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Can too many brainy people be a dangerous thing? (economist.com)
160 points by pseudolus 27 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 277 comments



In Peter Turchin's book War and Peace and War [1], the term "elite overproduction" does not refer to an overproduction of smart people, education, or college degrees. Instead, it refers to an overproduction of nobility, individuals who extract income but who do not perform useful work.

For example, France during the population boom of the high middle ages overproduced knights and minor nobles from 1200-1300. The nobility increased from around 2% to 4% of the population, while the incomes of the richest nobles soared. Eventually, peasants could no longer produce enough to feed themselves and provide income for all the nobles: this was a contributing factor to the famines and wars of 1350-1400.

The most straightforward modern equivalent to Turchin's "elite" nobility would not be people with advanced degrees: it would be investors who do not work for wages. (Not to say there is no overlap between those groups.)

[1] Turchin, Peter. War and peace and war: The life cycles of imperial nations. Pi, 2005.


>>> For example, France during the population boom of the high middle ages overproduced knights and minor nobles from 1200-1300. The nobility increased from around 2% to 4% of the population, while the incomes of the richest nobles soared. Eventually, peasants could no longer produce enough to feed themselves and provide income for all the nobles: this was a contributing factor to the famines and wars of 1350-1400.

Wow, this literally reminds me of one of my tech employers. Eventually half the company was a VP, Director, Senior Director or something else. Often you had a reporting chain with a VP --> Sr.Director --> Director --> 1or2 workers

Naturally, the high salaries above had to be supported, so the 1 or 2 workers at the bottom had to code more, code faster, and the management layer figuratively cracked the whip harder and harder to somehow produce enough billings to support the team of 5. (note the layers above were not sales, they were all program-manager types. sales was a different group.)


Sounds like they were resume building.


I don't think that's right, Turchin himself pointed out the "overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees”. The problem is the inability of society to support an excess of people who expect to be in the elite.

If the US really is producing 25,000 more lawyers per year than it can employ, that's a real problem. Multiply that across many other disciplines and that could easily be hundreds of thousands of people with credentials they cannot use. We see this in the UK as well where there is a growing cadre of graduates every year going into jobs that don't need a degree. This leads to growing numbers of people that expected to be in the elite, but aren't.

The source of unrest is resentment among people that don't think they're getting their fair share, and have the organisational and communications skills to do something about it. Investors that don't work for wages don't strike me as a likely group to develop growing levels of resentment.


> If the US really is producing 25,000 more lawyers per year than it can employ, that's a real problem.

Drill down on that issue, and you'll see the real problem.

Non-corporate litigants are majority pro-se now. That's new. Most corporate-individual litigation takes placed in closed-door arbitration, where precedent cannot be established (e.g. to definitively decide that caste-based discrimination violates existing racial discrimination statutes).

"Indigent" criminal defendants do not receive anything resembling effective counsel.

The problem isn't "too many lawyers". The problem is "too many lawyers for oligarchs, and a population too poor to afford lawyers when harmed by oligarchs"


There seems to be weird dynamic where there are a ton of lawyers, there is not enough work, and many aren't being paid much.

But it's still hard to find a lawyer that charges less than 250/hr.

My hypothesis is that law school is not preparing lawyers well enough to be useful right after school. So many can't find a job to get the experience to compete with senior attorneys who charge 250/hr.


I think the trick is that you're using the same word for two groups. There are a ton of law school graduates, but not enough lawyers. Between the two, there is a gating function of bar associations, getting hired at a law firm, etc. If that gate is too small, then you get the effect you observe where there are too many "lawyers" (graduates) looking for work while simultaneously not enough "lawyers" (working lawyers) available to drive down prices.

Sometimes these artificial gates are good things. They can protect consumers from low-quality products whose quality is very hard to evaluate. The market you use to "buy" a lawyer is not efficient: lawyers are no commoditized and you don't buy them frequently enough to have a good skill at evaluating them. An artificial gate like a professional association can help ensure consumers get access to a quality product, and that shitty products are prevented from entering the market and driving down the reputation of all producers.


You've just articulated the basic economic rational for professional guilds. What inference are we supposed to draw from that, in this specific case? That things are fine? Because "consumers" aren't getting access to anything, and that's kind of the core point.


I mean isn't it the same with developers ?

If you're competent you have offers left and right and can command a very good salary. If you're out of a diploma mill with just the curriculum under your belt you're basically useless.


I don't think it is. I don't know any developers who have left the profession because of a lack of employability. But I know plenty of lawyers who have.

And a law degree is probably more comparable to a masters in CS than a bootcamp like flatiron.


If you met the developers you know through your work as a developer, then you are likely having a selection bias issue. You probably haven't met the 'developers' who come out of school not actually knowing how to be a developer... they never get jobs, or they get jobs at the lowest tier, and you never interact with them. They leave the industry before you get a chance to meet them.


> I don't know any developers who have left the profession because of a lack of employability.

I feel like this is only true because there's such huge demand recently if you have a pulse and can code fizz buzz you can get hired - but I know 3 guys of the top of my head who went to school with me, finished 5 years (local uni, I dropped out but kept in touch) and then went in to IT or sales because they weren't good enough to get hired as devs - this was 10 years ago.


In my mind I was counting IT, software sales, project management, business analyst etc... Any IT related profession.

If someone used a law degree to sell law software, or malpractice insurance I would count that was well.


There are legions of them. Layoff over 50 is a career-ender in software. Lawyers are just warming up at that point.


Legions huh? Do you have something to back up that claim.

It's often stated - and worried about, but whenever a thread comes up about devs over 50, we mainly see counterexamples.


Everybody I worked with when I was 16. They were then my age now. I know where this goes.


They just don't go into lawyering period. If you don't get into a biglaw firm after you get your JD you're usually permanently fucked. It's better to get a salaried position in an unrelated field than 'hang out your shingle' in pretty much all cases.

Law schools are making lots of lawyers, but the 'failed' ones just drop out. That is why there is no downward pressure on the fees from increased supply.


Getting into a biglaw firm is only the first gate, as their model requires a pretty big funnel and up-or-out process. Lot's of promising young lawyers are grist for that mill, and many end up doing something else after.

Lots of young lawyers have no interest in biglaw either, and only some of them are naive about their future prospects.


> But it's still hard to find a lawyer that charges less than 250/hr.

I've seen research that the average lawyer (which is definitely not NYC biglaw firm) successfully collects on about 1/8 of their nominally billable hours.

If that is true, and you also factor in that they are effectively running a small business with all that implies for non-billable work, your $250/hr lawyer working on their own is making about $50k/year. So even if we are off by nearly a factor of two, they are hardly raking it in.

By comparison if you are in larger firms, more of the hourly rate is captured but it is also paying for multiple people.

Don't get me wrong, there are lawyers out there making great money (e.g. partners in those same NYC biglaw firms). But thinking that is the experience of the average lawyers is a bit like looking at levels.fyi and deciding that all over the country most software engineers are making 250k+.


Why are they only collecting on 1/8th of their billable time?

That's insane.


"nominal" billable time, so it's a combination of things but also included client ability to pay, client acquisition costs (depending on speciality, consults may be free for example), etc.

I think time estimation is pretty hard in a lot of legal work also, you may be prepped for 60 hours work over then next two weeks and then a client phone call derails it entirely. It's not always easy to replace that time.


Indeed.

Why is the US producing 25,000 more lawyers than it needs?

Why is this happening in a supposedly rational maximally efficient - or close offer - market economy?

The simple answer is because someone else profits hugely from the money they pay for training. Which in turn is a symptom of an extractive economy, not a productive economy.

A productive economy would do a much better job of allocating talent to social requirements. But an extractive economy is optimised for short-term gain of a small overclass - not the medium/long-term opportunity-growth of a strategically generative economy.


What you're describing is a bubble, or put more technically: gross malinvestment. It's happening for the same reason any bubble happens, artificially cheap credit financing a speculative boom.

Through government financed student loans, we make money available for any sort of educational pursuit; and unlike a loan for, say, opening a new restaurant, no business plan or market research is needed to convince a banker that the venture is a sound one.

So, the reason this is happening in a "supposedly rational, maximally efficient — or close offer — market economy" is contained in the first word of the description: supposedly.

In truth, government loans distort and destroy a market economy. Cheap credit undermines rational planning.


I mean, the US isn't "producing" those lawyers. People choose to become lawyers because they think it's a good idea.

And generally, the choice of education seems to lag behind what's actually in demand, even worldwide.


By giving the schools a blank check (via giving students a blank check as long as it’s spent on schools), the US government is effectively producing the lawyers.

If there was no free money sloshing around, people would have to do a proper cash flow analysis and look at supply and demand before being able to invest their time in degrees that don’t have ROI.

Same thing happened with pharmacy school, and now there’s tons of pharmacists making very little money for exposing themselves to lots of liability in fast food working conditions.


The problem is that it's also not free money. The students who get their degree but can't use it have to pay the money back just the same as students who got the degree and get the high-paying entry level job.

So getting a degree is a gamble, because you either come out ahead or you get hobbled by it for the rest of your life. Whereas if you did indeed get free money to get a degree it would eliminate the hobble and produce a class of well-educated people who could afford to work for PD wages.


>So getting a degree is a gamble, because you either come out ahead or you get hobbled by it for the rest of your life.

It's a gamble that the government offers to you even when it knows you can't meaningfully pay the loan back.


It’s free money for the schools.


> US isn't "producing" those lawyers. People choose to become lawyers

Isn't there any regulatory body which controls the number of law degrees awarded annually, like there is for doctors?


Law Degrees in the US are not limited by some quota beside the size of the classes and the number of schools accredited. The real barrier is the Bar Exam, the ultimate decider if you are allowed to practice law, every state has there own admission process, there is some reciprocity and I think the Federal level has it's own separate Bar standards.


Not in the same way. IANAL and IANAD but I think:

IN LAW {bar exams + prestigious law firms} ~ IN MEDICINE {board exams + specialty board residency placements}


But, there is no need to work for a law firm prestigious or otherwise to practice law, you just pass the Bar.


Not really. I suspect this is because unlike medicine, lawyers as a collective organization don't benefit as much from an artificial scarcity. MD isn't really a common path to anything other than a career as a doctor, but JD has other practical career paths.

It also differentiates the bar vs. board exams. You can't practice medicine without certification, but there are plenty of lawyers doing law without a bar association, it only constrains you from doing certain types of work.


There’s no such thing as areal maximally efficient market economy. There are always externalities, information asymmetries, insufficient regulation, too much regulation, etc and frequently all of the above to some extent at the same time.

It’s as Churchill said of Democracy, it’s the worst form of government we’ve come up with, except for all the others. Fortunately in a Democracy we have the freedoms to discuss, identify and agree solutions to these problems. These solutions will probably lead to more problems. Rinse and repeat.


This. I'm lucky to have made it from a medium Eastern European city to a software engineer job in UK, but I can only imagine it would've been so much more difficult (if not impossible) if the pool of people with the same level of knowledge and interest was 10x bigger. Spending many years studying/working to end up in a job with no growth prospects would be a very bitter pill to swallow.


I studies CS back in the 80s and back then every student I knew was genuinely interested in the subject and motivated to learn. In my last job at a bank I regularly interviewed recent CS graduates and candidates able to demonstrate a genuine passion for the subject were few and far between.

I know, I know, get off my lawn.


>> I studies CS back in the 80s and back then every student I knew was genuinely interested in the subject and motivated to learn. In my last job at a bank I regularly interviewed recent CS graduates and candidates able to demonstrate a genuine passion for the subject were few and far between.

You are comparing college students from the 1980s to those from 20xx. I'll tell you what is on the mind of the new students: how the heck do I pay my student loans and save up for a $2M starter home

It is easy to have passion when you barely have student loans and can buy a home with a year or two of earnings.

In case you point out that salaries were also lower back then, i'll give you that, but the ratio of salary/debt and salary/homeprice was far more reasonable back then than now.

EDIT: This is a US-centric view, not necessarily a global view. Further, it is a SF/SV/NYC centric view since that is where a majority of tech+banking jobs are.


$2M is not a starter home. The national median home price is $230K. It's only that high because 4-5 states are dragging it up. Keep in mind that is the median. There are homes that can be had for less. Nice homes. Buying a house in one of the most expensive markets in the entire nation (SF, NYC) as your first home is a choice, and perhaps not a particularly wise one.

Where I live in, in Charlotte, NC a $1-2 million home budget would buy you a literal castle. Here is one on zillow not far from me for $1.2M it's a 6 bed, 7 bath, 7500+ Sq ft castle on an acre and surrounded by forest while still being only a 20 minute drive to the heart of the city.

https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/14001-Grand-Palisades-Pkw...

For a much more reasonable $250K you can easily get a nice 2-3K sq ft 3-4 bedroom home with a quarter acre lot, nice fixtures and a 2 bay garage. This is in the 15th largest city in the US mind you. Better deals can be had elsewhere.


His point still stands though, we are doing things to maximize money because we are hugely indebted from students loans, rent, and medical bills. Scott Galloway mentioned in a podcast how he went to business school and paid $1000 in tuition and got a job after graduation that paid $100k. That's a 100:1 ratio that you can't find today. Today that same business school charges $70k and you get a job that pays $140k, that's a 2:1 ratio.

He also talked about how he was able to buy into amazon stocks when it was $60. If you are just starting your career you're jumping into a world where everything is at an all time high, that includes housing as well, every decent asset is currently at an all time high and we know that there's no room for us.

So we're left out of the big party, and we're scrunching to try to survive as we cope with our depression and anxiety about what an insecure future we have with climate change looming in the distance. Yes, take a job for the money. It's the only chance you have.


> He also talked about how he was able to buy into amazon stocks when it was $60.

Lol, there are a lot of stocks now at 60 you could buy that may turn out to be big winners. What kind of argument is that?


He dollar cost averaged over time. You can't do that with everything being overvalued.


I think some of the context is lost here. The GP was talking about banking jobs with CS applicants not really passionate about CS. The majority of banking jobs are in NYC, so there really isn't really a huge choice. If you're applying for a CS job (not IT) in banking, almost the entire job market is in NYC.

My argument was that of course students are not passionate, they are worried about student loans, homes, rents. (Fun exercise go to the same Zillow link and try to find homes in NYC max $250k. Then, on what you find, look at the transportation options are into NYC.)

I'm glad you brought up NC because it has a decent sized banking sector but also offers great QoL. I actually left NYC and took a super-interesting job a bit north of you in Virginia. Homes are affordable, QoL is great.

There is a catch though: there arent all that many other interesting jobs in tech (as there were in NY/SF). The startup scene is tiny. There are few FAANG jobs here though Amazon is supposed to come soon. There are some awesome CS research-type jobs, in govnt labs.

There are lots of interesting consulting jobs to be fair, as well as FAANG SE jobs. There are lots of interesting data-type jobs in Intelligence. There are also tens of thousands of totally dead-end tech jobs where you do nothing all day at government offices. A friend told me he's been waiting two months to get approval to install a pip library on a government machine. Another friend works on ancient systems.

Good QoL - absolutely.

Good home prices - absolutely.

Jobs i'd be passionate about - some, hopefully more coming with remote.

Am I obsessively passionate about the work here? No, i'm mostly enjoying the outdoors.


Charlotte is basically a one horse town with respect to jobs, banking.


That's quite a distance from city center.. Your costs go way up when you don't live spitting distance from S.C..


It's 17 miles of highway driving. 20-30 minutes from your garage to city center, with a whole lot of plenty to do between the 2 points as well.


> how the heck do I pay my student loans and save up for a $2M starter home

Not valid for Scandinavia. In Denmark we get paid approx $1000 per month (like a wage) for studying and we pay $0 for attending university. You only have to pay for your own computer.

Some students have a part time job, some get extra money from parents.

So many students get by with zero loans.


My apologies. I was thinking of this comment with too much of a US-centric view.


And what proportion of 18/19 year olds goto university?


It's a different culture than the US. Not at all the same pressure to immediately go to university, many people get jobs and travel while feeling out what field they really want to enter. This is of course dependent on the current jobs market. Personally I had three years.

Then university has nothing of the general courses and only specialized following your program.

You have some statistics in page 7 here, for Sweden though. It is influenced by people taking single courses and masters programs instead of the first enrollment so keep that in mind.

https://www.uhr.se/globalassets/_uhr.se/publikationer/2020/s...


How many software engineers do you know who are legitimately terrified of their student loan debts for a Bachelor's in CS?

I've met people with grad degrees in less remunerative fields who absolutely have exactly the worries you imagine. But a fresh grad with a CS degree and a promising career? A 250k salary isn't even a stretch for them to imagine. Add a partner with a similar income and both the student loans and that $2M starter home seem plenty achievable.

Especially if they look at home prices in Oakland or Hayward where home prices are still under $1M, rather than the more exclusive parts of San Francisco (read: all of it).


Firstly, i graduated in 2001, so i've been through two down-cycles. Of course there are no worries now but you just need to look back and realize that $250k salaries can disappear, sometimes permanently. I remember how awesome it was in 2000, 2001, and then in 2002 and 2003 my friends were suddenly leaving CS to become mortgage brokers. I was blase about my liabilities in 2000, 2001. Not the case in 2002 or 2003. Blase again in 2006 and 2007. Terrified in 2009 (not about student loans but just liabilities in general - COBRA, property taxes, supporting family, etc.)

A large number of $250k+ salaries, on Wall St, for example permanently disappeared with the move to open source, shared servicing, etc. Former bosses are "retired" or "consultants" or insurance brokers.

Finally, sure, having a spouse who also earns $250k is great, but does everyone have that? Should CS grads only marry other CS grads? What if you wall in love with someone who does HR (which is my case)?

Also note, that stretching for a $2M home with two $250k tech salaries is pretty risky

0. What happens when you turn 35 or 40 and now face age discrimination?

1. Both your salaries are highly industry correlated

2. Both your salaries are regionally correlated

3. If either of you lose a job, you're screwed with a mega-loan.

4. What happens when kids come and you cant work (as easily, or at all?)


I remember 2002 and 2003. And 2008. You're right. These are real worries for real people in the real world.

Let's ground this in more realistic numbers: you can reasonably buy a $500k residential property in the SF Bay on a single $140k salary. That's a salary that's very achievable for a senior engineer - which is to say five years of experience, which many will hit by 30. It's one that you can keep getting when you hit 35 or 40 if you don't move into management or technical leadership so long as you don't insist on working solely for startups founded recently by 20-somethings. It's a pay packet that will enable you to rid yourself of student loans in relatively short order, should you choose to do so.

The nice thing about the "the tech industry" is that one name covers a shockingly diverse swath. I've seen personal finance, business finance, high finance, business services, medicine, consumer electronics, and more all under the name of "tech". They are not nearly are industry-correlated as calling it all "tech industry" might lead someone to think. Often they have little in common with one another except using a bit of Python or Ruby.

With that in mind, and that any property appreciates in value over enough time (or at least is exceptionally unlikely to lose significant value in the SF Bay), we've got a scenario where of 0-4 concerns, only #2 is really a big one in this new world of remote work. 0 and 1 aren't big issues, as mentioned previously. 3 isn't a huge deal - you're sitting on an asset in which you have a non-trivial chunk of ownership that you can use. 4 is a universal issue that will arise in literally any scenario where you don't have 1%-grade resources, and no change of location (or income) will fix that.

Your concerns are wise, and clear-headed. I applaud your foresight and caution! I think it just might be possible that grounding numbers in reality might change the calculations slightly.


Thanks for your very logic take on this. I'll admit that many in my "generation" 2000/2001 grads (and also 2009 grads in NY) gut burnt and have a different risk-reward outlook in life. I think that explains some of the differences.

What you say is highly logical and models well with the current state of the world. However, it doesnt model unknown unknowns. The problem with modeling unknown unknowns is that you remain in a constant state of fear of what might happen, even though in the base case you would be OK -- so again your viewpoint makes sense.

However, I myself, cant stop thinking of unknown unknowns. Two that worry me (not worry me crazy, just worry me enough not to buy an expensive home in SF) are:

- What if tech jobs go remote and SF property prices stay constant? Now you dont get the appreciation you are expecting. Also, now, wages are stagnant or reduced with the large pool of workers across the US willing to work for less.

- What if the "burn down tech industry" segment of politicians win power (or cabinet influence) and create all sorts of punitive laws?

- What if we allow a lot more highly-skilled immigrants into the country (generally, i'm in favor of this coming from an immigrant family, but it cannot be denied that there would be a 3-5yr blip downwards in wages as the industry re-calibrates to more efficiently use all resources, including eventually creating net new jobs)

I'll give you three examples of unknown unknowns:

1. A friend in NYC purchased a simple 2family home and rents out the below unit to help pay the mega-mortgage. This year, there was a law that in many cases renters can defer rent (unlikely to pay it later, since it will obviously be a huge number.) Also, there is a moratorium on evictions. Also, the homeowner has to continue paying property taxes, utilities, heating, gas, etc. The model just went out the window.

2. A friend in 2009 -- outstanding performer -- was fighting to keep his job (along with a dozen other folks.) Suddenly there was a sexual harrassment claim (no witnesses, he said vs she said.) One person desperately trying to keep their job was the accuser, one was the accused. The accused lost his job. Took him 9 months to find a new job. Burnt thru his 6mo savings buffer. Increasingly desperate for a job, lowered his salary expectations and no longer earning $250k

3. Company is doing well. You are doing awesome. Making great buck. Suddenly, a corporate acquisition. New overloads bringing in loyalists. Bonuses cut for a year or so. Market is bad, stock grants are below what you got (Happens all the time). Dont want to switch jobs and be LIFO. You just went from $250 TC to $170TC.

My point is not that people cannot make ends meet. They can. Also, we in tech have it pretty good. BUT I would agrue that there are too many unknowns and stresses to "just pursue your passion" as the GP post was saying. I mean, sure, if everything was covered i'd love to pursue my passion. But it isnt.

Finally, you cant easily sell a home.

1. 6% real estate commission (if you put 20% down, you just lost 30% of your equity)

2. Title Insurance (1.5% depending on state)

3. Lawyers, fees, transfer taxes.

4. Bid-Ask spread.

All in, selling a home, especially under duress, exacts ~7-10% cost depending on your tax jurisdiction. If you put 20% down, you just lost 33 to 50% of your equity.


I think you're right - our key difference is in risk tolerance.

You can choose to minimize your risks to maximize your resources for dealing with unexpected events. This is absolutely, completely, and in every possible way a valid life choice! Validity does not mean free of consequences, though.

I have several friends who live this way. They do their best to minimize every risk in their lives and maximize their spare resources. One thing they all have in common is that they never have enough saved to feel secure - there's always a bigger and scarier scenario that they aren't prepared for. Some of them even struggle to tap their "unknown unknown" funds in the event of genuine emergencies, because there's more that could go wrong and they need to be prepared.

Choosing to be maximally conservative is a perfectly reasonable and completely valid life choice. The catch, perhaps, is contextualizing it and accepting that you will pay a price for minimizing risk. Otherwise there's the real risk that a person winds up forever paralyzed by anxiety, sitting like the world's smallest dragon atop a horde of pennies in case you might need them.

And I think it's fair to say that that's not a portrait of your average college student or the future they envision.


At least addressing #1, I think people underestimate the fact that renting property is a business. If making your mortgage is contingent on both income from your job and your business, that’s a pretty risky position to be in. I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the law on this situation. If his tenant lost their job due to the pandemic they wouldn’t be able to make rent, either. He’d need to go through the time consuming and costly effort to evict that person over several months. The pandemic is the problem, and even the absurd real estate market is susceptible to that risk.


F-me, $2m for a starter home. Where on Earth do you live, and what sort of house do you live in?


I don't think that's a real number for anywhere, unless you insist on never leaving the Upper East Side.


I've seen this as a teaching assistant. CS class size went from a few 10s to over a 100 in 1999-2001, then dropped again when the gold chasers went somewhere else.

I did not find the boom period as bad as I expected. Many of the students in it for the money were still very smart and motivated and interesting to talk to. But I preferred the non-boom periods nonetheless :)


> Many of the students in it for the money were still very smart and motivated and interesting to talk to.

It is because people are not one dimensional. Most people have talent for range of professions, they are not predisposed to like exactly one of them. Also, most good students will end up liking whatever they picked provided it is within range of things they are not completely failing at.

Learning something often makes one like it more, even if one was initially ambivalent. Plus, once you know a bit more about field, you can find sub-field you are actually good at and find fun. As in, various tech jobs require slightly different aptitudes - some require more patience, some more abstract thinking, others memory. But, you dont know until you try.


As a student starting at that time, it was actually very frustrating. Universities hadn't caught up on having enough lecturers/TAs (or they hired a lot of TAs but they were very inexperienced and your odds of getting a good one were not good). Class sizes soaring also meant reduced time with instructors in office hours, and reduced opportunities for working with researchers (that is, a decent but average student had a shot before, but suddenly had none due to the glut of candidates).


The TA thing is pretty normal. I'm a TA this term as my new funding is being being worked out because it takes 6 months to do. So I'm TAing a class on assembly which I have no experience and don't even have a CS undergraduate degree. It sucks for us too as a have one class that expects 30hrs/wk of work (+another class), my research (what I want to spend all my time on), and TAing takes 18hrs/wk.

You're only going to get a good TA when that professor is teaching a class that's their focus and has a grad student that has that fucus AND that student isn't on other research funding. The system is far from optional for either undergrads or grads. Believe me, I'm not happy either


I mean I genuinely beleive I still have passion for this subject, I just absolutely hate the career field.


Couple decades ago CS was dominated by people who wanted high income.

Each class would 1-2 people in it that were genuinely interested in computers.

Early web startup cultures were heavy on college drop outs who had passed the professors in “useful” skills.


Because the 'S' in CS is for 'science'. The degree is a study of the fundamental underpinnings of computer use. Not a tech-ed employment-training class.

Sounds like folks who love the field but hate the job, should teach!


Sounds like folks who love the field but hate the job, should teach!

The trouble is that the students will see the instructor as the barrier between them abd a paying career.


On my CS course, the best professors were those who could also do the practical side. Two of them had created all the tools used by the students, including a minicomputer operating system.


This is both true and false.

I loved solving problems with computers in high school. Didn’t give a crap about theory unless it helped me solve harder problems.

So more engineer then scientist.

Choice for college path. Computer Management or Computer Science.

Once of those was about buying software and managing people.

Other was learning fundamentals so I could build cool stuff.


The problem is I dont really feel like an engineer or a scientist. I'm definitely not a good engineer partly because I don't care enough, but I'm neither smart nor educated enough to be a scientist. I'd personally describe myself as more of a hacker, but thats not particularly useful for much.


To teach, you only have to be one lesson ahead of the students. And there's lots of teaching to be done, before the hard science kicks in. So plenty of room for everybody!


To teach professionally, you also need to get whatever credentials the institution requires. I don't think my community college cared too much about formal credentials other than warm body and background check, but my four-year school seemed to prefer a PhD or a masters with industry experience. My kid's school district recently put out a call for substitute teachers which requires a bachelors degree (any field), a background check, and a whole lot of patience (not specifically listed).


I suppose that's understandable too. To be clear I'm not saying there aren't any with a passion for the subject, there are probably just as many now as were. Probably more. But there are also a lot of people going into it for whom it's just another career, and that's fine as long as there are enough jobs for them and they're willing to work. The problems come when there aren't.


Then again, banks are not exactly attracting people with "genuine passion for the subject".


The inverse is true as well. Good luck getting a spot on the on the schedule for anyone in the skilled trades in the US. Plumbers and HVAC companies charge through the roof and never can fill vacancies (at least with anyone reliable)


>Investors that don't work for wages don't strike me as a likely group to develop growing levels of resentment.

That's correct, but is not what is implied by "The source of unrest is resentment among people that don't think they're getting their fair share". Those investors are analogous to the knights & nobles of the 1200s, who most likely will gladly support the existing system because they benefit greatly from it.

What is implied is that people _who train to be investors but cannot find work investing_ will be more likely to develop growing levels of resentment. They are in the same boat as the extra 25000 lawyers per year.


An added dimension is the cost of education to get within the elite class. So it couldn’t just be solved by adjusting the expectation to be within the elite because many of those people people need the elite salaries to pay off education debt


  >  the inability of society to support an excess of people who expect to be in the elite.
For what it's worth, I have known a large number of people taking or having advanced degrees, only a small fraction of who would expect to be in "the elite" because of it.

Perhaps this is somewhat an issue of self identification though.


It leads to tons of people owing student loans for law school degrees that are worthless because they can't pass the bar. The bar exam in many states has become more difficult to pass due to this over supply of new graduates. Culling the herds I guess.


We were talking about brainy people here, not lawyers, which are the complete opposite.


There are no real shortages of food or shelter at this time. We should be able to support a very large number of people working on human development: scientists and technologists, medical professionals and even wide-spread service jobs, especially if better paid.

Unfortunately, for money to prove it's worth, too many things must be made scarce. It is this scarcity driven by the people who already have money and their servants in the system that are going to drive the current collapse, if it is happening (and I certainly think it is).

What's mocking about the entire thing is that to retire with a 401k is to join the rent-seeking class. I imagine there is some dark society that could exist where all the food was produced with automation and all that existed otherwise was ownership of that and other automation, producing nothing of value other than the already specious concept of wealth.


> There are no real shortages of food or shelter at this time. We should be able to support a very large number of people working on human development: scientists and technologists, medical professionals and even wide-spread service jobs, especially if better paid.

But "just having food and shelter" is by no means the thing to be overcome. Or do you think that food and shelter just appears like magic in front of everyone? We need people to grow the food, collect it, distribute it, arrange it on shelves or serve it in restaurants. We need people to build homes (and implicitly the materials that need to be dug up or obtained from somewhere), sell them, renovate them, maintain them. And what about the huge infrastructure that goes around doing all this, the roads, the water treatment plants, the garbage collection? Who's gonna do all that? Oh, right, we have food and shelter, that's enough, I forgot.

If the proportion of people who want to do science/progressive stuff is larger than what is sustainable to do all that I was listing above as well, wouldn't you say that becomes a problem?


From the perspective of someone living in 1400 A.D.? Yes, food gets to us by magic.

In 1400, ~80% of the population tilled fields with horses and oxen, planted by hand, sorted the wheat from the chaff themselves before grinding the wheat into flour and baking it in an oven heated by an actual fire running from wood (and other flammables) that they collected themselves.

Now we have robots (in the broadest sense of the word) available to assist us with ploughing, sowing, harvesting, transporting, sorting, milking, shelf stacking, ordering, home deliveries, and cooking — the first half of that list is why agriculture is no longer employing 80% of the population.

Similar developments are ongoing in all areas, and that progress is the output of the scientists’ labour.


True, in fact direct agricultural labor accounts for fewer than a million jobs in the U.S.

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/farming-fishing-and-forestry/agricul...

One place where technology is struggling to make an impact is in housing. Even ignoring the farcical inflation of land prices in some municipalities, the price of a building itself has not decreased in cost similar to other durable goods.

This is in part due to consumer choice

1 bigger buildings

2 better buildings (impoved sealing, more equipment, etc)

But also due to other factors

1 inability to replace skilled labor

2 ecological costs

3 increased code requirements


I had to look up the link, but you reminded me of this:

https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/a20622/watch-the...

...It doesn't look anywhere close to market-ready, but goddamn what a gamechanger once it is.


Building the load bearing structure is a quite small part of the cost of building a home these days. Probably less than 10%. I'm afraid robots laying bricks won't be a game changer in housing.


Interesting and related: how 3D printing may be leveraged

https://www.usace.army.mil/Media/News-Archive/Story-Article-...


The profit/investment motive is fundamentally behind the scarcity of affordable housing.


This is why I focused my point around the cost of the structure. The costs of land (made expensive by policy) and capital (made cheap by policy) are much more complex.

But regardless of that, even if you buy cheap land in a low regulation county/state and use all non-union labor, the building cost is still more expensive than it would be if buildings had the reduction of costs that other durable goods have had over time.

Some of this is clearly regulatory, i.e. codes. Some is clearly consumer choice, note the failure of prefab and tilt up to catch on. Some is clearly ecology, note the disappearance of native large timber from most residential construction.

Many architects and builders have tried their hand at designing homes and construction processes that reduce the costs of buildings but if they have to build to modern codes, expectations and ecological standards they mostly see marginal improvements. There are just a lot of fundamental costs involved with site constructed buildings that meet modern standards.


Sure, there's additions. But I would be careful to deduce consumer choice from what is most risk-free/profitable, a.k.a. the market. Cheap, decent quality "projects" would also be rented out in no time. But the profit margin and risk assessment isn't in favour of that.


Do you have a good example of removing the profit/investment motive and the result being enough housing for everyone?


Yes, Sweden ~1990. There was an agency responsible for adapting housing availability after need. If there was a shortage, it was acted upon. Then the whole homeownership wave, markets etc came.


That's fascinating! Is there anything I could read about this? I would love to hear more about a rich first-world country being able to meet literally everyone's housing needs fully and in a timely manner without using a market economy.



Reading the description there, it seems to rest heavily on profit motives. Perhaps I have missed something?

I would love an example of housing for everyone in locations that meets their needs, achieved in a timely manner, in a way that removes profit and investment motives.


> it seems to rest heavily on profit motives

What part are you referring to?

> I would love an example of housing for everyone in locations that meets their needs, achieved in a timely manner, in a way that removes profit and investment motives.

Well, on the other hand, is there something inherent in housing that requires those motives?


> What part are you referring to?

A lot of the program seems to have rested on subsidies and incentives, which are nice ways of saying you're relying on a profit or investment motive.

> Well, on the other hand, is there something inherent in housing that requires those motives?

Aside from that it requires scarce resources to produce and maintain and is rival in nature? I suppose not. Though that does put it in the company of quite a few other goods and services.


> A lot of the program seems to have rested on subsidies and incentives, which are nice ways of saying you're relying on a profit or investment motive.

I mean that's just an implementation issue. To scale fast at that time, the government paid already existing corporations to build but kept ownership of the completed buildings. The point is that it's still a state venture and the profit motive/investment, "free market", was essentially suspended. So without this kind of government program the market, because of profit/risk/investment motives, won't build this.


There's also the "protect-my-pie-ism" that skilled labor unions engage in. We have cheap alternatives to heavy metal pipes, but they're outlawed in a lot of places because of the pipefitters' lobbies. Same goes for a lot of other building codes under the guise of safety - the system is deliberately made inefficient to protect jobs.

Personally, I blame the system of incentives created by late-stage capitalism. It's more beneficial to litigate your job to a safe place than to learn a new or more efficient method of accomplishing the same job.


But that would just make it somewhat more expensive to build. The problem is that the supply is always kept insufficient. If, for example, the government would build good quality housing according to need, the housing market would implode. To build according to need was the default in here in Sweden before ~1990.


Making it more expensive translates to a lack of supply - the government has far more limited resources than huge real estate development firms. The pipes thing is just an example. Of course, this is one of a great many factors that make it nigh-impossible to get affordable government housing built. Not the least of which is the actual expense of land vs. cash-strapped local governments (who are broke because our tax system sucks and we spend what little money we do have on subsidies for businesses.)

It's a systemic issue - the incentives that we have lead to a governmental inability to function at all levels. Pick any random piece and you can find a reason that it's hard to do meaningful work.


Sorry but to imagine that labour costs and unions are somehow responsible for the housing shortage is just a strange distraction. We had labour unions in Sweden with good working conditions & benefits etc etc all along that period. The goal to inflate the price of housing is the main issue.


You're absolutely right - that is the main issue. I'm not suggesting for a moment that fixing labor union litigation would fix housing. It wouldn't.

I was using the pipes as an accessible example of what is a single piece of a very, very large mosaic.

The assertion I intended to make was precisely this: That it is impossible to point to a single bad actor (although, you are likely correct in pointing out the most egregious of them). The core issue (IMO, the thing to fix) is that the system of incentives that surrounds the developers, contractors, politicians, homeowners, and everyone else involved rewards slicing the pie over making more pie. Adding value, when it's easier to litigate your way into aquiring a larger share of existing value, is pointless from any individual's standpoint.

Take a look at the debacle that surrounded the Stuyvesant Town housing projects - this is a case where this sort of pie-slicing quite nearly made it through, but was struck down by the courts. I use this example because due to it's failure the techniques involved are clearly visible:

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/01/america...

...my central assertion is that the pipes and deals like this are motivated by the same underlying socioeconomic factors. And too many lawyers.


> We have cheap alternatives to heavy metal pipes

Wait, are you saying America uses lead pipes, not PVC or copper?


That is precisely what I am saying. It's not everywhere, but there are places (like NY) where it is illegal according to building codes to use pvc. Because any old schmo can work with pvc (although, the law is written as if it's a safety hazard)


What's your point? The amount of people and labour needed to do those things are much much less than it once was. However we've since employed a massive amount of labour to chase profits and producing stuff that aren't necessarily needed, while still maintaining a system of scarcity for essentials.


> But "just having food and shelter" is by no means the thing to be overcome. Or do you think that food and shelter just appears like magic in front of everyone?

Yeah, essentially. We need so few people dedicated to this line of work because of the wonderful scientific, technological and logistic discoveries of the past century. The fact that we have people that starve today is a failure of culture and politics and nothing more. With such a rich soil in which to build an advanced society, the fact that we haven't produced the creativity to produce a more advanced society is not exactly alarming. It says more about the human mind and condition than anything else.

Uhm, we already do all of that stuff that you mentioned with a tiny subset of the population working on all of it, hence the concept of a 'service' economy. We could replace 'service' with any number of alternative concepts that could advance humanity far more significantly.


Here is a parable I made in 2010 about such a problematical society with ultimately just one top rent-seeker owning all the automation: "The Richest Man in the World: A parable about structural unemployment and a basic income" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p14bAe6AzhA

A related longer article expanding on such ideas: https://pdfernhout.net/beyond-a-jobless-recovery-knol.html "This article explores the issue of a "Jobless Recovery" mainly from a heterodox economic perspective. It emphasizes the implications of ideas by Marshall Brain and others that improvements in robotics, automation, design, and voluntary social networks are fundamentally changing the structure of the economic landscape. It outlines towards the end four major alternatives to mainstream economic practice (a basic income, a gift economy, stronger local subsistence economies, and resource-based planning). These alternatives could be used in combination to address what, even as far back as 1964, has been described as a breaking "income-through-jobs link". This link between jobs and income is breaking because of the declining value of most paid human labor relative to capital investments in automation and better design. Or, as is now the case, the value of paid human labor like at some newspapers or universities is also declining relative to the output of voluntary social networks such as for digital content production (like represented by this document). It is suggested that we will need to fundamentally reevaluate our economic theories and practices to adjust to these new realities emerging from exponential trends in technology and society."

I just read Andrew Yang's "The War on Normal People" from 2018 that covers a lot of the same ground as in that article and in a clearer and more persuasive way (but does not outline quite as many possible solutions): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_on_Normal_People "Focusing on domestic issues, the book discusses technological change, automation, job displacement, the U.S. economy, and what Yang describes as the need for a universal basic income (UBI). Yang argues that "as technology continues to make many jobs obsolete, the government must take concrete steps to ensure economic stability for residents of the United States," including the provision of a UBI, which is one of three central policies of Yang's 2020 presidential campaign."


I think you could generalize the idea of "individuals who extract income but who do not perform useful work" to "individuals whose extracted income exceeds the utility of the work they perform." Maybe to the converse as well, to an excess of "individuals whose extracted income subceeds the utility of the work they perform". It's basically talking about unjustified inequality.

I think to some extent this maps onto the idea of rent-seeking monopolies in current society and undercompensation of individuals. It's hard to go to something like this

https://mkorostoff.github.io/1-pixel-wealth/'

and not conclude that many people are being undercompensated grossly, and a small number of others are being overcompensated grossly.

For what it's worth, I agree with others that I don't think this maps onto "braininess" per se. I just think that's one of the character traits that happens to be valued the most in Western societies at the moment, so it's projected by the elites the most. In the past it might have been valor or nobility or courage or whatever it was -- the thing that is presented as justification for the excessive income, and protection of that income.

In general I think individuals are misvalued, not in the sense that persons don't matter, but the economic value placed on single individuals can be (and usually are) grossly overstated or understated. I think this transcends many many fields.


In addition to the weath-in-pixels visualization you linked, another very damning graph comes from the Fed's research arm:

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=bOfK

This is a plot of median household income in comparison to GDP per household, both in inflation-corrected dollars.

The GDP/household line has been pulling away from the household income line since the 1980s. While a great deal of wealth is being created in America, a decreasing share of it is trickling down into the hands of the median person. The rest of it is disappearing into the pockets of the already very wealthy in general, and the billionaires in particular.


> this was a contributing factor to the famines and wars of 1350-1400.

I feel like you need to mention the black death in this same sentence though, as the nobility population change would arguably be a lesser factor in thrall to that massive event.

It does certainly paint an interesting aftermath as the black death suddenly made life a valuable commodity leading to a small period of time where worker's rights and even in some cases women's rights were improved. Considering that against a backdrop of indignant nobles is entertaining ponder-thought.

The Great Famine was 1315ish, were you thinking of that instead?


This is a great point. Maybe it would be more in line with the facts to say that elite overproduction was "a contributing factor to the famines of 1300-1350 and the wars of 1350-1400".

That doesn't seem to line up well with Turchin's secular cycle theory, though: 1300 is supposed to be the peak of the "integrative phase" and 1400 is supposed to be the trough of the "disintegrative phase". In fact, many of the "disintegrative phase" events happen well before 1350 (the Great Famine of 1315-1317, the Shepherds' Crusade of 1320, the Flemish peasant revolts of 1323) and many of the events that happened after 1350 could be explained more simply as effects of the Black Death.

To be fair to Turchin, I think his thesis is that overpopulation and elite overproduction happens first, which then leads to famine/scarcity decreasing the non-elite population, which finally leads to a later period of warfare that kills off the excess elites as they fight for shares of the smaller pie. But I think the claim that this process happens for all societies on a 200-year sine wave warrants some skepticism.


I also personally think that France's demographic situation in the early 1300s was a perfect example of Malthus's law, there were too many people compared to what the land could provide at that time (given the available technology). Some areas in the Southern Alps (Alpes-Maritimes) were never to be inhabited again after that.


> Some areas in the Southern Alps (Alpes-Maritimes) were never to be inhabited again after that.

But that might also be due to the end of the warm period and the start of the little ice age. For reference: Its about now that the norse have to abandon their Greenland settlement.


Note that most historians do not believe that the end of the Medieval warm period was the trigger of the collapse of the Greenland settlement, but rather that was the abandonment of trade routes to Greenland that caused its collapse.


I still think that the changing temperature was likely a factor but perhaps just a small one. It certainly would have got harder to eek out an existence on the island.

As you say though a bigger factor was Portuguese traders gaining access to African elephant ivory which was easier and cheaper to procure than walrus ivory which was the cash crop of the Greenland settlement.


>The most straightforward modern equivalent to Turchin's "elite" nobility would not be people with advanced degrees: it would be <insert group I don't like and do some hand waving to indicate why their value to society is net-negative>

There's a lot of groups one could complain about. On HN it's a toss-up between whether you complain about the wall street bankers or the urban landlords. In other circles people complain about the government and the white collar yuppies. The MBA types get complained about a lot but nobody complains when they're buying a $100 window A/C unit.

You can find examples of net-negative rent seeking in just about every part of the economy but to paint a whole class of economic activity as a drag is naive.


I mean, the nobility were, by and large, people who derived income from capital (generally, and in many countries exclusively, land) but didn’t generally themselves do productive work (they sometimes had minor government or judiciary roles, but these were often very minor, at least as time went on). It’s a fairly obvious comparison (though it was worse; modern investment, except in land, does at least indirectly lead to productive work).

There are also more recent examples of overpopulation of non-productive landowners. Post-ww1 the UK peaked at demolishing more than one stately home per day, as the Downton Abbey class abruptly became non-viable.


> the Downton Abbey class

All I find online is references online to some TV show. Is there another term for these people?



I would interpret Downton Abbey class as British peers (nobility). The characters that had estates but no titles were Landed gentry.


Obviously (hopefully) this is a very complex topic and our analogies are both lacking in nuance and inaccurate on certain levels. However...

In the middle ages the nobility were effectively the government (and the church provided checks and balances, kind of) as well as the investor class. In addition to financing productive capacity they also did all the administrative things governments do. Obviously administrative bloat ebbed and flowed over time. Today we have both government investment in capital project (e.g. a road, or a bus terminal) and private investment in capital projects (a new factory or whatever). Both groups can get very rent-seeky and non-productive if left alone with no reason to not do those things. It's really hard to make generalizations that are more accurate than not.

I think comparison to the pre-industrial world is more effective for understanding that time than it is for drawing conclusions about our own time. All the details are so different you really need to squint to make things line up and when you're talking about big things like macro-economics it's the fine tuning and details that make all the difference.


> In the middle ages the nobility were effectively the government (and the church provided checks and balances, kind of)

This was kind of true early on, and got less true both as the size of the nobility grew (especially in countries like France and Russia, which had serious nobility surpluses) and as a professional class of government emerged (by the time you get to Samuel Pepys, you're talking about largely a professional government). Even before that in practice many or most government functions were carried out by appointed or elected commoners.

To take a ridiculously over the top example, take the samurai class in the Tokugawa Shogunate. They were about 10% of the population, and by and large weren't really allowed do anything much at all (beyond wars, but there were no significant wars during that period). 99% of them were pure drain on the economy.

> as well as the investor class

This is way more dubious. Obviously it depends on the time and place, but in most times and most places it was anything from socially unacceptable (England) to effectively illegal (Roman Republic/Empire) for aristocratic landowners to invest in non-land things. What little investment in productive projects there was was largely by merchants, money lenders, and later banks, all generally commoners.


> it was anything from socially unacceptable (England) to effectively illegal (Roman Republic/Empire) for aristocratic landowners to invest in non-land things

can you expand on this? It's harder to think about "investment" opportunities back then because the economy was basically agriculture, the slave trade, urban real estate, and trading the fruits of agriculture and slavery. I think landowners in the Roman Empire did in fact partake in other business, say starting gladiator companies.


> I think landowners in the Roman Empire did in fact partake in other business, say starting gladiator companies.

I think it somewhat depends on the era, but in general if you were a senatorial family, you wouldn't want to do this, because you'd lose your senate seat (and might face other sanctions from the Censor). There were rich non-senatorial-class people, some of whom would have been much richer than most of the senators who might own land along with other stuff, but the big landowners were generally the senators, because they weren't allowed do much else. I think even, say, building an apartment block on land they owned was dubious territory for a senator. Mercantile activities were right out.

In the English case, the landowning classes generally didn't invest in non-land things, and arguably the trigger of the industrial revolution was less the technological advances, and more the development of the capital infrastructure to invest in using them (banks, joint stock companies, etc).


> would be investors who do not work for wages.

So, everyone with retirement investments. I think they're known as 401(k) in the USA, here in Australia Super Annuation.

We've built a self-collapsing economy?


I mean, to some extent, yes, probably. In an aging society, as the fraction of the population doing productive work falls, this sort of thing is likely to become a problem.


It's only a problem in the sense that these investors will at one point realize that their investment is not as valuable as they think.


> The most straightforward modern equivalent to Turchin's "elite" nobility would not be people with advanced degrees: it would be investors who do not work for wages. (Not to say there is no overlap between those groups.)

Investors do a lot of work, because they have to constantly think where to put their money, evaluate alternatives, make sure there is no money wasted on things, etc. Even passive investors who only have S&P portfolios still contribute to the economy by providing capital to companies to invest into new things.


Yeah but even if we accept passive investment is a form of productive labor, there's a limited number safe/good investments for those good investors.

As we saw in the 2008 recession when more and investors pile on even the safest investments (mortgages backed securities) the quality of those investments tends to be diluted (via CDO's, errant ratings companies, exploitative real estate practices)

This is what's making me nervous about index funds right now, the demand seems extremely high, but what about the supply how would you determine such a thing?

What is investors are smart but there simply aren't enough good investments out there? Are they going to give up and become doctors, lawyers or engineers? Or just spend more time with their kids?


Fundamentally, investments are a bet that the future will be richer than the present.

If there aren't enough good investments now then that's an indication that the market believes there are major structural problems with the economy that will prevent the future from being richer than the present.

That's a far, far, more serious issue than just a question of what the kind of people who expect to receive passive incomes will do with their time.

Obviously, the pandemic is having a major current impact, but as you say, there has been a shortage of good investments since at least 2008.

I believe the underlying issue is a misallocation of resources into rentier economics and not enough into productive growth. We've collectively put far too much money into monopolies that squeeze larger percentages of money out of people and not enough money into innovation that improves the human environment. We need more of the original Google (i.e. the revolutionary search engine) and a lot less of the current Alphabet (i.e. the rentier advertising monopolist).


There is an obvious shift away from labor to capital. Central banks shift the balance way too far toward capital as it is right now. Lack of labor stimulus leads to inefficient allocation of labor.


Investors in secondary markets do not inject any money into businesses whatsoever. They are simply buying shares from other secondary market investors


To distill the thought further: Rent seeking behavior in non-scaleable.


Seems to be scaling just fine for Apple though.


Good context. Thanks for that.

Finding modern cognates to medieval nobility is fraught. In the republican era, it basically means "finger the bad guys." There's a tendency to label whoever you have beef with. Investors, bankers, the wealthy, political elites, the upper class...

Does Peace and War go into inter-nobility issues, or does the thesis rest on just the problem of a fixed size peasantry supporting a growing nobility? I could imagine these issues resulting in famines and peasant revolts. But, I can also imagine conflict emerging among nobility.

You can confer as many titles as you like, but France only has so many hides of land. Landless knights and penniless descendants of counts hanging around palaces and competing viciously for favour seems like it could be a recipe too. Somewhat more parsimonious with this modern thesis.


>There's a tendency to label whoever you have beef with. Investors, bankers, the wealthy, political elites, the upper class...

Are these supposed to be different groups of people?


They're pretty tightly clustered, but each have their own connotations, rhetorically.

Remember that the original liberals and republicans were (arguably) conducting conflicts within this overall cluster. In France it was the sans culotte vs the old nobility and clerics. You could argue that zuck or murdoch represents either side.


I don't think the sans culotte were part of the wealthy classes...doesn't it translate to something like, "without fancy pants"?

I could see an argument that Zuck and Murdoch are like pied pipers leading the modern sans culotte around by the nose, though. I'm not looking forward to the upcoming Terrors, in that analogy.


if you read turchin's paper his model has 3 parts. one accounts for elite competition, another for general/unskilled population wealth and a third one for the society's economy. elites aren't the only thing that produces instability those 2 other things


Spain fixed the problem of too many landless knights by encouraging them to go off and invade South America.


Most of Europe did that with their 2nd and 3rd sons. I can't seem to find the source, but I have heard that the flag of South Carolina has a crescent moon on it due to all the minor sons that came there to find their riches (Crescent Moons were common on the heraldry of minor sons).

San Domingue, now Haiti, was also a place where these nobles went off to get rich.

The new world was filled with these kinds of guys.


One problem with the Jamestown colony seems to have been that the settlers were only this kind of people, not people who could do useful stuff.


I'm sure we could write a whole social theory around this.

Arguably, the spanish tradition continues under more modern institutions with the British and Dutch trade monopolies. Nobles and wealthy commoners could go off and stake their claims in the colonies. A more diverse elite.

Instead of being a knight that can either farm (limited number of hides) or crusade, you could also be a textile merchant. You could be a ship captain, VOC clerk or mior Raj.


"The most straightforward modern equivalent to Turchin's "elite" nobility would not be people with advanced degrees"

I disagree here. The closest equivalent would be people in academia, specifically the portions of academia that don't perform useful work. Basically, the "X studies" crowd. And that's exactly where we see the most political instability coming from these days.


And I deeply disagree with you.

If we are looking for people who earn lots of money for no real tangible work, the people who work in tax exempt churches and congregations are much higher in that list than people in academia.

All modern prophets, pastors, speakers, con artists and so on. People in academia don't buy a new SUV every year, while these talkers do.

And right now, with the Covid crisis, we need the work of the academics. Not the whatever they do in the talkers group.


the beauty of turchin's equations is that they seem to be universal. what elites are doesn't depend much on details, except that they are possible to exist because there is a surplus produced by the peasants, slaves or in the modern era, supermarket workers or 3rd worlders. today's elites are those who were able to work from home while being served by those people essentially.


I don't know why you mark people in pursuit of domain knowledge for the wider world as some evil elite, when there are people who exist to solely pursue personal profit at the cost of everyone else. These capitalists are the ones buying political adspace, spreading misinformation, and driving a wedge in the working class that directly leads to the polarized hyperpartisan political environment we have today. Not some underpaid humanities professor. The fact that you reflexively blame the academic is evidence that the propaganda from these moneyed groups is working as designed.


I have to disagree that many of these programs are pursuing "knowledge" at all. They're pursuing a victim mentality and simply make up rationalizations as they go along and call it knowledge. And they're the ones filing into positions in the mainstream media and other circles (like social media gatekeepers) devoted to spreading misinformation.


the important part is they are all "elites", and whether their work is productive or not is not that important. they are separated from the masses at lagre by something. it could be college education or senatorial status or a noble title the details doesn't matter. they are elites doesn't mean they are "evil", and all societies need elites. there are just some positions they compete for and if there are not enough to go around sociaty can pay for it. the important part is not to overproduce elites


This was a pretty eye-opening interview for me. Certainly gives a lot of food for thought. About kleptocracy and how that particular (parasitic) economy survives and even thrives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlZdx9eDetw


Investors already did the work for those wages - you just don’t intuitively understand deferred consumption.

The closest thing to French nobility we have today is probably people with government sinecures.


If having ancestors that ran the violent gangs that terrorized, plundered and murdered their way into a protection racket over the locals is "work", then sure.


> The most straightforward modern equivalent to Turchin's "elite" nobility would not be people with advanced degrees: it would be investors who do not work for wages.

This feels wrong. Investors did work for wages (or their ancestors did) and then instead of consuming they spent it on others in exchange for a pension.

The modern day equivalent to nobility would be government employees and net tax recipients.


This is precisely backwards - especially in the US. Anyone with 'generational wealth' effectively guaranteed by investments and trust funds is in effect an aristocrat. However their income came - whether through their parents or their own work, they no longer have to take employment, can travel the world freely and don't share the concerns of the vast swathe of the ordinary population.

By contrast, the median government salary in the US is 51k. Notably many government sector employees like teachers are paid at about the same level of other industrialised countries (although with enormously worse paid vacations, and less autonomy than in most EU countries).

Source: https://work.chron.com/average-salary-government-employees-7... https://www.businessinsider.com/teacher-salaries-by-country-...


> Investors did work for wages (or their ancestors did) and then instead of consuming they spent it on others in exchange for a pension.

That is pretty much the definition of the nobility.

Someone many generations ago did something perceived as meritorious by the monarch and was awarded a title and some land. To get to the position where they could have done something to earn them a peerage, their ancestors would have worked a job for payment, and so on.

The only difference is the timescale. The 16th Duke of Hamilton is 400 years from someone who had to work for a living. A highly privileged modern investor whose only job was a sinecure at Daddy's company might have parents or grandparents who worked an upper-middle class job.

> The modern day equivalent to nobility would be government employees

That is a ridiculous snark. Government employees work for a wage, just as commercial and third sector employees do. If they stop working, they end up destitute same as any other employee. You do realise that Ron Swanson is a fictional character, don't you?


It’s not snark at all. In fact it’s direct lineage. You think nobles weren’t expected to work at all?

An investor who is a completely layabout won’t stay rich very long, there is a natural terminus to that sort of behavior. Look at interest rates, the risk-free rate of money is 0%, less with inflation. We have inheritance taxes and can move that slider up/down as needed to prevent aristocracies from forming. Perhaps this is where your real disagreement lies?

>If they stop working, they end up destitute same as any other employee.

https://calmatters.org/category/economy/california-pension-c...

>You do realise that Ron Swanson is a fictional character, don't you?

Funny you falsely accuse me of snark and then reach into your bag of insults.


Turchin uses the term “elites”, which is not the same as “brainy”.

Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

“Elites” on the other hand - highly credentialed and entitled - play zero-sum games.

There’s a lot of interesting critique written by heterodox leftists today, in the spirit of Chris Lasch, on how the current progressive movement is just intra-elite competition. Take BLM for example: how are Floyd/Blake policing incidents related to removing entrance tests from the super-elite schools and colleges, or shaking down super-elite art galleries until they show more POC artists? Or having a nominally black VP who’s made a career out of prosecuting black criminals?

Or the populist conservative movement appealing to the “non-elite” working class, who the progressives used to represent. This is happening all over the western world.

TLDR: Elite vs. non-elite seems exactly right, but let’s not confuse it with “brainy” please


> Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

"brainy" people can only contribute more than their non-brainy counterparts when they can leverage meaningful amounts of resources. a really clever person working a register in mcdonalds is not a whole lot more productive than a barely competent employee. even if they have some brilliant idea to streamline things in the store, no one will care.

it's entirely possible to have more "brainy" people than there are opportunities available for them to leverage their intelligence. if resources are diverted to develop "brainy" people, then this would be a case where there are too many of them.


A smart person automates everything they do. Put them in front of a register for a year and they’ll end up improving it as a side project. What I’ve noticed in my lifetime is that smart people in regular jobs have become more and more rare, and this kind of organic innovation has stopped. Innovation now generally comes from outside of any business.


> There’s a lot of interesting critique written by heterodox leftists today, in the spirit of Chris Lasch, on how the current progressive movement is just intra-elite competition.

There's a joke in leftist spheres that boils down to "Progressives simply want more female slave owners". I think it encapsulates the sentiment of the paragraph I partially quoted quite nicely.


"brainy" people can also think how to exploit society, and they are actually quite effective at it. Take a look at the rise of various totalitarian societies in the last century. The books that have been written by them more or less are still the basis of frameworks various countries have adopted.


>>Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

While we're on grand theories of politics and society... I think one of our modern/liberal theses is (perhaps) being played out currently.

Assuming that "brainy" is not totally unrelated to academic/educated, we have ratcheted up the supply of braininess. That does include empty credentialist trends, but it also includes people trained in science, engineering, mathematics and such. We have more of all of these people.

A lot of the logic behind producing them (ramping up university enrollment massively over decades) has been that productivity and income are a product of "human capital." IE, an engineer/doctor/etc. is n% more productive than a dock worker and therefore earns and produces n% more because education. Educate more people. They'll produce & earn more.

This was, like most social theories, part economics and part romanticism. People view/viewed economic gaps between poor and rich countries this way. IE, besides physical capital, you could turn a poor country into a rich one with education.

I don't think this was totally untrue. That said, I do think reality has given us some reality check nuances. There are other limits/factors on economic growth than education. To some extent, education was a proxy for wealth/power.. not it's source. Income does not necessarily reflect productivity, and productivity itself can be subjective.

To put a blunt end on it... "clerk" was, 50-100 years ago, the entry level white collar job. It came with entry level bougie status & income. Today, "clerical jobs" are very common. Those clerks are more highly educated. PCS are basically clerical super-efficiency machines. Yet, modern clerks don't have the modern equivalent of old timey clerk's status & income.


> Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

> “Elites” on the other hand - highly credentialed and entitled - play zero-sum games.

Your comment says nothing about what happens when "genuinely brainy" people get caught in the zero-sum games set up by the elites.


> Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

> And we should not expand our system of higher education beyond the ability of the economy to absorb university graduates. An excess of young people with advanced degrees has been one of the chief causes of instability in the past.

I think he genuinely means that too many educated people (by too many meaning more than society can actually accomodate) is a bad thing.


I would think that would be an indicator not that the quantity of smart people is bad but that we live in a society built for stupid people (which implies it was built by stupid people).


If you simplify it: if you have a lot of architects but very few builders, you're not going to get a lot done. That doesn't mean that society was made for or by the builders. Since academics tend to want to eat as well, you still need somebody to provide the food. If all you have is educated people for whom food production is beneath their qualifications, you're going to end up with starving academics lamenting the cruelty of the universe not providing food to them.


The problem with this analogy is that there is no shortage of uneducated people in other countries. If immigration or export is possible then uneducated people in rich nations don't stand a chance in the first place.


In the absence of uneducated laborers to do the jobs nobody wants to do, we can get the educated laborers to automate these tasks.


That would be people you'd need though, not people that get "produced" in larger numbers than desirable. A million more engineers will be great. A million more art history majors not so much.


If every manual laborer had an engineering degree I bet a ton of it will get automated really quickly.

If every paper pusher had a computer science degree I bet a ton of it would get automated really quickly as well.

When liberal arts majors do low skill work they start clamoring for low skill immigration so they get people they can manage.


I generally take the view that the SJW identity politics plague was born due to nominally left-leaning people striking it rich in SV and wanting some way to feel 'woke' without feeling guilty over all the money they've acquired.

SJW identity politics is left politics made safe for the California startup equity/VC/IPO crowd because it pays utterly no attention to economic inequality at all.


Pretty much. American ""intersectionalist"" (The first intersectionalists realized that in our society class is the major by far axis of discriminatio) is a repackaging of explicitly class-focused ideas and politics in order to serve the interests of Capital (in this case formulated as the VC/IPO class).


> SJW identity politics is left politics made safe for the California startup equity/VC/IPO crowd because it pays utterly no attention to economic inequality at all.

The general shape of this critique of bourgeois identity politics is much older than either the phrase "identity politics" or Silicon Valley itself (its at least as old as divides within late-19th/early-20th century feminism between radical and bourgeois feminism.)


Could you give some examples of such critiques? The idea seems interesting and I'd like to read a more long-form argument.


there's another assumption being made in this article, and that's the (all too common) assertion that stability is always a good thing.

consider the state of affairs; the mechanisms by which we enact and enforce public policy are largely anachronisms from an era when the most efficient method of information exchange was a printing press. we still vote with paper. mostly in a single day. this is not a situation that we would devise from scratch if called upon to create a solution today.

entrenched interests pose a fundamental barrier to social progress. those interests are demonstrably more efficient at gaming the system as it stands. introduction of chaos to such a system may provide the only opportunity for real, fundamental shift in sociopolitical system dynamics. this is a good thing - a forest needs the occasional fire.


> Genuinely “brainy” people can find new ways to contribute to society, there can never be too any of them.

Sure, but brainy people do need resources to apply their ability. In my field (biophysics), pioneering new methods is expensive, time & money wise. Elites have more of both (more grant $ and 10x more grad students).


> heterodox leftists today, in the spirit of Chris Lasch,

Any book or article recommendations that you might have easy access to? Reason is I've only recently started to read some Lasch and I genuinely like his writing, and on top of that I've also become really interested in fringe/heterodox left-wing writings as of late (I say that as a person usually on the right when it comes to politics). If it matters I'm also a fan of Jacques Ellul (which Lasch mentions among others as one of his inspirations).


You are very on point


I'm not sure how brainy I am. Perhaps the main reason I came across that way in school is because my mom taught me to read early.

In any case, no one in the lower-end workplace has been particularly interested in what brains I do have, or (apparently) anyone else's around me. It's all about how you can fit into the local pattern, which is often suboptimal yet resistant to change. Meanwhile, everything interesting/challenging I might have liked to work on is already being worked on by someone else, who is probably doing a better job than I would have-- so the chances seem low of me making a useful contribution. To say nothing of barriers to entry constantly & furiously being erected.

The main danger to me with regard to the question in the title seems to be the realization that despite what I was told as a child, I am pretty obviously redundant and unnecessary. Not needed. The world has enough brainy people already. There is little for me to do but try to care for those in my immediate vicinity as best I can and wait out my time.


> Meanwhile, everything interesting/challenging I might have liked to work on is already being worked on by someone else, who is probably doing a better job than I would have

You may be surprised to learn how false and limiting this belief is. Turns out most of those people are also just winging it, so if you wing it too, hey, you may actually reach a better outcome.


Exactly, defeatism can be pathologic to individuals and society. It's frustrating that doing anything involves the extra effort of countering this attitude.


Wanted to +1 this, if you’re talking about technical problems that aren’t prohibitively expensive to work on, I garuntee you the world has room for your work. I swear, once you enter a tech company it’s like any given task suddenly takes 10x longer than it would if you pursued it as a personal project.


The catch is you have to develop the experience. You may well be able to reach a better outcome! But you do also have to commit to developing the depth, which can be a process of years.


The software industry is starving for senior software engineers who can lead a team of software engineers. Brainy and skilled is where it's at.


The following is a link to the Mathematics Subject Classification [1]. There are thousands of lines, with each line being a different area of specialization in the disciplines of math. Every time you think we are close to "running out" of ideas, things to do, or things to learn, I ask that you pull this up. Even if we limit to mathematics and don't talk about things like agriculture, psychology, and so forth, you have so many possible things to do with your life that even if everyone picks one thing and specializes in it, there will still be something unique for you to explore. Consider that something like machine learning is largely applied statistics, optimization, linear algebra, and a few other things and then look at this list with those things omitted! There is still a lot left. We are nowhere close to having worked on all the interesting problems or running out of things to discover.

[1]: https://cran.r-project.org/web/classifications/MSC-2010.html


Good example!

Here’s another list of the World’s Hardest Problems. Aka the next $50T of economic growth

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vb8WWbsVyEJzl66_qqtZfFr2...


What makes a lot of those hard is solving them while keeping the current political class ordering in place.

Wealth transfers and reduction in consumption are clear solutions, but getting people to give up their luxuries and prioritize future generations’ lives over their own is the root problem, which may not have a solution.


> Meanwhile, everything interesting/challenging I might have liked to work on is already being worked on by someone else, who is probably doing a better job than I would have

I noticed that reading "recommended content" (like from google news) always gets me to thinking like this, but remember 90% of startups fail[1].

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilpatel/2015/01/16/90-of-star...


How many failed businesses did you try before coming to that conclusion?


Fair point. A few, but perhaps not enough.


The company TransMeta was mostly PhDs. They fooled around so long, arguing and redesigning, not releasing, that Intel ate their lunch steadily improving scalar performance. My colleague who was worth $100M in TransMeta options at one point, is back to work with nothing.

So yeah, too many brains are a dangerous thing.


Poorly managing your business seems less a sign of "too many brains" than "not enough management."

Consider also that a) most businesses fail b) many successful engineering companies were founded and/or staffed by professors, Ph.D. graduates, and Ph.D. students from Stanford and elsewhere, d) intel didn't do so great with VLIW (itanium) or low power/thermal (Atom lost to ARM - and intel seems to have squandered StrongARM/XSCale) either, e) intel probably had many more Ph.D.'s than Transmeta did, and they still hire tons of them.

Be that as it may, it's sad Transmeta died and its IP was sold to Intellectual Ventures, a company that has invented interesting things but also seems to make most of its money from lawsuits.


Transmeta had loads of management, but all PhD's. So in this case, its the same thing!


For me, the most attractive feature of their chip was that it had a built-in PCI host controller, nothing else did at the time. They could have released anything that ran at a reasonable speed and had a market, they didn't need to beat Intel.


Too many cooks, not enough waiters.


I love this, but now the Too Many Cooks[0] skit is stuck in my head.

[0]:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrGrOK8oZG8


N=1; what about too many brains is dangerous in general?


So, increased numbers of educated people relate to a rise of expectations on equality, wealth distribution, etc. Status quo fights back and instability grows.

A good example is the fight on climate change. The status quo wants to avoid responsibility for past, current and future damage. A growing educated population wants accountability. That creates tension.

I agree, as much as I think that to keep leaders accountable is one of the greatest society advances ever. The only way forward is for the status quo to accept change and advance with society and reduce the tension.


Try to look from another lens.

Climate hysterics want to avoid responsibility for the economic damage that their carbon-neutral policies are going to have on society. They want accountability from others, but not themselves. How many have done the calculations to work out the second and third order effects of their zero fossil fuel agenda?

Many of the most ardent callers for climate action are themselves not even climate scientists, but merely offload their thought processing to the intellectuals who are. Almost without fail, neither them, nor the intellectual are educated in economics.

The reality is that nobody can work out the second and effects and so on for these drastic changes, because they have incomplete information. The intellectuals and 'thought leaders' themselves have a fraction of a percent of the actual tacit knowledge that drives economic activity. The knowledge is very widely distributed, which is why central planning is less efficient than the market almost all of the time.

The tension isn't caused by the "status quo" fighting back. It is caused by hysterics calling for action on things they know nothing about. How many extinction rebellion fanatics have read The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels? It's not like they would if they were recommended it - the mere name will put them off because they have a preconceived notion and will ardently resist any information which is likely to cause cognitive dissonance in themselves.

Which tells you everything you need to know.

It isn't intellectualism driving them - it is misplaced fear due to grossly exaggerated climate scare claims, drummed up by the status-quo.

Almost always, it is the same crowds who babble on about equality and wealth distribution too. Many of them from wealthy or middle-classes, who have resources to help the people they claim to want to help, but rarely, if ever, engage in altruistic acts of voluntary work or charity because they'd rather spend the time talking about it. They won't put their own money or action where their mouths are, but demand it of others - many of whom are not in such fortunate positions.


Try to look from another lens.

Climate change deniers want to avoid responsibility for the economic damage that their polluting policies are going to have on society. They want accountability from others, but not themselves. How many have done the calculations to work out the second and third order effects of their oil burning agenda? ...


> economic damage

> nor the intellectual are educated in economics

> the actual tacit knowledge that drives economic activity

> Almost always, it is the same crowds who babble on about equality and wealth distribution too

That whole reply pretty much sums up what most right-wing climate scepticism is about; a deep fear of equality and perceived threats to their privileged position in society. Hence, going down with the ship (a good economy & status quo) seem more rational than changing course.


Not to mention the implied canard that economists are the only ones suited to design policy

(despite not being educated in climate science and lacking actual tacit knowledge on what drives global climate)


Actually, that isn't the implied canard, but this is what happens in reality: intellectual economists drive policy which affects us all - more often than not negatively. They don't have all of the information and can't make decisions that are best for individuals.

My implication is that individuals are the best suited to decide how their wealth is used. There should not exist policy makers who interfere in the market. Policymakers, no matter how noble they might be, are never going to know enough about the conditions individual humans face, and can therefore never know how that money is best utilized.

Climate science is heavily, almost entirely subsidized by taxpayer money, and the products which they are selling are more taxation. This is the driving force behind the climate alarmism - give up more of your wealth and freedoms to a benevolent State who will protect you from this scary thing.

If they were selling actual solutions which made people's lives easier, I wouldn't be so sceptical.


This just confirms my point even further.


You highlight the word economic as if it is some kind of right-wing conspiracy.

Economics affects us all. It is nothing to do with rich or privileged versus poor. It is to do with the accumulation of wealth versus the consumption (dissaving) of wealth. By economic damage, I am referring to the destruction of wealth, which does not bring any net benefit to a society even if it is "redistributed."

Economic growth, aka, creation of wealth means improved standards of living. Creating wealth is the only way which man improves their standard of living. Without any wealth, your time is consumed entirely on basic survival - you must hunt, gather or scavenge for food just to exist. You can only have any leisure time to invest in other pursuits if you have fed yourself. The way to ensure that you can feed yourself and engage in other pursuits is to accumulate wealth - that is, have some means of feeding yourself without using all of your time for survival. It is no good merely feeding yourself though - if you want healthcare and other luxuries, you need to create excess wealth.

Creation of wealth is not a zero-sum game, which is the fallacy most ancaps seem to hold. By creating wealth, you can improve not only your own standard of living, but also that of your neighbours, and not merely through charity. There are no losers in wealth creation - there are only some that don't do as well as others (which isn't something that needs fixing, because it is not the problem).

> a deep fear of equality and perceived threats to their privileged position in society. Hence, going down with the ship (a good economy & status quo) seem more rational than changing course.

It's more that we don't like seeing the wealth our ancestors worked hard to accumulate being pissed down the drain by people who do nothing but consume, rather than create wealth, and when it is not their wealth to consume in the first place.

By "changing course," you seem to be implying that their exists another course in which more wealth is consumed than created, which obviously has a dire end result: there will be no wealth left, and we will all be back to scavenging for basic survival. You are damn right that continuing economic growth is more rational than such regression.

BTW, I am a big fan of altruism as a means for lifting those who are less fortunate. In order to be altruistic, you must yourself have some capital to expend, or time to volunteer for helpful causes. Only people will such wealth can help their neighbour. If everyone's wealth is in decline, who do you think is going to help the poorest?

Giving more money to the state is not really altruism, but is avoidance of having to be altruistic of ones own volition. You must remember that a large portion of that money you give to the State is used on weapons of war, expansion of a police state which comes with increased abuses of power, and so forth. Are you really sure you want to be giving more of your money to the State?


Uhm. The economy is no deity. Man made and man can change it. Growth (GDP) is not a measurement of human happiness or even living standards, just capitalism.


I'm not sure what you are talking about. Even without climate change a world without dependence on fossil fuels is still significantly better than one with where we still burn fossil fuels.

If all the "impossible" technologies necessary to stop climate change existed today then I don't think anyone would say we should go back to the old fossil fuel days.


> If all the "impossible" technologies necessary to stop climate change existed today then I don't think anyone would say we should go back to the old fossil fuel days.

The argument isn't about whether or not fossil fuels should be used in the presence of hypothetical cheaper energy harvesting devices in the future, but whether or not fossil fuels should be used now, while they are cheap, abundant and available to everyone. I have recommended a book above: The moral case for fossil fuels.

It may not be obvious what I'm talking about if you live in a well developed nation with adequate sunlight and you can easily accumulate some capital and install PV panels on your rooftop (and you're OK ignoring the devastating environmental impact of PV). The moral case for fossil fuels is about the underdeveloped nations whose economies are held back by low carbon agendas.

The most developed nations are doing quite well (perhaps not well enough for some) on clean energy, but poorer nations are nowhere near at the same level. They are decades behind on technology and general standards of living. The argument for fossil fuels is that we should attempt to accelerate these economies as quickly as possible to bring them up to global standards, and one of the primary tools for enabling this is the availability of cheap and abundant energy. Fossil fuels provide this, even if they're not "clean."

Developed nations have cleaner air, cleaner water, much lower birth rates, fewer pollutants and better environmental protection programmes. We can't expect poorer nations to abide by the same standards of the developed world when they do not enjoy the same standards of living. The longer the delay in bringing them up to standard, the more environmental damage will be done in the long term.

I am all for cheap and abundant clean energy and the idea of phasing out fossil fuels, but holding back progress for alarming unrealistic predictions is not the way to go about it. Focus should be on innovation and not subsidy.

But it is still questionable whether or not an increased CO2 atmosphere is an inherently bad thing. In greenhouses, a doubling of CO2 can lead to more than a doubling of plant mass growth. This is an experiment you can reproduce at home, unlike most climate "science". If more focus were placed on greening the earth, reforesting instead of destroying entire ecosystems to grow soy, palm and canola, I might not be so sceptical of the real aims of these climate scientists and their mouthpieces. The aversion to nuclear energy, which is very clean, is the most tell-tale sign that many "environmentalists" are nothing of the kind.


Picking this new world order climate hysterics cabal conspiracy theory malarkey apart a little bit....

> Climate hysterics want to avoid responsibility for the economic damage that their carbon-neutral policies are going to have on society.

Not a great start. I don't know of any clean energy policy advocates who _arent totally enthusiastic_ about an opportunity to take full responsibility (and credit) for migrating to a clean economy in the next 10 years. Who, at this point, is ignoring the economics of climate change? Nowhere in here are you even claiming that there is a specific, agree'd upon "consequence" of transitioning to renewable energy, you're just raising a vague spectre of economic collapse, which only implies that policy-makers haven't considered that possibility...which is provably false.

> Many of the most ardent callers for climate action are themselves not even climate scientists, but merely offload their thought processing to the intellectuals who are.

Sounds like a how functioning, science based democratic society should operate, right?

> Almost without fail, neither them, nor the intellectual are educated in economics.

Absolutely right--scientists aren't politicians aren't economists. Multi-disciplinary public policy requires input from many kinds of 'intellectuals' (also, hn is a weird place to be calling people who trained in, and do, a science professionally 'intellectuals', as if its a bad thing).

The alternative is that we live in a fictional autocracy lead by a god-like genius who is singular, all-knowing, and benevolent.

> The reality is that nobody can work out the second and effects and so on for these drastic changes, because they have incomplete information.

Semi-valid criticism. Implies no one has _any_ idea, but its true no one an predict the future with absolute certainty.

> The intellectuals and 'thought leaders' themselves have a fraction of a percent of the actual tacit knowledge that drives economic activity. The knowledge is very widely distributed, which is why central planning is less efficient than the market almost all of the time.

Ah... here is the god you're alluding to--anarcho-capitalism? The distributed knowledge of the market economy knows best.

There is even an anarcho-capitalist case _for_ renewable energy. If you could just price in the cost of emissions and remove subsidies of oil and gas, we would be decades ahead of where we are today on this issue.

> it is misplaced fear due to grossly exaggerated climate scare claims, drummed up by the status-quo.

So "climate hysterics" are the powers that be, and oil and gas is punk-rock. I guess on a millenia scale this is true.

> They won't put their own money or action where their mouths are, but demand it of others - many of whom are not in such fortunate positions.

Waiting to hear about the "climate hysteric" who thinks the solution requires higher taxes (or even, significantly higher cost of living) for people who make under $30k/year. The only reason this would be part of a proposal by a reasonable person is because they know they are negotiating against cynical "ideologues" who personally benefit more from the status quo of an oil and gas dependent economy, who will require this provision for a vote, because they know it sabotages the underlying goals. Why vote no when you can pass intentionally hamstrung legislation?

An overarching criticism of parent's point of view: The general theme of their criticism is that "climate hysterical intellectuals" don't know better than the singular, all knowing free market. It barely leaves room for any public policy position at all--which ignores the fact that the current market status quo is driven massively by public policy that has been in effect now for several generations. To say the current place even approximates a "natural, optimal equilibrium" is a gross misunderstanding of 300 years of carbon policy and political and cultural entrenchment.


Fearmongering at it's greatest. Instead of looking for possible solutions. It downplays the worst case scenarios by having "Too Many" educated people. Both the article and the study. Instead of asking why we should fear having too many educated people. Shouldn't we instead be asking the question why should we fear them in the first place? Rather, the government policies at place and the systemic issues which affect the people we should "fear". What am I to say. The study itself is from 2010.The effects of it are about to come anyways for the good and bad. It's just about how you deal with the issue. The call for higher education is a bipartisan belief in America. In which both sides already agree that student grants should be in place rather than student loans. While the candidates running may not agree with that in the coming presidential election both republic and democratic leaders agree that grants should replace loans. The main problems which they address really aren't likely to be problems in the near future.


Stupid people who think they're smart because they have a fancy education and are rewarded with high salary, that's probably a dangerous "brainy elite".

Along with stupid people who just so happened to get a ton of money by no merit of their own, but don't realize this.


the education takes work and they are raised to believe they will be rewarded for it. "fancy education" isn't something useless. read the article. there are 25000+ layers formed every year who can't find a job. lawyers do important jobs it's just there aren't enough jobs for them. there are too many humanity majors too. stem people think they are superior but they also are part of this overproduuced elites. more and more people are educated in stem and soon the demand for them will saturate and their salaries will drop. there is just no control over universities and no planning for the future they let too many people in and the economy can't absorb them. "useless" humanity majors in the past would have gotten jobs teaching or doing research but there's too many of them. society is paying the price


That explains the current state of full stack developers.


In the UK I think having to many politicians who only have a PPE is a problem


Thomas Sowell writes about this in depth in several of his works.

In Intellectuals and Society, he notes that many "intellectual elite" have been cheerleaders for some of the worst (economic) disasters and human rights abuses of the 20th century. In 2020, we can see this vividly with the coronahysterics causing untold and immeasurable damage to societies with arbitrary and poorly calculated lockdown rules.

Sowell argues that these intellectuals believe their excellence in one field gives them the legitimacy to talk in depth about other fields in which they're not so excellent - perhaps most notably economics, which is Sowell's own field of expertise. In A Vision of the Annointed, he describes how these intellectuals have concocted a fantasy world view which is inconsistent with actual evidence, and the academies work to insulate themselves away from this evidence when it conflicts with their world view. This is true in economics, where the current leading school of thought (MMT) pretends they're not just kicking the can down the road, and ignores the works of the Austrian school.

When he refers to 'intellectuals,' he doesn't just mean anybody intelligent or accredited with degrees. He is referring to people whose results are just ideas, and not products, inventions or scientific breakthroughs. Many "idea people" ultimately face no consequence upon themselves for their poor ideas; they have no skin in the game and are eager to inflict their world view upon society even if there is collateral damage.

A slightly older of his works, A Conflict of Visions, suggests there are two prevailing visions: an unconstrained and a constrained vision. The unconstrained vision is that held by many intellectual elite and largely ignores some aspects of human nature. It believes that people are innately good and well meaning (The just-world fallacy). They don't believe that humans should have constraints because given the opportunity, they will act in their own or others' best interests. The constrained vision is one in which humans believe that man is not innately good and has some bad inside of him. In this vision, it is necessary to have some constraints (laws, fears, etc) so that they act in a manner which is in the best long term interest of themselves or the wider society.

In the study of economics, it is not possible to ignore human nature because all economic activity is the result of people taking actions in their own self-interest. Praxeology studies how humans behave, without consideration for their thoughts or speech, but merely how they act in the real world. It argues that what someone does tells you far more than what a person says they will do, and even what they tell themselves.


It's completely ironic that an Austrian economist would complain that someone would have a "fantasy world view which is inconsistent with actual evidence", when Austrian economics is bases itself on praxeology which is a completely anti-empiricist approach to economics.

Praxeology isn't useful at all. The real behaviour of humans cannot be reduced to three or four inalienable axioms. Even moreso, these axioms are by definition unjustifiable, which makes any system based on them unjustifiable as well. Any attempt to reduce human behaviour to an axiomatic system is necessarily a total failure.

The attempt to criticize empiricism by praxeologists is an exercise in obfuscated hypocrisy and a total contradiction. You cannot at once claim that only one's actual behaviour matters, and at the same time arguing that some unknown agent makes that behaviour unreproducible. It's completely absurd at every level.

This is incidentally why Austrian economics fails so hard at actually making any good predictions. It rejects in its totality the scientific method. It's closer to a theology than anything else.


> Sowell argues that these intellectuals believe their excellence in one field gives them the legitimacy to talk in depth about other fields in which they're not so excellent

This describes Sowell and his popular works in a nutshell.


You dont seem to know who made the lockdown rules and what lockdown rules even existed.


I referred the the intellectuals as "cheerleaders," but in many cases they are also the advisers who are pushing and pressuring the policymakers.

The majority of IYIs are for whatever policy makers put forward because the idea of a benevolent and well-meaning State aligns with their world vision.

And of course, "we're just dismantling the evil capitalist patriarchy" is part of that cartoon world vision.


Lockdowns did hurt women more then they did hurt males, yes, but women still supported measures and I litterally seen no one blaming patriarchy for them.


That first part about current pandemic politics really presented a hump I had to get over to read the rest of your post. Which when I got there I found thoughtful and interesting so thank you.


You should probably know that the rest of the critique is based on the principle that when one studies economics they should be entirely hostile to empirical arguments. This is why these arguments aren't taken seriously by anyone and why they are entirely ignored by those without an ideological motivation for the basis, which is that economics is not a social science but instead a transcendent discipline which can ignore both epistemology and empirical evidence and thus come to more convenient conclusions that completely ignore all the inconvenient conclusions of social science, experiments, history, and real life.


I don't feel like responding to the hostile sibling comment, but as you were polite and courteous I will respond and address some of the points raised. A bit of a rant, up to you if you wanna read it all.

On the role of empiricism in economics, I'll try to express why I think it is mostly witchcraft.

Consider a simple scenario where I'm measuring the effect of petrol and oxygen in an engine. I might measure how explosive a combination of petrol and oxygen is, then increase both the quantity of petrol and oxygen and find that the result is more explosive. I can conclude that, increasing the amount of petrol makes the explosion more vigorous, no?

Of course this isn't necessarily the case. Was it the petrol or oxygen increase that caused the increased explosiveness? We can't know by adjusting both at the same time and deducing the resulting change in output is merely down to the change of only one of the inputs. To conduct the scientific method, we must measure one variable at a time, making every effort we can to keep other potential variables constant. This is Science 101.

In an active economy, there are many variables at play. Millions, perhaps billions or more. These variables are also not controlled by us, the observer making the measurements - because they are the actions of many rational, independent humans, making their own personal choices. So what exactly are we concluding if we take some "empirical measurement" about an economy? Essentially, we're measuring whatever we wanted to measure in the first place based on our preconceived notions. In reality, a stab in the dark.

An economy is not something you can kick start and measure some initial conditions, then determine how each variable influences the an economic effect. We can't pause it to take measurements. It is a continuously running system, almost like a living ecosystem, and you can't possibly repeat a measurement because there is never a time when the initial conditions will be the same as a previous time.

To try and measure the effect of some economic activity in a large economy is like me paddling out 1km from sea on a dinghy, and suggesting that the motion from my oars is causing the waves on the beach. An observer at the beech can monitor the tide, and if he sees waves, it's obvious that the waves are caused by my oars, no? This is the absurdity of 'empirical measurement' in an economy. The observer has a tiny fraction of a percent of the information they need to make any meaningful assessment, and moreover, they cannot repeat their measurement in order to see if other factors are at play, because the economy is never in the same state twice.

If we look at an economy like a living ecosystem, we might compare it to some other science which observes this kind of thing. For example, ethologists study the behaviour of living creatures in their natural habitats. Rule #1 of ethology is that the human observer must not interact with the subject being observed, must make their best efforts to not disturb the subjects when installing monitoring devices, and such. If we were to look at the economy the same way, then any observation we want make about the behaviour of rational actors in the economy must exclude any action from ourselves, the observer. However, in modern economics, the observers are almost always attempting to influence the economy in some ways, such as through printing large amounts of new money out of thin air. It is not possible to deduce what the effect of increasing the money supply has on rational actors in an economy, because the act of increasing the money supply influences the decision making of those actors - you have no idea what the actor may have done without your influence. This is like the ethologist attempting to determine the natural behaviours of captive animals in a lab. The economy you are measuring is not a free market, but a market captive to violent aggression. It is not possible to use this to make predictions about a market which is not captive to violent aggression. This is probably why the intellectuals have such a difficult or impossible time even contemplating an economy without intervention.

So how might one go about testing an economic hypothesis where they are in control of the variables? One idea, perhaps, is to use a simulation, or computer model. Modern "science" loves these, they get peer reviewed, but often you can never find the code or reproduce it even if made available. They often contain plenty of magic numbers. I shouldn't need to say it, but a computer model is not the real world, and its inputs and variables are selected by its designer. Models can't tell us about the real world - they can only tell us about the model.

If we selectively take some inputs in some complex system, then it is very easy to cook up an outcome which is consistent with our preconceived hypothesis. Anything else, we merely have statistics, and as we should know - correlation does not imply causation.

You may remember not too long ago, a certain Mr Neil Ferguson produced a fraudulent computer model predicting a grossly exaggerated mortality for COVID-19 spreading through the UK, which was used as the bases for policy-making. The situation turned out a lot less damaging than his expectations (for which he has a history of getting very wrong). However, the policymakers have already implemented their lockdown, and since the mortality from COVID-19 in reality is less than what was predicted by Mr Ferguson's models, we must conclude that lockdowns have had a dramatic effect on curbing the virus!

Such conclusion, of course, is unverifiable and unfalsifiable, because we can never go back to the initial state and trial it again with different conditions. We merely have to accept this pseudo-science as "empirical evidence" that lockdowns and masks were effective. For what we know, the lockdowns could have had zero effect, or could have actually worsened the mortality from COVID-19. The only thing we can compare one country to is that of another country which attempted something different, but even then, there are too many different factors at play - population density, previous exposure, climate, you name it. There is no way you can deduce an accurate truth about the effect of a lockdown on the effects of the virus. It is 100% junk science. Mr Ferguson's model not only tells us nothing - it has only distorted the minds of "scientists," who are now unable to conceive of a world where, prior to lockdown, the virus may have not been as deadly or contagious as was initially guessed.

So if I tell you that lockdowns had almost zero effect, why is my guess any less plausible than that of Mr Ferguson and his pals? Is it because they have credentials? I thought we were interested in science, not appeal to authority? It is my observation that reactions to COVID-19 were a global mass hysteria event.

There are some things we can measure that are a consequence of lockdown rules, but are wrongly labeled a consequence of COVID-19. For example, we can measure approximately how many patients have gone undiagnosed or untreated for more serious illnesses than COVID-19 compared with previous years, such as cancers, and you'd be right to be upset that so many have suffered due to mis-allocation of health resources by the intellectual elite. You might also measure how suicides have increased upon previous years, and note how this is likely a consequence of loneliness due to isolation enforced via violence and threats. These are just the immediately noticeable effects. Poverty in the developing world will increase due to economic decline, after decades of decreasing. The true effects of these lockdowns will last for years, and will be completely immeasurable - but the policymakers will forever blame COVID-19, and never accept responsibility for the real damage which was caused not by a virus, but by their own authoritarian hands. Their intellectual advisers will pretend nothing ever happened, or will continue to double down on their junk science.

Despite any hard evidence on the constructiveness of a lockdown, policymakers feel forced to continue them because they are sufferers of the sunk-cost fallacy. If they have caused so much turmoil with heavy handed overreactions, then their lack of willingness to admit fault causes them to double down and drag out their bad ideas. They can't accept the guilt and responsibility that they were simply wrong, and so they continue to make the situation even worse (or they have another agenda).

Much of what is thrown around as "science" today is nothing of the such. It has more to do with dogmatic religion than the scientific method. Many of its advocates don't even think to question whether a published work could be flawed, but will accept works of "science" as long as they're written and reviewed by members of the same religious faction. The journals are its scripture, and the editors are its pastors. If you conduct the scientific method but are an apostate, the journals will not accept your work into scripture, and your work will not receive any mainstream acknowledgement.

I am a big proponent of the scientific method, and there is no such thing as "The Science (TM)," because science is not a thing - it is a process. If you don't conduct the process correctly, then you don't have science, but scientism.

If you are interested in learning about Praxeology to make up your own mind, there is a good introductory series of short lectures here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqGqx6fBts0


if a person wanted to accumulate wealth/knowledge and did it, he/she is smart. if a person wanted to accumulate wealth/knowledge and failed to so do, he/she is stupid.


Wow, this is just... wow this is wrong. This person is either a troll or their understanding of the world is so simplistic as to render any attempt to correct their misunderstanding pointless. After all, they've already figured everything out, everything is simple, black and white, what would they have to learn from you? One imagines that they are a decade or more away in life experience to even being in a place where they could see that their simple test here does not match reality and only then would they be ready to hear why that is.


That's a stupid definition, and it's wrong.

Let's say I want to accumulate wealth, and I play the lottery and win, then, by your definition, I'm smart.


I believe, if you think you can win lottery and did it, you are smarter than average. Why not? Anyway, we are talking about a small percentage of people. I am used to generalization, couldn't help it :) Maybe I should not.


No, if you believe that winning the lottery is a good way to become rich, you're an idiot. If you actually do win, you're a lucky, rich idiot.

I'm not against playing the lottery, but it's objectively proven that it's not a good way to become rich, and a persons smartness has no bearing over whether they actually do win (maybe a negative one, smarter people will gamble less).


Trying and failing doesn't make you stupid.


Trying and failing indeed doesn’t make you stupid but in many circumstances, e.g. being poor, makes you stop trying or the feeling of inferiority seeps in. Also the people around you set a background that make it even harder to escape from.


if you keep trying and keep failing, and you do not adapt in the process, it does not make you smart. By failing, we learn and adapt. In theory it would make the next move wiser than previous moves.

I agree calling it stupid may not be accurate.


It does in a lot of courts of public opinion, unfortunately.


This assumes equality of opportunity.


This seems like a variant of the "just world hypothesis".


Taleb writes about this with the phrase IYI intellectual yet idiot.

His primary concern is that these people don't take risk and become bureaucrats. Not that they are smart, brainy, or any other ad hominem attack masked as a compliment.

https://medium.com/incerto/the-intellectual-yet-idiot-13211e...


Taleb taught me how to protect myself in the face of uncertain situtations, the idea is not to take risks for the sake of taking risks. The problem with bureaucrats is that they are exposing others to huge risks and they don't feel it on their own skin. They are pushing the consequences of the risk on other people.


I believe the article they refer to is this one: https://www.nature.com/articles/463608a (full PDF is available)


For further context: this Economist article [1] references a letter to the editor by Peter Turchin [2], which is itself a response to the Nature 2010 opinion article "2020 visions" [3].

[1] https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2020/10/24/c...

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/463608a.pdf

[3] https://www.demogr.mpg.de/publications/files/3706_1264687048...


Also for anyone interested in the follow up study it's here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...


From the abstract:

> In the United States, we have stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt

Quite interesting that this article only focuses on the 3rd entry of those


I often participated in team quizzes, and it was a good thing to have 1 engineer in the team, and it was a _very bad_ thing to have 2 engineers in the team.


What about 3 for a tie breaker?


3 engineers, 4 opinions.


The idea that there is some sort of magic cycle that links 1870s to 2020 is patent nonsense. No cycle could survive the technological and political disruptions of the last hundred years. The current problem is the same old one where available real resources are growing more slowly than the population. If real stuff is becoming available faster than the population, we have golden ages. When population grows faster than stuff, the walls fall in and people start fighting each other.

It would really be in the best interests of everyone if some of the infighting would stop and people start looking for ways to increase general prosperity by creating more instead of coming up with clever justifications about why we have to take stuff away from people who have it.

And fire all the bankers. They aren't fulfilling their part of the social contract and investing in improving the future. We found that out in 2007 and the situation will keep getting worse until incompetent financiers start losing money.


>>And fire all the bankers. They aren't fulfilling their part of the social contract and investing in improving the future. We found that out in 2007 and the situation will keep getting worse until incompetent financiers start losing money.

The state administers the largest corporate welfare program in the economy via government-guaranteed mortgages. It guarantees nearly $2 trillion worth every year, which the banks naturally buy as they are risk-free income.

So there's no need to fire the bankers. Just stop meddling in the economy with these sophomoric interventions, whether it's GSE mortgage guarantees, or the FDIC: https://www.nber.org/papers/w22223


> The state administers the largest corporate welfare program in the economy via government-guaranteed mortgages.

It's easy to make an efficient economy, it's harder to make one that produces results that are morally acceptable. How do you propose making housing feasible to most people? I mean it's easy to make a society more efficient by eliminating those with special needs as well, we know that, we just don't want it.


Ceteris Paribus, efficiency is more morally acceptable than inefficiency. Not giving banks a huge unearned subsidy, and not destabilizing the financial sector with government-engineered bubbles, is more morally virtuous than the alternative, IMHO.

As for housing, plenty can be done to make it more affordable, without doing grievious economic harm by disrupting normal market activity on a massive scale.

For example, reverse the expansion of land-use restriction in high productivity metropolitan zones:

https://eml.berkeley.edu/~moretti/growth.pdf


Does it really fix the issues though? The way I see it, these sort of interventions just trade short term (corrective) pain for long term disasters. I often wonder how much houses would cost if mortgages were not guaranteed, I would think a lot less, the same goes for student loans.


Malthusian arguments are outdated by atleast a 100 years. Where is the proof that “real stuff” is growing slower than the population? Seems like there is too much stuff TBH.

And banker-scapegoating is also outdated by ~10 years. The regulations passed after ‘08 have made banks boring and powerless.

The focus should be on the tech industry.


Physics has hard limits. Malthus didn't make a perfectly accurate prediction. That doesn't mean it's wise to rely on unpredictable breakthroughs to finance unsustainable lifestyles.


> Where is the proof that “real stuff” is growing slower than the population?

In the US? Government debt is at or approaching an all time high relative to GDP. Corporate debt is rather high although I don't know how it compares historically and there is a massive amount of student debt floating around. There are a lot of people out there who, by the numbers, are consuming quite a bit more than they are producing.

US primary energy production has basically flatlined since 2000 [0]. That isn't the be-all and end-all, but it just seems like an easy prediction that long periods of growing population and flat energy consumption is going to lead to problems. The people who can't convince Asians to give them stuff are not going to be rolling in a surplus of stuff, is my read of that chart. I haven't heard good reports about the state of US infrastructure either, but maybe it is better than I think.

The States might make it work, but the political situation is developing pretty much how I'd expect it to if there is a large group of people being squeezed out by lack of access to real stuff. There is a big body of people who just aren't producing as much as they are consuming, and the background talk of "we don't need energy to be wealthy!" - I don't see how that squares off against the growing relatively evident growing instability. Trump in particular is not a sign of a thriving economy. Nor is the Democrat rhetoric in response to Trump.

Population growth is ~.7-.8% per annum, and real GDP growth is estimated at 2% per annum. Given the expansion of the money supply, and the gossip that the US is a 'service based' economy, it is entirely plausible to me that real stuff is growing more slowly than population and the measured growth is some sort of complicated feedback loop that nobody has tracked down.

> Malthusian arguments are outdated by atleast a 100 years.

Hopefully. But it is worth being prepared for a world where obvious trends play out to their conclusion.

[0] https://ourworldindata.org/energy#energy-production-by-regio...


Wow, Europe's investment in renewable energy has really collapsed.

Part of the problem is that people think a Malthusian catastrophe would play out like a Hollywood disaster film. That's extremely unlikely. The word "catastrophe" encourages this thinking. A better term might be "Malthusian crunch."

It would be more likely to play out very gradually over decades. We would see gradual inflation in the cost of anything requiring energy, water, land, etc., and a gradual reversal of progress for the world's poor and middle class. The upper middle class may barely feel it, but they would notice it as they tend to live close to other classes. The rich may neither feel it nor notice it unless they eventually get caught up in rising political instability or populist revolutions.

... which looks a bit like today.

If it eventually results in widespread death most of that death would be due to war, genocide, and disease, not direct starvation as you'd see in a Hollywood film. Most of the death would be proximally caused by political instability, and it would be lost on most people that this political instability was ultimately caused by resource constraints.

There are two places it could eventually go. If technology keeps advancing while population growth slows, we might eventually balance out and even reverse the trend. The crunch would be a kind of narrowing passage through which we would eventually pass. If technology stagnates, population growth accelerates, or political instability causes vital systems to collapse, the result could be extremely ugly.

Decarbonization should be a big priority because climate change adds yet another drag on the system in the form of massive damage to coastal cities and possibly decreased food production or increased cost, increasing the likelihood of the worst outcomes.


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