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At the beginning of civilization, the research budget for the invention of fire was zero, while the benefits of fire were incalculable. Compare this to the development costs of the next generation of Boeing aircraft relative to the small improvements in air travel. This dynamic has enormous implications for the presumed benefits of increases in government spending beyond some low base.

Over time and with increasing complexity, returns on investment in society begin to level off and turn negative. Once the easy irrigation projects are completed, society begins progressively larger projects covering longer conduits with progressively smaller amounts of water produced. Bureaucracies that started out as efficient organizers turn into inefficient obstacles to improvement more concerned with their own perpetuation than with service to society. Elites who manage the institutions of society slowly become more concerned with the their own share of a shrinking pie than with the welfare of society as a whole. The elite echelons of society go from leading to leeching. Elites behave like parasites on the host body of society and engage in what economists call "rent seeking," or the accumulation of wealth through nonproductive means--postmodern finance being one example.

Excerpt from: http://www.amazon.com/Currency-Wars-Making-Global-Crisis/dp/...

David Graeber has made me not trust any allusions to archeological events which aren't based in archeological understanding. We have had bureaucracies since at least the Sumerians, and its growth has not been monotonic across the last 5,000+ years, which the paragraph you quoted implies.

Presumably many people died or were injured, and property and landscape burned down during the development of fire as a commodity item. While there was no formal budget or currency, lives, property, and R&D time surely are not zero in the budget.

It's also a bit odd to refer to the incalculable benefits from a process done by our Homo erectus ancestor. The controlled use of fire surely pales in significance to our early tetrapod ancestors who learned to live on land.

> We have had bureaucracies since at least the Sumerians, and its growth has not been monotonic

People gain experience as they age, but that doesn't mean people are wiser today than 1000 years ago... because they're different people.

Similarly, bureaucracies and societies also "die" and dissolve.

I can't tell, but it seems that you agree with me?

That is, as given, the quote gives a sketch of cultural development which almost unconnected to archeology and history.

That's the reason there are books, so you can profit from the experience of those that are dead now.

A graph of world economic growth since the invention of fire shows anything but diminishing returns however. If rent-seeking behaviour is increasing, it's because the pie is - at least on a global level - growing at an accelerating rate.

Elites always have and always will seek to take disproportionate shares of that wealth because they can, and because regimes, legal norms and competition encourage them to do so rather than because creating wealth doesn't pay. Much of postmodern finance is undoubtedly rent seeking, but so were the fights over ownership of natural resources and sovereign-granted monopolies of earlier generations, and the local nobility and religious bodies taking the surplus agricultural produce before that.

The non-monotonic nature of growth has been used to justify the claim that complex societies fail because investment in complexity provides diminishing returns, however: http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Complex-Societies-Studies-Arc...

This is over simplified. Research budget measured by amount of money is not a good metric. Money, after all, is just a human's invention to smooth out transaction costs, or to scale the size of a coherent community.

Research budget could be measured by the percentage of thinking time the whole humanity is spending on improving their lives (potentially times how long it takes on research before a solution is found), which probably reflects better the effort we put on something.

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