies to travel to neighboring farms and the nearest town. They weren't that isolated.


Not everyone could afford a horse before the automobile. Most people only had their feet. And modest families were much more numerous than today.


They say the bicycle did wonders for genetics.


One of the most important questions in philosophy is "compared to what?"

It's easy to say, "that isn't perfect" or proselytize some utopian vision of a world without murder, theft, discrimination, or whatever. But without a solid understanding of where civilization was (a basis of comparison) people will have no idea what civilization is or where it is going.

I could go on but for now, absolutely fantastic article.


> One of the most important questions in philosophy is "compared to what?"

Important compared to what? It's easy to say that any changes to the world will be imperfect and will have murder, theft, and discrimination, but without a solid understanding of why civilizations have always changed and will continue to change, you'll find yourself in an ideological position that's always being left behind by history.


> Important compared to what?

Using the question "compared to what?" here only supports "compared to what?" as one of the most important questions in philosophy.

> It's easy to say that any changes to the world will be imperfect

Naturally, but in my estimation we don't have an abundance of rational thinkers who are moderating societal expectations, whereas we do have a glut of self-proclaimed gurus who claim to have all the answers for a better world provided we just tear down the one we have first. I could be wrong, I hope I am.

> civilizations have always changed and will continue to change, you'll find yourself in an ideological position

I generally agree except that philosophy isn't an ideology, it's a discipline about how to think, not an ideology about what to think.

Knowing where we come from in order to know where we are and where we are going is a philosophical position, not an ideological one.


Yeah that's chill but we should also recognize that our relative comfort today is borrowed from tomorrow, and deflecting any criticism of this with "things were much worse before" kind of misses the point.

Industrial literacy is understanding

* Synthetic fertilizers are hugely beneficial, but they are in part necessitated by, and directly enable (in a cycle, see), crop monocultures that don't allow the soil to replenish its fertility.

* Housework was a full time job, and now it's not. We have different full time jobs that aren't that much more fun, but they've unlocked record levels of profits. We don't have time or energy to maintain our bodies anymore. Wages haven't gone up in decades.

* Plastic is an incredibly useful technology, and has saved the lives of those tortoises whose shells we once carved products from. These days, plastic particles drift across every mile of the ocean, and kills those tortoises a different way.

* Automobiles are a lifeline for people in rural and suburban areas, but it is a lifeline in the same way an abusive lover is a lifeline -- the centrality of the car made us build our communities and cities around the car. The car created a need and then filled it, and now we think ourselves lucky to have them.

Don't take this as a call to return back to the age of riding horses and burning dung. It's too late to go back, and in any case, we wouldn't want to. I'm grateful to be alive during this period and to live among the small percentage of the population that gets to enjoy it. But recognize that everything contains the seeds of its own destruction.


You would not have been able to make these points without knowing what the article states and the point of it is that a lot of people do not.

It is true that we could do better and should do better - the pendulum of progress has swung too far away from working with nature to forcing it to conform to our standards during the industrial revolution.

But still your comment has a very pessimistic view of the world.

The easiest rebuttal is that I like my engineering management job. It really is more fun than doing housework - and I can tell this from experience. I've built a house with my own hands and lived in one where you had to carry in the water and build a fire in the stove when you wanted food or warmth. It mostly sucked.

Thanks to my car, or a rental car, I've seen things that I could never have seen otherwise and it has enriched my life in so many ways I can't even count. Also, I got my driving license at age 28. So I know how living without the ability to drive was like. It was possible, but not great.

The ability to use plastic tools in hospitals probably saved the life of one of my kids. Although on this one I do admit, the need to pack every single thing in it is excessive and we should cut down on the usage of plastic in many areas.

Finally, about fertilizers and monocultures - please read up on Norman Borlaug and the Green Revoluton before saying that things would be fine without them. Maybe in the US or other countries that have lots of space and great soil they would be. But in India, Pakistan and other countries, the ability to have crops that produce vastly more product per area has given a better life for millions of people.

Finally, the percentage of the population that gets to enjoy a better lifestyle has never been higher. Health has never been better. Of course, that shouldn't be an argument to stop progress, but saying that things are terrible isn't true either.


> but saying that things are terrible isn't true either.

Which is precisely why he didn't do that.

His only point was that every progress we've achieved came with a trade-off and a lot of these will make life significantly harder in the future


Very well put.

> Synthetic fertilizers are hugely beneficial, but they are in part necessitated by, and directly enable (in a cycle, see), crop monocultures that don't allow the soil to replenish its fertility.

Yes. The article gives the impression that modern organic and permaculture farms are basically using medieval techniques, when that's far from the case. I hope the author does know better.


Do these alternatives scale at a cost that people can afford?

I tried googling for permaculture information (like cost per unit of food) and I only found absurd cult-like propaganda or people complaining about the myths of permaculture.


It’s confusing because you have so many dimensions of scale - labor input, land use, water consumption, etc - that you can point out advantages to almost any approach.

The last century has seen massive farms using high tech kit, in part because they can lobby for grants and subsidies more effectively. They are not water efficient as a rule, and they tend to suffer inefficiencies because the people managing the land have no skin in the game, but they are profitable because they can move large volumes of produce and get their machinery paid for by the government.


It doesn’t take permaculture levels of agriculture to make it better than it is now.

For example insurance companies dictate how and when farmers apply chemicals, the insurers are influenced by petrochemical companies and are also risk adverse.

So while we could do better with more careful and targeted application of chemicals there’s not a huge incentive to at a systemic level. The risk is too high for farmers to try and do something different, because the insurers dictate the terms


Intensive organic farming seems to work, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biointensive_agriculture, or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Martin_Fortier for an example with numbers.


> permaculture farms

Where are these magical permaculture farms that solve all problems and are cheaper to produce than every other technology out there?

It would be wonder that such a solution would exist and literally no single country in the world has converted to it.


> Where are these magical permaculture farms that solve all problems

Your comment reeks of cynicism. Obviously we can't solve "all" problems.

I think many small or medium-sized agricultural operations would have elements that might be considered "permacultural", some more than others.

> are cheaper to produce

It depends on what you mean by "cheaper." Are you considering cost to produce, cost to the consume, cost to the environment? These are all very different and our current system is optimized for a small subset of cost constraints while almost entirely ignoring others (e.g. long-term ecological impact, health impact).

> no single country in the world has converted to it

We converted away from it, so naturally we were doing something right or we wouldn't have Western Civilization. Medieval farms were incredibly sustainable from an ecological perspective, often integrating with natural processes wherever possible. We once had a much more integrative approach (for lack of technology) and moved away from it (due to labor constraints and improving technology).

Further, I think it's fair to say that if industry applied improved science and technology with an integrative approach, we could have permaculture, limit labor constraints, minimize ecological damage, and have comparable yields.

I would argue that the reason this hasn't happened at scale is due primarily to political reasons and not because permaculture doesn't work.

If you want some examples of farms actually implementing permaculture there is a documentary called Fresh (2009) which documents a couple of farmers in Shenandoah Valley and Milwaukee who worked to create sustainable farms.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwR44T69_Is


> We converted away from it, so naturally we were doing something right or we wouldn't have Western Civilization. Medieval farms were incredibly sustainable from an ecological perspective, often integrating with natural processes wherever possible. We once had a much more integrative approach (for lack of technology) and moved away from it (due to labor constraints and improving technology).

Medieval and earlier farms were horrifically unproductive and unsustainable. Land had to lie fallow for nutrients to be replenished, and even when there were actually plants growing, output was low. In an average year, a medieval european farm could expect to produce between 7 and 15 bushels per acre, and as little as 4 in a bad year. Compare this to a modern farm that can produce 60 bushels per acre. Medieval farms would harvest about 4 seeds per seed planted on average, a bad harvest may not leave enough to plant for the next year, modern farms on the other hand reap 30 to 40 seeds per seed planted.

Europe's population remained stagnant for 1000 years as any increase in food production would lead to a reduction in grazing area, which in turn meant less manure was produced and lands could not be sufficiently fertilized. Famines were frequent and severe. Medieval agriculture wasn't sustainable, it was inescapable. Only the crisis of the late middle ages and the ensuing deaths of millions forced systemic changes which allowed europe to break out of its vicious cycle and lead to real quality of life improvements.

Just because something is better than what came before does not mean it is perfect, and it's worth considering other ideas. But pre-industrial agriculture was terrible, and anyone romanticizing it either has no idea what they are talking about or is actively trying to deceive you.


I don't think you read my comment. I didn't say it was sustainable from an economic perspective, but an ecological perspective. All of the reasons you said are precisely why pre-industrial farmers had to integrate with natural processes as much as possible, eeking out all potential benefits.


> but an ecological perspective.

Ecological considerations hardly matter if you can't sustain human life as we know it. Going back to something like medieval farming would mean mass starvation, and I'm not sure this is going to get many votes for whoever proposes this kind of idea.


I didn't say they did nor did I suggest we go back to medieval farming. I don't know what you guys are reading but it's not what I wrote.


> I hope the author does know better.

I hope the author doesn't know better - I'll take genuine ignorance over dishonesty any day.


Agreed. I really think Industrial Literacy is crucial and should be part of all curricula, but this gung ho whig history of the blog post is absolutely sickening.

It also conflates methods which are basically necessary with current/prior tech and population levels (the agriculture ones), with ones that aren't (cars, plastic). We absolutely could have a cities + farmland + nature economy with trains and glasswear without sacrificing the population capacity.


> But recognize that everything contains the seeds of its own destruction.

This doom and gloom scenario has been around for centuries. In the beginning of the 20th century people were worried about overpopulation and how it was going to make the whole world starve. Now we are worried about being too rich for our own good and the defects of our lifestyles eventually killing us all. In 100 years they will see us as completely paranoid.


This is one of my favorite comments I've read here. Thanks for each of those offsetting points.


They are good points, but they aren’t offsetting.


The point of facts isn't to offer a point and counterpoint that fits anything in particular. As best I can see all the things above and in the OP are simply true?

The number of times I've had to explain that our food comes from natural gas... these things are important, like the amount of petrochemicals we use for fertilizers is many many power plants worth but they're also integral to our survival but that's also because of history and the complexity of it is really just kind of important to grasp. At least in a science class.

It's not that reality is especially good or bad, but it is reality. We are reliant on monocultures that are mostly produced by one company with absolutely ridiculous IP policies to resist pesticides also made by the same company that we fertilize with oil. That is how it is. It should probably be different, but any deviation from the local stable point is terrifying.


Yes - they are simply true.

But they don’t ‘offset’ anything about the points in the original piece.

Both are important to understand, and are important in being ‘industrially literate’.


Right, there's not a "counterpoint" to the fact that agriculture is dependent on fossil fuels for fertilizer. Not mentioning it just means kids aren't aware that it is even true, when it should be utterly non-controversial and commonly known.


Electic Bicyles and Remote work solve a lot of problems.


You didn't criticize vaccines. Why not?


I find your attitudes to be reactionary.


Reactionary usually means something like "extremely conservative; opposed to progress". How is acknowledging that the status quo is borrowing from the future reactionary? It seems to be the exact opposite to me.


> Synthetic fertilizers are hugely beneficial, but they are in part necessitated by, and directly enable (in a cycle, see), crop monocultures that don't allow the soil to replenish its fertility

If all it took was to "rotate the earth" then farmers wouldn't spend millions on dollars on fertilizers and special crops.

> Housework was a full time job, and now it's not. We have different full time jobs that aren't that much more fun, but they've unlocked record levels of profits. We don't have time or energy to maintain our bodies anymore. Wages haven't gone up in decades.

I get it that you never worked in a farm or knew someone close who did. It's 14 hours work, not exaggerating, with no real sick days, you better find the time and energy to maintain your body let me tell you that. There is a good reason most people in the world left from rural areas to factories as soon as they could. I come from a place that was settled only ~150 years ago, people began to leave as soon as there was a road and are still doing so even now up to a point the average population age is 55.

> Plastic is an incredibly useful technology, and has saved the lives of those tortoises whose shells we once carved products from. These days, plastic particles drift across every mile of the ocean, and kills those tortoises a different way.

That sounds more like an emotional argument than anything else. Yes plastic pollution is bad, but this is far from being a problem that can't be solved efficiently.

> Automobiles are a lifeline for people in rural and suburban areas, but it is a lifeline in the same way an abusive lover is a lifeline -- the centrality of the car made us build our communities and cities around the car. The car created a need and then filled it, and now we think ourselves lucky to have them.

People love having their own personal space to go where they want when they want with who they want (especially during a pandemic) and with more stuff that can be transported on a bus. "I wish I didn't have a car" said no one ever. Yes traffic is bad but this is because a lot of people have decided to live at the same few areas. There is no need in the Internet Age to have this kind of intelligence hub, we need to decentralize and distribute zoning more.


> "I get it that you never worked in a farm or knew someone close who did. It's 14 hours work, not exaggerating, with no real sick days"

My brother-in-law has a farm, and it's true. Farming is barely economically viable. He's doing pretty good for a farmer, but he does work 80 hour weeks, and selling the farm and living off the interest would probably give him more income with much less work.

Farmers need to get a bigger share of the revenue of food products; at the moment supermarkets and other big corporations basically decide the price, and farmers have no choice but to accept it.

All the profits go to the large corporations, not to the real workers.


The level of straw manning here is egregious. The OP wasn’t trying to make the points your refuting, just pointing out that these clear and accepted benefits also have some costs. That’s all.

> There is a good reason most people in the world left from rural areas to factories as soon as they could.

Yes, and that reason was massive rural unemployment. That was certainly the case here in the UK, but also China with which I’m also familiar. By and large they didn’t go to the cities to get away from back breaking work all day, they went to escape no work at all (for them).


This is a great example of how complicated the world is and how many things are invisible when they’re working well. The same force that makes people want to restart existing projects from scratch also makes them want to redesign society from the ground up, but inevitably the old ways are battle tested and have their flaws for a reason.

Thinkers like Karl Popper have pushed for incremental approaches to improving society, rather than the utopia ideas that are usually promoted. Farm yields are boring, but they’ve impacted the world more than pretty much anything else, maybe even more than the internet.


Your point that existing systems tend to conceal complexity and embody tested strategies is well taken.

I would just point out that incrementalism is not at all guaranteed to converge to sustainable solutions. Decisions which at one point in time appear unambiguously good often lead to ambiguous outcomes. Industrial ag caused yields to skyrocket, for instance, but it also hooked us on expensive fertilizers, damaging pesticides, and land use practices which destroy long-term soil viability.

Before someone calls me a luddite this is coming from someone working on crop optimization. I'm not saying technology is bad, just that it nearly always has unforeseen consequences, and that we can better judge risks vs. benefits if we're mindful of the presence of unknown unknowns.


Indeed. I'm all for more literacy, but that shouldn't be just blind appreciation of the status quo. Imagine if we still depended on tetraethyl lead to keep society rolling.

Instead, it should be the level of detailed understanding that is a prerequisite for figuring out how to do better. That's not quite as easy as the article suggests though, I think.


> Industrial ag caused yields to skyrocket, for instance, but it also hooked us on expensive fertilizers, damaging pesticides, and land use practices which destroy long-term soil viability.

It also solved human starvation, and enabled a lot less people to work in farming and therefore increase their level of life and in the end increase the technological level of the whole human race. We need not to forget the long reaching tail of agricultural improvements.


It did not solve human starvation. That is a problem of distribution as well as production. It did allow us to feed far more people, temporarily.

Meanwhile we will face mass starvation on a level never before seen if we can't figure out how to render agriculture viable in the context of rapidly eroding soils and changing climates within the next half century.

"Increasing the technological level of the human race" is not unambiguously good if that technology levers us even further over the entropic abyss (to use Joscha Bach's term).


It's not mentioned in the article, but as someone who's taken up remodeling my house as something of a hobby, it's always amazing to me to think about the amount of labor that modern power tools have removed from construction projects.

I have a book on framing carpentry, and in it the author mentions that when he first started out, all of the older carpenters had bad repetitive strain injuries from swinging a hammer for a living for decades. Not so for the younger guys who had been using pneumatic nail guns all of their careers.

I also have a theory that, in the US, this is why houses are so much larger than they used to be - the amount of labor involved to build one bigger has decreased dramatically.


The core message I found from this article was that, to be a valuable participant on the discussion of improvement in society, when it comes to industry, is: based on Chesterton's Fence principle, we need to inform ourselves of the good industrialization have brought us (and accept it), and from there acknowledge their short-comings/side effects so that an proposed solution does not undermine the good that was added by it. This includes pointing out where industrialization is not doing much good (such as fashion and its CO2 emission as someone pointed out)

Isn't being pedantic about each bullet point (that obviously can't go in to fine detail because of short summary) kind of ignoring the overall point? Is the core argument such an emotion inducing controversial point that justify almost straw-man-like criticism?

edit: I now understand that it seems to be a bit of a politically heated topic. For me, a non-american, I saw similarity in "Industrial Literacy" and what Hans Rosling[1] told us a couple of years ago: "Hey, it is not as bad as you think"

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm5xF-UYgdg


> That before twentieth-century appliances, housework was a full-time job, which invariably fell on women.

This implies, but does not mention, the transition to a services economy. I don't see why housework is inherently negative. In addition, at least in the countryside, on homesteads or farms, the men stayed at home as well and did their share of the housework.

The problem with getting housework done by someone else so you could go and work a "real job", is that you need to earn enough in order to pay someone else to do the housework. This inevitably leads to economic inequality and a pyramid-like society where people who earn more pay people who earn less to provide them with services such as housework. Just look at the people who clean your toilets for you at your office, or those who remove your garbage for you. What about their housework?

The massive rise in inequality and salary stagnation in the last 40 years just made more apparent the false promise of service-oriented economies in the developed world. Look at what's called the NINJA generation (no job, no income, no assets) - how are they supposed to pay someone else to do their housework for them?


I don’t follow. The part of the article you quoted is about appliances that allow us to achieve a given standard of living with less human labour. Isn’t this a good thing, whether the labour that is still needed is done by the people who benefit from it, or outsourced to service workers? How does the development of these appliances imply the transition to a services economy?


I work for a car company. I think automobiles have unlocked an almost unimaginable amount of economic activity. I also think that automobiles, if they were released now, would be considered unacceptably dangerous. It's not an easy set of thoughts to square up.


Perhaps. But "now" doesn't mean the current state of the world unless there were 100 years of automobiles already behind us. So this is a pretty difficult counterfactual to imagine


I agree its hard to imagine. Thinking about places and times with fewer cars, it's not generally safer per mile traveled. Riding a horse is actually pretty dangerous. Riding a bike can be pretty dangerous too, but a lot of that danger is from cars.


Automobiles were considered unacceptably dangerous in many places when they were actually released. Towns had ordinances banning them. There was a bunch of lobbying and counter-lobbying. They gained a foothold in some places first, then the benefits became more apparent to others. There was a _lot_ of advertising on the part of car companies. Slowly car ownership spread and became more accepted, and in parallel systems were put in place to make cars safer. The whole process took many decades.

Of course I agree that overall societal risk tolerance was to a large extent higher 110 years ago and at least in the US the central government was a lot less powerful. The same process would not proceed in exactly the same way today, though I see some parallels in how self-driving cars are being slowly introduced.


Yet here we are releasing self driving cars, e-scooters, drones and so on.


Its not as if Horses and horse riding are not dangerous as well as the poop problem.


True, but bicycles are pretty great. For short distances, if you're in sufficient health.

Cars are too useful to completely get rid off, but restricting them to those uses that don't have a suitable alternative would be a big improvement.


The other important bicycle qualifier is "in good weather".

Bicycles are not that great during a rainstorm, for example. At least from my point of view; I know some people who really enjoy being rained on and don't mind biking in the rain.

Similarly, I suspect most people would treat June-August in Florida as not "good weather" for bicycling, but some would consider it ok.


People should have basic economic literacy to go with this.

They should understand that profit-motivated investment is responsible for the vast majority of the capital that makes up industry.

They should understand that money, and its ability to relay information on scarcity through prices, is how large numbers of disparate actors in highly complex economies are able to coordinate so effectively.


It's a shame this is being downvoted because that was the first thing I thought when I read this.

Just as people rail against many pieces of industrialization without understanding the details of how they are used or where it came from, it's astonishing to me how many people I know with college degrees that could not give the simplest definition of what a bank is besides the place they deposit their money, basic details about how a government could finance a policy it has made into law, what a central bank is or what a stock or bond is. But many of they seem to hold incredibly strong opinions about how problematic these things are none the less.

Literally yesterday, I had a friend tell me hedge funds are bad, their explanation being: "no one should own 6 yachts". I asked them if they could give to me any definition at all of what a hedge fund was and they had to admit that no they couldn't. To them, a hedge fund is the category of businesses where people with 6 yachts work.

And the thing is there are plenty of reasons to dislike specific hedge funds and banks, although as a concept they are beneficial and necessary, but people have such strong opinions about those things being bad without having the most basic conceptions of what they are and it really makes them worse citizens in terms of their ability to advocate for better policy.


OK, I'll pick up where your friend left off. Hedge funds generate liquidity in the market. They do this by placing bets on investments they judge to be sound, using capital they acquire from courting wealthy people and big funds. Some of them place bets on the velocity of such bets themselves (derivatives), or bets within a very short time (high frequency trading).

They don't deserve 6 yachts, they're rewarded way too much, not taxed enough, not regulated enough, and when they conspire to purposefully, royally screw everyone (08, any pension crisis, any big city civil court docket) they don't rot in jail like they deserve, but are rather rewarded by bank bailouts, university appointments, and golden severance packages.

As a concept they're beneficial and necessary, but every individual one is over-compensated, under-regulated, and under-taxed. For just a gut check on this, let's see a hedge fund manager that takes away less in a year than the median wage of the industry or area they invest in. Or even within an order of magnitude.


By what criteria are you judging that they are over-compensated? The judgment seems entirely arbitrary and emotionally motivated.

Assuming a free market, if they're earning huge amounts, it means they're unlocking subtantial new efficiency gains, which has significant positive externalities. The large profits in turn are inviting additional time and capital to be deployed into the investment activity that hedge funds engage in, to further exploit this profit opportunity, and thereby, raise the efficiency of the economy.

One argument I could buy is that they are capturing more value than they should because regulations are limiting the competition they face.

https://www.brookings.edu/research/make-elites-compete-why-t...

>>The law has also inflated the compensation of hedge fund workers—roughly $500,000 on average—by restricting competition. Mutual funds—which charge tiny fees by comparison—are currently barred from using hedge fund strategies because they have non-rich investors. If the law was changed to allow mutual funds to offer hedge fund portfolios, hundreds of billions of dollars would be transferred annually from super-rich hedge fund managers and investment bankers to ordinary investors, and even low-income workers with retirement plans. A House committee recently approved a bill that would slightly ease the accredited investor rule. Even if it became law, the bill would be a modest step—but at least one in the right direction.


I think we see things very similarly, and I also hate the language of "over compensated" as it implies there is some arbitrary fair level of compensation.

On the other hand, financial institutions in America have received a lot of compensation that was not "fair", it was just handed to them by governments. If they had been competing fairly most of the major banks in the US wouldn't exist anymore.

We really have not had free capital markets since 2008. We have centrally planned rates, centrally planned liquidity, centralized buyers in debt markets. It's really a mess and very few of the outcomes of this system are fair by any metric.


My argument would be something like: I don't care how much people are compensated if they made it fair and square.

Nothing in the financial markets has been fair or square for a very long time, at least since the 2008 bail outs.

I'm all for them having 600 yachts if they earned it if they also lose their shirts when it goes wrong. We have just set it up so they get a yacht if they win, and maybe a smaller yacht if they lose, and people are understandably angry about this.

But, it's a hard problem, because we have made our entire financial system a maze of smoke and mirrors and quite honestly I don't think anybody really knows how to unwind it, and the whole thing would come crashing down calamitously if we just forced it to happen. Blindly railing against the system is particularly unproductive in my opinion though and I think some number of social justice minded people take pride in not understanding it.


I think you should be more charitable to your friend. “No one should own 6 yachts” is a defensible moral principle. Not everyone accepts it, and there is good evidence that certain ways of preventing people from owning 6 yachts result in worse outcomes for everyone. But “hedge funds are beneficial and necessary” is not a scientific fact; most heterodox economists would reject it.


And thinking people should be allowed to own 6 yachts is a defensible moral principle. My discussion wasn't about moral defensible principles. Everyone thinks their principles are morally defensible, that's not unique to you.

The number of people in hedge funds who own 6 yachts could probably be counted on one hand. The whole point was that she had no idea what she was talking about and admitted as much.

Nothing in economics is a scientific fact. Supply and demand isn't a scientific fact. Gravity isnt a scientific fact. So again, no idea what you are on about.

This is why I make an effort to speak up on economics literacy stuff. It brings out the least informed people but with the strongest opinions.


capital isn't the scoreboard of unalloyed goodness, and concentrated capital is bad because it's precision and accuracy at sniffing out the best allocation of resources is poor (loses the independence and diversity of information needed to find the best options). moreover, price signals have been distorted to represent only the interests of (concentrated) capital holders, because everything we collectively value isn't completely or even adequately represented in price. how we price isn't necessarily how we value.


I feel like what this list is missing is how so much of our industry is patching holes created by previous applications of industry.

For instance, with agriculture: industrialization has provided food for billions. It’s also created the monocultures that encourage disease, pests, and the ever-escalating need for more “inputs”.


This is entitled "Industrial Literacy" but the first paragraph is filled with inaccurate statements with no references"=.

"That if synthetic fertilizer was suddenly lost, a mass famine would ensue and billions would starve"

No source and arguably incorrect.

First of all we have natural fertilizer, it doesn't just magically disappear from the earth in the already far-fetched scenario of synthetic fertilizers magically disappearing:

https://www.epa.gov/agriculture/agriculture-nutrient-managem...

Second, in the U.S. synthetic fertilizer use is heavily concentrated in corn and soybeans which together make up the vast majority of the use: https://cfpub.epa.gov/roe/indicator.cfm?i=55

Third, many farmers across the world still don't use synthetic fertilizer. Less than half of the world population is fed by synthetic fertilizers: https://ourworldindata.org/fertilizers#how-many-people-does-...

Fourth, the world produces far more food than is required to sustain sustenance for everyone on Earth: https://ourworldindata.org/food-supply

What will actually happen in the magic event of synthetic fertilizer disappearing is unknowable, but what is much more likely than "billions would starve" is _food prices will increase drastically. In the poorest economies, the poorest farmers are already growing without synthetic fertilizer, so their lives may vary well improve because food prices will go up. However, non-farmer impoverished people would see undernourishment because they would not be able to afford the increased prices.

I implore the author if promoting literacy, to actually read some books on this matter and cite sources. I suggest "The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming."


Lot of these solutions are also getting to over a hundred years old and increasingly sclerotized, as large industries rely on them not getting solved in a more efficient, clever manner. We could have crops that produce all their own fertilizer, in a much more natural manner for example. Lot of primitivist stuff (BIO foods, non-GMO, anti-nuclear...) feel like obviously deranged/non-viable controlled opposition to protect the status quo.


>That the food you eat is grown using synthetic fertilizers, and that this is needed for agricultural productivity, because all soil loses its fertility naturally over time if it is not deliberately replenished. That before we had modern agriculture, more than half the workforce had to labor on farms, just to feed the other half. That if synthetic fertilizer was suddenly lost, a mass famine would ensue and billions would starve.

I think this is not just a gross oversimplification, it's also wrong. Soil does not lose its fertility "naturally" over time. In fact, the opposite happens. It restores itself if you leave it alone. How do forests grow without human intervention? Shouldn't they wither over time by this logic? The truth is that soil depletion is caused by human farmers. When you harvest food you are also taking away biomass from the local soil and probably send it off to e.g. a factory farm in the US. Animals eat biomass and produce manure, but since the factory farmer does not own any land and he would have to ship the manure to a different country it is going to accumulate in the US. The other factor is that tilling soil is just a mechanical herbicide. By digging up roots you are killing all plants equally and ready the field for productive plants. However, soil is not just dirt. There is a whole microbiological environment inside it. Top soil is consists of colonies of microbes generating the necessary chemicals for plants to grow on their own. After years of tilling and sending off the harvest your topsoil is no longer productive. You have to leave it be or supplement the missing chemicals.

Of course in our modern industrial society we are fully dependent on that supplementation but there is still room to research ways of farming that don't destroy the fertility of the land.


I like the idea of this article but the point it makes are not well developed.

Take the first:

"That the food you eat is grown using synthetic fertilizers, and that this is needed for agricultural productivity, because all soil loses its fertility naturally over time if it is not deliberately replenished. That before we had modern agriculture, more than half the workforce had to labor on farms, just to feed the other half. That if synthetic fertilizer was suddenly lost, a mass famine would ensue and billions would starve."

But what are the factors which drives the immense productivity? There is also this new machinery and selective breeding. Now what part in all of this does account for the immense productivity gain? Certainly it is not enough to give credit to the results of the Haber-Bosch process. Then the other point is that this immense productivity seems to have negative returns, as one can see in the USA, where the food makes people more fat and sick every year. Similar holds for the planet which slashed rain-forest for soybeans show.


I absolutely agree with the article in the sense that this sort of "industrial literacy", or rather just "system awareness" is necessary to make proper judgments about the techno/societal mechanisms that we utilize and wish to modify, but I absolutely disagree with its tone of holier-than-thou justification of the current mode of industrial civilization.

It does the classic naive-libertarian pirouette of pointing at the state of the world as it is, justifying it in terms of its historical determinants, and thus claiming it as inherently natural and unavoidable. There's a whole lot of hidden assumptions behind every single statement in the article that are left unclarified (for obvious reasons, which the rest of this comment section has already dug into).

So yes, proper understanding the functioning of the civilization we live in is absolutely crucial, and at present, sorely lacking. But let's not stop there and think of it as the end goal.


> and thus claiming it as inherently natural and unavoidable

Where do you see that in the article? What I see is a call to basic understanding of the current state of the world and how it got there as a prerequisite to being able to propose changes in a sane way. They are not saying the current state is "inherently natural" (and it's not, any more than the state of northern Europe in 1350 was "inherently natural") or "unavoidable" (it has clearly been avoided in the past, and will likely be in the future, which will likely look upon the way we live in ways similar to the ways we look at 1350 northern Europe).

> But let's not stop there and think of it as the end goal.

It's the minimal starting point, not the end goal, and that's what the article is saying as far as I can tell. So I think you're in violent agreement with the author here.


Eh, kinda. There's a lot of stuff hidden in there that I would violently disagree with, for instance:

>[synthetic fertilizers are] needed for for agricultural productivity, because all soil loses its fertility naturally over time if it is not deliberately replenished

No it doesn't, it only does when you do agriculture the way current industrial society practices it, it's not in any way "needed" for food production as such.

>[synthetic pesticides are needed to protect] from pests [...] will ravage entire fields if given a chance

Sure they will, because monocultures are terrible! And synthetic pesticides doubly so. But this is also not a requirement for scalable food production.

>hauling water from the well for drinking

Water supply is not a twentieth-century invention, nor an industrial one.

>cooking every meal from scratch

This is blatantly false, both because cities have offered public dining for much longer than industrial civilization, and cooking a meal from scratch does not require industrial civilization either.

>That plastics are produced in enormous quantities because, for so many purposes—from food containers to electrical wire coatings to children’s toys—we need a material that is cheap, light, flexible, waterproof, and insulating, and that can easily be made in any shape and color (including transparent!)

Conveniently, all these plastic products aren't single purpose, which constitutes the biggest chunk of all current plastic production; not because we couldn't do without it, but because it's cheaper than the alternatives.

>That automobiles are a lifeline to people who live in rural areas (almost 20% in the US alone), and who were deeply isolated in the era before the car and the telephone.

As others have pointed out, this is also self-fulfilling; the automobile allowed people to live that remotely in the first place, it's not a solution to a problem, it's what allowed the problem to emerge at all.

And so on and so on; the current techno-economical system is presented solely, and in the author's own words, as "a set of solutions to problems". This is simply incorrect, and it necessarily presupposes that these problems exist somehow independently, waiting for a technology to solve it. This is why I see it making similar claims as do "naive-libertarianis" (whom I should note, I think of as separate from libertarianism in general), in that it looks at the way incentive systems are set up at present, but instead takes it as the starting point, failing to reflect on what the system doesn't take into account because it literally doesn't "see" it (e.g. every "social cost", or environmental costs). In other words, yes, industrial civilization is absolutely needed to support, well, industrial civilization. But I don't think it's necessary for the "modern standard of living".


Boy that is a dumb straw man argument. Nobody is seriously proposing getting rid of wire insulation for pete's sake. People are proposing getting rid of single use plastics, that are intended to be tossed out.

If you bring your own bag to the grocery store or drink from a paper cup, you are not ending civilization.


I'm not sure what the message is here. Is the author suggesting that we shouldn't seek further progress, now that these solutions to old problems exist? I think he overlooks the fairly obvious fact that today's solutions are tomorrow's problems, and that this is the march of progress.

One day people will be reading that, before [innovative new material], we had to use PLASTIC everywhere! Imagine how terrible it would be to go back to those bad old days, with plastic infiltrating all stages of the food chain and causing all manner of problems. So everyone criticizing [innovative new material], you should become industrially literate so you can see how bad plastic was before you go trying to limit or improve [innovative new material].


No, that is the exact opposite of what I'm suggesting! We should appreciate the progress we've made so far, and we should absolutely seek further progress.


> Let’s recognize the value of industrial literacy and commit to improving it—starting with ourselves.

Okay, I'm interested to know more. So what's a good book to learn about this?


There is a Bibliography on the site :

https://rootsofprogress.org/bibliography

But it seems like Jason Crawford, the author of the piece, might be heading toward writing a book.


Lots of interesting books there, thank you!


A bit exagerated (WE need not returning tohorseback ... electrical cars will do fine, but I agree : here in France the illiteracy for economics in general is high. So high.


Much of this article reads like a justification for pollution. Of course there are reasons why we ended up where we are, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to solve the problems caused by the previous generation of solutions. We do need to cut back on the amount of plastic and fossil fuels. If fertilizer and pesticides cause problems, we should address those problems and not pretend the only alternative is famine. We can do better than that.


We should try to solve problems, but it's important to understand why the solutions aren't as simple as just "give a hoot, don't pollute!" And I think this is something that isn't commonly understood; I've seen more than a few arguments that corporate greed is the only thing standing between us and a perfectly sustainable climate.


This isn't "literacy", its a collection of factoids.

Real industrial literacy means knowing something of the end-to-end lifecycle of industrial goods, and the supply chains that bring them to us. In addition to the list in the article it also means understanding what plastic pollution is doing to ocean food chains, what CO2 is doing to global temperature, and in turn what these things are going to do to industrial civilization itself.

It means understanding that our current trajectory is not sustainable. We are running out of things. The things we are running out of turn out to be more the capacity of the planet to absorb our waste, rather than the raw materials as everyone feared 50 years ago, but it doesn't change the fact that we are running out of them.

It means understanding the sheer fragility of our civilization, the fact that it could all blow a fuse tomorrow, and that if it did 99.99% of us would die horribly within a year (and probably take quite a lot of the rest of the biosphere with us).

And it also means understanding that there is no alternative; we are in a race between our ingenuity and our ingenuity, and its still an open question which one will win.


I've recently finished 2 books that helped give a nice macro level to human's "progress".

'Sapiens' & 'The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World'

Stuff You Should Know (podcast) has also been a gem for learning broadly about industrial and material topics.


the article skips a lot of things that I would consider to human industrial literacy. only thing, that explains human development is a bbc documentary by james burke called connections. then you'll see things like the plough that transformed human lives.


> With industrial literacy, you can see the economy as a set of solutions to problems. Then, and only then, are you informed enough to have an opinion on how those solutions might be improved.

Yes, they were solutions - but often enough, solutions which created negative externalities (e.g. pollution) which were not accounted nor paid for when the solutions were adopted. That's not an argument that we should necessarily dump any of these solutions today because of these externalities; rather it is an argument that we should acknowledge their shortcomings so that we can be open-minded about proposed replacements.

> A lack of industrial literacy (among other factors) is turning what ought to be economic discussions about how best to improve human health and prosperity into political debates fueled by misinformation and scare tactics. We see this on climate change, plastic recycling, automation and job loss, even vaccines. Without knowing the basics, industrial civilization is one big Chesterton’s Fence to some people: they propose tearing it down, because they don’t see the use of it.

The author seems to have some bogeymen in mind that aren't referenced. Does the antivax crowd qualify as "industrially illiterate", by the author's definition? Sure. Is supporting hemp as a replacement for petroleum-based plastics akin to trying to resurrect the ivory trade? No. Is promoting mass-transit replacements for private automobiles (at least, in cities) akin to bringing back rivers of horse excrement in city sewers? No. Is promoting self-sufficient farming that shuns monocultures (see i.e. The Omnivore's Dilemma), where possible, the same as advocating for the starvation of billions? No, it is not.


I like this kind of perspective because without it we just forget what we take for granted. In case of a nuclear holocaust knowledge would be lost in everything electronic and most libraries and homes would be burned.

I've always wondered if there were project to print in micro formats the knowledge necessary to reboot modern civilization other than having a copy of Wikipedia on CD. I know GitHub did that with all its source code on micro films but without electronics this is totally useless.


Check out The Long Now Foundation (site: https://longnow.org/ wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Now_Foundation). They are a foundation that has spent some time thinking about that problem and several adjacent problems; see especially the "Manual for Civilization" library project at the Interval bar in SF.


I would like that we have an Industry Wiki were for industrial processes the basic structure, context and specific implementations are described. If we had a collaborative economy this would be so cool!


The author needs to read more about industry and history, they are wrong or ignorant about a lot of what they say.

> all soil loses its fertility naturally over time

Here the author is demonstrating their lack of understanding in soil biology.

Think about this for a second, if soil naturally loses fertility over time then over the past million years the world would have become a barren waste land before humans got to it.

Industrial agriculture uses heavy machinery that compacts the soil and tilling, both kill the microbial activity that naturally fertilises the soil. Because industrial agriculture destroys the soil fertility it must be artificially replaced not the other way around.

> That those same crops would not be able to feed us if they were not also protected from pests

Here the author is demonstrating their literacy lack and understanding of natural systems.

In nature plants grow wild, in industrial agriculture we create monocultures of plants that allow pests and disease to spread easily between the plants resulting in famines like the Irish potato famine.

> before we had electricity and clean natural gas, people burned unrefined solid fuels in their homes—wood, coal, even dung

Here the author demonstrates their lack of history coal is one of the keys of the industrial revolution.

They make it sound like we always produced CO2 at the levels of industry, this simply isn't true.

https://www.climate.gov/sites/default/files/CO2_emissions_vs...

> plastics are produced in enormous quantities because, for so many purposes—from food containers to electrical wire coatings to children’s toys - we need a material that is cheap, light, flexible, waterproof, and insulating, and that can easily be made in any shape and color (including transparent!)

We don't need to use plastics for the stated consumer purposes.

I had a sandwich and some strawberries for lunch, the food was consumed immediately after purchase, the plastic packaging they came in will last forever, I can hand them down to my children and grand children long after I am dead. I didn't need them packaged in this way paper would have done or nothing at all.

> Industrial literacy means understanding that the components of the global economy are not arbitrary. Each one is there for a reason—often a matter of life and death.

Mater of life and death? Citation needed, the author makes it clear that their understanding of the global economy and industrial literacy are lacking or based on climate change denial propaganda, all of their examples demonstrate one consistent thing about industry.

Industry consistently sacrifices long term sustainability for short term gain. Which is beneficial for me and the author at the cost of every human to come.


> if soil naturally loses fertility over time

I think the implied context there is "when farmed by humans", no? The problem of soil fertility loss has plagued agriculture for literally thousands of year; it's discussed in the ancient Greek and Roman sources. You don't need to be sing industrial agriculture with heavy machinery to run into this problem.

> In nature plants grow wild

While true, not all of those plants are edible by humans. The reason we end up with monocultures is to increase yield per soil area and yield per labor input.

Now we do tend to take this to unnecessary extremes in various cases (e.g. banana monocultures that have more to do with look than nutritive yield), but the fundamental point that equivalent overall production would require more soil area and more labor input if we used other pest protection techniques seems correct to me. If you have specific suggested reading showing otherwise, I would love a reference.

> They make it sound like we always produced CO2 at the levels of industry

Uh.. They're not talking about CO2 production. They are literally talking about how people heat their homes and what the health effects of that are. This has nothing to do with industry per se or CO2 emissions. The article doesn't even mention CO2, so you're reading things into it that it just doesn't say as far as I can tell.


> I think the implied context there is "when farmed by humans", no?

They specifically state "naturally" as in "all soil loses its fertility naturally over time" they are clearly implying that its inevitable and unavoidable rather than man made.

> The article doesn't even mention CO2, so you're reading things into it that it just doesn't say as far as I can tell.

From the article I quoted

> people burned unrefined solid fuels in their homes—wood, coal, even dung

Burning these things releases CO2 into the air, I have to assume that you knew that I don't really know what your point is here when you where so happy to imply the exact opposite of what the author wrote.

> The reason we end up with monocultures is to increase yield per soil area and yield per labor input.

Different plants need different nutrients from the soil planting a monoculture creates massive competition for the same nutrients and subsequent nutrient depletion this is why you do crop rotation even with conventional tilling monocultures.

Other nutrients the plants don't need remain in the soil and provide a feast for weed plants. You can easily stop this pest problem by understanding what nutrients your different plants need and then planting mixes appropriately. It's all about soil biology.

The only reason we do monocultures is for labour input, could you imagine the amount of work trying to harvest different plants that are all mixed up? not a job for humans.

> If you have specific suggested reading showing otherwise, I would love a reference.

As you pointed out agriculture has been trying to improve fertility in soil for thousands of years and thanks to modern science we have more understanding of how soil biology works and how our old tilling practicies destroy that.

Specifically search "Soil Biology" its a science, with lots of smart people that know more about soil fertility than you or me so I just take their word for it.

For a more laymans understanding of soil biology and how our conventional tilling and monocultures destroy soil biology read the plowmans folly.

I also talked about natural systems which is the same idea as Natural farming, specifically you should read the one straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Plants and nature are more productive when left alone from human intervention in cycles of death and rebirth and natural farming is about setting up these cycles in a system that benefits us rather than just wild.

In contrast to the monoculture the author is advocating for where we till the soil killing the soil biology and then artificially try to create the right habitat with synthetic fertilizer and pesticide.


> They specifically state "naturally"

The whole thing is in the context of farming. I really do think you're reading things into the text that aren't there...

> Burning these things releases CO2 into the air

Sure, but that has nothing to do with the author's point. The author's point is that burning these fuels in the typical home-heating setup that obtained throughout history produces nasty particulate emissions that are quite hazardous to health, and that using modern natural gas or electricity for heating does not have that problem. The key words here are "unrefined" and "solid", which is where your particulates come from.

Yes, burning them releases CO2 as well, but that's the least of your problems with this sort of burn-chunks-of-random-stuff-for-heat setup.

> You can easily stop this pest problem by understanding what nutrients your > different plants need and then planting mixes appropriately

I would love to see a reference for this. I can see a mitigation for pests in the sense that you have multiple food crops being grown at once, so if one of them fails it's not a complete disaster. But to _stop_ the pest problem in the sense of having it not affect yields at all seems like it would require quite wide separation between individual plants of a given type, to prevent spread. Again, I would love to see more details here.

> could you imagine the amount of work trying to harvest different plants that are all mixed up?

Yes, having done it on a small scale.

> specifically you should read the one straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka.

Thank you, I will take a look.

> In contrast to the monoculture the author is advocating for

I think the author is observing, not advocating. He's pretty interested in how we can improve our practices of all sorts in general, and would probably appreciate pointers for further reading, I suspect.


> The whole thing is in the context of farming.

The context is understanding the industrial revolution thats why there is only one argument about farming and the title is "Industrial Literacy".

> Yes, burning them releases CO2 as well, but that's the least of your problems with this sort of burn-chunks-of-random-stuff-for-heat setup.

Ok cool but you ignored my point that the burn-chunks-of-random-stuff-for-heat setup is exactly what industry does and it does it at a much larger scale than individuals.

You are trying to compare the toxic smoke produced from individuals to the toxic smoke produced from industry as if they are the same or unavoidable when infact they are not. The toxic smoke produced by industry contains all the same toxins and the link I posted demonstrates that industry produces 6 times the amount of toxic smoke.

> I would love to see a reference for this.

I just gave you references, "Soil Biology" its a discipline of agricultural science with lots of literature and knowledge.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_biology

But if you want me to point to one person / literature specifically then again read the one straw revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka

> In contrast to the monoculture the author is advocating for

They are advocating for "Industrial Literacy" but they have not read any literacy from modern day agricultural sciences or environmental sciences or at the very least they make arguments that are ignorant of this literature, with the end goal being "Don't worry its fine".

If they are ignorant of Scientific Literacy while advocating for "Industrial Literacy" using the same arguments as climate change denial propaganda exactly what literature are they advocating people read?

> I’ve said before that understanding where our modern standard of living comes from, at a basic level, is a responsibility of every citizen.

it starts advocating "Industrial Literacy" as a responsibility of every citizen, and it ends that way too.

> Let’s recognize the value of industrial literacy and commit to improving it—starting with ourselves.

Please stop trying to inject false context into what the article states, the author is fairly clear on their understanding and intent.


> but you ignored my point that the burn-chunks-of-random-stuff-for-heat setup is exactly what industry does

I guess I don't see the relevance of that point to the article's point. They are just completely different topics.

> You are trying to compare the toxic smoke produced from individuals to the toxic smoke produced from industry

No, I am not. I am not talking about industry at _all_ here, nor is the article. The article is making a narrow point: technological progress allowed us to make substantial improvements to indoor air quality for the vast majority of people.

I _think_ you're arguing that at the same time we reduced outdoor air quality by building industry and that we shouldn't have done that. Is that a correct characterization of your position and what you are trying to argue here? If not, what _is_ your point, exactly? And is the "that" that we should not have done "building industry" or "building industry that burns things" or something else?

> the toxic smoke produced by industry contains all the same toxins

It actually doesn't quite: industrial combustion is generally more efficient (read: more complete combustion, hence less particulates per unit of heat), and nowadays tends to have post-processing of the combustion products to remove even more of the bad things before venting to the general atmosphere. This latter part wasn't always this way, of course.

> the link I posted demonstrates that industry produces 6 times the amount of toxic smoke

I'm sorry, but I don't know what link you mean. The only link I see in your posts is to https://www.climate.gov/sites/default/files/CO2_emissions_vs... which is not about particulates at all. Is that the one you meant?

> I just gave you references, "Soil Biology" its a discipline of agricultural science with lots of literature and knowledge.

Yes, but I do not have the time to read up on an entire discipline, unfortunately, which is where asking for a specific reference for a specific claim comes from. I will take a look at Fukuoka's work.

> with the end goal being "Don't worry its fine".

I know for a fact this is NOT the author's end goal, so I am 100% certain that is you reading things into what they wrote that are just not there. The author, if you read the rest of their work, which I encourage you to do, does not think things are "fine" and is looking for how we as a species can most rapidly improve things so they will be closer to "fine".

> as climate change denial propaganda

See, this is where the reading into things comes in. Climate change is on your mind, and you are projecting it onto things that are not really about climate change at all, as far as I can tell.

> it starts advocating "Industrial Literacy" as a responsibility of every citizen, and it ends that way too.

Sure. It's not the only responsibility of every citizen, of course, nor does this article claim it is.


> The author, if you read the rest of their work, which I encourage you to do

Looked at the rest of the site, none of his articles have citations its all just woo with nothing to back it up. The author doesn't know what they are talking about or if the information they are distributing is accurate.

Earlier I talked about different plants needing different nutrients from the soil and that can help prevent pests and that crop rotation was an older more common example of that.

https://rootsofprogress.org/advanced-stages-of-agriculture

The author thinks crop rotation is "advanced" but hes "not totally clear on it", I am not implying anything the article does not say. The site in general makes a lot of claims about how our world works without any real understanding being demonstrated from the author or citations for where the understanding being presented comes from.

I have provided links to backup my arguments as to the falsehoods in the article and the lack of understanding the author actually has on the topics they are writing about and the only argument you have in their defense is that they did not mean the words they wrote. That's not super useful from a writer.


> none of his articles have citations

They don't have page-level citations, but do note which books any given post is based on.

The author is documenting their attempts to learn about the world. That means that yes, they don't know things about something, and sometimes get things wrong in the process. But my point is that they are not claiming that things are "fine", which is the point you are avoiding.

They don't think crop rotation is "advanced" per se, but talk about the fact that there are different rotation techniques, some of which are more recently developed than others. The very article you cite says "The early stages were all about crop rotation", which is in violent agreement with you. This specific article you mention also clearly says which book it's based on.

> and the only argument you have in their defense is that they did not mean the words they wrote

I have never said this, and at this point I just feel like we're talking past each other for some reason I can't figure out.

We could probably get this sorted out in a more synchronous setting where we could do a bunch of back-and-forth to establish points of agreement and work out from there, but I have lost hope of us having a productive conversation in the Hacker News comment format on this topic...

If you _are_ interested in getting to the bottom of our disagreements here, I would be happy to try to figure out some synchronous way of doing it. Please let me know.


I would be interested in how your perception of the author changes, or not, based on https://rootsofprogress.org/side-effects-of-technology


>are essential to our ... happiness.

Citation needed. The idea that we'd be miserable without things invented incredibly recently on an evolutionary timescale is a pretty extraordinary claim and flies in the face of basic thought or world experience.


I hear your point. we can be happy without many of these things. Happiness doesn't depend strictly on material conditions.

At the same time, consider infant mortality. people are happy their children can grow up safely.


I think many of the points in the article directly make us happier, and others at least give us the opportunity to be happier:

- people are less sick - infants do not die as easily - people are less hungry - people are cleaner - people do less grueling manual labor - people are more comfortable - people have more free time

These aren’t happiness in and of themselves, but it’s obvious that if you take it all away, people are much more likely to be dead, or at least very uncomfortable and strained.

I think other modern amenities, like cars and computers have less of an affect on happiness. But certainly, being alive is a prerequisite to being happy!


Pretty much every serious problem facing humanity in 2020 is the consequence of over-industrialization, but more specifically, over-consumerization. To conflate the two is to miss a fundamental point about modern consumer capitalism.

Virtually all of the "basic accomplishments" listed in the article add up to about 1% (a rough estimate) of the actual industrial output today. It's unclear to me how say, the mass apparel industry (clothes, shoes, etc.), which is about 10% of Co2 emissions, [1] could be considered "progress" or anything other than a massive consumerism disaster...and I say that as someone with a deep respect for the art and craft of fashion designers.

Now, you might say "we would never have these developments without mass industrialization and consumerism." Maybe, but I'm of the opinion that a pretty significant part of the modern economy is both frivolous and ecologically disastrous. Is it really "progress" to have IKEA disposable furniture at the cost of cutting down forests? Etc.

1. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-m... > The fashion industry is responsible for 10 % of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping.


> industrialization and consumerism

Why did you link the two? The article doesn't mention consumerism. There was no point like "without industrialization people couldn't buy a new expensive smartphone every couple of years" or "without industrialization women wouldn't be able to have 50 bags each".


The fact that it doesn't mention consumerism is precisely my point. The article argues for a number of things which supposedly are necessary for basic modern "quality of life", but are actually just necessary for consumerism.

Plastic is a great example. Absolutely necessary in some medical or high-tech contexts, but absolutely unnecessary for most packaging and consumer goods.


But the authors point does neither miss the fundamental point about modern consumer capitalism, or refute it, in my option.

Being Industrially literate as the author claim one should be seems to be about acknowledging the good part of industrialization, hence he focuses on the achievements we have gained through industrialization that we hold very dear (health, safety, etc).

This is not the same as justifying the fashion industry practices you point out. On contrary, with the knowledge of good industrial effect (and it's side effects) maybe we can make a better judgement on the solution to it. We can see that certain industrial practice(such as fashion) should not be seen with the same respect as the one mentioned, instead of just black & white paint all of industrialization. Hence the mention of Chesterton's Fence at the end.


The article is written from a very Whig-oriented, "Progress" point of view. The facts listed are all presented as unquestionably good.

> When you know these facts of history—which many schools do not teach—you understand what “industrial civilization” is and why it is the benefactor of everyone who is lucky enough to live in it.

It's basically an over-simplified account of history, in which scientific progress and consumer capitalism are inextricable. That is the point I'm making.


Not American, so had to look up what Whig-oriented was, but fair point! I saw the scientific progress between the lines(fertilizer, pesticide, all the technological advancement the bullet-point example describes) but you have a very valid point that it should have been mentioned. (I can't comment too much on consumer capitalism though, as I don't know much there)


> clean natural gas

GFY: gas is a dirty old fossil fuel.


It's the cleanest of the fossil fuels. Still dirty, but not as dirty as coal.


even if I agree with you to ignore full life cycle fugitive emissions, 'not as dirty as coal' != 'clean


Wow I absolutely love this.


I'm not a fan of this framing of industrial tech. In this reading, all of our industrial technologies seem to be part of some Grand Narrative of Progress, and these tenets are Holy and cannot be violated.

> That those same crops would not be able to feed us if they were not also protected from pests, who will ravage entire fields if given a chance. That whole regions used to see seasons where they would lose large swaths of their produce to swarms of insects, such as boll weevils attacking cotton plants in the American South, or the phylloxera devouring grapes in the vineyards of France.

This depends on where and when you're looking at the world. The Indian subcontinent has ancient references using poisonous plants as pesticides. Pesticides are also more necessary in today's large scale industrial farming rather than smaller plots that were more common in the past.

> That before we had electricity and clean natural gas, people burned unrefined solid fuels in their homes—wood, coal, even dung (!)—to cook their food and to keep from freezing in winter.

Many cultures would use charcoal to light furnaces, which was a lot cleaner than biomass burning (the Kotatsu is a good example in Japan). Other cultures would heat bricks and bring those in to heat their homes.

> sewing clothes by hand, since store-bought ones were too expensive for most families

What? Specialization and commerce definitely existed before mechanization and industrialization. Indeed, the average person really didn't have access to a variety of clothes and often mended their own clothes, but they didn't hand sew everything. The Indian subcontinent had a long history of textile production.

> laundering clothes in a basin, scrubbing laboriously by hand, then hanging them up to dry

What? I _still_ often hand wash clothing. It really isn't that difficult. People in many parts of the world hand wash clothing to this day.

> That automobiles are a lifeline to people who live in rural areas (almost 20% in the US alone), and who were deeply isolated in the era before the car

People didn't live in remote areas most of the time. I'm fact, many countries still don't dump large amounts of energy laying roads in areas where only a few would live. This is really an American phenomenon that comes from a long dynamic of rural and urban (Senate, three fifths compromise, electoral college) power sharing.

Some of these are true. Plastics really have made certain applications, especially those hygeine related, much cleaner and cheaper. Vaccines have absolutely enabled more humans to live with fewer diseases.

But this reads like an ode to Western, namely American, development. That everything must be developed this way because there's No Alternative to Western Industrialization or otherwise abject poverty and deep inequality.


> What? I _still_ often hand wash clothing. It really isn't that difficult. People in many parts of the world hand wash clothing to this day.

Presumably, you are not hand washing everything and not heavily dirty cloth. Washing by hand something with a bit of dust on it is one thing, washing everything is something completely different.

The hand washing in traditional villages took full day in a week and it was physically demanding work. The detergent they used were also much less effective. Bonus: I remember ad from museum on small handle operated washing machine: you turn the handle only for three hours and it is clean!

Turning handle for three hours is perceived as the easies less of work alternative. The history of washing machines was surprisingly interesting, but the last thing it suggested was that hand washing was overall easy. It was quite the opposite.


Not sure why this was down-voted to hell; I imagine it is because you turned the criticism political in that last part. This otherwise contains good points, and knowing that alternatives exist, as opposed to just what is out there in some particular part of the world, should also be part of the "literacy" that the blog post touts. Progress is not uni-dimensional after all.


Was it really even political? GP saying that alternatives exist[1] seems about as political to me as observing that water will wet us, as surely as fire will burn.

[1] and there may be an implicit claim they may be better in some sense but there's certainly no explicit claim these alternatives are better in the GDP sense.

Edit: apparently some HN'ers disagree. Not knowing the specific nature of their disagreement, may I humbly suggest that just as with nationalism:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23847087

IMX here, a heterodox-for-HN truth is that other ways of being, beyond a unique Whiggish Consensus, exist.


Probably because it's a bad criticism? Really the only solid criticism in his comment is pointing out the charcoal usage, albeit quick Japanese wiki lookup on kotatsu show some conflicting information too.

- Pesticides: counter arguments based on anecdotes without factual backing that is not refuting the core argument either. (Straw-man)

- The specialization point in sewing: Straw-man. Sure specialization existed, but that wasn't even the point of the original argument. (and sewing was more to fix bought clothes; because they were too expensive to replace every-time they became unusable)

- laundering clothes: again Straw-man, and also mixing up "hand washing your cloth" today compared to back in the days; it's not that hard to imagine that the condition of the cloths, the tear and wear, material of the clothes etc is pretty different from now.

- People didn't live in remote area: factually incorrect (except the energy for laying roads).

The political touch in the end just shows the true biased color of the criticism. The article is not perfect but those criticism are at best anecdotal counter examples, with nothing to back it up.




Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: