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Generation Z

I've been spending a little time lately asking myself questions about the near future. And in particular—this is especially relevant if you're planning on writing a near-future SF novel set maybe 15-30 years hence—what it's going to be like as an experience for, well, not for my generation (I'll be 65-80 if I live that long: of declining relevance) but for the next generation on. And I suspect it'll be pretty shitty.

I was born in late 1964, the youngest child of older-than-average parents who married late: my cousins are (or were) part of the baby boom generation, but culturally I'm an early type specimen of Generation X.

My generation (in the UK) benefited from free university education, as long as we got in before 1992. From 1992 onwards, the student grant (subsistence payments for living, roughly comparable to being on the dole) were phased out, replaced completely by repayable loans by 1996. Then tuition fees were brought in, replacing the previously-free education framework as the universities were de facto privatised and turned into profit-making diploma mills. No sheepskin means no job if you don't have an employment track record, so Generations Y and subsequent were condemned to go heavily into debt to acquire the magic credentials without which an HR department won't look at them. Today's students expect to graduate with a burden of over £40,000 in loans on their back.

When I came out of university and post-graduate training in the late 80s, a housing bubble was inflating rapidly. I bought my first home, a one bedroom apartment in a modern development, with parking and a box room and an airy living room, for a little under £28,000. It seemed like a lot of money at the time: an elder sibling, 8 years before me, had bought their first home (a 2 bedroom house in Nottingham) for around £12,000. Housing in the 1970s was unimaginably cheap by today's standards. Just over 15 months later after I bought my flat I sold it for £40,000 and used the profits to put myself back into university, having decided that my original career choice was rather unfortunate. Someone born just a decade after me wouldn't have had that option. By the late 90s the bubble was reinflating: a decade on from my purchase, apartments like that one were changing hands for on the order of £100,000, well above the creditworthiness of a new graduate in their first job with a 100% mortgage, even if they weren't burdened by a pre-existing education loan larger than the cost of my first mortgage.

Since 2008, the UK economy has stagnated drastically. It's still producing jobs—this hasn't been called the "unemployment-free recession" for nothing—but they're mostly low-paid jobs at the bottom of the pile. We can still manufacture stuff, it seems, but manufacturing no longer provides mass employment. And service jobs are rapidly being automated, as witness the spread of self-service checkouts and ATMs and lights-out warehouses. (You know the pack drill: I'm not going to repeat the reasons for this here.) The important news is that wage growth is finally overtaking inflation for the first time in 5 years, after a period of net decline in personal income (unless you're in the 1% at the top of the 1%, of course).

I'm not even going to anatomize the new housing bubble: it's just plain depressing to contemplate.

So: low or stagnant income, the services my generation depended on and took for granted will no longer exist or be private monopolies, you either take on a crushing debt burden or consign yourself to unskilled labour for life, the cost of housing is an unsuperable barrier. To that you can add childcare costs: it's estimated that the cost of day care for one infant is around 70-80% of the average female wage. One ray of hope for Generation Y is rising life expectancy—but by the same token the retirement age is rising, because there's no way that working for 40 years can cover the costs of education and housing debt and a pension or annuity that will support you for another 25-30 years. Generation Y will probably work until they become too infirm, some time in their late 70s to early 80s, then experience the final 3-5 year period of decline in poor health and poverty if this goes on (because of course we're talking about the state of the nation between 2060 and 2080).

If you follow this blog you already know my views on how we have created a security panopticon surveillance state the like of which would have given the East German Stasi wet dreams. Generation Y have come of age in this state; to the Millennial generation, East Germany probably looks like a near-utopia. (You have a 90% chance of your phone conversations not being bugged, and the state will pay for your education, housing, and healthcare! What's not to like?)

There has been a boom market in dystopian young adult fiction over the past decade. There is a reason for this. Play and recreation is an important training mechanism in young mammals by which they practice or rehearse activities that will fit them for later adult life experiences. (It's also fun, but bear with me while I discuss the more ploddingly puritan angle for a moment.) Could it be that the popularity of YA dystopias reflects the fact that our youngest generation of readers expect to live out their lives in dystopia? (The alternative explanations hold that (a) high school in the age of helicopter parenting, fingerprint readers in the library, and CCTV in the corridors is an authoritarian dystopia anyway, and YA dys-fic helps kids understand their environment; and (b) that worse, their parents (who influence their reading) think this.)

On a global scale, things are improving. The absolute number of people living in poverty has remained static or actually declined over two decades during which our population rose dramatically. Wars affect fewer people than ever before. Huge swathes of the developing world are actually developing, and are now within sight of catching up with our declining developed world standard of living. But that's scant consolation to those of us who are trapped in the middle. And the way things are looking now, I expect the 30 year old Brits of 2030, people whose grandparents were buying houses and starting families on a single breadwinner's wages in the 1960s, will be envying the living standards of the average Malaysian citizen.

This decline has not of course gone unnoticed by the elite. There's a reason for the increasing militarization of police and security organizations in the United States and the UK: widespread civil disorder escalating to revolution along the lines of the Arab Spring is no longer unimaginable by 2030 if current trends continue. The oligarchs can hold the lid down by force for quite a considerable time, but the longer this continues the worse the eventual explosion will be, as witness the upheavals in Egypt or Ukraine.

So there's the problem in a nutshell. What should we be doing about it? And what is it feasible for us to do? (For example: I'd love to see a UK government deflate the housing market by around 80% and renationalize a bunch of infrastructure that should never have been sold off in the first place, but I recognize that it would be political suicide for any party that tried it).

488 Comments

1:

It's Mad Max all the way!

The Ukraine is rapidly turning into an extended 'Call of Duty' cut-scene.

I'm getting my three year old daughter signed up for Karate and gymnastic lessons asap!

2:

Shouldn't exponentially worsening climate change and accelerating ecosystem collapses loom larger in your near-future projection?

Maybe they do. Z is after all the end of the alphabet.

3:

It's a bit of a catch-22. The reason we're in this fix is that the oligarchs took the reins of power to improve their own lot. The way out of this fix is to break their grasp- which requires the public to have power.

So what can we do? Not a clue. I'd say, "just go someplace civilized", but those places are dwindling, and the US is such a beast that whatever happens in the US is going to have massive impacts on everything else.

Democratic governments are supposed to provide a mechanism for the public to exercise political power, but we've been cut out of the loop on that. Democracy is dead, and a corporate-feudal system is growing in its place (the key difference is that serfs are fungible- your lords don't need to tie you to the land when they can tie you to the system). Some sort of massive disruption needs to occur to shake the system.

A massive, disruptive technology would be great. The Internet almost did it, and honestly, may have postponed it, but it's finally been brought to heel as a tool of the system. It may be possible to wrest it back, but I'm not optimistic.

4:

Given the current Energy Supply issues. A World war seems likely in the near future, that should burst the housing bubble.

5:

The student loan isn't really a debt in any normal sense, for all practical purposes it's a graduate tax. Most graduates will have some outstanding balance when the debt is automatically written off. The old system had a high level of social exclusion, as the full subsides limited the number of places that could be provided. The changed funding arrangements vastly increased provision without much effect on up front costs which greatly improved the availability of a university education to the working class. Previously the universities had been a middle class preserve as a mixture of informal and formal discrimination largely excluded much of the population from even considering university. An example of the discrimination is the extremely biased provision of Grammar schools which resulted in condemning able working class children going to secondary moderns due to the grammar school being full. There the low expectations and lack of opportunities could effectively prevent them from even taking GCE O-levels leaving only the fairly worthless CSE, which made it much harder to take the A-levels need for university.

6:

Some sort of Kurzweil-ian singularity event may tip the scales back in favour of the individual and I have to admit that most of my faith still lies with science for a solution but whether or not such a paradigm shift could happen without it being snatched away from us by the powers-that-be is doubtful.

First and foremost is the development of extremely cheap, clean renewable energy, since most global power is based around the getting, holding and manipulating the fossil fuel market.

Such a development would allow the human race to pause and catch it's breath.

My wish is for the human race to develop into an IMB's style 'Culture'.

7:

Worsening climate change could undo some of that "on a global scale, things are improving". What happens if much of Bangladesh moves from "fertile delta which suffers annual flooding" to "shallow salt water lagoons and salt marshes which suffer very severe annual flooding"?

8:

As a kid I read and enjoyed dystopian YA fiction and a lot of similar adult SF which was written in the 1960s under the ever-present and seemingly inevitable umbrella of atomic destruction. I enjoyed the daydreams of "Survivors" return-to-the-land and wargamed where to hide out in the event the bombs actually fell. It was almost as much fun as the idea of shooting people with a bow and arrow.

Kids are powerless in any society but in dystopian YA SF they have as much agency as the suddenly-dispempowered adults in after-the-bomb scenarios and they don't have to go to school and brush their teeth and make nice with nasty old Aunt Mildred etc. etc. Yay! Of course they don't consider where dinner is going to come from or where they'll find a warm bed and shelter from the cold and the rain and there's not going to be any more Beanos or Mars bars on the shop shelves ever again...

Frankly if genteel poverty, ubiquitous surveillance and a grey dole are the worst Generation Z+ have to look forward to then it's a lot better than the Instant Sunshine we Greybeards faced (to coin a dystopian YA SF book title). The reality will be different, of course. Better or worse, I don't know.

Can you point me at any utopian YA SF as a contrast to the dystopian YA fiction you think has suddenly flooded the market? The Heinlein juveniles maybe, some of the Clarke stuff. Apart from that I'm blanking. OTOH if you want panopticon YA SF then look at the underpinnings of the Tripods series written nearly fifty years ago.

9:

General note - ATM an "average" UK house costs about seven times the average salary.

10:

The most feasible thing is probably to reaffirm liberal and free market values. To clearly state absolutely everything good that capitalism has ever done for us. Why? To make sure for yourself and to everybody who dares to listen that the criticism of the status quo (that will be written about afterwards) is very well thought through.

I'm not going to claim I've always done it like that - in fact it's a hard learned lesson of consistently doing it wrong. If you criticize the romans without acknowledging what the romans ever did for you, you're probably not only going to be wrong in your criticism, you also won't be listened to, giving you even less of a chance to stand corrected eventually, if something you thought was in fact wrong.

There is plenty to criticize, the criticism is there, it is pervasive and it is falling on deaf ears. More of the same brought forth in the same way will probably meet the same fate.

11:

What if it's not possible for the government or governments in general to do anything meaningful about the issues you raise? Continuing events to a great degree may be due to the convergence of unstoppable forces, such as the struggle of the current and upcoming generations to find jobs in the face of relentless automation, the inevitable expansion of and struggles between elites in a low growth environment (as suggested by Peter Turchin at his Cliodynamics web site), climate change, and other large scale processes. These kinds of forces may be too great for even enlightened government to deal with, and the resulting symptoms (increasing state surveillance, the continuing series of real estate and financial bubbles, etc.) more of a series of bumbling coping mechanisms rather than a set of well-thought out policies by oligarchic manipulators...

12:

When I came out of university and post-graduate training in the late 80s, a housing bubble was inflating rapidly. I bought my first home, a one bedroom apartment in a modern development, with parking and a box room and an airy living room, for a little under £28,000. It seemed like a lot of money at the time: an elder sibling, 8 years before me, had bought their first home (a 2 bedroom house in Nottingham) for around £12,000.

If the UK is like the U.S.—and it may be—then it's also now difficult to build new housing stock in the face of growing populations and rising demand, especially in city centers. That may explain much of the housing appreciation.

In the U.S., Edward Glaeser's book The Triumph of the City discusses this in more detail.

Fixing education and healthcare are much harder.

13:

Hi Charlie. I'm a long time reader, this is my first time posting here!
You make a lot of excellent, if grim, points about the near future. I believe a lot of the issues raised are related to the fact that human civilization is in the middle of a phase change just as momentous as our transition from an agrarian society to an industrial society. That period of time was very distressing and grim for the people living during it. But, somehow, they managed to get through that transition. I think you are underestimating Generation Z, and humanity's, ability to innovate out of tough situations. Generation Z certainly won't have it easy, but I think the energy of youth will push them to carve out better lives for themselves. The oligarchs can't live forever (yet)!

14:

Thanks to Maggie I think a return to the social housing system in the UK that we used to have with council houses is out. However, alternatives exist and continue to work here in the UK. I'm kind of migrainous so my google-skills are failing, but housing trusts and the like are out there (I know of several in Liverpool and I'm sure there's one in York but I can't remember names nor find them quickly) that basically offer decent, but cheap housing for rent.

I seem to remember New Zealand has a rent-to-buy mortgage scheme that I don't think exists in the UK. If homeownership remains such a vital part of the British psyche that might grow in popularity. I'm sure there are problems with it but it might become a workable solution.

My impression is that a lot of Gen Z regard voice as a dead medium, or a medium only for connecting to their parents. I imagine an extra layer of ad hoc encryption will become common. You exchange keys with trusted friends over bluetooth or similar with stupidly long prime number roots, pass everything through an encryptor using that and some other hash that you agree on (timestamp to a lesser prime power say) so it's pretty hard to crack, and you communicate by text. It's not uncrackable of course but it doesn't take a lot of coding skill to write and it's going to be safe for a while. For people you meet f2f every week or more frequently it's going to be good enough. This isn't going to be the preserve of the criminals and the terrorists, this is going to be teens arranging to meet for a quick pint (legal or otherwise) or to take their bf/gf to the cinema or whatever they're doing then.

One more scandal like the West Coast Mainline and I think a Labour government could bid, without it being suicide, to buy back the train lines one at a time and win them all. That could be right for your timeline.

That said, I'm not as convinced as you are about the power of the oligarchs to keep a lid on it. The Arab Spring really showed that even against massive force the people will rise if things get bad enough. I'm thinking within 15 years we're likely to either have had a massive, but non-violent restructuring of the UK. Most likely trigger I can see for this scenario is Scotland says no and in the debates about devo-max there's a huge restructuring of Westminster as the trigger and Westminster as we know it vanishes. Alternatively, there's a violent upheaval and I really don't know what emerges on the other side. I don't know that will happen within 10 years but I'd be surprised if it doesn't within 15, especially if Cameron and his robber barons win the next election.

15:

There are two aspects to this I think you're missing- one as a cause of pessimism, and one as a cause for optimism.

First, the pessimism. I was watching "Years of Living Dangerously" last night (highly recommended, BTW), and was struck by the relationship between a very bad, many-year drought in Syria, and the current civil war there. If the rains fail, the farmers (and other workers in that industry, like people who work at meat packing factories) lose their livelihoods, and having nothing better to do than join a revolution against the government which didn't help them when they needed it. This is then implicitly compared with the situation in Plainview, Texas- where climate change has caused a very bad, multi-year drought which is driving farmers off their farms and closing meat packing plants, giving people nothing better to do and a grudge against the government for not helping them.

The cause for optimism, or at least hope, is that things can change for the better very dramatically. If things get desperate enough, radical change is possible. This can mean communist or fascist dictatorship, but it also means giving new deal liberalism a real try too. And, unlike in the 1930's, we know that new deal liberalism works. At a certain point, something will give. But it's as likely that it will be belief in the neoliberal (aka conservative) economic (and political) orthodoxy as it is democracy and civil rights.

16:
a corporate-feudal system is growing in its place (the key difference is that serfs are fungible- your lords don't need to tie you to the land when they can tie you to the system).

Yes, and it leads to a Tragedy of the Commons scenario. A feudal LandLord had to take some care of its serfs, or its possessions would lose value et revenue quickly. Maintaining one's serfs was part of doing business in that era.

In a modern corporate system, your employees aren't your responsibility. They come and go anyway. As a net result, corporations don't care about making sure their employees are ok, only their customers. Ford understood that your employees are also your customers, but he was an exception. In the modern world, "someone else" will raise "your customer's" pay so they can purchase your stuff/services.

17:

I went on for four paragraphs trying to write something intelligent or useful. I give up. I'm scared and I feel powerless. Mathematically my vote doesn't matter. Calls to my representative will be ignored. Organizing will see me outspent. Protest will get me blacklisted or arrested. No one in power has an incentive to change; toeing the party line gets rewarded, criminal behavior and war crimes are swept under the carpet, outright insanity lands you a job at Fox News. The only solutions I see are cataclysmic.

18:

On a point of information, student grants had disappeared entirely for people like me with supposedly wealthy parents by 1986.

One good thing about loans is that it's the student and not their parents who are assessed. One of my friends had to leave university for a year when his parents refused to fund him (Catholics with a serious problem when their son started bumping uglies with someone he wasn't married to.)

19:

Regarding the crushing weight of a college degree now, the degree is only a requirement if you want to work for someone else. With the advent and (nearly explosive) expansion of online courses, tutorials, wikis, etc. it is more than possible to get all the information you need for a degree for free, given 'net access. Things like MIT's OpenCourseWare give access to a broad range of education. The best and the brightest (and most importantly, the most independent) of the young will be able to get an education and put it to use without having to mortgage their future for it.

Whether that will cause them to under cut the corporate oligarchy, or become part of it, I leave to wiser heads than mine.

20:

Assuming your reading is correct, Charlie, it seems the thing that makes sense to me (Australian b. 1986) is to move to Malaysia and buy property there, work in a job that commands a smaller paycheque in absolute terms (to what I could command at home), ride the housing bubble as the standard/cost of living rises around me, and retire to relative prosperity compared to that of my peers who stayed home. So perhaps migration will be more common? Gen Z Americans migrating to Mexico or South America, and Brits moving to places like Nigeria? Of course, this wouldn't fix the problem, because migration is a bottleneck, but it might be a trend.

On dystopian YA, I managed to score media comps to the pre-release screener for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. What impressed me about that screening was how many teen/pre-teen girls there were crammed in to watch a film that is decidedly more bleak and despondent than any other mainstream film to come out of Hollywood in the last decade or more. The Dark Knight Rises, by contrast, which was aimed at forty-year-old men, deals with a lot of similarly dark political material but is made of sunshine and optimism by comparison.

I was raised on my fair share of dystopian YA too, but it's interesting to see that for all the post-9/11, pro-West sentiment, the fiction that's resonating with the Millennials is decidedly anti-state in nature.

21:

Maintaining one's serfs was part of doing business in that era.

That depends on the population dynamics. In the middle ages in Europe, there were usually plenty of the desperate poor. A slave's subsistence was no cheaper than a market wage, and slavery died out from lack of interest. It was a waste of good iron chains.

22:

I ran into something akin to that problem when I was going to university. My father wasn't earning much as a NCB employee at the time but my older brother had spent a couple of years going to night school after finishing full-time secondary education and he applied to university at the same time as me. The result was both of us each got less of a grant than we would have if either of us had gone to university sequentially given my father's financial circumstances.

I recall once I got home after finishing the semester and I literally had two half-pennies in my pocket after paying the bus fare and that was my entire financial worth at that point. Overdrafts, loans and such were for rich people, where I came from debt was something you never got into because you could never get out of it.

23:

I was born in 1980, I earn an average wage for the UK, and I'm pretty much resigned to the fact that I will never own a house.
The British government has if not prioritised, at least helped to keep house prices rising for the last 30-40 years, and now they're out of the reach of people who traditionally bought first homes.
Waiting for the oligarchs to die isn't a solution, they will be/are being followed by their children. Perhaps hereditary dictatorship is the human condition.

Sorry for the disjointed sentences, but it reflects the way I feel, that there is little to no hope for change.

24:

Charlie,

Are you sure that poverty has been decreasing? Yes, the World Bank says that poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25/day) decreased from 1.908 billion in 1990 to 1.215 billion in 2010 (source: http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/home/).

However, during that time, there's also been inflation. That $1.25 in 1990 dollars should be $2.09 in 2010 dollars (http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/).

As I happen to know from living in California, it's not just the arbitrary cutoff, it's how much goods cost in a particular location. Where I live, a salary of $30,000/year won't let you afford an apartment, but it would make me well off, in, say, Bangladesh.

According to Mike Davis' Planet of Slums, in places like Lagos, the ratio of people per toilet (not toilets per person) is somewhere above 500:1, and more people have access to cell phones than to clean water and sanitation. They may be making more than $1.25 day, but their sanitation methods would be familiar to Medieval Londoners. Is this a rise out of poverty, or technology invading rapidly expanding slums?

It's worth thinking about this for Gen Z, because a lot of the kids know something about this world. According to stories filtering out of places like MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, the biggest thing the bright kids want to do is save the world, not get rich (for example, engineering classes tackle the logistics of carbon sequestration and switching to renewable energy as an ordinary class project). Those dystopian stories are having an effect, and it's an interesting one. At least some of the best and brightest want to fix things, rather than make their excrementally enhanced lives a better sandwich by padding them with lots of bread.

25:

"We can still manufacture stuff, it seems, but manufacturing no longer provides mass employment. And service jobs are rapidly being automated, as witness the spread of self-service checkouts and ATMs and lights-out warehouses."

See http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/308844/

At one time, 90% of Americans worked on the farm - until mechanization made them unnecessary. Today less than 5% of Americans work in the agricultural sector and we over feed ourselves and feed much of the rest of the world.

At one time, the bulk of the American work force worked on the factory floor - until automation and AI made them unnecessary. Now less than 5% of Americans work directly in industry and America is once again the world's number 1 manufacturer. But factories that used to emply thousands now only hire hundreds or dozens:

"We do still make things here, even though many people don’t believe me when I tell them that. Depending on which stats you believe, the United States is either the No. 1 or No. 2 manufacturer in the world (China may have surpassed us in the past year or two). Whatever the country’s current rank, its manufacturing output continues to grow strongly; in the past decade alone, output from American factories, adjusted for inflation, has risen by a third."

"Yet the success of American manufacturers has come at a cost. Factories have replaced millions of workers with machines. Even if you know the rough outline of this story, looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data is still shocking. A historical chart of U.S. manufacturing employment shows steady growth from the end of the Depression until the early 1980s, when the number of jobs drops a little. Then things stay largely flat until about 1999. After that, the numbers simply collapse. In the 10 years ending in 2009, factories shed workers so fast that they erased almost all the gains of the previous 70 years; roughly one out of every three manufacturing jobs—about 6 million in total—disappeared. About as many people work in manufacturing now as did at the end of the Depression, even though the American population is more than twice as large today."


So what will the other 90% do, sell each other life insurance?

26:

I'm 28, and have worked and saved enough now to have come to that conclusion some time ago. I'll never own a house, despite living in a country (Australia) because only baby boomer investors buy houses now, to sell to large investors, who then sell to the multinationals.

The government has to allow this to stop a collapse in the property market which would reduce the Boomers to penury and a)lose them the election, and b)lose them their business interests. They're trapped as long as they want to stay in power, as even Gen X and Y together can't stop the Boomers from outvoting them.

As for employment, I've worked in a number of industries, and after half a decade I've sworn I'll never work in the lovecraftian hellhole known as a corporate office again. Many of my friends are also bailing after realising junior promotions aren't and that the pecking order of the average business is going to be ossified for decades above low management.

No capital, no opportunity, no revolutionary prospects. I really can't see a way out that isn't over a pile of skulls, save waiting for everyone to die and hoping we don't turn into the monsters we fought.

The only question is who'll be doing the crawling over whose skulls.

27:

Charlie, are you considering emigration if things are going to get worse? And where would you go in such case? In the world of your dystopian narrative, what will be the last bastion of freedom? Norway, maybe?

28:

What will the other 90% do?

Pan et circes.

Automation and AI will destroy jobs for humans the same way cheap slavery destroyed the jobs of Roman citizens.

The solution will be the same, feed and entertain the masses while providing public work programs to keep them occupied.

29:

Oh, additionally, People aren't going to get the office humor in your Laundry series. Ditto The Office and Office Space. Why? Because even by today's standards,they seem like SUCH NICE places to work.

Subsidised housing? A steady Job? A clear career path with increasing pay-grades? Brain eating horrors are a small price to pay for such a Utopia.

30:

According to stories filtering out of places like MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, the biggest thing the bright kids want to do is save the world, not get rich (for example, engineering classes tackle the logistics of carbon sequestration and switching to renewable energy as an ordinary class project). Those dystopian stories are having an effect, and it's an interesting one. At least some of the best and brightest want to fix things, rather than make their excrementally enhanced lives a better sandwich by padding them with lots of bread.

I'm not seeing this from the contacts I've had with those students. But mine is a single data point.

31:

>> According to stories filtering out of places like MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, the biggest thing the bright kids want to do is save the world, not get rich

Possible selection bias here. Perhaps those who want to get rich don't go into engineering?

32:

I'd just like to add that even when you take the student debt to get a good education you're still not guaranteed a good job. Oh and I was born in 88 so I'm Generation Y presumably.

I was applying to study engineering university in 2007. With lecturers say I'd never be without a job, I'd be earning £45,000 within 3 years of gradaution etc. well shortly after starting my course shit hit the fan for the economy. And by the time I graduated with my engineering degree in 2011 things weren't any better.

I'd applied for lots of graduate jobs, one such job was for 250 places at Jaguar Land Rover, which they informed me after the initial sort through of application over 13,000 graduates had applied for. This was quite often the case, to a lesser extent, for most other jobs I applied for.

After 2 years on jobseekers allowance I finally found a 30 hour per week, £7 per hour, admin job for a mortgage brokers.


There seems to be an increasing number of graduates in my position wishing they hadn't bothered to go to university in the first place. And with my £35,000 debt, I'm starting to think along the same lines.

33:

Perhaps those who want to get rich don't go into engineering?

Oh yes they do. One soon to be grad from one of the schools listed was upset at the just under $100K offer he got from Apple as a programmer because "he deserved more".

34:
The Arab Spring really showed that even against massive force the people will rise if things get bad enough.

The Arab Spring isn't a great model for the UK's situation. Revolutions are an occupation of the young, and Egypt is a very youthful country, with 50% of its population under the age of 20. The corresponding figure for the UK is 24%.

Simply put, a 40 year old is probably willing to take a job as a cop and defend the barricades protecting the 1%, but storming the barricades is a job for a 20 year old, and our society has fewer of them to go around.

35:

Apple is a notoriously poor payer because they're regarded (rightly or wrongly) as a cool place to work and one of the places that the very best "must have" on their cv. There was quite an interesting piece I read about it recently.

That said, I fail to feel sorry for him. He might be right, but "hi new graduate, have a job paying around $100k" will not make my heart bleed for you.

36:

Sort of. The ones who want to be seriously rich go into finance. Either they do a straight-up economics/business degree, or enter quantitative finance via a maths/physics degree.

It's a significant social problem -- instead of, say, engineering more efficient energy sources, many of our brightest young workers are being obscenely well paid for moving money around. The same is true to a lesser extent of the IT sector -- Apple makes marvellous consumer gizmos, but they are hardly addressing the serious challenges which face our civilization.

37:

the last bastion of freedom? Norway, maybe?

This. If you're prepared to move, where's a good place to go with reasonable prospects and where they at least understand English; Khazakhstan, perhaps? How does potential climate change in your expected life time change this? On a shorter more provincial scale, how about north of Inverness. I really liked Bonar Bridge when I was last there.

38:

At least for the US, I don't see where the massive wage declines are supposed to come from*. It only slightly happened before the 1990s during a period when the labor force was rapidly growing due to more women, minorities, and immigrants joining it, and it's probably not going to happen in the period when the labor force size is declining relative to the population of politically-connected elderly voters who will punish the hell out of any politician who cuts Social Security at the polls.

Automation doesn't seem to be tanking wages in the Service Sector, either - as I've pointed out before, wages and jobs for bank tellers were going up in the decade before the 2007-2008 meltdown at the same time that ATM numbers were rapidly growing.

* Wage stagnation is another matter. You can have some pretty long-assed periods of wage stagnation before stuff switches over, like British wages not rising much before the 1840s despite the spread of steam power (in fairness, that's because it was pretty concentrated in a handful of industries before spreading outwards into the rest of the economy in the 1830s and 1840s).

39:

its this simple,we are going to live longer work longer and have a lower standard of living than the previse generation.its just bad luck realy.on the Brightside medicine and general living standards are much improved on generation xs grandparents.the internet/bbm etc does give us powers that previse generations could only dream about but media manipulation nowadays is everywhere,has someone pointed out the stazi would be proud ,but they are everwhere with there own agenda just look at the houseprice crash forum its tow the line or your a troll and banned .regards mark.

40:

And using capital letters will get you the capital sentence in the future, apparently...

41:

@royal.canadian.bandit

Simply put, a 40 year old is probably willing to take a job as a cop and defend the barricades protecting the 1%, but storming the barricades is a job for a 20 year old, and our society has fewer of them to go around.

Old people have their own ways of participating, though, many of which are pretty effective. They vote in large numbers, they're plenty capable of organizing campaigns and showing up at primary elections - just look at how good a bunch of old conservatives showing up to primaries have been at cracking the whip on the Republican Party.

42:

Of course, the politicians are part of the problem, not the solution.
The 0.1% (or even 0.01%) need "sorting" - but what is "Labour" doing - proposing to penalise the top 5% - very clever - not.
It has also reached the point where moderate semi-libertarians (by Brit not US standards) are saying that "we do not have capitalism, we hahve corpratism - which is akin to state fascism."
The Wedgie Benn argument against the EU is gaining traction, as well .....
It is to be hoped that a serious "NO" vote in Scotland will lead to Devo-Max for everyone ... but that's probably too sensible.
In some respects, I pin my hopes on technology, esopecially with the gains in distributed power & battery-storage coming down the line, as mentioned in a previous thread.

Meanwhile, I agree with Charlie's orignal idea - I'd HATE to be 21 right now .....

43:

You're not-quite describing TextSecure, which was recently integrated into the CyanogenMod version of Android.

44:

He might be right, but "hi new graduate, have a job paying around $100k" will not make my heart bleed for you.

Which was my point. I suspect he'll be whining all his life while earning in the 20th percentile for his age group. Just like some of my relatives who worked in the auto industry in the 60s. Lived like princes compared to the rest of us in the middle and complained about how they were being screwed over all the time.

Many/most of those who get really rich, don't whine in public. They figure out a way to deal with / beat / cheat the system.

45:

It's effectively a graduate tax, you don't start paying until you pass the earning threshold. What it amounts to in practice is that you pay a higher rate of income tax than a non-graduate.

The fact that there is a nominal debt attached to that only becomes relevant if you are likely to actually pay it off, in which case it may make sense to pay it off early. Essentially it is a cap on the total amount you will pay, there is also a cap on the duration of payment as the balance is automatically wiped after a number of years (this varies depending on which system you borrowed under).

To actually pay all of the loan off if you borrow the full amount you would be earning above somewhere between £70,000 and £100,000 per annum (depending on what assumptions you make).

IIRC as originally structured the loan repayments started at 50% of average income and the loan was automatically written off after 40 years. The new system starts repayments at 66% of average earnings and is written off after 30 years. The changes made the system a little more progressive, those who end up on low wages pay less, while high and very high earners pay significantly more.

At the time the system was introduced it was projected that about 70% of the loans would be repaid and about 30% written off. This looks to have been optimistic and it is now projected that about 50% will be repaid.

46:

Automation doesn't seem to be tanking wages in the Service Sector,

It isn't taking them in large chunks. Just little bits at a time. New small services firms don't hire a receptionist or secretaries as they don't see the need. Face to face IN PERSON meetings are declining. All of the above due to better phone systems and now hosted VOIP services plus Skype and it's more reliable competition.

Nice 11x17 multi function scanner printer copiers eliminate much of what your "assistant" used to do. Need something scanned? Drop it in the hopper, select your name on the display, wait 30 seconds for the 50 pages to feed through, and when you get back to your desk the file is on your desktop. In full color double sided.

I work as an IT consultant to small businesses. The need for my services has greatly declined over the last 20 years. Not in a single movement but gradually over time. Most of my work comes from larger firms who need someone to coordinate it all but are too small to afford the overhead of a full time staffer. Plus the issue of long term continuity when the employee leaves every few years. Plus firms still run by older (45+) people who didn't grow up with a laptop as their main business tool.

Just put in a hosted VOIP setup for a client. 20 person office. Their investment other than a couple of hours of training per employee (average) was in handsets and wiring upgrades to handle the POE. The only onsite equipment is a couple of 24 port switches plus the handsets. No big PBX to repair and reprogram when things change. No voice mail system. So the tech hours that a typical phone system provider would allocate to this site are no longer needed in the same numbers as before.

Jobs are going away. Apple by simplifying things for the smallest guys. Microsoft by hosting your data center if you want to stay with MS for the small to medium guys. Amazon via AWS for those who want to roll their own data center without all the hassles of building it. And so on. None of these are cutting out huge chunks of workers at any one time. Just reducing the need slowly (or not so slowly) over time.

47:

They're replacing a variety of tasks with automation, but you come up with new ones to replace those. I mean, look at your post - do you do the same type of consulting help that you did 20 years ago, or do you have new stuff to help with?

That's always been the case when you look at the broader periods of time - ten years, twenty years, so forth - and avoid falling into the trap of reading too much into recessions. As I pointed out in a previous post, the unemployment rate was 4% as recently as 2007, and the labor force participation rate was up as well if you think using unemployment rates as a metric is wrong-headed.

48:

Interesting post Charlie. Provides a lot of food for thought, and the dish I'm chewing on is the automation of service jobs. and I'm thinking of the medical variety.

Why?

Well, providers and nurses are expensive. And anything that can save on their billable time, or allow them to see more patients per day is desirable. Which gets into the automation of a service job.

In particular, I work in electronic health records (implementation, support and training). And the handwriting is on the wall. Medical records aren't just for the provider and patient (and occasional lawyer) any more. They're for the patient, the provider, the insurance company, the health information exchange, potentially the government and any quality organizaton the provider takes part in.

While human judgement is a key component right now, I'm wondering if applying big data techniques to large bodies of medical data are going to reduce or eliminate the need for that human judgement.

And as a Gen X'er myself, life is different now. I can kind of see the world of the Gen Z from my eyes. I moved from a sheltered backwater (Mississippi) to nearer the leading edge (Houston). And I can't afford a house here right now (and there is goddamn way I'm spending an hour or more driving myself to and from work) so the suburbs are right out. Public transit for the win, even if it means it gets expensive.

And I'm scared to death what my 7 year old daughter's world will be like. Anyone care to help me crystallize some of my nameless fears?

49:

I think the seeds of the solution are stated in the post -- what really needs to happen is for that big cohort of Baby Boomers to finally die off or otherwise pass over the reins of control. That may not be a sufficient condition, but it's almost certainly a necessary one ;-)

50:

Sure. I'm working on a project to answer the question: "What will the world look like if some of the worse predictions of climate change come to pass, but humans don't go extinct?" Mind you, I'm looking into the deep future, so this isn't just you're daughter's generation, but people her age get to make some critical sink/swim decisions for a few thousand generations of our descendents.

Why write such nightmare fuel? I got tired of people writing passionately about climate change and veering off at the end, typically by saying "if we don't do anything, the future will be unimaginable." (That's a semi-quote from "recovering politician" Al Gore's The Future). Since that's our most likely future, I thought it was time to start imagining it, just to get some sense of the kind of crazy mess we're in for (and know, Mel Gibson will not star in this one).

Since I do conservation work, I also wanted to think about whether conservation was even worth doing any more, given the mess we're going blindly into. The short answer is that it is, even if the world goes pear-shaped.

If anyone might be interested in reading something like this, let me know. It will encourage me to finish it.

51:

Heteromeles, I'm interested in reading something like this and want to encourage you to finish this a little bit.

52:

Heteromeles, please write such a thing.

53:

>>>"What will the world look like if some of the worse predictions of climate change come to pass, but humans don't go extinct?"

Here's a map:

http://www.worlddreambank.org/D/DUBIA.HTM

54:

Are you sure that poverty has been decreasing? Yes, the World Bank says that poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25/day) decreased from 1.908 billion in 1990 to 1.215 billion in 2010 (source: http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/home/).

However, during that time, there's also been inflation. That $1.25 in 1990 dollars should be $2.09 in 2010 dollars (http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/).

The World Bank's poverty reports use constant dollars and are adjusted by purchasing power parity, so they take into account different costs of living by location and changing values of currency: http://lilt.ilstu.edu/gmklass/pos138/datadisplay/sections/poverty/poverty.htm

I'm not sure why the World Bank doesn't state that plainly in text on their Poverty and Equity Data page, instead asking you to watch a video to get answers to FAQs.

55:

but you come up with new ones to replace those. I mean, look at your post - do you do the same type of consulting help that you did 20 years ago, or do you have new stuff to help with?

No I do different stuff. But the number of "me" out there is shrinking. And it's shrinking on many areas. I suspect the net across the workforce of the US is shrinking. And by shrinking not keeping up with population growth. Over the next 20 years that may change as us boomers go away. We are definitely a bulge in the numbers.

But more and more I see that new things don't require more people. Automation has totally changed the dynamic of growing a business. Just look at those offices in Mad Men. They are VERY realistic in terms of all those people (ladies) out front doing the busy work. Now a firm that had 30 ladies out front and in the phone room and whatever will have maybe 3. And new firms will have 0.

Businesses used to need people to grow. Now it's mostly good automation. They add people but much more slowly than in days of yore.

It even applies to computers. In my area there used to be 20 to 40 different computer shops that ran ads in the papers and everyone knew them. Now it's down to a handful. An associate who used to do computer and printer repairs saw what was coming and switched to Tae Kwon Do. His computer business has dropped off by 80% or so in the last few years. People just throw them away vs. repairing them.

56:

Nice! For more rigorous maps, I prefer National Geographic's ice free map better (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/rising-seas/if-ice-melted-map), and for fiddling, the controllable Global Sea Level Rise Map (http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/), but it's all worth looking at.

Still, Dubia's got some nice details, and if you're willing to take this world for 2000 years from now rather than the 1000 they suggest, and not be quite so enthusiastic about sea-level rise, it's a really good project to look at.

57:

It's not a randomly picked description (although I didn't know someone had implemented it in Android) but I've thought about what I'd do if I had to and I have enough coding experience and understanding of crypto to write the code to do it. (I wouldn't claim to be expert at either, but you don't have to be to write something like that.)

But... I wouldn't necessarily trust something I downloaded either from whatever flavour of app store and certainly not if it's installed in the phone's OS by default. The NSA and GCHQ are everywhere after all. I might trust the code to copy and write my own app but I'd damn well go through it line by line BEFORE I stuck it in and trusted it.

58:

to the Millennial generation, East Germany probably looks like a near-utopia

That's a Gen X view of the security panopticon surveillance state. ("Security panopticon surveillance oligarchy"? Is it really the state part that matters to most people, most of the time?)

For our grandparents' generation, being gay or having pre-marital sex would be a major embarrassment if anyone found out, for my generation it's unremarkable. To me, the interesting question is what will today's toddlers be open about that I wouldn't be willing to be?

59:

The housing bubble here in the US will be solved once city/county/state governments start using Eminent Domain to seize properties that are underwater and sell them back to the owner.

Eminent Domain requires that the government pay "fair market value" for the property it takes, which is below the inflated price today.

That will drop the price, making more people underwater, causing the city/county/state governments to rightsize those loans as well, continuing in a cycle that will signal that housing is not a commodity to be traded like tulips.

That will serve as a model to other countries that have similar powers to in effect deflate and decommoditize housing. HA! I said "decommoditize".

60:

Github's here. The project's run by Moxie Marlinspike, who's expert enough to beat SSL like a pinata for the last 10 years - and who's got way too much invested in his reputation to risk it on mere NSA mass surveillance.

Though if you wanted to turn one person and have maximum impact on NSA mitigation efforts, Moxie wouldn't be a bad pick...

61:

“Average “? I bought a house in Sunderland U.K.- which certainly wasn't the bright heart of civilisation- way back in the 1970s of the last century after having failed to hop on the housing ladder twice amidst the fervour of Very High Band Inflation that afflicted us way back then. I made this tremendous leap by virtue of Saving Like Mad by working all hours the Ghods Sent in several jobs and then buying a very dilapidated 1930s Semi Detached House...I originally intended to buy a flat that was part of a Victorian House convert but way back then the Building Societies were distinctly unKeen to make loans on any flat that wasn't purpose built. Also way back then you needed a mortgage based on 3 and a half times your income...and THEY ACTUALLY CHECKED TO SEE IF YOU REALLY WERE EARNING that Salary...you had to ask your employers to provide the Building Society with the details of your salary. Whatever happened to that idea? Oh also I need to have save a HUGE deposit to cover the balance between that 3 and one half of one salary for the loan and the price of the house which way back in the once upon a time of the late 1970s and for a decent two bed roomed 1930s built semi was ....£9,600. Credit was VERY tight way back then in the not so very long ago... come on it’s less than 40 years ago!


IF I had been consulted about the, then, forthcoming, but easily anticipated, Credit Boom way back before the coming crunch in, say, the dying days of the last century...and Why Wasn't I? Well might you ask! I would have advocated VERY tight controls on Credit Cards so that they became one with debit cards and you couldn't spend money that you didn't have on, say, expensive foreign holidays. And of course I would have advocated chocking back the Housing Bubble before it really got started.

So...here and Now? Oh, slight miss step, in as much as After I slipped into a major attack of Work/Overwork Stress induced Clinical Depression in the early 1990s part of my recovery plan was to take early retirement at the turn of the century and then move down South to within comfortable travelling distance of London since way back at the time of the Clinical Crunch part of the problem was that, although I was terribly convincing in job interview way back in the 1990s there was no way that even I could convince anyone that I could live in the South East on a public service salary. I did take early retirement just after the turn of the century but only after - for I am terribly stubborn - a second attack of Clinical Depression and thus Long After moving down south became practically feasible.

Version of " Famous Last Words " came from a junior colleague of mine who was at the end of the chain of information that came after I had phoned my G.P. to ask Doctor whether my ancient emergency reserve of Prozac would still work long after I had ceased taking it ..'Talking ' Therapies’ don’t work on me since even Clinical Psychologists feel the compulsion to tell me their troubles...since I was almost certain that I souldnt be quite so murderosly angry all of the time and she asked where I was ...WORK OF Course!!!!! .. And why was I there when I now had an appointment with HER NOW! So I told my junior colleague that I wouldn’t be there tomorrow and he produces the F.L.W. BUT YOU CANT BE ILL YOU ARE NEVER ILL!! I need you to tutor me for my appraisal interview”

That was then ...and THIS is now...

" Last week, an empty if sizable garage in Camberwell – somewhere to put a car, that is, not a repair business or petrol station – was sold at auction for £550,000, having been put on the market by Southwark council as a "development opportunity". A man from property website Zoopla told the Financial Times that "the buyer could create a significant return despite paying what seems like an extortionate premium today". In other words: bring us your sheds, kennels and cupboards, and watch the capital's globalised alchemy turn them to gold.

This much we know: even if George Osborne's property bubble is lifting prices all over the UK, London has long since left everywhere else behind. Over the past year, property values in the capital have risen by 18% and the gap between prices there and the rest of the UK is the biggest since records began. The average monthly London rent is now £1,126. Having moved out in 2004, I know what this means: unless you are an international plutocrat, a highly paid City type or someone either clinging on in social housing or putting up with life in a shared hovel, it is an increasingly impossible place to live. "

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/14/london-oligarch-city-capital-cost-of-living

Any Scrieving of the Future will need to take into account that we are now in the midst of an epidemic of Mental Illness that is every bit as serious as, say, the once unmentionable epidemic of Cancer.


62:

Remember IBM's Watson, the computer that won Jeopardy? Guess what; the first place that tech went after the win was decision support for diagnoses in hospitals.

How long before gainsaying "computer says..." is professionally dangerous?

63:

The world of 20-30 years hence?

Well, obviously this is past the oil peak, and probably the gas one too. So it's also probably one where the global economy has collapsed and the financial systems have been washed away in an orgy of red ink, to be replaced with something new (let's be honest, we aren't going to reach 2020 without that little corrupt birdy coming home to roast).

Population has continued to rise, probably around 8.5 billion by that point, and most of that in Chindia/SE Asia. Starvation is no longer a TV special on some Ethiopian dust bowl - it's the norm for billions of people - and that's going to mean buying up and drawing in the production of the rest of the world, pushing up food prices to unsustainable levels there as well (and climate change will be turning wheat fields to dust bowls).

So, will we reach 20-30 years hence without a general global insurrection? Personally I'm doubting it. Adding in the globalisation in jobs, automation, etc. and I don't see how it can be avoided. The masses of people with nothing left to lose will be too large for a fire not to spread (think memes and virus outbreaks, a 'new' idea will take root, get stamped on, and fight back). The baby boomers & the politicians have been putting their faith in the surveillance state and the jackboot - but that has limited utility, and all the CCTV in the world isn't going to do much when the mob rolls over your police force (128,351 in England and Wales at last count). Call them the Granny Wars - a short, sharp, and bloody transition from a society predicated on the concerns of the old, to one predicated on the young and middle aged.

I'd also say, look to the resurgence of communism. Whilst anything 'left' has gone out of style, it will gain again with a "well capitalism didn't work" mentality. They will probably aim at marxism and via the scum rising to the top, hit communism instead.

Next to all this, education? loans? housing? Second order effects.

64:

That's an interesting magic act. In theory, it's great for cities to buy out bad debt and turn it into good, provided there's money with which to buy those debts.

Where does that money come from? Well, ultimately, property taxes and suchlike.

So if people can't afford the houses they have and are dumping them and moving away, a city (let's call it Detroit, just to pick a random name) can't really afford to buy up the homes and sell them back to the people. That only works if there are jobs for those people. Since the city is buying their homes, it can't very well be using that money to pay their salaries, can it? This only works if there's an outside employer in town. Of course, the federal government could step in and do the same thing, but they get their money through taxes too, and ultimately they have the same problem. A city could float a bond, I suppose, to buy up some houses and refinance them, but how are the homeowners who benefit going to pay that back if they don't have the money to pay?

And that doesn't even count all the other costs: fire, police, clean water, sanitation, etc., that need to be paid for by someone. To pick on a city randomly named Detroit, it might make more sense to let the surplused people go, downsize, turn neighborhoods back into green space, and make a go of it as a new, smaller town. Over history, that's been the way cities survived over the long run, in places like Rome and Damascus.

65:

I for one (having enjoyed the West German version of free education) am still wondering why the lousy education system in the UK has not prompted more enthusiasm in the British youth to go and study somewhere else for less and graduate with an equivalent if not better degree and less to no outstanding loans, to vote against leaving the EU (/polemic). I guess language is a barrier there, but then, I would think, not a very high one.

66:

Answer - bring back capitalism
ban bank bailouts
ban QE
Let mkt set unt rates
Prosecute bank generals

It's the only way. Socialism/Cronycapitalism/fascism leads to Soylent Green

67:

A little while age I viewed a T.V. programme on Industrial Archaeology in the Ancient Lost City of...Detroit. It was fasinating.Lots of crumbling Palaces and all that sort of thing.

Nearest thing to the programme in a hasty web search is...


http://zfein.com/photography/detroit/

It's not all that new a discovery though, for Cities DO die when they have fulfilled their utility. See here...

http://www.touropia.com/lost-cities/

" I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. "

68:

I don't think you understood what he was talking about.

It is an attempt to avoid people abandoning their houses; it does require that the owners be able to refinance at the fair-market-value (which, in the cities where this is being done, tends not to be an issue).

The problem with Detroit was that it was a spiral of unemployment, dropping property values, and exodus. Each of those factored into a positive-feedback loop.

The cities that are trying this approach are doing so to avoid the Detroit situation.

69:

The mortgage market was extensively de-regulated in 1982 before then there wasn't really a market at all there was no real competition and the single rate offered was set centrally. As were things like deposit requirements and earnings to loan ratios.

Afterwards banks and building societies were free to offer a range of different products with differing interest rate and deposit requirements. The interest rate they charged fell and the loan to earning ratio therefore rose. The lower interest rate reducing the cost of servicing the loan, meaning you could borrow more for the same repayments.

Loans that had previously been illegal, but which were good commercial propositions, could now be made. I don't think anyone would really want a situation where legal credit was unavailable to the creditworthy.

70:

This sounds like the background in Sterling's Distraction, with bits of Heavy Weather thrown in. So, vast swaths of hi-tech poor dotted by enclaves of hyper-privilege. The poor will be left to fend for themselves; the elites chief governing concern will be to hold on to what they've got at the expense of everyone else, iow, they'll be totally useless at setting policy . . . same as it ever was, mostly.

71:

What I (39 years old) see, looking at people 10 to 20 years younger is a combination of seriousness and ideals of hard work on the one hand and "don't take society for granted, reinvent it" on the other hand. Both fit the pessimistic circumstances, and both together form a life-style that seems contraintuitive: hard-working, tie-and-blazer-wearing hippies, swapping materialistic values for a sort of can-do-hedonism, priorizing private life and friendships/community, but neither becoming a-political nor mainstream.

72:

Not quite. There are plenty of wealthy townships just outside the incorporated city of Detroit. And it is these scofflaws who've avoided paying their share of taxes for years who are the proximate cause of Detroit's woes. The money is there and then some; it's just not available.

73:

You reference "Distraction" and "Heavy Weather" - so let me reference a book in reply - "World War Z"

In particular the chapter with the enclave of the rich attempting to ride out the zombie apocalypse behind big walls - that got stormed not by zombies, but by desperate people.

You want an enclave for the rich? Make sure it's got a LOT of ocean around it, and is self-sufficient. And make sure you don't tell anyone about it.

74:

Well! in my opinion the disparity in power was greater in the early to mid nineteenth century and the working poor were worse off in absolute and relative terms.
We got Universal Suffrage and the Welfare state out of that and many did not think it possible even in principle back then.

What has been lost was the class cohesion, a lot of 'us' right now think that they are 'them'
So absent other factors the re-emergence of class consciousness is likely to occur following by a political struggle to re-establish a more level playing field.

On the other hand there are a couple of game changers in play

Increased automation, climate change, the post oil economy.

Increased automation will lead to the disappearance of a lot of current traditional jobs. It will lead to some new jobs, robot herding will be one such activity. the job of the robot shepherd is to extract robots from the predicaments that occur when they fall foul of unconsidered edge cases in their coded responses.

Will this be enough to replace jobs lost? I don't know, and it depends on the novel you are writing. I could see an increase in hand crafts in the future. If every one and his dog can have a 3D printed whatsit from the leading designers then the rich will want hand crafted stuff to show that they can afford stuff that the masses cannot have.

Climate change will have big and disruptive effect on agriculture and nothing will make the poor and even middle class sit up and pay attention like a few days hunger.

Major crop failure from extreme weather could really change the political dynamics.

Nuclear power will increase but will fusion arrive.

As for what we should we be doing about it?
Fight for transparency, you should have a right to know what data organisations know about you and they have to come an tell you.

We should seek to decentralise the state. Push decisions to the most local relevant political unit

We need better feedback as to whether policies are actually doing what they are supposed to achieve, and the press/news industry is completely broken in this role.

75:

Slums will save the planet.

For the first time in history more people live in cities than in the country. By mid century over 85% of humanity will live in urban areas. Many of them in slums.

And that is a good thing.

Urbanization and vertical farming (along with lab meat) will save the Earth's ecosystem.

You want to save the world? Cram every human into cities. If everyone lived in an urban area with the same population density of Manhattan, Macau or Hong Kong (almost 70,000 people per square mile), all 7 billion of us could live in a single mega-city the size of Colorado. Or the equivalent area taken up by multiple high population density cities.

The rest of the planet could revert back to wilderness.

Except those areas that need to be farmed. And it is farming that is doing the most ecological damage today (deforestation of the Amazon, fertilizer laden run-off, etc.). Using American agricultural techniques (and assuming equally good soil) each person requires about one acre of farmland to provide enough food (and feed for the animals we eat).

At 640 acres per square mile, 7 billion people would require almost 11 million square miles of farmland to provide an American diet. That is an area bigger than Alaska and Canada combined.

But suppose we transitioned to vertical farming and lab grown (cruelty free) meat? Vertical farming (growing our food in the heart of our expanded mega cities) that utilizes dwarf versions of certain crops (e.g. dwarf wheat developed by NASA, which is smaller in size but richer in nutrients), year-round crops, and "stacker" plant holders, a 30-story building with a base of a building block (5 acres) would yield a yearly crop analogous to that of 2,400 acres of traditional farming.

That is a 99.8% reduction in area needed for farming, reducing our food footprint to less than 25,000 square miles. Develop vat grown beef and chicken (with steaks, hamburgers and nuggets made by 3d printers), and Humanity's impact on Planet earth is reduced to a fraction of its current load.

76:

Doesn't vertical farming requires horizontally arranged suns? Your 30-story farms will require soil, and tremendous amounts of energy (because you want a little sun at every floor, basically).

You can power these things with electricity, but that entails either suicide by coal, or swarming the country with solar panels, which defeats your purpose of saving land (fusion power and orbital solar stations lie too far in the future: if you posit these, you can as well say we have all uploaded and do not require farming).

77:

Reading the thread, I see discussions on economics both local and world-wide, and discussions on politics at the national level. We have gap on world-wide politics (the field of international relations).

We are living the tipping point of the US empire. China is catching up economically, and with her massive population, an increase of the Chinese GDP/person to 50-80% that of the US will make her the largest economy in the world by far (2 to 3 times the US economy). The USA will retain their military power, but it will look increasingly irrelevant -- an embittered country clinging to its guns like Tito's Yugoslavia.

China is a dictatorship. It is of a relatively benevolent nature, because the wishes of the elites and those of the population are more or less aligned. From an outside perspective, China is huge and strives probably more for self-sufficiency -- not in the sense that I would be comfortable sitting on African natural resources they have their eyes on, but they are not in the business of planetary empire-building like the USA are. On the good side, an authoritarian Chinese government could in theory decide things like "let's go solar no matter what the cost and free market be damned" -- something that the Western democracies seem to have trouble doing, and which I expect will remain difficult due to tobacco-industry-like delaying tactics from the big oil companies (for this reason, in 2052, you see some texts rooting for the Chinese dictatorship in a way I find embarrassing).

Now, being cautious not to fall for old anti-Chinese racist canards à la Ming the Merciless, a dictatorship entails corruption and petty vexations. China practices torture and capital executions on a scale that make the USA look like a model of the rule of law -- I have vivid childhood memories of the Tiananmen Massacre. It is legendary for its Internet censorship (Tiananmen again, or how it was erased from History), and surveillance that makes the NSA look like... colleagues. And there is no certainty that this dictatorship will really take strong measures to fight climate change, it just has strong instruments to do it.

In the wake of China, we have emerging economies, with nation-states like Brazil hesitating between genuine democracy and rule of law, or authoritarian cronyism. This will largely shape the world of the 21st century. The problem is that we do not have a strong "Free World" to offer an alternative to authoritarian cronyism, because the USA are themselves engaging on a road to authoritarian cronyism, and because they are more into violent knee-jerk reaction to their loss of prevalence than into patient world-building. The only entity that combines genuine commitment to the rule of law and sufficient strength to influence the world is the European Union. The EU has monotonically increased its strength, including at every crisis that the eurosceptics interpreted as its imminent downfall. It faces only two serious dangers: a reduction of the speed of its construction to virtually zero (due to internal sabotage or processes and poinsing of the public opinion by the likes of David Cameron); and subversion by USA-centric treaties and lobbies (à la ACTA).

We need political commitment to build a social-democrat State of rule of law, strong enough to serve as a beacon and influence emerging powers. Failing that, emerging nations will be dominated by crony interests, fail to invest against climate change, and see authoritarianism as the norm. In the so-called "Free World", democracy would receed into irrelevance as the totalitarian regime already imposed on children and teenagers will creep to other vulnerable groups (unemployed, poor, migrants, etc), leading to corrupt Deep State situations.

In short, if we don't want decades of decline and authoritarianism followed by bloody and inefficient revolutions, we need to build a strong social-democrat EU now.


78:

Incidentally: after "14-year-old girl arrested over 'joke' terror threat to airline on Twitter", we now have "Dozens of teenagers are now tweeting bomb jokes to American Airlines". Rather than by civil liberty advocates, could it be that the moronic and merciless authoritarianism of airlines would be rendered unsustainable by adolescent anger and derision?

79:

heteromeles sez: "I'm working on a project to answer the question: "What will the world look like if some of the worse predictions of climate change come to pass, but humans don't go extinct?""

There's no way that if the “worst predictions of climate change” are compatible with humans *not* going extinct. I think a case could even be made that the fossil fuel industry is the one that's pushing sea level rise and warming as the consequences. Simply because they are so minor in comparison to the “worst predictions”. The worst prediction I've seen is the end of winds and ocean currents. That results in anoxic seas. Hydrogen Sulphide releasing bacteria filling the purple oceans. No rain on land. Toxic levels of Hydrogen Sulphide. Oxygen levels below the level needed to maintain large vertebrate life. Daytime temperatures over 60 degrees for much of the earth. No ozone layer with sterilising levels of UV light. All from 1000 ppm CO2 to which we seemed unavoidably destined. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canfield_ocean

80:

In short, you're preaching to the choir.

81:

The Arab Spring isn't a great model for the UK's situation. Revolutions are an occupation of the young, and Egypt is a very youthful country, with 50% of its population under the age of 20. The corresponding figure for the UK is 24%.

Simply put, a 40 year old is probably willing to take a job as a cop and defend the barricades protecting the 1%, but storming the barricades is a job for a 20 year old, and our society has fewer of them to go around.

If I was going to write a near-to-medium-term future novel about The Coming Revolution, I'd set it about 20-30 years after the breakthrough that gives us a cheap cure for the disease we call "old age" (cellular senescence).

About a decade after it comes on the market (cost: $250,000 a pop) the patents expire and it enters the usual race to the bottom on price with generics. (By year 15 it costs $25,000 a pop, and by year 30 it's down to $250.) Year 1 is the point at which the 1% are all buying it; by year 15 that market is tapped out but the Gen Z peons who can't afford to buy a property can afford to hit their retirement savings for the $25K it'll take to ensure continuing good health instead of a few years of non-working invalidity followed by death.

Only then we'll have a situation with the equivalent of a surplus of 20 year olds (albeit very, very experienced 20 year olds! Some of them in their 60s) who have not much to lose ...

82:

It occurred to me, on reading this, that the Chinese model for governance might be the most sustainable one we've seen.

The policies and tools of authority have changed over time, and the labels that get used, but the actual processes that those at the top use to exert power and those at the bottom use to access and influence those in authority are by and large the same whether you look at any given emperor, the communist party at anything except its most Maoist and more modern communism with some capitalism thrown in of today. There is, by Western standards, a lot of overt corruption - of course lobbying is <irony>completely</irony> different - it's a lot more centralised and a lot more authoritarian. But the Emperor, be he called Emperor, Party Chairman or whatever, announces something, the extensive bureaucracy springs into action and boom, it is done. I couldn't tell you how efficiently or otherwise but it is put into action.

Maybe that's actually our problem in the West. We have been led to expect a high standard of behaviour in public office and then time and again they fail to deliver on it. But perhaps the drive and ambition that lets you rise to the top of the political heap makes you simply incapable of saying no to that special favour from here, that offer from there. If we were used to it at all levels - "You want a parking permit? It's £10, but you wait very long time... Oh, you want you parking permit today? It's £10 but £30 to make sure it's dealt with today" - and so on, the politicians at the top level could be a bit more open about what's going on, we'd accept it and the country could be more honest about how it's governed. At the moment, if you tried that you'd end up in jail.

I don't know I'd like to live in a country where bribing the officials was commonplace, but it's probably a less painful change than a revolution.

83:

Charlie, any thoughts on the "Big Deal" in Descent, the latest by Ken MacLeod?

It's a background event in the book so hardly a spoiler to reveal here: in the near future, all the banks are nationalised, right across the westernised world and Russia and China. And all means ALL: tax havens like Luxembourg and Cayman Islands are visited by heavily armed neighbours.

Idea is (appears to be) that private sector financial speculation is too profitable and forces out actually productive capitalist enterprises. Leaves most of the current oligarchs still in charge, but that's the incentive for going along.

84:

You realize that a $100K salary in Silly Valley isn't enough to get your a mortgage on a a one-bedroom apartment? You'll be sharing a ratty rental house with roommates in The Mission (if you're lucky) and commuting 2 hours each way on the company bus.

(Whereas for $30K in Bangladesh, you'll be living in a mansion with several live-in servants including the chauffeur and cook and butler.)

85:

>>disease we call "old age" (cellular senescence).

Charlie, those are 2 different concepts. The "cure" to cellular senescence is cancer. You want a cure to whole-organism senescence.

86:

Yes, but you have to hold tight to opposing Chinese-style authoritarianism. There are already significant tendencies to flirt with it in the West -- be it censoring the Internet to protect the innocent teenagers from pr0n, to ruin their lives with disproportionate fines for downloading mini-series over Torrent, or the Hail-to-the-Chief-style militarisation we see in the USA -- and it is not cool. Complacency towards the Chinese government is basically civil liberty nihilism, and the greatest sin of the US administrations since Bush have been failure to push for democratic rule of law as an alternative to the current Chinese model.

Dictatorships are inherently corrupt and inefficient. Furthermore, seeing the authoritarian instruments of the Chinese government as a shortcut to green sustainable economy occults that we have no reason to think that they will use the instrument to that end. They that can give up essential liberty to purchase Green economy, deserve neither and lose both.


87:

One essential problem at present is the low official interest rates. These have been kept low for political purposes; the current party in power in the UK would very much like to simulate an economic recovery, and the only way to do this is to make having a huge debt essentially harmless.

To actually fix the problem, several different things need to happen. First and foremost, the economy of the entire continent needs a good kick up the arse to concentrate its mind on actually doing something. This is not going to happen whilst the EU lurches ever onwards, like an undead Mafia zombie.

Secondly, in Britain official interest rates need to increase, to somewhere near the inflation rate. This increase will be tricky to get right, but if done properly will start to have an effect. Britain at present has too many entities which have huge, near crippling debts. Companies with huge debts that they can just about service can lurch onwards zombie-like, but cannot grow and effectively act as blockers for economic recovery. Similarly, a dose of slightly higher interest rates ought to rationalise the housing market by killing off the shakier buy-to-let operators.

This will not happen in the current political regime, because it is political suicide. Raising interest rates to remove dead wood will hurt in the short term, and the next government will reap the benefits.

On this score, all of the last few governments have been derelict in their duty to maintain and upgrade the UK's infrastructure. The UK's rail network is not fully electrified (the 12 billion or so pissed away by Blair on the NHS IT plan would have sorted that out), hence fast, efficient electric trains aren't the norm. Electrification and simply increasing the number of parallel tracks would make the HS2 line irrelevent.

Similarly a push to build more and better nuclear power stations, and at least one fast-neutron facility to destroy long halflife sludge is urgently needed. We also need a number of nuclear plants capable of destroying plutonium, since this can be used to construct nuclear bombs. Less plutonium means less opportunity for future bomb-makers. In the long term, thorium units are the way forwards, of course.

88:

I don't think governments are going to the ones taking the first step. Society has to. And it probably won't, because everyone is too concerned with saving their own hide.

I was born in '86, went to grammar school, then on to uni for a while. Dropped out, and now I'm living off social support because of my disability (autism). There's plenty of jobs I could do, theoretically. But the laws surrounding social support prevent me from actually earning any money. Government subsidises companies to hire me, but I can never earn much more than travel expenses (If I'm lucky) because I don't have the right to minimum wage. The best job I ever had (working in the R&D laboratory of a big multinational) actually cost me hundreds of euro's, after eight months I had to quit, one of the main reasons being I just couldn't afford it. I can't even do volunteer work now, unless it's strictly off the record, because it can get me into all sorts of income and tax related trouble and I dare not take any risks.

So, here I am. Stuck at home. No future. I'm eating my savings because I'm stuck in a tiny one room apartment which I technically can't afford, but there's no cheaper places available for rent. I have about ten years of this left, I reckon, if things stay the same. Reality is, everything gets more expensive by the year and society seems keen to get rid of me.

Dystopian literature, honestly, doesn't feel that alien to me. Perhaps that's why I enjoy it. It feels much more realistic than the sugar coated sci-fi I used to love as a kid.
When I read about a character who is isolated from society, desperately trying to find a way to survive that doesn't include giving up everything they love, hell, that's how I feel most days. My bank account is a ticking clock and once it reaches zero, I'm done for. At least in fictional worlds there's usually still some hope for the main characters.

89:

I'm surprised at the lack of comments about development into space! I realise that the cost of mass migration into space is currently prohibitive (in addition to the inherent risks to health and safety) but a concerted effort towards the colonisation of space is the only long-term goal of the species.

How long till we have space elevators or skyhooks for instance? Once we have a cheap way of getting large payloads into zero G we can seriously start to work on habitats at the L7 points maybe?

I know this is all fairy tale thinking but I'm so depressed (as a father with a 3 year old daughter) with the concepts of revolution, global financial meltdown, rising sea levels and the imminent coming of Yog Sothoth that I felt a bit of optimism was required to balance things out!

90:

Have not made it through all the comments yet.

What is striking to me is that the benefits of the 1960's did not fall like manna from the sky, they were wrested from the ruling elite with great force. Workers unionized. People fought and bled and died. Voting did work. The particulars of how it played out in each western country were unique but all still played against some shared historical elements. Especially after WWII, the Cold War gave capitalism a threat it needed to be a viable option against. Without such an enemy to define it, capitalism goes back to eating its babies.

The peak everything crowd plays this out as the story of energy and resource surplus. The elite could afford to throw a bone to the poor because they were getting cows out the ying-yang. As energy becomes more expensive and resources constrained, endless-growth capitalism demands more pie even as the pie is no longer growing. This means they need a bigger piece of the pie. And when the pie actually starts shrinking, that means the little guy gets less pie. And if we did discover viable fusion and endless electricity tomorrow, that puts us back on the endless growth path that will wreck the biosphere.

In my bleakest mood, I think this can go on or at least will go on until the wheels fall off. In my less bleak mood I think maybe we will persist in a diminished capacity, the global middle class being a historical anomaly. In my more optimistic mood, I think that perhaps things will have to get bad enough that the whole current system of everything is upended and a better system put in place. But that's not likely.

Case in point, writing down real estate values. That can't happen with the current system. Too many rich people own too much property. Even people who are by now means wealthy might have a house as their single greatest asset. It would require wartime powers and a political mandate equivalent of a holy crusade to push the massive number of changes they could make housing affordable and cut the elites down to size without harming the proles. Tricky to navigate, especially when the elites are rather happy with the idea of neo-feudalism.

91:

I hate to be mean to you, but... Let us put aside the inherent difficulties of building a space elevator and large-scale space habitats. Assume we are building a space elevator; what does it look like?

Not only is that thing a choke point for all space commerce and traffic; it is also a spot from where you can hurl warheads at basically anyone in short notice (you can pre-position a stockpile cheaply and stealthly). A space elevator will have a strong tendency to be an instrument of tyranny, and I struggle to see how to compensate for that.

Now, of course, the engineering and the physics are very nice.

92:

I don't want to sound rude, but you have:

1. Computer.
2. Internet connection.
3. 10 years!

And you feel there is absolutely nothing you can do to improve your economic situation?

93:

" it is also a spot from where you can hurl warheads at basically anyone in short notice " Correct me if I'm wrong but can't we do this already using a number of various methods?

The choke-point isn't really an issue unless you're suggesting there's only one space elevator? I would think that to make the whole space colonisation thing possible you'd need multiples across the globe.

I'm counting on the earth being governed by a single democratic entity (a UN with teeth!).

94:

I'm not saying that I want to live in modern China. A more ancient model of Chinese government with modern technology - don't know. Probably not. The whole thrust of my argument is that the structures of government are largely unchanged, it's just the trappings that have changed after all, so I'm sure if you pick a seemingly benevolent historical regime, it would still use the same tools if you gave them the chance.

I wonder though what it tells us that the core system survives over a large number of centuries is stable, enduring government, with actually a relatively small amount of revolution, civil war and the like to cause overthrow capable of being efficient and incorrupt?

You should know me well enough by know to know I stand up for civil liberties and human rights by default. Saying that China's system is one to look at as an exemplar for stability is entirely divorced from saying China has a terrible record on human rights. I agree, and we should stand up for civil liberties and against the current regime's human rights record.

95:

Yes, but emphasis on stealth and short notice. You basically cut the initial push off a ballistic missile. Even tastier, you could use kinetic warheads of arbitrary power -- basically you get something potentially as powerful as a nuclear weapon, but without the political cost. Oh, and an ideal platform for surveillance as well (think Hubble-sized optics at lower-than-orbital altitudes, permanently trained on your backyard).

I very much doubt that we would build several such pharaonic projects in parallel, and once the first comes online, it will give an enormous advantage to the power that possesses it.

I full-heartedly agree on the UN with teeth, but I fear that this is even further removed in the future than the elevator itself. But, well, fingers crossed.

96:

I do not mean to accuse you of rooting for the Chinese government, sorry if what I've written comes across like that. I was thinking of the useful idiots of the rent-seeking entertainment majors who sometimes praise the Great Firewall of China.

I don't think that you can separate the stability of China from its repressive policies. The tide of liberalism that swept the USSR and the Berlin Wall started in China -- only there is was crushed with tanks. Stability in China is partly governing and growth, partly a war of the government against its people that the government is winning.

There are things to admire in China (the culture, the language, the cooking...) and even with the government (the cunning, the self-restraint, the long-term planning), but I doubt stability is one of them when it comes at the price the people is forced to pay for it.


97:

"I'm surprised at the lack of comments about development into space!"

You should read this ( http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/06/the_high_frontier_redux.html ) by our host... and the full comment section bellow...

TL;DR; : He thinks ( as I do ) that there is no chance in hell of doing anything but science and earth observation in space for a number of centuries. The energy side of the equation is just too bad.

98:
The energy side of the equation is just too bad.

Bloody nature of the universe... Still maybe the theoreticians at the LHC or elsewhere could be persuaded to devise a means of suppressing inertia. Lots of new discoveries lately, not much in the way of shiny new tech as a result!

99:

Unless you are a subsistence farmer, you are always working for someone else. An independent contractor still has to contract with someone. And thus you are still exposed to getting screwed over. A classic trick is for the corporations you contract with trying to do net-90 and leave you hanging. You aren't big enough to bring them to heel.

And in the US the republicans talk about supporting small business but that only refers to the number of owners, not the size. Bechtel at $50 billion in annual revenues is a small business. Real small business, mom and pop, is under continuous assault. While some notable category killer stores are dead or dying: blockbuster, circuit city, best buy, radio shack, there are still plenty of others that remain entrenched. Everything is chains. It's very difficult for a small operator to survive. Harley-Davidson used to sell out of small shops with low overhead. Their corporate sales weasels have demanded multi-million dollar operations if those guys want to keep the license with millions of dollars in inventory. This practice will make the corporate balance sheet look good for a whole but it will inevitably collapse. But the people who made the call will be cashed out and long gone. It's smart for them, horrible for everyone else.

All this being said, the real game change could be the alternative economy where people can gain credit outside of the official system, goods and services that don't require traditional cash. How exactly that will work I don't know. Note that the most broke-ass poor people around the world still wear mass manufacture clothes. It's too cheap to get that rather than make clothes the traditional way. But imagine the potential of crypto currencies. I'm still not sure if its crazy brilliant or just crazy. But look at it from Visa's perspective. People use crypto, they are cut out of the loop. They become as useless as record stores and travel agents.

The disruptive game changer is when a former big bad's strongest advantages no longer matter. Look at cable operators and the threat that all of their infrastructure could be easily made redundant by the phone company or satellite. Cable just isn't a great option, especially for what they're charging. Dead man walking or the dismissed tiger that's still a potent man-killer? That's the dangerous question.

100:

Your problem is not inertia, it's gravity. Different problems, same mass (or two different masses with precisely the same value for a large number of decimals).

101:

I do have some options, but none of them are feasible at this moment. As I said, conventional employment isn't going to earn me any money. I've considered starting my own company, but there's so many hoops I'd have to jump through and I don't have the skill or knowledge required for such an undertaking (not to mention I'd rather not put my already meagre savings at risk).

Unfortunately, the things I am good at are mostly artistic. I'm a musician, painter and writer. And while I do enjoy those things immensely, they're not likely to ever support me.
I perform in a bar in Amsterdam regularly, but I don't cope with the social aspect of it very well. I get social anxiety. If I sold any paintings it would mess with my social support because it would be an irregular source of income, so that's not an option either.
And writing, honestly, I only got into because I have too much spare time and it's easy to just sit at my computer and write all day (and compared to being bored out of my mind all day it's a real step up).
At this point I figure my writing a best-seller is more likely than my ever winning the lottery, if only because I don't have the money to waste on lottery tickets. And it's a good way to practice and improve my English, which I'm sure every wandering tourist who has ever asked me for directions appreciates.

Basically, unemployment is a good option, for now. It leaves me free to pursue my interests. I decided I'd much rather be living every day to the fullest than, say, being miserable in a job that only costs me money (which currently is the most likely alternative).
But the financial dependence on the whims of a government that doesn't even try to hide its disdain for the common people any more is still depressing.

I apologize if I sound overly pessimistic, I do realise I'm better off than many and lucky to be living in a first world country.

102:

I think the systemic problem's very simple.

Profit is not a legitimate objective.

This isn't a comfortable notion; pretty much the entire organizing principle of the Western World is "maximize profit".

If it was the *other* profit -- the proof that you're taking your inputs, doing something, and adding value to the world, because you can sell your output for more than the cost of your inputs plus your effort to un-coerced customers with the option of not buying -- we'd be OK. (and were, for quite awhile there.)

What we've got is an oligarchy that defines profit as "I have more money". That's what the system is now set up to do, after the Reagan Randite Revolution/Thatcherism. That's destructive, but they can't stop, and pretty much everything else -- widespread delusion about the nature of money, commitment to suicidal carbon policies, the disdain for facts, the production of truly horrible people, and the suppression of collective action -- follows from that.

It's driven by fear. It's a fear of loss of status, rather than starvation. It's incredibly hard to talk about because the common moral framework's gone. (You know how the fundies talk about moral collapse and nihilism if there's no God? There's a good reason for that, and it's not because rationalist aetheists are inherently nihilistic. Aweless authoritarians are inherently nihilistic, it really does all rest on Big Daddy in the Sky. (Anybody with bad insecurity management will tend to be nihilistic, but authoritarianism is bad insecurity management on lifetime scales.) We don't have a plausible Christiandom, we committed deicide of Progress in the Great War, it's hard to ignore the sheer murderous resort to power that keeps the whole resource extraction market distortion people call "commodities trading" going the instant you start looking.

The good news is that moral frameworks can crystallize very fast; the bad news is we need one that's got three things right, and I'm not sure that's ever happened. Have to hope the better comms tech is a big help.

We need to get something that supports science, technology, facts, etc. as essential and virtuous, which means the admission of wrongs, which primates are so very bad at; something that enforces a bar on wealth and a corresponding awareness that the only legitimate course is improving conditions for everyone, because civilization's indirect benefits outweigh direct benefits to the individual; a replacement for "money" as the measure of "good", I'd like to advance "generally realizable access to choice", but it needs to be something collective.

103:

I think you underestimate how poor language teaching in British schools is; AIUI 50% of British people leave school with no language skills other than English. (Shame-faced confession: this includes me.)

104:

Reading Peter Ward? I'm talking about the more extreme predictions coming from the climate scientists, such as David Archer's The Long Thaw (this is the pop-science version. You can also read the IPCC 5 for free if you want).

While Ward writes gripping books, he has this little issue that other scientists think he gets the details wrong. That happened with Out of Thin Air (where he used a model for atmospheric [CO2] and [O2] that isn't backed by current evidence), and probably with Under A Green Sky, where as best I can tell, he got the sky color wrong.

Anyway, there are two counter-arguments to the notion that we'll go extinct. One is the science. The pop-science idea is that the animals that best survive mass extinctions look like rats. That comes predominantly from the K-T event, which was a an asteroid strike, best survived underground, which is why so many crocodilians survived...See the problem? The general model is both too simplistic and focused on the last extinction. Unfortunately for us, the K-T was the most anomalous extinction in the fossil record, and it's not a good predictor of what we're setting up. Probably the PETM is, and that wasn't (quite) a mass extinction. A rather better predictor for ability to survive an extinction event is that the species a weedy generalist that's capable of adapting to new environments. That's us. By any standard, we're by far the most invasive species on the planet.

The other argument is ethical: I run into a fair number of people who believe that we're going extinct in the near future (CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, anyone?). A subset of these people use this to justify all sorts of destructive behavior. Why not smoke whatever? I'm going to die soon anyway. Why conserve or care about the environment in any fashion? It's all going to die along with us. Why not just enjoy the days we have left? Know anyone like that?

My solution to that is that I tell people that no, I am imagining the worst: humans will survive, and our descendants will inherit the mess we've helped to create. That's how they'll remember us after we're gone, as long as they remember us at all.

105:

Cancer isn't a "cure" for cellular senescence; cancer requires at least two, if not more malfunctions to occur -- loss of sensitivity to apoptosis signalling is one, and it also requires loss of contact inhibition. Most cancer cells seem to regress towards the state of pluripotent stem cells, or at least to a less differentiated state than the original tissue they're derived from. Cancer cells stop working as part of a multicellular organism and start working to their own (short term) advantage.

106:


It's not as great a problem as you believe it to be. Huge numbers of foreign universities teach in English - The Global Language and all that,

...Off of the top of my head.

Maastrict University offers courses in English as does Groningen University. Most German Universities have early segments of their courses in taught in English as do those of Switzerland to attract foreign money. Best of all from my own knowledge is Osaka University in Japan. Tuition fee roughly US$4500 a year. All taught in English, As far as my memory serves.

I've heard they even speak it in Scotland? Is this true?

107:

On this score, all of the last few governments have been derelict in their duty to maintain and upgrade the UK's infrastructure.

O RLY?

I was under the impression that since 1979, successive British governments have all subscribed to the idea that infrastructure isn't their problem and is better shovelled under the carpet and off the books by outsourcing to the private sector using PPP arrangements. Which in turn results in the accumulation of vast quantities of former state-owned infrastructure assets (the post office! air traffic control! water and sewerage! coming soon: the roads!) in the hands of large conglomerate holding and rent-seeking corporations that just happen to have an intensely relaxed working arrangement with the caste of cabinet-level politicians who offer them first dibs on the choicest morsels.

The call for more nuclear plants is ... well, I was with you on the same page of the hymn book until about 2011. Then two things happened. First, Fukushima Daichii demonstrated that private sector nuclear operators simply aren't capable of managing an ageing reactor fleet competently -- being private sector, they treat the bloody things as a cash cow and they don't learn from other private sector operators' mistakes. (Those melt-downs were not only avoidable: they were avoided at other nuclear sites near Fukushima that had better disaster plans in place, which in turn implies that best practices weren't being propagated adequately throughout the industry ...)

The second strike against nuclear is the rate at which the cost of photovoltaic installations is falling. Within another single handful of years the main obstacle facing solar won't be cost-competition with other energy sources -- it'll be cheaper per Mw/hour than coal -- but storage and transmission (solar don't work so well at night). And these problems are not insuperable. Our best bet for a battery technology is to figure out small-scale electrically driven Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of methane from variable photovoltaic supplies, by reforming atmospheric CO2 and H2O. If you can do that, you can store the CH4, transport and burn it later without any net release of fossil carbon, and you get to reuse all our pre-existing fossil fuel handling infrastructure rather than having to build all-new infrastructure for messing around with, say, hydrogen gas.

108:

PS: Thorium reactors are, alas, not impossible to use for breeding bomb fuel. You just end up breeding 233U rather than 239Pu. Different design of bomb, still goes "bang" in the end.

109:

As a Gen Y'er I think Charlie is suffering from old-man-syndrome. Obviously any trend (such as growing inequality, too capital-friendly policies) taken to extremes will lead to immense problems. In some single countries, it might even lead to a very dystopian future.

Granted, the US and the UK look like prime candidates for a sort of Chinese-like oligarchic capitalism right now. But currently they are still much better places to live than 90% of the rest of the world (give or take 10%). The only way you can believe it will actually become completely unlivable is if positive political change were impossible. We know that not to be true, just look at how much progress several minorities have made over the last few decades (yay gay marriage!).

And while I think this kind of thinking can be enormously self-defeating, I do think the best thing a writer can do to avert the dystopian future is to write, especially to popularize some basic facts about the world and equality that many people are in need of hearing. (I'd argue it can be done in a less pessimistic way, but then I'm no writer)

Funnily my spellchecker doesn't recognize dystopian and suggests Utopian as a correction.

111:

For what value(s) of "only 1"?

There's plenty of Space Opera around which clearly has multiple cars (and sometimes speeds of cars) but only has one "top and bottom of the beanstalk", which leads to the same sort of economic development problems that the UK has with "everything must be in Larndarn".

112:

They that can give up essential liberty to purchase Green economy, deserve neither and lose both.

Any sustainable economy would have a much circumscribed idea of liberty compared to what we're used to. For starters, sustainability implies zero population growth, which means reproductive freedom has to go.

My impression is that the Chinese government is similar to Western governments in crucial ways. Specifically, the Chinese Communist Party seems to feel that any rollback in people's standard of living would lead to mass protests and potentially revolution. They're following a policy of maximized growth because they don't dare do otherwise, just like our politicians.

P.S. gravitational mass is the killer in getting to orbit, but inertial mass is the big barrier to getting to the outer solar system or (ha ha) other stars.

113:

Estimates of corruption show China is not much more or less corrupt than the US at a similar point in its economic development. I think this is worth taking into account, because the image of its corruption as a necessary result of dictatorship is a little bit too easy, considering it's also a quickly developing economy with all the money flush in the system that entails. Similar for people living in abject circumstances and the like. (also, while torture might go away in a democratic China - although it hasn't in a democratic US - capital punishment actually has widespread popular support).

All to say that dictatorships are bad because of lack of rule of law or respect for human rights. The USSR and other dictatorships being so shit at running an economy has made us believe that this is a necessary result of them, but that remains to be seen in China.

Now for the oil companies. I believe they are the top employers (at least top 3) in the country. All of them are owned by the government and are the places where many high-ranking officials came up through the ranks. They were also a major source of wealth for those officials often in less-than-legal ways (which gives them considerable sway all in its own). They are universally reported as being highly powerful, considered as they are as a key industry.

So no, I don't think we should look to China as the place the green revolution will really unleash, though popular anger over pollution is starting to turn the ship.

114:

>>Cancer isn't a "cure" for cellular senescence

Oh, but it is. That's why the process of creating a stable cell line (one you can grow in the lab forever) is called "immortalization".

115:

Most of Europe has zero population growth, without any need for restricting reproductive rights.

116:

Profit is not a legitimate objective.

This is a specific instance of Goodhart's law: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

The fact that people are rewarded for generating profit leads inevitably to people gaming the system. People find ways to increase profit-as-measured without going through the hassle of providing valued goods and services.

117:

I don't think that you need to curtail liberties to have a zero or near-zero population growth: look at Germany or Japan. All you need is a sufficiently advanced society. We'll get there everywhere long before population becomes a problem.

118:

Look, I'm talking about self-education. 10 years with an internet connection is enough to become an expert in something computer-related. Or several "somethings".

119:

Actually, most of Europe has negative population growth, which is also incompatible with sustainable economy.

Badgering people into having 2.1 children when they'd rather have 0.8 may be actually trickier than one-child policy.

120:

I was using an example; around here "reproductive freedom" is a big deal. There are other examples, which would probably vary considerably by area, but most of them would come down to having far less right to use energy and far less right to generate waste.

121:

I mean "corruption" as any process whereby influence in government is traded for money or services, not necessarily something defined as corruption by law. By my standard, corruption is basically legal in the USA. So, depending how you mean is, saying that the level of corruption in China is equivalent to that of the USA fits rather well with my notion that it is excessively corrupt.

122:

Not everybody gets much benefit from education, and fewer get much benefit from self-education. Such is life.

124:

Nah. Look at the number of children per woman in Iran. I am confident that population will stabilise. What I am worried about is whether ecological footprint will.

125:

I do have some faint hope.

The higher education system will largely be solved with accredited online courses. At this point, accreditation is in the hands of universities as gatekeepers, but I see that changing soon. This will get rid of the ridiculous education cost burden, especially in the US, with the onerous loan terms.

A black swan pandemic could fix the wage and housing issue, much like the Black Death did. Ideally it would hit the older generation, opening up the availability of remaining jobs and raising wages. If science and technology don't allow that to happen, then we may face another very long period of increasing wealth disparity as outlined by Thomas Piketty. Alternatively, mass starvation due to AGW impacts on crop failures could reduce the global supply of labor which would have 2ndry effects on postindustrial nation labor supply and rates. Very dystopian for those of us born in the decades after WWII.

I don't think a war is going to solve the problem, as this would at best use up the younger generation. More likely robots will be the main casualties. Unless massive attacks on civilians occurs, which would be a game changer.

What history tells us is that nations don't usually self-correct to reduce wealth inequality. They collapse or get replaced by different nations or powers. In the modern world, this could take little more than a few generations. Our problem this time around is that there are no more fresh "lands" to turn into nations, except the oceans. Accees to space is going to have to decline orders of magnitude to open that frontier, and we will still have the potential problem of indentured servitude to pay for the trip.


126:

In the short run, population might stabilize for a while. In the long run, evolution is a numbers game, and spamming the planet with copies of yourself is a strategy that tends to dominate over time.

127:

Agree. Simplest illustration why a sustainable society will never work unless it is intellectually stagnant and highly coercive:

In a sustainable society energy production must remain constant, or at most fluctuate in a known pattern. If energy production increases with time (or decreases, for that matter), it is not sustainable, at least not by any definition I had seen yet. Obviously, all that produced energy must be consumed, even if not immediately. Over a certain time period energy production and consumption are equal and fixed.

Suppose I invent a new car. Or a new submersible. Or a spaceship. Where am I going to get the energy to fuel it?

If enough people like my invention, someone will come up with a way to get energy for it. But that means either increasing overall energy production -- so society is no longer sustainable, -- or taking energy away from someone else. In the latter case, someone's ox will end up gored, and I (and people who like my invention) stomped on someone else's freedom. The society turns out coercive.

That's why I believe that a sustainable society must be stagnant -- new inventions (let alone new ideas!) would upset it all too easily. And a static society which suppresses (or "properly guides") new inventions and ideas has to be VERY oppressive.

128:

Except all the evidence points the other way of course.

129:

We're due the next recession now.

Thought I'd put this into the mix. We live in a cyclical system and are about due for the next recession.

Now, I;m not going to claim this as my own idea, I read it in RT (http://rt.com/op-edge/global-economy-looming-recession-364/), which at times has something to say (and at other times is totally risible).

So, if we are about to lurch back into recession, what effect will that have on today's batch of young people?

130:

I just don't understand how you jump from "sustainable" to "sclerotic". You seem to assume no possible progress and extrapolate that growth needs to be unsustainable, but that is just not true.

In the 60s, the use of CFCs was unsustainable. To become sustainable, we cut its use. But we do not live in a dystopia where stormtroopers kick your door in search for fridges and shoot you if you have one, do we? We just designed fridges that do not use CFC. Just like we shall design less power-extensive systems and switch them to solar power.


131:

I love how we've evolved from something like 70,000 years of very close to sustainable societies to someone who says it can't happen.

History says they do. As one historian noted, sustainability is actually very simple: you put some people (say up to around 150-200) on a reasonably suitable piece of land and tell them that they and all their descendants are going to have to make their entire living off that piece of land forever. If a sustainable society is possible under such conditions, it will arise through (gasp! horror!) innovation.

A great example of this is Easter Island, despite the BS that Jared Diamond and others have promulgated. It's worth reading The Statues That Walked by Hunt and Lipo to find out how the Easter Islanders managed to transform one of the more inhospitable islands in Polynesia into a sustainable landscape without resorting to cannibalism as on other islands. They were decimated by introduced diseases when the outside started arriving, not by ecocide, and the tricks they came up with to farm Easter Island are pretty neat and radically innovative within Polynesia.

132:

Where did I say sustainable society is impossible? I said it has to be static. As were examples you just gave.

133:

Really? Most stuff I've seen suggested a 20 year cycle, which means that the bursting of the property bubble was early, and the last recession was only 7 years ago.

134:

We need about 3000 humans in our population to avoid slow death by inbreeding, which is enough that they'll split into various tribes. Then we get wars reducing some tribes to extinction and schisms when other tribes get bigger than Dunbar's number. The local ecosystem can be sustainable, but any particular tribe is growing if its fortunes permit or shrinking if they don't.

Just because people don't write and don't much remember their history, doesn't mean their history is any less bloody and tempestuous than ours.

135:

Actually the nuclear plants near* Fukushima Daiichi were all run by the same company, TEPCO with the same disaster planning rules pretty much with similar physical layouts and comparable sea defences. What killed Daiichi and not the others was bad luck and geography in that the tsunami was higher there than pretty much anywhere else along the Tohoku coast because of the shape of the seabed offshore.

It's probable the Daini plant 10km to the south will never operate again, same as the two newer reactors (5 and 6) at Daiichi which sustained zero damage. They were overwhelmed by the tsunami too but they maintained power to the cooling systems with one powerline and this prevented explosions and noticeable release of radioactive materials.

* near is relative. The Daini plant was close to Daiichi, the Onagawa plant was 115km further north as the seagull flies and it took less of a hit from the tsunami than Daiichi. Even the city of Sendai further north which lost thousands of people had less of a tsunami impact than Fukushima Daiichi did.

136:

Check out the world population graph I linked to at #123, and remember that official estimates of this sort of thing are almost always biased toward complacency.

137:

Actually, every UN official estimate for milestones which already happened, turned out to be too high, not too low.

I am saying "UN" because that's the source of the graphs on the Wiki page you listed.

138:

spamming the planet with copies of yourself is a strategy that tends to dominate over time

Are you claiming that Mormons, Amish, and the like will end up dominating the Earth? Because everybody else figured out that they need fewer children, not more.

139:

Now that I think of it, every species in existence from elephants (6 offspring per lifetime) to sunfish (several million offspring per lifetime) produces just enough offspring that two end up reproducing. For technological humans, this number is 2.1.

140:

Uh, Charlie, two serious "oh no" things.

One is, you don't want methane for the *current* infrastructure; it's not an especially good fuel. Can't run jets off it, lots of redesign required for anything mobile. OK really only for power plants and gas stoves.

One point five is, gods, that inefficient; .15 (solar) x .6 (you hope! demonstrated is 0.4) x .25 ~= 2% which is competing with .15 x .7 ~= 10% for battery storage; five times the solar area required.

One point nine is keeping the natural gas pipeline infrastructure in place pretty much guarantees extracted fossil carbon going into it, if it's possible someone will want to make a profit off it.

Two is that lots of process industry cannot be run off of solar at a reasonable price. Solar has many virtues but predictability isn't one of them. Making glass or steel or aluminium with electricity are all possible but you must have buckets of power in a very consistent way, which means hydro or nuclear. (With some grace notes in geothermal if you're Iceland or similar geographically favoured location.) Which is highly desirable compared to doing those first two with natural gas or coal, but the battery supply to back up your solar for one whole production cycle -- because otherwise you've got a very large, very useless, ingot cooling in your refinery and a problem you probably can't solve -- is totally crippling, cost-wise.

141:

Your statement is true if the species is at the hard limit of its environmental carrying capacity, and that carrying capacity is stable. But the species don't decide to limit their reproduction; their population is constrained by the available resources (generally food). And if a member of those species has the biological surplus necessary to produce an extra offspring, then doing so is likely to increase the percentage of the next generation of the species that shares that individual's traits.

142:

Any sustainable economy would have a much circumscribed idea of liberty compared to what we're used to. For starters, sustainability implies zero population growth, which means reproductive freedom has to go.

This is a "the glass is half empty/the glass is half full" problem.

Another way of saying "reproductive freedom has to go" is to say "everyone has to have sex education and free at-will access to contraception and abortion; meanwhile, all children must be planned for and welcome". You could achieve the same ends with a brutally repressive police state (mandatory monthly pregnancy tests for women; criminal sanctions for illicit sex) but the cost of the guard labour would massively exceed the cost of doing it the right way.

Again, liberty: I am perfectly happy to forego my freedom to try and become a billionaire industrialist if at the same time I am losing the freedom to become a destitute homeless vagrant. (Let me introduce you to this 18th century pol. sci. concept from France: the "social contract".)

Again, liberty: I am perfectly down with depriving a minority of men of their license to beat up (or kill) other men on the claimed grounds that they felt threatened by their victims' sexuality.

The thing is, "Liberty" is a multivalent concept -- as used in American political rhetoric it is usually applied to economic liberty, in the narrow sense of "I've got mine, I want to be free to get more of mine, and fuck you, if God liked you you'd be rich too, sinner." (I exaggerate for effect, but only a little.)

Oh, as for consumption: our consumption of "intellectual property" isn't as obviously resource-bounded as our consumption of, say, supersonic biz-jet passenger miles or prime sirloin steaks. And it seems to me we're in the process of a barely-examined shift to a mode of consumer capitalism where a large chunk of our consumption is of materials that cost a lot to produce but can be replicated en masse for a handful of electrons. The consequences of this shift are not yet clear, but offer one avenue whereby we might continue to maintain something superficially not unlike the current consumer capitalist growth economy without actually consuming additional physical resources.

143:

Populations boom and bust though. Good years of hunting or grazing lead to population pressure, starvation and disease which limits the upper range of numbers, bad years of weather, flooding or local climate change mean less food and fewer babies making it into the next generational lottery. The bottom limit of population is zero, of course, extinction but evolution often fills in a niche that opens up if that happens.

Generally though you're right that on average two individual products of a given generation will reproduce in their own turn. In humanity's case we've leveraged our intelligence to increase those odds for the past few thousand years but since we're not mindless individuals we generally don't reproduce unless we actually decide to do so. For some folks the optimum number of offspring is zero, for others one or two, for some three and more.

144:

Germany and Japan are bad examples of how to get to ZPG. Both of them have strong structural disincentives that motivate working-age women away from child-bearing and raising a family.

Japan: crappy/no paternity leave and childcare provisions, men who expect to be looked after by stay-at-home wife, general cultural expectation that women who marry will quit the workplace. Germany: not that dissimilar on the quitting-the-workplace thing, at least when children come along: in particular, school hours are 7am to 1pm, which is pretty much inimical to holding down a day job in a wider society where working hours are more like 9am to 5pm. Also, social opprobium attached to working mothers in both cultures.

Better examples might be the Nordic countries and other western European ones (France, arguably the UK as well) where population growth is at or just below replacement (the UK's population increase is almost entirely due to immigration) but there are better facilities for childcare. Although I expect the UK's birth rate to turn out to have nose dived since 2008 when the next census rolls round ...

145:

"Something computer-related" is becoming less desirable as we move towards the end of Moore's Law and the maturation of the industry.

And there's a whole shitload of useful specialities that MMOCs are useless for. A MMOC might teach you literature or programming. It's not going to give you marketable skills at anything that requires lab or workshop space, though -- all it can provide is theory.

146:

This is the second time someone has cogently laid out their situation and the forked stick their country's social welfare system has them caught in, and you've responded with "but computers!"

I advance the idea that computing is in a massive bubble right now, and that if they were to self-educate and bootstrap into a shining career computing is the last place to go; the route to success is generally in the direction opposite to the one everyone is stampeding in.

147:

I think you mean MOOC Multiuser Open-ended Online (Learning) Community.

148:

Massively Multiplayer Online College?

149:

There are two trends notable in the evidence relating to revolutions. There is actually a fairly large evidence set to analyse.

First the older the average age of the population the less likely a revolution is to happen. Once the population average hits about 35 you basically don't get revolutions.

The other success rate, that is does the revolution lead to a stable democratic government or do you just end up with a different tyrant. If the average age is over 30 you pretty much always get success (the 1989 revolutions for example). If the average is above about 25 you have a reasonable chance if it is under 20 you have maybe a 10% chance.

From this it was predicted in 2011 that Tunisia with an average age of 29 was likely to succeed while Egypt and Libya with averages in the mid 20s had about a 50-50 chance, while Yemen and Syria with averages of 17 or so had little chance. This has been born out, Tunisia and Libya look to be going fairly well while Egypt seems to be reverting to another military dictatorship.

150:

Have you even read the original comment I was replying to? He is sitting in his house with a computer and an internet connection and just waits for the money to run out (in 10 years, no less!). I propose that there is a lot of things he can do to help himself, without even going outside. Yeah, it's all going to be computer-related, of course. Better than nothing.

151:

Belief systems tend to mutate too rapidly for evolution to really work. The underlying traits that would make a person sustain those belief systems (credibility, small-community orientation, tribalism, &c) are more likely to spread than any particular combination of beliefs.

152:

World of Educationcraft

153:
The thing is, "Liberty" is a multivalent concept -- as used in American political rhetoric it is usually applied to economic liberty

Some of the fiercest defenders of liberty are those who want the liberty to reduce others to slavery.

154:
This will not happen in the current political regime, because it is political suicide. Raising interest rates to remove dead wood will hurt in the short term, and the next government will reap the benefits.

Well, yeah. That's the big problem in a nutshell. Randy Waldman states it thusly:

But with respect to national polities, macroeconomists presume the existence of an overwhelming preference for GDP growth and full employment that simply does not exist. They act as though any other set of preferences would be unreasonable, unthinkable.


But the preferences of developed, aging polities — first Japan, now the United States and Europe — are obvious to a dispassionate observer. Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors. That’s it. That’s everything. All other considerations are secondary. These preferences are reflected in what the polities do, how they behave. They swoop in with incredible speed and force to bail out the financial sectors in which creditors are invested, trampling over prior norms and laws as necessary. The same preferences are reflected in what the polities omit to do. They do not pursue monetary policy with sufficient force to ensure expenditure growth even at risk of inflation. They do not purse fiscal policy with sufficient force to ensure employment even at risk of inflation. They remain forever vigilant that neither monetary ease nor fiscal profligacy engender inflation. The tepid policy experiments that are occasionally embarked upon they sabotage at the very first hint of inflation. The purchasing power of holders of nominal debt must not be put at risk. That is the overriding preference, in context of which observed behavior is rational.

This is the elephant in the room that stifles any hint of progress through government policy.

155:

France actually has a slightly stronger natality than is necessary to renew the population, and also stronger than is typical in Europe. But yes, you get my drift.

156:

"Better examples might be the Nordic countries and other western European ones (France, arguably the UK as well) where population growth is at or just below replacement (the UK's population increase is almost entirely due to immigration) but there are better facilities for childcare. Although I expect the UK's birth rate to turn out to have nose dived since 2008 when the next census rolls round ..."

You would be surprised. We are presently living through the largest baby boom in this country since World War Two. It started almost directly in line with the economic downturn and the consequent layoffs, and fits exactly with the wave of immigration that we saw prior to it, in that the immigrants are now of an age where they want to have children. Typically they have made a bit of money or acquired some security and the results are showing in the form of stupid wages for child care (Which is so expensive now that it is becoming almost economical to simply stay at home and do it yourself.) and in the Primary education sector, where various types are signaling that the education system is lacking places in the better schools that everyone want to send their children to.

Overpopulation then creates pressures, in that the "on rails" middle-class mentality of getting your child into the right kindergarten otherwise they won't have a chance of getting into Oxbridge then means that this country is on track to produce a massive population of people who feel like losers and to an extent will be.

In the 2030 period, there will therefore be a lot of young discontented people in this country relative to mainland Europe where the birthrate is flat. One side effect of that will be the risk of social unrest, without even going anywhere near the ethnic makeup of the cohort who barely had a chance in the first place.

157:

Your problem is not inertia, it's gravity. Different problems, same mass (or two different masses with precisely the same value for a large number of decimals)

It's atmosphere, actually.

158:

I think the way you've phrased the security obsession makes it seem the elites are more forwards looking and intelligent than they actually are.

Also on children and education, I read today that there's going to be massive demand in large parts of England for more primary school places, the problem there being that the government is on track to privatise schools, thus increased costs to the taxpayer and nice kickbacks to the politicians from the profit making corporations running them.

159:

Can you name any of these things he might do with an Internet connection that would meet his ability to earn money?

I'm currently unemployed and possibly unemployable given my age and lack of a recent employment record that would withstand scrutiny. I've investigated many on-line work opportunities but most of them are scams or illegal or both. I've tried to sign up for Mechanical Turk and some other pennies-a-time ad-hoc jobs and got rejected after application, no explanation given. What is there out there that can earn a survival-level wage from behind a keyboard without possessing essential skills or a track record? Where are the employers with vacancies hunting for people like him and me to fill them?

160:

Yup, that's my experience as well - there's very few legitimate opportunities to earn money just using your internet connection, and they are very hard to find.

161:

>>Can you name any of these things he might do with an Internet connection that would meet his ability to earn money?

Learn to program, become an expert in some field and build a portfolio of works to show to potential employers and/or clients. You can learn a lot in 10 years.

>I'm currently unemployed and possibly unemployable given my age and lack of a recent employment record that would withstand scrutiny.

You are switching topics here. I don't know your situation. If you are 50 years old and need to feed a family, for example, then obviously you won't have time to acquire new skills.

162:

Why would anything drastic happen? I don't see much happening before genetic engineering changes the game completely (self-modification). Constant turmoil with war in some countries and peace in others.
Occupy Wall-street didn't work out, why would something else do the job? Since most unemployed and struggling people (like some here) are still surviving and despite the gloomy present no one is dying of hunger I doubt there is such strong motivation needed to really change the system. Simply there will be ones who do well and the ones who are not. Good and bad neighborhoods and constant change.

Actually, I think that everyone is richer now (simply tech made everyone better) but overall feel worse because internet makes us feel that things are changing radically.

163:

Genetic engineering has a long latency period. It will be a few generations, at least, before anything much comes of it. The first manifestations are likely to be a cohort of severely messed-up kids, which may be enough to discredit the idea completely.

164:

Nah, eugenics is boring. Who wants to wait several generations? Modifying an already grown human, that's where the money is.

Alipogene tiparvovec is just a beginning. :-)

165:

Yup. Agreed, so Jay I think we might be closer (30-50 years maybe?).

166:

I can program, people have paid me to program in the past but the skillset is a bit... dated, shall we say? Nothing in the past ten years or more to show to a potential customer, nothing to differentiate me from a dozen fresh-from-college candidates with summer internships at Google or recommendations from professors.

Build a portfolio, of what? Nobody's going to hire me to program something so what do I program to commercial standards that would make an impression on someone looking for a coder when the Google interns are queued up around the block for interview? That's assuming my threadbare CV gets me an interview in the first place. I am at best an adequate programmer, I have some skills in other areas of computing which would set me off from the hot young grads but those skills are also aged, ten years and more and there plenty of folks with such skills more up-to-date than I have and they also have internet connections.

I'm a long way on the wrong side of fifty employment-wise -- I get my bus pass next year but I've still got a bunch of years before any kind of a pension cuts in. Until then I'll keep looking but I really don't expect to find anything while restraining my opinions of those who say "let them eat cake".

167:

Ooooh, learn to programme. Of course.

Programming cannot be mastered properly without some serious background education. Furthermore, all he would be doing is join the cohorts of the modern proletariat, and adopt one of the most stressful careers in existence.

168:

According to what he wrote, in 10 years he may be joining the cohorts of the homeless. I'm not sure if that's better than being "the modern proletariat".

Also, LOL, "proletariat". The modern proletariat is in China, assembling iPhones, and in Bangladesh, disassembling ships.

I'm not saying that learning to program is a 100% solution, but it's better than nothing.

169:

I'm a few years younger than Our Host. Like him, "culturally I'm an early type specimen of Generation X."

I come from blue-collar origins, but I have a professional credential obtained by dint of vast borrowing. I don't use it anymore, but I still owe on it; that debt likely won't be paid off in my lifetime, unless something unexpected happens.

I stopped using the professional credential because I found an internet-economy thing to do, that I loved, that paid just as well as the profession ... for awhile. It's drying up, has been for awhile, due to technological and cultural shifts. And in the meantime, my profession was one of the ones that automated away the need for great swathes of itself. Oopsie. The educational debt, though, that didn't automate itself away.

This is not a "woe, me" tale. I have (most of) my health, newly in 2014 I have subsidized health insurance of a low sort thanks to recent reforms in the USA, I have an education and some few writing skills, I have an acceptable internet connection and several small online businesses that provide diverse (if diminishing) income streams. One way and another, I manage to pay my most essential bills. Security diminishes, but not essential comfort, at least not yet.

But: the future looks even less secure. I'm getting older, the weather is going to get worse (or at least less predictable) every year for the rest of my life, and the pace of change continues to accelerate while my brain ages and grows slower at adjusting to the changes. How long, I sometimes wonder, will I remain adept at squeezing even modest money out of the internet cloud and into my pocket?

One of my own old-fashioned hedges against future insecurity is one nobody in this thread has mentioned yet: planting fruit trees. And other perennial food crops, from asparagus to walnuts. I'm talking permaculture-style perennial food-forest polycultures, on crap land with hand tools, no money, and virtually no off-site inputs except for seeds and knowledge. Done right (I'm still learning) it's very resilient to crazy weather. A hardworking youngster in a temperate-or-better climate can achieve total food self-sufficiency on rather less than an acre. My own goal, with more land available, is much more modest: I'm merely hoping to supplement what might otherwise be a very plain and unhealthy poverty diet in my declining years. There's lots of ways this world could go, but in case it involves cultural and political instability, poverty for the masses, and generalized food insecurity, I figure that there's no downside to having dietary inputs of fresh nutritious fruits, vegetables, and nuts. With, at least, some potential for modest seasonal surpluses to be sold or bartered.

I realize this isn't much of a strategy for urbanites and people on overcrowded islands where land is dear. But you can do useful plantings on almost any land, no matter how unsuitable for traditional agriculture; which means that if you live anywhere that has a modest back yard or more, you could increase your security in this most old-fashioned way. It's a notion that's familiar to most of the world's rural poor; what's new (at least to me) is the notion of practicing it now (when I don't really need it) as a hedge against a worse future in which I might need it rather badly.

170:

Solar *is* predictable in bulk. Often up to a couple of weeks in advance - weather forecasts? And given the performance Germany is getting out of it (fossil generators are complaining about the competition cutting out their peak power cash cow) I suspect we'll all be regretting not buying it by the GW.

171:

if you're going to programme from home you're in an odd situation. You'll probably find you're competing on freelancer.com and other such places. Until you start to build up a reputation you'll be competing with students doing it for beer money, people in India and China doing it with far lower overheads than you and the like.

Once you've got a good reputation you can start to charge more but it takes time - unless you have a niche that people will come to you for and pay a good price from the start.

I did it the other way, having decent programming skills and education experience and educational development experience I had a niche set of skills so could charge top dollar. But as the niche dried up for a variety reasons, competing in the wider market (with much better programming skills) and needing to work from home for health reasons was pretty hard for a while, although it's better now.

My health reasons are different to the original poster's but it can be done. That said, as you might tell from reading between the lines, I've got the educational background to support it. I've got a PhD (although not in computer science), actually two different teaching and training qualifications at post-graduate level and the like. I also have no kids and no dependents. If I choose not to work one week and have no income (or, as this week so far, my health prevents me) then I can adjust my budget and my spending and live lean for a week or two to cope. I really wouldn't choose to work this way if I had a family to support, even if I was fit to work full time, unless my partner had a regular income and this was intended to supplement it. This also helps protect me somewhat from the stresses and strains of it being a full-time career I suspect - I pick and choose what I do very much.

172:

Right, so just because you can conceive shittier jobs (bargaining you go to Bangladesh...), he should be thankful and work for glimpses of illusion of getting shitty jobs here? By your account, the coal miners of the 1850s were not proletariat because there were slaves in the US. People do not want to be miserable, so when they are please show a little bit of respect a spare us the sociopath "get a job" lectures.

173:

OTOH I'm not supporting your side either. Programming may be an option for some people. But honestly? You're not going to get a full time job without an impressive portfolio or a recent degree. And putting together projects that in combination are better than benefits, depending on where you live and your circumstances, may not be easy.

174:

Your statement is true if the species is at the hard limit of its environmental carrying capacity, and that carrying capacity is stable. But the species don't decide to limit their reproduction; their population is constrained by the available resources (generally food).

I would say that population of modern economies (which by now includes Iran, Mexico, Brazil, and many others) is constrained by available resources -- namely, money to raise the offspring.

175:

By "predictable" that means you know in advance you won't have enough electricity to run the entire railway system during the day next week rather that it being a complete surprise. You can't run a full timetable in the evenings and mornings anyway when solar power is less available and night-time trains are of course completely out of the question. Same with water pumping, sewage treatment, hospitals and all the other benefits of modern technology which depend on 24/7 reliable power being available "on tap".

Costing out solar energy, even when the mythical "really cheap solar panels next year" (tm 2006) appear, needs to add in the price of the storage required to make solar useful in quantity. At the moment even in coal-burning Germany solar generators free-ride on a grid of baseload and peaking generators that can just about cope with its variability. Some reports put the cost of upgrading the German grid to cope with more solar and wind generating capacity to be 30 to 50 billion Euros on top of the cost of the turbines and panels and of course that money doesn't add any extra capacity, just prevents the distribution system from melting down.

176:

I started a response to your post with a copy and post of a small segment “Programming cannot be mastered properly without some serious background education." but then realised that the news item that I was thinking of locked into the entirety of your post .." Furthermore, all he would be doing is join the cohorts of the modern proletariat, and adopt one of the most stressful careers in existence. "

Stressful? Bloody Hell! My last job in British Higher Education Tech Support in a Major Department of a British University, that had LOTS of Foreign students, had a team that consisted of 6 people and of that team One Manager was off work for most of the best part of a year with clinical depression...no sooner did he return but he would find himself locked into the same low budget high demand situation that he had left and thus would go off on sick leave yet again leaving me to hold the fort with the aid of one of my remaining colleagues who was subject to anxiety attacks. Another of my relatively stable colleagues on the team was quoted to me as saying - after telling the latest Male Greek Cypriot student to stalk up to her Help Desk Macho Man fashion and demand a REAL Technician - that is to say not a Woman - to Go away and sit down and you shall have one - and to her fellow female tech “Do you read Terry Pratchett? Well it’s like having DEATH on call...and HE will be SO Pissed...third time this afternoon " and then she'd call ME this despite the fact that I wasn't her line manager and wasn't in her faintest shadow with regard to competence in I.T.

When I took early retirement when it looked as if my plans to avoid promotion were fraying at the edges as was my own sanity the powers that be- I think that in that year they called themselves " The Directorate " - solved the problem of not having me to call on by declaring that the entire teams function could be reduced to " Academic Technical Support " thus Technicians need never even see students and the Team could be reduced to Three persons..Problem solved!

Yep it was stressful all right even among the fake I.T. crew managers like such persons who might say... " NO, Lynn I do NOT want to know about the joys of programming in C++! I am not going to be put in charge of this funny farm wherein the PC stations are attempting to speak to me in the high pitched whistle of the Dammed souls from the next dimension but one. I sympathise with that poor sod of the other day that was banging his head on the computer desk and screaming “It’s Doing Me Head In!!!” I didn't mind dealing with that one but there were limits."

The thing is that was a British University of ten years ago with the tech available then. And now? Well I still maintain an interest even given that my mental stability is no longer in question. I haven’t been in the remotest danger of killing and eating anyone in Ages, AGES I TELL YOU!!! So this later news item fills me with a strange and distant Joy...


" Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction "

http://www.dvice.com/archives/2012/10/ethiopian_kids.php


Those Ethiopian Code Kiddies don't even realise that its supposed to be stressful!

I'm going to read that news item again! It really shouldn't cheer me up but it does.

177:

Money isn't a resource, per se. It's a political system that serves as a proxy for various resources, but does so imperfectly and has other functions.

178:

Within another single handful of years the main obstacle facing solar won't be cost-competition with other energy sources

Let's just say that reasonable people disagree in their estimates of how scalable solar PV will prove to be, and leave it at that.

179:

"Reading Peter Ward?" Guilty as charged. I'd read nothing but Charlie Stross but he doesn't write fast enough (Hint Hint). Still you did say "worst" and by their very nature predictions aren't certain. That's why predictions are different to memories (which gets us into "arrow of time" issues). I don't think a Canfield ocean is a high likelihood at 1000 ppm CO2 but I don't think it's out of the question either (we have records of it happening so it must be possible and the sun was dimmer then). Particularly given that there's enough carbon in "proven" reserves to hit around 1500 ppm and I can't see a situation where we stop burning before it's all gone. So that's the “worst”. What's the “Best Case”. Even if you don't kill the oceans and somehow ocean circulation survives the lack of temperature difference between equator and poles (how?) then you've got wet bulb temperatures over 35C that are only survivable with modern technology.

So any kind of modern humans living in a "we burnt all the furniture" world will *require* high levels of civilisation and high levels of energy production. I'm seeing 1930's Astounding Stories pulp tales set on tropical wet Venus. While that might have made good reading while waiting for the depression era soup kitchen to open, it's not a plan for human civilisation. Even the tales of daring do on Venus implied a backup from Federated Earth Base where you could get raw materials, grow food and build streamlined spaceships without having to wear a space suit while you did it. 99% of humans today have an income less than 34 000 USD per year. I can't imagine anyone on less than that being able to afford a super insulated house and an airconditioned robot farm. So that's a 99% extinction of humans given a *best case*. Always assuming that people's income is not damaged by almost everyone dying. Which seems unlikely.

180:

Weather forecasts rely on weighted averages of previous events.

We're seeing major circulation pattern shifts; weather forecasting is declining in accuracy, despite everything, and we have no ability to predict what the next novel pattern is.

For instance, the whole Polar Vortex thing was new; that hasn't happened before, at least not in the period of decent records. Is it going to happen again next boreal winter? Any answer to that is a guess. It might be a variously well informed guess, but it's a guess.

There's going to be increasingly much of that. ("How often will I need to go out there with a big brush and brush snow off the solar panels?" isn't a trivial question, neither is "in what months do I need to make sure the guys with brushes are on ready alert?") If we can't predict the weather -- and we increasingly can't, and it's a major major scary issue for agriculture.

Solar is important; solar is going to need to take a big slice of the energy input for civilization. It can't take all of it because there are things solar really can't do well, and process industry inputs where you must not turn the process off or down (any kind of electrolytic refining) is one of those things.

(Anywhere up above about 45 latitude is another.)

181:

Err, actually, I tend to differ somewhat. And it's not so much with the human rights.

First of, well, IMHO some narratives of Chinese history are somewhat bent towards

a) great antiquity
b) stability of institutions
c) lack of external influences

where I'm not that sure if these are all that remarkable if we used the same metric for, e.g. Iron Age Europe. After all, the Greeks and Italians still speak a somewhat similar language to the guys in 500 BC, the words they use for institutions are somewhat similar, and there are many continuities in culture. Yes, there were some minor problems, with the migration of Germanic and Slavic people, or the topover of the old religions, or the Black death, or... but then, err, there are similar episodes in Chinese history, and just because China 200 BC and China 1800 AD look both alien that doesn't mean they are the same.

And as for emperors, we could argue the Roman empire lasted till 1806 (Holy Roman Empire) or 1922 (Ottoman empire). It's all just a question whom you believe. ;)

Second of, historical populations are always somewhat tricky, but if you look at

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China_Europe_population_1000-1975.svg

the population development is somewhat more erratic for China than for Europe.

Third of, well, changes between Chinese dynasties were usually not that friendly, and there are plenty of dynasties:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynasties_in_Chinese_history

So, no, I don't think China that stable either.

182:

cahth3iK wrote:
Ooooh, learn to programme. Of course.

Programming cannot be mastered properly without some serious background education. Furthermore, all he would be doing is join the cohorts of the modern proletariat, and adopt one of the most stressful careers in existence.

You are overestimating the "computer science" background associated with the average successful computer programmer today. The advanced math, algorithms, and proper CS background are absent in most. And not noticed.

The highest level of programming mastery requires more, but it's nowadays often learned on the job (or indpendently, while employed) rather than in formal education.

This is not to diss CS programs. But, they're not where most of the programmers are coming from.

Regarding the stress level, this is more associated with entrepreneurial environments than with the programming (or IT) professions as a whole.

183:

Trottelreiner wrote:
...And as for emperors, we could argue the Roman empire lasted till 1806 (Holy Roman Empire) or 1922 (Ottoman empire). It's all just a question whom you believe. ;)

Uncle Charlie (Charlemagne) was many things, but not really Roman. That was a political statement, nto facts on the ground.

184:

Nojay wrote:
What is there out there that can earn a survival-level wage from behind a keyboard without possessing essential skills or a track record?

Today, all the information needed to learn current programming languages, and start engaging in open source software development, is freely available on the web.

Not everyone is inclined to IT work, web programming, databases, etc. Those who are, have excellent free educational resources available. It is entirely possible to learn enough to do programming or IT demos which will get you jobs, using only a single PC or laptop and entirely free software and tutorials. In many cases entirely legally using exactly the same software you'd use in production at modern companies.

If you are not inclined then this is not a good option, but a lot more people can do it than think they can do it. If you did it once, you can learn the new stuff. It's different, but not beyond comprehension. Even if you're older. My IT consulting company is hiring people well into their 60s now; some self-taught modern tools and technology in their 50s. Some came from entirely non-IT backgrounds such as HVAC, the military, or jobs in retail.

We're not hiring people who haven't demonstrated they are learning / can learn; but if you try you often can, and if you can, you should be employable.

185:

Well, yes, but then, we might argue if the Dali, Liao, Jin, Western Xia, Yuan and last but not least Qing rulers were that Han Chinese either. ;)

As already mentioned, seeing continuities and disruptions is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. And as also said, IMHO one could easily argue that Europe was more stable than China.

186:

Hm. Might want to read Curt Stager (Deep Future) and David Archer (The Long Thaw) for another viewpoint. Ward likes to be extremist, and he loves the Permian. On rereading Under a Green Sky, I liked it a lot less than the first time.

I'm using the PETM as my model for our future, but that's not exactly a mild change from the present. For comparison, in a PETM style future, cities on the Arctic Ocean will have plants and climate more like the present-day central Illinois or Central Park, both of which are about 2000 miles south. Mangroves will grow in the 25 meters of mud that has entombed most of London on the edge of the London Sound. That sort of thing.

The fun part (for nasty values of fun) is that we're actually setting ourselves up for a "two-tap" extinction event. The first happens over the next 200 years or so as we jack up the temperature. The second happens about 500,000 years from now, when we slide into another ice age without all the plants and animals that are adapted to the cryosphere, and no fossil fuels to add more CO2 to the air.

Just to take this into absurdistan , the end Devonian extinction event was another two-tapper. It coincided with the appearance and extinction of the first widespread tree genus, Archaeopteris, which formed huge, low diversity forests. There's a heterodox theory out there that Archaeopteris triggered the end-Devonian mass extinction somehow by fiddling with CO2 and nutrient cycles as it tried to take over the world. It's a low probability theory, but if it turns out to be correct, we'd actually be the second species to trigger a mass extinction, not the first. Of course, Archaeopteris didn't survive into the Carboniferous, but there have been lots of other trees since then...

187:

You are forgetting the Oxygen Catastrophe. It was the mother of all extinctions.

188:

Our Glorious Leader, Mr. Cameron, may his gruttocks fester, has been telling us how well his party has been doing on employment.

The historical figures are interesting. We have over a century of good figures on unemployment, although they have varied in what precisely they measure. And the only times when unemployment has been less than 1% have been during World Wars, when large numbers of young men have been given a uniform and a gun, and sent out to die.

What does "Giddy" Osbourne know, and why does he promise full employment?

But the long party-dominations of my lifetime reveal an interesting pattern. We have had long periods of both Conservative Party and Labour Party control of Parliament, long enough that the effects of their policies should be visible. On unemployment, while both parties have had exceptional years, the differences have been remarkably clear cut,

Things were not good when the 1979 election came, and the "Labour Isn't Working" poster wasn't an outright lie, but Conservative Governments of Maggie Thatcher presided over more unemployed people than there were in the Great Depression of the 1930s. There were more people in the country so the percentage was lower, the counting was slightly different, but the figures are available. There was a short-lived boom which coincided with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, but if Labour wasn't working, neither were the Conservatives.

And then Labour came into power and unemployment dropped, a lot. Did they cook the books? It would be a pretty huge change to get the difference that the figures show, because this chart shows a percentage lower than in 1979, a rise at the time the financial system almost collapsed, and another rise when the Conservatives came into power.

I don't think Labour can be proud, the numbers only look good in comparison to those for the Conservative years. But the Con-Lib Coalition has even less reason to be proud. The rate rose after they came to power, and David Cameron's much vaunted improvement only brings us back to the level that existed when he took office.

But the pattern seems clear. The Conservatives have routinely had a million more people unemployed than has Labour. And, while we may never get back to the levels of the late 70s, while we may never get back to the old Socialists, the Labour Party of today, the heirs of Tony Blair the warmonger, looks the best bet in a field of spavined nags that seem likely to fall at the first tuft of grass they see.

189:

Yes, the PETM is a nice gentle mass extinction. Hardly anything on land died but life was pretty tough in the oceans. I think Peter Ward likes the PT for a couple of reasons. First. He did about a decade of work on it, so it's close to his heart. Second The estimated temperature rise is about in line with worst case predictions for our own mass extinction.

Peter Ward may be extremist but you did say worst case. Actually Peter Ward isn't even the absolute worst. Low probablity predictions of worst case end with Earth having a surface temperature around a couple of hundred degrees and a surface pressure of 30 bar or so. Pitch black with our oceans being gradually lost to space. Much like a freezing cold day on Venus. If we push the climate too hard it could tip to that and that's another *stable* point. There's no coming back from that.

(paywalled) http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n8/full/ngeo1892.html

Warming a wet planet such as Earth would make the atmosphere moist and optically thick such that only thermal radiation emitted from the upper troposphere can escape to space. Hence, for a hot moist atmosphere, there is an upper limit on the thermal emission that is unrelated to surface temperature. If the solar radiation absorbed exceeds this limit, the planet will heat uncontrollably and the entire ocean will evaporate—the so-called runaway greenhouse. Here we model the solar and thermal radiative transfer in incipient and complete runaway greenhouse atmospheres at line-by-line spectral resolution using a modern spectral database. We find a thermal radiation limit of 282 W m−2 (lower than previously reported) and that 294 W m−2 of solar radiation is absorbed (higher than previously reported). Therefore, a steam atmosphere induced by such a runaway greenhouse may be a stable state for a planet receiving a similar amount of solar radiation as Earth today. Avoiding a runaway greenhouse on Earth requires that the atmosphere is subsaturated with water, and that the albedo effect of clouds exceeds their greenhouse effect. A runaway greenhouse could in theory be triggered by increased greenhouse forcing, but anthropogenic emissions are probably insufficient.

Let's hope that the "probably" from the last sentence is enough to save us. I agree with your basic premise, we should save as much as we can, because if we do manage to save the planet then it's all worth it, but I can certainly see the reason why there are lots of people in despair.

190:

Reading Deep Future now.

Has anyone else noticed that Charlie's blog is the only place on the internet where the comments are worth reading? People are polite. They exchange ideas and everyone learns something. If people disagree they respect the other opionion. It's like an alternate history novel.

191:

I actually learning more from reading this blog and its associated comments that virtually anywhere else. There are some seriously knowledgeable people here.

The discourse is indeed courteous, even when discussing such dismal and divisive topics as the apocalypse ;)

192:

Although since being here I obviously haven't learnt how to write properly!

193:

Well, in the words of REM:
Its the end of the world as we know it... and i feel fine

194:

To benefit from genetic engineering you do not need to modify whole organisms (or people). You don't even need to modify bits of them. No, what you do is genetically engineer add-on components.

This isn't a new concept. The basic human like myself, or OGH, or indeed any one of us isn't adapted to very many places. Clothing is probably one of the add-ons which defines us as human; it vastly expands the range of habitats we can tolerate. Medical add-ons such as glasses or contact lenses similarly augment us.

Now, consider what happens if we take an engineered organ and put it in the pubo-illiac pace (where replacement kidneys are normally put).

Hey presto, we have a brand new secretory gland that can be engineered to synthesis all manner of vitamins like vitamins C and D which mammals have trouble making. It could also act as an insulin booster, and as a B-vitamin producer which would allow humans to subsist on a purely vegetable diet.

195:

"Doesn't vertical farming requires horizontally arranged suns?"

Nope

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22129524.100-vertical-farms-sprouting-all-over-the-world.html#.U0-lh_ldWSo

and nope,

http://www.verticalfarm.com/

"Your 30-story farms will require soil, and tremendous amounts of energy"

Nope again,

http://inhabitat.com/indoor-vertical-farm-pinkhouses-grow-plants-faster-with-less-energy/

196:

Just as a point of information, if you're going to make it a vitamin B producer for a purely vegetable diet, you're unlikely to have to make it a vitamin C producer too, since fruit and veg, certainly fresh fruit and veg are excellent sources of vitamin C.

197:

If that's the future you want, you should be getting really excited about fighting antibiotic resistance; more antibiotic resistance means more chance to die because of a surgical procedure, and so is likely to imply less elective surgery in general (and upgrading your kidneys to allow a changed diet is definitely elective). There's also the medical ethics limits on "unnecessary" surgery - upgrading an existing bodypart is not regarded as a sufficient reason to operate. But that's a fixable problem compared to going back to the days where you got to choose whether appendicitis killed you via peritonitis or post-operative infection.

198:

Charlie,

I think regarding the economic prospects of upcoming generations there's one factor you haven't factored in, and it could change the picture a lot: inheritance.

While it's true that buying a house today is much more expensive than it used to be when the baby boomers bought their houses, it's also true that those houses bought by the baby boomers are still there. And sooner or later they'll be passed on to generations X, Y, and Z.

It seems to be very simple: if you have a society with a high ratio of house owners (like the UK) and a close-to-zero population growth, then statistically the same high ratio of youngsters will inherit a house at some point. Probably not in the crucial family-building life phase, that's true. But somewhere around going into retirement, which should ease their worries about their standard of living during retirement a little.

199:

well as a late gen X, early gen y with an economics degree and an MBA with specialization on finance, i can tell you, i have a job just because im actually cheaper than developing an informatic system to do what i do (not that they didnt tried tough).

Question of scale, mind you, you get those even in the cow products of large multinationals, turns out its just cheaper to throw meat at the problem than automate if there is not enough scale.


Thats what the future holds for the job market, no matter how smart, skilled and qualified you are you only will be hired/subcontracted if you are cheaper than automation, and automation is getting really cheap if your work is not specialized enough.

I dont think the top 5% are smart enough to realize that if at they dont throw the very least bread and games to the rest theyll be in trouble.

They are not keynesians in the sense that he predicted that by this age noone should have to work more than 25 hours to make a decent, dign, living.
They are neoliberals in the sense that they believe that the meat should be exploited to the possible maximum and the market should exclude those not able to be exploited even to their deaths...

200:

While it's true that buying a house today is much more expensive than it used to be when the baby boomers bought their houses, it's also true that those houses bought by the baby boomers are still there. And sooner or later they'll be passed on to generations X, Y, and Z.

So sorry, but no. (I speak as a Gen-Xer with a parent turning 85 this very day.)

What you're missing is the intersection of the phase 4 demographic transition -- decreased death rate and decreased birth rate -- with dementia and degenerative conditions of old age.

It used to be the case that people died off between ages 50 and 70, and the rare over 70 survivors were (in theory) cared for by their numerous descendents. But caring for an 80+ is pretty close to a full time job. We can either care for our parents ourselves, or pay for someone else to do so. And nursing home care ain't cheap. To make matters worse, it can be needed for multiple years. At £30,000 a year per person, a single parent with Alzheimer's may linger for 2-3 years in a nursing home, in which case you can kiss goodbye to your inheritance from that £250,000 family home: at best it'll give you a deposit on your own mortgage ... except at age 50 you won't be paying it off in your own lifetime.

201:

With regard to Websites/Blogs with polite and knowledgable comments sections, I can recomend two, Tetrapod Zoology at Scientific American-somewhat technical but easy to understand, and Why Evolution is true(Jerry Coynes site). What is noticable about both those sites and Charlie's is aggresive moderation

202:

It used to be the case that people died off between ages 50 and 70, and the rare over 70 survivors were (in theory) cared for by their numerous descendents. But caring for an 80+ is pretty close to a full time job.

So, I guess at least it solves the unemployment problem? /sarcasm

But, wait. So there is an old person, and instead of passing his house to his children he sells it to get money for nursing. But the house is still there. Who is going to live in it?

203:

But, wait. So there is an old person, and instead of passing his house to his children he sells it to get money for nursing. But the house is still there. Who is going to live in it?

Instead of being owned by the occupier, it ends up being owned by the buy-to-let empire that bought it from the distressed occupier's family. The end state of this process is the aggregation of capital. Which is part and parcel of the problem I've been describing: the more capital you have the easier it is to acquire more capital, and so wealth becomes concentrated in fewer hands while the vast majority of people are pushed into relative deprivation.

204:

Thanks, enjoying them already and seeing a couple of crossover user names.

205:

Well, in the words of REM:
Its the end of the world as we know it... and i feel fine

206:

It's then luck. (For rather sombre values thereof.)

In the case of my mother (who died on Good Friday last year, hello first anniversary tomorrow because we're going to count it then rather than the calendar date), she spent a while in a care home after initially coming out of hospital. Those months were expensive with a gross cost of £100/day. But then secondary cancers were detected in her spine, and after coming out of hospital for that treatment, she was in a nursing home. Nursing homes aren't (yet) charged for.

So a chunk of her savings/estate went on care costs, but the proceeds from the sale of her house were split evenly between my two sisters. We'd been expecting much longer in the care home, and for my mother's estate to be pretty much drained.

My father-in-law on the other hand died very suddenly a few weeks earlier. He complained of heartburn in the morning, and went to bed that evening never to wake up. Care costs - none.

(Yeah, last year was a bit shit for us. That's what can happen when the previous generation are into their 80s)

207:

Nursing homes aren't (yet) charged for.

Or more exactly, in this case, the nursing home costs were covered by the state, whereas the care home costs were not. The care home was visible from our house, the nursing home a street further away.

208:

Not sure if I count as generation Y or Z (seems to be some overlap in their use), probably more of the former as I was born in 89 but I'd identify myself as millennial.

The current situation for my generation is shit and looking forward there's no sign it will get any better. After university I was very lucky enough to have a relative able to pay for me to do a masters (not easily mind, they definitely noticed the money was gone). That ultimately resulted in me landing a PhD this year but there was a two year gap of sporadic employment, internship and the wonder that is having to move back in with one's parents. Most people I know have experienced some variant of this. With rising debt, crap employment, few opportunities and increasingly a stripping of services that we're probably going to increasingly need it's hard to feel anything but woefully pessimistic.

The infuriating thing though is how our generation is perceived by some and the ridiculously out-of-date advise we are given from elders who lived vastly more privileged lives. I can't count the amount of times during my unemployment I was told by middle aged or retired people that what I should do is:

- Apply for jobs not in my field
- Look to start at the bottom of the ladder
- Update my CV
- Did I not hear on the news that there were 10,000 new jobs this week?
- Look abroad for work because so-and-so's daughter now works in Canada and is doing great

The advise ranges from cripplingly patronising (update my CV? I have two degrees, of course I thought to update my CV!) to downright alien (I don't care how you started as a tea boy in a factory then became regional manager, that's not a career path that exists any more.

This has been a bit of a rant and I could rant on this topic for hours more, I'm sure everyone here already knows though. Just a thought on a particularly worrying effect on all this; the alienation between generations doesn't help solve the problem which is that a certain class of society is doing things to encourage this antagonism. Sure gen Z can look with derision upon gen X for their free education, low housing costs, employment opportunities etc but the same changes to public serves that have caused a nose dive in those opportunities are really going to affect that generation when they all start to retire.

209:

I full-heartedly agree on the UN with teeth, but I fear that this is even further removed in the future than the elevator itself. But, well, fingers crossed.

A UN with teeth would require a global population with somewhat similar world views of how society should operate. You see this happening in a time frame measured in less than centuries?

210:

I wonder though what it tells us that the core system survives over a large number of centuries is stable, enduring government, with actually a relatively small amount of revolution, civil war and the like to cause overthrow capable of being efficient and incorrupt?

Have you looked at the death tolls from regime change in China over the last 2000 or so years? WWII like numbers.

211:

Yeah. To state for the third time, for those who didn't read, I'm looking at the scenario where humans survive, because I think that's most likely. It's also the situation no one wants to look at, where we radically change things and our descendants live with the consequences.

I wouldn't call the PETM gentle. I'd call it survivable. The part where the PETM mammals were all dwarfed for 100,000 years should make everyone sit up and take notice. Hobbits of the Anthropocene Thermal Maximum, anyone? It's not like our descendants will have the energy from legacy fuels to free ourselves from the tyranny of such an environment.

Getting back to Peter Ward, it's not at all clear that he's close to right. The climatologists who are looking our carbon outgassing numerically seem to be talking more about the PETM, not the P-T. The P-T is Peter Ward's turf. If you start looking for the mess he's talking about (things like the clathrate gun hypothesis), there's not a huge amount of support for it yet. One problem is that methane's a resource for a bunch of bacteria, and in at least some cases, methane released from the bottom of the ocean never makes it into the atmosphere: it's metabolized by bacteria in the water, and the carbon gets absorbed into the ocean. This isn't a good thing, and even the "gentle" PETM had large swaths deep ocean anoxic zones.

212:

Simple,
why, whats to be gained at the moment other than prestige?
it just doesnt makes sense with the current technology level...

213:

"Ford understood that your employees are also your customers, but he was an exception. "

Note, this is a myth, for obvious reasons. From what I've heard, the reason that Ford paid so well was that assembly line work is very linear. If 95% of a labor gang shows up to work, that's a minor productivity hit; if 95% of assembly line workers show up, it can really hurt productivity. Obviously one staffs to cover expected absenteeism, but that also costs money, and Ford was a serious cost-cutter (he made the price of cars plummet). One solution is to raise wages, so that you have the pick of the labor force, and so that being fired would hurt more.

214:

>> According to stories filtering out of places like MIT, Princeton, and Stanford, the biggest thing the bright kids want to do is save the world, not get rich

"Possible selection bias here. Perhaps those who want to get rich don't go into engineering?"

What sort of debt do MIT and Stanford grads graduate with? Somebody commented on going to Harvard Law School, that a third of the class wanted to go into public interest law. $250K later, they went into corporate law.

215:

"At £30,000 a year per person, a single parent with Alzheimer's may linger for 2-3 years in a nursing home, in which case you can kiss goodbye to your inheritance from that £250,000 family home"

In the future an important marker of middle class status may well be parents or grandparents who offed themselves rather than submit to nursing care. If they didn't, you are either rich enough to afford it or burdened with undischargeable[1] debt you took on voluntarily[2] to support their necessary medical treatment.

[1] The argument being, of course, that normal debt isn't sufficient because everyone declares bankruptcy the moment gran finally dies.

[2] Voluntary is one of those especially fun words, isn't it?

216:

"You're not-quite describing TextSecure, which was recently integrated into the CyanogenMod version of Android."

Has the NSA/other people ever worked to insert backdoors into software at the start?

217:

For instance, the whole Polar Vortex thing was new; that hasn't happened before, at least not in the period of decent records. Is it going to happen again next boreal winter? Any answer to that is a guess. It might be a variously well informed guess, but it's a guess.

Yes it has. It is taught in meteorology schools. It was just that the term wasn't used much in the past that made the entire things seem new to people.

219:

Yep. Direct from nuclear reactors. Which might give 0.3 x 0.6 x 0.3 ~= 0.05, which isn't much but if you're the USN you're certainly not going to give up aircraft carriers.

As a primary input into an economy, one really wants to do better.

220:

The Polar Vortex as the ring-wall around the Arctic air mass, sure, that's a normal thing, driven by the Arctic and Temperate temperature differences. Having that collapse and spawn self-contained air-masses that wander away south while there isn't a polar vortex parked round the Arctic and the jet stream's getting a bit lost?

Dates of previous occurrences? Because so far as I know, just like NorAm's "Summer in March" when a tropical air mass did an analogous thing, that's new.

221:

Two winters ago in the UK.

222:

AND it means there's more and more political muscle dedicated to not admitting the entire current housing stock needs replacing with stuff that's designed for broader temperature ranges, worse weather generally, and isn't dependent on a furnace.

Which is a real problem; one of the things climate change does is make the whole current housing stock valueless.

223:

Just a heads up: In the Arctic, the clathrate gun started firing around 2008.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131125172113.htm

Exactly how significant it is in global warming terms is not entirely clear. Also, methane has a much lower lifetime in the atmosphere (14 year halflife, IIRC) than CO2.

224:

Have you looked at the size of the population in China at the time? Compare the death tolls to the populations and compare them to say the English Civil Wars (either of them) as a proportional exercise. Or the French Revolution and the various uprisings as a proportion.

Yes, China does really badly on absolute numbers, it always will. But if you look at flooding of any of their major river systems they have massive death tolls too. Absolute numbers are not always the winning argument.

When it comes to deaths by torture, 1 is too high. There, for modern geopolitics, absolute numbers is a winning argument. Charlie might argue, and I would agree, that we should aspire for a world where there are no more deaths by military action and there absolute numbers would be too, but in a historical debate it's not a useful addition to the argument out of context as you're using it.

225:

"So, if we are about to lurch back into recession, what effect will that have on today's batch of young people?"

Economically, people trying to rise up from their hands and knees to their knees will be hammered flat on the ground.

Politically, it's hard to say.

226:

"What killed Daiichi and not the others was bad luck and geography in that the tsunami was higher there than pretty much anywhere else along the Tohoku coast because of the shape of the seabed offshore."

I wouldn't call putting your back-up generators underground on a coastline subject to tsunamis 'bad luck'.

227:

"Any sustainable economy would have a much circumscribed idea of liberty compared to what we're used to. For starters, sustainability implies zero population growth, which means reproductive freedom has to go."

That was not an unreasonable view back in the days when Heinlein was writing his juveniles (although misinformed); today that's ridiculous. We see fertility rates *plummeting* whenever women get some freedom to do so.

As our host mentioned, TFR in Iran went from 6.something in 1980 to 2.something now. And that's during a time when the rights, freedoms and power of women declined sharply.

228:

" Another of my relatively stable colleagues on the team was quoted to me as saying - after telling the latest Male Greek Cypriot student to stalk up to her Help Desk Macho Man fashion and demand a REAL Technician - that is to say not a Woman - to Go away and sit down and you shall have one - and to her fellow female tech “Do you read Terry Pratchett? Well it’s like having DEATH on call...and HE will be SO Pissed...third time this afternoon " and then she'd call ME this despite the fact that I wasn't her line manager and wasn't in her faintest shadow with regard to competence in I.T."

English, please?

229:

"It seems to be very simple: if you have a society with a high ratio of house owners (like the UK) and a close-to-zero population growth, then statistically the same high ratio of youngsters will inherit a house at some point. Probably not in the crucial family-building life phase, that's true. But somewhere around going into retirement, which should ease their worries about their standard of living during retirement a little."

Or the house is sold to pay expenses during old age.

230:

Charlie: "It used to be the case that people died off between ages 50 and 70, and the rare over 70 survivors were (in theory) cared for by their numerous descendents. But caring for an 80+ is pretty close to a full time job."


Vanzetti: "So, I guess at least it solves the unemployment problem? /sarcasm"

Assumes money. However, the fastest-growing job category in the USA is things like nursing aides. The pay is probably a buck or two above minimum wage.

231:

"Exactly how significant it is in global warming terms is not entirely clear. Also, methane has a much lower lifetime in the atmosphere (14 year halflife, IIRC) than CO2."

Methane, molecule for molecule, is 10x(?) more effective than CO2, maybe more. A small amount of methane is powerful. Also, IIRC, atmospheric methane degrades to CO2.

232:

Charlie: "...but by the same token the retirement age is rising, because there's no way that working for 40 years can cover the costs of education and housing debt and a pension or annuity that will support you for another 25-30 years. Generation Y will probably work until they become too infirm, some time in their late 70s to early 80s, then experience the final 3-5 year period of decline in poor health and poverty if this goes on (because of course we're talking about the state of the nation between 2060 and 2080)."

The problem is that the labor market really doesn't need too many people over 40, and probably almost none over 50.

233:
And as for emperors, we could argue the Roman empire lasted till 1806 (Holy Roman Empire) or 1922 (Ottoman empire). It's all just a question whom you believe. ;)

Woah. A bit premature, there.
Napoleon gathered all the representatives and kings of the Holy Roman Empire to dissolve it in 1806, but Luxembourg wasn't present.
So Luxembourg legally inherited the Empire.

234:
REAL Technician - that is to say not a Woman

Odd. I work for more or less the BBC in a fairly technical capacity. There are 3 other men in my team. I have rarely heard a criticism expressed on the basis of the sex of the technician. But I've frequently heard it, and made it, because they're an incompetent or obstructive fuckwit (which can apply to both sexes).

In my view technical support are highly limited by the policies of the organization they work in, particularly if it's a big organization. The usual reason for not fixing my kind of problem is "I don't have the authority." (passwords, network access permissions, etc ).

Mind you, back in the 90s I was IT manager for a sex phone company, with diversified publishing interests! In those days 0898 was a license to print money. No one ever believes me when I say it was the least sexist workplace I've ever been in. But it's true! Dunno what it means, but interesting to me, for a given value of "interesting".

Oh, and by the by, I think we're doomed. My only solutions are:

  • a KickStarter that will last at least four billion years.
  • learning to brew my own.
  • how to make generic drugs. (Had a stroke in 2012, need drugs to keep living, apparently.)

  • 235:
    At £30,000 a year per person, a single parent with Alzheimer's may linger for 2-3 years in a nursing home, in which case you can kiss goodbye to your inheritance from that £250,000 family home:
    Instead of being owned by the occupier, it ends up being owned by the buy-to-let empire that bought it from the distressed occupier's family. The end state of this process is the aggregation of capital.

    Got it in one. But this needs to happen before anything gets done, what I earlier referred to as the great die off of the baby boomers. Then, and only then -- when you have the majority of people in their 40's living in relative poverty and no hope of improving their prospects -- will you finally see some sort of progressive social change. At that point, no demographic of the voting public (except, of course, the 0.01%) will have anything vested in the current system. As Waldman says of the government, 'Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors.' And when there's no incumbent creditors left to speak of . . .

    236:

    My goodness, but there's a lot of existential dread of the future going on here. Let me offer some alternate hypotheses. (Postscript: this got longer than I originally thought!)

    Remember, 30-50 years from now is about as far away as 1970.

    (1) Rich-world economies and overall standards of living will generally continue to grow, though more slowly than in the 20-30 years post-WW2. There will be a financial crisis roughly every 10-20 years and a major recession roughly every 20-30, but the sky will not fall and the earth will continue to rotate on its axis.

    (2) Economic growth in China will gradually slow down and stabilize to somewhere around the poorer European countries, maybe about even with Greece on a per-capita basis.

    (3) The ups and downs in real estate markets that our host referred to will continue, with a general upward trend and the occasional crazed bubble.

    (4) The Age of Technology will carry on, meaning that the world will be changing in lots of ways, and creating lots of new and un-dreamed-of stuff. Many people 50 years from now will be doing jobs, or perhaps doing not-exactly-a-job "things", that don't exist today.

    (5) On the flip side of that Age of Technology, a lot fewer people will be needed for the mass-employment jobs of today. For many (perhaps most) people, the ability to adapt to constantly changing new technologies will be a more important success factor than loyalty to a company and boss. (See "Accelerando" for one angle on this.)

    (6) People who successfully invent/create new technologies, or just new products, will have a shot at doing extremely well economically. But a lot of people will be very smart, and try very hard, and never really hit the prize.

    (7) For the bulk of the population, the standard of living they can achieve by doing ok in school, getting a regular job, and just sort of showing up and working hard, will be disappointing. Even though in terms of material well-being it'll be pretty good by today's standards. (Fantastic, by the standards of the 50s and 60s.)

    (8) Food and possessions will get cheaper and cheaper. Living space, professional prominence, social status, and status symbols will not.

    (9) Space travel, climate change, and fusion power will continue to be big things, looming on the horizon, with uncertain futures. None of them will change the world in the next couple of decades.

    (10) Alternate sources of energy (from nuclear power to shale gas) will make the Middle East and Russia less and less important for global politics. Russia may fade away ... or it may try to make a grab while it still can.

    (11) Birthrates will generally to continue to slow, while life expectancies increase, resulting in lots of retirement-age people compared with the working-age population. One of the critical open questions is whether medical progress will keep up with this. If not, then a large infirm elderly population may mean that we need all the labor-saving, job-killing productivity improvements we can get, and then some.

    237:

    " Then, and only then -- when you have the majority of people in their 40's living in relative poverty and no hope of improving their prospects -- will you finally see some sort of progressive social change. At that point, no demographic of the voting public (except, of course, the 0.01%) will have anything vested in the current system."

    First, there will always be 5% or 10% doing quite well (anthe prosperous peasant, the baliff, the miller, the village priest). They will support the system, as middle/lower level managers do.

    Second, there will always be another 10-20% who can make a half-way decent living providing the muscle.

    Third, look around the world; a system which overwhelmingly benefits the 1% and f---s 3/4 of the rest of the people is quite doable.

    238:

    The problem is that the labor market really doesn't need too many people over 40, and probably almost none over 50.

    Sure it does. Plenty of professions now a days take decades to become an expert it. Doctor, lawyer, senior accountant, senior management, scientist etc. That's not to say a worker in these fields is useless up until this point but they benefit from older, experienced workers who tend to be at a more senior position.

    If anything I'd say that the labour market is moving towards a situation where the middle of entry and senior level isn't needed. There are plenty of jobs for people who are experts in a field and plenty of minimum wage jobs at the bottom, but very little in the middle. I don't know if this is automation or what but it's worrying because it not only creates a stratified society it has no mechanism for those at entry level to move up.

    239:

    Yep. Thanks to Jay for the original post. HEre's the paper abstract (from: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v7/n1/full/ngeo2007.html )

    "Vast quantities of carbon are stored in shallow Arctic reservoirs, such as submarine and terrestrial permafrost. Submarine permafrost on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf started warming in the early Holocene, several thousand years ago. However, the present state of the permafrost in this region is uncertain. Here, we present data on the temperature of submarine permafrost on the East Siberian Arctic Shelf using measurements collected from a sediment core, together with sonar-derived observations of bubble flux and measurements of seawater methane levels taken from the same region. The temperature of the sediment core ranged from −1.8 to 0 °C. Although the surface layer exhibited the lowest temperatures, it was entirely unfrozen, owing to significant concentrations of salt. On the basis of the sonar data, we estimate that bubbles escaping the partially thawed permafrost inject 100–630 mg methane m−2 d−1 into the overlying water column. We further show that water-column methane levels had dropped significantly following the passage of two storms. We suggest that significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years. We suggest that bubbles and storms facilitate the flux of this methane to the overlying ocean and atmosphere, respectively."

    This isn't the whole paper, but it's worth pointing out that it's apparently a small release compared to what's already coming out of wetlands.

    There's more about this at http://www.methanenet.org/news/supersaturated-siberian-seas , if you want to get into the weeds on it.

    240:
    alternate history novel

    Which alternate history do you think? On alternate history I tend to agree with Science of discWorld 4. The battle was not lost because of a nail...

    241:

    A lot of these problems fall pretty directly from the increasing inequality.

    My favorite way to describe the inequality:
    If the income distribution in the US was the same as it was in 1970 median family income would be $90,000 rather than $50,000.

    So college, pretty expensive right? How about if your income was $40,000 higher every year? Problem basically solved, eh? Sure still less of a utopia than the nearly free higher education of the 60's and 70's, but the loans would be darn affordable... if your parents didn't just pay your tuition with their extra $1-2 million in lifetime income.

    I submit that it is pretty obvious that land is going to be unaffordable for 'regular people' in any highly unequal society. They will simply be outbid by the rich. When it gets bad enough the rich won't even bother charging rent anymore because it isn't worth the trouble. The poor in their slums are of no more economic consequence than the grass and the mice inhabiting an abandoned lot.

    I'm not entirely sure real estate is all bubble. It may be that we are transitioning into the kind of society where a tiny minority owns all the land, but have not yet adapted to it.

    242:

    8 and 9 are difficult to support.

    It's not especially likely we've got more than another two decades of stable agriculture. Once we lose that, everything falls in a heap.

    (Shale gas is of the devil; it encourages burning fossil carbon.)

    A hundred or so years later, once the climate mostly stabilizes (because we won't be pushing CO2 into it), sure, there could be stable agriculture again. You can even argue that with net precipitation up, total global agricultural potential might be up.

    Getting between now and then is the tricky bit; there's nothing at all that says anywhere on earth is going to have a predictable agricultural yield during the climate transition.

    We're not there yet, but it's where we're going.

    243:

    That's where it gets awkward. Probably it will take another century or two for the climate to stabilize based on carbon going in. Right now, we're supposedly (and I don't have a definitive source on this, so it may be bogus) experiencing the warmth of gas given off when OGH was born. With things like sea level rise, it could take 1000 or 2000 years for sea level to equilibrate, simply because it will take ~500 years for surface warmth to reach the depth, and longer if global circulation slows down.

    I tend to think we'll reach the 2000-4000 GT carbon emission range through a mix of sheer cussedness (e.g. resource wars and willful business as usual), methane emissions (although it looks like wetlands may be a bigger culprit that clathrates), and the cost of adaptation. This last is almost certainly the biggest carbon expenditure. We'll have to rebuild every port in the world multiple times, build storm walls, deal with population migration on a scale that dwarfs anything we've seen to date, rebuild after natural disasters, grow more food on less land (and although I'm a small farm enthusiast, even I recognize this will take industrial agriculture too), and so forth. The carbon costs of adapting to climate change will almost certainly be enormous.

    244:

    IIRC, atmospheric methane degrades to CO2.

    Methane is lighter, per molecule, than air. I'm not sure how much of it oxidizes in the atmosphere, compared to the quantity that just drifts out into space.

    245:

    I see no reason to believe we're going to keep any significant amount of industrial culture past the loss of agricultural stability.

    That there will be another one, sure, in three or five centuries.

    246:

    Unemployment figures contain a hidden trap. The figures are given as a proportion of the labour force not working. Obviously this excludes those not of working age, children and the retired, as well as those of working age who are not seeking employment. In the past a large proportion of non-working women of working age were be considered outside the workforce as not wishing to work, they are far more likely to be counted as part of the workforce.

    This trend has over several decades resulted in the proportion of the working age population who constitute the workforce increasing substantially. The unemployment rate has risen while the proportion of the working age population in employment has also risen, the number unemployed has risen and the number of working age people not in employment has fallen.

    The official unemployment figures both include some people who are going through the motions of job seeking to maintain benefit entitlement with neither expectation nor desire for success. And it excludes some people who are either seeking work or would do so if the labour market improved but are not on unemployment benefits, younger pensioners, some disabled people, some stay-at-home parents with employed partners, those with significant assets &c. they are seeking work but are not in receipt of unemployment benefits. These probably roughly balance.

    247:

    Negligible methane escapes into space. Earth's atmosphere is about 5.2 ppm helium and loses about 50 grams per second due to particles at the tail of the Boltzmann distribution exceeding escape velocity in the near-space region. Methane masses 4 times as much as helium, so the number of molecules reaching escape velocity at the same temperature is 0.5 as much, and the initial concentration is 0.346 as much, overall result being ~9 grams per second of methane escaping into space. That's if it's present in near-space at the same concentration as in the lower atmosphere, which is unlikely given atmospheric degradation mechanisms in the lower atmosphere. That would be about 284 tonnes per year lost to space, compared with annual anthropogenic methane emissions of several hundred million tonnes.

    248:

    heteromeles wrote:
    ... We'll have to rebuild every port in the world multiple times, build storm walls, deal with population migration on a scale that dwarfs anything we've seen to date, rebuild after natural disasters, grow more food on less land (and although I'm a small farm enthusiast, even I recognize this will take industrial agriculture too), and so forth.

    This is economically naive.

    Infrastructure has limited lifespan anyways. This includes buildings, ports, storm walls, etc. Sea level rises are a new wrinkle in lifespan calculations, but is only truly significant if rate of change exceeds the normal depreciation or replacement rate of the infrastructure it's affecting. If I need a new seawall due to natural aging in 50 years anyways, but sea level rise means I need a new one in 45 years instead, that's not an economic or systemic tragedy. If it's ten years, then that's a bigger deal.

    Property owners in low lying areas are looking at a long term decline in property values, which is real. But that's a different problem.

    The rate of societal investment in infrastructure dropped in the 70s, 80s (US based analysis, YMMV), and against that baseline it seems like a Big Deal. But even absent climactic change, the rate of needed replacement and maintenance is ramping up anyways, due to aging out of the 1960s and earlier infrastructure.

    There are limited areas where this is more catastrophic than others. Bangladesh is clearly one. Outlying areas of New York City (Manhattan can seawall the whole island). London.

    The San Francisco Bay Area, where 2/3 of our airports and 6/7 of our heavy runways are within easy sealevel rise inundation level. A lot of current freeways and 2 and a quarter of our 7 main bridges. But very little of our industry or housing stock is truly cornholed here.

    Regarding the ports thing... Ports are a bunch of docks, and storage, with freeways and railways in and out. They are entirely amenable to being floated on giant barges. If you're looking at a known steady rise then the one-rebuild case doesn't break even on floating them, but the two-rebuilds case (say 25 and 75 years out) does, so you probably build the next port on barges. Also makes it more resistant to tidal waves and earthquakes.

    249:

    The situation isn't quite analogous, since helium is at a more or less steady state in the atmosphere. Natural alpha emitters on Earth and solar emissions provide a reasonably constant supply of helium. After a little research, you do seem to be correct that most methane winds up oxidizing, not escaping.

    250:

    The San Francisco Bay Area, where 2/3 of our airports and 6/7 of our heavy runways are within easy sea level rise inundation level...

    If the rise gets truly annoying it might be deemed practical to throw a very large earthwork across the Golden Gate straight, hopefully with some big ship locks to keep the Bay Area port facilities useful. This wouldn't be trivial - the straight is only about a mile across but deep and given to powerful tidal currents - but I can't imagine that there aren't already studies of the damming possibilities in various filing cabinets.

    And since we're talking science fiction anyway, such a large project might be the only way to get Star Trek's Starfleet Academy built where it's shown; the FTL starships and easy teleportation look perfectly plausible compared to getting the paperwork for that much landfill through the existing regulatory obstacles...

    251:

    "I tend to think we'll reach the 2000-4000 GT carbon emission range"

    I hope you're right but it still seems very optimistic. That's a view point we're desperately in need of, particularly among Charlie's readers who seem a dour lot. I don't want to talk you out of it. If we can keep our emissions to that low level and there's not much positive feedback it's going to be important that we have a) had a discussion, b) made some plans and c) conserved as much as we possibly can through this hump and on into the much changed future.

    I'm part way through the "Deep Future" that you recommended. It's saying 5000 GT if we don't conquer short term human greed (Curt Stager and I disagree on the likelihood of this, see all the other discussions in this thread around concentrating capital at the cost of human misery). That's probably less than twice as bad as the PETM that I described as "gentle" (some people don't even put it in the list of "mass extinctions"). If the clathrate gun exists and it's fired, then the results are not like the PETM at all. The lowest estimates of Oceanic Clathrate seem to be around 3000 GT of carbon as methane. Methane over 100 years is considered to be 20 times more of a greenhouse gas than CO2 (IPCC). So that's equal to a release of 60 000 GT of C as CO2 in terms of greenhouse effect. Equivalent to 30 000 ppm CO2. That's about the figure that some researchers think is the amount needed to trigger a runway to a stable steam atmosphere. (link in #189). That's ignoring the methane from the tundra. Note also that the sun is putting out 2-3% more energy than it was in the PT. The Simpson-Nakajima limit for Earth is 282 W/m^2 and at the PT the estimated insolation was about 285 W/m^2. Now the insolation is 295 W/m^2 or thereabouts. So while the PT didn't trigger a steam atmosphere, that's no guarantee that similar conditions now can't trigger one.

    There's also thought there may be another 21 000 GT of C as methane under the doomed (never been ice above 1000 ppm CO2) Antarctic ice sheet (Jemma Wadham). Even if that methane is oxidised to CO2, we're talking totals of 29 000 GT of C as CO2. We're really getting well into runaway greenhouse figures. If it's all released in a burp of just a couple of hundred years then we're looking at an equivalent of 2-400 000 GT of CO2. That's 100 times worse than what you're planning for. Even if that doesn't trigger runaway it's going to be quite unpleasant. You'd have to expect that would shade the PT in terms of extinction percentages.

    If it does trigger runaway, then things are much worse. Converting the earth to a steam atmosphere is not compatible with any life that we know about. Even thermophiles will be toast in those conditions.

    I'm not saying that this is the probable outcome. There are voices that claim runaway greenhouse is impossible and they have good arguments. So do the voices that claim it's possible. I don't have the expertise to figure out who's right but it's certainly within the set of “worst case predictions”.

    I sometimes wonder if the concentration on sea level rise and minor warming is being driven by the fossil fuel industry. Ever one for a juicy conspiracy theory (particularly where there's giant pots of money and self interest involved) – the on going debate about minor things like rebuilding ports or people in far off lands starving to death takes the focus away from the things that the scientists are actually warning us about.

    252:

    scott-sanford wrote:
    If the rise gets truly annoying it might be deemed practical to throw a very large earthwork across the Golden Gate straight, hopefully with some big ship locks to keep the Bay Area port facilities useful. This wouldn't be trivial - the straight is only about a mile across but deep and given to powerful tidal currents - but I can't imagine that there aren't already studies of the damming possibilities in various filing cabinets.

    You'd put any dam out past the deep part, to the west several miles. The narrows are not the right place.

    But you can't do that anyways without damming the Carquinez Straight and piping all the runoff from nearly the entire state of California out to the sea anyways, and turning the bay into a salty lake instead of a tidal estuary, and that seems like Not the Point. Better / more likely to just abandon the lowlying areas over time where seawalls won't be good enough.

    And since we're talking science fiction anyway, such a large project might be the only way to get Star Trek's Starfleet Academy built where it's shown; the FTL starships and easy teleportation look perfectly plausible compared to getting the paperwork for that much landfill through the existing regulatory obstacles...

    Funny you should mention that.

    The ocean's only 30-40 feet deep out there, it's surprisingly flat fall off (only gets deep out where the shipping lanes start now). However, it's never going to get built as an extension off the land there; the California Coastal Commission has authority over state waters, their response to fill is "no", and everyone would flip.

    Can't go too far offshore, either, because the marine sanctuary starts not that far out. Also complicated by the San Andreas and San Gregorio fault traces offshore.

    HOWEVER...

    There's about ten square miles before you reach deep water sea lanes or the marine sanctuary, past the San Andreas, past the Territorial Sea limit (and thus Coastal Commission), in shallow enough water to either float a ginormous barge or fill, and where the biome isn't that unique or sensitive where it would actually be an environmental travesty.

    Far enough offshore that it would be easy to make everything visible from land look like a natural island with cliffs.

    One small island in between, at the San Andreas, to bring the underwater train tubes (SF Muni trains and BART) aboveground/water past the fault zone, with a structure which can safely absorb the next quake's fault offset. Also can be made to look natural from onshore.

    253:

    Yog-Sothoth is coming soon?? Well, I guess we have nothing to worry about then. Yog-Sothoth akbar!

    254:

    Yog-Sothoth akbar!

    I think you have a few too many angles in your Kaaba.

    255:

    I guess the word you're searching for is tsrakt. Add vocals etc. at your own discretion. ;)

    256:

    Hmmm. Something's weird about your numbers. I think what's got me scratching my head is that the Earth has been in greenhouse mode more often than icehouse mode (I think the ratio is something like 4:1). Where was all that methane (carbon) when there was no ice to contain it? That's a hell of a lot of carbon to sequester as methane in very shallow layers. What was it doing before the ice came along?

    If you're right, why didn't we flip into a runaway greenhouse hundreds of millions of years ago, the last time the Earth came out of icehouse mode? We've certainly had enough big eruptions to get the process going. I get the feeling I'm missing something here.

    257:

    I believe the proposal to dam the Golden Gate and turn it into a reservoir for the rest of the state was first floated in the 1950s or so. Daft then, daft now (note where the San Andreas runs!), but that won't stop people from proposing it.

    While we're at it, can we dam the straits of Gibraltar and generate power from the tidal flows?

    258:

    I think we're going to way overshoot the max CO2 emissions for 2 degrees of warming. I also think that as a result active mitigation measures will eventually come into play. Probably this century, definitely by the next.

    Solar radiation management approaches, e.g. artificial sulfate aerosols, are a band-aid at best. They could make things worse if they're used as an excuse to continue burning lots of stuff for a few more decades. A better use (I know, I know -- but let's imagine people can learn) would be to suppress feedback mechanisms while slower but more enduring mitigation measures come online.

    One of those measures could be afforestation possibly in combination with conversion of biomass to biochar. But that's a fairly slow mechanism for carbon recapture and biomass eventually oxidizes to CO2 again. Even as char it reenters the atmosphere eventually, though not as fast.

    IMO the best long term option is accelerated silicate weathering. The natural geological carbon cycle is that silicates of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium exchange with CO2 dissolved in water to free silica and form carbonates. The geological carbon cycle ultimately gets the final say, but it is slow compared to the biological cycle.

    There is more than enough easily accessible basalt in the world to soak up the emissions from all burnable fossil fuels. It would need to be crushed to something resembling coarse sand or fine pebbles and then distributed in near-shore ocean environments where wave agitation will keep it from forming protective crusts that retard ion exchange. Even under those favorable conditions we're talking interventions that operate on the decades-to-centuries scale. But if the outline in The Long Thaw is right, humans will have many centuries in which to regret past emissions and try to reverse their effects. The basalt-crushing solution requires vast scales, as befits the vast scale of the problem, but it is energetically efficient (maybe 10 kilowatt hours per tonne of sequestered CO2), scaleable, handles diffuse as well as point sources of CO2, counteracts both falling ocean pH and rising temperatures, operates fine with intermittent power sources, and the fix endures on geological time scales.

    What about the next ice age that humans would prefer to avert? Well, you can make nitrogen trifluoride with late 19th century technology, and it's ~17000 times as potent a GHG as CO2. If people still know how to make electricity they can warm the planet pretty easily; it's cooling that is harder.

    259:

    Hello everyone, and especially Charlie. You've been my favorite fiction author for quite a while now. :)

    It's funny that (the always excellent) John Michael Greer, on his blog The Archdruid Report, is talking this week on almost exactly the same subject in the post "The End of Employment" :
    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.fr/2014/04/the-end-of-employment.html

    An excerpt :
    "The difficulty at this stage in the process, though, is that a growing number of Americans are running out of time. I don’t think it’s escaped the notice of many people in this country that despite all the cheerleading from government officials, despite all the reassurances from dignified and clueless economists, despite all those reams of doctored statistics gobbled down whole by the watchdogs-turned-lapdogs of the media and spewed forth undigested onto the evening news, the US economy is not getting better. Outside a few privileged sectors, times are hard and getting harder; more and more Americans are slipping into the bleak category of the long-term unemployed, and a great many of those who can still find employment work at part-time positions for sweatshop wages with no benefits at all."

    And he's answering your question about what to do, and what is feasible to do, but I'm not going to spoil you, you'll have to read the whole post yourself. ;)
    Trust me, it's well worth it, even if it seems to go far from the topic at hand at the start.

    260:

    John Michael Greer is an interesting writer, as long as you remember what he is: a highly skilled magician who is trying to put a spell on you with his words. He doesn't write to rationally persuade you, but to *hypnotize* you. It's really interesting to watch him work his word wizardry, but good luck trying to have an honest debate with that Archdruid with asperger's!

    261:

    Heteromeles sez:”Hmmm. Something's weird about your numbers. I think what's got me scratching my head is that the Earth has been in greenhouse mode more often than icehouse mode (I think the ratio is something like 4:1). Where was all that methane (carbon) when there was no ice to contain it? That's a hell of a lot of carbon to sequester as methane in very shallow layers. What was it doing before the ice came along?”
    If you're right, why didn't we flip into a runaway greenhouse hundreds of millions of years ago, the last time the Earth came out of icehouse mode? We've certainly had enough big eruptions to get the process going. I get the feeling I'm missing something here.”
    Well the theory as I understand it is that there are currently 3 stable configurations for the Earth as the sun is now. Snowball, average surface temperature around -50C. What we have Now: average surface temperature around 15C and Steam Atmosphere: Average surface temperature somewhat north of the the critical temperature of water >374C. Three “strange attractors” as chaos theory calls them. Push the system a small way and it will fall back to the nearest attractor.

    The Steam Atmosphere requires that the radiation hitting the earth is more than 282 W/m^2. The last big outgassing of CO2 in the PT boundary the sun was putting out very close to that power. So there were at that time only 2 stable configurations. Snowball and What we have Now. I'm counting the midst of the PT as What we have Now because in broad terms it was. The previous big push was when the Earth jumped rather suddenly from one attractor to another at the end of the snowball, otherwise known as the beginning of the Ediacaran. All the greenhouse graphs start at the beginning of the Cambrian. Perhaps no one likes to see a nice graph spoilt by a greenhouse event that bumped the average surface temperature up by 60-70 degrees C. It basically makes the rest of the graph look completely flat (which in broad terms it is).

    Now the worry is that the sun has brightened by about 2-3% since the PT or 4-6% since the Cambrian and is putting out more power than is needed to make the third strange attractor possible.

    We could now force the Earth to switch from one attractor to another, just like it did at the boundary between the Cryogenian and the Ediacaran. At that time weathering was halted as the rocks were bound in ice. CO2 built up until the ice began to melt. When it did the albedo dropped, more ice melted and presto, the Ediacaran started 60 degrees hotter.

    Today we have a slightly different situation to the previous CO2 bursts. In the past the rise was quite slow. Spaced puffs of CO2 gradually warmed the world and the ice gradually retreated. At the same time there was lots of aerosols from volcanoes (the same ones that were spewing the CO2). Under ice methane was released gradually over hundreds of thousands of years and was reasonably promptly oxidised. It's not like that today. Now we get into some speculation by Jemma Wadham. (backed up by some measurements she's made at the Antarctic fringes). The Antarctic was a lush tropical swampy island with shallow seas piled high with organic matter. When the channel between South America and Antarctica opened the circumpolar current started that suddenly cut the pole off from the heat from the tropics. It froze over in short order, trapping that rainforest under ice. Since then that organic matter has been trapped in dark anoxic under ice liquid water. Ideal conditions for slow metabolising methogens. Their waste methane has had nowhere to go and has built up at high pressure and low temperature as clathrate. She estimates 21 000 GT of C as CH4 clathrate. If the Antarctic ice sheets slide off in more or less one go (as has been suggested) then that whole 21 000 GT decomposes into methane in one hit. This is a “bad thing”. That would decompose all the ocean methane clathrate, set fire to all the forests, decompose all the tundra into methane. The greenhouse gas levels would be high enough and high long enough to get us into the range that some researchers feel should tip us into the next hotter strange attractor.

    Currently when the ground gets hot it radiates more heat to space. That's negative feedback. In the next hotter stable attractor there's so much water in the atmosphere that it's essentially opaque. No heat from the ground can get to space. Instead heat from the top of the troposphere is radiated into space. That's the point where the negative feedback operates instead of the ground. The ground is decoupled from the feedback and can get as hot as you like. Indeed as it gets hotter, more water evaporates and the atmosphere gets thicker and the insulation better. That's a positive feedback, replacing the negative one. It stops when the surface temperature hits the critical point of water and the oceans move into the atmosphere.

    262:

    heteromeles writes:
    I believe the proposal to dam the Golden Gate and turn it into a reservoir for the rest of the state was first floated in the 1950s or so. Daft then, daft now (note where the San Andreas runs!), but that won't stop people from proposing it.

    It's pretty easy; see:
    http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/18649.shtml

    You run from Point Bonita to Mile Rocks, roughly. I've seen arguments that minimize dam volume plus or minus 500 meters of that line in either direction, but that's about it. The rough figure of merit is integrating depth^2 times d(length) over the chosen path, for either a singly-curved or straight line (if at all possible). On the scale of huge dams, piece of cake.

    San Andreas is around 3 miles offshore of that point:
    http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/science/condition/gfnms/images/fig7.jpg

    While we're at it, can we dam the straits of Gibraltar and generate power from the tidal flows?

    No point. Underwater power suffers from a plethora of source energy, and it's not even that diffuse. You drop inverse windmill like structures all over the bottom anywhere you have ocean currents (or anchored in place, in the currents, if they're not near the seafloor). In the Straights you just anchor them to the bottom and let the current go by.

    You lose a little total energy capture compared to dam and total-flow turbine, but surprisingly not that much, and at far far lower capital investment per watt.

    263:

    I should add, yes, the Golden Gate Dam is daft. I just like exploring the depths and depravity of some daft ideas.

    Far worse would be the Brazzaville Dam (actually a bit upstream, at around 3 24'30" S 16 10'38" E). That would both be technically easy, generate a ridiculous amount of hydropower (enough to industrialize sub-saharan Africa), and inundate the whole country of Congo more or less...

    264:

    I don't know about magician specifically trying to hypnotize you (though I'm aware of what you mean by magic in this context), but he's certainly a very skilled writer. However I also find the "rational" part of his arguments extremely compelling. Does that mean that I fell under his spell? :)

    265:

    The demise of the student grant was pretty much forced on the government by the decision to expand the proportion of the population receiving university education by something close to an order of magnitude. Receiving a degree - any degree - is thought to signal good future employees, regardless of whether the degree taught them anything of any use or not. So people who do not undertake what is in fact treated as three-year long aptitude test are penalized. If the government were to allow universities to award marked degrees only to those achieving qualifications which were vocationally useful, a large proportion of those currently attending university would not receive a degree, putting those who decided to go straight into work on an equal footing with them. Vocational training (doctor, nurse, engineer...) would be unaffected, and those attending university for the challenges of education would presumably not be affected by the lack of a marked certificate at the end. Some non-vocational degrees would still be required as preparation for teaching jobs. They could be treated as vocational - and marked so that passing students had all the knowledge they needed to teach to A Level, taken as a course after a vocational education degree, or lead only to a non-scored certificate of course completion with teacher training institutions looking at the student's course transcripts before deciding to accept them to teach that subject.

    266:

    Woo hoo, someone else that sees John Michael Greer as, at least in part, full-o-sh*t.

    I've been saying for years that many of his arguments don't hang together if you start teasing apart the assumptions - he makes jumps in his arguments that don't necessarily follow through; yet so many are willing to ignore the logic problems because they are seduced by the big statements.

    And I'd agree that his views on magic, though probably somewhat right, colour his behaviour. He's not seeking to explain, he's seeking to control.

    Not a scientist.

    267:

    Happy belated birthday to your parent. I hope that they are in good health.

    268:

    Changing the variety of degree granted, or even failing a lot of students would have little impact on total spending.

    In the us today higher education spending is about 500 billion. A fairly large amount to be sure, however government already pays most of that, so the difference between where we are and free higher education is under 200 billion. We could easily find that. For example the carried interest tax break for hedge fund managers and real estate people is 50 billion. I'm sure the expense is not massively more for the uk. It is simply less of a priority these days.

    269:

    Actually, as I understand it, John Michael Greer has a degree in ecology, so I wouldn't go so far as to say he's not a scientist. He's certainly more informed on his particular issues than the average, say, computer scientist.

    I also don't think he's full of shit. I do happen to think his numbers are off, but I'd scarcely rack that up to him being a magician. I'd group him with Peter Ward (who is a professor) on the alarmist end of the spectrum. Greer's problem, to the extent he has one, is that he's tied his wagon to a particular set of predictions. That's always a dangerous strategy, in that such predictions are wrong more often than not. I tend to think he's worth reading, but with the proverbial grain of salt.

    On the other hand, he's not a survivalist wing-nut, and I think he's extremely valuable for telling people who expect the imminent end of civilization to work at acquiring a bunch of useful skills, become a useful part of a community, and work together the people in that community to make a better world. To me, that's a far more praiseworthy message than either telling people to grab their guns and stock their bunkers, or not to worry, because growth and progress will inevitably see us past the momentary turbulence we're experiencing now.

    270:

    I've had some brief correspondence with Greer, and I had a similar experience. When I questioned some of his baseline assumptions (in my case, the whole polytheism thing), he couldn't really explain them.

    Some of his history is very questionable. On the other hand, you can't really hope to describe the history of a civilization in a blog post with any accuracy.

    I give him more credit than you do because it seems to me that he's not trying to control, he's trying to motivate. This partly explains his rhetorical strategy; given the choice between yet another argument with skeptics and motivating a believer, he tends to choose the latter.

    271:

    Ah. Okay, I see where you're coming from.

    Here's the deal as I understand it: the Cryogenian was (at a fairly good guess) a response to cyanobacteria finally starting to saturate the air with oxygen and to pull all the carbon dioxide out of it. That was a long process, because of the tremendous amount of material that had to be oxidized (iron, carbon, silicon, etc) before any appreciable amount of free oxygen could build up in the air, but we then ended up with a world without much of a greenhouse, but with a sun that was something like 25% dimmer than it is now. Hence, we got stuck with a couple of long spats of global glaciation.

    That's not going to happen now, first because the sun is warmer, but also because if life is good at anything, it's at moving carbon around, and the carbon cycle is one of the big drivers of global temperature. Life's second attempt at a deep icehouse came during the Carboniferous, in part because the world invented trees during the Devonian (which are really good at pulling carbon out of the air), but didn't invent really good tree decomposing technology (anything that can degrade lignin, including termites and advanced fungi) until the Mesozoic. The carbon didn't recycle back into the air as quickly as it came out, and a fair amount ended up getting buried in swamps. Those big Carboniferous coal beds were the result, but it's worth noting that a lot of that buried carbon got blown back into the air through vulcanism and erosion a very long time ago. We've been mining what remained.

    What we're doing now with plastics is a weak imitation of what the trees did with wood.

    I should point out that the geologists say that the configurations of continents and the prevalence of rapidly rising mountain ranges and trap vulcanism are other drivers of climate change. Rapidly rising mountains and lots of small continents increase silicate weathering that takes carbon out of the air on a 100,000-400,000 year scale , while trap vulcanism can blow a lot of carbon back into the air on the 10,000-100,000 year range, especially if the volcanoes burn through a coal layer. While some trap volcanoes are correlated with mass extinctions (Siberian Traps, Deccan Traps), the two biggest aren't, and the third biggest was correlated with the PETM. IIRC, the Siberian Traps were the 6th largest, while the Deccan Traps were the 10th largest). There's a lot of complexity here.

    The Venusian steam bath you're talking about probably won't happen for most of another billion years, until the sun is so bright that life can't compensate.

    Until then, the Earth has two basic configurations: greenhouse and icehouse. We're in an icehouse now, due primarily to the Himalayas (a huge, rapidly eroding mountain range) and Antarctica sitting isolated on the South Pole, surrounding by the insulating Southern Ocean. We can, by seriously jacking the carbon, turn our planet into a greenhouse world for 100,000 to 400,000 years, although most of the carbon comes out of the air fairly quickly. After that, we'll return to our regularly scheduled icehouse world, and there will be another ice age.

    Yes, this is Curt Stager's model, but he got it from David Archer, a climatologist who actually did run and publish the numbers, and most of his work is available online if you search for it. While that doesn't make Archer unimpeachable, I tend to find him more persuasive than someone like Peter Ward, who got the atmospheric [CO2] and [O2] model in Out of Thin Air wrong.

    272:

    "This trend has over several decades resulted in the proportion of the working age population who constitute the workforce increasing substantially. The unemployment rate has risen while the proportion of the working age population in employment has also risen, the number unemployed has risen and the number of working age people not in employment has fallen."

    I've seen the labor force participation rates for men aged 20-60 used to deal with trending issues; increased unemployment is very, very strong.

    273:

    "And since we're talking science fiction anyway, such a large project might be the only way to get Star Trek's Starfleet Academy built where it's shown; the FTL starships and easy teleportation look perfectly plausible compared to getting the paperwork for that much landfill through the existing regulatory obstacles..."

    Alcatraz would be an obvious place. After the Eugenics wars of the 1990's, and WWIII, it'll probably be of trivial historical significance.

    274:

    The trouble with near future SF is that it needs to project into the future. Most far future SF is about people of today. Too much change and the story doesn't work as fiction.

    There are some technological changes that really effect traditional fictional memes. Just one is the smart phone - which means we have ubiquitous information and communication with us at all times. Ignorance has been such an important plot element since fiction was created! And we have to expect the smart phone will disappear but these traditional fiction-destroying functions will remain and grow.

    So what do we do if nothing is private, not only from Big Brother, but from a billion little brothers as well? Small crime might be insignificant (with the possible danger of ubiquitous law enforcement). Big crime will still exist as it will have lawyers and law makers defining it as legal.

    If the future is near enough, we can assume pretty much that the crimes/sins we rate as most disgusting will still be valued as such. But the hierarchy of what society thinks are good and bad will change, as it always has. But would readers relate to societies that ranked good and bad so very differently? A lot of us wouldn't (for instance, in the past slavery, bullying, and even rape were relatively more accepted compared to many other crimes such as having the wrong religion).

    275:

    No, unemployment figures are given as the number of people signing onto unemployment benefits. Or did you mistype?

    276:

    Actually, there's a nice short cut to the future, courtesy climate change and sea level rise.

    If we assume that future sea level rise of a few meters will disable most of our ports, before sea level rise of a lot of meters destroys them (The latter could take up to 1,000 years, depending on how long it takes for the East Antarctic Ice Sheet to melt, if it goes), then we can safely assume that global trade will decrease drastically. It won't disappear, but it will depend on smaller ships.

    With that vast reduction in trade, we'll start losing all the technologies that depend on that trade. Chief among these are our silicon-based computers. They depend on a global trade network just to be built. Things like rubber will also be restricted.

    In a way, this makes talking about a warm future easier, because, in the absence of trade, a lot of our most rapidly advancing technologies simply won't exist. Victorian era tech (or Imperial Chinese tech, or Meiji Japanese tech) is about the level most people will work at. WWI at the latest. On the other hand, we'll likely see radical innovation in local technology, as people learn how to make stuff using materials from, say, within 500 miles of where they are (the 500 mile radius is because that's about how far a pack animal can go carrying its own food. Trading beyond that distance requires resupply, which prioritizes trade in things that are expensive and easy to pack). In the deeper future, most people will probably depend on local technology for most things, at least until the seas stop rising (that could be over 1,000 years) and stable deepwater ports become a possibility again.

    What does local tech look like? Well, it looks something like the past. Still, when you replace pot-bellied stoves with rocket stoves and so forth, it starts becoming obvious that it won't be exactly the same. Just similar. The fabled road to Samarkand may become the fabled road to St. Louis, for all we know.

    277:

    If we assume that future sea level rise of a few meters will disable most of our ports,

    I find it an unwarranted assumption. Ports -- which is basically docks and warehouses, -- are not that hard to build. If a port currently at a river's mouth becomes submerged, a town 30-50 kilometers upriver will find itself on the coast, and its current riverport will get upgraded to a seaport.

    278:

    If that were the case then you would find a very hard push to 3d printing.
    The energy problem and lack of rare elements will still get you tough...

    279:

    Charlie, I've made a couple of comments on your previous posts that I would humbly suggest you to read... since I provide links that I think might interest you as an author... but I'm not sure if the comments on old posts are still being read (but they fit better to those posts), so I'm re-posting this here.

    The comments are :
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/04/books-i-will-not-write-yet-ano.html#comment-1952780
    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2014/04/write-me-something-fresh-and-n.html#comment-1952783

    Hoping I'm not too much of a bother...

    280:

    Yes, Ilya, you haven't spent much time with planning, have you?

    Ports are enormously complicated beasts. It's not just the infrastructure, it's most especially the politics and more especially the ownership. I'm not greatly experienced with building port infrastructure, but so many big renovation projects take a decade or more that I think that's a safe bet for ports too. For example, I'm currently dealing with a development that was first planned in 1992.

    Then there's the business of getting all the materials together. There's only so much concrete made in the world. If, say, the west Antarctic Ice Sheet melts catastrophically (glaciers sliding into the ocean and fragmenting, which is what they often do), that will result in somewhere around 5 meters of sea level rise worldwide, but about three meters of that rise happens in a couple of weeks because the ice is already in the ocean. If we're lucky, we'll get a few weeks or a month of warning that it's coming.

    Once the ice is in the ocean, every port is about three meters underwater, and they're all screaming for concrete and other stuff to rebuild. There's only so much concrete to go around, so it takes many years for everything to be rebuilt. Then the Greenland ice sheet starts to go. Greenland could add another six meters of sea level rise. It won't all collapse at once, but each minor collapse could raise sea level by a single foot over the course of a week, and the rise would be permanent. More rebuilding.

    If we get hot enough, East Antarctica will start to melt. That's 55 meters of sea level rise spread out over the course of, well, who knows? East Antarctica will actually expand in coming decades because it's so far under freezing, but at 5000 GtC emitted, it might get warm enough to thaw (this would start 100-200 years after we've blown that 5000 GtC. There's a lot of nasty lags built into climate change). So we could get another 55 meters of unpredictable sea level surges starting after we've burned off every useful bit of fossil fuels and are living without them.

    Add onto that another meter or two of sea level rise from oceanic thermal expansion. This one is more predictable, but a lot slower. It will take up to 2,000 years to finish.

    That's how long it will be before we see stable sea levels again.

    Do you see the problem? Ports will need to be rebuilt over and over and over again, until there's no place left to build. For most of that time, we'll also have no fossil fuels to power that construction, so all that concrete (assuming we're using it) will have to be cooked with some sort of solar power. The concrete will also emit a lot of CO2 (if we use the old Portland cement recipe), and if it's reinforced with iron, it will last 50-100 years before needing replacement anyway.

    So yes, it's a problem. In fact, I'd say it's the biggest problem global civilization faces in the long term.

    281:

    Even in the Age of Sail water transport was cheap enough that sailing comparatively low-value bulk products like coal and wheat across oceans was done. Electronic computing and communication devices and their material inputs are more akin to spices for trade purposes. They are high value, compact, easy to stockpile, and don't rot if they take a week longer in transit than expected. A single clipper ship of the 1850s could hold over 2.5 million packaged iPhones (1139 tons cargo capacity for the 1851 Flying Cloud, 1.03 million kg, and iPhone in shipping package masses 0.4 kg). I would expect advanced electronics to be among the last products no longer traded globally in a world with diminished transport capacity.

    282:

    http://www.d-shape.com/ is a good indication that there's a solution to the concrete problem.

    283:

    Yes Heteromeles that's exactly where I was coming from.

    I don't agree with Peter Ward (or you) that ports will be an issue. I'm in a slightly unique position I'd guess among the disaffected geeks who read Charlie. I'm a commercial diver by trade and I've been on the sharp end of bridge and wharf building. It's trivial to build a new wharf from the corpses of dead trees. The tech is thousands of years old and works fine. Concrete is/was cheaper (when labour was expensive, that phase seems to be ending). I've built quite substantial temporary steel wharves (big enough for cranes that carry several hundred tonnes that are themselves thousands of tonnes) across beaches and then dismantled them a few months later, put them on trucks and built them again somewhere else. It's trivial. Expensive, but trivial.

    There are also “single point mooring” systems for any product that can be pumped (or blown, like grain). They can be set up anywhere and basically ignore sea level. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_buoy_mooring

    If that's not easy enough, movable offshore platform tech is off the shelf gear that can unload big ships and load small ships that then go up rivers to timber wharves.

    Permissions and planning is a huge hurdle, however the way seems to suddenly smooth when there's a few billion dollars floating around. Witness the recent effort in Australia. Mining Company “Need deepwater port here” [points to map]. Government “There's the Great Barrier Reef in the way of there, how about here?”. Mining Company “No, too expensive, not enough profit, want it HERE”. Government “No”. Mining Company “I've bought a newspaper”. Government “Ok, here will be fine”. Mining Company “And I want to throw the spoils from the dredging on the pristine reef” Government “Ahhhhhhmmmm, OK”. Planning approved....

    284:

    Actually, it's great to have a first hand report. Thanks. I've only seen the paperwork end.

    I'd agree that your methods work great, so long as you have lots of fossil fuels or some other form of concentrated energy. We'll undoubtedly use such methods over the next decades to century or so. After that, we'll have to build with wind and sun power (absent that little miracle known as fusion or some really good batteries).

    Trying to build all that with only solar and wind power gets a bit more interesting. For example, if you're building with wooden pilings, you need a forest within transport range to supply the pilings. With rocks or cement, you need a quarry. As you point out, the technology is quite old, dating back to the classical world. I'd point out that the logistics problems are equally old. If you want to build a wooden harbor, you've got to start by planting the forest for it at least a few decades before, and then you've got to make sure the wood is ready when you need it.

    That's the choke point: logistics. If you couple unpredictable sea level rises with slow responses (growing forests, quarrying stones, making concrete), it gets hard to keep the ports open. The additional layer of complexity is that it's not so easy to keep supplies ready, just in case something happens. Right now it's easy, because we can move huge things made out of steel the world to deal with problems. But keeping a forest of piling poles ready? There's are these processes called stand dynamics (forest dynamics in Wikipedia) and self-thinning that make it hard to keep trees of the right size available for more than a few decades. While someone could grow a forest to replace a harbor, timing it so that the trees are ready for harvest when part of the ice cap goes decades later is something I don't think anyone could do now.

    Quarries might be easier logistically (rocks don't grow), but then you've got to get the rock quarried and moved. That takes time and energy too.

    Still, it's a good discussion to have.

    285:

    That's true for the finished product. For the raw materials? It gets a bit more interesting.

    By the way, I've got to point out that one of the standard symptoms of societal collapse is the disappearance of technologies that have long supply lines. This goes back to the Bronze Age in Europe. When it collapsed around 1000 BCE, there wasn't any new bronze produced for quite a while. Old bronze was recycled instead, even though the demand for bronze didn't go away. Looked at abstractly, this seems insane, but for whatever reason (probably because they'd get robbed and murdered if they traveled far from home), nobody thought it was worthwhile to go get more tin and more copper to make more bronze.

    What we're talking about with computers is something much more complex than bronze. Computers are made from minerals brought from (or recycled) all over the world, to where machines built in multiple places are brought together to make the chips and other parts, which are transported to factories to make the computers, which are transported to where they're sold. Yes, a lot of this supply line can be collapsed into one place (say, China), but ultimately, there's bits and pieces from all over the world in that machine. You've got to have the lithium for the batteries, the silicon for the chips, the other elements to dope the silicon to make the chips, the gold for the contacts, the plastics for the case, the rubber for things like insulators and washers, the rare earths for the display, the steel for screws and springs, and so on. Each one has its own international supply chain and associated expertise.

    So when all the ports get shut down by a three-meter sea level rise, what happens next? The computers are made until they run out of parts, and then that line shuts down. If it's shut down too long, the workers have to find something else to do, and then it becomes hard to start it up again until you hire and train more workers. If the manufacturing machinery breaks while waiting for materials to come from elsewhere, it has to be repaired, and that takes both time and expertise that you've got to pay to keep on hand. A long enough delay, the manufacturing system fails, and you can't make that computer anymore.

    Note that I'm picking on computers, but many things in our global economy has the same problem. Fortunately, a lot of critical stuff can be made locally, but it's worth thinking about the things that require international trade to exist.

    286:

    Agree with most of your points and would add:

    1) Rich-world economies ... it took the middle class about 30 years in South Korea and a bit less in Mexico to get to about the same level as in the U.S. I think that most of difference in how quickly their middle classes grew was a direct function of how quickly they could gear up and sell to the G7 markets. This means producing an appropriate quality level, reliably. (Cheaper, shoddy goods don't provide for a large enough market opportunity.)

    (3) The ups and downs in real estate markets ... this is also subject to shifts in urban planning philosophy, not just transportation/energy costs. Multiple-use structures may become the new norm, i.e., work, live and play in the same building/house. The suburb which North Americans bought into actually has a poorer quality of life and is much more expensive to operate than a multiple-usage building code based town plan. This means changes in zoning are probable which in turn also means that more temporary/seasonal and affordable structures might also be built. Investigating such an approach would also be prudent if the severe weather we saw this winter continues, i.e., severe enough to destroy whole towns.

    (4) The Age of Technology - some experts say this means a greater need for soft/people skills, particularly for 'interpreting technology'. This means: story-tellers who can explain high-concept technology in dumbed-down language will be highly employable.


    (5) 'Wiki-work' -- open, work-as/when-you-can projects that can get handed off between individuals. The project is the new corporation in terms of hiring.

    (6 & 8 ) Inventors and innovators --- preferably of small, silly, every-day can't-live-without-it inexpensive goods. I don't see us changing into savers/keepers - especially as technology is likely to continue at a very past clip ... this means that new tangible products will have to be designed to be easily/cheaply distributed and destroyed ... without too much damage to the environment. This also means a new esthetic design sensibility-- minimalism because anything else would cost too much to produce in terms of design, equipment, transportation/distribution, raw materials and labor. (Clothing is an example of this - take a close look: fewer and fewer cuts, seams, stitches, plus all-synthetic no-ironing fabrics.)

    (10) Alternate sources of energy ... I'm betting on/wishing for a shift from big-scale to personal/household energy production/usage. Mostly because the newer products are getting more energy efficient - and we may see a shift from more durable goods that need to be maintained using energy hogs such as dishwashers, washers and dryers to more eco-friendly disposable goods, especially clothing. Basically, households will be trading their washers & dryers for the other home appliance, an energy-capture machine (could be any of solar, wind, geothermal, whatever).

    (11) .. medical progress ... we're producing a lot of Ph.D.'s in this area so the talent pool is there. If new drugs/technologies can compete on cost versus traditional home-care then that's where the new money (boom industries) will come from.

    Key point is to keep the money moving, preferably away from the old technologies/industries into the new.

    287:

    Re: The generational divide ...

    I don't think that any successful generation ever directly competed with its parent. Every generation has its own points-of-view, issues, advantages and disadvantages. Why would you want to live your parents' lives, if you can live your own?

    288:

    Might also be worth looking at the loss of skills. A good place to start reading would be Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/85397.Dark_Age_Ahead

    289:

    My parents were baby boomers. In a lot of ways they were way, way richer than my generation.

    290:
    If it does trigger runaway, then things are much worse. Converting the earth to a steam atmosphere is not compatible with any life that we know about. Even thermophiles will be toast in those conditions.

    Hmm, would it be survivable — as on Venus — at cloud-top level?

    That would be an interesting future... Not very comfortable, but certainly interesting...

    291:

    What we're talking about with computers is something much more complex than bronze. Computers are made from minerals brought from (or recycled) all over the world, to where machines built in multiple places are brought together to make the chips and other parts, which are transported to factories to make the computers, which are transported to where they're sold. Yes, a lot of this supply line can be collapsed into one place (say, China), but ultimately, there's bits and pieces from all over the world in that machine. You've got to have the lithium for the batteries, the silicon for the chips, the other elements to dope the silicon to make the chips, the gold for the contacts, the plastics for the case, the rubber for things like insulators and washers, the rare earths for the display, the steel for screws and springs, and so on. Each one has its own international supply chain and associated expertise.

    I think that a lot of this supply chain complexity is optional. It's been driven by decades of optimization for low labor costs and high specialization, with transport costs not a big consideration. Maybe higher transport costs end with advanced electronic products not produced at all; I think it's far more likely that it ends in re-consolidated supply chains. Something more similar to those dark ages of the 1980s when California's Silicon Valley companies literally processed silicon, made physical hardware and components of hardware, even did the final assembly and packaging work with Californian labor. Or something like Shenzhen today. If you have to connect 95% of your supply chain by railway instead of sea, on big land masses that still provides a "localized" production system extending much more than 500 miles.

    China has all the raw materials (lithium, steel, aluminum, silicon, rare earths, petrochemicals, gold) needed to make iPhones or other complicated electronics. So does North America. So do most large land masses. For locales that might need to import the more exotic materials to fill holes in their supply chains, like indium or gold, recall again that these materials are required in very small quantities and easy to transport. World production of indium for all purposes -- including hundreds of millions of LCD displays -- is under 700 tonnes per year. Gold use in electronics is under 350 tonnes per year.

    292:

    Someone wrote a book or article somewhere recently related to this. I read/saw an interview with the writer.

    His point was take two devices that were very common in their era. A stone axe from a few 1000 years ago and a computer mouse.

    The stone axe could be made by the user. It required some training to shape the rock and make the rope used to tie the rock to the stick but it was all doable by the user with training learned while growing up.

    Now take the mouse. How many people are involved in the making of a mouse from raw materials to ready to use. 100? 1000? 10,000? Likely more than that when you stack up all the machines and their parts and raw materials.

    This entire discussion gets back to some Charlie initiated a while back about just how many people would be required for a space settlement (or long journey) if you can't return to earth for spare parts when things break. This answer is a freaking lot.

    293:

    ... A long enough delay, the manufacturing system fails, and you can't make that computer anymore.

    Note that I'm picking on computers, but many things in our global economy has the same problem. Fortunately, a lot of critical stuff can be made locally, but it's worth thinking about the things that require international trade to exist.

    Whether or not is can be made locally is a small part of the problem. Do the factories and skills exist locally to make it. If the only places left that make the left handed control motor assembly are in Mexico and India and you need a steady supply of them to keep your factory running in Hungary, how do you replace them? While in theory you can gear up and replace any missing component of your supply chain, how do you replace ALL of them, (100s? 10000s) in a few years? Before your knowledge of how to build "your thing" starts to fade away.

    This entire discussion sounds a lot like the fall of the empire in the first book of the "Foundation Trilogy".

    294:

    I'm a commercial diver by trade and I've been on the sharp end of bridge and wharf building. It's trivial to build a new wharf from the corpses of dead trees.

    To me wharves and such are only a small part of the issue. You have to have an entire WORKING city to have a port. If you're talking a 3 meter sea rise, in many cases existing cities will have to be abandoned and/or moved many miles. And for the port to function there has to an infrastructure to accept the stuff and then take it somewhere. If the existing rail lines don't line up with (and may be no where near) the new location, you're hosed. You could go with rivers but again, you may not have the barges and locks on THIS river and have to setup an entire new infrastructure to do it.

    If we do get meters of rise quickly it seems to me that many existing ports will have to be abandoned and the area abandoned depending on the geography of the area. If this meter rise turns the 100 miles near the new coast into a tidal marsh, no port need apply.

    We did do this over the last 200 years or so but in many ways we were building on existing old ports and harbors that had been around for centuries. So the rail lines and roads were in many ways just upgrades to existing paths. Given how much effort we tend to want to put into preserving cities in places that make no sense (New Orleans and the entire lower Mississippi River anyone) would we have the political will to tell places like Miami or maybe 90% of Florida "Pack up and leave, we're not even going to try and save it." Because the efforts at that point have to go into creating new, not saving old.

    My understanding is the Mediterranean coast line is littered with abandoned ports where sea level rise or silting make them not viable as cities at some point.

    295:

    Surely we've got an idea of how expensive it will be to move cities and ports over the coming century? (And how much more expensive when carried out on an emergency basis rather than as a planned system of moves over decades - see the political bias against reality in the USA for examples).

    I mean, if I remember it correctly, even Richard Tol, well known for his lukewarmist hippy bashing, admitted in a recent paper that once we're past 2C of warming the effects of climate change turn negative, and he is notorious for understating the costs and overstating the expenses of doing something about it. I remember him telling me on a blog 5 years ago that climate change would cause less damage than the global economic crisis. But then thinking only in terms of money is wrong in every way anyway.

    296:

    Surely we've got an idea of how expensive it will be to move cities and ports over the coming century?

    Beyond "very"? Not really.

    There's (at least) four things going on.

    A stable sea level means reefs, including cold and temperate reefs like reef-building oysters (New York ate theirs. It's a problem when the place gets a hurricane), sandbars and other wave-action consequences are in place; raise sea level and those aren't there, and those are important when you're building a harbour because those set channels and reduce wave action and so forth. So, artificial substitutes required.

    Sea level rise goes along with other global warming consequences, like bigger storms; that means you get a problem of deciding what the safety margin ought to be fifty years in the future. That's tough, and it's very likely someone's going to under-weight something and have the city's storm defences fail. Then you have to guess how often that's going to be true...

    As sea level rises, ground water changes location, amount, and character. Some clays are liquids with no salt and rigid with salt; the usual problem has been the salt leaching out in what were marine deposits before the land underwent post-glacial isostatic rebound, but you have to worry about sudden marshes, ground slumping as it gets wet, needing new road and rail links because that bit's underwater upstream there or the bridge pilings collapsed because more water means more current and it scoured due to the effective change in shoreline, and bunches of similarly difficult to predict stuff. (You also have to worry about brackish groundwater affecting agriculture and vegetation and thus runoff, your port isn't just vulnerable from the seaward side, it's probably on a river and it matters what happens to the land around it.)

    Existing infrastructure doesn't dissolve in water, and it isn't very mobile; hauling the existing massive concrete wharf and breakwater structures out of the way presents resource limitation logistics issues in the same sense as "finite global concrete production" does.

    Plus, of course, most planning is an exercise in "what happened last time we did this?" "There was no last time" is a good reason not to trust the cost projections.

    297:

    Thanks David and all for the comments and criticism on this.

    One thing I'd add is that at the moment, glacial melt is not predictable. The climate scientists know that glaciers melt far faster than one would predict by assuming that they are big chunks of ice and calculating their melt rates accordingly. This is an active field of research. I for one hope that they figure out the physics of glacial ice melting* pretty darn soon, and that the data we need to predict when glaciers will fail and melt rapidly does not involve something like planting million-dollar sensors in the meltwater channels under glaciers, or some other dangerous, fiddly, expensive technology.

    This is one of the key choke points in understanding how climate change can damage us. If we can predict how and when glaciers will melt with some accuracy, then we can plan how and when to rebuild ports. If we can't predict that, our port cities are under an inevitable but unpredictable threat. David's correct in that sea level rise threatens cities, not just the working ports. As with New York, the problems start even before inundation, in that cities that are closer to sea level are more likely to be trashed by storm surges long before they are under water.

    *If you wonder why ice melting is so hard to understand, look at the physics of flame. Nobody really studied that until recently, when the international demand for less-polluting cooking fires in the developing world led to the creation of rocket stoves and similar high performance, high efficiency stoves. These stoves aren't materially complicated, just well designed to optimize flame production. Ironically, no one had studied a simple camp fire well enough to start optimizing wood stove design until the last two decades, even though people have been cooking over wood fires for hundreds of thousands of years. It turns out that dirty plasmas (e.g. flames) are kind of complicated, but fortunately they can be understood and optimized.

    298:

    Well it's pretty surreal to read all these doom and gloom when SpaceX just soft landed a first stage in the Atlantic, but I guess someone has to be the alarmist.

    Just some quick comment:
    1. For those living in a democratic country, if you're not satisfied with the political decisions your leaders are making, then organize those agree with you and replace them. This is a privilege a lot of the citizens in developing countries don't have, so use it wisely, it would also give you something to do if you are currently unemployed.
    2. For those who wants to improve themselves, there is no better time than right now. MOOC is pretty amazing, give it a try. And no, it's not just theory, there're for example hardware courses where you need to work on actual hardware, of course you'll need to buy the hardware yourselves. Also if you want to do some software work to build up experience, consider contributing to open source projects, there're a lot of worthy open source projects that lacks developers. I don't see this demand of more programmers dry up until we have AIs that can program.

    299:

    Congratulations you've just triggered my "Do not engage with a lunatic" alarm. Calling us alarmist for discussing the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns of climate change, and the undeniable massive difficulties they place us all under is the sign of someone without much grounding reality.

    See also that even if we get into space, it won't help things on earth much unless we do manage a giant sunshade.
    Also MOOCS are oversold and of dubious benefit; at present they are best used by the same kind of people who used to read "How to do X" type manuals or "A basic introduction to ...." textbooks.

    Also adivising us to organise to change politics is extremely patronising because you don't know what we are doing/ have done/ have failed to do because the forces of darkness are too strong.

    300:

    Every four years I get to choose between the party that consistently disappoints me and the party that scares the fuck out of me. I suppose, in some technical sense, this can be considered democracy.

    301:

    and criticism on this.

    Wasn't trying to be critical. Just making the point that a "port" without a surrounding transportation system and a place for all the port workers to live doesn't do much.

    Looking at the stories of the cities that grew up around the building of Hover Dam and for the Manhattan project, I don't know that a full real city can be built all that fast. And work to a decent degree. Of course if it's the only option other than "living off the land" it might be OK. But I doubt that many folks in the 1st world are going to like moving back to the US wild west or London 200 years ago. Chamber pots and sewage in the streets and such.

    302:

    And a word on China while we are at it:
    1. China's political system is relatively stable before 1900, it's an amazing phenomena. The dynasties do change, and some of them are not run by Han, but the basic system doesn't change much.
    2. But this stability came at a cost, it means the society lacks innovation, which is why they got beat up after the 1800s, when the west discovered science and technology. So if you value your civilization's long time survival, you don't want it to be stable, especially when facing challenges.
    3. Today's China is nothing like the old system, actually China only survived to today because it made radical changes, and it will need to continue to change if it expects to survive further. So if you want to learn something from China, then embrace change and value innovation.

    303:

    "Calling us alarmist for discussing the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns of climate change": Huh, where did I do this? I didn't even read the last few posts, I don't think climate is even a topic in the original blog article.

    "See also that even if we get into space, it won't help things on earth much unless we do manage a giant sunshade.": So what's preventing us from managing a giant sunshade? And there're tons of other benefits, mainly nearly unlimited energy and resources.

    "Also MOOCS are oversold and of dubious benefit": Please substantiate this claim, have you finished a MOOC course?

    "Also adivising us to organise to change politics is extremely patronising because you don't know what we are doing/ have done/ have failed to do because the forces of darkness are too strong.": Well if you're already doing it then it's not patronizing, it means we're in agreement. Of course it's going to be hard to make changes, but nothing worth doing is easy.

    304:

    Well a lot of people on this Earth doesn't even get to experience that technicality.

    305:

    You seem young. Go. Give all that a try.

    The young are full of enthusiasm and the middle-aged are full of disappointment, but you'll never really understand why until you personally get the idealism beaten out of you. When you do, we crusty old guys (and some gals) will welcome you back.

    306:

    Actually David, I didn't mean that you were criticizing me in that comment. I was thinking of the others that are. I do appreciate your support, and I should have made that more clear.

    As I noted above, I'm working on a book on the subject, and it's really helpful to me to get feedback both those who agree and those who disagree. I'm glad Charlie's willing to let this conversation continue, because the people who read this blog come from a huge set of backgrounds. As such, it's a great place to try out new ideas, because if they're totally bollocks, someone makes that obvious in very short order.

    307:

    Ah, that's an accident of your comment position in the thread. Ending a sentence with "but I guess someone has to be the alarmist."
    straight after one about glacier melting is exactly the sort of comment juxtaposition I have seen time and time again.

    As for MOOC's, you made the claim they're wonderful, so you can start with evidence for that first...

    As Jay says, you sound young and enthusiastic. Get on with it, we'll cheer you on/ join in as appropriate. But commenting on a blog isn't much of a start.

    308:

    I guess my thoughts on the matter are that if we have a 3 meter sea level rise building the wharves is not even 1/2 of the issue of keeping up trade.

    Now if this is really the near future and politicians buy into it then there's real money to be made in floating harbors with floating bridges back to hard land. Especially if they can be moved on a few weeks/months notice as things change. Rail and roads can be designed to adapt. Well except when "hard" land turns to march. Then it gets harder. The real trick is where to move the people. As I alluded to earlier we (in the US) have had a chance to deal with this after Katrina. But the uproar when this was even hinted at shut down that path fairly quickly.

    But riffing on the few comments ahead of this I'm less and less likely that ANY politician with an election cycle measured in 2 years will deal with anything more than 5 to 10 years out.

    And as a side note to the political comments here. Neither side will win many converts with a tactic of yelling in their face calling them stupid.

    Or pulling an Al Gore and telling us we all need to change how we live and then living in a huge energy sink of a home. And the other side does similar things. :(

    309:

    Neither side will win many converts with a tactic of yelling in their face calling them stupid.

    I find that when I call one party useless and the other horrifying, hardly any Americans disagree. They just disagree about which is which.

    310:

    True. One thing this has pointed out is that I've got an unusual view of what a port is. To me it's not just the docks, it's a shorthand for the whole coastal city. I'll have to be more precise in my language, and that's good to know.

    Still, even politicians with a four-year election cycle and a ten-year term limit are quite capable of engaging in long-term planning, especially if it is mandated from above. Whether they can successfully complete planning is another issue, and it's one reason I think that term limits are counterproductive. But that's another topic.

    David Kilcullen in Out of the Mountains, uses the great metaphor of the fish trap. The fish trap he's thinking about is a weak-looking wicker cage. It's shaped like a bottle, and the entrance is a funnel with all the pokey ends of the wickerwork there to keep the fish from swimming back out, once they go in. It's deliberately made to look as flimsy and easy to get out of as possible, then it is baited and left out on a reef. With knowledge about bait and fish habitat, it's good at catching fish, because all those flimsy strands woven together are quite strong.

    Kilcullen compares both non-state groups and states to these fish traps. The individual strands (laws, courts, customs, police, infrastructure, health care, financial sectors, social norms, etc) look individually flimsy, and the bait for going inside them (a safe, prosperous life) can be irresistible, but they can be very hard to get out of once you're inside the system. His example is the Taliban judicial system. Most Afghans don't like the Taliban, but even now their courts are known to be swift and fair (if you can tolerate their medieval standards of justice). If a farmer gets a Taliban judge to rule that he owns his land, his right to farm is backed up by the Taliban, not the Afghan state. He may not like the Taliban, but if he goes against them, he loses his land. He's trapped. Still, he would be in a different trap if he bribed an Afghan state judge to rule in his favor.

    We're all stuck in such traps. In theory, we "should" all give up our cars and so forth to save the world from climate change, but realistically, can we? It's not easy to get out of the traps we're in, because it often means giving up our livelihoods and our standing in society, and putting our families at risk too.

    311:

    I think it's easy to be pessimistic when you live in the UK it's one of the few places in the world where things have actually gotten worse not better over a significant period of time. North Korea also comes to mind.

    However, these places are aberrations and as Charlie stated for the vast majority of humans (the developing world )things are getting better and better across the board. For a significant minority (developed world) things a re also getting better in some areas and staying more or less the same in others. The few areas where things are getting worse is mostly due to flat out mismanagement by the oligarchs.

    In order to believe in a world where things get worse not better for a majority of people it is necessary to believe in an inflection point of some kind , sea level rise, nuclear war, pandemic, energy crisis. While all of these things are possible none are probably in my opinion

    The most probably, sea level rise, is on such a slow timescale that it's unlikely humanity doesn't geoengineer it's way out of it in some way, we are usually pretty good as a species at solving engineering problems

    312:

    Hi - Reread your post #50 - your book.

    Please note that I'm a long-time SF fan, but not a scientist, as my questions/comments are intended to reflect.

    Bad pun/good opportunity for exploring the 'fluidity' of civilization, types of business practice and social ethos in the midst of floods. I say this because I find it hard to imagine social permanence without some environmental/physical cues of permanence such as roads, buildings/temples/memorials that stay in place/where they were built, etc. I imagine that all of that would likely change following the 'Big Melt'. Also, I think that the biggest social obstacle will be in overcoming inertia specifically how it might relate to people insisting that houses, businesses, etc. must always be in permanent edifices would really mark someone/a society that is trying to hide from reality ... what is.

    This physical impermanence would also mean that holding onto to permanent even very small possessions would probably cost more ... you'd need storage, you couldn't just leave it securely behind because there's no place left where you could just bury it and it would stay there safely. So what would I value enough to cart along with me ... tokens of emotional/social connection, trade tools, and the smallest possible encyclopedia of my trade. I'm assuming that money and communications would be some form of water-proof, energy-saving device. What social stigmas would attach to 'physical ownership'? (This would also be a good lesson for planetary exploration, i.e., starship do's and don't's.)

    This 'Big Melt' scenario obviously means scarcity of land ... however there may be some services and structures that you would need/could only properly operate on land .. what are they, and why? Would 'fixed land' become a universal good --- the worldwide commons? (Why?/Why not?)

    Ocean dredging/mining ... since we're going be forced into learning more about oceans anyway, this is the ideal opportunity to really begin exploration and exploitation of the ocean floor. Because we still no next to nothing about oceans, who knows - this could open more opportunities and new ways of thinking than we can foresee about science and technology. The next great frontier. (Good practice for Europa - cross-learning opportunity.)

    313:

    For those living in a democratic country...
    Which the "USA" ia most definietly NOT
    It's an oligarchy.
    See HERE for starters....

    314:

    By the way, congratulations, Charlie, on your (cough, cough) totally unexpected Hugo nominations for Neptune's Brood and Equoid. I hope that having two in the running won't jinx you or anything.

    315:

    I'm certain Charlie has room for a rocket shaped trophy or two!

    316:

    Not sure the US is more of an oligarchy than Europe. Please note we at least got a modest stimulus package going. That's more than the UK managed - and our economy has recovered more. Admittedly that's like comparing a bad cold to the plague.

    317:

    There's a couple things to keep in mind about the current economic mess.

    1. We're not facing a robot holocaust - yet. That is to say there's little evidence we suddenly have a lot of unemployed people because the economy can do without them. Labor productivity growth has been modest for a couple of generations compared to post World War II and actually declined during the current crisis. I'm not saying we won't see work automated out of existence, just that there's little evidence for it now. When we see labor productivity growing at 4-5% a year, we know the robot holocaust has begun.

    2. We also don't have a structural problem in terms of worker skills. If we had a mismatch between the unemployed and the skills needed for available jobs, we would see wage inflation as companies fought for the scarce pool of skilled labor even as the unemployed languished. We're not seeing that either.

    So the current economic mess we're in is a good old fashioned Keynesian style depression. We can fix it by revving up the economy. This is aside from any concerned about global climate change or a future robot holocaust.

    Also bear in mind in the US at least the plutocrats depend heavily on elderly voters. There's a tacit bargain that current recipients of Social Security and Medicare will remain untouched. Once these voters die off, it's not clear what the next step is. So it might just be the UK that's doomed long run.

    318:

    That doesn't mean you're not an oligarchy. Just your oligarchs didn't get swayed by the latest bit of (fake) data and believed the old truth that you spend your way out of recession.

    Our lot bought into a set of data that ignored data that didn't fit their pre-existing model and a model from the 80's that said the economy of the country should be run on the same basis as a corner shop. Between the two - well you can see the mess we're in.

    319:


    We also don't have a structural problem in terms of worker skills. If we had a mismatch between the unemployed and the skills needed for available jobs, we would see wage inflation as companies fought for the scarce pool of skilled labor even as the unemployed languished.

    There's a widespread misunderstanding about that. Although that kind of mismatch is indeed a structural problem, you can easily get a genuine structural problem with different kinds of mismatch that don't work like that. For instance, the first phase of the Enclosure of the Commons, in Tudor times, was a structural problem; with the peace dividend following the end of the Wars of the Roses, magnates no longer needed recruiting bases on tap in preference to cash returns, and the opening export markets for wool made sheep more of a cash generator than tenants. That didn't mean there was suddenly a new kind of worker that was in shorter supply and who could demand more pay, but it was a structural problem all the same. (The earlier situation is also why landlords' revenues weren't always what drove such things.)

    Today, although we don't have "wage inflation as companies fought for the scarce pool of skilled labor even as the unemployed languished", we do have a splitting into the languishing unemployed and the overworked who work even harder than before. That does suggest a structural problem, from an economic mechanism changing its behaviour so that curves describing it reverse their slope. I have something on this area at the Ethical Spectacle site, in the January 2012 archives (I won't give the link so as not to get hung up in moderation, but you can google for my name and for professors Swales and Phelps on that site).


    So the current economic mess we're in is a good old fashioned Keynesian style depression. We can fix it by revving up the economy.

    Probably not, if we're in the trap I described. Or, more precisely, only in the same sense that the destructive spiral of congestive heart failure or appendicitis "fixes" things. The body reacts to a blockage by pushing harder, and now things get through. Only, that forcing also makes the blockage grow, so the body pushes even harder, and then ...

    So "revving up the economy" is a bad idea if there is actually a deeper blockage like that at work, and only a good idea if all there is is a coincidental shortfall of demand unrelated to any hidden vicious circle.

    320:

    Charlie, what are your thoughts on Peak Oil? If there are no technological solutions for the end of the Petroleum Age, surviving members of Generation Z will be scavengers picking over the carcasses of dead civilizations.

    321:

    On the broad theme of this post, "what is to be done?", it comes down to "what's this we, white man?", i.e. who is to do it and on whose behalf. I think it breaks down like this:-

    - What's my personal plan B (or yours, or yours...). I myself emigrated to Australia in 1989, so that personal trouble would have a softer landing even if I didn't manage to break out of a career trap I saw looming. And lo, so it came to pass.

    - What should this or that country try for, always supposing that those able to do anything by virtue of their positions will be anything but trapped in defunct thinking, even if they are willing to be anything but dogs in the manger. Now, I really don't think we can blast the politicians loose with anything less than dynamite, but if (say) some national disaster did it, the silver lining would be there. Then a country like Britain would need to arrange food security, whether by emigration or by locking in trade deals backed by securing the sea lanes, which is too last century but one to be workable short of a miracle. Countries with food security, like Australia, need to have enough protectionism to secure strategic industries (engines, liquid fuels or coal to liquid fuels, etc., and in general anything that feeds defence); they also need to fix the economic structural problems in various ways, e.g. with a Negative Payroll Tax and various other things that help investment, like S.A.Y.E. systems that really do feed into physical equipment (see my stuff at the Ethical Spectacle site in the January 2012 archives, that I mentioned in another comment above; I see google isn't putting my name on these comments, so look for P.M.Lawrence).

    It may also be worth quoting some suggestions I made to my brother in Lancashire a few years ago:-


    The cheapest/easiest small scale foodstuffs to grow are potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, beets, turnips and swedes, with - oddly - guinea pigs for meat (though you may need to put their brains in stews to avoid the vitamin deficiency of "rabbit starvation"). You may find the Dutch dishes Hutspot and Stamppot a good way to stomach that sort of thing. A Hebridean foot plough is even better for this sort of work than a spade; for both, their metal parts should be made of stainless steel if they are going to sit on a shelf until needed, otherwise ordinary steel is better.

    And here are some suggestions I gave as feedback for someone's recent presentation on Australian S.M.E.s:-

    - Factoring (from the get-go, as bringing it in can signal financial weakness and lead to credit being tightened). This is particularly important with overseas customers as it folds in currency hedging etc., and when there are large business customers in B2B work as those routinely stretch their terms of payment (it is unwise to drift into being a supplier to a monopsony, as opposed to holding out for special terms for that - and that includes government contracts, which should only ever be fixed price for standardised orders and have clauses that trigger a switch to cost plus for ANY change of request, no matter how seemingly minor as there is no such thing).

    - Downstream value adding co-operatives for pools of related activity small firms have precedents for working well/synergistically, unlike many co-operatives (see Australian Rice Growers).

    - Unrelated activity small firms can lower their costs of capital up to a point through co-insurance, say by a round robin swap of bonds, as this reduces their finacial risk and so makes it easier to get outside funds. This backfires if it is taken to the point of increasing systemic risk (think how multi-engined aircraft are safer than single-engined ones IF AND ONLY IF engine failures are independent AND single engine loss still leaves them able to fly - if not, subsystem failure means failure all round), so it should be reviewed and rebalanced continually and ideally should sunset automatically after being hands off for a few business cycles.

    - Firms typically have three legs, their specific operations, their marketing, and their finance (broadly understood). These are generally unrelated (though operations may match one of the other legs, e.g. in banking or advertising firms). It is important that these legs work together without the tail ever wagging the dog (hence the saying, "never make an engineering decision for accounting reasons"). This needs proper - soundly based and understood - teamwork, particularly since it is rare for one person to have the skills for even two legs, let alone the time and energy to do justice to all three. But much non-core stuff can be passed over to support networks, so long as responsibility for and understanding of each leg stays within the firm and the outside resources are merely on tap to take load off.

    - Traditional core banking used to exist; that funded firms' working capital, secured by assets that would self-liquidate in the short term in the ordinary course of business. That took off load in that area, and can and should be rebuilt using agent/brokers acting for lending syndicates (think the structure of Lloyd's of London); fleet leasing of operating equipment THAT COULD BE REDEPLOYED IF TAKEN BACK can do the same sort of thing for capital costs of a longer term nature, but that is not available and/or applicable for specialist operating equipment (so sale-and-lease-back of Melbourne trams, say, is not justifiable on this basis).

    - A good institutional structure for SMEs is, partnerships with full blown senior partners and anonymous, convertible, limited voting (just on matters specified in the articles so as to provide a protection against a fraud on the minority), limited liability (at least de facto), transferrable, preferred, junior partners (that would lose those features on converting to full partnership per the articles). Full blown corporate structures really only help larger firms, unless there are government distortions.

    322:

    As others have noted, rising sea levels won't disable world trade. Ports can move or be rebuilt over time -- years or decades, compared to the centuries taken for serious sea level rise. Railways still work. While base load power is desirable for electric traction, it ought to be possible to run a reduced rail service using renewables (hydropower in particular, or solar with pumped or molten salt storage).

    Nor are todays microprocessors necessary for running a high-tech civilization. Much of the development in our computers since 1970 has stagnated, substituting marketing-driven glitz for actual elegance and function. Lest we forget, Xerox PARC invented the components of the modern networked office -- GUI workstations, WYSIWYG document editing, ethernet, laser printers -- in the early 1970s; they did this with equipment that, though horrifyingly expensive at the time, is today laughably quaint. I'm willing to bet that by the time Moore's Law is played out, we'll see a gradual commoditization of the technology, efficiency driven improvements affecting infrastructure replacing marketing driven improvements affecting short-term sales, and finally the development of ultra-cheap nano-scale lithography so that chip designs a generation back from the ten-billion-dollar bleeding-edge fab lines will be achievable using local resources in a million-dollar university-department-scale fab room.

    We may end up with 19th or early 20th century levels of motive power available per person, but our deployment of it will be a whole lot smarter.

    (Finally, I think you missed the potential for bioengineering of crops and other products. From Freeman Dyson's gasoline trees, to alternative sources of rubber, if transport costs go up we're going to find ways to generate imported resources locally.)

    323:

    Hmm, would it be survivable — as on Venus — at cloud-top level?

    Much harder, if not impossible: "Steam Earth" is worse than Venus for our purposes.

    Reason: the atmosphere of Venus is about 90% CO2 (molecular weight: 48 daltons) plus other stuff (sulfur compounds -- oxides and sulfuric acid) which are heavier. Breathable air is a roughly 80/20 mix of nitrogen (28 daltons as a dimer) and oxygen (32 daltons as a dimer). So breathable air is a lifting gas on Venus, with even more lift per molar volume than helium provides in Earth's atmosphere. You can in principle build stratospheric Zeppelins and live inside the gas cells high above Venus, at the 1 bar/20 celsius strata. Yes, the external atmosphere is toxic -- but this is effectively equivalent to all those SF yarns about colonizing hostile planets and living in domed cities.

    However, an atmosphere consisting of steam has a molar weight of 18. So breathable air ain't a lift gas. We can in principle electrolyse the water to provide hydrogen for lift, and once the atmosphere is >99% water, it's not a fire risk (it'll naturally rise above our much heavier captive breathing gas layer if the lift cells above our Zeppelin city are penetrated) but we then have the problem of dealing with hydrogen loss (it diffuses through just about everything eventually).

    324:

    Europe is about 50 different countries, many of which share a common trade and legal framework -- but nothing equivalent to the US federal government.

    The UK is not Europe. The UK didn't get a stimulus package because George Osborne is not interested in looking after the little people -- his job is to protect the money of the owners, the 1% of the 1%. So low interest rates (and a low national deficit) are more important than economic growth, and keeping people off the unemployment benefits system (either by workfare or by low paid part time shit jobs, not necessarily above the poverty line) is a priority.

    I submit that the current UK government is committed to making the underlying economic pathology worse because they're economic libertarian free market ideologues (which is to say, shills for Big Capital).

    325:

    Ah, bother; I was thinking a hot-air balloon, perhaps a sufficiently large geodesic dome (Buckminster Fuller's Cloud Nine), but if the outside is unbreathable steam, that won't work.

    That would be the big advantage over Venus, if the outside was either breathable outright, or nearly so.

    326:

    Yes, "Port" definitely doesn't mean "City" in my mind, though it does mean more than "Wharf" which is what I commented on. Dampier is a port with a population in the attached city of less than 2000 people. Yet it moves over 100 million tonnes of cargo per year and services over 4000 ships.
    http://www.iss-shipping.com/Microsites/Home.aspx?msid=71&menu=Home
    Compared to the days when loading ships with ore meant lines of men with baskets on their heads, walking planks laid across ship's holds, the Robot Holocaust has been and gone in that industry at least.
    Customs, bond stores and agents are a different matter. However having been to Christchurch 2 years after the earthquake, it's amazing how much people can do in the way of temporary building in a very short period when the planning permissions people get out of the way.
    Thinking 30 years from now, perhaps temporary or portable building industry will be the place where people are employed. Interestingly a good chunk of the Australian population over 60 has packed up and pissed off. Where the cost of living in a proper house in a city has been too much, many have bought a caravan (trailer) and headed off on a permanent holiday. They're immune to problems of sealevel as they can just shift.

    327:

    Politicians on ten year term limits are for their first four years noobs easily manipulated by the permanent staff and lobbying apparatus and for their last two years focused on figuring out their next job.

    328:

    Climate change is measurable and happening. Sea level rise is *complicated*, it's not like filling a bathtub, it's not a linear process, and it's already rendering some previously habitable places uninhabitable.

    It's also the case that things aren't getting better for most people in the developed world; static wages, infrastructure decay, and so on are all obvious symptoms of the rise of a pan-national aristocracy united around a belief that they should have all the money and not pay taxes.

    As is obvious from first principles, to the extent they succeed in that set of goals, nothing works.

    They're mostly succeeding. (If they weren't, there would have been a much more robust response to climate change starting in the 1970s.)

    329:

    Re: Venus

    The noxious gases and damaging rays can probably be filtered out. I think that what will really make most other planets in our solar system unlivable for us is the difference in gravity. Body chemistry appears to be heavily dependent on gravity to get things (molecules of varying sizes and shapes) moving in the right direction at the right pace. We need more microgravity bio-chemistry experiments. Such experiments should also be carried out underwater under very high gravity conditions to help figure which bodily systems need to be prioritized for gen-modification for space exploration/ colonization.

    Hadn't ever considered the bio aspects of gravity before finding out how astronauts prepare for and live on the ISS. Gravity in most SF was and probably still is generally treated as an inconvenience or the origin-point for orienting our bodies relative to our reality's 3-dimensional axes, and not a key aspect of the bio-chem-physical life process. Before, I would have thought that upgrading my skeleton to some sort of handwavium super-alloy would be a no-harm-done good idea and give me cool Olympic-caliber athletic capabilities. Now I know that I'd be trading in most of my immune system plus various cells' regenerative oomph. Nope, not a good trade ... I'll wait.

    330:

    To take this in reverse order:

    According to Perez & Perez, 2009a, world energy use is running around 16 terrawatt-hours per year. World biomass can create about 2-6 terrawatt-hours per year, if we turn every bit of cropland to fuel plants. We can't make our way on biomass energy alone.

    The second problem is that we're already consuming about 1/3 of primary productivity as food. If we were stupid enough to turn our food into fuel, we'd starve. Indeed, that's already happening. There are good arguments that the US' rather insane focus on corn ethanol (which has a pitiful EROI) has driven up corn prices to the point where there have been riots for years in other parts of the world. I'm not going to go so far as to say that corn ethanol caused the Arab Spring, but I suspect it contributed.

    On a more local level, Bill McKibben's Eaarth, documents the plight of some farmers in Ethiopia who started trying to grow biofuel crops. They're starving. Farmers in India lost their land trying to grow jatropha for biodiesel. It turns out that plant only is economical under ideal conditions, and the farms they were trying it on were so far from economical it was a boondoggle.

    But the big problem is photosynthesis. You can do a very good approximation of how much you can photosynthesize off a piece of land by treating the foliage on that land as a single leaf. Doesn't matter whether it's C4 corn, CAM prickly pears or pineapples, or C3 pines or wheat (and if you don't know what the differences in C3, C4, and CAM photosynthesis are, you have no place in this argument, especially if you think biotechnology can wave this away), the yield is about the same. That's the fundamental barrier to growing biofuels: by doing so, we're taking away productive cropland or forest, and we need both more urgently than we need fuel.

    As for the microprocessors, you've still got the problem that nailed the bronze age: dealing with shattered supply chains, and bringing the knowledge home. Could silicon valley replicated the PARC devices? Perhaps, in about a decade, if they had no other choice. Could we run our infrastructure off their output? I doubt it.

    What happened in Europe at the end of the Bronze Age was the gradual spread of iron technology out of the Middle East. At that point, metallic iron had been around for over 1000 years, as a byproduct of copper smelting, something that smiths occasionally worked but usually discarded as not worth the trouble. The advantage to iron is that it was a local technology, not a global technology that depended on materials from multiple places. AFAIK, it took centuries for iron to become widespread, and it ushered in the classical age.

    We're in a similar fix with computers: they're one of our premier "bronze age"/global technologies (others being petrochemicals and rubber). Of course there are theoretical local substitutes, but there aren't any that are available at the scale we need to keep the world functioning at its current level, and there haven't been in decades. If there were, we could save trillions of dollars in things like military costs switching over, even with politics getting in the way.

    As for the ports, as David noted above, it's not about the gradual sea level rise from thermal expansion, it's about the pulses from big chunks of glacier hitting the water. The world winces when a place like New Orleans or New York goes under water after a storm, but when Shanghai, LA, New York, London, etc., etc., etc. all have their ports and low-lying neighborhoods (like Wall Street) flooded simultaneously, that's a global crisis. We're most likely to see these events hitting repeatedly. If it's bad enough, we'll see the worst of it hitting after we've run out of fossil fuels, so rebuilding and relocating each port will require power from wind, solar, and muscle. In other words, we're thinking about building something like the modern London using classical energy inputs. That's not going to be anything like easy, and it probably isn't possible, at least at the scale we're talking about.

    331:

    Charlie ..
    IF that is the case (even partially) why are "we" doing better than France, Spain, Portugal, Italy & about as well as Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium?
    Note I have omitted Finland, Sweden ... Germany is beginning to hurt, now, or so my frinds there tell me.
    The main attempt inside the rest of the EU seems, if anything even less successful that the boy George's err .. "masterly inaction".

    332:

    Hello? Venus acceleration due to gravity at the surface: 8.87m/s^2, i.e. 90% of Earth gravity. This is way closer to what we evolved under than any other planet in our solar system.

    333:

    See also ocean acidification, changes in weather patterns affecting food production, ongoing deforestation, destruction of ecosystems and their associated services, destruction of fisheries in the sea.

    All these are current ongoing problems that in some cases (e.g. fisheries) have already passed an inflection point - most fisheries are on the decline now.

    Your optimism is based on nothing.

    334:

    Didn't know that Venus gravity is approx. 90% of Earth's ... thanks!

    335:

    Economies are complex beasts, and don't stand alone. Osborne has shackled his plan to a very weird set of policies if the plan is to stimulate the local economy, the US went with the old set of policies and has done measurably better. Their economy is larger than before the recession for example, ours is starting to grow but is still much smaller than before.

    A lot of the rest of Europe can have internal policies (such as Germany) which worked pretty well but their economies are much more intimately tied to a number of others (France, Spain, Portugal for example) which have long term issues, and they also have enormous problems they've politically inherited thanks to bailing out Ireland, Greece and the like which are also screwing over their economies. In all fairness to Ireland, their economy wasn't systemically weak and corrupt - they really screwed down hard and managed to pay off these extra debts faster than anyone expected and they're now staggering back to their feet.

    But Osborne is picking and choosing the numbers he likes to say how great it all is. (He's not unique in that of course, he's just the one in charge at the moment.) Channel 4 news, The Huffington Post and others all point to other trends and say "But what about these numbers Mr. Osborne?" There are perfectly valid economic indicators by which we're doing rather worse in our recovery than France is! They're just not the ones that are raised in the government's statements.

    The classic example for this is the argument about taxes. The coalition is broadly correct* when they say take home pay for the average family has gone since whatever their chosen date was. The tax threshold rising to £10,000 has made a big difference there. Equally, the opposition is broadly right* to say the tax burden has increased so people feel poorer - VAT has gone up, fuel duty has gone up and so on, so the price of your staples has gone up. A loaf of bread has gone up nearly 50% in my local supermarket in the 4 years of the coalition government. My income has not risen by 50% to allow me to buy the same amount of bread... in fact for many people, their income has not risen at all in the last four years.

    * I'm saying broadly correct because, although the ONS get involved in the statements, it's notoriously hard to actually get hard data for these things. But More or Less looked at the figures and said both sets are reasonable guesses based on the best data available.

    336:


    Well, alright, as far as it goes, but, we are in the run up to the UK Election and somewhere amidst that run up we have the vote on Scots Independence...on which I am ambivilent, along the lines of many of us up here in the North East of England Have Scots ancestry but can't vote on Independence.

    Hey and also Ho! And Lack a Day too. Given the current Political Balance of a Ruling Party in the UK being more Right Wing than an Aristocratic VERY Right Wing Thing then the Scots are NEVER EVER Going to have a better stab at Independence... and yet they still might vote for serfdom to the tories for fear of somthing worse...dunno wot might be worse baring incursions of Alien Enties from beyond the boundries of space and time. Mind you we might already be facing that....


    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/10342039/Inside-the-Coalition-Iain-Duncan-Smith-was-not-clever-enough-claimed-Osborne.html


    There’s been a Burst of Tory Religiosity this Easter in the UK that is bound to sway the Tories of The Shire who WILL secure the Hobbit vote but the bookies have an opinion...

    “The Chancellor has built up a powerful team within the party and, as many have observed has made a point of ensuring that CON MPs loyal to him do well in re-shuffles.

    He’ll get a lot of personal credit for the recovery and could be in a strong position to run for the job if the Tories lose power next year and Cameron steps aside.

    One bookie has him at 15/1 for the leadership. Looks a good bet. "


    http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/03/02/reconsidering-the-case-for-george-osborne-as-next-tory-leader/

    337:

    Re. the UK's 'recovery', pretty much any countries economy will stagger back to its feet after you've smashed it down for 6 years. Like the market worshippers pointed at Chile back in the 80's to say their policies worked - after 4 years of 4 or 6% economic contraction, it was entirely possible to get a year of 8% growth, but the economy ended up still smaller than it was before the damage was done.

    The weakness of the UK's recovery is observed in this blog post, and taking 6 years to get back to pre-recession levels of GDP is absolutely nothing to crow about.
    http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/comparative-recovery/
    Per capita GDP sucks and will continue to suck for many years to come, so the ordinary person won't feel any benefit (whilst the rich run away with profits etc)
    See also:
    http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2014/04/08/waiting-in-vain-for-the-rebound/
    which makes it clear that the UK is not making up the GDP lost in the recession, whereas in the 80's and 90's it did so in 9 or 6 years, this time round it simply isn't and is settling into lower growth and all sorts of nasty things.

    Now I happen to think thats as much the lack of productive investment opportunities in the UK as anything else; why build a factory here or employ someone to answer telephones when you can do it cheaper in CHina or Nigeria or wherever?

    338:

    Re: "291: This entire discussion gets back to some Charlie initiated a while back about just how many people would be required for a space settlement (or long journey) if you can't return to earth for spare parts when things break. This answer is a freaking lot."

    Thought about this for a while a few topics ago ... may be worth revisiting as this would also apply sort-of to the scenario Hetermeles is looking into.

    1- Learning curve: First - assume that the people on your space craft/trip are not idiots, and are capable of learning how to use some of the technology. In my experience as a lay tech-user, it's the new stuff that total screws up everything that I'm working on. So if you limit the tech to a couple of core OS, and don't have a bunch of bored techies trying to 'improve' stuff on you, then you can expect your tech to last a bit longer than otherwise.

    2- Sources of error/harm - most of the problems I've had using my PC etc. were external sources - spam and malware. That is, I did not deliberately try to calculate pi. I'm assuming that the space craft is going to be a closed environment, so that means any screw-ups to the tech will likely come from people not dumping irrelevant/duplicate files, poor scheduling of resources, etc. --- I do not anticipate that these individuals will have enough time early on on their trip to start making and sending out unsolicited porn.

    3- Maximum total population size - there seems to be a rule somewhere that as the absolute size/number increases, new niches/segments emerge. If you can describe this relationship mathematically, you should be able to determine an optimal size/limit on the number of ITs you need. It's the new niches that are problematic, as they directly feed into numbers 1 and 2 above. (Number of generations of users would be a related subset of this with its own unique value.)

    4- Rate of new tech development based on computer-tech ... someone here can probably provide a guesstimate as to the proportion of 'scientific discoveries - all fields' over the past 3 or 4 decades that has been directly linked to increased computer power. While number crunching is definitely related to processor speeds and ability to handle large data sets, I'm not sure that insights/understanding are.

    5- Simpler/better, cleaner, more efficient algorithms -- this builds on "4" above ... as understanding improves, it's the software that gets better so that the demand on hardware drops over time ... for that application.

    The above does go 'loopy' after a while because these are inter-related variables .. but I think they're a good start for this exercise.

    339:

    IF that is the case (even partially) why are "we" doing better than France, Spain, Portugal, Italy & about as well as Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium?

    We're not: the figures are rigged. The "economic growth" logged in the UK last year was due to a property bubble inflating in London -- as sovereign wealth funds bought up premium properties as an illiquid investment vehicle. The total rise in the London property market exceeds the GDP growth for the entire country ... if you look at productive economic activity, rather than financial churn and property speculation, the UK is still in the longest recession since the 1920s.

    Spain/Portugal: had bad trade deficit issues, went for austerity, and now have huge unemployment. Italy: big-time demographic deficit (TFR is 1.4 or below). France: other issues (I'd point to the hidden history of political corruption under Sarko and predecessors that's slowly coming to light now). But the UK isn't doing terribly well ...

    340:

    " 2- Sources of error/harm - most of the problems I've had using my PC etc. were external sources - spam and malware. That is, I did not deliberately try to calculate pi. I'm assuming that the space craft is going to be a closed environment, so that means any screw-ups to the tech will likely come from people not dumping irrelevant/duplicate files, poor scheduling of resources, etc. --- I do not anticipate that these individuals will have enough time early on on their trip to start making and sending out unsolicited porn. "


    Too narrow a viewpoint. How’s about disgruntled - and underappreciated by the Powers That Be of the Political Class - Technicians? An Executive can have the Power to Decide but often really, REALLY, doesn’t understand these Techies who are, well ' If they are so important then why are they working at this tedious stuff rather than attending ever so influential power brunches with other members of the executive class? " The comparison is similar to that of Lecturers in Higher Education who have the political nous to be promoted into The Executive of any given institution rather than wasting time in actually teaching or doing research work beyond that necessary to gain back history credibility of the, " I feel your Pain for I was once as lowly as you " kind

    So, factor in the temptation that the Hacking Classes might have to shape the future in, say, that ever so far distant Space Colony thingy to the Techies ends rather than that of the ever so important members of the Committee for Ways and Means.

    Oh the sheer satisfaction of knowing that YOUR very own revenge is going to click in 500 years time. For the Best of all possible reasons of course.

    341:

    regarding the fate of Generation Z:
    Germany already feels the effects of its demographic shrinkage; my employer (IT) usually has trainees, and has increasing trouble finding any. At present IT companies don't have a huge problem with more people getting pensioned off than joining, since IT really only took off "lately" so most IT people are too young for that, but less novel branches of the economy are having enough of a problem that there are projects that get young people from Spain or Portugal to feed them into the German vocational training system.
    My point being: perspectives differ a lot by location, and tending towards a contracting population may not be a bad thing for the contracted generations.

    342:

    You are focusing a lot on software and intentional breakage ..

    Your CPU fan breaks. can you repair it? (I own a computer that's been in continuous operation for >20 years; it's on its 8th fan. All moving parts break rather sooner than later, but non-moving parts will succumb to thermal decay eventually too).

    The electronic welder you use to fix leaks in your hydroponics breaks. How do you fix it? Can you make ASICs from scratch?

    343:

    Not just investment in property or by sovereign, foreign, nations...


    " In less than ten years, a handful of the country's biggest funds have bought outright or own stakes in some of the UK's most prized infrastructure. That includes High Speed One, the railway line that connects London to the Channel Tunnel; Scotia, Scotland's biggest gas network; the ports of Southampton and Grimsby; Birmingham and Bristol airports and Camelot, the operator of the national lottery.

    They've also been part of consortiums that have purchased engineering company Tomkins and, in May of this year, software maker Logica. Just three weeks ago one of them secured a slice of the national game when Goals Soccer Centre, the biggest operator of five-a-side football pitches in the country, was acquired.

    Britain is far more open to foreign takeovers than large parts of Europe, the US and even Canada itself. Even so, it is hard to imagine such a land grab unfolding without dissent if the buyers were perceived to pose any political threat. Whichever angle you are looking from, it is hard to see one. "


    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/globalbusiness/9469070/The-Canadian-pensioners-who-own-Britain.html


    Most UK public service pensions are financed from current taxation. The exception to that general rule is, for example, the Local Government Pension Scheme that has a portfolio of various investments with a legal ability to fall back on the Government if needs be. Mind you the UK Government is eyeing the pension funds holdings hungrily and altering the investment controls just a teeny teeny bit...


    "Many local authority pension funds have told us that they are prevented from making the best decision on investments because of out dated rules which place limits on the amount that can be invested in infrastructure. So we are pleased that the Government has listened and has made this change.

    “Lifting this limit will remove one barrier, but there are wider issues that need to be addressed. The Government needs to undertake a comprehensive review of the local authority pension fund investment regulations to ensure that funds can act in the best interests of their members and council tax payers. We are pleased that the Government has committed to exploring the possibility of wider reforms in this area.”

    A new Pensions Infrastructure Platform (PIP) is being created to facilitate pension fund investment in infrastructure. The fund will be created for pension funds by pension funds. Its founding investors include the London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA), West Midlands Pension Fund and Strathclyde Pension Fund."


    http://www.napf.co.uk/PressCentre/Press_releases/0292_NAPF_backs_changes_to_Local_Government_Pensions_investment_rules.aspx

    344:

    Re: 337 'hacking class' & 339: 'software/intentional breakage'

    I'm imagining a scenario where there's a finite number of people recruited to specifically participate in a long-term exploration. This to me also means that the individuals will have been vetted/selected for certain aptitudes and attitudes, and probably hold near-similar ranks. So - in this idealized scenario, those are the constraints and decision criteria I've been able to figure out.

    The issues you've both pointed out are real however and would need to be planned for. The physical build of a computer system and its likely inventory is beyond my lay-person's understanding. I feel that the software part seems to be increasing in importance and improving in quality/reliability. The human element (disgruntlement/hierarchy etc.) is everyone's issue at any stage of a project. However, when you know that you're a peer amongst peers, then this tends not to crop up all that much and is relatively easy to fix. (This has been my experience from working mostly in ad hoc project-focused teams.)

    345:

    I've seen several startups dissolve into acrimony. The human problems tend to get worse with time, and it gets worse faster when the project isn't going well. A hypothetical space exploration mission might be rather similar, except with less room for error.

    346:

    "I've seen several startups dissolve into acrimony."

    When it seems like you're wasting your time, that somebody else isn't doing his share so it might all be wasted, then the temptation increases to bail out and go do something else.

    I think that temptation would be less if you were 50 million miles from the closest alternative and if the project fails every participant dies.

    347:
    Venus acceleration due to gravity at the surface: 8.87m/s^2, i.e. 90% of Earth gravity. This is way closer to what we evolved under than any other planet in our solar system.

    Actually, this is not quite accurate — Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are also pretty similar to Earth gravity; Saturn, at least, is closer than Venus (6½% higher, less correction for altitude of the hypothetical cloud-top colony).

    They have other downsides, of course, including the dearth of sunlight and the longer travel time. Plus, of course, having no chance whatsoever of being terraformed, which is at least an outside long-term possibility on Venus.

    Although if we're going to terraform planets, Earth first!

    348:

    Well, personally, if you ask me about broken CPU fans...

    While Toughbooks are really nice and not that easily damaged, and some models are passively cooled, there is still some problem with some components; having one standing around disassembled due to a broken digitizer cable I can testify to this. Though then, a small 3D printer might help somewhat. There are even plans for self-replicating ones, not necessarily practical for bigger parts, of course.

    For normal PCs, first idea would be to do some serious underclocking to lessen heat production, then go for some passive coolant system. I found that one always quite nice:

    http://www.pugetsystems.com/submerged.php

    TL;DR, there are ways for low-maintainence systems. First of, you could design something like a toughbook, note that e.g. some versions of the CF-18 use a digitizer, AKA no moving parts[1].

    And then, it might be important to keep existing systems WAY below their specs, maximising lifetime. You may not necessarily play High-End games on one of those, but CIV, no problem...

    [1] Err, sorry if this comes around as blatant propaganda, it's just I'm still somewhat impressed by me once stepping out of bed onto one and little happening; suffice it to say yours truly is something of a bear...

    349:

    Yes, we do have a small property bubble, but (please remember) I have a direct inoput from a very close source, as to how well "the economy" generally, is doing. And the answer is ... not too badly at all, really - though it could be LOTS better, of course.
    I am deliberately taking a contrarian viewpoint, because none of our main political parties have got a single fucking clue as to how to run & stimulate our economic circumstances & I'm utterly pissed-off with all of them.
    The tories are doing a lot better (for certain values of better) than I would have expected under the circs, whilst neither the Lem-o-Crats (whom I used to belong to) & NuLiebour are so far off-beam as to be laughable, if not an instant invitation for capital flight & a (another) recession.
    Now what?

    There's a lot of "manufacturing" & high-tech going on in & around London, that is buiding a solid (small) base for development long-term.
    Please do not believe all the screams from "the provinces" about London sucking everything up & it's all "the bankers" - though those things don't help, of course.

    350:

    I forgot to add - no the figures are not "rigged", though they may not be as good as their proponents make out, either. See also my note about having a close "associate" who sees the raw data, which comes in the form of last year's results & tax demands.

    351:

    VERY interesting.
    I think I've only had one (cureable) software failure on this machine, which is about 9 years old - purchased cheaply through a very uiseful (& therfore short-lived) guvmint employee-computer-purchase scheme ....
    Hardware failures?
    The main chip, within a month of getting it, 3 hard-drives, two graphics cards & two replacement DVD r/w drives .....

    352:

    Wow I'm commenting late in the piece but, but here are two thoughts :
    The first is that precursor to good quality engineering is science, and political science is starting to get a better handle on how broken the system is :
    30 years of government policy only serve the rich.
    I have hope for a systems where first the scientist are getting a handle on how they are really working, and smart people have a strong interest in engineering solutions.

    The second is a point you made, which is the marginal value of money is decreasing in the first world. In the developing world are starting to get a day to day view of how shitty they have it. Being rich in Egypt means you get to travel to better parts of the world, but if you need emergency medical care you are as fucked as the next guy.

    In many parts of the world being part of the 1% (Norway, Australia) doesn't make your life that much better day to day than being in the top 30%. You may not think twice before flying business class, but you're still flying to Thailand for your yearly holiday.

    In the first world, to really feel the difference you've got to be in the 0.01% and that figure is only going to continue moving north (unless we suddenly find ourselves in a resource starved world). The oligarchs can't take from the poor they (they have nothing left to steal) they are tossing each other to the wolves en-mass just so they can climb a little higher on the ladder. This is the only way they can actually feel the wealth.

    Politics in its current form is so abstract to the day to day folks that I expect something else is filling the void but we'll only see it for what it was in retrospect.

    BTW: If you are planning a revolution, it's really easy to work out where the money is now days, divest the top 100 from their assets and fund a nation.

    353:

    You're taking a rather narrow view of "the economy."

    Yes, take home earnings is a valid measure of part of it. It ignores the impact of VAT for one. It ignores the impact of rising house prices. And while house prices are not rising everywhere, or where not at the last point I heard, in some places, like London, they've risen quite a lot while wages haven't. I could keep going.

    Osborne has made a series of predictions about what his policies would achieve over a number of years. He's failed to meet any of his targets. I wonder how that's better than you expect under the circumstances?

    354:

    The US, and the rest of the wealthy west is not yet so far gone that the population could not wake up and reign in the plutocracy in 2-3 election cycles.

    Seems unlikely to happen at the moment, but we are still a democratic plutocracy now. The plutocrats dominate because we elect them in very free and fair elections by historical standards.

    355:

    Since the rich and powerful are no smarter than anyone else, I think we can assume US history will repeat itself:

    a. Wealth is gathered at the top
    b. The non-rich take all they can and then
    c. Mass protest
    d. Police (and possibly army) oppression
    e. Violence
    f. 'reform'

    and the occasional war thrown in for distraction and to beef up the economy.

    356:

    The flipside is that people would be 50 million miles from their families, friends, and everything else they use to get away from their work cares.

    Good incentives help, but aren't a complete solution. People are only so rational, and over the long term their individual neuroses demand their due.

    357:

    I think there will be a major change in the economy once manufacturing/robotics has reached the point where not only can manufacturing be entirelyautomated, but the manufacturing machines can actually self-replicate (something like a robot factory that could build and assemble another robot factory given the land, raw materials, and energy). I don't know if some of the more extravagant dreams of a "post-scarcity economy" will materialize, but I would think that at least the cost of most manufactured goods (which could include things like houses assuming automated construction is also possible) would drop by a lot, to not too much more than the cost of the raw materials and energy that went into them (since anyone who puts in the money to set up a robot factory can then make many more factories for nothing but the cost of raw materials/energy/land, and once they make back their initial investment they can price the goods made by these factories at not much above this minimum level and still make a profit). If that was the case then a relatively small guaranteed basic income could be enough to provide the equivalent of a comfortable middle-class lifestyle to all, and I'd expect that politically the mass appeal of such an idea (especially in a world where automation has displaced so many jobs) would make it fairly inevitable.

    Of course it's difficult to say how far away this technology is, but if "we're talking about the state of the nation between 2060 and 2080" then I'd guess it's very likely robotics will have advanced enough by then to make this feasible.

    358:

    Exactly which candidates do we vote for, to reign in the plutocracy?

    There actually occasionally are some good candidates along these lines, but 1) we never hear much about them, because they don't raise enough money to get their message out, 2) the news doesn't cover them, at least partly because they don't take a candidate seriously if the candidate doesn't have a huge budget, and 3) if one actually got elected to any position of importance, he'd quickly have to start preparing for the next election cycle by raising money.

    359:

    "Good incentives help, but aren't a complete solution. People are only so rational, and over the long term their individual neuroses demand their due."

    Agreed. There cannot be ironclad guarantees. Still, when the only alternative is failure and immediate death, that's an incentive to work out whatever you need to do for success.

    I used to date a woman who would regularly get into that situation for short times. She'd go backpacking into extreme conditions, and given an unexpected snowstorm etc everybody would cooperate or die, and all the usual complaints and bickering would die away for the duration. Then after the crisis was over things would go back to normal. I'm sure people wouldn't just simply automatically easily put up with that for long times, but then again everybody at least would have great big incentives to find a way to make it work....

    360:

    Hmmm. First comment got eaten by the system. Oh well.

    I'll save most of the answer for why I don't like biofuels that much. As for port cities, Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (and Hurricane Katrina) are examples of what happens as part of the process of sea level rise. I absolutely agree that we can cope for at least a few decades. Remember, though, that rebuilding blows off a lot of greenhouse gases (unless we can stop using CO2 emitting cement, which is unusual in that it can set underwater--3D underwater building printing? That's a trick I want to see). Remember also that sea level rise and storm size get worse over time, and it looks like our stockpile of energy to respond and rebuild will degrade over the same period. Even if we switch to solar, we're going to have to rebuild the local solar arrays before we can rebuild the city they support. You want floating harbors during supertyphoon season? Go for it.

    As for running the Web using a large number of 1970s PARC-style manufacturing centers, all I can say is go for it. Scaling up that type of local-tech computers all over the world is an interesting intellectual exercise. I'm not so sure of its practicality, even if we scrub all the cats off to free up more capacity.

    As for biofuels, where to begin?
    1. The big problem are the overall numbers: if we converted all of our cropland to biofuels, we'd meet somewhere around 25% of our current energy needs. While the incurably geeky may wave their nanotech wand and posit that we can totally re-engineer photosynthesis to make it more efficient, that's a painfully hard problem to solve. As a botanist friend of mine noted when he tried to model corn photosynthesis, he realized that corn was far smarter than he was about allocating nutrients and energy towards growth. I've had the same experience. Plants are not simple.

    Conversely, we're seeing massive gains in PV solar efficiency and battery size and efficiency (the US battery market was projecting in 2012 to be growing at 25% per year). While Big Solar can be tremendously destructive in places like Ivanpah, on the overall numbers, there's enough solar energy out there to run civilization. It's simply that capturing it with agriculture is a bad idea.

    2. About all that food. To a good approximation, we're not going to be able to convert more land to farms. Farm yields are currently roughly static at best (1-2% yield increases, balanced by crop failures), and we're on track to add another 2-3 billion people to the planet. Back in 2/18/2011, NPR reported in how spiking world food prices were contributing to the Arab Spring. Even assuming Americans go vegan in huge numbers, thereby freeing up food for poor people in Africa and elsewhere, we're going to be seeing more food shortages and global insecurity in coming decades. Turning crops into biofuels will only exacerbate this.

    Oh, you want to turn rainforests into palm oil plantations instead? Those plantations are already a big part of the carbon and methane emissions from destruction of tropical forest and tropical peatlands. It's a carbon emitting industry that probably should be shut down.

    3. Algal biofuel? I've seen reports that its EROI is down around that of corn ethanol, where you get 1.4 calories out for every calorie you put in. Civilization needs energy sources with an EROI of at least 5-9 (Inman 2013) or 10-12 (Greer). It's fairly energy and resource intensive to grow suitable algae, and the particular algae that make lipids most like diesel are finicky to grow, which means that preventing contamination from other algae turns out to be a huge headache (literally. I've talked with someone who had to swab out contaminated tanks with toxic chemicals before reintroducing the proper alga. Headaches were part of that job). I'm trying to find the US government report that slammed algal biofuels a few years ago. If anyone's interested, I can post a link when I find it.

    Right now, the only biofuel that looks promising is cane ethanol, which in Brazil has an EROI of around 9. We can't turn the world into cane-fields, but we could make some ethanol that way. Of course, the downside is that, if you think about the way the cane industry was formerly run--with slaves--we can easily posit a rather horrifying future where the rich drive, while the poor slave away in the cane fields filling their gas tanks. Obviously, Brazil is NOT using slave labor in their cane fields right now, but do they seem to be using a lot of manual labor. They've also faced production crises in the last few years, for a number of reasons.

    361:

    The US actually had such a wave in 1930,32,34,36.
    The congress elected in 1928 was 270r 164d, cutting income taxes and rejoicing at the stock market boom. The 1930 election yielded 218r 216d, the 1932 election 117r 313d and a d president, 1934 104r 321d 1936 88r 334d. The candidates being elected in 1936 from both parties were vastly different from those in 1928 and the nature of american politics changed for two generations. The same was true at the state level. The large middle class was built, basically for the first time ever.

    It really ought to be easier for us, we have a model.

    Anyhow its really quite simple. People just need to vote for the least plutocratic candidate in primary and general elections. In the general, right now, that would almost always be a democrat (but rarely it might be some third party and very rarely a republican). After a few elections the situation would very likely shift.

    If everyone keeps waiting around for tv ads and yard signs to spoon feed them their candidates, well they are going to keep electing the plutocracy.

    I have no idea how to get people to stop responding to the methods of the kochtopus, but if they do we are still just 4-6 years away from very thorough democratic policy reversal.

    The exact sequence in the UK, or any other country would differ according to the structure of government, but I don't think any of the wealthy democracies differ much in the timescale with which the people could change things, if they bothered.

    362:

    Anyhow key point:

    "we aren't a democracy we are a plutocracy" is a cop-out.

    We are a democracy. We are electing the plutocracy year after year. We can stop any time we want. A sizable percentage of us can get off our asses and spend 4 hours a year voting at all.

    363:

    We can only vote for who we're offered. And the two parties have pretty much locked everyone else out of the game. (Assuming you're talking about the US)

    364:

    3. Algal biofuel? I've seen reports that its EROI is down around that of corn ethanol, where you get 1.4 calories out for every calorie you put in. Civilization needs energy sources with an EROI of at least 5-9 (Inman 2013) or 10-12 (Greer). It's fairly energy and resource intensive to grow suitable algae, and the particular algae that make lipids most like diesel are finicky to grow, which means that preventing contamination from other algae turns out to be a huge headache (literally. I've talked with someone who had to swab out contaminated tanks with toxic chemicals before reintroducing the proper alga. Headaches were part of that job).

    That comes from trying to grow algae on land. What about growing Sargassum in sea farms and using the harvest for several products: biodiesel, fertilizer, biochar?

    If you construct some floating submersible frames you can make such farms anywhere, not only at the coast. You can also place some in the over-fertilized and polluted river deltas to help balance the eco systems. The only problem with this idea is that it needs more manual labour and it can't be monopolized - therefore no incentive to invest in it.


    I'm trying to find the US government report that slammed algal biofuels a few years ago. If anyone's interested, I can post a link when I find it.

    Yes please!

    365:

    Heteromeles, correct me if I am wrong but I understood one of the problems with any improved agriculture, be it fuel or food, was the impending shortage of phosphate supplies as we are currently using the last known resources. We could recycle our wastes to replace some phosphate but there will still be a shortfal with serious effects on yields.

    366:

    shortfall not shortful-and I previewed

    367:

    Major party candidates in the US are mostly selected in primary elections. The ideological spread in those elections, particularly the local level ones, is pretty wide. We can change who the options in the general election are in very significant ways even in one election.

    The last democratic presidential primary included Dennis Kucinich.

    Look at how the 'tea party' changed the republican party in only a few years. Sure they are a plutocracy backed group (though they don't seem to know it), but they shifted the party mainly by showing up to vote for their people in primary elections.

    Second: look at 1930. For 4 national election cycles, 8 years, the more pro-plutocracy party was punished. The less pro-plutocracy party was changing radically at the same time.

    The Koch brothers didn't get so much of what they wanted in 2 years. Why are you so eager to give up because you don't think you can get it all in 2 years?

    368:

    BTW the 1938 election, where the run by the democrats finally ended was, at least in part, a reaction to a round of austerity intended to reduce the deficit in 1936 which caused a recession in 1937. They made a real policy mistake.

    369:

    I have no idea how to get people to stop responding to the methods of the kochtopus, but if they do ...

    You're not the first one to notice that humanity could do a lot better if we all stopped behaving the way we all generally behave. Experience has shown that, if that's the key to making your ideology work, your ideology won't work.

    370:

    "That does suggest a structural problem, from an economic mechanism changing its behaviour so that curves describing it reverse their slope. I have something on this area at the Ethical Spectacle site, in the January 2012 archives (I won't give the link so as not to get hung up in moderation, but you can google for my name and for professors Swales and Phelps on that site)."

    No it doesn't. The 'structural problem' came into being precisely with a collapse in demand. And your example of the enclosures is very bad - that was a structural problem.

    371:

    "In the first world, to really feel the difference you've got to be in the 0.01% and that figure is only going to continue moving north (unless we suddenly find ourselves in a resource starved world). The oligarchs can't take from the poor they (they have nothing left to steal) they are tossing each other to the wolves en-mass just so they can climb a little higher on the ladder. This is the only way they can actually feel the wealth."

    Krugman has covered the 1% vs. the 1% of the 1%. As for the rest of us having nothing left to steal, what do you think that school and Social Security (in the USA) privatization is all about? Pure looting.

    372:

    "The flipside is that people would be 50 million miles from their families, friends, and everything else they use to get away from their work cares.

    Good incentives help, but aren't a complete solution. People are only so rational, and over the long term their individual neuroses demand their due"

    Yes - work stress will get much higher when (a) you can't get away from co-workers and (b) things going wrong mean that you die.

    373:

    "Experience has shown that, if that's the key to making your ideology work, your ideology won't work."

    Experience has shown that people mostly don't behave consistently.

    If your ideology requires that people behave consistently in a way that they mostly don't, then it's hopeless.

    If your ideology requires that people occasionally act in a way they usually don't, then the question is how long does it take before they do it enough to get the ball rolling.

    The USA has had multiple cases where people made a serious attempt at radical change despite the game rigged against them, William Jennings Bryan etc -- and one prominent example -- FDR -- that succeeded. I think the Obama example was a good start to preventing that in the future. If we can get two more quick elections where a presidential nominee runs on a campaign of hope and change and wins, followed by the widespread perception that nothing happens, we might get a period of total political stagnation that lasts until the military coup.

    374:

    Yes, the impending shortage of phosphorus is another problem for agriculture. What to do about it is another one of those tricky questions. Personally, I'm not sure where all the phosphorus we flushed through our systems ended up. Ocean sediments near sewage outfalls? I don't know enough about the problem to know if there are stocks of waste phosphate somewhere that could be mined and recycled into agriculture, but the stuff has to be somewhere.

    Of course we can start recycling sewage onto our crops. There might be some (ahem) serious public health issues (either from pathogens if we don't sterilize the sewage somehow, or from incidental chemical contamination if we do), but it probably beats starving to death.

    375:

    From the outside it seems the US electoral system is designed to encourage a government where nothing getting done is very easy. It's not, currently, helped by having lunatics in government that won't compromise on anything, preferring to make sure nothing happens but the system makes it pretty easy for a smallish number of nutters to make that happen too.

    And it makes it easy (and from what I understand common) to vote in different ways for different houses - you vote for a democrat president and congressman say, and a republican senator to make sure that not too much gets done. The way the voting system work if enough swing voters do this you get a senate that's opposed to the president practically by default.

    Electing someone like Obama who isn't used to playing the games in Washington - an appealing vote winner to those tired of "the same old politics" makes him a liability in terms of getting his plans through, simply because the old guard in the Senate who are politically opposed to him by party are also opposed to this upstart who promised to try and make them irrelevant. Give people who have a proven drive for power a threat like that and it gets messy. As we've seen.

    I'm not convinced it will end with a military coup, but some massive restructuring of the political system. But that is probably good - the US needs it.

    376:

    The problem with that solution is the word algae. There are a lot of algae in the world, and they're not all that closely related to each other.

    The ones they use for biofuels are, so far as I know, unicellular stramenopile algae that store energy in a lipid that's not too dissimilar to some petroleum products. One that's received press is Nannochloropsis gaditana, but for various reasons I doubt that this is what they're working on locally. Stramenopiles are a huge group that contain everything from kelps to the organisms that cause potato blights, sudden oak death, and ick on fish, so saying that we're using stramenopiles for biofuel is akin to saying we're using animals for food.

    I don't know that much about algae, but I did work next to an algae lab in grad school. The number of complaints that came out of the students trying to keep their cultures from getting contaminated was truly impressive, and that's the problem, especially when culturing unicellular algae. There are a lot of wild algal propagules out there, in the water, in the air, and in the dust. It's effectively impossible (AFAIK) to keep a large tank that's open to the air in a single species culture, but we need large tanks of single species to produce biofuels effectively.

    Putting a algae growing system in the middle of the ocean would be even worse in terms of contamination. The ideal would be to set up a facility where seawater could be piped in, sterilized, and used to grow algae on land that's unsuitable for agriculture or anything else. Still, it's easy to guess that all the problems with keeping tanks clean and functioning are what drive algal biofuels EROI down.

    377:

    As I understand it, in areas such as the UK(where I am) most sewage(and hence phosphate) ends up in the sea. I assume that in Coastal areas of the US, Europe and Canada the same applies, in Inland areas if there is a convenient river them sea disposal is practiced. It is possible to use composting toilets on a small scale and to build large anaerobic digesters to give biogas and sterile fertiliser with the phosphate in it. Recovery of sea-borne phosphate is not easy due to the dilution(and other salts),one way is to harvest seaweed, wash it salt free and compost it, I believe however that it is slow to compost due to the different cell wall sugars. There is an insoluble mineral, Struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) which is insoluble in alkaline and neutral media but decomposed in acid so it might be possible to recover oceanic phosphate-possible but not economic.

    378:

    Most phosphorus that exits the oceanic biological cycle ends up in seafloor deposits. See "The Oceanic Phosphorus Cycle" by Paytan and McLaughlin, Chemical Reviews 2007, for a recent review.

    379:

    "Remember, though, that rebuilding blows off a lot of greenhouse gases (unless we can stop using CO2 emitting cement, which is unusual in that it can set underwater--3D underwater building printing? That's a trick I want to see)."
    You can't use traditional additive printing underwater because the cement parts ways with the aggregate near the surface of the mix. It has to be laid in a single pour with the mix piped into the body of the pour. If you want/need a more complex shape than a simple pour then it's pumped into inflatable moulds. Generally they're "mattresses". Simple pillows to support or fix pipelines and such but you can build more complex cement buildings. Think of a jumping castle pumped full of cement. Difficulties arise when there's a need for steel reinforcing however the mix can include steel whiskers that serve a similar role.

    380:

    The "Disruptive Technology" (Computers) is what has empowered our overlords.

    Walmart used (Computerized) Logistics and Supply Chain Management to destroy the American Small Town Bourgeoisie, encouraged (strong armed) vendors to ship it's own customers jobs to China. Walmart is now stuck with declining base revenues dependent on Federal Transfer Payments (There was an article in Forbes, but I lost the link).

    Same for Amazon, mediocre jobs in the local retail sector (At least prior to the California Grocery Strike, circa 2004?, you could make a life of sorts with a pension in retail)(and the multiplier effect), replaced with really crappy jobs in Amazon "Distribution Centers" dependent on Transfer Payments to eke out existence.

    381:

    They Will Starve.

    And they can't come here (Amurika) or Europe in significant numbers; Pretty soon Europe will find a way to shut of the flow of Africans, etc, or create it's own dystopia.

    382:

    Thanks Zorro. For anyone else who's curious, the work is at http://pmc.ucsc.edu/~apaytan/publications/2007_Articles/PaytanMcLaughlin_ChemRev_2007_107_563TheOceanicPCycle.pdf.

    It looks like something like 40% of the phosphorus going into the ocean (which is almost entirely anthropogenic) doesn't go into ocean sediments. That means it's in the ocean food web. Somewhere.

    I suppose someone's looking at mining the sediments at the river mouths and getting the phosphates back out? That's sort of in the territory of the movie Abyss, but I guess if P supplies get low enough, someone will be nutty enough to try it.

    383:

    I don't know about mining the river mouth sediment, but the old dream of mining manganese nodules from the ocean floor keeps coming up again. Given advances in remote-controlled and autonomous deep water vehicles, and rising prices for minor coproducts (tellurium, platinum, rare earth elements) it might even become economical one of these decades.

    Manganese nodules and ferromanganese crusts aren't especially rich phosphorus sources but may contain 0.5 to 2% phosphate as P2O5. That's not enough to justify mining on its own but it could be a significant coproduct stream, especially if the nodule processing is under the jurisdiction of nations that have laws against phosphate discharge to prevent eutrophication. You have to capture the phosphate just to avoid water pollution, so might as well sell it.

    384:


    The 'structural problem' came into being precisely with a collapse in demand.

    But how does that make it not a structural problem? I'm pointing out that the current situation shows many of the markers of structural problems, and you're asserting that lack of demand brought about the current situation, as though that was somehow evidence that it's not a structural problem. But that's confusing two different things, the original trigger for the current situation and whatever is - currently - keeping the current situation locked in. It's like saying that, if a match started a forest fire, there can't be fuel for the fire. We certainly can't put the fire out by putting out the match, if things really are like that.


    And your example of the enclosures is very bad - that was a structural problem.

    Huh? How is my providing an example of a structural problem, and pointing out that it is one, a bad example? The whole idea was to show that there are historical cases of a structural problem causing unemployment. Sure, it doesn't show unemployment that comes from a general lack of demand in the economy - but that was the point. You can't accuse me of using a bad example simply because it does not support the point I am undercutting. That would mean I was only allowed to make arguments against my position.

    But do try and find the work of Professor Kim Swales and of Professor Edmund Phelps. They are worth looking at.

    385:

    My understanding is that the cover story for Project Azorian was that the Hughes Glomar Explorer was supposed to be used for mining manganese nodules from the sea floor. While I wondered whether the CIA ginned up the whole "mining the sea floor" idea as cover for AZORIAN, it looks like people were actually seriously attempting to do this back in the 1960s and 1970s.

    Anyway, that reference to the Laundry aside, my rudimentary understanding of manganese nodules is that they form very slowly, so they're only just starting to soak up whatever phosphorus is raining own on them.

    What I was thinking about was more like to phosphorus out of near-shore dredge spoils. It looks like dredged sediments are in the 0.1-10 ppm range for P, so while that's enough to cause an algae bloom if the sediments are resuspended, getting the phosphorus out economically is probably difficult. Mined phosphorite rock can be up to 20% phosphorus, but it often comes from, basically, fossilized estuaries, so who knows? Perhaps there's a way to concentrate phosphorus in estuary sediments economically. I haven't a clue how that could be done, but geology manages to concentrate phosphorus, so perhaps we can too.

    386:

    Wonderfully Naïve, good point of looking back to 1970, BUT, at least in the US since 1973 the Standard of living of 60% of the population has measurably eroded; Paul Krugman posted on his blog a month or so ago a chart showing real (inflation adjusted) wages for Men by quintile, the Middle and Fourth suffered significant erosion, the bottom slightly less, buffered a bit by the minimum wage.

    And we can't get a boost to the US Minimum wage past the Republicans, as the wage scale is driven ever downwards.

    They may own a spiffy new smart phone or a big screen TV (and an X-box or similar), but these are the fifty something's I meet every day hanging on until they can start collecting a (reduced) Social Security at age 62.

    No pensions, no assets, probably cashed out any retirement savings to stay afloat at some point.

    I don't care if life is getting better in the developing world, I want a job where I have not lost money the minute I turn the key in the ignition of my car.

    Public Transportation? Not around here. Bike routes and trails serve the affluent training for their Iron Man triathlon. It's two lane blacktop with no shoulder in my part of the county.

    As was pointed out elsewhere above, if Income distribution had remained the same (In the US especially) we would have a VERY different society.

    But OUR money has ascended uphill into the hands of the .01%; And they (the .01%) are determined to extract every penny from the rest of us, prior to shoving us out into the cold to freeze to death.

    (See Pikety, a different discussion)

    Krugman's column (released Sunday night, 4/20/14) describes how the "Sado-Monetarists" are turning Sweden into another Japan. The tentacles of the Malefactors of Great Wealth at work.

    Part of this is, every region is going to respond differently, We are all connected, but not linked; There probably will be some kind of an engineered crisis in the US in 2015 or early 2016, the Republicans want to put their guy (whoever he turns out to be) back in the White House, and a crumbling economy (for the 99%) seems to be one of their chosen weapons. The rest of you in Europe will catch the backlash from whatever they cook up, be aware of Naomi Klein and the Shock Doctrine.

    As for the wider issue of Global Warming, denial seems to be working for them so far. Until the oceans are lapping at the Hamptons, they will continue to deny it.

    I just discovered a recent (2013) book by Geoffrey PARKER, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change a& Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century. (Yale University Press). He thinks global population may have fallen by as much as a third during the Little Ice Age, while we have far fewer subsistence farmers, world grain reserves have been shrinking.

    The material on the English Civil Wars could make a stand alone work by itself, many new details for me to think about there.

    I've been a fan of his since the 80's, he made major contributions to the Military Revolution debate. It may or may not be significant that unlike his last major book (The Grand Strategy of Phillip II), this one does NOT seem to have received a book review in the New York Times. Of course, his basic message that how governments reacted has a major influence on how the regional crisis played out is NOT one to receive a warm welcome from America's Right Wing.

    387:

    Manganese nodules form very slowly indeed, but the weathering continents have been sending phosphorus to the seas for many millions of years. The phosphorus that might be reclaimed from nodules within a century arrived there millions of years ago; it would be millions of years hence before manganese nodules enriched with human agricultural runoff grow to visible size.

    388:

    "Wonderfully Naïve, good point of looking back to 1970, BUT, at least in the US since 1973 the Standard of living of 60% of the population has measurably eroded"

    Doesn't it kind of depend?

    Like, as I remember it in 1973 lots of people considered air conditioning a luxury. My family had a window-unit that could heat half the house, and they turned it on when they had parties. At home we sweated in the summer. But now a lot of fairly poor people think of it as a necessity.

    And something like half of the medical procedures from 1970 would be considered malpractice if they were carried out today. A whole lot of the medicine that was done then is now believed to be bad for people. That doesn't necessarily mean that we're better off now, maybe in 40 years a lot of what we do now will be considered actively bad for patients. But if you believe in progress....

    I'm not sure how many US cars had seat belts in 1970. The federal government passed a law in 1968 that cars had to have them. Are you better off with a car that has a seat belt? If you can afford to have a car at all....

    There are various ways we are better off now than we were then. Primarily because we know things now that we didn't know then. Even though we have a far smaller slice of a far larger pie.

    389:

    Walmart used (Computerized) Logistics and Supply Chain Management to destroy the American Small Town Bourgeoisie,

    Actually Sears, then K-Mart blew out the small town businesses. Then in the same year K-Mart was celebrating beating Sears, WalMart surged past both.

    I remember the days before K-Mart. Sears was a big deal with not really trying to win it all. But small town merchants were open 8-5 MTTF and 8-12 W and Sat. That way they could staff for only when open, no shifts to worry about and no one worked more than 40 hours. Of course men (who all worked) had to either shop in the 4 hour window on Sat or have their wives shop for them during the week. (All men had wives. Right?) Shop didn't have a dress in your size, they would order it and you get it in a week or two, maybe. Payment up front and returns were problematic if it didn't fit.

    My grandparents had a small wholesale business. Their warehouse was about the size of a double garage. They supplied country general stores in western KY, SW Arkansas, and NW Tennessee. They drove a route with stuff and dropped off orders and took new orders for things a few days to a week out. Started this business in the 20s or 30s. If you were stuck buying from these general stores your selection was extremely limited. When my grandmother retired from this work she wasn't upset that basically K-Mart had wiped out the general stores. She knew it was better for their customers. Her basic comment was the best thing about the "Good Old Days" was that they were gone.

    390:

    Like, as I remember it in 1973 lots of people considered air conditioning a luxury. My family had a window-unit that could heat half the house, and they turned it on when they had parties. At home we sweated in the summer. But now a lot of fairly poor people think of it as a necessity.

    One of the things climate change has done is make air conditioning a necessity in a number of places it didn't used to be. (Especially if you're trying to keep infants and old people from dying.)

    391:

    One of the things climate change has done is make air conditioning a necessity in a number of places it didn't used to be.

    But has it also made heating less of a necessity in some places where it used to be one?

    392:

    Does anyone know of a through study of viable post- fossil fuel trade and transport?

    393:

    Me: "The 'structural problem' came into being precisely with a collapse in demand."

    pml540114: "But how does that make it not a structural problem? I'm pointing out that the current situation shows many of the markers of structural problems, and you're asserting that lack of demand brought about the current situation, as though that was somehow evidence that it's not a structural problem. But that's confusing two different things, the original trigger for the current situation and whatever is - currently - keeping the current situation locked in. It's like saying that, if a match started a forest fire, there can't be fuel for the fire. We certainly can't put the fire out by putting out the match, if things really are like that."

    No, it's pointing out that if it is(or to the extent it is) a structural problem, we'd be seeing soaring wages in some sectors.


    Me: "And your example of the enclosures is very bad - that was a structural problem."

    pml540114: "Huh? How is my providing an example of a structural problem, and pointing out that it is one, a bad example? The whole idea was to show that there are historical cases of a structural problem causing unemployment."

    I apologize for saying that; I' don't know enough to discuss it. I would ask were the wages for sheep workers rising during that time?

    " Sure, it doesn't show unemployment that comes from a general lack of demand in the economy - but that was the point. You can't accuse me of using a bad example simply because it does not support the point I am undercutting. That would mean I was only allowed to make arguments against my position.

    But do try and find the work of Professor Kim Swales and of Professor Edmund Phelps. They are worth looking at. The 'structural problem' came into being precisely with a collapse in demand."

    Except that the evidence doesn't fit that theory, unless you can conflate the two, in which case you have a non-falsifiable theory.
    But how does that make it not a structural problem? I'm pointing out that the current situation shows many of the markers of structural problems, and you're asserting that lack of demand brought about the current situation, as though that was somehow evidence that it's not a structural problem. But that's confusing two different things, the original trigger for the current situation and whatever is - currently - keeping the current situation locked in. It's like saying that, if a match started a forest fire, there can't be fuel for the fire. We certainly can't put the fire out by putting out the match, if things really are like that.


    And your example of the enclosures is very bad - that was a structural problem.
    Huh? How is my providing an example of a structural problem, and pointing out that it is one, a bad example? The whole idea was to show that there are historical cases of a structural problem causing unemployment. Sure, it doesn't show unemployment that comes from a general lack of demand in the economy - but that was the point. You can't accuse me of using a bad example simply because it does not support the point I am undercutting. That would mean I was only allowed to make arguments against my position.

    But do try and find the work of Professor Kim Swales and of Professor Edmund Phelps. They are worth looking at.

    394:

    Crap; half of the quotes were stripped off. Sorry for the confusion.

    395:

    Phosphates .. what happened to all the phosphates that got dumped into the Great Lakes?

    396:

    To cut through my confusion, let me put it this way (from my understanding of things):

    To the extent it's a structural problem, there will be significant sectors of the labor force for whom wages are rising sharply (not niches; those always exist).

    397:

    There's something in Wikipedia on this topic; the references may be helpful.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_phase-out


    398:
    One of the things climate change has done is make air conditioning a necessity in a number of places it didn't used to be.

    But has it also made heating less of a necessity in some places where it used to be one?

    Alas, no. You need your heating system to be able to handle your expected peak cold, and for anybody in the northern hemisphere for the next decade at least, you have to expect that, some fraction of winters, you're going to get a visit from a full-on Arctic air mass. (You might, some winters, not need to shove as much energy through your heating system, but its capacity requirements have not been reduced.)

    Doesn't mean you won't them get Full Tropical in the summer; the fundamental problem is the climate bands breaking down and the atmospheric circulation going higgledy-piggledy in consequence. -50 to 50 C is a defensible planning range in a big chunk of NorAm.

    One of the things that makes full-up political recognition of Must Do Something Now with respect to climate change is that one thing that would do is force recognition that pretty much the entire extant housing stock is worthless. It's dependent on lighting fossil carbon on fire for heating, it's not designed or built to be reasonably insulated, and it's certainly not designed to manage airflow and thermal control through a heat pump. It's also pretty much the only capital anybody in the 99% has. Makes it hard to write off.

    399:

    Some structural problems involve mismatches in the labor force between skills needed and skills available, and will have the results you describe.

    Other types of structural problem involve mismatches between the total labor supply and the potentially productive uses for labor (given existing levels and configurations of capital and available raw materials). The second type will be characterized by large persistent unemployment or by full employment and rising wages, depending on the direction of the imbalance.

    Fiscal and monetary policy, properly deployed, are commonly expected to deal with the second type of imbalance. The last decade or so in the US and two decades in Japan show that it's not always that easy.

    400:

    One of the things climate change has done is make air conditioning a necessity in a number of places it didn't used to be. (Especially if you're trying to keep infants and old people from dying.)

    "HAS". Where are all these places.

    Says he who grew up with temps in the summer of 100F and a humidity over 80% many times. And this was typically of the US south for the last few centuries. Now it was misery one night without AC when the temp and humidity was 95/95 at 3 AM. But no one died.

    And in India it gets to over 110F in the summer in places and people have lived there for a few 1000 years.

    401:

    Some structural problems involve mismatches in the labor force between skills needed and skills available, and will have the results you describe.

    And in the U.S.A. at least, that is the sort of structural unemployment our lords and masters tell us we have. BTW, per Krugman, the other sort of structural unemployment you describe really isn't. Since you don't have a history of trolling, I'll just put this one down to specialized jargon that superficially sounds like what it is when using the layman's definition.

    402:

    Yes, people have lived in India for awhile but according to a study quoted in McKibben's Eaarth, Indian laborers are becoming progressively less productive, simply because "“Working under the open sky during summer has become nearly impossible— for farmers and their cattle alike.”

    A bigger problem than air conditioning is crops. There are maximum temperatures beyond which crops such as maize (which is one of the most heat tolerant) simply can't grow. There's a prediction out there that millions of square kilometers in Africa will have so many too-hot days that even maize won't grow. Even without crop-destroying heat waves, heat can decrease crop yields by 20 to 30 percent. If we're pushing 10 billion by that point, this is not good news.

    403:

    [Where has air-conditioning become a necessity?]

    Europe. 2003, ~70,000 excess deaths in a heat wave;

    http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/fig16.jpg

    maybe be of interest. Much of the problem was a general dismissal of cosmetologists' warnings.

    I can't recommend googling for "Texas prison air-conditioning", but it's another example.

    In August of 2013, Shanghai hit 32 or 33 C, wet-bulb. It doesn't take much more global warming to give a 35C-wet-bulb event, at which point being outside an actively cooled volume is a death sentence. (There are suspicions the Chinese government concealed thousands of heat casualties in 2013.) That particular heat event affected a large area of the Western Pacific.

    The Pakistani province of Sind has a 50+ year trend of increasing in frequency, severity, and intensity heat events; parts of it might not stay habitable. In 2013, it had a heat wave with associated excess deaths, both direct and due to economic and agricultural failures.

    It's very important to remember that while cold casualties have a long tail, heat is a wall. We're heat engines, and above a certain point, we stop. There are populous places at risk of going above that (35C wet bulb) point. So you can't go by the average conditions; if you expect one such event in 20 years, you still have to plan for it.

    And as heteromeles notes, it's an agricultural problem and you can't air condition your fields.

    Personally, Toronto hit 46 C, humidity-adjusted, last summer. I do not recommend trying to take outside exercise under those conditions. This is NOT something that happened in Ontario in the 1970s; I can clearly remember when the Fahrenheit thermometer breaking 90 (32 C) was a big deal. These days, it's not very warm.

    404:

    And in India it gets to over 110F in the summer in places and people have lived there for a few 1000 years.

    I was in Delhi in 1998 when 5000 people died in one day from the heat. I stayed inside my (airconditioned) hotel room and watched CNN where the lead story was 5 people in Texas had died from the heat and the army was setting up airconditioned tents for people. Later news reports put the death toll at 1300 but I don't know where either number actually comes from.

    Bump up the temperature by 3 degrees and it would be much much worse. I think 3 degrees is about the best case scenario while 10-16 degrees is probably more likely.

    405:

    Oh, and I think the reported death tolls seem quite low. There were lots of what looked like bundles of rags lying on the median strips where many people lived without shade. Either they were bundles of rags, or shift workers catching a few Zzzzs during the day or they were dead people lying around in the streets. I left it to the locals to figure out which was which.

    406:

    Does anyone know of a through study of viable post- fossil fuel trade and transport?

    Here's one useful sourcebook.

    Key points:

    The reason we use petroleum products as fuel is that they are energy-dense -- you can go a longer distance on a kilo of kerosene than on a kilo of coal or wood.

    The cheapest current source of such fuels is fossil deposits; you can synthesize them using other energy sources (e.g. renewables or nuclear), but it's energetically expensive.

    Burning fossil deposits adds carbon to the atmospheric carbon cycle. Synthetic fuel takes carbon from the atmosphere before releasing it back, so is carbon-neutral in environmental terms.

    The faster you go in a liquid or gaseous medium, the higher the drag. This is not a linear relationship; more like a cube law. Likewise, the faster you go on a road or rail, the higher the frictional losses.

    Finally, fuel costs are only a fraction (about a third) of the cost of operating an airline service, and probably similar for other vehicles. (Back-of-envelope: based on a 150,000 mile life expectancy and 50mpg, my car can expect to consume 3000 gallons of diesel, at £6 per gallon, or £18,000 over its lifetime. Cost of vehicle when it was new: somewhere north of £22,000. (I bought it used.) Opportunity cost of driver's time charged at minimum wage for 3000 hours at 50mph: another £18,000 minimum.)

    If energy is expensive, you can make better use of it by going slower, up to a point. But you lose on the opportunity cost of the working hours of crew/passengers that this absorbs, and in any case, the vehicle depreciation is not insignificant. Doubling the cost of fuel only jacks the operating cost up by about 15%.

    It turns out that high speed trains are barely more efficient than jet airliners (which in terms of passenger-seat-miles-per-unit-of-fuel are more efficient these days than automobiles at highway speeds). So for long-haul travel (over 1000km) I expect we'll continue to use jet airliners for shifting people, albeit at a higher cost per seat. For shorter distances, up to 500km, non-high-speed trains with efficient routing will win out. In the 500km-1000km range, it's a toss-up between high speed rail and turboprop airliners. But we're all going to find travel rather more expensive and cumbersome by and by.

    407:

    I'm going to try to unpick that earlier comment and reply here. Let me know if I end up misreading anything.

    First off, Jay's reply to your follow on comment is accurate, and far more concise than anything I can achieve. Yes, structural unemployment is often associated with higher demand for other kinds of labour elsewhere in the economy. But it doesn't have to be, and I chose a well understood case to illustrate that - the Enclosures of the Commons - partly because we can be more detached about that example than more recent and more debatable cases; "if it is(or to the extent it is) a structural problem, we'd be seeing soaring wages in some sectors" ain't necessarily so. Yes, cash wages had risen by then, but that was an unrelated generations long change following on the depopulation of the Black Death, quite a while earlier. The change in Tudor times is widely ascribed to magnates not needing a pool of armed tenantry on tap any more; John Buchan cites that as the cause in his preliminary material for his life of Cromwell, and Nassau Senior's nineteenth century work on Wages brings out something similar about the 1745 rebellion and how magnates' needs changed after that.

    When the Enclosures of the Commons first hit, there simply wasn't a matching shortfall of qualified labour set up. What Elizabethan mercantilism did was, it made another structural change, so that weavers and so on became favoured in England; once that happened, yes, it became like your scenario, and matters did eventually sort themselves out (until the later eighteenth and nineteenth century phases, which had yet other dynamics). But the fact remains that the original case didn't have that - English weavers didn't gain while it made more sense to export wool without that value adding within England. Sir Thomas More gives a contemporary account of all that in Utopia (which Marx cites).

    A lot of what happened then is more like what is happening in developing countries now than either of those is like what is happening in developed countries now. In particular, cash wage numbers like "living on $2 per day" are highly misleading, when describing a situation that still has material non-cash subsistence resources; then, the cash is only a top up, and the countries haven't passed a "Lewis turning point".

    If we do look at what is happening in developed countries now, the Swales/Phelps work fits in quite well, as it matches a Tragedy of the Commons mechanism that looks as though it might also be operating to push up unemployment, over and above the shortfall in hiring that comes from a shortfall in overall demand (hiring/firing decisions don't track the externalised costs of having the unemployed around - "Vagrancy Costs" in Tudor times, and often the spread funding costs of unemployment benefits today). Putting the two together, the facts at hand match a structural hollowing out that was fed by the first mechanism, but didn't show up much until a downturn came along. If so, trying to reverse both things together would take far more stimulus, and might not even be achievable what with hysteresis, lags, etc. - if that combination is at work. It certainly makes sense to look into addressing both kinds of problems, rather than just saying only one kind of harmful scenario can ever happen. That would mean both boosting demand and also making a Pigovian or Coasian fix to the externality.

    408:

    This is wrong. Click on the link to Krugman in my previous post.

    409:

    Would you care to be more specific than "this is wrong"? I did already look at that Krugman link, as well as refreshing my memory about what wikipedia has to say about structural unemployment, and as far as I am aware everything I put is entirely compatible with Krugman's use of the term "structural unemployment". In particular, I'm not using it just to mean "unemployment that goes on for a while", but rather to mean "unemployment that doesn't readily respond to stimulus" (loosely speaking).

    Or, if you prefer, we can just drop the term entirely and just discuss whether or not there can be mechanisms that promote unemployment quite separately from issues of demand in the economy, and then move on from there to look into whether or not that might be happening in our time and place. It should be clear that that can happen in some times and places, not just from the Tudor case I presented but also from natural disasters like some famines and from the theoretical possibility of a Malthusian catastrophe, so the issue is really whether it fits our own case. As I mentioned, we do have many of the markers or indicators for that.

    410:

    Krugman's describing a fairly standard version of Keynesianism in that link. It's not a bad theory, but I think it's a bit dated. The reason has to do with the relationship between capital and employment.

    The basic question is to what extent capital is a complement of labor vs. to what extent capital is a substitute for labor. In other words, as investment increases, are more jobs gained or lost? In more technical words, what is the cross-price elasticity for wages (overall and in individual labor markets) with respect to interest rates (the cost of capital)?

    The traditional answer is that capital is mostly a complement of labor. Therefore when demand falls, the central bank decreases interest rates. The lower cost of capital spurs investment, which creates jobs. The newly employed use their wages to demand goods. As demand increases, interest rates can normalize at a level sufficient to maintain nearly full employment with minimal inflation.

    What seems to be happening now is capital being used as a substitute for labor. Central bank thinking hasn't caught up, so when demand falls, the central bank decreases interest rates. The lower cost of capital spurs investment, which automates away jobs. The newly unemployed lose purchasing power, so demand falls. Not knowing what else to do, the central bank cuts interest rates again, eventually to zero, but large and growing stimulus fails to create jobs.

    411:

    One must also consider that the rentier class is, at most times and in most things, really offended that it has to pay people anything, and that the idea that there's a market in wages -- that wages are set significantly by some kind of actual cost-benefit calculation -- is risible.

    So, yes, there are systemic problems, but capital still can't express itself without labour; even when you're buying robots, someone makes the robots.

    412:

    It sounds as though at some point in the not-too-distant future we'll need a 2-tier monetary policy/economy: 1 tier for the 0.001% that controls/describes mega-investments/transactions and the second tier for everyday living. To do this we'd probably also need some sort of umbrella policy to keep these two separate systems distinct and non-overlapping, each free to grow at its own optimal (separate) pace.


    413:

    It's not a binary system; the derivative matters. If a 1% change in invested capital generates a net 1% change in employment, lowering interest rates will create jobs. If a 1% change in invested capital generates a net 0.05% change in employment, surprisingly large stimulus will have a surprisingly small effect on employment. If a 1% change in invested capital causes a net -0.1% change in total employment (e.g. one robot guy hired, more than 1 worker made redundant), then stimulus will worsen unemployment.

    414:

    If the rules of capital are treated as laws of nature.

    Which they're entirely not.

    The economy as constructed by humans exists to guarantee stability of existing wealth. It doesn't even innovate well. (Incumbents hate innovators.)

    I understand that the interest rate response is what can be done that's acceptable to capital; that it might not (obviously doesn't) work, but the idea that there's inescapable unemployment because Natural Laws really annoys me. There's inescapable unemployment because capital is determined that wages are going to fall, and has decided not to hire until wages fall to the level it finds acceptable.

    If the response to unemployment -- with unemployment measured as "wants to work, can't make more money than the guaranteed minimum income at any available job" was to say, hurm, we have three percent unemployment over the accepted 4% churn figure. Ok, we tax capital at 30%, and split that between building durable structures and pure science, why, the problem would go away. (And of course we don't allow free movement of capital anywhere we don't allow free movement of people.)

    Most of the problem is hoarding; big piles of cash that aren't doing anything. It's the king's job to slay dragons precisely *because* that cash needs to move for their to be prosperity. (The motivations for the hoarding aren't good, either, but motivations are secondary to the fact.)

    415:

    Charlie wrote in part:
    The reason we use petroleum products as fuel is that they are energy-dense -- you can go a longer distance on a kilo of kerosene than on a kilo of coal or wood.

    The cheapest current source of such fuels is fossil deposits; you can synthesize them using other energy sources (e.g. renewables or nuclear), but it's energetically expensive.

    I prefer this source for a fuels comparison (none are perfect): http://www.afdc.energy.gov/fuels/fuel_comparison_chart.pdf

    Personally, for aircraft (where fuel energy density is king) I would recommend biodiesel equivalents, which the US Air Force and Navy and some commercial airlines are now experimenting with. Slightly lower energy density but nearly the same.

    For ground use, fuel density and weight often aren't that critical, and methanol's only disadvantage there is its toxicity (which is pretty minor, all things considered).

    416:

    It's not impossible to create employment, it just doesn't seem to be possible to do so in the usual manner (i.e. with changes in interest rates). The usual manner has the advantage that it's readily implemented and provokes little political resistance; implementing a basic income or a new Works Progress Administration requires legislation, debate, and all the other stuff our political system is noticeably terrible at.

    417:

    I think the problem is the amount of "investment" that is going into physical property rather than R&D, intellectual property and the "means of production" these days.

    418:

    Employment Stimulus (WPA, etc) for the American Working class has been deliberately sabotaged by the agents of the 1%; And I am assuming this is the model being emulated in the UK.

    The Kochtopus does not want that kind of program on the table.

    On the condition of the American working class, there are scraps to be gained by squeezing American Workers harder. The Republicans are competing to offer Bigger cuts to the food stamp program, the only widely available means-tested welfare program in the US. While Walmart's most recent quarterly report noted that the modest decline in same store sales (.04%) is directly attributable to this; IE, food stamp cuts showed up in (less) money spent in their stores.

    (Full disclosure, I get $25 a month in FS (SNAP) benefits; Not enough to lift my income from Social Security above the official poverty line, but what do I know?)

    It's a good but chintzy program as it currently stands, an adult is budgeted to spend #3.50 a day on groceries.

    And the "growth" in this program has been one of the favorite Republican Talking Points. The Record Number of people qualifying for Food Stamps proves the Muslim Kenyan Socialist is a terrible president.

    It has absolutely no connection to the way Republicans policies wrecked the economy, no sir.

    I stand by my assertion that the American Working Class, broadly defined, has seen it's living standard eroded in the last generation. The absolute poverty level is rising, and jobs just don't pay a living wage any more.

    419:

    I agree. I think that new programs based on the WPA or the Civilian Conservation Corps are probably the best way to deal with our present problem of unemployment, but the political coalition to make it happen just isn't there.

    420:
    Employment Stimulus (WPA, etc) for the American Working class has been deliberately sabotaged by the agents of the 1%; And I am assuming this is the model being emulated in the UK.
    Not quite. There's a real mess of benefits for those in work, but mostly they're intact except for a few for wealthier families. There's debate about how that was introduced but if you're in work, the benefits are broadly still there.

    The targets here are so-called "benefits scroungers" who in one nicely turned phrase are suddenly not those unfortunate enough to not find work in a recession, they're work-shy malingers living off the sweat of the hard-working masses. The actual amount of benefit hasn't been cut (OK, it hasn't risen in real terms, but it hasn't been cut) but getting it, and keeping it has been made much harder, there's a pause now before you can get it (and that's a political hot potato, because the most needy are suddenly not getting any money for at least 2 weeks. The government says this is fair, the church and others says it's the government turning its back on those most in need.) People with large families living in central London are compared to average wage earners across the country to introduce benefits caps with a neat bit of rhetoric that bears no resemblance to any mathematical reality. And most "fun" of all, those with long term disabilities are being told they're fit to work in the most ham-fisted way possible. All in the interests of "improving the system" of course.

    The system is horribly broken. The "improvements" have made it worse though, certainly for those in most need. In that sense, the model is the same.

    421:

    There's a logic to it.

    If you have your CCC doing things a private company can't make a profit at, then it's a boondoggle that should not bhe done.

    If they do things that a private company could make a profit in, then it's inefficient socialism and we should allow a private company to make a profit off of it.

    Once you accept the rightist assumptions everything follows naturally and the obvious conclusion is that everything will work itself out perfectly if government gets out of the way.

    422:

    There's a logic to it.

    If you have your CCC doing things a private company can't make a profit at, then it's a boondoggle that should not bhe done.

    If they do things that a private company could make a profit in, then it's inefficient socialism and we should allow a private company to make a profit off of it.

    Once you accept the rightist assumptions everything follows naturally and the obvious conclusion is that everything will work itself out perfectly if government gets out of the way.

    Ah yes, the reason we'll soon have no more antibiotics.

    See, there are two problems here: one is that it costs over US $1,000,000,000 to market a new drug, due to those pesky government requirements to demonstrate that drugs are safe before marketing them. This came about, in part, because of the tens of thousands of birth defects caused by thalidomide, but who cares about that? I mean, having a drug that alleviates morning sickness should be worth having a few percent chance that your baby is horribly deformed, right? Why complain if someone wants to market snake oil or something that's poisonous, if it profits them? The government shouldn't be in the business of protecting its citizens' health.

    Anyway, antibiotics have been known to have a short efficacy period since the 1950s. Bacteria evolve resistance so fast that you need a steady stream of new antibiotics in the pipeline to keep up with them.

    Unfortunately, unlike, say, viagra, cholesterol meds, or antidepressants that work about as well as placebos, there's not much of a profit in selling antibiotics. Sure, people give them in low doses to cattle to plump them up, but that's not enough to justify blowing $1 billion on developing a new one.

    Hence, it's not profitable to make more antibiotics, and soon we won't have any. That will be sad, of course, because it will have follow-on impacts, like, oh, no transplant surgeries, and, in fact, the risk of death due to hospital infection will rocket back to 1920s levels. As with your grandparents or great grandparents, a scratch in 20 years will have a real chance of killing you, if you get a multidrug resistant infection. Your death will be slow and painful, but at least, no one will lose a profit by curing you with a few pills, and the government won't be able to interfere.

    This is the logic of profit without government control. Incidentally, finding new drugs is getting so unprofitable that non-profits such as the Gates Foundation (and the US government) are paying for a lot of drug development. Obviously, this is stupid socialism and a frivolous waste of hard-earned capitalist gains, but whatever. Gates, at least, can choose how he wants to waste his fortune.

    Or, just possibly, there's something wrong with the logic of getting the government out of the way? I think HL Mencken put it reasonably well, back in the 1920s: "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

    423:
    Krugman's describing a fairly standard version of Keynesianism in that link. It's not a bad theory, but I think it's a bit dated. The reason has to do with the relationship between capital and employment.
    and:
    What seems to be happening now is capital being used as a substitute for labor.

    Sorry, but -- again per Krugman -- that 'standard version of Keynesianism' seems to have worked very well up to at least 2012. I'm inclined to take his word that the Standard Model still applies. Further, your 'what seems to be happening now' seems to be completely unsupported in your post. Not surprising, since 'what seems to be happening now' is that companies have found another way to be profitable . . . and it involves neither capital upgrades or hiring people. Again, this has been done to death; if you want to follow this stuff you could do worse than read Thoma's Economist's View with your morning caffeine. Lot's of linky goodness there.

    424:

    Er, you can only qualify for most of the "in work" benefits if you have dependants.

    425:

    I deliberately said a "whole mess of" because I didn't want to get into details of what they were.

    Some, like Child Benefit you get regardless of your work status, unless one of the parents is a top rate tax payer but you need a dependent of child age obviously. Some like Family Tax credit you need a family equally clearly. I don't think they've changed the definition of what constitutes a family, although with the rising threshold for paying tax fewer people qualify for the credit simply because they're not paying any income tax.

    But some that are counted as in work benefits like rent support for working people (despite the fact it's all administered in the same way as rent support for people on benefits) you just get if your income is low enough and your rent high enough. Don' ask me *why* this is counted this way - blame the accountants - but it is.

    And I'm not sure it invalidates the point I made about them? The coalition government, with the exception of child benefit for top rate tax-payers and changes like not giving you family tax credit if you don't pay tax any more, has rather carefully left most benefits for those in work alone. It's left OAPs alone. It's targeted its benefit cuts at those it characterises as benefits' scroungers, no?

    426:

    that 'standard version of Keynesianism' seems to have worked very well up to at least 2012

    Did it? Then why has Japan had high unemployment despite massive stimulus for about 25 years? Why have we had low interest rates for years but unemployment barely budges? And you might have heard something about the bankers telling Congress to give them $800 billion with no strings attached within three days or the economy would implode in startling Technicolor. That's probably not a sign of a smoothly working system.

    Your contention that corporations aren't upgrading their capital strikes me as remarkable, as well. The self-driving cars, the fully automatic purchasing systems, and the cashierless checkout lanes seem to be coming at a reasonable pace.

    Krugman and I both agree that the economic problems are severe enough that they can't be fixed with interest rate policy because of the zero lower bound. He thinks the solution is to try even more stimulus via fiscal methods, like Japan has (they went from the world's biggest creditor to its biggest debtor from stimulus). I think the link between capital investment and employment has at least greatly weakened, and possibly reversed, so direct hiring by the government is probably the best answer (a prescription that, apart from political feasibility, I doubt Krugman would greatly object to).

    To be honest, we don't have the data to really tell the difference. If you know of a study showing the cross price elasticity of wages as a function of interest rates, I'd be interested, especially if it studied the 90s or later.

    427:

    Sigh. All of this and more has been extensively covered -- in fact, it was extensive observation of the Japanese economy that caused Krugman to investigate what happened at the zero lower bound. All quite orthodox Keynesianism (bog-standard IS-LM), I assure you, and the fact that you don't know this stuff, is, well, a little surprising.

    Further, no, it was you who speculated that capital upgrades supplanting labor explained the current economic malaise, not I (in fact, the evidence -- or rather, lack of it -- suggests otherwise); did you honestly think you could get away with putting something out there and then challenging people to prove you wrong? Uh-uh.

    To put it bluntly, you seem to be significantly at odds with the big guns like Krugman. And I'll go with what Krugman et. al. says over your theorizing in a vacuum. Sorry, but that needed to be said. I'm willing to listen to you, but at some point you've got to get past 'maybe', 'possibly' and 'could be' to 'is' by actually supplying some evidence to back up your argument. Otherwise people will quite naturally go with the acknowledged experts.