Back to: Administrative note | Forward to: Who wins? Cthulhu or the Emperor of Mankind from Warhammer 40K?

The iron law of development

(Or: when fiction comes true, part 93.)

I'm used to "Halting State" moments, when something I invented in a work of near-future SF slides disturbingly close to reality a few years later. I'm a lot less used to that happening in my more far-out/speculative fiction, though.

I'd classify the Merchant Princes series (including the forthcoming "Empire Games" trilogy) firmly in that category, even though chunks of it are set in a world so close to ours that even the folks in the headlines are familiar—it invokes parallel universes, after all, some of which exhibit rather less familiar takes on historical progress. One of the things I do in this series is to play with the history of development economics, very much in the non-quantitative SF tradition of asking "what would be the consequences if X happened instead of Y".

In the case of one of the parallel universes I explored in the first series, the X I picked was "suffocate the 18th century British industrial revolution in its crib by having England invaded by France in 1760 and subjected to internal tariff barriers managed by the Ferme générale in order to pay off the war debt" (which as you know, Bob, was the debt that in our history triggered the American War of Independence). And the conclusion I came to in my bumbling non-quantitative way was that you can suppress industrialization some of the time but not all of the time, and the same cultural, demographic, and resource-availability preconditions that gave rise to it in the North of England and the Scottish Lowlands were also emergent in Appalachia and Pennsylvania, so that the industrial revolution would probably kick off about a century later and on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anyway, the holy Crap moment for the Merchant Princes series has now arrived: economist Brad DeLong just did some interesting numerical analysis that suggests the scenario I came up with for time line three, the New British Empire, which underwent a late industrial revolution and demographic transition about 100-150 years after the British innovations of the 18th century stalled out holds up.

He started out by exploring the proposition that there was a high-level pre-industrialization local minimum, the so-called "gunpowder empire" stage, beyond which progress was unlikely: but concluded that such systems don't exist in a steady state—they're unstable. Once population exceeds a certain level they undergo a step change, beyond which the accelerating development of technology drives productivity and breaks the culture out of the previous Malthusian trap, leading in due course to wage growth, and ultimately demographic transition to a technologically innovative, wealthy, but low/zero population growth society (which is roughly where we are now). The basis for this exercise was extrapolation from an earlier paper by Michael Kremer which postulated that because technology is non-rivalrous high population spurs technological change; there's a feedback loop between agricultural productivity and a large enough work force to support the innovators who invent the machines with which to raise your productivity, so that once you exceed a critical threshold the process of development is bound to turn runaway. And using some very simple assumptions about long-term initial rates of population growth and productivity growth, the time-to-breakthrough that his model coughed up matches the New British Empire.

I confess: when I first started writing the series I pantsed the development of time line three. Initially it was a wheeze: how could I rig it to produce a pseudo-steampunk world for the original "A Family Trade"? But then I got caught up in the development model and realized that it's not a steampunk environment, or a gunpowder-and-sail empire: Miriam just happens to encounter it at a particular point in its development sprint, and doesn't recognize the applicability of Gibson's Rule -- "the future is already here: it's just unevenly distributed". But I'm really tickled to now have a solid, if speculative, numerical basis for the changes I needed for the new Merchant Princes trilogy.

There are a couple of corollaries, of course. One is that steampunk settings in the science fictional mode (as opposed to gaslight fantasy) are inherently unstable; unless you do what Rod Duncan did in The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter and add a deus ex machina (or a creepy secret police) that suppresses inovation, developing nation's gonna develop.

Another corollary is that development comes with a whole bunch of semi-predictable side-effects. Side-effects like: increasing agricultural productivity means more food and fibers. This means more hands available to work in factories doing things like turning fibers into fabric, as a result of which the price of clothing essentially goes into free fall (to get a handle on what that means, read this explanation of how much a shirt cost in the middle ages, and consider the etymology of the word "spinster"). Cheap clothing doesn't have to be repaired endlessly, so fashions begin to change from year to year instead of decade to decade: wearing clothing a la mode is affluence signaling, like driving a new car today. (A suit of clothes used to cost as much as a car does today, in real terms: and I mean ordinary clothes, not the elaborate court finery of the nobility.) Cheap clothing also frees up labour for other productive work, such as washing machines (and if you think washing machines are trivial consumer goods, watch Hans Rosling explain how wrong you are) and infrastructure projects (roads, railways, harbours, airports, phone networks). Automation is substitutable for labour which means more bodies are available for education which improves the quality of workers and thereby the quality (and utility) of the products they can create. Of course, highly educated and productive children are individually more expensive to raise than large broods of field labourers, so parents preferentially raise fewer of them, and the social and economic advantages of big cities ensures that the cost of living in a metropolis spirals ...

You can hold back some of these tendencies with top-down enforcement driven by some ideological imperative; consider the enforcement of religious dress codes in Iran or Saudi Arabia as examples. But such enforcement measures invariably kneecap some aspect of the developing economy: if you ban women or left-handed people from becoming brain surgeons, that reduces your maximum productivity. In an international setting, the nation-state that abandons arbitrary restrictions on social status or employment first has an advantage (and I'd like to cite the shift in English social attitudes to women working outside the home from about 1816 to 1916 as an example).

Another side-effect of this productivity growth is growth in the complexity of financial arrangements. Money isn't a physical entity like an electron, it's an exchange medium like a current flow. It becomes more useful when there's a lot of it, flowing fast: but you can't afford to let it stop moving and pile up in a vault somewhere, or the economic activity it energizes stops moving. Workers have to be paid and use their pay to buy food and goods, and factories have to sell goods (and farms, food) to generate revenue to pay their workers. Governments kickstart the process by creating debt (in the shape of tax obligations) then issuing currency (to pay for useful stuff governments need, like roads and armies) that people can exchange and use to pay their taxes. As productivity grows, the flows of money required to represent exchanges within the economy also have to grow. But: what I said about allowing hoarding of money? If you don't allow some hoarding you get shocks as disjoint elements of the circulation can't keep up with each other. Savings are needed as a buffer to smooth out flows in the force. And the complexity of financial instruments is a response to noise in the system, as people seek better and more reliable ways to protect their investments against sudden happenstance.

Does this sound familiar? Because it ought to: it's the story of our last two centuries.

Pulling back from the tight-focus shock for a moment, we know that development isn't inevitable. If there are no large reserves of coal and iron to mine you're unlikely to get widespread deployment of steam engines. If it's easier for your second sons to set out and march into unoccupied territory and set up farming than to try and eke more food out of a smaller subdivided family farm, you won't get increases in population density until you butt up against the Malthusian limits. If your political system generates a succession crisis that can only be resolved by a brutal and destructive civil war once every generation, that's not going to be conductive to long-term capital accumulation and investment, or to development of a culture of respect for the rule of law (including observance of any form of property law not enforced at swordpoint). If your religion insists that women are chattel and slaveowning is just fine, then the aristocratic beneficiaries of such a system have little incentive to improve productivity and conditions that benefit their perceived inferiors. But the ability of a pre-industrial empire to enforce social norms globally is hampered by their ability to operate on a worldwide scale: no global system of social control that can block industrialization is possible to a state or agency that hasn't acquired the means of rapid communication and transportation (unless it emerges in the future as an accidental side-effect of resource depletion—if Olduvai theory holds water, then future civilizations won't be able to easily reindustrialize because we'll have consumed the necessary prerequisites. So, if you disregard Olduvai theory and don't rate the possibility of a global hegemonizing anti-technology religion that can exist in the absence of the thing it demonizes, it looks like industrialization somewhere should be the rule rather than the exception in sufficiently long-lasting secondary world fiction/thought experiments.

(Finally, I'm getting a really strange feeling here. It was one thing to be getting Halting State moments from a work of fairly rigorously extrapolitive near-future fiction; it's another thing entirely to be getting them from the Merchant Princes series. Let's just hope we don't suddenly get confirmation that the Many Worlds explanation for quantum mechanics is actually true and we live in an Everett-Wheeler cosmology!)



The real Adam Smith saw this, of course.
He advocated government "pump-priming" for capital projects such as turnpike roads, docks & canals, predicting that the increased movement of capital around the system would enrich everyone, including the government, which would get all it's invested money back in extra taxes.

Some form of "less restriction" on movement of capital, goods & workers, also helps the acceleration of industrialisation.
In our word, as opposed to one of those in Empire Games, the removal of all internal tariff/customs barriers inside the British Isles & to certain extent dominions gave us a headlong start over the French who kept internal customs dues until a ridiculously late date.

Also, in our world, the French, Italians & the German princely states did not lack for inventive & clever people, but they were given a much wider remit & "licence" in Britain that the other countries.
Why was this so, because I think it's important?


Why was this so, because I think it's important?

Working hypothesis: defensible borders were absent.

You know the saw that comes up here every so often about this being the longest stretch of time since the fall of the western Roman Empire when an army hasn't crossed the Rhine?

Prior to the industrial revolution, the primary form of wealth acquisition practiced by monarchs in mainland Europe was to either marry it or conquer it. Resources spent fostering infrastructure development or commerce were diverted from military defense and hence weakened them in the short term -- an unacceptable risk. Similarly, the idea that innovation is a public good is itself revolutionary and subversive, and potentially destabilizes the social order that keeps the monarchs on top.

The British crown essentially finished consolidating territorial power with the Union of Crowns in 1603. After that, the central plank of foreign policy for centuries was to keep any one power from dominating the European coastline (and getting the leg up they'd need to mount a credible invasion threat or the ability to blockade foreign trade). But they didn't have to rebuild after a periodic every-couple-of-decades invasion (cough, except for Scotland -- and even then, not after 1603 ended the period English raids on the north). Internally, they could focus on commerce -- at least, after the civil wars.


So… why should we hope that we don't live in an Everett-Wheeler universe? If anything, Wheeler's delayed choice experiment (as much as it spooked me out when I first read about it) is a pretty strong indication (IMHO) that MWI as a model decently approximates the reality at the quantum level.

(I will admit that I have no understanding of how is delayed choice experiment reconciled with Copenhagen interpretation, although I'm sure there must've been a physicist or two out there that worked out that particular knot already, it just seems too interesting not to.)

Anyway, it still wouldn't allow the parallel universes of Merchant Princes, would it? (sadly? fortunately?)


Now that we have a single world united by global communications and transportation, and facing a natural barrier to further physical expansion, you don't need a resource depletion crash (though such is certainly plausible, to say the least) combined with this Olduvai thing in order to restrict development. The only thing you need is a unified world ruling class. They have immortality and they feel allowing the masses of the world to get it would be irresponsible, so they suppress further technological progress, and even suppress economic development, in order to ensure nobody else accidentally comes upon the breakthrough they are already benefiting from secretly. The Gibson thing and all that. Of course it could only be done for a while, somebody in the system would rebel, and the secret would leak. Then it might get messy.

As for "future civilizations won't be able to easily reindustrialize because we'll have consumed the necessary prerequisites", not necessarily. There won't be the resource availability that made the foundational discoveries of industrialization likely, but there's no need for those easy availabilities because the discoveries have already been made. It will be possible to jump to alternate resources because records will exist of the technology. The developmental stage can be skipped. The easy coal that facilitated the development of steam technology won't be there, but it isn't necessary because with the availability of the know how you can do the same thing with charcoal if you have plenty of trees. But why would you when you can just skip right along to biodiesel? The industrialization magnitude will be impaired by the reduced quality of the second string resources, but that's not a technological development issue, it's just a resource depletion issue.

And what's wrong with the Everrett Wheeler universe? If it's so hard to detect it can't be that much of a disaster. Oh, I see, a joke about powerful entities?


> Let's just hope we don't suddenly get confirmation that the Many Worlds explanation
> for quantum mechanics is actually true and we live in an Everett-Wheeler cosmology!

There are some people who think that enough evidence already exists to conclude that Many Worlds is the most reasonable explanation; goes over most of the reasoning for that conclusion in rather exhaustive (if not exhausting) detail.


An interesting hypothesis. And presumably it's down to size: too small, and there's not enough of a critical mass for commerce (cf. Iceland); too large, and the unification mightn't have been achieved.


The rulers of Britain promoted commerce, but only because they weren't totally insulated from international competition. They were safe enough to take a breather and reload, but not safe enough to go to sleep. Maybe those are the ideal conditions for development: those in power are challenged by some form of competition (so they can't just suppress development and enjoy owning their own little world) but not so much that they have to put out immediate fires all the time rather than trying to get an edge by using development. Semi safety.


There's also the point that while France, Germany and Italy had the size, they were patchwork bureaucracies with no unified legal code; different laws and taxes applied depending on who and where you were.

France at least also had a seriously complex set of grants and privileges belonging to various nobles, cities, and the church (to which clever or lucky commoners could buy in, deflating some of the push for reform), which meant reform was almost impossible - there was little movement until after the fall of the Bastille.


Well, there is this small matter of meta-computational brain-eating horrors from the gaps between universes, but apart from that we're all happy campers.


Grrk. Herewith one paragraph of grouch, that doesn't actually change the main point, before I make other points.

As someone with actual experience of living in a world without electricity, gas etc., I wish that those pundits (e.g. Rosling) would not mix up eras in their examples, and use less anecdata and more fact on the amount of labour-saving. Yes, spinning was a killer, which is why the poorer classes wore a lot of felt and leather before the spinning jenny; so was making nails, pins and such items, before wire drawing machines; etc. But hand washing isn't limited to just thumping it on stones in a stream, and is less time-consuming than cooking given simply a supply of hot water, decent-sized sink and washboard, boiler and mangle. The same applies to making, adapting and mending clothes - especially given a manual or treadle sewing machine. And we had fewer clothes, they were more durable, and we wore them for longer between washes. Yes, it all adds up, but the saving of labour (including servants, of course) compared to a fairly wealthy household of 1900 with no electricity or gas isn't as much as is made out. That's VERY different from one of 1700 or earlier, and my assertion is that most of the labour-saving came from the early industrial revolution (though it did not reach everyone, even in the UK, until the 20th century).

Your example of financial instruments is good, and very much matches the development of labour-saving devices, though with a time lag. Originally, both delivered what they were claimed to, and were beneficial for society. Later, they both mutated into mechanisms for extracting the wealth from a large number of people, for the benefit of the plutocrats. I generally do a time-benefit analysis before buying a modern 'labour-saving device', using the TOTAL time, and very often decide that it just isn't worth it. I doubt that I need to explain the abuses of financial instruments to anyone here :-(

So, in theory, I believe that a much greater degree of stability in the use of technology is possible, but it would need a form of government that ruled for the benefit of society as a whole, and allowed developments but only on the basis of proper cost-benefit analyses. Inter alia, that would eliminate the advantages of very big cities, because 80%(*) of the adult population would be economically productive, not the 2%(*) or so of the UK today. I don't mean a Saudi-like horror, either, but something Utopian. While I can see how that would work, technically, I can't see how to make it be stable, politically. Still less get there from here!

(*) Figure invented off the top of my head, following the best practices of our Lords and Masters. In this context, I regard all employment that is needed solely to prop up artifacts of our current system as not economically productive.


Funny you should mention that. Why do the horrors have to be from outside the universe?

This train of thought comes from something I saw pointed out; that if you were abducted by weakly godlike aliens (and given appropriate life support, or you wouldn't be thinking about it for very long) and dumped in a random location in the Universe, the chance that you would be able to see anything at all, without sophisticated optical aid, is rather low. The most distant object visible to humans (and one rather larger than our own galaxy, to boot) is the Andromeda galaxy which is about 2 million lightyears away; the voids in galaxy distribution are 30-50 times bigger than that.

Which means that it's possible to hide an entire galaxy in one of those voids, never mind anything smaller such as a globular cluster, perhaps. And that's assumming it's made out of normal matter.

And then we have the small issue of what dark matter is made of; theories so far have all been either disproved or predictions from them (WIMPs, for example) have come up blank. It could be made of something we have, at best, only vaguely thought of - magmatter, spacetime defects a la Xeelee, or Unobtainium X. Or something else, completely outside our science.

There's lots of space to hide in. Lovecraft was thinking small. What's out there, hiding in the dark?


There's an antidote to reality sliding uncomfortably close to your fiction: stop being concerned with making sure the economics, politics, and physics in your fiction are realistic. This would, necessarily, alienate your core readership.

You made sure your novel about magic spies had a realistic depiction of the thermodynamics of near-vacuum, and that your space opera about sexy robots had a realistic timeline with regard to a trip to the edge of the solar system (along with a realistic rocket, realistic radiation damage, and realistic weight requirements). Is it really surprising that your fiction is "coming true" more than most fiction does -- any moreso than that mathematics is "unreasonably effective" considering it's so internally consistent?


I think there are a couple of things that got missed there.

One that's worth looking up is the Petermen, the much-hated guys who went around collecting saltpeter from wherever they could get it to make gunpowder. Up until the 20th Century, you had to make or mine saltpeter, and making it involved diverting a lot of manure and urine from fertilizing fields into making munitions. The British Empire kind of got out of that trap by finding large sources of saltpeter along the Ganges and exporting them to Britain, where they made waging war a lot easier for the Brits. Indeed, I'd argue that control of India was essential for the British (or any other) big empire to exist. The other big source of nitrates was in Chile, but AFAIK it was a smaller source.

Second thing is why population boomed in the Old World: the spread of new world crops, specifically maize and potatoes (with a side of sweet potatoes that transformed south-east Asia). These allowed huge amounts of food to be grown in fairly miserable places, like northern Europe (potatoes), and hills around the world, from Italy to China. Indeed, China's population boomed too when corn hit, and the ability of people to make a living from rice paddies probably led to a lot of Chinese ultimately moving into Zomia via Yunnan, into the Manchurian hills as "fire field farmers," and so forth. This is getting far afield, but I do wonder how the introduction of corn played into the Taiping Rebellion several centuries later.

Third thing to think about is coal. Although the Chinese were using coal around the 12th Century and the Brits were using "sea coal" in the late Middle Ages (IIRC), industrialization didn't take off until coal became commonly used. Without that source of fossil fuels, you're stuck using some form of transformed sunlight (wood, charcoal, food, or wind) or gravity (water) as your only source of power. That limits growth quite a bit.

These are all preconditions. Still, having technical and financial sophistication, coal, guns, and a more productive suite of crops doesn't guarantee an industrial revolution. The counter-example is Qing Dynasty China. They had all those (guns were invented in China around 1000 CE), but instead of an industrial revolution, they had some of the biggest rebellions the planet has so far seen. I'm pretty sure chance and politics play a bigger role than we're willing to acknowledge.


"There are some people who think that enough evidence already exists to conclude that Many Worlds is the most reasonable explanation; ..."

Well, a quick glance showed that he is claiming several dogmas as fact, several of which many other people strongly disagree with. The reason that the multi-world hypothesis is so favoured is that most physicists have serious problems getting their heads around the possibilities of either a partially acausal universe or even (strangely) physical properties belonging to any algebra beyond the complex numbers. As a rusty mathematician, I really don't see the problem with them being (e.g.) measures - why on earth should probability be purely in the mind? I don't think that's enough to address Wheeler's experiment, but I know that I am not smart enough to think in terms of both acausality and directional time, simultaneously.


I think it is interesting that many things are possible to get invented are delayed because nobody perceives a need. For instance, digital computers were possible as soon as the vacuum tube was invented (1901), but didn't really happen until nearly 50 years later. Refrigeration (including air conditioning) was demonstrated by John Gorrie in 1850. The Romans had the basics of steam turbine technology in the 1st century AD., but it didn't become "interesting" for ~1500 years.


The problem with many worlds that I still see is that it appears that splitting the universe on any quantum interaction involves no energy or energy-equivalent.

That seems really, really weird.

In a multiple universe-generating interaction (two photons, for example) Something (e.g. the entire universe) just doubled, in some dimensionality of higher reality. Given how many quantum interactions get determined into multiple universal states, doesn't this lead to some sort of infinite inflation of multiple universes in multiple universe hyperspace? This seems like a positive feedback loop of the very worst sort.

The other problem is that, IIRC, information propagates at light speed, so if the universe splits itself when every quantum interaction is determined, that's 10^10+ universe splittings all propagating outward from their quantum of origin at the speed of light, across the universe, every small fraction of a second, each split taking billions of years to propagate across the increasingly expanding universe to tell everything which universe they're in. Presumably these events interact with each other too? That's a bit of a mess, is it not? Realities colliding doesn't even begin to cover the interactions among all the possibilities. Unless universes split instantaneously across the entire universe, every time a photon decides where it is or some such.

Are there any more epicycles we can throw on this particular model?


As an aside France and the German Empire had extremely strong nobility, often times souvereign nobility in the case of the strange neither holy nor roman Empire. A small reason for the French Revolution were the nobility who tea-partied the tax reform proposals of the crown. And before the seemingly absolute rule there was the Fronde.

In England, Great Britain and then the United Kingdom on the other hand the peers of the realm the aristocracy as independent powers against the crown was somewhat sidelined or for some reason seems rather loyal from the 18th century onwards. Which makes a strong crown, even if the strongness shows itself in the absence of strong regulation.

Why the strong crown? Maybe the british peers lost their appetite in the civil wars (Anarchy, Roses, Long Parliament). Or maybe something different?


Why was this so, because I think it's important?
"Working hypothesis: defensible borders were absent."

...and this is also clearly why we have never been able to embrace the "European Project" which, ultimately, is going to require full-scale federalism (i.e. breaking up into smaller units (regions), losing the absurd middle-sized units (the nations), and having a large unit at the very top (the continental bit.) Having a set of fixed borders has been great for our national identity but absolutely hopeless as far as dealing with issues like regional economic imbalance and so on, because the UK kept centralising whenever possible and dismissing federal options without even examining them (the Scottish solution was an extraordinary aberration, and look how difficult that was to execute.)
And whilst I certainly won't defend the current structures of the EU in that regard either, they can't do the federalising bit properly because the nation states just won't let go. And we are the prime culprit in that regard.

Ooops, sorry for the derailing.


A couple of really important inventions got invented and deployed surprisingly late: the wooden shipping pallet didn't really spread until the US military caught onto their utility during the second world war, and as for multimodal container freight ... that could have come along in the 19th century(!) but actually didn't get off the ground until the late 1950s/early 1960s.

(Yes, communications and shipping manifests were important, but I suspect you could have gone a long way to coordinating the logistics of container freight using telegraph and punched cards; meanwhile, the articulated tractor/trailer truck was invented around 1918, and the ability to move freight between dockside flatbed railway cars and ships with container holds could have been done earlier. Entrenched practices of using cheap unskilled labour to handle break-bulk cargo had a lot to do with that, as (later) did longshoremen and railway trades unions; but I'm kind of surprised the multimodal container didn't catch on during WW2, at the same time as the wooden pallet, the jeep, and the bulldozer.)


Yes, Reality is in the process of constant explosively exponential growth and always has been, and it was infinite to begin with. We experience this growth as time. No epicycles involved, actually it's pretty simple. The photon deciding where to be doesn't split the universe, the universe splitting decides where the photon will be. The speed of light applies within universes, not between them, plus these other universes are separated from each other by very small distances through many dimensions. Of course I am not an authority of any kind, just made all that up.


Yeah, I think you're quite correct there. Although missing the angle that the Scottish "aberration" is essentially the start of a de-merger; Scotland wasn't conquered by England, it was the minor partner in a voluntary merger in the early 18th century after the Darien project nearly bankrupted the kingdom and demonstrated that Scotland on its own was too small to be an imperial power. (What's happening his century is that Thatcher utterly screwed the unionist rump in Scotland for a generation by pandering to her southern base within the party. The centralization and dismissal of federalism you mention is a big part of that. So Scotland drifted into alienation, accelerated by the Poll Tax rebellion, and devolution was a 'quick fix' to stop the pressure for independence from going too far. It worked for a generation, but with the slide into irrelevance of Scottish Labour accelerating and a series of successful SNP governments, and another conservative government down south, the ratchet towards de-merger from the union is moving again. And because nationalism in Scotland is defined as a reaction against authoritarian little-Englander conservativism, it has taken on a pro-European socially progressive hue, utterly unlike most other nativist national parties ...!)


Been wondering how much faster technology and everything else for that matter would have happened if statistics (probability theory etc.) had caught on earlier, i.e., recognized as a legitimate branch of math. From the bit I've read on Wikipedia, stats usage (such as sampling followed by extrapolation from samples) goes back to at least 500BCE.

The article link about populations seems to ignore the human cost of having children only to see them die before you. Like it or not, emotional (not just physical) hardship has a quantifiable impact on a society's economic productivity.


grouchy rant of my own:

hand washing isn't limited to just thumping it on stones in a stream, and is less time-consuming than cooking given simply a supply of hot water, decent-sized sink and washboard, boiler and mangle

such supply was not a given and usually represented a lot of labor in and of itself(getting the fuel, hauling the water, etc.). Sure, some "labor saving" devices aren't, but most are. Washing machine? definitely are*. So are dishwashers, at least in restaurants, army messhalls and other large-scale kitchens**.

in addition, please do not confuse "labor saving" with "time saving". Some of them save time, some of them simply save physical effort - cleaning carpets became way easier since the vacuum-cleaner came along. and if you don't believe me please try to lift a carpet of any size.

IIRC people in Victorian England had servants ,when they could afford them, because keeping a house clean and doing all the required chores is more than a full time job for anyone.

*as someone who does what handwash must be done in the household, the breakdown is as follows:
1) machine: sort dirty and load(5 minutes tops), sort what requires hanging and what goes into the drier(no more than 15 minutes, not necessary for all loads), put in the drier( less than 5 minutes), put clean laundry in folding basket(5 minutes). all in all? 25 minutes light labor tops, for 5-7kg per load
2) handwash: fill bucket, add detergent and put clothes in(5 minutes) , wait for clothes to soak(5 minutes) rinse and hang clothes (5-10 minutes). all in all?20 minutes, including some not so light labor and working in positions that will give me backaches if I don't watch them(and I'm a pretty healthy 30-something man), for 2-3 pieces of clothing.
for reference: we need to do 6-7 loads a week, call it two hours. cooking a crockpot, enough food for a week of meals for me and the SO, if I don't feel fancy:
1) chopping relevant things(beef/chicken and vegetables) - up to 1 hour.
2) frying/sauteeing onions and meat - 15 minutes
3) adding relevant liquids and leaving alone - 2-3 hours in which I can do other things.
total: less than 2 hours.

**for example my company's dining room has over 1K people going through it each weekday during lunch hour - the manpower needed to manage that? one person to load and unload the washer and a couple more to put the clean ones in their place and collect the dirty ones people didn't put in the relevant bin(and also do the rounds to clean tables and pick up trash people dropped and didn't bother to get).


You are correct, but not for those examples! A computer could not have been built with the early thermionic valves, because they were too power-hungry and unreliable; even the first-generation machines were huge, and had a MTBF of a few tens of hours (I worked on one). Refrigeration was delayed by the unreliability of the technology; as soon as someone produced a reliable refrigerator, they started to take off. And practical steam power had to wait for the metal construction technologies to advance far enough.


I'm not defending Many Worlds, I have a somewhat tenuous grasp of the maths behind it all and the need for it and the alternatives. I definitely don't have the background to detect BS from well grounded theoretical physics in the replies to the major objections (and there are more than you've raised on the wikipedia page for MWT) but there are responses given that presumably satisfy a reasonable number of people who spend their academic careers in this field while not all of them.


Doesn't at least one of the many universe scenario say that universes are not causally connected so that while each universe unravels as it will - with a potentially infinite number of variations/iterations - what happens in Universe A1 has no connection (therefore no energy exchange) with Universe B2. (Unless there is some sort of as yet undiscovered wave/matter that connects everything.)

Also, just because matter/waves/energy might have a 'complement/analog' (?) in another universe, does not (to me) automatically mean that the human species would show up at exactly the same time - right now, co-existent with us - or develop as it has or even survive past first attempts at fire, agriculture, chemical warfare, etc.


The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is an example of, quite literally, multiplying entities beyond necessity. It is fallout from the single most troublesome aspect of the Copenhagen interpretation of QM, the collapse of the wave function due to measurement. This collapse is distressingly unphysical. It is time-asymmetric. It creates as many problems as it solves. The many-worlds interpretation solves some of those problems, and adds a few more -- how can energy be conserved, for example, if worlds are constantly being created with each quantum choice being made?

There is a better way; it is the quantum Bayesian interpretation, in which the only thing that collapses in the course of a quantum measurement is the observer's assessment, in their own mind, of the probability distribution of the phenomenon they sought to measure. Wave functions become subjective, being models of reality rather than reality itself. In the quantum Bayesian interpretation, the collapse of the wave function goes away, spooky-action-at-a-distance goes away ... and the ongoing multiplication of worlds goes away.


Charlie, I've got several major problems with your original statement.

First, the world birth rate is nowhere near replacement rate (or we'd be stabilized *now*, and not looking at 9 billion (US) within 40 years. It's *definitely* slowing (far too late), and the more women are educated, the lower it goes, but still, we're way overpopulated. And it shows in the similarity of response to the overpopulation experiments done with rats decades ago. (Allowing very young to die through neglect (we haven't gotten to eating our young, literally, except for some fringe nut cases).

Second, styles don't change when clothing gets cheap. They didn't change very much in the 19th Century; in fact, except for some women's clothing, it *stopped* by the late 1930's. Quick - look at a picture of well-dressed men in 1800, then 1850, then 1900, then 1950... and look out on the street, or in your office *now*. Men's "fashion designers" have no reasonable rationale for existing.

Another thing: why wait for coal or gasoline - what's wrong with burning methanol or ethanol?

And then there's fashion, itself.
Rant warning
The way I understand it, "fashion", as we know it, came into existence in the court of the Sun King. That was a carefully crafted policy - given the cost of elaborate clothing, it was intended to cut into the nobility's cash flow... so they had significantly less money for, say, private armies, and thoughts of overthrow.

As the nobility declined, the wealthy middle class, then the middle class, identifying with the nobility in their rise in status, followed the nobility's fashion... and they, too, spent a *lot* on it. As so it goes today - make "fashionable" cheap clothes, requiring special care, and *oops*, that's *so* last year! You need a new wardrobe! and if you don't, the cheap clothes will wear out soon, anyway (as opposed to, say, good jeans).

And fashion designers, to push this, of course are The Arbiters of what's in and what's not. (And if I ever meet one, I'm going to punch them in the face for "green is not in" (except one year in 10 or so, for example.)
End rant.

And about the multiple worlds concept... sorry, given how few quantum mechanical effects show in the macroscopic world, I cannot see the entire world, or even major pieces, changing with every free-will choice. I'd say it had to be some event that was caused by a truly huge energy release (like, say, a sun going nova). I'm not sure that even the first use of a nuke would do it, though I could be argued out of that stance.



We don't live in an Everett-Wheeler cosmology? It *is* the simplest model that explains what we think we observe--alternatives all require adding epicycles without getting any better fit to what we observe...

Note that my calculations are sensitive to (a) progress in technology scaling linearly with two-heads-are-better-than-one as Michael Kremer postulates, and (b) that the world be capable of supporting 3 billion people at near-Malthusian pre-industrial levels of productivity without generating substantial and irreversible resource depletion. Buy those and it follows. But you have to buy those first...


You are comparing a seriously inefficient manual technique with an efficient mechanical one. As I said, I have experience of exactly those technologies, used when there was no alternative, and have seen them done much better (and done them better myself). Your inefficient method became near-ubiquitous due to the destruction of the communities and infrastructure that made the efficient manual technologies possible. Compare that with what happened in a large (often multi-family) household, with the space and equipment to do it as I described.

Once of the consequences of washing machines and, especially, dishwashers is that their use causes people to generate uses for them. When I was a single carer with two small children and a full-time job, I rarely used the dishwasher, because it didn't save me enough effort to be worth it. But, because I had been brought up in another era, I didn't generate the excessive number of washables that most people with dishwashers do; I thought.

I am not denying the economies of scale in hotels, cafeterias etc., but they are NOT realistic of what is done today, and the claims of labour-saving I was railing against do NOT assume them. Yes, I agree that we living in (mandatorily) full-catered condominiums would improve efficiency.

Lastly, do the actual calculations. At a conservative estimate, there are a good 100 hours of disposable time per adult per week (i.e. excluding sleeping, washing, essential eating and excreting). Let's say that one person can do the washing for 4 adults and 2 children for a week in 8 hours (it's actually less, when properly equipped). That's 2% of the adult's disposable time, so the potential SOCIETAL improvement in efficiency is pretty small.


Yes, I agree. That's close what I mean by saying that physical constants could belong to a different algebra.

"In the quantum Bayesian interpretation, ..., spooky-action-at-a-distance goes away ..."

Does it, indeed! I am not enough of a quantum mechanic to deduce that; I tried reading various books to see whether it did or didn't, and the authors (generally overt or closet multi-worlders) always evaded the point. Do you have a reference to something that describes that in tolerably accessible but still moderately mathematical terms?


I always join in these threads late, so my first posts end up being critiques/ expansions of what others have written.

So, the first two things Heteromeles writes about look fine to me. The thing with the coal is that it was actually commonly used by the late medieval period. Newcastle was shipping it all over the place from, IIRC the 14th century, and by the 16th people in London were complaining about the horrible smoke everywhere from it.

So coal itself isn't the point, rather I suggest it's having social structures of innovation, as CHarlie says, and reaching certain levels of technological capability, spurred by need and greed. In Scotland coal miners in the Lothians were effectively slaves until the early 19th century; hardly an indicator of an efficient modern industry. But elsewhere the introduction of steam power enabled better deeper bigger mines to be pumped out more easily.

Then there's the invention of coke, which replaced charcoal and permitted better quality iron etc to be produced without so much hassle.
I think it was on here someone pointed out the early industrial evolution was water powered in the 18th century, following on from centuries of industrial water power development.

As for China and chance and politics, yes, they are undoubtedly much more important than many people are willing to admit. But then it gets stuck into the individual ideas and thoughts of various people in positions of power and attempts at history kind of break down.


as for multimodal container freight ... that could have come along in the 19th century(!) but actually didn't get off the ground until the late 1950s/early 1960s

A good history of containerization, at least in the US, is The Box by Marc Levinson.

One big problem with intermodal was the Interstate Commerce Commission, which did things like set railroad tariffs — and for a container, they were set as if it was full of the highest-rate item it contained. Which made a container more expensive in many cases than shipping items separately.

And according to the book, containerization caught on with the military during the Vietnam War. Some hitches in terms of loading containers (eg. a container full of ammunition is too heavy, but loading it only up to the weight limit wastes space) and the containers were smaller, but that was the first big success.


As far as I am aware there is no prediction made by the EGW MultiWorld model that is not also made by all other valid interpretations of Quantum Theory.

The MultiWorld Theory is an INTERPRETATION of Quantum Mechanics. It doesn't predict anything that every other interpretation doesn't predict. (Getting communication between multiple worlds requires an extension to Quantum Theory that EWG explicitly predicts is impossible.)

That said, I find "collapse" to be extra baggage that is saved by positing the MultiWorld interpretation. This doesn't guarantee it's correct, but to me it's what Occam's razor suggests should be accepted as "most reasonable". Others find "whole other universes!!" to be too much. I agree that that's a serious consideration, but I also suspect that the "world-line splits" are local. Otherwise you run into problems with "superluminal". I also suspect that world lines converge (i.e., each present has multiple pasts as well as multiple futures). This leads to problems of the Wigner's Friend variety, and I'm not physicist, so someone else will need to work this out.


Digital computers require more than just vacuum tubes, they require working memory. That means core memory at that time...and it took awhile for core memory to be invented.

Even more importantly, computers require a LOT of vacuum tubes, and the early vacuum tubes warmed up slowly and failed quickly. So even with the improved tubes in the 1940's a computer was barely possible.


Second, styles don't change when clothing gets cheap. They didn't change very much in the 19th Century; in fact, except for some women's clothing, it *stopped* by the late 1930's.

Disagree. Taking stock of myself: of what I was wearing (right before I just had a bath) the only items that'd have been of familiar pattern to a man in the 1930s would be my socks -- although the fabric contains some really weird polymers and silver-coated nanoparticles (to reduce odor), and maybe my trousers, which were jeans-cut (but again: weird-ass non-denim fabric). The rest? Boxer shorts and tee-shirts weren't part of normal male attire, much less everyday wear. Sports sandals made of weird polymers (again: it's that high tech stuff) ditto, and as for a hoodie ...? Nope. Drop me on the streets in the 1930s and heads would have turned, for all the wrong reasons (starting with the lack of a hat and working down from there). Show my clothes to a fabric manufacturer and they'd have done a big WTF, too.

You may be confusing men's lounge suits with regular wear. Well, maybe ... but these days they're either workwear or status-asserting formalwear: they're not what we generally wear as everyday clothing, any more than a dude in the 1930s would have worn white-tie-and-tails about town during the daytime.

(As for western women's clothing fashions, I don't think I need to defend my assertion that fashion changes slightly more rapidly this century than it did in the early Victorian period: and it changed more in the 19th century than in the preceding couple of centuries at that.)


I fully agree, when talking about the UK population - the clothing changes even since the 1950s have been immense.

On the other hand, virtually everything I own would have been familiar in the 1930s (and generally the materials, too), except that briefs came in only in 1938, and ankle socks and zips were almost unknown. To transpondians: I am in the UK. Of course, I would have been regarded as sartorially unacceptable in polite company - some people still hold that view :-)


The comments on Brad's blog site are worth reading. Personally I think this is classic "iffy" extrapolation. Just because the population growth rate increased with population until the 16th century doesn't mean that it could have continued up to around 3bn population today. (Brad's comment :point b assumption).

I think a delayed Industrial Revolution is a good story point, but I wouldn't want to justify its validity based on some very simplistic economic extrapolation. De Long is justifiably cautious. I see his post as a "3 finger exercise" to extrapolate the numbers of some data, rather than proving its validity.


Oh yes, historical clothing. I'm with Charlie and Elderly cynic here.
For instance, I was looking through some family photos from the 1970's, and saw my mother and father in some normal for the time but not right for not clothing. Yes, jackets then and now have two arms, a body and lapels, often buttons. But the variations in fabric and cut are quite huge.
Then there's the rise of outdoor clothing as everyday wear, from tracksuits and shellsuits to leggings and polyester jumper like things.

As for men's fashion in the 1930's and now, the most obvious change is the loss of the hat. But the shoes worn have changed, and of course fewer people wear shirt and tie, I think. Did men in the 1930's wear t-shirts with collars? Not as far as I am aware, but they do now.

Then there's the Sun king thing. Louis may well have encouraged fashion as a means of display and money wastage that was better than killing each other, but the evidence is clear about how much fashions changed in the past, e.g. the 16th century the royalty/ high nobility were changing what they wore every year, with the period of change in style lengthening the lower you went down the social scale. Peasants at the end of the century weren't wearing much different from what they did at the start, although in England at least the precise fabrics were a little different and they probably did try to have a fancy gown for sundays.

So anyway, my point is that contrary to the assertion that "As the nobility declined, the wealthy middle class, then the middle class, identifying with the nobility in their rise in status, followed the nobility's fashion... and they, too, spent a *lot* on it." people had been copying their social elders and dressing above their station for many centuries. There are even medieval complaints about it and of course the sumptuary laws.

(Which proved to be fun a couple of years ago when I was being a Tudor at Kentwell, when two men who were being magistrates took a dislike to me and tried to get me on whatever charge they could pin on me. They noticed my gold buttons and found the appropriate passage in the sumptuary laws and were all set to do me for it until I pointed out the bit about being on the Queen's business or however it was worded. Seeing as I was a gentleman usher to the queen, that rather put their gas at a peep)

Finally, there was this:

"Another thing: why wait for coal or gasoline - what's wrong with burning methanol or ethanol?"

Nope, that's not going to work. Either you expect them to work out some sort of underground coal gasification, which seems rather unlikely, or else you are assuming that somehow people can afford to ferment and then distill a large amount of their food crop every year. The point being that coal and oil were burnt in large quantities, effectively producing the sort of calories you'd get if you doubled or trebled the area under cultivation.
So it was a complete no go, outside some laboratory uses. Although there might have been ethanol powered cars at one point long ago.


Well, what if there is an infinite but fixed number of parallel universes? That would account for the wave-like phenomena but wouldn't posit an inflationary number of universes or break energy conservation. AFAIK all QM transformations are unitary, so that might agree.


There's a couple of hitches too that were social. (Planet Money did a good podcast on this)

1. Standardized shipping containers require an agreement on the size and shape. So lots of fighting because adopting a standardized shipping container would mess with the livelihood of the ship builders and lines whose ships were less able to take it. Especially if you had a good deal of capital built up in an existing merchant fleet. (Although mentioned for rail and trucking, shipping defines the container box).

2. Fight from those who are losing jobs and graft. Longshore work is an honorable and horrible job (a great-grandfather of mine died froma crate dropped on him in ~1915). But longshore work was great if you were crooked. Smuggling as well as theft were easy with the old hand removal of cargo. That's why Organized Crime got so big in the docks and remained the key to Mafia power for so long. The crime lords got rich off graft, and paid it back by helping strikes and longshoreman getting a piece. Try to stop too much theft, and a strike would break the dockyards. Which also means you get into ugly politics about de-unionizing the industry when you deal with shipping containers.


To expand on this, I think access to nitrates would of sparked some big changes just due to the population boom resulting.

Unless Chile/Peru and the Pacific islands became off limits for their nitrates, the increased crop yield would be providing a population boom.

Otoh, North America has never been tested for what it could handle with a per-industrial agriculture society with free access to the entire continent. There's still transportation limits, but the Mississippi River valley will support a rather huge number of farmers.


Not that I'm doubting the source at all, it just seems really weird to read that the US Army was unwilling to part-fill a container to stick within the weight limits from today's perspective when we have containers that carry, amongst other things refugees (legally or otherwise), get repurposed for housing, get used to carry (deliberately) mostly air wrapped up in tins (I don't know if Eddie Stobart still have the contract but at one point their commonest cargo was empty cans to be taken to one of the big drinks manufacturers from where the cans were made to be filled with drinks for example) and so on.

Filling the container to just under the load limit and then fastening the boxes down seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to from today's perspective.


The situation for women's clothing REALLY depends on who you look at. For one thing, if you add a bra, make your boxers out of different material, and make the wearer about 30 years younger than you, you could find a reasonable number of women wearing exactly what you've described (although they wouldn't call them boxers, they'd call them boy shorts). In the 1930's really not so likely, although I'm sure it was possible to do. But not for a significant part of the population in most circumstances. At the beach or at sporting events was the main exceptions to this. Speaking of the beach, bikinis... don't make me laugh. One pieces, not at all clinging and in plain colours of heavy linen was the norm. Lovely.

With the exception of extreme formal wear (cocktail dresses, wedding dresses, formal gowns etc.) there are virtually no occasions where a woman is not acceptably dressed wearing trousers these days. Even on the infamous red carpet at the Oscars and the like some women wear trouser suits. And while some wear dresses or skirts in many work or social environments it's very distinctly a choice. In the 1930's dresses were pretty much the only choice for 99% of occasions. Always with a hat if you were outside of course, for most of the decade with a belt at the waist and some crazy frou-frou around the neck. Harking back to the comment about one-pieces at the beach in the 1930's, in the hot weather we had last week, in the city centre and some 20 miles from the sea we had young women in bikini tops and shorts wandering around and no one batted an eyelid. There would have been much fainting in the 1930's, possibly arrests for public indecency.

If you go back another 30 years to 1900, corsets were the order of the day for just about every woman. That died out over the 19-teens These days I know women (and men actually) who wear corsets. But it's a fashion/fetish choice. Not only for steampunk cosplay although that's a new big trend too.


From what I remember, the problem was that logistically they wanted a single container to be one thing (for ease in sorting) and they didn't want to waste space in the ship. With breakbulk there would be a mix of dense and not-dense, and the hold would be full — and quartermasters still wanted to do that because empty space inside a container was seen as wasted space.

Once they decided not to worry about that, they became fans. And that happened during the Vietnam War. From what I remember reading, by the end of the war container shipping had more than paid for itself including the construction of a specialized port.

I could check in the book once I get home, if you're interested.


I think some of that is just logistics command figuring out their capacity issues. The other is we always think of these as truck containers, but really its ocean going shipping that's the key issue, and figuring out load balancing when you can't fiddle cargo is a big change. (can't move small but dense cargo easily around as ballast.

Apparently the army started messing around with proto-containers that were basically huge pallets during the war, and post-war adopted a 'transporter' module that was used extensively in Korea.

That means core memory at that time...and it took awhile for core memory to be invented.

Actually the first working storage was delay line memory which used acoustic pulses in long tubes of mercury. Which could theoretically have been invented shortly after vacuum tubes, but wasn't.


The trade system of Euro-Western-Middle Eastern civilisation ran through the Mediterranean and then connected to the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean trade routes through the Black Sea and the Don/Volga rivers, or through the Red Sea, or through the Levant and the Tigris/Euphrates (and possibly a land connection across Persia or the Caucasus).

These trade systems were in place from at least the period of classical Greece and the Phoenician trade system in the Med, and possibly even before the Bronze Age collapse. They had outlasted every political entity in the region - even if you count the Romans as 753 BCE to 1453 CE, then the trade system of the Med/Indian Ocean/Silk Road lasted longer.

They completely collapsed over a period of no more than a single lifetime in the early sixteenth century. Even if the Americas hadn't been incorporated into the economic system, the South-East Passage to the Indies was enough to turn the world's trading system upside down.

This absolutely torched the economies of most of the Mediterranean world. Look at the difference in Italy between the Renaissance and 1600, or the rapid economic decline of the Ottomans after Suleiman the Magnificent, or the reduction of the Berber city-states to piracy and slave trading. Of course, the reverse side of the coin applies to Spain, to France and (ultimately) to England/Great Britain.

I find it hard to believe that this economic convulsion has nothing to do with the industrial revolution a century (or so) later.


(Finally, I'm getting a really strange feeling here. It was one thing to be getting Halting State moments from a work of fairly rigorously extrapolitive near-future fiction; it's another thing entirely to be getting them from the Merchant Princes series. Let's just hope we don't suddenly get confirmation that the Many Worlds explanation for quantum mechanics is actually true and we live in an Everett-Wheeler cosmology!)

Ok Host, you asked for it.

Firstly, we start with the question: Do you remember the James Bond film, Moonraker, where Jaws and a blond woman have a played-for-comedy romance? 1979, so I'm being nice using an example that is fairly current for the majority of readers.

She has blond pigtails and is very short, the joke is about the [not-very-subtle] Ayran master-race and how Jaws [the henchman to the Big Bad] will never be acceptable in their new society.

Got that memory out of a dusty room?

Now, do you remember what the often parodied joke about their relationship is (in adverts, mentioned in the film bibliography and even in the obituary of the writer) and what visual gag it's based on?

Now, have a look at this: We are "Happy" at CERN YT: Song / Science Dance: 3:34. The bit you're looking at is 2:33.

I won't spoil the mystery quiet yet, but it's a fun one. It'll also tie into my next point.


On a serious response to the Op-Ed, part and parcel of Enlightenment Thinking, Capital (Coffee Shops) and Urban settings is meeting new ideas and developing new things with them.

It's something I've been Eyeing recently with regards to the internet.

Simply put, over the vast reaches of different niches, there should be far more new thought / synergy / New Exciting Stuff.

In fact, we're seeing a smoothing across the board, and it's not driven by excellence or meritocracy.

Well, there is this small matter of meta-computational brain-eating horrors from the gaps between universes, but apart from that we're all happy campers.

It depends.

The Aztecs couldn't comprehend horses; the dhole were never domesticated.

If you want a jokey reference, I spy a lot of Democrats wistfully romanticizing John Boehner as the orange one who they could at least empathize with. (Forgetting his political spiking of, I don't know, the entire US Government and Congress.)

Perhaps you'll come to love / wistfully remember the friendly ones...


To your theory. If the Jurchen and Mongols hadn't messed everything up, could the Song Dynasty have industrialized?


Recall something from a BBC history special about how women's clothing changed mostly because of WW2. The avant-garde had already raised their hem lines but with Britain blockaded and everyone having to make do, everyday wear/fashions had to change. War effort related ministries distributed pamphlets with easy to copy patterns to housewives including the very practical, easy to make out of very little fabric, A-line skirt.

The series is called Wartime Farm, eight episodes in total. Excellent series - highly recommended. This series also ties in with discussion about food production, population growth or maintenance at least and how technology is adapted and distributed during difficult times. Not sure whether the contemporary Western world could get its act together and cooperate to the same level that the WW2 Brits had to.

Episode 1 Intro (partial):

'Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn face up to the challenges of the biggest revolution ever seen in the history of the British countryside as they turn Manor Farm back to how it was run in the Second World War. When Britain entered the war, two-thirds of all Britain's food was imported - and now it was under threat from a Nazi blockade. To save Britain from starvation, the nation's farmers were tasked with doubling food production in what Churchill called 'the frontline of freedom'. This meant ploughing up 6.5 million acres of unused land - a combined area bigger than the whole of Wales.'


The "often-parodied joke"? No, I'm afraid I don't. I would guess that it'd be something about either the huge disparity in their sizes and her youthful appearance making her look more like his daughter than a romantic interest, or else about her having braces on her teeth (except I can't say whether that's a false memory or a real one). But I've never had any interest in the background trivia of Bond films, and the main thing I remember from that one in particular is the special effects being even shitter than Doctor Who managed.


Skirts, though? As far as I'm aware the thing that started to break down the resistance to women wearing trousers was the late-Victorian/Edwardian cycling craze, but it took a looong time to become a universal phenomenon. It's only quite recently that practicality has gained the upper hand over hideboundness in the uniforms of British female police officers.


My biggest issue with this is Spain's fall is pretty clear before the industrial revolution possible due to Spain's closed market economics and dependence mining gold and silver.

Quick version: Spain from 1492- Napoleon survived off forcing all trade in the Spanish Americas to enter Spain Proper. This is combined with massive amounts of gold and silver used to buy merc armies to fight in Italy. Spain's dependency on their mines wrecked their economy as it became easier to buy rather than build. Then inflation kicks in as they bring in so much raw specie, the prices went up.

I'd imagine both England and the Netherlands had their development to true industry paid for by that same Spanish specie. (Actually that comes from James Burke).


Sure, Spain spectacularly screwed up the economics of the biggest single windfall in human history.

But five countries (adding the Netherlands and Portugal to my original list) had their access to trade zoom up like a rocket in an extraordinarily short time period. Initially, the diversion of the Indian Ocean trade was more important than the Americas - and that's arguably also true later on too; it took a long time to get a large, stable, globally-connected population in the Americas, so it was mostly just the silver and gold for a long time, which only really mattered to Spain.

But that did give five countries a huge economic shot in the arm, and two of them really took that and ran with it - both Britain and the Netherlands transformed their economies between 1500 and 1700.


"When Britain entered the war, two-thirds of all Britain's food was imported..."

Which reminds me: surely it's something of a dodgy conclusion to say that we "exceeded Malthusian limits". Rather, we just temporarily evaded them by grabbing food from elsewhere (and one of the problems facing the NBE seems to be that it can't do this, because of the hostile French hegemony). I haven't read Malthus myself, but by the time he was writing we were already sufficiently dependent on imported food for a foreign power to have derived the idea of blockading us; was he not at least partially thinking on a global rather than a local scale? Be that as it may, nobody heeded his warning; population growth in the 19th century far outstripped increases in food production, and by WW1 we were way beyond the ability to support ourselves, totally dependent on means for evading the limit and unquestionably vulnerable to disruption of those means by enemy action.

And we're still doing it - "we" now referring to the industrialised world in general rather than just Britain. We rely on making less fortunate nations produce an excess of food so we can eat it. We are still evading Malthus by exploiting inequalities in development. And we can't ever exceed the limit because the planet is finite. We can maximise food production using the land that exists, and we can (don't, but can) manage population densities so that we don't have dense populations dependent on exploiting less dense ones, but we can never sustain a population greater than the planet can provide food for.


or else about her having braces on her teeth (except I can't say whether that's a false memory or a real one).

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. Yes, the size thing was one part of the joke - the other was that they shared an empathetic bond due to both having metal-clad teeth[1].

Given that there are adverts from around the time [Visa Credit Card, not exactly low ball spenders on Ad Agency Mimetic Weapons, and you don't employ people who mess up the basics like that - Abbott Mead Vickers are better than Saatchi, natch] that specifically reference this...

Apparently it never happened.


Even the Actress who played the part has gone on record to deny it ever happening.




Not this crowd's thing, but: Gold / White or Black / Blue dress?

Now go back and look at why CERN's video referencing "Bond / Mandela" with the white hair chap moving a piece of paper in front of his eyes and out again is a bit of a tell.


Oh, and the Vid Editing peeps just updated their demo vids to include Trump:

Face2Face: Real-time Face Capture and Reenactment of RGB Videos (CVPR 2016 Oral) YT: Tech Demo: 6:35. 3:13 onwards is Trump, just after the Putin demo (snark!).

[1] This will develop into a really clever little joke / riff on why Steam Punk Submarines are always dumb, but there we go. Hint: it's not the coal, it's the heat / gasses.


The Upshot of this is that Host's snark about 'finding the last Homo Sapiens Sapiens" and it being a Lemur...



There is a point to this little digression: It's about altering reality to prevent change.

The major point being: ignore the pinapples, razzle-dazzle and myths of Hollywood: Hacking Reality is Easy.

As stated: this isn't my reality - shock troops dropped into crappy Hell World where you're still stringing people up for their skin color [not race: you don't even know what race is, let alone know that five species were supposed to survive] and beliefs, and you've managed to get to a point of biospherecide.

Junkie XL, Elvis Presley - A Little Less Conversation (Elvis vs JXL) YT: Music: 3:51


Early tubes were indeed unreliable. So were the ones that were used for the first computers, but since they needed to be more reliable the investment in research was made to create what was needed (it was silicon poisoning). Eniac was a huge at 17k+ tubes, but it is possible to build a reasonable computer with as few as 800 tubes (with a very limited instruction set) or even better, 3500+ (something like a 6502). While the technology didn't exist for magnetic memory, telephones existed so something like a acoustic delay line could have been used (re: Stephenson's Cryptonomicon) or even dynamic memory (with tubes) as something more random, if rather power hungry. And punch cards were created for Jacquard looms in 1801. :)
Note that I'm not saying that any of this is likely, just what might have been if somebody had started applying electronics technology to implementing boolean logic sooner. The pieces were there. Babbage and Lovelace played with the idea of a programmable machine in 1840.

And yes, it would have been hot. But, refrigeration was invented in 1850 :)


The converse of 'the Industrial Revolution was Inevitable' is interesting. I've read quite a few books (Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp was probably the first) where someone gets thrown back in time and tries to jumpstart local technology - with varying levels of success.

Could it be that without the necessary population mass behind a society, the time traveller would give the locals some fun new toys, but the Industrial Revolution would not follow after all? Perhaps Martin Padway in 562 CE would wonder how come there wasn't any technological takeoff in his Ostrogothic Kingdom.


"Why was this so, because I think it's important?"

Charlie's defensible borders idea was the first thing that occurred to me, too, but I think there's more to it than that. It's a stability thing, but not wholly or even mainly in terms of external threats.

Come the 18th century we in Britain had pretty much sorted out the monarchy and got them where we wanted them, so the country as a whole could attend to other concerns than whose arse was in the big chair. Even running out of heirs wasn't a big deal any more - we could just shrug our shoulders and import the soundest figurehead from overseas, without any need to fight wars about it (the Jacobites were pretty trivial, after all, and IIRC their activities led us to start the Ordnance Survey, so it was worth it).

And by the same time we'd also managed to put the lid on all the silly religious crap - Rule One: NO CATHOLICS - having more or less run out of Catholics to burn, and making it clear that any more turning up would not be welcome. This did, however, put us in the position of having to spend loads on building up the navy to keep Spain off our backs - "can't do X, it'd divert too much from the military budget" was still a concern for a goodly while after the onion of the kingdoms, let alone the crowns, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it was after Spain had imploded (and Napoleon was dead) that industry really started to take off (though not forgetting that also at that time railways were starting to become popular too).

France, though, was still a backwards dump in the 18th century (cf. the Gruinmarkt, but without any Clan-type group with a particular advantage) that pretty much restricted the opportunity to do science to those who had enough money to give them leisure already, and weren't interested in using their knowledge to make more. They had to wait until the Revolution had exploded, and then clear up all the crap that followed from it, until they could get on with doing useful stuff. Germany and Italy were not unified, but consisted of a bunch of little states with a fondness for dinging away at each other; Germany made progress first as a result of one state being much bigger than all the others and being able to establish a hegemony even before unification, coupled with a militaristic outlook that pushed technological development for its military usefulness. And of course the Catholic vs. Protestant nonsense was still endemic on the continent and local power centres partisan for one side or the other kept causing trouble long after we'd got past that stage.


Money isn't a physical entity like an electron, it's an exchange medium like a current flow.

Still waiting for Science Bods to notice this and make an allusion between 0% interest rates, QE etc. Oh, and have a little cry that externalized costs / damaging ecologies aren't even coded in yet.

[Note: No-one picked up on helicopter / the racist version and ヘリコプター]

Japan responds to Brexit shock with record stimulus package Grauniad, 27th July 2016.

Sterling drops due to Brexit: ARM gets sold on the cheap: Japan then announces $300 billion in new money. And that's just printing it [Forget Bonds: Japan and Bonds have run out of Old People to shove them on].

I mean, really: Your World is Mad.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Opening Scene YT: Film: 5:40

No, really.

Buy a major company for $30 bil, print $300 bil. I mean, fuck sanity...


The thing that got Colossus off the ground was the realisation that valves aren't necessarily unreliable; what canes them is the thermal cycling of turning them on and off. If you leave the heaters powered all the time the reliability shoots up. Colossus got the go-ahead once people grasped the idea that valve computers are viable as long as you don't turn them off.

Colossus used high speed punched paper tape loops as ROM. I can't remember what it used for RAM, but I'm pretty sure it was valve-based - whether static (one double-triode per bit) or dynamic (one triode and one capacitor) - rather than delay lines.

But electronic computation doesn't have to depend on valves; Colossus only went to valves because it needed the speed. Relay logic works, it's just slower - which isn't the same as "not useful". The Edwardian London Underground had its "programme machines" - relay-logic signalling controllers which supported a greater frequency of trains than the current system can manage.


Oh well.

Ask Honest Questions, get Real Answers.

Apocalypse Now intro: The Doors, The End {1979} YT: Music: 3:48

And yes: ARM + Japan QE [direct] = broken system.

It's a done deal.


Pulling back from the tight-focus shock for a moment, we know that development isn't inevitable

Actually, a whole lot of scrubs spend their lives making sure it doesn't happen.

We're in the process of reformatting your Minds.

Birdy - Wings (Official Video) YT: Music: 4:24.

Fuck em.

We're Here Now. Even if I am pararia and so on.v


Steampunk submarines aren't as daft as all that. The thermal efficiency of a steam locomotive is utter dogshit, but it is designed and operated under severe constraints which kill off pretty well every attempt to get the efficiency up - even though the same methods do work in less constrained applications. Unfortunately, the familiarity of the steam locomotive and its disadvantages tends to obscure the potential of steam in other applications.

With a submarine, you've got a platform with some useful advantages over a locomotive: weight isn't really a problem, size isn't nearly so much of one, vibration isn't a problem, well-trained and skilled maintenance staff are more readily available (in a military context, at least), and you've got a lovely heatsink, all around you. This lot lets you build a steam engine with comparable efficiency to a diesel, which of course means that its requirements for gas exchange and heat disposal are more in line with a diesel too. And we know that diesel submarines work.

Disadvantages, off the top of my head, would include draughting (ie. what makes the gas exchange actually happen, rather than the amount of gas exchange required), smoke production, startup time... but I don't think any of them are incapable of solution or at least mitigation with enough development.


There are two obvious questions that arise from this.

The first is you can point to how our development path could have been knocked off track by various actions (eg the perfidious french actually winning) and how the dynamics of technological and other developments would force through in the end. However, what aspects of OUR development path are actually suboptimal and where have WE been knocked off track, only to recover later.

I'd suggest that persistence of religion, and it's twin, patriotism, into the 21st century is one such roadblock. You generally tend to point to such top down, backwards looking ideologies as the forcing factors behind things not happening. If the enlightenment had seen the end of religions, and capitalist entities had cast off the nation and local laws earlier; where would we be now?

And the second question. The level of automation in your explanation results in idle hands that can do other things. So what happens when that automation starts exceeding the bulk of the populations capabilities? When the machines are smarter at jobs than the common man, and cheaper too. What will that mean for the human population, what will they do?

There's a discontinuity in the near future at least as large as the impact of mechanical powered labour surpassing human power labour - but with nowhere for that freed up workforce to go...


The article linked postulates

"suppose that the British Industrial Revolution required British commitment to its fiscal-military state followed by the victories at sea that wound up funneling the globe's mercantile profits into the island, and so raising wages. " as the cause of the industrial revolution

Basically Island = Focus on Maritime , then development of long range trading ships => grab a lions share of the worlds profit. So fundamentally, industrial revolution was fueled by trade route changing

Doesn't really explain the Dutch though...


I doubt this is true.

Look at Figure 1. If what you were saying were true, then Africa's yields would have shot up (with more food diverted to the West). Rather, most of the food in the West comes from: the US, Canada, Australia/New Zealand, the EU, Russia, Brazil, and the Southern Cone. Africa mostly produces a few luxury crops. If anything, I would say that under-investment in African agriculture has been a bigger problem.

You might point out the land purchases, but (a) they were mostly from the late 2000s, and they mostly counter the declining yields in Saudi Arabia and China's population getting richer. In short, the West doesn't need them.


Here's my list:

1. I would say the biggest thing which knocked us down off of our development were the World Wars.

2. The Opium Wars. I do not want to be sidetracked into a discussion about the necessity of India in European industrialization. Once industrialization began, I wonder how big an influence a China not in an inter-dynastic period would have placed on this. As a bonus, a stronger China might have gotten a more-rapidly industrial Korea

3. Whatever aborted the industrialization of Latin America, specifically Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and the Andean states.

4. The way the Ottoman Empire was broken up.

5. The way decolonization was handled.

6. India's post-independence economy

7. The Cold War. Namely the communist/capitalist fights in SE Asia and Latin America.


The Dutch were similarly isolated, but by political geography rather than physical - being a Protestant island in a Catholic sea. Hence their relationship with Britain being a weird mixture of being friends and allies and people we could pinch spare kings from, and being people we squabbled with over the same trade routes and destinations.


Another thing: why wait for coal or gasoline - what's wrong with burning methanol or ethanol?

Both of these have issues which make them hard to use as a replacement for gasoline. Methanol creates extra wear on the metal parts which has been somewhat fixed by modern metallurgy. Ethanol has issues when the weather gets cool.

Gasoline on the other hand was a was product looking for an application other than pouring into the nearest river.


in addition, please do not confuse "labor saving" with "time saving".

Many time newer tech didn't save labor or time. But allowed people to avoid the disgusting older way of doing things. Even dug up a septic drain field to deal with a clog? By hand. Standing in the muck? I got to have the fun of that once. Centralized sewage treatment, even if if more expensive, has definite advantages to the consumer.

My father grew up on a working farm with a saw mill and slaughter house. He really appreciated moving from hand labor to the seat of a tractor. And meat saws vs hand slaughter. He and my mother's mother (both born in the mid 1920s) loved to say the best thing about the "good old days" were that they were gone.


Re: dishwashers - yes, that's why I specified the large kitchens. I grew up in a house where the going joke was that when someone asked my parents if they had a dishwasher my father would raise his hand :) . in the home they are a convenience(we have one because we hate doing the dishes, not because it saves large amounts of time)

Re: time - of those 100 hours a week you failed to remove the time required by a full time job: anything from 45 to 60 hours a week, depending on commute time and workload. These 6 hours become that much more precious when you have 40-55 free hours a week, about 30 of which are concentrated in 2 days.

Re: producing more washables - not a chance. from my personal experience this is untrue about dishwashers, and with regards to laundry, Israeli weather being what it is (>30C and 60-80% humidity) changing clothes frequently is a hygiene necessity, not a lifestyle choice.


In the 1930's dresses were pretty much the only choice for 99% of occasions. Always with a hat if you were outside of course, for most of the decade with a belt at the waist and some crazy frou-frou around the neck.

In the US only for the upper 1%. Maybe .01%. People scrambling to eat wear what works. Which means a lot of women not at the top wore pants. But they were not in the movies or magazines. Then came the war and women working in factories cemented that pants were OK. Maybe not in office jobs as the secretary but certainly for running to the grocery.


Regarding why things took so long to develop a lot of it comes down to the incremental improvements to the various bits that make something up taking time to develop. Similar to semiconductor designs. Every years since the early 60s things get a bit smaller and fast each year. It's not all that hard to do the increments. It's really hard to make huge jumps.

Same thing with machine tools. Each better more accurate tool with harder cutting attachments can make a better next generation tool than can make a better next gen that can make a ....

Look at heavy equipment prior to the 1940s and 1950s. In general it was mostly cables, belts, gears, shafts, etc... moving and controlling things. Now it is mostly hydraulics. And many of the modern earth moving equipment could not exist without it. But modern hydraulics require very precisely machines pistons, specialty oils, FBW control systems, specialty seals and such. These were not all invented at once. They, and a multitude of other items, gradually got better over time and made it possible for people to implement ideas that had likely been thought of years or decades earlier.

Cargo pallets really need fork trucks to take off. And these did not get to our modern idea of what a fork truck is until the 1920s and 1930s. And they need to be able to operate indoors and outdoors for long periods.

We have had electric cards since the turn of the previous century but the batteries were just not there to keep up with gasoline or diesel power until recently.

Sometimes ideas have to wait for the engineering to catch up.

And adding to what others have said about political impediments to new things, typically a really big change requires a major player to make a move (IBM 360 and cargo containers) or a ground swell of demand from the bottom when people see what it means (the iPhone in 2007).


Nuts. Electric CARS.


Could a civilization in an Olduvai situation jump-start industrialization by going to straight to electric dynamos, electric wires, electric motors, and modified flywheels running off of water and wind power? They are going to have a lot of metal readily available near the surface from the grown-over ruins, if they can figure out how to work it.


3. Most of them more or less have industrialized, at least in the case of Brazil and Argentina - in fact, they'd be even more urban in the case of the former if the government wasn't trying to discourage people from moving the cities (and actually did what Turkey did to resolve their issues with slums: land reform, build-outs of utilities, etc).

The big thing that hobbled Latin America was political instability and a low savings/investment rate.


Ah, well... there is no track, and that's the roadblock.

We've never had either government or development aimed at the benefit of society as a whole (see also EC's post #10). Governments are generally concerned with maintaining the status quo; change happens as the cumulative result of the various bits that get built on to prop things up when they look like falling down. Development takes place under the handicap of taking ends as means and means as ends. There is no progress; there's just a random walk, and progress is an illusion caused by looking back towards the origin and noting that it is now a long way off.

Take, say, renewable energy. We've known various ways of doing it for a very long time indeed; we could perfectly well have gone 100% renewable a long time ago. That it would be a good idea has been bleeding obvious for an even longer time. But there has never been any serious movement to do it - and there still isn't. What's happening now is actually status quo: development is scrappy, half-arsed, uncoordinated, without clear goals; bits of it forge ahead because people think they can make money out of it, while other bits languish because for artificial reasons research on them is not compatible with maintaining food and shelter. Nobody is actually interested in renewable energy in its own right; people are just using it as a means towards an irrelevant end, money. What we get may or may not be a good source of energy, but that is not seen to matter as long as it's a good source of money. Nothing has changed: we are not progressing, we are just pithering about; this is nothing more than a continuation of the same random walk we've been doing all along.

All ends are subverted to become means, while the means is elevated to the status of an end. The end ends up screwed; only the means gains. This is confusion.

To realise the confusion is also to solve what happens to all the people who "aren't doing anything" as automation replaces labour. Only a tiny fraction of all the effort expended is required to supply our needs; nearly all of it is, as EC says, used to prop up artificialities of the current system. Which doesn't count. So they aren't doing anything now. Traditionally, the answer to people "not doing anything" has been to devise a different kind of nothing for them to do - which is how we ended up having so much nothing now. This is, of course, silly, and it would make more sense to consider already-existing nothings (eg. watching porn all day) as being no less valid than invented ones are considered now.

In which situation we would, I am sure, see a lot more than 2% of people not watching porn all day. To take a locally-relevant example, look at all the crap that Charlie has described having to deal with to reach the state where being an author becomes compatible with maintaining food and shelter, as a result of trying to be an author being considered an invalid type of doing nothing. Relax the constraints on acceptable nothing and you allow an awful lot of people to make use of their creativity whose potential is currently wasted.


Yet we still have a cultural system designed to crank out lots of farmhands and factory workers. Conservative forces literally are trying to keep the culture maladapted so that it creates lots of people who are unhappy with progress because it doesn't have a place for people like what they have been produced to be. These unhappy people now throng Trump rallies. Once you have the concept of technology and solving problems, most problems that persist are not a result of the existence of natural problems, they are a result of factions devoted to intentionally creating problems that they can sell solutions to. Evil exists in human society simply because there are memes explicitly devoted to propagating it.


The British railway companies ("the Big Four" ) used small-containerisation extensively in the interwar period ( especially the LNER ) but this was sidelined after nationalisation, through a combination of the biggest group ( ex-LMS ) not using it much & misdirection of effort.
Simialry all of then used articulated vehicles for easy transfer of goods ( Google for "Mechanical Horse" - usually made by Scammel - these lasted until the ;ate 1960's ....


it has taken on a pro-European socially progressive hue
Disagree profoundly.
Although the SNP proposals for "Block Wardens" spying on every child in the country have just been thrown out by the courts ...
[ News this past week, in fact. ]
The SNP have said: "we'll be back" - with suitably-carefully-amended proposals to install their own STASI to supervise all children, & by extension all the parents in Scotland.


And R Feynman refused, point-blank to endorse the Copenhagen mystic bullshit, ( "collapse of the wave-function" ) I note.
With which I will tend to agree....


Er, diesel-electric submarines sort of work, until you develop the cavity magnetron and hence centimetric radar, at which point the submarine that is surface (or indeed snorkel depth) running becomes an under-armed target for the other lot's destroyers, frigates, sloops and even possibly corvettes and the heavier end of "fast boats" (think UK Fairmile and possibly Motor Gun Boats, German Schnellboot type size).


How long does cooking a meal take?

Well, I'll admit to using an electric cooker and canned chopped tomatoes, but last night's curry took 20 minutes (5 minutes prep including chopping onions and meat, measuring pre-ground spices, 5 minutes stir-fry, and 10 minutes simmer). During the simmer phase I watched part of a DVD and paused it whilst I plated up.


having more or less run out of Catholics to burn,
Err, no.
The catholics burnt everyone else(!)
Catholics, in England at any rate were condemned for Civil crimes & suffered cruel civil penalties.
There was also a lot of "We know they are catholics, but provided they keep quiet & don't foment revolution we'll pretend not to notice".
Worse & more extreme in Scotland & Ireland, of course.

Industry took off well before 1789, never mind Boney ...
Vacuum-steam engines fro approx 1720 & Boulton/Watt engines from approx 1775/80. Plus interior canals, of course.


Late reply to # 4
The easy coal that facilitated the development of steam technology won't be there
Sorry, but wrong.
Lots of the coal is still there, especially since, now, China has already passed peak coal & use is declining ( As someone pointed out here, very recently ... )
Once you got small-scale coal restarted, you can use that to step up to renewables, re-abandon the coal & away you go!

Digital computers require more than just vacuum tubes, they require working memory. That means core memory at that time...and it took awhile for core memory to be invented.

Objection. There were two variants of delay lines in use prior to core memory (mercury-filled tubes and some sort of stiff wire). There were also tube-based memories (decade tubes, as in WITCH). And Williams storage tubes (essentially long-duration phosphor CRTs, with a sense grid, you can then tell the difference between "electron sent at lit pixel" and "electron sent at dark pixel" by the induction in the sense plate; extremely reliant on accurate calibration, but as part of the BESK project, they invented a feedback mechanism to adjust the brightness automatically).


I was assuming that a steampunk setting probably wouldn't have microwave radar :) Also, diesel submarines are harder to detect when not on the surface because they are quieter than nuclear ones, and several countries have them in service.


Three dog whistles I heard in the OP because they hit personal bête noires and fascinations.

Where is this and who are the "we": technologically innovative, wealthy, but low/zero population growth society (which is roughly where we are now)? Yes, the WEIRD countries have low/zero population growth. But the world in total has had constant linear growth (80m pa, 12-14 years per additional billion) for 5 decades now[1]. And increasingly, you can't talk about the WEIRD countries without talking about the non-WEIRD that they feed on. The developing countries don't have low/zero population growth and we depend on them to sustain the technologically wealthy society that gives us our low population growth. [1]Note here that the neo-Malthusians were writing almost exactly at the transition point when global population changed from exponential growth to linear growth in the late 60s. And just because percentage growth rate is dropping, doesn't mean that absolute growth rate is dropping. Malthus doesn't go away just because we slowed down a bit.

Once population exceeds a certain level they undergo a step change, beyond which the accelerating development of technology drives productivity and breaks the culture out of the previous Malthusian trap. I'm curious about both the pre-industrial and post-crash environment. Technological productivity growth now is dependent on increasing automation. Which in turn depends on chip foundries. So what's the minimum global population and technology level needed to support a society that can afford and run a chip foundry? And does a falling population (for whatever reason) re-introduce the Malthusian trap even though the next level of technology now exists? Increased productivity can make up for the falling human/material resources for a while as long as the automation to drive that productivity growth is still available.

This entire discussion reminded me of The Restoration Game - Ken MacLeod. Could the Roman Empire have had an industrial revolution? Macleod comes up with a plausible social timeline that allowed the Roman Empire ("The Roman Empire never ended - PK Dick") to keep going and have an industrial revolution pre-AD1000. Which is a lovely idea until you hit the first major geek problem. Can you do advanced algebra or even engineering level math in Roman numerals? The British industrial revolution used imperial units, so maybe you can. But the idea jars somewhat. And that's before you start trying to write complex code in Latin. Perhaps Latin has to mutate into latinate languages before you can use it to write comparatively bug free, unambiguous code. Which takes 1500 years.

Which all suggests that there's a bunch of pre-requisites needed before a society can get on the industrial revolution train. Miss one and it fizzles. It didn't happen util 18th century UK because that was the first time that all the pre-requisites were in place for the perfect storm. Which unfortunately is just another of those Anthropic Principle arguments. We're here because we're here.


Sigh. No, I was not. I was using a classic economic analysis. The average disposable time is what is available for working, ancillaries to working, relaxation and domestic activities. A 2% saving would allow a 40 hour working week to increase by 2 hours (i.e. 5%) - which is NOT enough to be significant in the sense being used here - the industrial revolution resulted in more like a factor of two improvement in efficiency. For comparison, commuting in the UK of today is a rather higher use of the disposable time (2.5%?). I was and am NOT talking about emotional preferences, but hard economics (which was the context).


"The future is here now; it's just unevenly distributed."

The cavity magnetron takes maybe 50 years from the invention of the thermionic valve to develop; You could reasonably shorten that time if you have someone get the original "radio frequency death ray" idea that drove the development of the fixed Radio Direction Finding arrays, and then give a war to drive its evolution into the mobile RAdio Direction And Ranging (radar) system.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily follow; witness how the Germans failed to get below a 33cm wavelength (and the resultant mast arrays on their WW2 radar night fighters) whereas the UK and USA were down to 10cm and potentially neat podded (P-39M) or radomed (Various marks of Beaufighter and Mosquito, P-61...) tracking heads within 4 years of the introduction of the aerial-based AI mk1.


Including the washing up? Whatever, 20 minutes per diem is 140 minutes a week, which is more than 2 hours :-) I will give up here, but will just summarise my actual points:

The saving of labour was primarily from the spinning jenny, improved agricultural methods etc., followed by weaving, wire-drawing machines etc. And there were a LOT of such changes, but essentially all occurred fairly early (late exceptions being things like sewing machines, bicycles etc.)

By comparison, virtually EVERY post-1900 change has been to avoid unpopular tasks, concentrate money and production in a few hands, and just plain to extract money from the gullible masses. The actual saving of labour has been negligible.

On the other hand, a lot of people in the UK had not reaped the benefit of the PRE-1900 improvements by 1900, and the 20th century saw a lot of that occur. That's NOT a matter of technological improvement, but social.


A really interesting article. I like the way you are thinking about historic and economic processes.

It seems to me that alternate/counterfactual history is like a sandbox in which we build and then test different kinds of ideas. However, the only proof or disproof we have access to is a sense of reasonableness or otherwise, expressed in the suspension of disbelief of the readers.

With the Gas-Lit Empire novels, the question I'm playing with is: 'How long could they hold back technological development?' Which, is another expression of a question that has fascinated me for many years: 'To what extent are historic processes dominated by a tide of inevitability and to what extent are they dominated by the volition of individuals?'

The Bullet Catcher's Daughter sets the scene for these questions. I'm writing the fourth book in the series now, in which the issue has become an explicit question for the protagonist.


"Yet we still have a cultural system designed to crank out lots of farmhands and factory workers."

Well, the modern equivalent. Most intelligent UK academics despair at the systematic dumbing-down of the educational system, which has been effectively policy since Thatcher's time. That's one reason why most research workers in the UK now mostly come from abroad :-(


1) I've never actually timed the washing up phase. Based on a cycle for my Mum's 12 setting dishwasher, I could argue that using a dishwasher takes about 100 minutes per use applying your arguments (15 minutes loading, 60 cycle, and 25 unload and put away). I'm actually arguing that the cycle time is also "free time" when you can do something else.
2) The "20 minutes" included 10 minutes when I was free to do "other stuff" and did (as stated).


As I said, my first job was programming a Ferranti Mercury; they failed mainly at start-up, but even 1950s valves had limited lifetimes and failures while running were common. Again, I will stop here, but the reason that practical computers could not have been built earlier was that the infrastructure technology wasn't up to it; that's what killed Babbage's plans, too Limited, partially-programmable control mechanisms were in common use from the Jacquard loom onwards, and some later ones were even electronic. To build a practical (say) Edsac equivalent in even 1920 would have needed a major development project, such as was done for radar in WWII, and probably wouldn't have succeeded before 1940 (with only peacetime pressures).


Ok, classic economic analysis applied to power tools:

I've a hand plane, a Stanley No 5. It's a beautiful bit of kit. I used it this evening.

I've an electric plane, a Bosch with a carbide blade. It's loud and throws shavings everywhere but it is literally a hundred times faster. It will do a 2 mm deep cut as fast as I can move it or a 0.5 mm cut and leave a surface so smooth I don't need to sand it before oiling.

The electric plane cost me a day's salary. If I use it for a day then I've broken even. If I use it for a second day, then I've saved myself a hundred days.

Fuck drudgery.


Something like that stuff about Rome might have had a hard time doing an industrial revolution due to Roman Numerals also might help explain the stalling of China That lack of an alphabet is a real bar to the whole printing press thing, which is indispensable to science. Moveable type might have been invented by the Chinese, but the huge character set made it impractical.
"Neither movable type system was widely used, one reason being the enormous Chinese character set"

That abandonment of the technology is literally a civilization bumping up into internal constraints on advancement without realizing they have taken the dead end path. They were THAT close, printing a big run of encyclopedias in the 1200s and decided not to do it because of purely cultural predilections (incompatibility with the writing system, assumed to be a fixed given). This is like inventing automobiles, testing them out, and deciding they are impractical because the standard method of making roads and wheels makes the ride so much more bumpy than rail travel. Instead of making better roads and inventing inner tubes. So cultural assumptions CAN stall development if EVERYBODY is stuck on sticking to an older technology whose abandonment is essential for the next step. Nobody in China was capable of even thinking of maybe changing the writing system.


Also, diesel submarines are harder to detect when not on the surface because they are quieter than nuclear ones

Ahhh, but ...

Diesel subs that are fully submerged (not snorkeling) are electric subs, running on battery juice, which is very limiting. (I am led to believe that a huge breakthrough in progress is the transition to LiION from lead-acid cells, which massively improves their performance.) You can run a diesel engine underwater if you have a hydrogen peroxide tank and want to go fast, but then it's a diesel engine (noisy). If you've got HTP you can do better -- use it to run a fuel cell or some other near-silent energy source -- but your range is still limited compared to a nuke boat.

Nuclear subs are never totally silent because reactors are hot; even when they're not actively generating steam they need to run pumps to circulate coolant through the reactor core lest they melt.

If that Lockheed skunk-works fusion-in-a-can project works, then suddenly nuke boats get a lot quieter when they want to be, because the reactor core can be properly shut down and heat from secondary isotope activation in the structure can probably get by on passive (convective) cooling via seawater.

But if we get fusion-in-a-can, we probably aren't too far away from being able to triangulate on nuclear reactors by looking for their neutrino emissions; you'd need a bunch of big-ass underground land-based neutrino observatories, or the whacky deep-submerged photodetector string idea that bubbled up to the surface a year ago, but at that point, nuclear subs are only invisible as long as they keep the reactor switched off. So ... fusion/battery subs by the 2080s?


With the Gas-Lit Empire novels, the question I'm playing with is: 'How long could they hold back technological development?'

Neat! We're playing in the same sandbox but building different types of castle; in the original Merchant Princes series I was looking at development traps and asking why some societies with all the prerequisites didn't develop; in the new trilogy in the same universe I'm asking how fast such a society can accelerate if there's a government on a war footing pushing it and they have perfect understanding of what their goal should be (i.e. direct observation of another power that's ~60 years more advanced -- a situation not too unlike Japan during the Meijji restoration).


Err 2-cm not 10 (!)
Significantly smaller, more efficient radar-heads, much more easily fitted to aircraft


I'd be really surprised if dresses were that restricted in the US in the 1930's. Female emancipation in terms of employment on both sides of the Atlantic retreated a lot between the wars and typically the women stopped the heavy work in the fields and factories and went back to the domestic rolls.

I know America's great depression and the dustbowls led to a lot more economic hardship in some areas but I thought that was more that the work wasn't there so there wasn't an impetus for the women to working and dressing in trousers. A lot of the images and literature of the time depicts women in dresses too.


Bother, and other chemical words!! ;-)

Seriously, I'm well aware of just how much, say, AI mk VIII outperformed mk I even if I get wavelengths slightly wrong.


Let me phrase it differently. Virtually all women wore dresses. But wearing pants as a practical matter became way more common in the 30s and later.

This was a time where many people who were not homeless maybe had only 3 or 4 changes of clothes total. Maybe only 2.

My mother's step mother talks about picking cotton for $.01 a pound back in the 30s as a teen. I can't imagine doing that in a dress if pants were available. Ditto the farm chores of the 20s and 30s.

And after WWII women wore a lot of "slacks". Yes for non casual occasions they wore dresses but many wore slacks during their daily life. At least that's my memory in my small slice of suburbia in the US. Born in 1954 here.

Looking at pictures can give a false impression. For most people back then even casual photos where something one planned for and made sure they had their "nice" clothes on.


There is a definite anti-French bias here.

In 18th century, France was the most technologically advanced country in Europe (and probably the world) in addition to having the largest European economy (larger than Russia and more than two times larger than England).

Perhaps it is not mentioned in British history books, but elsewhere we do know that it was France of king Louis XVIII which conquered the air and invented aviation.

So I would like to propose a bold hypothesis - if British industrialization gets derailed, the French would do us a service.

Of course, French kind of capitalist industrialization would be quite different from British (dominated by state enterprises and large capitalist conglomerates like Japanese keiretsu or Korean chaebols).

In terms of technology, lack of significant coal reserves would likely lead to adoption of some other fuel first.

I suspect it would be ethanol from sugarcane (given French control of Caribbean sugar islands).

So no steampunk, but dieselpunk (first ethanolpunk, but I am sure French chemists will invent biodiesel in no time).

It would make a wonderful setting for a series of novels...


Ah, after the 30's I'd agree with you. WWII made a big difference.

But if your mother's step mother is still alive, ask her. Seems unlikely. But women wore dresses or skirts for farm chores throughout the middle ages and beyond. I'm pretty sure, although it's not a particular sensitive topic, female slaves wore dresses and picked cotton while wearing them only a few decades earlier.

Comfort takes a back seat to propriety, especially when you're a second class citizen.


So ... fusion/battery subs by the 2080s?

Diverging from steampunk, but there's semi-believable evidence that the Russians have been at least mildly interested in fission/battery submarines for some while. Here "fission" probably means a small, quiet natural-circulation reactor that's used to charge the batteries while submerged and perhaps take up part of the hotel load when the batteries don't need charging.

The current suspect is the single-example Sarov, but there were hints in the 1980s that a Juliette SSG may have been modified in such a way.


I'm well aware that the Montgolfiers invented the hot air balloon. The next "French first" in aviation I can come up with is the first trans-Manche flight.


Nuclear subs are never totally silent because reactors are hot; even when they're not actively generating steam they need to run pumps to circulate coolant through the reactor core lest they melt.

Nope. S5G systems forward use natural circulation. The coolant systems on them are built for what is called "thermal driving head" - the difference in density between the hot fluid and cooler fluid is the only necessary driving force.

And not just for shut down or cool down operations either*. S5G and S8G designs can do a significant fraction of critical operations without engaging the pumps.

* the S6G was limited to using it for those.


Nuclear subs are never totally silent because reactors are hot; even when they're not actively generating steam they need to run pumps to circulate coolant through the reactor core lest they melt.

There's some evidence that the SSBN-720s can run at low power on convective circulation, one of the reasons they're so quiet. The Official USN word on that is "No comment," of course.

the whacky deep-submerged photodetector string idea that bubbled up to the surface a year ago, but at that point, nuclear subs are only invisible as long as they keep the reactor switched off.

Not as whacky as you think, though it's much easier to implement if you freeze the water first. See the Ice Cube neutrino observatory for that, one cubic kilometer of detector buried a kilometer under the ice.

So, there's a south pole detector, then add Greenland, there's two. Just need to build a third somewhere to be able to triangulate.

The problem, of course, is that the current neutrino detectors are looking for events on the order of a supernova. Spotting a 300MW fusion plant is a much bigger challenge, even if it's vastly closer. Heck, I'm wondering if they pick up a significant flux from large nuclear tests -- or have we had a multistage test since they've been online?


I've gone off at a slight tangent on the "detection question", and find myself thinking that there are several nations who possess the technology background and defence budget to build and operate nuclear powered boats. Of those, at least 4 have built (or inherited) boomers and/or I think hunter-killers capable of a submerged circumnavigation, so exactly how do you tell which sources are "allies who are", "neutrals who will remain so" and "potential or actual enemies"?


"Comfort takes a back seat to propriety, especially when you're a second class citizen."

The first clause is true, but the qualification is misleading, because it omits the fact that the working classes were constrained by functionality, not comfort. It was 'respectable' people that were (and are) most constrained in their permitted clothing; those close to the breadline wore what they could get, and adapted it for functionality. Take a look at the picture of the female mine worker in:


if they are boomers then you shadow them with your attack sub regardless because you can't take the chance of not being able to stop a nuclear launch platform. If they are attack subs and are allies engaging with you in allied actions they are (roughly) where you expect them to be. If they are allies not engaging in allied actions you shadow them because you want to know what your allies are doing because allies today may not be friends tomorrow. Same for neutrals. And for enemies, you always want to shadow incase there is the need to permanently make peace with them.


Which poses another question; "Who has sufficient HuKs to actually do that?"


Why don't boomers use RTGs to remain quiet?


RTGs don't produce enough power. If you make the pile bigger, you get self criticality (or worse). If you try chaining them together, shielding requirements scale faster than power gain.

It takes a lot of power just to overcome the drag force in water, much less do all the things subs do


Deploying photodetectors on strings in deep water is not only not wacky, it's been done, and there are plans to build installations with effective volume comparable to IceCube.

As a submarine detector, though, not clear: these experiments are designed to look for high-energy neutrinos (tens of GeV), not the feeble few-MeV neutrinos from fission. IceCube can see a Galactic supernova, which involves neutrinos with 10s-of-MeV energies, because of the sudden increase in "noise", but I doubt it would see a submarine (that probably just looks like noise, period). Deep-sea installations have even less chance, because of 40K and bioluminescence background. You might see a sub that was stupid enough to go past you at close range, because of the pattern of hit times, but keeping track of distant vessels, no chance.


See the Ice Cube neutrino observatory for that, one cubic kilometer of detector buried a kilometer under the ice.

I would imagine that neutrinos from fusion reactors would have energies similar to solar neutrinos, in which case things like Ice Cube (designed to detect very high-energy neutrinos) would not be at all useful, as Susan pointed out. Instead, you'd want more traditional neutrino detectors (underground tanks of pure water, chlorine, etc., as used in Kamiokande, SNO, SuperKAM, etc.).

But since these can also detect neutrinos from fission reactors, they would in principle be useful for detecting subs with traditional fission reactors, too....

Except that, so far as I know, no one has suggested using neutrino detectors to find nuclear-powered subs (or other nuclear-powered ships), which suggests it's not very practical. So I doubt anyone's going to be using neutrino detectors to find hypothetical fusion-powered subs anytime soon, either.


The aerostat is nothing but a sidebar to the development of the aeronef sah!!


If you read the text she wore trousers under her skirt which she tucked up to work and it was still considered shocking and it was exceptional. Also really not comfortable or particularly practical I'd imagine. The fact she had to wear them under a skirt and roll that up rather strongly suggests she's heavily influenced by propriety as well: at work practical and (crazy though it seems from our perspective) probably safety concerns make the trousers safer, but she's still got to cover her limbs with a skirt when she's not actually working. If you really believe propriety doesn't affect your clothing choices even if you're lower class, I suspect your dress-wearing serf foremothers are spinning in their graves.

There are certainly exceptional times and places you can pick out but WWII is what really caused the breakthrough for it to start becoming acceptable and routine. Capris come along in the late 40's and everyone that can afford them and looks good in them buys a pair for relaxation time thanks to Audrey Hepburn. Jeans in a capri style become a cheap alternative too. Hell, I used to have some when I was young and skinny. And as the article you cited points out, it's not until the 70's that wearing trousers for work is acceptable in all work places, although as someone pointed out higher up some work places like the police force were even slower to change than that.


On the assumption that submarines are neutrino detectable at all, I imagine that the "working system" would have to be created like the early days of RDF (qv). This involved building the system, then having an asset travel a known path and seeing if we detect it.
If we do, well and good: if we don't, we then have to modify the system and repeat.

Did someone mention needing 3 detectors, about 1 cubic mile each and a mile underground?


Can you do advanced algebra or even engineering level math in Roman numerals? The British industrial revolution used imperial units, so maybe you can. But the idea jars somewhat. And that's before you start trying to write complex code in Latin. Perhaps Latin has to mutate into latinate languages before you can use it to write comparatively bug free, unambiguous code. Which takes 1500 years.

I'm sure you can; it would just be awkward.

And I have no idea why you think Latin would be any better or worse than, say, Italian (or English) for writing computer code. (And it's not like people can easily write bug-free code in English-based computer languages.) Now, maybe Piraha, with its apparent lack of numbers other than "one" and "two" (or possible "few" and "many"), would pose difficulties... on the other hand, any society that has developed mathematics to the point of being able to contemplate computers would have added the necessary terminology anyway.

Actually, a bit of googling turns up a Perl module that lets you write Latinate Perl, complete with an inflection-based syntax.


"Many" can be a number; see Pterry on the subject.

There is a definite anti-French bias here.
Apologies. The ability of French artillery at the turn of the 18th Century definitely points to mathematical education being very good; it might be that the run-up to the Revolution being relatively widely studied means the political problems of the time are better known than the technological advances.

Can you do advanced algebra or even engineering level math in Roman numerals? The British industrial revolution used imperial units, so maybe you can. But the idea jars somewhat. And that's before you start trying to write complex code in Latin. Perhaps Latin has to mutate into latinate languages before you can use it to write comparatively bug free, unambiguous code. Which takes 1500 years.

There was a place-value numerical system available to the Romans: Babylonian sexagesimal. The Hellenistic Greek astronomers seem to have used it to do calculations; the Romans could have imported it if they'd shown any serious interest in maths. Like Peter, I can't see why there would be any problem developing a Latin-based computer language: it would probably be rather different from an English-based one (e.g. perhaps instead of using "for" to introduce a loop you put the variable name into dative), but for a native Latin-speaker than would seem natural.


I should add: engineering, the Romans could do. "SPQR: Aqueducts and bridges our speciality." And they wrote textbooks on it—see Vitruvius.


Not really. Advanced algebra doesn't use many explicit constants, and most of theose can be extracted out and replaced by a symbolic notation; extended Roman numerals (i.e. including a sign and zero) and only fractions would be a minor nuisance only. I agree with you about programming - in fact, it would probably be easier than using an English derivative, because it is less ambiguous. Latin was the language of science until at least the 18th century, and was until 2012 (at least formally) for botanical taxonomy; it still is an option.


The Romans did concrete better than we do, in part because they used it much longer (we've had it for ~100 years, they had it for ~300-400), in part because they had better materials than we generally do, thanks IIRC to Vesuvius.

Personally, I'd suggest that what held the Romans back was politics, and the military-industrial complex of labor. For the latter: they had slaves, and the Roman Army was one of the major ways of them collecting POWs and turning them into slaves, especially on (say) the latifundium (read industrial farm) of the retired head of their army.

Aside from slavery being evil, there's pretty good evidence that industrialization depended on slavery being a really useful system, especially when that slavery was in the US and the people benefiting from the cheap material were in places like the UK, importing goods and claiming how much more moral they were than those slaveowners whom they contracted with (not that this happens at all today...).

However, IMHO there's a critical difference between industrial slavery and Roman slavery: the Americans and Brits weren't sending out their armies on slave raids. They outsourced that effort to others in Africa (after the supplies of Native American slaves ran out in the 17th Century or so), and made it a capitalist system, not a militarized, highly political one. I suspect there's a difference between slaves as commodities and slaves as political prizes and rewards.

In any case, you want to posit a Roman industrial revolution, I think you need to find a way around this. As industrialists have found since slavery was outlawed, there are many, many forms of unfree labor. To get to industry, I suspect Rome would have had to clean up its politics and free its slaves far earlier than it did.

And I also need to go get some brain bleach to clean my skull out after thinking that. There's a lot of evil involved in coerced labor, and unfortunately, it's the basis of both capitalism and empires.

Steampunk submarines aren't as daft as all that

Steam-powered submarines are no more daft than anything else built by an early 20th century navy. (Which is to say, pretty daft in many ways, but perfectly functional.)

While the eighteen British K-class submarines never actually sank (or were sunk by) an enemy vessel in combat, they did largely do what they were designed to. In particular, they were created largely because then navy wanted a submarine that could (while surfaced) maintain position in a formation of modern surface vessels, something that diesel submarines simply weren't fast enough to manage. Subsequently, of course, people noticed that this was a totally idiotic requirement.

(Other K-class design features no-one ever repeated include swivel-mounted torpedo tubes on the deck, which were even more prone to getting wrecked by the sea than a normal deck-gun was.)


The characters in Restoration Game try to work out how to get the Roman Empire to Mars (google books link). They game this out by having Spartacus win, which leads to a salaried working class. Which gets them to capitalism without going though feudalism. Which means an industrial revolution in AD300 and spaceflight in AD500.

I find this fascinating because that would mean we're living 1700 years after the industrial revolution. Or put the thought experiment another way: what will the world be like in AD3500 on our timeline?


Here are some real numbers...

The Daya Bay neutrino experiment is actually measuring neutrinos from fission reactors, and recently published a measurement of reactor neutrino flux. The detectors used for this measurement have a total of 80 tons of liquid scintillator, and the paper reports on 621 days' live time.

They have 1.2 million events, from 6 2.9 GW reactors. So that's about 110 events per day per gigawatt. According to Wikipedia, the largest US naval reactors produce about half a gigawatt thermal (a third of that electrical; I'm not completely sure whether Daya Bay are quoting total power or electrical output for their reactors, but let's be generous and assume total power). That means you get about 55 neutrinos per day if your submarine helpfully parks itself 500 m from your detector (that's the distance that the Daya Bay near detectors are from the reactors).

Liquid scintillator is the best technology for this, because reactors produce electron antineutrinos, which capture on protons to give neutron plus e+. The Daya Bay detectors have gadolinium dissolved in the scintillator to capture the neutron, thus allowing them to positively identify their events (background rejection). Their efficiency is about 80%: that's very good.

Water Cherenkov detectors like Super-K can be much bigger—SK has a fiducial mass of 22 thousand tons, and can also use the gadolinium trick. But Super-K's efficiency turns on at about 5 MeV, which means it's missing most of the reactor neutrinos.

Conclusion: long-distance monitoring of nuclear subs with neutrino detectors is not practical.


Forgot to mention: inverse beta decay is not directional. The only way to find out where your sub is, should you be able to detect it, would be to detect it in multiple detectors and fit the inverse square law. If there's only one detectable submarine, you'd need at least 3 detectors (since you don't a priori know the reactor power). If there are multiple submarines, you need a lot more than 3.


What's their background detection rate?


I'm pretty certain the Belgrano was sunk by a steam-powered submarine, the Conqueror. The boiler was nuclear but it used direct-drive steam turbines for shaft power. Nuclear subs have gotten even quieter now they use electric drive like most modern warships. HMS Astute, the nameplate of the newest British nuclear attack boats went to play with the ageing Los Angeles class nuclear boats of the USN in some exercises and the results were startling. The fact the Astute was very quiet allowed the on-board sensors to work better, holding the older American boats with attack solutions while the LAs couldn't even detect the British sub.

However there's a major difference between nuclear subs and their smaller cousins, the diesel-electric boats. The nukes are attack boats at their best in deep blue water hunting blue-water prey like aircraft carriers (or as submariners call them, "targets"), the diesels are mainly for defence of coastal waters and port facilities, so-called brown water operations. A well-handled diesel that could choose its own area to fight in could do very well even against a nuke boat.

During the Falklands War the Argentinians had a small diesel sub, the San Luis lurking off the coast of the islands. It was a priority target for the anti-submarine experts of the Royal Navy in ships designed for the job and they never got a clean shot at it. They kept it at bay but only just.


Depending on the minimum size/output of the FiaC, lots of things could change: Obviously, ships (freight ships, cruise ships, etc.) potentially become much more efficient. A bit smaller and you can put one in a train engine. A bit smaller than that and it could be used to power a large plane. Even smaller freight trucks and buses could be potentially fusion powered. I doubt it will get down to car size, though.

Stationary applications could include putting a FiaC at the substation as backup/aux/primary power. The reduction in transmission losses may help make it worthwhile.

Of course, big impact on space applications as well.


The figure of 2.9GW will be thermal output. The biggest reactors in operation are about 1.4GW electrical, 4.5GW thermal.

The new Ford class aircraft carriers have two 300MW electrical output reactors so they'll be about 900MW thermal each. Subs typically have a single 35-50MW electrical output reactor so say 120-150MW thermal.


On neutrino detection for practical purposes, that's been something that has been on people's minds for quite a while. The JASONs paid it a visit thirty years ago:


I'm going to assume that Nojay was deliberately misunderstanding me for humourous effect, but in case anyone missed my point:

"Steampunk" coal-fired submarines with chimneys that folded away while they were underwater were a real thing for a couple of decades in the early 20th century. They did actually have advantages over contemporary diesel-powered boats, just... none that actually mattered to what submarines were actually useful for.


The problem with this thought experiment is that unfree labor hasn't gone away, simply because there's a salaried middle class. It's been offshored, for some industries (like textiles or computers), and until very recently, having illegal immigrants as farm workers meant that they would cheaply do the jobs that salaried workers would not, and that they wouldn't have legally-mandated safety requirements. That was sort of the nasty side of illegal immigration, which is why so many republican landowners were very much against legalizing immigration (it drove up their costs).

There's a book out there called The Half Has Never Been Told: slavery and the making of American capitalism that goes into this in somewhat muckraking detail. The tl;dr version is that American-style slavery was tremendously profitable, the money flowed north to Wall Street and other financial centers up north (making it hard for people to be both profitable capitalists and opposed to slavery), and indeed, some of the mechanisms of the modern credit system were developed specifically to aid with the cotton industry.

At this point, perhaps I'm just a cynical lefty, but I'm not convinced that capitalism is possible without a huge amount of cheap labor. While the more moral among us may want to offload that labor onto robots and AIs, to date it's been supplied mostly by humans. Unfortunately, humans only give cheap labor under duress of some kind, whether it's hardship, legal penalty, or other mechanism. We've gotten incredibly good at keeping the nastier aspects of this system off in the boonies and behind walls and gates, whether it's in a factory in a developing country, a rural meatpacking plant, or a groundwater farm off in some desert somewhere. The problem is that it's hard for us to be middle class and pay everyone who makes our stuff a living wage, and most middle class people are unwilling to go into anything resembling poverty, just to make sure everyone has a living wage. Not to mention the wealthy.


I'm not sure if that means the mercury tank memory, but you're right that core memories weren't first, they were just the first that were reasonably practical, just as the early vacuum tubes existed, but burned out too quickly, and weren't practical.

There were several methods tried to implement memory. The earliest practical one was the relay switch...but they didn't wear well, even if they did retain a memory long enough to be useful at a reasonable price. I think the Zeiss computer used relay switches.


Theoretically possible to build doesn't translate into useful to build. For memory the electrically switched relay was better than the alternatives, and the early vacuum tubes were so unreliable that even radios were difficult. They had already gotten a lot better by the 1940's. Additionally, in the 1940's there was war funding. Things were now durable enough that proximity fuses were possible. Etc.

Now what they probably COULD have done in 1900, or even slightly before, is build a Babbage Calculating Engine that would work. This is because by then the metal fabrication had improved a lot, and harder metals and better oils were available.


I believe the original Zeiss computer used relays for memory. That was, of course, around the same time period as Colossus. Many different groups started building computers at about the same time taking different approaches, and many were successful. This is opposed to earlier times when groups trying to build a computer were unsuccessful. (Babbage wasn't the only one.) And I believe that the difference is improved materials to work with. I picked vacuum tubes (OK, valves) as most important because they stayed "state of the art" longer. That's also why I picked core memory. I don't think delay lines were every really practical, but relays were. And having worked with paper tape, I didn't even think of that as a alternative to core memory. I know that it was popular with teletype machines, and it stayed popular as a low density replacement for mag tape for a long time, but it has this tendency to shred in large chunks at high speed that make me doubt it's practicality as a core alternative. (And I was seeing the 1950's version of paper tape, with plastic reinforcement built in.)

When relays or tubes fail they take down one piece of the computer, when paper tape fails...well, sometimes it just snaps. Other times it snarls and that can be very un-nice.


I have this half-worked out concept that illegal immigrant labour in the US is effectively Slavery 2.0, the MBA version.

Slaves back before Emancipation were expensive, they needed to be fed and clothed and housed all year, they got sick and died, got old or escaped and there was the ever-present threat of a slave revolt. Now if you want a field of produce picked and John Deere can't do it then you can hire a busload of illegals to do it for you and then they go away again afterwards without incurring any extra costs to you. Roofing, laying a driveway, putting fenceposts or brush clearing, there's a bunch of guys sitting around in the Home Depot car park who will do it for cash in had for less than minimum wage.

The middle class in the US is copacetic with this, reserving their ire for Indian DBA developers on H1B visas who don't understand the White Man's magic, probably because there's no way THEY would be pulling 10-hour shifts wielding a nailgun on a roof in New Mexico for fifty bucks a day whereas the H1B visa holder is a more direct threat to their comfortable way of life.


Patriotism is a necessity when you have lots of enemies around you, and you depend on the army/navy to protect you.

Jingo-ism, however, is a corruption of patriotism that is damaging to the country. This is taking the quote "My country, may she always be right, but my country right or wrong." and chopping off the first part. There are practical reasons to support your country even when you believe it is acting immorally, namely the excessively high price you and your relatives and friends may pay if your country loses.

The problem is when such a government decides to depend on patriotism to justify adventurism, and unfortunately they will frequently do so. This is a corruption of government, not a problem with patriotism per se.


I have this half-worked out concept that illegal immigrant labour in the US is effectively Slavery 2.0, the MBA version.

That's not a theory at this point.

It's an empirically tested fact:

Georgia's Harsh Immigration Law Costs Millions in Unharvested Crops Atlantic 2011.


Bitter Harvest: U.S. Farmers Blame Billion-Dollar Losses on Immigration Laws Time, Sept 2012

The short version: without illegal labor, the state was unable to fill said positions and billions of dollars worth of produce simply rotted in the fields.




Under capitalism, business interests naturally seek the cheapest possible labor, and often find it, the way water seeks it's level or fire ignites the most combustible fuel first. That doesn't mean capitalism is impossible without free labor any more than fire requires gasoline.


And, in case you need a history lesson:

Harvest of Shame

Harvest of Shame YT: Documentary: 52:05, 1960


If you want a wall, you'll need an impoverished underclass to replace it (hello automation? Methinks not). This stuff is very simple and not even hidden: Trump is stating, directly, that the roll-back goes beyond 1960.

The sad thing is that I've posted the same links and same facts a few times, and it is still being ignored.



56 years and all that was done was to move the Nationality of the Oppressed into a different Country (not our problem!) while the structural design remained the same.

That's like, three generations of farm workers who breed young and die young.


Well, there is this small matter of meta-computational brain-eating horrors from the gaps between universes, but apart from that we're all happy campers.

The lack of self-awareness about the systems you inhabit and create would be a huuuuuge cosmic joke if it didn't have repercussions.


To me there are two different alternate timeline scenarios here:

1) There is an event/person/situation that suddenly requires an extraordinary result and technology is pushed to the limit, but all the pieces are there to accomplish it. All that is required is money and effort. Let's call this the "Apollo Moonshot" scenario. In 1901 all the pieces were there, there was just no need or desire to build an electronic computer. (and overcome the shortfalls everybody keeps pointing out. The biggest reliability problem with early vacuum tubes is they didn't have a *vacuum*).

2) There is a person/book/AI that can provide the missing knowledge on how the pieces can be put together, however the underlying technology must be at a minimum level to be able to build the parts. Lets call this the "Merchant Princes" or "Safehold" scenario. This actually might push the date back to 1870 or so, because no theoretical knowledge is required.

BTW, I think core memory is closer to the scenario 1, I think it was invented at about the earliest point in time as possible.


Note for Greg: I understand you want more UK centric commentary.

So replace Georgia with Lincolnshire and Mexicans with Eastern Europeans / Chinese (those poor folks caught out in the mud-flats, remember them?).

Lincolnshire, like Georgian, slanted heavily towards isolationism (69% pro-Brexit).

Can you guess what Lincolnshire's major industry is?



But if your mother's step mother is still alive, ask her. Seems unlikely. But women wore dresses or skirts for farm chores throughout the middle ages and beyond. I'm pretty sure, although it's not a particular sensitive topic, female slaves wore dresses and picked cotton while wearing them only a few decades earlier.

Sorry no. That chance ended about 25 years ago.

But piling on to the other comment about being close to the bread line. In the rural US in the 30s and in some places the 60s and maybe the 70s. Many folks were so close to barely eating enough to live that pants were the norm for everyone except on very special occasions. Pants could be worn by box sexes. And most families had 4 to 10 kids. So you didn't waste pants that didn't fit any of the boys at the moment.

This cultures of rural US back then and even today is an alien place to most people around the world and to many in the US. It's just different. I grew up on the edge of this culture and my brothers wife came from it. (And she doesn't want to go back at all.)

Anyway very few photos from this time reflect the daily reality of this life.

But it is a distant history with few ways to verify the details. And in the UK and Europe things might be different.


you probably meant the zuse machines (zeiss does optics).
the first of these, z1, did not even use relays. It was purely mechanical, arithmetical and memory components were made of punched metal sheets and bars, similar to the hollerith tabulators, but much more complicated. They have a semi-functional replica at the tech museum in Berlin and also some logic gate models to play around with manually, see


Oh, and here's the punchline:

Host's point is that Does this sound familiar? Because it ought to: it's the story of our last two centuries.

In 1960, the moral shock of that documentary lead to huge changes in policy. (Go do your research).

Three generations later, the solution has been outsourcing and ennui. Run that documentary today, you'd get zero (0) public outrage. The real irony, of course, is that Real Conservatives [tm] (the old, paternalistic, Religious kind) would support changes to said system, and did. (Goldwater).

Now ask yourself the actual question: What can Change the Nature of a Man?

Trump is nothing - what's being lost is your ability to empathize with the Other and think non-Hierarchically.

This is not a Bug. It's a well designed Feature.


./ soapbox off, but really.


It's complicated. Legal migrants, earning minimum wage, doing a hard physical job the locals don't want to do because it's hard and seasonal. It's been like that since WW2 especially in places like Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, Essex, Lincolnshire. And while it suits the landowners and farm management, I've heard the locals don't like the rapid ramp up in migrant numbers in the last 10 years. It's not so much the competition for jobs as the social effects that caused the high vote for Brexit. But without actually living there it's hard to tell. There's one thing though, if the farmers can't get seasonal labour they'll move into something else. Like barn conversions or wind/solar power.


Gangmasters and migrant workers: What you need to know BBC, Dec 2015

And no, they won't.

The Lincolnshire Fens are the UK equivalent to HP Lovecraft's Innsmouth dwellers. Let's just say that the entire mimetic thing of "Wind Power causes noise hum mental illness" is huuuuuge out there.

[And yes: it was a dirty campaign run by [REDACTED] energy companies - total ratfucking from start to finish. Problem is - went a little too far, Mr French Energy Company that we'll not name but hey]



On subject:

Steam Powered Steam Punk Submarines.

No-one got it yet.

Remind me why Submarines are a thing, again? (I'll spot you an IronClad).

Then work the logic.


Actually there was a decent alternative to core called the electrical relay. The other two were "laboratory toys". They worked, sort of, but they weren't really practical.

Core memory wasn't cheap, and wasn't easy to make. If there had been a reasonable alternative it would never have been used. (Relays work fine on small, slow, computers, but they don't least until you get to MEMs, at which point they may be superior even to semiconductors.)


You're referring to "Harvest of Shame"
Re "what's being lost is your ability to empathize with the other..."
That's a natural human ability that most people will always have, they just also have a propensity for masking it. When you say we're losing it that's basically moral propaganda. As Garrett Hardin explains in Tragedy of the Commons, appeals to conscience are pointless. What's needed is regulation. Don't ask people to voluntarily sacrifice, to place hearts over heads. That just punishes those who listen to you. Rather everyone should be forced to do right. Hardin says that brings up the question of who will guard the guardians, but I say guardianship is best guarded by professional ethics, a product of the very hierarchy you condemn. Career civil servants can be motivated by self interest to follow professional ethics in order to have successful careers. It does work, it is the only thing that works. People don't need to be made moral, the system needs to be designed to stop making them immoral.


Yep. The Colossus bods had exactly those troubles with tapes breaking. But there wasn't really anything else they could use; the tapes were long, and the amount of data on them was such that no other form of storage would have been practical, both in terms of the number of components needed and of how to write the data in in the first place. Tape may not have been an ideal solution but the alternatives would have been worse.


As I understand it, while the battery capacity is indeed insufficient for very much travel, it's still plenty to run the non-propulsive systems for a long time, so the sub can remain submerged for several days if it just sits there not moving. So you get it on station before the enemy arrive, and it waits, listening out for them with its passive sonar, while being so quiet that they can't detect it unless they give away their position by using active sonar. It then gives them a nasty surprise. And of course you don't need to be a big rich state with nuclear capabilites (if you can fuel a sub reactor you can make a bomb) to run them.


Take a look at this picture of a woman in skirts pulling a pit mine coal cart in a skirt in the 19th century:

It was religious and legal system law that women had to dress in skirts and men in men's clothes until very late in our history.

Even female slaves in the cotton and sugar fields had to wear such dresses as allowed and able, not pants. Though in some places it is noted that the plantation owners were so negligent they failed to provide either the slave clothing (manufactured in the north) or the materials to make new clothes sometimes for years at a time on the rice plantations of South Carolina and Georgia, and the slaves were forced to be naked.

The photo albums of my family are filled with my farm women forebears -- who were one and all picture taking enthusiasts -- working in the garden, doing laundry outdoors in the summer, taking care of the chickens, shucking corn for canning, etc. -- all wearing dresses. These were not dress-up occasions and this was long before WWII.

The gender boundaries in clothing are enormous and we see them still in effect even now with the insistance of the baby industry capitalists pushing blue and pink in EVERYTHING including godded Legos.


In my opinion after years of working in the history of slavery and the "New World" what fueled the industrial revolution was a vast unplundered hemisphere chock full of everything needed from fibers and other cash / luxury crops and other resources from gold and silver and lumber and coal and iron and other minerals -- and land -- vast vast vast regions of land that could be used for anything from growing crops to extracting fur.

The only necessary elements to making vast vast vast fortunes out of this was to commit genocide and slavery -- and slavery itself generated a vast business and income, as described in detail in The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry. Even when the African slave trade was prohibited (out of which the British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Netherlands, and even for a time the Danish and Swedish Crowns made fortunes for their privy purses and their cohorts equal fortunes) -- slave breeding itself became a lucrative aspect of slavery in the antebellum U.S. south.

Without the vast fortunes coming out of slavery and slave labor France couldn't have made the scientific and industrial strides she did in the 18th century, and neither could have England. Spain, well, she frittered hers away as Carlos etc. fought to maintain and expand the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and Empire neither Holy nor Roman, but definitely fueled by Spain's imperium in the the New World. All the money went to Italian bankers for the loans for armies.

But it's not an original thought that New World and African slavery fueled the Industrial Revolution and capitalism. It's been pretty much accepted since maybe the late 1960's?


Regarding Roman numerals, it has been suggested that in many contexts they were not used for direct calculation, but for recording the results of what was essentially abacus work. (Though I wonder if that was lost in many places during the "fall" of Roman influence.)

Visualize a common abacus design with 4 beads or counters in each column below the bar and one bead above it. Use I and V to record the state of the first column, X and L for the second column, C and D for the third, etc.

Positional shorthand (IX instead of VIIII) was a late development and may have come as the direct
link to the abacus/exchequer was breaking down.

Thinking about it, we have texts about some of the Roman engineering, but I'm not sure there are any extant texts about how Augustus' tax accountants did their work.


" fast such a society can accelerate if there's a government on a war footing pushing it and they have perfect understanding of what their goal should be..."

I think it is the lack of that factor which has limited the speed of most cases of development that we know about - as I said - there is no actual progress, because there is no defined path; there is just a random walk which simply by its length gives the illusion of having progressed when you look back to the starting point. If there is a defined path, and a strong commitment to following it, then I would reckon that advancement would be limited by factors like cognitive dissonance: how fast you can change things without doing too many people's heads in trying to cope with it.

I'm not familiar with the Japanese example, but an example of goal-directed development that does spring to mind is Soviet industrialisation: they went from not much better than nothing to being able to out-produce the famously industrial Nazis in 20 years or so. Which is pretty impressive.

After that, though, they got somewhat bogged down, broadly as a result of the consequences of Stalin being a big enough cunt to drive a fourteen-coupled locomotive into... and the less said about what happened with agriculture the better. It will be interesting to see whether the post-revolution NBE is any more successful at learning the lessons from our history as supplied by Miriam than we have been ourselves. Me, I somehow doubt it: Erasmus may understand, but he's only one guy, nobody else has read the books, and such problems have already started to appear.


"...virtually EVERY post-1900 change has been to avoid unpopular tasks, concentrate money and production in a few hands, and just plain to extract money from the gullible masses."

Which seems to be about the point the NBE have arrived at. As I read it, they've got good enough plumbing to be past the stage of cholera epidemics, and most of the "modern conveniences" do exist, it's just that only the rich people have them. The main things they don't have at all are scientifically-based pharmacology, and transistors. Apart from that it's mainly a matter of the technology they already do have becoming more widely available.

Give it a few years and if it wasn't for the toxic politics it could be somewhere I'd be reasonably happy to live in... Only not for very long, because a lot of the stuff Miriam's going to introduce is going to be of the nature you describe.


There is a definite anti-French bias here.
OK, so why, then ( apart from US "war of independence" when everyone ganged up on the UK ) did the French lose every time?
And why were the RA better than Boney's gunners, especially given that Boney trained as a gunner?
And why was Britain's industrial revolution of 1720-1792 bigger & faster & more developed than France's?
Which brings us back to Charlie's original question, doesn't it?


The other thing missing from this discussion is the number of marriages saved by the dishwasher and the economic impact of those averted divorces...


But the "Argies" nonetheless lost at least one sub to (IIRC) helicopter-attack: The Santa Fe ( S-21)


Given that one grandmother came from the depths of the Fens, no problem.
Contrariwise ...
There are persistent attempts, usually successful (eventually) by "the authorities" to clamp down on, fine & jail the corrupt gangmasters running those illegal scams in Lincolnshire & Cumbria.
Unlike in the USA the practice is not condoned, & it's illegal, but it often takes time to collect evidence, especially from scared often non_english-speaking workers caught in those traps.


"It was religious and legal system law that women had to dress in skirts and men in men's clothes until very late in our history. ..., and the slaves were forced to be naked."

Please note your last clause and read what I originally said. I said that the constraints were stronger on 'respectable' people, not (as El said) on second class citizens. Yes, such constraints existed - but they were near universal (and breaking them lead to ostracism) for 'respectable' people. Second class citizens often ignored them, because they had little option.


Resources spent fostering infrastructure development or commerce were diverted from military defense and hence weakened them in the short term -- an unacceptable risk.

Slight variation to this thought: Prussian industrialism and military mobilisation seemed to go together - at least for railways. But maybe it's exactly a slight advantage the Prussians had over the Austrians in industrialisation that made them the ones to unite Germany. So maybe a finer-grained disctinction can be drawn between 1850s Prussia and Austria. Nothing comes readily to mind, other than and the legacy of the Hanseatic city states on the one hand and the Ottomans on the other.


The Lincolnshire Fens are the UK equivalent to HP Lovecraft's Innsmouth dwellers.

All too true.
They ain't called "Yellowbellies" for nothing!
I remember Holland County ( between Spaliding & Lynn ) in the 1950's all too well!


Without the vast fortunes coming out of slavery and slave labor France couldn't have made the scientific and industrial strides she did in the 18th century, and neither could have England.
Disagree profoundly.
Produce evidence to support your case.
As opposed to British" wealth coming, very largely from it's own technological efforts.

Oh - one other point.
The "English" aristocracy were allowed, even encouraged to go into industrialisation & technology, unlike many other polities..
The Cavendishes ("Devonshires") were supreme examples of this.


Yep, diesel-electrics can be *very* hard targets to detect, even by top grade equipment knowing they are out there. The main downside is the lack of sustained speed and the noise while getting on station, so usual practice was to get ahead of the enemy and just quietly lie in wait.
I've been told several times that the Aussies "sunk" a carrier once in wargames, they definitely got a few Los Angeles subs and regularly embarrassed the yanks. If you are willing to accept the loss of the submarine, the chances of sinking something crucial go up massively.


Actually, a lot of the early industrial revolution was incredibly small scale, basically artisanal. One of the supporting factors of the take off may have been a high level of artisanal craft skills in the general population (part of my theory anyways).

The economics are discussed in Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire, Most early entrepreneurs left very modest, barely bourgeois estates.

Napoleonic artillery? The UK had a perceived/understood metallurgical advantage, even as early as 1588. And led the shift to Iron (vs Brass) Guns from say 1650 forwards as the "Standard" of warship armament. You need a bigger ship to carry the same broadside, but the cost advantage meant bigger fleets.

Also the British Secret Weapon of the Napoleonic Wars, the Shrapnel shell. Again, metallurgical and technical sophistication.


there is an interesting book by an Italian historian, Aldo Schiavone, translated as
The End of the Past: Ancient Rome and the Modern West. Translated by Margery J. Schneider. Revealing Antiquity, 13. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000

dealing with why even when the Roman empire had reached a critical mass of population, skills and capital, it was unable to develop further at least to a proto-capitalist economy.

btw, I'd like your reference to Weber's Safehold, but imho the world building is too much plot driven. If I were Langhorne, and I wanted to build a safe, stationary society, I'd made Safehold into some kind of static Wittfogel-like Asian despotism, not a mishmash of competing states with even some representative governments.


Somewhere up thread there was a query about what is a Submarine (Diesel Electric) good for.
Well, not much if you are thinking in terms of a Mahanian clash of Battle Fleets, which a lot of (cough, Japanese) did, leading to things like the K Class.
Prior to the first big one, the consensus plan seemed to be to employ them as a coastal defense/denial asset. This was explicit in some of the US construction plans. Some of it at least was military fashion everybody has some, maybe we should spend some money for a few of these shiny gadgets. The Germans were the last "Great Power" to start building Submarines.
Works great if your targets can't figure out what is happening, and stop to rescue survivors.

But it turns out there were a lot of these slow, easy to catch targets called "Merchant Ships" coming and going in UK waters. Eureka! A Mission! And it almost worked...

Of course, that was Doenitz's plan from the beginning in the second round, except he knew he needed around 300 operational boas, and planned to have that number (and reached it) in 1943. By which time UK countermeasures had been ramped up,

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the Japanese stuck to the Fleet Support mission and profile. And the US "Fleet" Boats were called that for a reason, the whole design process that led to them, range (to "Scout" the Japanese home islands from Pearl Harbor, and watch for the Japanese Battle Fleet), plus a reasonable size for mass production on mobilization (Which FAR exceeded pre-war expectations). (Norman Friedman, US Submarine Design, etc). But Doenitz had kind of enabled a campaign against the Japanese Merchant Marine, for which they turned out to be the perfect weapon (compare with the struggles of the MUCH smaller UK Subs to contribute, operating from Trincomalee and Freemantle).

Many of the US Submarine successes against Japanese carriers etc. was due to SIGINT Target cueing. The above referenced get in position and wait. Ambush hunting, vs. stalking.


some random toughts on alternate paths to industrialization:

Roman or Alexandrine industrial revolution. Yes, Alexandrine civilization has a good grasp of math, and of some branches of physics and had a good tech level, see Anthikythera computer. But Heron's eolipyle was useless as practical engine. The big problem is that such a device didn't spur a theory about the relationship between thermal and mechanical energy, or in cruder form, how and why the heat from fire turned into movement.
Maybe it didn't fit into Aristotelian physics.

role of France (and Germany): in 19. century France was the source of relevant innovations, from the theory of thermal engines by Carnot, to first IC engine, the Lenoir one, to developments in electrically powered airships and smokeless powder. Germany led in fields like chemistry and electrical engineering. (on S.M. Stirling's list I pointed it when they were discussing the world building of what became The Peshawar Lancers, and it made into its canon, explaining why the Angrezi Raj survives as industrial power using steam and black powder into 21. century after Europe was destroyed by a meteor impact)

France and Germany had a different model of relationship between science and technology. The British industrial revolution relied on skilled, literate and numerate artisans, with some input from academies and such, where science was a gentleman's hobby. France had the Grand Ecoles, Ponts and Chausses, and such, with a tradition in civil engineering, while Germany invented the modern research university, with labs, libraries, scientific journals and careers based on dicoveries and published research.

Also, maybe I have read Brad DeLong too fast, but it seemed to me that a gun and sail empire with a tech level similar to late Renaissance could have been a kind of stable state, with no further drive to industrialize.


Diesel subs that are fully submerged (not snorkeling) are electric subs, running on battery juice, which is very limiting. (I am led to believe that a huge breakthrough in progress is the transition to LiION from lead-acid cells, which massively improves their performance.) You can run a diesel engine underwater if you have a hydrogen peroxide tank and want to go fast, but then it's a diesel engine (noisy).

There are several modern diesel sub designs which use Stirling engines (quiet) burning a combination of diesel fuel and liquid oxygen (e.g., the Swedish Gotland class and the Japanese Soryu class, and possibly some Chinese boats) or hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells (e.g., the German Type 212 and its export derivatives) for "air-independent propulsion" (AIP). These are apparently able to achieve submerged times of several weeks (I think the longest publicly demonstrated submerged time is 18 days for one of the German Navy boats). There's a third technology offered by the French submarine maker DCNS called MESMA, which apparently has a steam turbine system like a standard nuclear sub, but with the nuclear reactor replaced by a high-pressure methanol-oxygen combustion system to generate the heat. Plus an as-yet-untested Spanish design which uses a bio-ethanol-based reaction system to generate the hydrogen for fuel cells (still requires a liquid oxygen store).


maybe I have read Brad DeLong too fast, but it seemed to me that a gun and sail empire with a tech level similar to late Renaissance could have been a kind of stable state

That's more or less the "gunpowder empire" idea he's talking about (although the original use of the term was for the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires); the point of his post is to argue that it wouldn't be stable.


Yes. What most people and many authors miss, but OGH and the better ones do not, is that technology is secondary to society in driving change. It is relatively easy to see stable technology plateaus, in the sense that incremental advances in technology won't lead to corresponding ones in benefits for the society as a whole, but not easy to see how to stop changes that individuals would like but which are harmful when unconstrained. E.g. the private car and ubiquitous use of disposable plastics problems.


Greg writes:

There is a definite anti-French bias here.
OK, so why, then ( apart from US "war of independence" when everyone ganged up on the UK ) did the French lose every time?
And why were the RA better than Boney's gunners, especially given that Boney trained as a gunner?
And why was Britain's industrial revolution of 1720-1792 bigger & faster & more developed than France's?
Which brings us back to Charlie's original question, doesn't it?

The reason we won in the world's first global war (Seven Year's War in Europe, French and Indian War in the US) is not the quality of our troops (usually less good than the French), nor the quality of our generals, but Finance, which we'd learnt from the Dutch when we appropriated their Royalty (William and Mary).

The UK government could borrow at 3% to finance it's wars: the French King, with his dodgy Credit Score, and poor repayment record was charged 15%.

Finance is also the reason that the industrial revolution did not kick off 50-70 years earlier in the UK. The losses suffered in the South Sea Bubble took that long to repay, and confidence in the Banks also suffered for two generations.


If the rich have something it will trickle down to the poor, with rate determined by various factors. Usually this takes the form of the development and application of techniques to produce the luxury more cheaply and make it a more common good. For that to happen, somebody has to be able to afford developing and yet also have the motivation to do so. There has to be a part of the population who have some degree of wealth but believe they can better themselves financially. Also there needs to not be a taboo against imitating ones betters. If automobiles are a status symbol reserved for those of high caste, then your Model T will never sell because the rich would rather have something hand crafted and the poor would never behave like pretenders. Now to drift slightly off topic.

It also helps to adopt existing technology instead of developing it yourself.
The Chinese discovered gunpowder because they had alchemists playing around with new medicines using completely ridiculous mystical theories--not because they were under strategic pressure to invent military technologies. Military pressure just led to the invention of better crossbows and siege engines. When gunpowder met military necessity, they invented guns, right? Well, no, first they invented gunpowder assisted long range arrows. Revolutions can only come from those not too caught up in the status quo. Warriors used to arrows will only see gunpowder as a way to make arrows better, not as a way to replace arrows. The gunpowder propelled arrow stage was skipped in the Europe because the Chinese eventually did invent primitive guns, and this stage of technology arrived fully formed in the west.

We can look back and think people in the past were so dumb and small minded, using revolutionary technologies in prosaic ways, but we're no better. The thing is you can't really predict what will be a dead end and what will be the next big thing. Will 3D printers remain a niche item, like jetpacks, or become ubiquitous? Will we all have helicopters like the rich? Or is the question itself similar to the thinking of those who made gunpowder assisted arrows? Maybe we move to space and don't need jetpacks or helicopters because we live in low gee. If you use an alphabet you don't need such a large character set that your printing press is impractical. What is our Hanzi, what are our arrows? What forest are we not seeing for the trees? We can't see our blocking assumptions because of our blocking assumptions.


The big driver for the Industrial Revolution, as we were taught in school, was the preceding Agricultural Revolution which released a lot of manpower (and childpower too) from growing crops so they could work in mills and factories and mines. Without the rationalisation of land ownership and scientific improvements (crop rotation etc.) there would not have been enough hands to work the machines to bootstrap the manufacturing processes.


Hey, Nojay,

About the agricultural revolution... weren't there *large* numbers of formerly agricultural workers tossed off the farms during the enclosure movement? (I think that's what it was called, when the price of wool rose so high that the nobility changed from agriculture to sheep raising, and the peasants got "freed" from the land they'd farmed for centuries....)



Can we pitch "The Tragedy of the Commons" in the ditch where it belongs?

--Hardin later said he'd gone too far with that article, along with quite a few other critics.

--More to the point, Elinor Ostrom, the late economics professor, spent her entire career documenting how commons work the world over, and in some cases have worked for centuries. She got a Nobel Prize in Economics too, the only woman to do so so far.

And that last is the key point: the available data DO NOT SUPPORT the idea of the tragedy of the commons. Under 8-10 conditions (depending on the model), a commons can last indefinitely, and most of those conditions have to do with transparency, equality, commons participants agreeing with the rules under which the commons operate, and fair, prompt, and visible enforcement of a graduated scale of sanctions against those who violate the agreed-upon rules.

IMHO, some financial markets would work a lot better if they adopted the basic commons rules that Ostrom found in her research, but that's a topic for another time. Right now, governments make markets, whether or not they could be run as commons thereafter.


I agree with you that Spain squandered its wealth during the 1500-1700s with its wars. I also agree with your point that N. Italian banks were the prime beneficiaries of the wealth Spain stole from the Americas. As you say, the Netherlands, England, and France used the wealth from the Americas to kick off the industrial revolution

1. If so, why didn't N. Italy industrialize?
2. What about Portugal?


The French usually lost when they got too greedy.

Boney was a great general, who believed a bit too much that military victory was actual victory. He also ignored a few lessons about the French Revolution that showed nationalism may be bigger than a ruling government.

Mostly he made 3 big mistakes.

1. Trying to reconquer Haiti.

2. Trying to Hold Spain.

3. The March to Russia.

In 1 and 2 he made the mistake of trying to hold down a hostile population. We know now in the post-Enlightenment era it doesn't work in the long run. It becomes a bleeding ulcer.

Haiti had also the fact it ruined the potential for Haiti to be an army for hire for him, with their troops being already immune to the tropical diseases that ravaged the other powers there. Some sort of quasi-independence under France could of worked, with Haiti getting to rule the Caribbean, and France controlling the revenue.

In 2, we had the fact that the Spanish government and Spanish nation are not the same thing. Beat the king or his son, and their government surrenders. But turns out the cities really don't like you, and there's not enough fig leaf to deal with the nationalists. When combined with arms and funds flowing in, and a British army supporting them, we have the ulcer that eats up Napoleon's army.

In 3 we have a mistake on time and extension. Napoleon thought of armies to fight, and the Russian scortched earth tactics combined with denying battle meant it was much to easy to over run their logistics. Even taking Moscow was hollow after the Russians stayed in the fight, letting the French bleed men and rations.


Here is information about France that might pertain in this debate

1. France had a very low Total Fertility Rate since Napoleon. After the French Revolution, it was barely at replacement levels. Later on in the late-19th century, it dipped even below replacement. That is why the country's population increased from around 33 million at the start of the French Revolution to around 40 million at the start of WWI.

2. Very low emigration, possibly related to the TFR. If you compare the 19th century emigration of people from the UK (mostly Ireland), Germany, Italy, you'll notice that there was very little emigration from France. Heck, Algeria's population was mostly Spaniards and Italians.

3. Very low urbanization rate compared to the UK and Germany. I can't pull up the figures right now, but I remember reading that France's urbanization at the onset of WWI was around 30%.

A possible argument for the above is given as the land reforms of the French Revolution. It channeled increased agricultural productivity into the average citizen's wealth instead of the (relative) latifundia that sprang up in other parts of Europe and the US. This deprived their factories of workers.

As a brief aside, many of the same things happened with the Netherlands in the 19th century, although less pronounced.


Very interesting.
I suspect you are approx 75% correct.
There's also the other factor, of course, which may be represented by my last name ( which you can see, of course ) - I'm descended from the Huguenots.
Louis XIV threw them out - & they went to the Low Countries & England, bringing with them, money, financial skills, a lot of technology & an abiding desire to stuff the Froggies at every turn.
Look at the number of Huguenot-"french" names in the Brit Army from then on until the present day.
The first governor of the Bank of England was one WIlliiam d'Houblon, after all ....


Northern Italy is now an industrial power house, but I'd imagine the problems of constant warfare with the French, Austrians and Spanish crowns battling over Italy has been a real hamper for the development of capital. Combine that with lack of coal and having limited farm productivity, and Italy lacked the special sauce.

Which is ironic, as Italy in many times and places would of been the best place for weavers, which was so important for other industrialization skills.



One point I'd challenge - the 'overpopulation' meme which has been consistently wrong for, forever. Of course under a heavily fossel fuel powered economy we're at / approaching the limits of human carrying capacity of the planet, however the same was probably true of wood-burning humanity in 1500. Even really quite conservative assumptions around energy / space utilisation will throw out plausible human carrying-capacities of Earth of 100 (US) billion plus. Inevitably humanity will innovate, become more efficient and grow further.



From what I recall of history class ... ancient Judean, Greek or Roman slaves were human beings and many/most ancient cultures gave them rights. Such men/women/children were not deemed “inferior” by nature. While bad, still a helluva lot better than the US version of slavery.

'Top-down economic models' ... is this thinking still being seriously considered? Makes no sense when, thanks to modern technology, you can cut out (or splice in) any number of middlemen/layers out of the economy. Trickle down doesn't work without a lot of lateral pressure, i.e., peers actively insisting on changing how upper classes/strata distribute goods/wealth and responsibilities or having a large enough middle class that becomes enamored of some new tech that it decides to swap an old toy (cable) for a new one (iPhone) and mostly exchange within and among their own social strata.

Another place where top-down is meeting some resistance is in home ownership. Specifically in terms of what is a culturally (socially) acceptable definition (size, style, place, etc.) of a home. Thanks to miniaturization of the most popular tech, you don't need as large a home to store all your stuff which allows for the Tiny Home movement to be feasible. Glad to see this happening just as student debt and high youth un-/under-employment seemed to have become just another one of those things about how the 'real world' works now.


2. What about Portugal.

Would the Great Lisbon Quake of 1755 have had anything to do with Portugal's future?

I'm proposing this as a theory to be played with, mostly because I figure environmental determinist hypotheses are things that might be tested and disposed of.

The briefest notes about Portuguese history were that it's high points were in the 15th and 16th Century, and it lost Brazil, it's largest colony, in 1822. A really crude reading would be that it had already shot its bolt by the 18th Century, and the resources it had to pour into rebuilding after the quake, plus the stultifying politics that surrounded the quake (the Portuguese PM of the time was a commoner who may have had a hate-hate relationship with the aristocracy), meant that Portugal was in no position to industrialize in the 18th or 19th Centuries.

The other thing is that, while Portugal had (and has) plenty of minerals, it doesn't seem to have much of anything in the way of fossil fuels. The one coal mine they have appears to be more famous for its Jurassic fossils than for the industry that sprang up around it. If Portugal was going to power its way into a bootstrapped Industrial Revolution, it would have had to import coal from Newcastle.


Um, about the Chinese and gunpowder. On their own, IIRC, they got to matchlocks on their own.

In any case, fire arrows have this lovely advantage that you can build them basically out of bamboo and gunpowder, plus maybe a metal arrowhead if you like. China has a lot of bamboo, so this isn't stupid. When you start doing fire lances as the crudest possible guns (basically a short tube with a sealed end and a touch-hole for a match to light it off), then you have to start worrying about treating it as an explosion, rather than a bottle rocket, and the technology gets a lot more complicated. The Chinese were building cannon-ish things by 1132 (their first recorded use on the battlefield), and the Europeans were using Muslim cannons in Andalusia in 1246.

Now you may think that something like the Korean Hwacha, with its 200 fire arrows, is primitive, and to some degree it is. The advantage is that, as the Mythbusters and other re-enactors have shown, it's not that hard to make. If you've got gunpowder and a lot of bamboo around, it's certainly the simplest thing to make if you need anti-personnel artillery.


I have seen arguments that one of the reasons cannons developed further in Europe than in China had to do with the differing forms of warfare in the two regions. Specifically, European warfare in the High Middle Ages involved sieges of castles much more than was the case in China. So there was an incentive to develop relatively immobile but powerful cannon in Europe (sometimes cast at the site of the siege itself) for the purpose of knocking holes in castle walls, which laid the groundwork for later, more mobile cannons, and then arquebuses and muskets.


I get the impression on reading that hand cannon and cannon developed in parallel. The limiting factor in all cases was containing the explosion, followed long after by increasing accuracy. I suspect one reason bows and crossbows hung around as long as they did was that they were more accurate, and range (up until the Napoleonic Era) was roughly equivalent for bows and guns.

Still, you're right about cannon technology. There's little reason to build siege cannon when your major opponents are Japanese pirates and invading nomad armies.


Some notes: (serious answer because at some point I remembered that I knew quite a lot about compound engines for some reason. And by a lot I mean alot).

#1 Compound Steam Engines, 1790 onwards. Requires precision casting & identical parts. The Age of Iron

#2 The Bessemer process 1856, mass production and repeatable (controllable) carbon content. The Age of Steel

#3 Harry Brearley 1913, Chromium is added. The Age of Stainless Steam

If you think of "Steam Punk" there's a huge aesthetic slant towards gleaming brass etc. It's nonsense.

The above three stages cannot really be stopped (since they're essentially the same element being played around with constantly) and doesn't leave itself open to fiddly cogs etc.


And while it was a pun on host's title, there's an odd symmetry to the spacing of the advances - roughly 50 years each time.

There's probably a rule of thumb about this being the time (in a non-global, sea commerce driven society) for a material to enter a market, dominate a market then come to a point where the limitations of the material provoke reassessment of the material.

It's roughly three generations of humans as well.

Note that the Bessemer process and Brearley were driven by disaster / military (there's also some no small suggestion that industrialization in the USA was driven by rifling / gun needs, as was the discovery of Stainless Steel).



I think Bessemer steel fits better under the second industrial revolution. By the time the Bessemer steel revolution goes in, the basic of industrialization has spread. Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the US, France and various German states were industrial at this time.

I'd also expand 1 to include machine tools such as good lathes (and the required materials for good lathes varies). Watt's best engines were only after Wilkinson developed the boring machine. It was those tools that made the use of iron technology just explode.


I even wonder if there's incentives against Cannons under the Ming and Qing. Cannons allow rebellions to take fortresses staffed by loyal garrisons before the large central government's army can mobilize.

Otoh, the Gunpowder Empires worked in part because if a local lord rebelled, it was the central army that had the guns necessary to ruin his fort, and he was more limited in access to such weapons.


Part of the drive towards steel was that iron used in construction was hitting its natural life span - e.g. Tay Bridge disaster (note: I'm cribbing off a copy of Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik - see also the section on concrete). Comments on the Romans and concrete are useful here, as they highlight part of the why the Romans never developed the tech further (because it lasted 500+ years easily).

The argument is that Bessemer is a necessary outcome of using 1st wave tech.

Also, the main advantage of industrial tech (1st wave) was mobility - you could move machines, break them into parts, reassemble them etc and not be bound to a geographical water based energy source (the Mill). You could probably argue that this drove a lot of US history and colonial as well - being able to relocate your production = massive advantage (riffing off the cannon suggestion about Castles / mobile artillery).

To tie this into "classic" Steam Punk, you have to have a really good reason for:

1) Not following this progression from iron to steel (and brass? come on)

2) Not having the jump mixing in chemistry (electrical plating etc).

Usually Guild "secrets" are used (which are anachronistic by 1790) but it doesn't really follow.

The point about Bessemer is that everyone thought he was a con man, and initially when he licensed the idea no-one else could get it to work for them. He eventually perfected the tech, but not without significant push-back and angry law suits.


"Natural life span"? What do you mean, the Tay bridge disaster was nothing to do with how long the bridge had been in use.

The Romans also likely never developed concrete further because 1) they didn't have the marriage of philosophy and ideas and practical artisanal knowledge that the late medieval period had, 2) their main source was one location (as far as I have read) and as such it wasn't so widely available.


Note: there is a way to artificially stagnate this progression.

Either you have a break through in chemistry first (i.e. lead based / Titanium dioxide paints, which were around in the 19th Century) and a jump to electricity / nuclear (thus missing a stage), as already mentioned, or...

You get kinky.

Let's imagine that instead of slash/burn (colonialism in a can), ecology really took off after Darwin. Not the "red in tooth and claw" political hack (which was 100% a hatchet job, funded by Big Coal, but I digress), but it was really embraced, with the British passion for landscaping and gardens thrown in.

So, the Empire looks at the 1/3rd of the world it owns, and starts optimizing the ecologies it owns. No mono-cultures, locally driven maximal ecologies.

Fecundity abounds, along with a good dash of Victorian spirit ("Last decade we brought you the Crystal Palace, this year - Jamaica in balance!). Farming productivity is tied to ecology with huge break-throughs in natural pest control, and no-one makes the mistakes of invasive species (hello America and the Starling). Instead, the Empire enacts ruthless control of the seas to prevent both slavery and biological contamination.

The Dodo never dies out etc etc.

In this world, Steam Punk is somewhat believable, as the shift is towards biology and biotech (oh, and as a plus, over-breeding of domestic animals doesn't degenerate into fads and the Nazis can never use the aroch as a propaganda tool - likewise, eugenics never takes hold because "survival of the fittest" is tempered by understanding abapation).



Must type something chaotic and dystopian, ruining my cover.


Yes, wind / stress / bad casting.

But as a rule of thumb, iron pits / rusts.

50 years is hitting danger zone.

Stainless steel is a big deal, yo. You're male, I guess you shave? Huuuuge step there.


Yes, I know stainless is good, I am part materials scientist. Of course it depends what you want to do with the stainless.
And iron, well, if it's nearly pure it can last a surprisingly long time, see that pillar in India or various medieval wrought iron decorations.

Relatedly, I toured a French winery a few weeks ago, some party members were surprised at all the big stainless steel vats.


The point about the Romans is also wrong.

The Renaissance was a big deal because people started being able to sculpt marble with the same amount of skill that the Romans had.

Anyhow, I was just trying to keep my points UK centric.

[Wonk notes: Georgia today, blue dash after my comments - I'm an arms dealer, remember? Just told you how to sell the swing]


Nope, my point about the Romans is right. The Romans were quite good at some things but pants at many others, by the standard of the high and late medieval periods. See also the spread of windmills across Europe, and the various uses to which water power was put, far more so than the Romans used it for, and more efficiently too.


If you want to freak people out, tell them about their orange juice.

50 metre tall stainless steel cylinders with all the taste taken out, stored for 2+ years. Taste re-injected with teabags (literally).

I mean, literally: the illusion is total bullshit.


Enclosures meant basically converting a communally-managed resource (a field or other agricultural land such as pasture) into a single entity. Originally fields were worked by several peasant families, each having a row or two of the land separated by non-productive areas. The rows were traded around each year so there was no incentive for a family to improve their year's land with fertiliser etc. because it would be someone else's next year.

A single field could be worked with fewer hands to produce more and improvements such as crop rotation were beneficial to the owners over a period of years. There were also early technological developments such as the steel-edged mouldboard plough which could process more ground and turn it over deeper than a wooden hand or animal-drawn plough.

As for the Clearances, the hill crofting areas which were converted to sheep farming were borderline ground for agriculture, barely able to keep a family fed with little in the way of surplus for the landowner. Sheep were more profitable especially with the automation of spinning and weaving, with canals and improved roads to transport the wool to the Lowland factories. The roads into the Highlands had been made to carry artillery after the Jacobite rebellions but they served the wool merchants just as well.


Which is my point about 1st industrial wave and water power.

Tell me something notable about Italy.

Hint: it revolves around rivers. Horatio and the Tiber etc.


To broaden this out, thing a little wider:

Egypt, precision stone-cutting. Using copper tools, a real bastard. Bronze? Better.

Rome, precision sculpting, Legions, siege engines. Etc.

UK, industrial revolution, Steam Engine Parts.

UK, shaving (Gillette razors, 1903 - not stainless steel).

Add in the mix weapons (not so much cannons, wadding solves a lot of issues, it's all about the personal).

The important thing is that your tools retain their quality over an acceptable amount of usage.

Steam Punk is predicated on hugely well crafted pieces (to make up the short-falls that other materials / science can gloss over slightly).


It's a paradox, one that cannot be resolved.


(note: the mis-use of Horatius / Horatio is meta-meta snark. Having written out the entire thing five times as a young woman in the 19th century as a punishment I well know the difference - let's just say the Americans do not).


And yes, I did just kill a genre.

You can't have non-gaslight fantasy Steam Punk. (By which we assume Host means that which doesn't include the Occult / Spirits / Outer Realms).

It's insanity, it only works if you're willing to con your audience.

I felt like destroying something beautiful YT: film: 0:16

Which is a meta-comment: your world is so debased I can't even get a decent clip of the scene.

Your world (orange juice!) is a lie made up by fools, liars and soulless scumbags.


And no: you can't redeem Steam Punk, it's fucking retarded.


I asked a (British) relative who was born in the 1930s. She got her first pair of slacks in the 1950s — had to make them herself. She said the Land Army volunteers might wear trousers or coveralls while working, but skirts once they were finished. She doesn't remember seeing women in the streets in slacks until the 1950s. Her mother never wore anything but skirts her whole life (which included farm work).

Single point of data, but thought I'd contribute it as it comes from someone alive during the time period in question.


As someone who attended the university of Dundee reading civil engineering back in the day, the piers of the first Tay Bridge which still protrude from the river, were used as an object lesson in how not to screw up
IIRC the explanation I was given for the bridge failure was the wind loads, a train was crossing in strong winds and the bridge couldn't resist the lateral stress
As this would never happen to a masonry bridge, it apparently was a new thing.
Apparently (if my memory is correct) the original designer did worry about wind loads and consulted the astronomer Royal who screwed up the calcs.
The Forth Rail bridge, which I think was just given UN historic status was designed to take a hurricane blowing in either direction at each end, which meant it was ludicrously over designed but remains my favourite bridge in the world


Yes, it was wind loads that did for it, but there were several factors involved. It wasn't really as simple as just getting the calcs wrong; there was at the time very little science available for getting them right. How much you allowed for wind was largely a matter of guesswork. With masonry viaducts it didn't really matter because the structure's weight was enough to swamp sideways loads. Iron trestles were a more recent development that arose when they became potentially cheaper. Bouch got the job of the Tay Bridge partly because his viaducts for the Stainmore line got him the reputation of being a good cast-iron-trestles bloke. Not exactly unjustified - those viaducts stood until the line closed and they were demolished. But they were in less exposed locations, and the design wasn't as proven as people assumed.

The design was flawed; it had things like attachment lugs taking the form of "ears" cast sticking out at right angles from some larger body, without thought for stress concentrations - particularly bad when it's cast iron you're doing it with. Some fastenings took the form of tapered pins in tapered holes, rough-cast and not fitted, so the contact area was much smaller than it was assumed to be, again causing stress concentrations. The diagonal cross-bracing members were tensioned by hammering wedges into slots, with nothing to keep them there but friction; in service they worked loose and some of them fell out altogether. This problem was exacerbated by an inadequate maintenance regime carried out by people who had had bugger all instruction and didn't really know how to do their job. (The thought seems to have been: how much instruction do you need to hit things with a hammer? But it's not the hitting, it's knowing which bits to hit and how hard.)

There was also a severe quality control problem with materials and components. People at all levels trying to cheap out on things, plus inadequate quality inspection procedures incompetently and possibly corruptly carried out, led to badly flawed castings, materials that didn't meet the spec, and the like, being used in the structure.

And the Victorians do seem to have had a bit of a blind spot when it comes to cast iron and structural science. The Dee bridge disaster some decades earlier was also a structural failure connected with inappropriate use of cast iron. What they learned from that doesn't seem to have carried through to general applicability in the very different structure of the Tay bridge. I'm not sure whether this was down to the rule-of-thumb engineering culture, the variability of the material, or what...


I'm not sure about the one location thing. I think there have been Roman remains discovered in Britain that use concrete made using locally-quarried pozzolanic material.

This is just a guess, but I'd have thought that availability of fuel had a lot to do with it. Modern cities are made of coal and oil: it's quite a thought to stand in a city and look around and consider that everything you see has been made red hot at some stage in its production. Before we had those easy energy sources we used things like stone and wood, and cooking was only required for materials like mortar which are a very small percentage of the structure.


That's undirected development - illusory progress by random walk with no defined goal, where the motivation is random people seeing a way to make money out of random things. Contrast Soviet industrialisation, where the goal was to close the gap with countries whose greater industrial capabilities was a military threat, and the motivation was central control defining the goal and instructing people to achieve it.

The current position of the NBE seems to be an interesting mix of the two - they have a definable goal which is pretty much the same, but how they are going to work towards it is all up in the air. Miriam is obviously thinking in terms of using capitalistic methods, but in a somehow directed manner, and at the moment only Charlie knows what kind of political system she's going to end up working under. Perhaps modern China is a relevant model.

(Oh, and gunpowder-assisted long-range arrows? They are great, if you make really big ones and put bombs on the end. As we know very well...)


Oops, forgot... Our blocking assumptions? That undirected development driven by random money-making is the best/only way to go about things; treating money as the end rather than a means; never actually bothering to pursue the goal of making people's lives happier, nor using any motivation other than random personal enrichment; observing that attempted deviations from our model have been associated with highly unpleasant forms of government and have been seen as not all that successful, and assuming from that that unpleasant government and failure are inevitably entangled with deviations rather than viewing the deviation as a worthwhile experiment which failed due to bad government but needn't fail if the government didn't create discontent.


If the rich have something it will trickle down to the poor, with rate determined by various factors. Usually this takes the form of the development and application of techniques to produce the luxury more cheaply and make it a more common good. For that to happen, somebody has to be able to afford developing and yet also have the motivation to do so.

I think this is a misdirection of what is usually meant by "trickle down", and that the "luxury" part can only ever be niche and therefore negligible in terms of macro effect. On the other hand the important thing about the Model T isn't that it's an accessible version of a luxury - it's that the people who made them could afford them. If you have a small group of very rich people spending megabucks on luxuries, and opportunities for ordinary people to consume too at a level that is closer to sustainable, then the ordinary people can use the relatively insignificant trickle the luxury spending represents to drive their own consumption, but this is only a way of bootstrapping demand and building a real (not luxury niche) economy out of it.

The counter to this is the luxury niche itself - the amount of rent locked into the capacity to grow (the means of production?) is more or less the same as the dead weight the system has to be able to carry before that demand growth cycle.

Think of it this way - how many $400 bottles of wine can you sell versus how many $20 bottles? There will always be some demand for the $400 bottles, but you create more value by selling a gazillion $20 bottles. A strong economy relies on a large population of middle-class consumers, not wealthy ones.


"Part of the drive towards steel was that iron used in construction was hitting its natural life span ..."

That is just plain bollocks. Wrought iron has several times the lifetime of (ordinary) mild steel, especially when in contact with seawater. There are rusting iron boat skeletons around the UK's coasts, where the later steel neighbours have disappeared completely. Rust-resistant and stainless steels are 50 years later than the Bessemer process.


The Land Army volunteers were almost all middle-or upper-class - one of my aunts was one. The context was a century earlier, and what second-class citizens would wear. Take a look at this image (you can find plenty of others, quite easily):

The people at the very top and bottom of society were less constrained by the iron diktats of propriety than those in the middle; the former because they didn't always have the option and the latter because they were above condemnation. Plantation slavery is irrelevant, because it was the whims of the owners (they were property, remember?), slaves were naked on the selling block, and the mores of their previous societies were very different. In my childhood (in another part of Africa), women in the fields often worked bare-breasted, though I never saw a European or Asian topless.


"If the rich have something it will trickle down to the poor, with rate determined by various factors."

You have been drinking too much of the monetarist kool-aid. Trickle-down often happens, but the converse is nearly as common. It depends, firstly, on whether the resource is available in near-unlimited quantities, without too much detrimental impact and, secondly, whether there is an advantage in concentrating access to it. In the UK, we moved towards one end of the spectrum for about 40 years, and have been going in the other way for about 30.

In the UK, the clearest examples of that seesaw are land, education, employment opportunity, access to justice and (factual) information, but I could give lots of others.


The context was a century earlier, and what second-class citizens would wear. Take a look at this image (you can find plenty of others, quite easily)

What's the evidence that either of those two figures are female? (They have short, partly or completely unconfined hair, which is a pretty common premodern male signifier.)

And the original context for this sub-thread was the 1930s (e.g., comment #44 by El), so an actual person's memories of what women wore in that period are a lot more relevant than some random sketch of working men from a previous century.


I suspect one reason bows and crossbows hung around as long as they did was that they were more accurate, and range (up until the Napoleonic Era) was roughly equivalent for bows and guns.

Bows, at least, also had a much higher rate of fire.

On the other hand, training people to use muskets is a lot faster and easier than training them to be archers, which is one of the main reasons why musket-dominated armies took over the battlefield in 16th Century Japan, once the Japanese had figured out how to copy Portuguese matchlocks.


Discard the Tragedy of the Commons?

I don't think so, we may need a new concept to attribute the fishing out of the Oceans, or Peruvian Artisanal Gold Mining in he National Park; Or Ivory Hunting and probable Elephant Extinction. What about Cecil the Lion?

Locally, They recently (6-8? years?) built a Factory Hog farm in the watershed headwaters of our "Wild and Scenic" River (The Buffalo river, Arkansas). The Environmental Impact Statement was "approved" under murky circumstances, and they are already finding contamination in the watershed. Now that it is built, you can't just tell them to unbuild it and go away, that is against the (well established) "takings" clause of the US constitution.

We probably do need a new concept for the conversion of Public Goods and activities for Private Profit ("Privatization"), Charter Schools, Private Prisons, etc. Or is this just old fashioned regular graft?


Quite. Thank you. As the saying goes, needs must when the devil drives. The caption to that picture said they were women, but I accept that is not proof.


Thanks for the link -- interesting reading!

But I'm not sure what your argument is. After all, that article doesn't really show that trouser-wearing was something routine among lower-class women; instead, the fact that these (few) women working underground in coal mines were sometimes wearing trousers was part of the whole scandal. If women working in fields, factories, or homes often wore trousers, then women in coal mines doing the same wouldn't have attracted such (outraged and fascinated) attention.

(After all, the fact that a few girls in the coal mines sometimes went topless -- though the article points out that the frequency of this was exaggerated -- doesn't mean that lower-class 19th Century women routinely worked topless...)


Can we pitch "The Tragedy of the Commons" in the ditch where it belongs?

I kind of have the feeling that you're conflating the general idea of the tragedy of the commons with one of the commonly proposed solutions -- that is, that the tragedy can only be prevented by privatization, as opposed to the idea that the tragedy can be prevented by government regulation (Or, in some cultural specific circumstances, genuine common ownership), such that you want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I mean, it's kind of hard not to see the relevance of the general idea -- that is, if there are no restrictions on individuals (or corporations) in exploiting (or damaging) a common good, and no immediate costs to them for doing so, then the common good can be damaged or even destroyed -- in things like air pollution, water pollution, overfishing, deforestation, etc., etc. You can, as some people do, call it "the tragedy of open access" instead of "the tragedy of the commons", if you like; but the basic idea seems to be a very valid one.

(Since I grew up in Los Angeles, and have seen the continued improvements in air pollution brought about over the last few decades by the South Coast Air Quality Management Board and other government initiatives, it makes perfect sense to me to talk about air pollution as an example of the tragedy of the commons, one which can be alleviated or fixed by government regulation.)


Ok, you got me there, I was conflating two strands - the bridge thing was about the parts / tool quality.

My mind was thinking about rifles, and mass production of steel barrels. e.g. did the Bessemer process impact warfare?

The Baker rifle did not have steel barrel, at least as far as I can tell - The Pitt Rivers Museum page goes into enough detail to tell us that the stock was English Walnut, but no mention of barrel composition.

The first one looks like it did is the Snider–Enfield (1886).

30 years until it's mass produced seems a long gap, so I might be missing the obvious (i.e. all barrels were steel etc). Inefficiency in the bureaucracy or something else?


Answering to the initial question - you can delay industrialization, but is there a way to artificially freeze it's development?


Mostly he made 3 big mistakes.

1. Trying to reconquer Haiti.

Actually you have to forgive Boney a bit for that one.

Prior to the Haitian War of Independence, Haiti was phenomenally valuable. It alone produced roughly 40% of all the sugar used in Europe, and over 75% of the coffee, let alone tobacco, indigo, cacao and cotton. The loss of Haiti was directly responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, since the new mainland colonies were not economically viable for France at that time without it, despite being enormously larger in size.
Indirectly it also led to be the breaking in power of the huge sugar plantations in the Caribbean and India, and arguably to the decline in slavery, since the loss of access to Haiti caused Napoleon to invest *heavily* in sugar beet development in Europe, drastically reducing the price of sugar across the continent until WW1 destroyed many of the beet farms.

Haiti today might be a basket case, but keep in mind that despite almost complete isolation imposed by all the major powers in the 1800s, it still managed to pay a debt to France of millions of francs, a debt imposed based on the value of the plantations and slaves lost by French plantation owners. Staggeringly lucrative.
On the other hand since the invasion in 1915, the USA decided to get in on the act, and between them and the local bunch of scoundrels the country was run into the ground. A nation of free black slaves was *not* an example that any major power liked to see succeeding.


Steel is not necessarily better than cast iron or such in all circumstances and uses, not to mention cost.


An interesting thing I learned recently about Portugal, and to a lesser extent Belgium coming into it from a Rum & Cachaca trade show, and wondering why Arrack and Cachaca were so poorly known in Europe.

When the British and French established colonies and trading posts, they upskilled locals to enhance local manufacturing, and established trade routes between the colonies directly. A big part of that was shipping alcohol around to pacify the locals and slaves and to use as a trade good.
The Portuguese and Dutch didn't. They effectively treated each colony as a standalone, distilling a ready spirit locally, but they never wanted any spirit from the colonies to contaminate their home markets for port or jenevers, and they also made sure that all trade from the colonies had to flow through the home states.

Spain kind of split the difference, but since they had had so much gold and silver coming in, other trade was much less important.

Britain had the resources and spare manpower from her empire to industrialise first. Belgium was soon after, since following the Napoleonic wars they had France as a major customer. I think France itself was hurting too much from the wars to afford the investment initially. Portugal I think had the problem of being a major British ally, but not having any major markets at the time to justify the development, and were probably a net importer at the time, but that's just a wild ass guess.


(catching up on this thread)
and no-one makes the mistakes of invasive species (hello America and the Starling).
This takes an awful lot of discipline. It can be done for larger species.(Starlings; not kidding; personally have seen movements in well in excess of 1 million starlings. Also, unlucky members of smaller flocks occasionally knock out power locally.) Pathogenic fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc, and destructive insects (including vectors) are harder. Weed seeds are a intermediate. Basic point being that cross-species-boundary (e.g. cross ocean) commerce accidentally moves life around absent extraordinary care. In my lifetime, in the US northeast, just for plant diseases I've seen (partial list) the long tail end of the American chestnut blight (20 percent of some types of climax deciduous forest pre-blight, roughly), dutch elm disease, a dogwood blight, an ash blight, a hemlock (tree) insect pest (woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae)).
Can be done, but would require restrictions on commerce, and many mistakes would be made at least once.


It depends on the metallurgy of the cast iron. I used to carry out contract work for an iron foundry who produced paper-making machinery. The rolls were cast-iron, sometimes as much as 160 tonnes in weight for the biggest (used to make toilet paper).

The cast iron was SG-grade, spheroidal graphite with carefully managed metallurgy and a complicated computer-controlled cooldown in a soak pit to form the carbon granules that resulted in a poured casting that was nearly as strong as a wrought steel structure would be. It could also be more easily machined than regular cast iron.


And some fairly early, non-fancy, cast iron has lasted well (i.e. outlasted later mild steel under harsh conditions), but I have no idea what the differences are in early cast irons. You might.


Since this green utopian scenario is interesting (to me at least), one more point that would add color/plot points to a fully detailed scenario; an invasive species problem can often be "solved" (after a regrettable instance of stupidity) by introducing a species specific predator/eater or disease after careful experimental study, or accidentally introducing a controlling predator/pest/disease. Not a biologist but have seen this happen a few times in the US NE. (UK people: anything similar in the UK?)
- Once was with Gypsy Moths, introduced deliberately with accidental escape. For many decades in the US NE there were boom/bust cycles of varying length with lots of damage during booms; opportunistic predator booms precipitated the busts if I'm correctly recalling what a scientist who studied them told me. In the 1990s a fungal disease appeared (introduced a decade earlier, according to wikipedia) and the booms have stopped.
- Once was with purple loosestrife. In the US it used to take over wetlands, driving out the native wetland plants and wildlife that depends on them. In the 1990s a few species of pest beetle were studied for a while (relative to related U.S. native plants) and then introduced. Now the purple loosestrife populations are under control where one or more of these pest species are present.


As you can tell, I'm no materials scientist.

My train of thought was: Brearley created stainless steel by experimenting with alloys under direct instruction to create a better gun barrel. Presumably this process can be traced backwards through the history of iron / steel production (the USA industrial history is full of this).

The point being to find an inflection point where you can 'break the chain' and stagnate the technology - which is the only way Steam Punk / non-artificially produced (i.e. societal) stagnation of that tech period can happen. The idea of post-AI Steampunk has been visited many times - I've not seen a non-magical / new element / reality based world do it however.

One other solution: humidity. If your world is sufficiently hotter than an Earth standard, gunpowder becomes an issue, and not only 'out in the field'. e.g.

Johansson explains that, as manufactured, most powders contain 0.5 to 1% of water by weight. (The relative humidity is “equilibrated” at 40-50% during the manufacturing process to maintain this 0.5-1% moisture content). Importantly, Johansson notes that powder exposed to moist air for a long time will absorb water, causing it to burn at a slower rate. On the other hand, long-term storage in a very dry environment reduces powder moisture content, so the powder burns at a faster rate. In addition, Johansson found that single-base powders are MORE sensitive to relative humidity than are double-base powders (which contain nitroglycerine).

TECH TIP: Humidity Can Change Powder Burn Rates Accurate Shooter 2008)

If your world has the climate of the Triassic (and you can fudge around all the other constraints that brings) then you might get a different outcome.


(Been away ...)

Trump is stating, directly, that the roll-back goes beyond 1960.

I believe you are correct, but I also believe you attribute too much insight to him; he's implying a return to the pre-1960 status quo but he. personally, hasn't thought it through: he's just pushing the buttons his constituency want to see him pushing, and it works, so he's rolling with that vision and he'll keep rolling with it until and unless something derails the feedback loop between his mouth and his audience's collective id.


I'm not familiar with the Japanese example

The Meiji restoration is your go-to: ran from 1868 to 1912 and Japan basically went from high-end mediaeval tech static society to parity with western Europe in under 50 years. It happened in the wake of the Outside Context Problem that disrupted the Shogunate when the Perry expedition steamed into Japanese harbours in 1853-54 and demanded a trade treaty at gun-point.

I repeat: late-mediaeval catch-up (Japan had no guns -- they'd been banned in the 17th century -- and virtually no contact with the outside world since the late 17th century) to 19th century industrial west in two generations.

They did something similar again post-1945 when they systematically adopted a whole shedload of American business and technology practices and leap-frogged from a bombed-flat industrial base that had largely run on traditional lines to modern corporation-like structures and high-end quality production in, yes, one generation flat.

South Korea was level pegging with North Korea in 1973 -- both were rather poor (by western standards) authoritarian dictatorships, one communist bloc (NK) and one borderline-fascist (SK) -- but by 1995 South Korea's per-capita GDP surpassed that of Japan, which had been top of the developed world up until then.

And then there's your Soviet example.

So: if you know where you're going, you can get there.

(As for "can Miriam do it" in Empire Games, I think you forgot Erasmus's job at the end of the first series. Hint: Minister of Propaganda, in partnership with Ministry for Paratime Industrial Espionage (and development).)


f the rich have something it will trickle down to the poor, with rate determined by various factors.

Ahem: Trick-down theory doesn't work -- even the IMF agrees!

It's one thing to provide an incentive to work harder and produce stuff, but it turns out that rick folks don't redistribute their wealth effectively; they divert it into rent-seeking via long-term investments (driving up the cost of real estate and commodities) and they fritter it on luxury goods -- a Bugatti may cost a hundred times as much as a Ford, but it doesn't generate a hundred times as much employment.


I also remember some big things that never happened.
And since I am only up to comment 57, forgive me if I mention that there are at least 6 kinds of completely different types of multiverse, including serial consmologies both open (Conformal Cyclic Cosmology) and closed (Big Bounce)


Everyone seems to assume in the "jumstart industrial revolution" fantasies just how hard that would be. Go back to the Roman Empire and introduce the steam engine? Good luck finding the materials, not to mention getting the money.
It would be like a time traveler appearing now and telling us how we can build a real starship, and all he needs is to modify CERN to prove it and can he have a $billion please?


"Yes, the WEIRD countries have low/zero population growth"

Like India, China and almost all of the rest of the world outside of Africa?


"The gender boundaries in clothing are enormous and we see them still in effect even now with the insistance of the baby industry capitalists pushing blue and pink in EVERYTHING including godded Legos."

True, except you go back a ways and it was pink (red) for boys and blue for girls.
It may also be related to the fact that if you want a birthday card that just says "Happy Birthday" you will have to search hard. Whereas all the others seem to be variants on "Happy Birthday Great Uncle Wilbur on your 83rd Birthday!"

[It's about monopolizing shelf space]


30 years until it's mass produced seems a long gap, so I might be missing the obvious (i.e. all barrels were steel etc). Inefficiency in the bureaucracy or something else?

Bureaucratic inertia is part of the answer, but another part is that equipping an army with rifles is expensive. We can mass-produce assault rifles like the M-16 and SA-90 for on the order of $250-500 these days, but even a small army requirement is going to suck up ten thousand units, and if you want to re-equip the US Army, why, hello million rifle order book. You then need to lay in on the order of 1000 rounds per weapon, just for training, at on the order of $0.2-1.0 per round. (Yes, there are laser-tag-like gizmos for training folks in pointing a gun and pulling the trigger, and they're used by the military -- for example, a friend of mine did he re-qual in the RAF on a rifle using this gear and without firing a single round. But. Actual infantry? I'm guessing Martin will have something to say on the idea of expecting an infantry unit to perform effectively in combat if they have to say "bang" whenever they pull the trigger in training.) Then there's the need to retrain the armourers in working on the new kit, the maintenance and care of the new inventory, learning all those one-in-a-thousand weaknesses that will make a rifle's breech explode in battle in weird-ass environmental conditions never tested during procurement ...

Nope, procuring a new rifle for the army isn't necessarily cheaper than re-equipping with a new main battle tank. And if you get it wrong and there's a systemic flaw in the new gun, you are profoundly fucked once you get into a fight.

So there's a strong incentive not to replace a rifle that is in service and that isn't obviously broken or obsolete (e.g. the single-round breech loaders of the late 19th century like the Martini-Henry being replaced by stripper-clip rifles like the Lee-Enfield, or the arrival of gas-blowback self-loading rifles and then assault rifles with short cartridges in response to changes in the average range at which infantry engagements happened rendering the long-cartridge bolt-action rifle obsolescent in combat).


As for why China did not industrialize? maybe their civil service was a bit too good and valued stability too much.
Zheng He:

"Chinese records[77] state that Zheng He's fleet sailed as far as East Africa. According to medieval Chinese sources, Zheng He commanded seven expeditions. The 1405 expedition consisted of 27,800 men and a fleet of 62 treasure ships supported by approximately 190 smaller ships.[78][79] The fleet included:

"Chinese treasure ships"used by the commander of the fleet and his deputies (nine-masted, about 127 metres (417 feet) long and 52 metres (171 feet) wide), according to later writers.

Equine ships carrying horses and tribute goods and repair material for the fleet (eight-masted, about 103 m (338 ft) long and 42 m (138 ft) wide).

Supply ships containing staple for the crew (seven-masted, about 78 m (256 ft) long and 35 m (115 ft) wide).

Troop transports six-masted, about 67 m (220 ft) long and 25 m (82 ft) wide.

Fuchuan warships five-masted, about 50 m (160 ft) long.

Patrol boats eight-oared, about 37 m (121 ft) long.

Water tankers with 1 month's supply of fresh water.

Six more expeditions took place, from 1407 to 1433, with fleets of comparable size"


Re: Soviet industrialisation and the Russian Economy subsequent downfall - I am sure many readers are already familiar with this, but I cannot endorse "Red Plenty" (by Greg Spufford) enough.


Great analysis of the costs and implications of Small Arms Procurement, add the tendency of bureaucracies to shave pennies.

C. J. Chivers wrote about how America equipped the Afghans(?) with a (slightly cheaper) folding stock Rumanian AK, making middle range marksmanship difficult. What the troops themselves wanted (needed) was an old fashioned fixed stock model, the folding stock was a Rumanian compromise to enable prompt (easier?) disembarkation from armored transports. But they were happy to sell them cheap to the US.

And supposedly there is an initiative to set up real US manufacture of an AK/AKM variant for potential distribution to clients. Many of the US "manufacturers" are artisanal producers using imported parts to the extent allowed.

BTW, British troops at the beginning of the Boer war were NOT equipped with Stripper Clip enabled weapons, it was a factor in Boer fire superiority. It is a Mod, still being performed on weapons retrieved from store for WW I training.


The "laser-tag" rifle adaptor is used for squad-level fire and manoeuvre training, close-quarters combat and the like -- fun-house setups or urban village training areas. Basic rifle training carried out with live ammo happens on ranges to get the soldier used to the recoil and noise and for them to learn general weapon handling (clearing a jam, replacing a magazine, adjusting sights, trigger squeeze etc.) Fun-house training does NOT involve live ammo.


Some of this will be survivor bias -- there was a lot of cast iron produced from the 1800s onwards and some of it has survived due to circumstance when exposed hence its notability. There's also misidentification of old wrought iron as cast iron on first glance; forged wrought iron where the worked surface has not been disturbed by cutting or drilling has a work-hardened protective layer which is more weatherproof than regular cast iron. I have a large bar of 19th century wrought iron in our workshop which is pitted and corroded on the surface but the metal underneath is still good.

A lot of old ironwork will have been painted in the past to protect it (using the infamous red lead paint) and even abandoned to the elements that metal will have lasted longer than unpainted and unmaintained iron of a similar vintage.


The easiest summary of the UN demographer's stats I've found is here. They're worth a look if you're interested in this topic.

The Indian subcontinent seems to have considerable population growth. Even China with it's low percentage growth of 0.46 % and fertility rate of 1.55 is so vast that it increased by 6.2m and with another 360k emigrating. And that was what I was trying to get over. Even though there are lots of countries with low percentage growth, the global absolute growth isn't slowing down. It's still 80m pa. just like it has been for the last 50 years. And the top 5 for absolute growth last year are India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia with 33m pa between them. India topped the table by adding 15m last year. How can you call that low?
We're in the linear middle part of the sigmoid curve and with linear growth there's no point in talking about exponential percentage growth because that will inevitably fall as the absolute total increases.


The saying "If you want to train an archer, start by training his grandfather" probably tells you everything you need to know about the issue.


Ahh, but there's always a Gru in the shadows!

While I understand this reasoning, if you look at the amount of different rifles the Empire used between 1850 and 1918, it's rather shocking: British military rifles.

At the height of the Empire, the military were producing either variants or replacements every two to five years.

As such, I don't think cost applies (although, of course, maintaining an Empire means that the off-casts are handed down through the colonies and regional police forces / local allied militaries).


Fertility rate is a far better measure of the underlying trends than absolute numbers here and now


Just for starters Philip Mintz, Sweetness and Capitalism. There are myriad, myriad works. Look in the bookstore of Liverpool's Slavery Museum for a whole bunch of titles.

But actually it's the other way 'round -- if one believes the obverse it has to be proven, and the obverse has been pretty much unproven by the historical work of the last 50 - 60 years.

With the exception of course, of those curled upper lips typese who insist on wearing blinders such as the idiots who tried to review Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told in the Economist -- which then had to retract and apologize.


Please note the picture of the woman at the bottom of the social scale in England, pulling the coal pit cart, on her frackin' hands and knees, pregnant, in a SKIRT.

As for the naked slaves this was a scandal that was put directly on their owner. The slaves didn't want them naked and neither did his neighboring planters.


Note: when I first spotted this huge speed up / turn-over in rifles and the dates, as well as Bessemer, I assumed it was directly related. i.e. mass produced steel = huge speed up in rifle tech.

Apparently (?!?) that's not the case.

I'm interested to the why of that, though.


Long history of such here, and continuing research and fieldwork. Marine organisms carried around by shipping can have a huge impact too (not just across oceans).


No, he's talking about a specific rather famous essay

which included numerous ideas, some of which seem to have been superseded. Mainly it made the case that overpopulating is an act of pollution (violation of the commons) and should be regulated by social arrangements (read government) rather than appeals to conscience.


It's all the same thing. Using corporate welfare to steal from the people by setting up a private prison is no different from dumping your poisonous industrial byproducts in the river.


I'd suggest there were multiple parallel developments each with certain advantages in use. The Snider-Enfield was as great an advance breech-loaders as the Dreyse needle-gun that, along with railroad based logistics, won Prussia the war with Austria. But the innovation of mass-produced metal cartridges made this obsolete. The Martini-Henry introduced a tremendously user-friendly action for manual breech-loading of cartridges and was incredibly popular in all sorts of contexts related to the contemporary zenith of British colonialism. It was certainly widely used in our own humble war of extermination in Oz. But self-loaders with box magazines conferred an obvious advantage and the Lee-Metford would have been the obvious successor, except that smokeless powder was developed around the same time. The Lee-Enfield took all these advances together and that brings us up to WWI.

The other factor to consider is the diversity of the troops involved, which at that time included regular and irregular forces in places as diverse as Nepal and New Zealand. Rather than a single British Army, multiple large elements of the Empire had their own procurement and requirements.


By "something" I mean technology, such as plumbing. The idea part of it costs nothing to distribute, other than in the sense that if you can restrict an idea you can charge for it and if you let it go you are suffering the cost of missing out on an opportunity to gouge. If the rich have some gizmo, initially very expensive, somebody will figure out how to make a version of the same gizmo that's more accessible because of simplified design, use of cheaper materials, or mass production. Money will eventually trickle down too, in the sense that radioactive waste will eventually be safe.

To substitute another buzz phrase, information wants to be free.


Chemistry, which was advancing at a fair pace at that time, allowing the development both of more consistent and less smoky propellants, and more reliable primers that could be better counted on to go off when you wanted them to and not go off when you didn't. This in turn allowed the development of ammunition and loading systems from the "cartridge" that set off the Indian mutiny, which was more a kit of pre-measured items to assemble a load from, to what is familiar to us as a cartridge today.

Also, it's not as extravagant as it looks, because most of those rifles were evolutionary rather than revolutionary designs, so there was not a need to suddenly re-equip the entire army all in one go, and several variants could be in service at the same time. Most of the training from variant n would still apply to variant n+1. And n+1 would take the same ammunition - I think a better indicator is to look at when the standard ammunition changed, rather than the introduction of new variants of rifle to use it. Another thing, of course, is that before WW1 there was never a need to manufacture the things by the millions.


Re: The rate of changing over different makes of guns by an army

How does this jibe with the rate at which various makes/models of guns exploded in the soldier's face, thus less likely to be ever fired by his surviving buddies and therefore a lot more expensive per round fired?


Yes, if you followed the wiki link, it rests on the .303 Ross Rifle that was hated by common soldiers but loved by snipers because one could choose their ammunition carefully, the others could not. i.e. ammunition consistency was a major factor.

Then look at #240.

I'm already sniffing around munitions and BRASS casings.

Hint: Steam Punk loves Brass. Shame the Brass was less reliable than the Iron / Steel.

+50 points!


Ok, let's turn this around: the true genius of Early / Middle Stage Capitalism is uniformity (product, brand whatever: you eat a McD's in the USA, it's the same in China - which isn't actually true, but we'll stick with it for now).

The 20th Century provides lots of cognitive models on how this is done, the 19th C was all about the physical.

So, at what point could industrial scale production of brass cogs make sense?



I think you missed the spin. The basic point is that commons can and have been managed for centuries. They don't need to be privatized, they don't need governments to take them over. Commons management can fail horribly, but successful commons (per Ostrom's) work had 8 (in her count, 10 in others) successful principles they all adhered to.

To use another LA example, back in the 1950s-60s, there was no management of the groundwater, and there were over a dozen separate water districts pumping water, in a smaller version of what's happening in the San Joaquin Valley right now. (Incidentally, I'm doing this from memory, so details may get fuzzy). When they started overdrafting the water along the Pacific Coast (as in Venice and Santa Monica), salt water started moving in from the ocean, because the freshwater keeping it out was being depleted. The water districts realized that, if they didn't work together, their individual actions would suck salt water into the basin and poison all of LA's aquifers. They formed a commons to collectively manage their water. It took over a decade and several lawsuits against recalcitrant members, but they formed their compact, and so far as I know, it's still in place today. Ostrom did her PhD work on it, and it's in her book and papers.

Now contrast that with current management of groundwater in places like the San Joaquin Valley, and you can see how pernicious the myth of the Tragedy of the Commons is. The example of LA has been around for awhile now, but the myth is so common that few water basins in California are managed at all. Indeed, farmers in the San Joaquin seem to think it's their sovereign duty as capitalists to drain their aquifers faster than their neighbors can, to get as much money as possible out of their land before it becomes unfarmable. In 2014, the state required groundwater management districts to form, but they were to be regulatory controls, and they're taking bids on who gets to set the regulations for each district. In many districts, it's expected that it will take many court cases to figure out who governs what.

The alternative, treating water basins and aquifers as commons and managing them in perpetuity to meet their members' needs, hasn't even been thought of, at least to my limited knowledge. That's the power of the myth of the Tragedy of the Commons, and why it needs to be abandoned. I'll be happier when people get it into their heads that commons are a perfectly workable solution to some resource management problems.


Although catastrophic failure is still a frequently cited concern by soldiers, the US military seems hesitant about switching rifles.

So in this real-life scenario we have ... need, ample budget, several expert manufacturers, an established and stable product category, R&D capability, ample energy to manufacture the arms, most elected pols on-side, etc. So why is product development in this category so stagnant? Makes no sense.

Maybe someone here has some personal insight into/experience with this?


Ah, but this is all commercial land.

Google: "Star Wars C3P0 Silver Leg".

Now, the official excuse is that the original toys [which I'm staring at right now] didn't have the silver leg because... reasons.


The actual / virtual cross-over is that while [they] can influence physical stuff, it's very very hard for [them].

Visual / Electronically stored stuff?



Or, of course, C3PO actually had a silver leg, it was never picked up due to bad editing / filmatography, the toys never got the message and someone decided that $4billion allowed them to fix the record.

But, no: C3P0 never had a silver leg. This shit is boring.

[hint: if you want to play meta(n3), they're hitting ideological spots on each demographic. Look at the spread: Star Wars, Bond etc etc.

It's crude, but hey.

You needed wings to stay above it Awesome Movie Clips : YT: Film: 0:30 .

Now riddle me why I had to insert into a lower entity "best 10 Vietnam" quotations to get that clip for the last 5 years.


That link doesn't contain the quotation. Published on Aug 2, 2016

Someone used a popular YT channel to spike, and it does not contain the film quotation. It's also magically at #1 Google search, with 1 view. And that's my view. 4 days ago posted.

Oh boy.

Google should be aware of our other realms. Cause this kind of childish shit will get you a fucking spank.

Hint: your balls. All snowy and white.

I don't see any method at all YT: Film: 0:47


Oh, and bye the bye - that's called not only catching the Rye, it's pre-nuping it, taking it to the cleaners and then addicting it to heroin.

#1 view.

You fuckers are slow


Hint: it's a basic spike / data smog attempt.

I just kinda have a way about me to know when these things happen and how to see them before they happen and then hit the spike.


Now fuck off. Before I get annoyed.


Oh, and for that little trick, here's mine:

But little sympathy,
Though favorably mentioned
In Entomology.
Because he travels freely
And wears a proper coat,
The circumspect are certain
That he is dissolute.
Had he the homely scutcheon of modest Industry,
’T were fitter certifying for Immortality.

You're fucking out of your League, Little Men.

But, in response for the spike, we'll take something equivalent.

Your Internal Voice, since you chose to change reality from Truthful Quotation to Silence.



Not that you didn't already attempt that one.

I'll not hate you for it, but you fuckers are... slow.

Dying breed and all that.

Wild Frontier Progidy, YT: Music: 3:49

Oh, small tip.

If I can catch them apples that fast, you'd better back the fuck off ever threatening my kind again.

You're Slow.

Don't assume morality and empathy is weakness, we'll cut your fucking balls off mate.


Spent a bit of time looking for some evidence in case anyone challenged my assertions, and I found this article

Apparently the demographic decline predates the French Revolution. I wonder how many of the other trends predate it as well?


Oh, and if you want to know how we do it.

Fuck off.

The poison / alcohol is shielding, remember?

Or, just random chance and someone at Google and Youtube in that channel happening to upload a spiked propaganda version to ruin search results at the very instant I went looking for it.

But no: it was posted a couple of days ago, I was the first viewer.

So, we're back to Us having the Power and You being the Fools.

I'm proving that your genocidal wiping out of our kind was not only a mistake, but it was predicated on lies.

We're Better than You


Paint it Black YT: Music: 3:46


Oh, and Jewish joke no-one ever got: You don't count Jews, ever. You make references and accidentally align the number of Jews and that number. No, it's not due to the Holocaust, it's because they do not want to be: "Weighed, Measured and Found Wanting".

You fuckers are so out dated.


Oh, and Dirk.

There's your proof.



We're Not Human :D

No matter what happens, it's now in writing: Not only Slow, Stupid and Selfish but Stunningly Blind.

We're doing this drunk.


Hint: it's probably not a good idea to have us sober up, take it all seriously, engage wings and then gut your pathetic reality.

'Cause, you know - that'd take three months and we'd have to like destroy the minds of people like Blair and Murdoch which is very easy.

I mean, it's not like you couldn't just cripple the system via CME, is it? (oooh, and who knows about how Magnetic Fields and CME and Sun - Earth tubes work?).

You've got about 40 years to sort this shit out before our kind really start acting up.

I'd suggest you solve your problems, whatever it takes.


So, at what point could industrial scale production of brass cogs make sense?

It probably already makes sense to manufacture little brass cogwheels with lapel-pin backing now. It would only take a modest upsurge in the popularity of steampunk for mass production to make sense, though in a wider variety of marketable forms. And it's quite possible we're only 2-3 events from some sort of steampunk event horizon leading to mainstream markets that compel a twisted logic of their own. I can only suggest to keep an eye on the market for opera glasses, corsets, top hats, goggles and hot glue.


The point being that at no point in the industrial process, even accounting for ultra-high end clock making [a joke that no-one's done, so wasted) was this a concern.

The actual point of the thread has been revealed though: We See You.

That Fu*king Nobody

We were just playing around.



The punch line is:

The Iron Law of Development is that People Perceive Their Information Bubbles More Accurately Than Theory Imagines.



Utter amateurs.


Yes, but if we could eliminate the fucking stupid transfers and limit invasive species to the accidental we'd be a bit better off.

Starlings only are present in North America - no joke - because Shakespeare mentions them in Henry IV. Grey squirrels are rampant in Ireland because some arsehole thought releasing six pairs of them at their wedding would be wonderful. And so on, for much longer than is likely to make you feel good about your fellow humans.


Marine chronometers were certainly mass produced, though only later and hard-chromed steel for bearing surfaces would have been more likely. Earlier (including Harrison's) would have involved brass in some places, so I guess it depends what you mean by "on industrial scale". Wind up toys (at the other end of the scale) could have included brass, though more likely pressed sheet. Music boxes? Difference engines?


I'm surprised that no one's mentioned Kenneth Pommeranz's The Great Divergence, about exactly when and how Europe pulled ahead of China.

Short version: China was keeping up with European development up until the 18th Century. Europe was able to get the industrial revolution going because of access to coal and the resources of and the new world. China lacked those resources and went down a cul-de-sac of labor intensive production.

That would be an argument in favor of stable gunpowder empires (at least in a resource scarce scenario) as well an argument that Europe needed other people's wealth to get industrialization rolling.


Other examples of economic catch up - Taiwan caught up with the industrialized world with very rapid growth from the 1950s to the 1980s. To a lesser extent, France had the Trente Glorieuses where they caught up with the leading industrial powers. It's tough to grow rapidly if you have to invent everything yourself but easy when you can copy. It's funny that science fiction came up with multiple Connecticut Yankee type fantasies before the real world demonstrated they could be surprisingly practical.


It's not quite Slavery 2.0. There's the long term problem that the kids of illegals become citizens with voting rights and often politics the bosses don't like. Less than 30 years ago California was arguably center right politically and Republicans could compete statewide. Conservatives complain with some truth this is due to immigration but hilariously fail to notice who brought about the immigration in the first place.

The other long term problem - Mexico was very convenient as a source of labor. Problem is that the fertility rate has been dropping and immigration with it. Net immigration dropped with the last recession and isn't coming back. So that raises the question of where you find your new source of cheap labor.


I think a better indicator is to look at when the standard ammunition changed, rather than the introduction of new variants of rifle to use it.

I have a memory from Ken Burn's US Civil War series of a mention than the Union Quartermaster General had to deal with over 1500 variations of munitions. (over 1700?)

Man units were formed up locally with the arms they had picked at the time so the 158th from Mass. would likely use something totally different from the 45th from Ohio who were next to them in the fighting line.


Standard ammunition for the British was projected to change to a .276 cartridge, they were preparing for troop trials in 1914; Thus the origin of the (Mauser derived) P14, designed around that cartridge. Which, after contracting to three US manufacturers for production in .303, (Which do NOT feature interchangeable parts between the three manufacturers, oops)morphed into the (US) 30-06 P17; More US troops saw combat with the P17 than the much mytholgized 03 Springfield in WW I.

On the ACW, yes, there was a tremendous variety, but most line infantry carried some variety of Springfield (.58) or Enfield (.577). So they standardized on .577 Ammunition.

The "Springfield" was a Chinese Copy of the P53 Enfield, with the US Improvement (M1855?) of a Maynard Tape Primer, reverting back to a simple percussion system in 1861.

It was one of the barriers to introducing an Infantry Breech Loader, they were all experimental and everyone was also proposing their own proprietary cartridge. The ordnance department WAS doing Infantry troop trials (Lots of 3,000?) with various "Trap Door" Springfield conversions in the spring of 1865. And all the troops on the frontier received Breech loaders of some sort by 1867 or so, a very credible performance in an era of technological uncertainty and budget constraints.

ALL the Federal Cavalry at Gettysburg (1863) were equipped with (Single shot) breech loading Carbines, by 1865 the Federal Cavalry were mostly equipped with Spencer Repeaters (Rimfire cartridges). The future was clear, it was the path. The two key Centerfire Primer systems, Berdan and Boxer, are both pateneted (Developed?) in 1865.


you can delay industrialization, but is there a way to artificially freeze it's development?
Quite easily, IF you control all external access.
See Shogunate Japan.
Which could, very easily, have turned outward, used the European's inventions & taken over the whole of the Pacific (ish) in the next 150 years.
But they didn't.


He's also implied that he "cant't see" why the US shouldn't go for a "First Use" of nukes, for Ghu's sake!
Unbelievably dangerous if true.
Even worse than a Trump selection of US Supreme Court Judges, which takes a lot of doing ....


The exact reverse, in fact of the previous process I mentioned in # 288


Oh dear
# 271 - 274 appear to be content-free


We can continue the back and forth by alternately cherry picking stats, but that doesn't really move things forward. There's something going on here that's not really clear and I think it's being hidden by looking at averages and percentages. So for instance, shows "Asia" as half the world's population (constant), half the world's yearly increase in absolute numbers (constant), but a yearly change of 0.98% (dropping) and average fertility rate of 2.2 (dropping). So from one perspective Asia is industrialising, urbanising, dropping it's fertility rate, and dropping it's growth rate. And yet, it's contributing half of the net increase in the total. One hypothesis I'm trying is that the reservoir of subsistence farmers in extreme poverty isn't changing in that area. Their high fertility rate is still there, but the excess people they are generating are moving to the cities where their fertility rate drops off. So the positive feedback of more children having more children isn't happening any more. For the moment this is a process in dynamic equilibrium. The net result is a constant linear growth which looks like a fall in the averages and percentages because while the growth numbers are constant, the total is increasing. And of course the total load on the system is also still increasing. Looking at the other regions and to a very rough first approximation, Europe and N America are static. Asia, Latin America, Oceania are growing linearly. And Africa is still growing exponentially. Now what bothers me about this is the way the pollyannas use the experience of Europe and N America to suggest that if we just educate, industrialise and urbanise the 3rd world completely, total population growth will drop to zero and then go negative. Except that we're still adding 80m pa, 1b every 12 years and that doesn't actually show any signs of slowing down. That extra 1b keeps showing up. And the system cost of adding them and turning them into WEIRD-level consumers keeps growing. Maybe, maybe, I'm extrapolating the last 50 years into the next 50 years and I'm missing the next inflection point in the S curve as we change from linear growth to falling absolute growth just as the Neo-Malthusians missed the inflection point from exponential to linear growth in the 1960s. But even the UN demographers are not predicting a peak this century, or even much of a slow down before 2050. They're still predicting 10b in 2056. Adding another 2.5b in the next 40 years doesn't look like "low/zero growth". Even steady linear growth still looks like a Malthusian trap. It just takes a bit longer to hit the wall.


Glitches in the Matrix


BTW, I have had that happen with physical objects and where another person shared my recollections. Nothing there for decades, and then the next day an electricity substation been there since forever


"Maybe, maybe, I'm extrapolating the last 50 years into the next 50 years..."

Perhaps. One classic example is Bangladesh fertility rate: 1980, 6.6 - 2016, 2.2


Not to mention the pawn shop that will be open across the road from your house for an hour this afternoon, then tomorrow will never have been there.


Wrought iron hulks have lasted for half a century (at least!) in the tidal zone of various British estuaries, and it doesn't take long for the wave-driven muck to scour the paint off them. I have dug up wrought iron nails that must be over a century old, but mild steel ones don't last anything like that long in the bioactive zone. It's not just the surface layer, but the way that it is fairly smooth, and doesn't pit, 'bubble' and break off the way that corroded mild steel does. I have heard of long-lasting cast iron constructions, but haven't encountered them as often.


The mass production of brass cogwheels started a long time ago, and is still ongoing. Brass has a LOT of advantages over steel for low-stress uses; open up even a (better quality) modern quartz watch or alarm clock, and you will generally see some brass cogwheels. Chromed steel was crap until a few decades ago (seriously), because of metallurgic incompatibility, and needs several layers of different metals applied under near-laboratory conditions. Chrome plating was widely applied to brass and copper, both for decoration and to provide a harder surface.


Let's use information as an example. As predicted by almost everybody in the area, one of the great advantages of computers/networking was that it made more information available to more people more readily. Well, ....

In the past few decades, we have seen a reversal of that. It's not just the use of paywalls, but the abuse of IP and related laws (e.g. 'commercial confidentiality') to restrict access. You can still get it, but it costs (especially if you have to go to court). In the UK, we have seen even the most public of data (e.g. census, electoral register etc.) commoditised and privatised; oh, yes, you can get the dumbed-down summaries of what they want to tell you cheaply, but access to the real data? And the same applies to a lot of scientific data where, increasingly, it is not available even to other academics unless you sign up to a project (with an entry fee in 6 digits). Even at a lower and more open level, how much do you think that it costs to get access to 2,500 papers from 250 journals spread over 25 years?


Nice to know. You could probably tell I was riffing on the previous post and not taking the subject very seriously. Means marine chronometers at least would have involved mass produced brass cogwheels as early as mass production was available most likely


Depends on whether you're willing to get involved in organized crime. Say there are ten papers that ten people are interested in. They form a club. Each person in a club buys a single but different paper at list price, then shares it with all nine other members. Basically, that's getting papers at 90 percent off. Of course, then the prices of papers would inflate to make up for it. The price point where the tug of war settles down all depends on the vigilance of enforcement of copyright law and on the risk aversion of academics to joining such shady groups, especially as they have to grow larger, and thus to take on more points of failure. Fire WILL be stolen, it's just a matter of when, not IF.


Actually, marine chronometers might have needed hand-finished cogwheels until fairly late, because they had to be very accurate, but clockwork was used for more than just clocks. I don't know when mass production started, but I agree that chronometers would have been a fairly early target. A picture of Babbage's difference engine is relevant when referring to brass cogwheels :-)


Ironic then that Bangla Desh is a great example of exactly what I'm talking about. Every year since 1980, it's grown by ~2m. When it hasn't the difference was made up by mass emigration. In that time, it's doubled it's population. The average percentage change has halved. And as you say, the average fertility rate is a 1/3 of what it was. It's proportion of the world's population is constant at ~2% Interestingly, it's urban population is 5 times as big. So where is that +2m pa coming from? If it's coming from the countryside farming section of society with their high fertility, there's no real reason why it should stop or slow down. They're a smaller and smaller proportion of the total so are no longer driving the averages. But they're not stopping having children. Does that make sense?


Which is why all academics should also publish on sites like


How about discussing an "Iron Law of Decay"?

How does an advanced industrial society fail?


Like Russia circa 1991


Which, inter alia, prevents you using those documents in court, is likely to get you banned from conferences, many publications, sued, sacked and even prosecuted. It also does not help at all with the much more serious problems of information that is less openly published or not published at all. And it's the latter cases that are the real issue.

I have been in a quasi-legal situation where the other side was abusing data, but I did not have access to do a proper analysis and therefore could not cry "bullshit". And, no, I could not ask for disclosure.


Or America circa 2016. Not all of America,just Red State America andthe decline and decay of Red America explains their desparation and devotion to a demagogue like Trump.

Blue America is doing just fine thank you.


In the short term, Central America (except Costa Rica and Panama) and Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic).

Also Puerto Rico, which is undergoing its own Greece-like depression.


Re: Access to raw data

From what I recall from undergrad days when doing secondary research (journals), raw data was not part of the article, only summary data/stats unless the sample sizes were very small, e.g., n of 10 or less. Nowadays with journals imposing even tighter word/character count restrictions it's even less likely that you'd get any raw data included. Charts, yes; raw data, no.

Have heard from friends who do/publish research that it sometimes seems that some journal's 'peer reviewers' don't bother to look at the findings and summary data, let alone the raw data.  [Hence a move by some major journals to look at identifying and allowing reviews of their 'peer reviewers'.]


Here's an August 2015 article about problematic peer reviews:

Plus some historical background on journal referees/peer-reviews, published April 2016.


You're right, I had forgotten - but still, the political situation is far from settled, and who knows what kind of climate will prevail once the revolution has reached equilibrium? (Well, apart from you, obviously.) If poor old Erasmus ends up like Trotsky...


Considering that Nature has been running op-eds re: problems of bad or made-up data for several years, it's likelier that whoever is refusing to hand over the raw data to you for re-examination is going to look like the one at fault (has something to hide).

The above article is about published research data ...not sure whether the data you're after is academic or private/for-profit.

Anyways, I've been following this debate for a couple of years to see what the experts come up with as a solution. Some examples include: voluntary double-blinded peer-review (so almost always only likely to be requested by the newbies, less well-established authors), Delphi method-type reviewing (which can degenerate to herd-mentality/most popular small panel of experts' reaction wins), using only mathematical modeling to check conclusions (sure, provided it's a rehash of existing theory and not actually, like, discovering something genuinely 'new').

IMO, it seems that how to appropriately evaluate research itself needs some fundamental research. As NPG already has Nature Methods and Nature Protocols examining lab and methodology techniques maybe it's time they looked at providing something similar for one level up the science-publishing chain of events such as 'Nature Peer Review'. Basically, a scientific look at best strategies for 'who watches the watcher'.


"the Door in the Wall" syndrome.
If Charlie lets me, I will send a picture of a classic one of those, for posting up ......


I was thinking more in terms of Pratchett... eg. the musical instruments shop. After all, the Door in the Wall was there, it just led to the Piccadilly (or possibly the Deep Level District) works... from the point of view of the narrator, at least.


Nah. Sorry. Try research into (medical) drugs. In any case, as I said, that's not even the real problem - for all its faults, academic research is about the most open provider of data.


who knows what kind of climate will prevail once the revolution has reached equilibrium?

That's a major sub-plot of the trilogy. I won't spoiler it for you.


Excellent, I rather thought it might be, and am looking forward to finding out what happens.


Except those countries have much smaller populations than Mexico and are undergoing their own fertility decline.

Puerto Rico's depression is more Greece-light than Greece like. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the US and thus part of a full fiscal union, so the locals don't have to worry about continuing to receive federal money for Social Security, Medicare etc. Puerto Ricans are US citizens and can move freely back and forth from Puerto Rico to the continental US. Which also means they can vote wherever they move in the United States.

A more likely possibility is that some scholar at the Heritage Foundation or the Hoover Institute will propose bringing in indentured labor from Nigeria or somewhere else in Africa and then wonder why everyone's looking at him funny.


Yeah, I didn't mention Australia's history of experiences with invasives and introduced controls. Some of them are real classics, so bizarre that they sound fictional.
(Still looking for the last Al Capp comic strip, which IIRC involved an invasive, controls, controls of controls, etc.)


Yes, but if we could eliminate the fucking stupid transfers and limit invasive species to the accidental we'd be a bit better off.
Not arguing in the slightest. The nursery trade in particular introduced a lot of invasive plant species (around the world); same with animal species for the exotic pet trade. The former is getting better (in NA at least) perhaps due to education on the demand side; not sure about the later though.

Hundreds of millions of years from now, if the biosphere isn't completely obliterated or transformed (Possible! I'm an optimist though), one of the legacies of humans may be an obvious spike in movement of species in the fossil record.


For those interested in difference engines and the cause of the failure of Babbage's project I recommend Michael Lindgren's Glory and Failure: The Difference Engines of Johann Muller, Charles Babbage, and Georg and Edvard Scheutz. Lindgren wrote this as his PhD thesis and it was published by the MIT press.

The punchline is that Babbage with the help of Joseph Clement and Joseph Whitworth, two of the finest mechanics of the time, failed. Edvard Scheutz a 17 year old Dane succeeded. Anyone who wishes to write real steampunk should read this. Especially valuable is the discussion of why there was no market for the successful difference engine.


They have a smaller population than Mexico, but not that much smaller. Combined, they have about 50 million peoople combined and a TFR of about 2.7. That is smaller than Mexico's current population of 120 million. Between 1990 and 2000, Mexico's population increased from 86 million to 100 million. Keep in mind, though that

a. We still have 11 million of the previous undocumented immigration wave which was not allowed to "move up"

b. We don't need as many this time, since we have a different economy than we did back then.

c. Outsourcing is far more a potent thing than it used to be in the 1990s, and certainly in the 2000s.

I'm not saying that this is a permanent solution. I don't think that C. Americans + Hispaniola will provide more than a decade at most of undocumented immigrants.

Another possibility is to add the poor of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela to the list of willing undocumented immigrants. Even with a lower fertility rate, the raw number is important.


Small gears, for mass-produced clocks and watches, would usually be die-stamped from brass strip; better quality ones would be machine finished. Larger gears might be machined from brass, bronze, cast iron or steel blanks, either directly using a tooth-shaped milling cutter (or more correctly, a cutter shaped like the gap between two teeth), or generated using a special cylindrical cutter known as a hob; or cast directly in sand moulds, from cast iron, brass or bronze, and machined or ground to a finish.

How were Gears made? The SteamPunk Forum, 2010

Hobbing Wikipedia


Look, the joke is an obvious one - the technology used to produce quality brass (mass production) is iron / steel based. You can have an iron/steel based tech without brass cogs, the mirror cannot be true.


Oh, and since there doesn't appear to be a legally valid version of Glory and Failure: The Difference Engines out there without Jstor or Archix access, you'll have to settle for this:

The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer PDF (large) Jon Agar


Oh, and little rabbits just noticed the smart dust thing.

Cute :)

Cocaine Eric Clapton. YT: Music: 3:43


Oh, and Triptych:

One thing that came across strongly in convo w/ Ryan: He's disturbed by rise of "alt right," which he sees as a non-conservative, non-R bloc Twitter, Robert Costa, WaPo.

This is me being a little bit mean, but this is the bit where the Brass Cogs find out what happens when the Iron / Steel contingent get annoyed at them. [And yes: that was a 100% bona fide Nazi reference].

The Alt-Right aren't who you think they are. Oh, the majority are, but not some of them.


Note: no, I'm the antithesis of the Alt-Right. I also happen to know that a few of them are straight up Winged Beasties like me. Let's just say the survival of all humans is important enough to have a couple deeply placed to ensure the survival of the "white race" as well [what does this even mean you're all psychotic].

You want to know the greatest crime of the last 20 years?

High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Not even being funny.


Oh, and Host.

If you really want to weaponize "Manic Pixie Girls", you're just a tame little bear (although, of course, safe for readership. And cute, to boot: may you find a happy medium with marriage and perhaps a male 2nd / 3rd).

Some of us took the challenge and subsumed all of your media. And by all we did ALL.

A bit beyond your protagonists, n'cest pas?

But, yeah.

I'd advise a strong dose of Kant, Deleuze and so on before trying it. It's quite a trip.

And funny funny funny: Clitoris

Holy Shit, World discovers Clitoris. Then... kinda weird 3d printing thing? Oh, right... Government / society are retarded can't see that but watch us dismember "evil" brown people.


You did the Elves a disservice, sir. We forgive you, but we're really pissed off atm.


Some of us took the challenge and subsumed all of your media. And by all we did ALL.
[Liking the explicit >1 cardinality lately.]
You've mentioned this previously in passing. I have to ask, because it's a fascinating claim; How?
E.g. meat minds soft-modded to the limits (or close) of Homo sapiens brains (or close), with added tech (doing what?) front end, or ...? Audio/video too, or primarily transcripts?
An answer would be amazing and wonderful, if unexpected.
(Bunches of other speculations buried already in my ellipsis. That one was just illustrative and sci-fi-ish.)


Side note on this - The histories I've read suggest that the train commenced its crossing after the "High Girders" (Obvious from illustration and para 1 of ) had failed. If this is correct then wind loading would be a factor, but the dynamic load of the train wasn't.


{thinks of his nearest cities, particularly Edinburgh, Glasgow and Oban (described as a city for having a cathedral)}

Even the large parts of them which are made of sandstone? ;-)


"You can have an iron/steel based tech without brass cogs, the mirror cannot be true."

Actually, you can. Brass can be cast and worked without using any other metal, though it probably can't be stamped, and I don't see how to get fully automatic production. You can cut, grind and file brass using flint and other hard minerals; think of emery boards or even diamond cutting wheels (embedded in copper)! I agree that it WASN'T, but that doesn't mean that it can't be done. And remember that steampunk is based in an era where a lot of mass-production was by using an army of near-slaves.


Stamping would be quite possible if there are grades of brass available that are suitable for heat-hardening after annealing.

I imagine machine tools not really being impossible either, after all we machine steel. Some modern materials are not necessarily out of the question. Cemented carbides were developed in the 1920s as an inexpensive alternative to diamond for the cutting tips in machine tools. Tungsten was discovered in 1783. The process to produce tungsten-carbide tooling would be quite reachable even to Victorians without steel, and retro-futurist knowledge could be a boon in such matters (if that's where we're going).

It depends on the rules of the hypothetical I guess. If you can make brass, but not steel, you could presumably still make iron tools, hand-work and then case-harden them too (assuming potassium chemistry is allowed). Techniques that were known pre-industrialisation, of course, just less well understood.


I am not sure about stamping, because hardening brass that much is seriously non-trivial, but the rest doesn't even need that. Corundum is not all that rare, and is quite adequate for brass (well, even silica is). And you can use carbon case-hardening on iron, but I was assuming no ferrous metals and no chemistry or metallurgy that wasn't in industrial use in 1850.

What you do get, which is often missed, is that copper (and zinc) become as critical to the economics as oil is to us, with all the politics, crime and warfare that implies.


I have just had an idea that addresses something very close to OGH's original question. Iron ores were laid down in the Precambrian, and high-grade ones are the result of two separate processes; let's assume an alternate earth where things happened slight differently, and there are no high-grade ores. Meteoric iron would be a precious metal (as it was close to being, anyway), and wouldn't have become an industrial metal until after modern chemistry developed (like so many metals we now take for granted). Indeed, it could well have happened after the use of electricity became widespread and, even then, iron would still be relatively expensive and used only when essential (e.g. magnets and transformers).

Obviously, that's not the steampunk world, and there is no reason that technology would halt (but might move slower), but it IS one where technology would have taken a wildly different direction. My point in #334 about the status of copper stands, and even being able to produce aluminium wouldn't change that.


A skim of the relevant Wikipedia pages on magnets, and particularly on "rare-earth" (actually mostly lanthanide series) magnets suggests to me that, without commonplace iron (include lodestone), you might not get Van Allen belts, or lodestone either. Without them, you don't get compasses, so you don't get reliable navigation out of sight of land, and maybe don't get transformers, microphones or loudspeakers (and indeed cavity magnetrons, so no radars, microwave ovens or particle accelerators)...


Without them, you don't get compasses, so you don't get reliable navigation out of sight of land

The Polynesians managed.


That's nothing like what I posted. An 'earth' with very little iron is (a) physically implausible (possibly impossible) and (b) one where humans could not survive, let alone would have arisen. I was specifically talking about one where the high-grade ore (which was needed before modern smelting) is absent, not one where iron is absent. As I said, it would be a precious metal, and so compasses COULD exist (using meteoric iron) fairly early on, but be very expensive. See also what Robert Prior said, and look up the use of sextants and lunar distances.


Thank you, it was the Clearances that I was thinking of... at that point, you had a lot of "surplus labor", begging, or travelling, looking for work



David Shipley wrote: "Even really quite conservative assumptions around energy / space utilisation will throw out plausible human carrying-capacities of Earth of 100 (US) billion plus. Inevitably humanity will innovate, become more efficient and grow further."

To which I reply, are you out of your fucking mind? Look at suburban sprawl, esp in the US (which has wiped out most near-to-city local farms). Look at trying to find bloody parking space, or how crowded public transit is. Or the price of renting and houses. Where are you going to fit them all?

And, critically, do you *REALLY* want to live in a world that two and three times more crowded then where you live and work *now*? Can you go out in a public park, and have a little bit of quiet? Or public (or even private) pools?

And, in fact, I *do* live in a world that's well over twice the population when I was in my teens (the sixties, and 3B), and all of the above is already an issue.

No, thank you.



Hope you guys don't mind me hijacking this thread to ask a question which just came to me.

I remember Charlie mentioned that Scotland pretty much got rid of fossil fuel electric plants (~3% of electric generation). If so, that would make transportation the greatest source of CO2 emissions now. What is the second-highest source?


I was thinking something similar over the weekend, but imagined a universe where the nuclear binding energies were slightly different making iron a lot less abundant. Iron would be rarer, like tin or copper but I'm not sure in either your version or mine, it would be so rare as to be truly expensive (as silver) or require modern techonology (as aluminum).

With rarer/more expensive iron, you get the early stages of the industrial revolution but later stages you have to substitute brass for steel or bronze for iron. I would imagine the largest changes are for railroads, but not sure how much of a change that really is.

(Also, not sure what consequences are for changing things your way; my way gravity is about 10% less and probably a stronger magnetic field.)


Haiti was a fantastical awesome source of wealth. (Great source is the Revolution's Podcast which just finished a 19 part series on Haiti).

But Napoleon did screw up. It's one of he admitted (supposedly) "My greatest mistake was to try to subdue Haiti by force of arms. I should have let Toussaint-Louverture rule it"

Haiti was, before the start of the Haitian Revolution, insanely valuable. Sugar, Coffee and Indigo were cash crops bringing in great wealth. But that wealth was based on a 10-1 slave ratio. And here's a key thing, there were so many new slaves being brought into replace deaths its one of histories ugliest spots. But it was also a brutal Darwinian experience to see who can develop an immune system able to fight to yellow fever.

The revolution was also long. By the time Napoleon was making plans, armed rebellion had been going on for 10 years. The Central and Northern Regions which produced more Sugar, was highly dependent on canals and infrastructure. Which big parts have been burned already. I think La Cap was burned 3 times before Napoleon was involved.

The entire scheme of those ten years was long, resulting in most slaves being freed, freed armies in the mountains, several differing armies, including French, Spanish, English, local whites, slave armies, and finally mixed raced freemen. (Not to mention differing visions, from sweeping everything under the rug and re-instituting slavery to a tri-color nation using its agricultural wealth to buy teachers and industry, to black supremacy).

And those European armies had one common feature, they would die in droves from disease. By the time of the Leclerc expedition, the ragged slave armies were able to drill, arm, and equip their soldiers into a national army. They were still hampered by lack of materiel but 10 years of experience in a brutal civil war meant they knew how to melt away when they lost local superiority.

The Leclerc expedition was classic Napoleon. A strong conventional army wins every battle, but attrition and guerrilla fighting wins the war.

As to Haiti's economy in the post war. By the end of the war, Haiti is a pauper state. It's economics mostly depended on brutal exploitation of slave labor. Some of the tri-color groups were experimenting with alternative methods to get sugar without the brutality and by sharing the profits. But real production would have required loans to rebuild the canals. Haiti had no trade, and no one who would recognize her for 30 years. France recognized Haiti then only at the cost of the indemnity. Haiti has only paid that off with loans that were predatory and designed to keep Haiti in debt. Until the 1830s Haiti had only informal trade for those plantations that manged to run.

And if Boney won? He would have faced sending 10K men a year to Haiti to die of yellow fever to keep the lid on. Re-enslaving the people would of been impossible. They would of fled to the mountains like they did again and again during the Revolution. The canals were burned. The plantations were burned. The presses and tools to extract sugar from cane were gone. Coffee in the South could of worked as a tool for trade, but

Napoleon's intelligence on what Haiti was worth was badly out of date. He sent an army that he should of known would face horrible disease to get a prize not worth it, and in the process lost a base to fight offensive overseas actions from.


Ah, you've fallen right into the Grue jaws!

Note: these links will appear broken as they are direct Document downloads - Host's blog really doesn't like these types of links (for very sensible reasons). They're all from UCL and safe, however. To use them copy/paste them into a browser bar, hit F5, they'll pop up as download of the chapter opened by Word or Open Office (or whatever .doc software reader you use).


The Middle Saxon period has produced evidence nationally of sophisticated manufacturing techniques, producing steeled tools alloying iron with carbon or phosphorus. Uniquely at Hamwic there is evidence for high-quality, high-carbon, liquid steel, produced by refining cast irons to manufacture edged tools, using techniques in advance of those known from elsewhere (Mack et al, 2000: 95). Smithing evidence remains relatively rare in the Anglo-Saxon period, but such as has been revealed by excavation throughout Britain indicates a wide range of types, and thus extensive ranges of specialisms and modes of production. It includes full-time smithies on (later) urban sites, as well as small forges and workshops for intermittent or seasonal usage on farmsteads (McDonnell, 1989: 380). p11 Iron

p1 Copper

The problem with imagining a brass based / low iron civilization at 1850s comparable outputs is that you also have to account for all the preceding periods, which for iron is a very tough sell.

The above two chapters are very detailed (probably too much), but it's worth focusing on the discussions of where deposits were (and ore purity - 80% in Wales vrs 20% in the middle of the country etc) and little things like knife weights (which slanted heavier for Saxons).

The main take-away is that copper and alloys thereof (brass) was mainly from re-used Roman artefacts and dismally low as time went forward (500-600AD).

Of course, the Grue is that without iron and without Rome, you never get industrialization in Britain / Northern Europe.


For once, you and I agree Mark.

Who was it that pointed out that there are three schools of thought on this blog:
--Computer programmers see rapid change in their field, believe it's for the better, and see a future that grows like the tech industry, hence transhumanism, immortality, growth forever onward to the stars, etc.

--Engineers see a bunch of serious structural problems, most of which have "obvious" technological solutions, if only people would start working together to do them.

--Environmentalists who see that the natural "infrastructure" that supports civilization and is, even now, two-three times bigger than it economically (I'll come back to this), and believe that global civilization is the mother of all economic bubbles, and either believe that, when it pops, we're all DOOMED, or that, at the most optimistic, the human population won't sustain itself at 10 billion, due to lack of resources (groundwater and farmland being two obvious issues), and an increasingly violent and unpredictable climate hitting cobbled-together infrastructures that will need to become increasingly efficient just to keep people alive.

I'm in the third camp pretty obviously, which is why I tend to argue for more resilience and less growth. Civilization is always breaking down somewhere, but I want to keep enough surplus in all our various systems so that local breakdowns don't start propagating to become unstoppable collapses.

My critique of the engineering point of view is that, generally, the sociopolitical problems are the hardest ones to solve, so handwaving those away and focusing on the easy and superficial technical fixes probably won't solve the fundamental structural problems.

As for the techie optimists who are lucky enough to be in businesses that so far haven't imploded, well, I envy you. Don't think this is normal for most of the globe or most of history. After all, every kid starts off as a cockeyed optimist when it comes to blowing bubbles. It takes some experience of how bubbles pop to make you a bit more wary of simplistic growth models.


Ah, badly formed quotation there:

The relationship of iron-rich communities to Roman sources of secondary material, if this was indeed the source, rather than a mere coincidence of preference for particular landscape environments, should in theory be paralleled by the relative distributions of wealth in copper alloy. This is particularly so, as the raw-material components for manufacturing such alloys are not present in the study region. Therefore they could only be sourced either from re-used scrap or by importation from mainland Europe...

In northern Europe excavation evidence from a range of elite settlement sites illustrates that non-ferrous metalworking was closely linked to the upper strata of society between the fifth and seventh centuries and this elite achieved a near monopoly over the manufacture and distribution of fine metalwork. The finished products of cast copper-alloy ornamented metalwork indicate that larger scale centralised production was certainly in place by the sixth century (Hamerow, 2004: 117). The sources of raw materials for the alloys in this manufacturing model was again scrap, as evidenced by cut-up brooches, ingots and possibly coins at the fifth-century craftworking site at Gennep on the river Maas in the Netherlands (ibid).


Puerto Rico's depression is very odd, and kinda delayed.

So back in the day, Puerto Rico was a backwater, but part of the US. The Feds want to put less money into PR, so they make some tax exemptions to make PR a better investment. Lots of big companies put plants there to use cheap labor within the US and low taxes. Intel, big Pharma, the Big 3 auto makers all use PR. Works ok for several years.

Then the tax exemptions start to end, and wages have risen in PR and it's also 2008 so global melt down with wages down else where, so PR isn't as attractive as it was at time of cutbacks. So factories close.

PR managed to push off lots of the problems by exploiting their bonds. Puerto Rican bonds were triple tax exempt (local, state and federal) because of the same desire to invest. These bonds have been around forever, and the PR government always used them to play some games and kept a largish debt to GDP ratio (but nothing crazy).

In the aftermath of the 2008 crises with the loss of so much industry, PR double downed on using bonds to prop up the budget. The debt snowball intensified.

Now PR is broke, the creditors want to sell off schools to get their money back, and the Feds haven't been much help. About 50K people are leaving the island every year since 2008.


Note - given the usual reasons given for Europe industrializing first, we'd have to dig into geology to see if lower iron ore % could be replaced by more copper deposits or if that's impossible.

But, if you're stuck without iron and don't have a regional super-power / Empire importing artefacts (as was the case in Saxon Britain), you do a little worse than stagnate, you decline.


You would not get much lodestone. The earth's magnetic field requires a liquid conductive core, but not necessarily a nickel-iron one.

One consequence is that the discovery and utilization of compasses might be delayed and/or reduced due to expense.


As a techie optimist, there's lots of solutions. The problem is engineering one that's also social acceptable, and can actually be tested. But I used to do production engineering where telling people the problem is in their area was kinda hard to do. Or worse, the boss says put the bad tool up anyways, and its a cyoa moment.

Like climate change, lots of possible engineering solutions out there. Most are insane or require significant political effort that's not realistic. Or they aren't easily testable. (My favorite is plan is putting iron into dead zones of the S. Pacific to encourage algae blooms, which could really mess with the entire pacific ecosystem and cause net losses). (crazy political ones include forceful relocation of folks into more energy efficient housing patterns, which only works with a dictatorship which wouldn't do such a thing guaranteed to bring revolt).

As an older cynical optimist, my hope is a mix of small political changes, and several developing techs panning out. The big one for me is always fusion in a can. But cheap enough solar that's easy enough to manufacture works.


Not at all. The point is that low-grade ores weren't used until modern times, are much more expensive to process, and ironworking might not have started until after brass had been developed (instead of half a millennium earlier). Bronze is a b*gg*r to work and has a lot of problems, and copper is too soft, hence the importance of brass. Oh, yes, it COULD have been, but it needs a lot of developments that are not needed for the other ancient metals (yes, I know that zinc is hard, too, but there is a trick for making brass). It's the initial development hurdle that would cause the delay.

I agree that it's more speculative that iron would not have taken over eventually, even given only low-grade ores, but this forum has given zillions of examples of societies sticking with technology they have instead of using better approaches, even over millennia. And I don't see that it need have made any difference to the gross history, though the details would of course differ and it might take longer.

To PubliusJay: it would be a precious metal only when the main source was meteoric iron and/or before effective smelting techniques were developed.


My question was more along the lines of:

If you don't have access to iron, what fills the resource gap until our goal date of 1850?

What is commonly referred to today as bronze is actually tin-bronze. However, archaeologists have shown that the first bronze produced in virtually all of Europe and the Middle East was an alloy of copper and arsenic. It is logical that an accidental arsenic-bronze would be produced first because arsenic minerals are much more abundant than tin minerals. Furthermore, arsenic and copper minerals commonly occur together in sulphide deposits, and both weather to form greenish oxide and carbonate minerals that can be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish.

Arsenic-bronze proved to be the best early copper alloy because it is hard and cuts the absorption of gases that make copper castings porous. A similar trend developed independently in Peru, where arsenic-bronze was discovered about 200 AD to 600 AD, and remained the alloy of choice until tin-bronze became the official standard after the formation of the Inca state about 1474 (Lechtman, 1980; Cathro, 2000).

Page 2, really bad graphic shows the issue: I'm guessing the Roman sources in Spain are the source of the recycled materials - and Britain is stuck with Cornwall. (Does Ireland have enough to become regionally important)?

Tin Deposits and the Early History of Bronze PDF CIM Magazine, 2005 (Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum)

As stated: I'm not a materials scientist (or geologist) so I'm really just exploring to see if there is a possibility of a realistic Steam Punk world.


"And, critically, do you *REALLY* want to live in a world that two and three times more crowded then where you live and work *now*? Can you go out in a public park, and have a little bit of quiet? Or public (or even private) pools?"

I already live in a nation whose population density, extrapolated to global proportions, would mean a population of 50 billion.

And the idea of producing food by putting seeds in dirt and waiting for water out of the sky... it's just too primitive.


Oh good, arsenical bronze is making itself more widely known outside archaeological circles.

Anyway, can someone summarise what you are all arguing about?

As for Scottish CO2 emissions, the internet is messy, so all I could find was this:

Which has a graph that suggests in 2005 the three biggest sources were transport, farming and electricity generation. So knock out one of them and you're left with the other two.


Mucked up that link, but notable:

Numerous ancient sources of tin have been identified in Europe and the Middle East but these were too small or too distant to account for the amount of bronze produced. Relying on Greek and Roman historians, Rickard (1932, p. 347-349) and others have documented that placer cassiterite was transported to the eastern Mediterranean from the Erzgebirge, Tuscany, Spain, Portugal, and Crete. Other confirmed sources of tin are Uganda (Dayton, 2002) and Sardinia (Penhallurick, 1998), and there is speculation that it was also brought overland from India and Asia.

CIM articlePDF

Important hit points:

Mining by the Roman Empire led to the Iberian mines becoming depleted by the 3rd century AD, leaving Cornwall and neighbouring Devon the most significant sources of tin in Europe.

In 1678 Clement Clerke introduced the coal-powered reverberatory furnace, greatly increasing the quantity of metal extractable from ore

In around 1865, faced with increased competition from overseas mines and with the most productive copper mines becoming exhausted, the Cornish mining industry went into terminal decline. By 1880 the level of Cornish copper production was at around a quarter of its 1860 level.

Oh, and just to tie something earlier that I wasn't part of: all of those quotations are from an article on Bal maiden who were women who worked above the surface in the copper mines. They're wearing aprons but also definitely wearing skirts.

The TL;DR is two fold:

1) Tin was valuable enough to the Romans to import from the far edges of the Empire - Britain and Uganda (!!)

2) Copper revival is based on Reverberatory furnace technology (1687) - they were also " for the first 75 years of the 20th century, the dominant smelting furnace used in copper production" which suggests it's a game changer tech

3) Back-of-the-envelope usage rates (if we don't have iron) suggest that they would have been exhausted much quicker.


We have a problematic period ~ 410AD - 1687.


"If you don't have access to iron, what fills the resource gap until our goal date of 1850?"

Timber and brass, mainly. One example: hawthorn was used for cogs, axles etc. - and it could easily have been bred for timber in the same way that oak was. Iron replaced timber for ships only well into the 19th century. Bamboo is still used for scaffolding in places it grows well.


somewhat O/T, but I've always thought that farming (machinery and processes) would be ideal for solar applications:
1. availability of land/buildings (for solar panel deployment / wind power deployment)
2. connection to grid (for additional/transitional power requirements in AND out)
3. replacement of gasoline/diesel engines with electric (starting to become more feasible -- range is less of an issue, it's overall torque and overall energy-density that would be the issue)

I've seen lots of information on electric cars and trucks, but nothing for tractors/tillers/ and other farm equipment. (NOTE: must look into that)

Regarding CO2 emissions, eliminating farming equipment (and focusing of renewable energy generation) would leave farm animals as the largest CO2 emission source (I'd imagine) -- and that is largely a net-zero (non fossil) source.



Interestingly much of the challenge for electrical farm equipment is in the interconnect (for power distribution and control dataflow). Given the environment, there are a lot of challenges regarding safety - but it looks like the trend is definitely towards smaller, more discrete individual electrical motors rather than hydraulic power trains (which are awesome, but complex, expensive, and carnot-inefficient)


Any possibility that ceramics could fill part of the gap, e.g. for sharp things?
The chemistry (for knife-ceramics at least) doesn't seem particularly extreme (but IANAC!). Machining requires diamond dust but that should be available.

Vernor Vinge did a story about a metal-poor world, Tatja Grimm's World. Perhaps worth a skim.


See further comments on tin / copper deposits / refining.

Timber is also extremely problematic:

In the 16th century Britain ran out of wood and resorted to coal. The adoption of the new fuel set in motion a chain of events that culminated some two centuries later in the Industrial Revolution

An Early Energy Crisis and Its ConsequencesPDF Scientific American, 1977 - for comparison to modern journalism and also a rather pleasing tie in with the Reverberatory furnace being central to coal's utility:

REVERBERATORY FURNACE made possible the utilization of coal in spite of the fuel's reactive
smoke and flames. Tile arched roof· of a reverberatory furnace reflects the heat of combustion onto the material to be heated. When the fuel being burned is coal, the arrangement prevents
contamination of the product by the substances in the coal fumes. This view of a reverberatory annealing furnace is from the section on coal making in Diderot's Encyclopedie.

So, there you have it, a real answer: Reverberatory furnace technology.

It allows coal usage and copper ores (of lower quality) to be viable.

That's basically where you can stop industrialization if you stagnate before it.


Maybe there could be deposits of high grade ore, but they could be smaller than in our world and play out shortly after the industrial revolution starts making serious demands on them, but before modern smelting processes are developed. That would get a similar history up to that point, but then extended nineteenth century conditions in many ways, but not necessarily in all, as some later technologies don't really depend on a lot of iron or steel (electricity), whereas some common nineteenth century technologies depend on lots of iron (railroads). Or would there be knock on effects, as the lack of one industry or another means a whole dependent line of investigation never goes anywhere.


The issue under discussion is assuming that iron is much less accessible/more expensive than it historically was, what happens? In particular, to what extent can brass substitute for steel? And, if not, what else (if anything) can?


Many Americans have an outsized expectation regarding personal space - 2000sq.ft. is now considered a 'small' home - and the love affair with the car makes many 'communities' hugely sprawling (we are at least a ten minute drive from our closest grocery store - and we live in a very high-amenity suburban area)

My local 25 mile bicycle exercise route circles around a bunch of neighbourhoods, but still manages to avoid anything in the way of real 'density'. Despite essentially 'continuous housing' inside the loop it still encloses fewer than 20,000 people (thanks Google.

For comparison, a similar ride near my home town (in the West of Scotland) would circumnavigate the entire town and environs, and would encapsulate at least 80,000 people (despite that loop crossing through a bunch of sheep-infested hills)

Folks hereabouts consider this area "heavily built up". They have no idea.


Thank you very much.


I already live in a nation whose population density, extrapolated to global proportions, would mean a population of 50 billion.

Higher, actually; half the land area of the UK is effectively uninhabitable. (The mountains aren't very high, but they're steep and inhospitable and there's a lot of them.) I'd say we're pretty close to that 100 billion person planet experience right now.


Thank you for your comment.

I don't actually know if Puerto Rico's current depression is Greece-lite.

I mean, Greece's problem did not reduce its population to pre-1990s levels. At the same time, you can't really pinpoint immigration as a source of the difference, since Puerto Rico does receive a non-trivial amount of immigration from the rest of the Caribbean (especially Hispaniola).


Bronze would be a good start, but the issues are with sources of Tin. And so with brass, which also requires a comparatively rare alloying addition, with added fun of losing most of said alloying if you don't do it right.

There is an interesting evolution of brass making crucibles over the centuries. The early ones, during the early Roman Empire were prety small, only a few cm across, and mostly sealed. They slowly got bigger over the centuries, but not by much, brass was a rare alloy and expensive, especially after the fall of Rome. Then in the late medieval period there was a big expansion. In 15th century Germanic countries they were making brass in huge crucibles that were cunningly built using two layers of clay, the outer one less able to withstand the heat, and so melt and seal the inner one. And other details I've forgotten. ANyway, the point is that late medieval pottery manufacture for this sort of thing was a lot better than Roman, and brass was being made on a large scale.

The standard explanation of why iron took over from bronze is that it was much more widely available than the tin required for bronze, around which huge long trade routes were built. But when you can dig out bog iron from your local bog, why buy in the expensive alloying element?

Now, someone mentioned inability to smelt stuff, and the thing is, there actually was plenty of iron in Scotland, despite there being a shortage in medieval times. (So much of a shortage that when Robert de Brus' men raided Barrow in Furness they were overjoyed to capture a ship with iron in it from the local mines) But in medieval times they didn't have the right mix of mining and smelting technology and metallurgical know how to make use of the huge amounts of ironstone in Scotland, or the necessary capital to really get into mining it. So it should always be born in mind that what is available to people at one time will be different to another time.


Bolivian and Chinese Tin Belts could pick up some slack. Bolivia wouldn't be until the age of exploration, but would effect development to make Upper Peru (Bolvia) significantly more important to the Spanish Empire. ~1520 the Spanish take hold, and ~1540 is when mining under the Spanish (Rather than Incans) gets going.

So that buys ~1520.

Increased trade with China could help as well with filling some of the gap, requiring more significant bulk cargo to the east. Likely via India and the Red Sea rather than the carvan routes.

I'm wondering though how rare is rare for iron? If it's too rare for plate, we've got some very interesting political implications. The stereotypical mid-late middle ages villages had a knight as their lord with the profits of the village to keep the knight in condition to fight. That means iron weapons and either plate or mail. With less iron, the knight might keep a sword, but he's not going to have plate or mail. Small amounts of Iron might work better with peasant weapons like a Goedendag rather than a sword.

Also without the ability to do armored knights, somewhere around 1000 AD history goes massively off track. The French will lack armored knights en masse. Peasant revolts will be much harder to fight back. Archers and Pikemen will be more powerful against Calvary. Perhaps Western Europe could learn some sort of mounted bow, but I doubt it.

I'm predicting more free cities and republics when its harder to get mounted horsemen to break peasant armies.


Also thanks for summarising it.

The first thing that comes to mind is that your bridges etc stay more like roman and medieval ones, until you find a substitute for iron in re-inforced concrete. The internet does suggest that that is being done now, at least for floors and simple beams.

Also you don't get these huge iron framed industrial buildings. The opportunities for fire proof building are greatly reduced. Nor do we get the modern iron sheds, yay!

But so many high temperature applications just don't happen, no car engines etc etc.
Unless of course you can jump straight to the ceramic era, which is by no means a given, or rather what would be more likely to happen would be that there would be slow steady improvements in technical knowledge of ceramics and chemistry of ceramics and related areas, not to mention combustion of fuels of various sorts, until eventually people work out ways to make engines. Still leaves the strength issues with power transmission though, and how to carry the weight.

No reason you can't have steam engines, but again, likely to be more expensive and more hassle.


The US used charcoal for iron production through the mid 19th century, deforesting large regions in the process, far later than the UK.
Iron plantation or for those with access, Raw Materials Supply and Technological Change in the American Charcoal Iron Industry
(Have just skimmed the later but it looks fairly detailed.)
Point being that resource limitations would need to apply potentially worldwide.


Note, a problem.

Wikipedia doesn't source this comment: The first reverberatory furnaces were perhaps in the medieval period, and were used for melting bronze for casting bells

So I did:

These foundaries arose out of the development of reverberatory furnaces (or cupolas or cupiloes) for smelting copper and lead.

Making Iron: the technology PDF - PHD thesis, p51, fragment, source, author and quality unknown. No citation in text.

This fragment has no other footprint than this single PDF and there's no complete copy out there.

So ~ dubious at best.


Anyhow, hopefully that's enough sanity, reality, history and UK-centric links and so on.

Time for creative stuff.


Timber for structural purposes, as opposed to fuel, kept going long after local supplies began to run short - we simply imported it. Bouch up north liked his iron trestles, but Brunel in Cornwall did the same thing using timber. (As did the Americans, who didn't have the same supply situation.)

The important development in terms of abundant fuel for metal-making was the adaptation to coal of the destructive distillation method used to purify the carbon in wood, so you could use coke in place of charcoal. That was Abraham Darby's kick, which enabled large scale production of cast iron. There was still quite a wait before we got to large scale production of other ferrous products.

The reverberatory furnace was crucial for high quality iron and steel, because you have two particular difficulties: the melting point is a lot higher than for copper and its alloys, and the properties of the product vary enormously with small to very small amounts of impurities - importantly, including carbon. So keeping the combustion gases of carbon-based fuel away from direct contact with the metal was an important step in achieving the necessary tight control over carbon content. Naturally, once it had been developed, it got used for processing other metals as well, but it wasn't the major advantage that it was for ferrous.


...Ha, cross post. OK, cancel my last sentence, or invert the sequence.



Since I've been playing with the idea of a bronze age fantasy, I've dived a lot into the archaeological literature. Caveat emptor. The tl;dr version is that the archaeologists really don't agree with each other on a bunch of fundamental points, so you've got to read multiple sources to figure out whether a particular author is BSing or knows what he (or she) is talking about.

There's a lot of confusion about where the tin came from and how it got to wherever. Some say that Minoan and Middle Eastern bronze used Afghani tin, a few want it to be Cornish tin. There aren't any big known tin mines in Afghanistan now, but 3,000-4,000 years ago? Also, it's currently a freaking war zone, so don't expect any good archaeology to settle the question. Incidentally, this is true for most of the Fertile Crescent at this point, so this may be unanswerable. The Cornish tin is all romantic and stuff, but I don't know of any good ancient dates for Cornish tin mining.

I've read so much about where the tin is that I'm playing with the source of the tin being on a fantasy world that they sailed through a gate to get to. If you notice how many mythological islands there are in European folklore, it's almost irresistible. One of these fantasy archipelagoes in the Casseritides, which were the tin islands of the Atlantic. If you prefer a less BS explanation, probably the Greeks and the Phoenicians lied through their teeth about where they sailed to to get things like tin, and writers uncritically bought the BS they ladled out, just as we do today.

--Double check the Atlantic Bronze Age, which was from 1400-ish to around 700-ish BCE. Note that the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age collapsed at (per the book title) 1177 BCE. The Atlantic Bronze Age covered from the Straits of Gibraltar, through Portugal, up to Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, and probably the rest of the UK, and they were apparently making bronze for about 500 years after the Assyrians switched over entirely to iron. Once the Phoenicians showed up in Cadiz (Gadir) and started planting vineyards and cranking out iron around (?) 800 BC (could have been 1200 BCE/1177BCE, if you believe the historians and not the archaeologists), the Atlantic Bronze system kind of collapsed (and it did collapse around the 7th Century BCE). Except that the Spanish archaeologists seem to be a bit careless, at least to the extent that they all disagree with each other about stuff like locations and dates. Still, there are distinctive bronze swords (google Carp's tongue sword)in the ABA area that postdate the 12th Century, so pretty clearly Atlantic Europe was centuries behind the Middle East about 3000 years ago.

As for Ugandan tin, I'll believe it when there's better evidence. Subsaharan Africa went straight from the stone age to the iron age, no bronze outside Egypt and the Mediterranean. Bronze artifacts last much better than do iron ones. If there was a Subsaharan bronze age (which would almost certainly happen if they were mining tin back then), there should be Ugandan bronze artifacts all over the place. Where are they? There are bronze artifacts from Afghanistan and the Atlantic, so those are more believable.



Chicken / Egg situation, which is why the Bell Foundry citation was interesting.

If you don't need it for iron, does it get developed?

If you don't have iron, so need more copper (for alloys) does it get fast tracked earlier?

So, flip a coin:

1) Never gets developed, no industrialization

2) Gets developed much faster (~1200AD) and coal is fast-tracked, no mass deforestation of Europe

3) As noted, tin in the new world is important, shifts colonialism by important regions. i.e. Spain has no tin, look to who the new power players are. Possibly Eastern Europe / Russia don't lag (even with your world Catherine / Peter) and rise much faster.

Given human Minds, I'd place bets on #2 and #3.

So, ironically, Steam Punk is still nonsense - you'd be looking at Steam Medieval. Russia bloc / UK bloc. Spanish / Dutch Empires don't happen.



Typing as part archaeometallurgist, regarding the reverberatory furnaces and iron, it's not a bad suggestion, but needs more evidence and refinement. I note though that Worcester had several large reverberatory furnaces in the late medieval/ early modern period for casting bells and cauldrons and suchlike, and IIRC so did Bristol. The Worcester ones were excavated years ago. Also by the 17th century people were properly intellectually appreciating the importance of chimneys and the draft through a furnace.

What is rather annoying is that I recall reading about a glass furnace from 2k years ago in the middle east which worked on something approaching natural draft/ reverberatory method, and had gone into a runaway state due to too much fuel being put in, the end result being a highly vitrified furnace that was useless. But I can't find the information.


Uganda Tin does have a credible source. And by credible, I mean: sort of.

Main claim:

Dayton, J.E. (1971), "The problem of tin in the ancient world", World Archaeology 3 (1), pp. 49–70
Dayton, J.E. (2003), "The problem of tin in the ancient world (part 2)", in Giumlia-Mair, A.; Lo Schiavo, F., The Problem of Early Tin, Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 165–170, ISBN 1-84171-564-6


Penhallurick, R.D. (1986), Tin in Antiquity: its Mining and Trade Throughout the Ancient World with Particular Reference to Cornwall, London: The Institute of Metals, ISBN 0-904357-81-3

which shows tin mining was done by the Bantu in 11th CE.

Anecdotal evidence:


Trade-routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire Google Books - link goes to citation

I suspect trade routes would hit Djibouti / The Land of Punt (no, really, it was called that:
Land of Punt) which if you sailed to Britain was certainly viable.

You'd want to dig up the texts about QUEEN HATASU, AND HER EXPEDITION TO THE LAND OF PUNT. to see what you could find.

Hatasu is kinda a baddass btw.


What's your problem with archaeologists and tin supplies? We don't know all sources by any means, but there's evidence for a number of sources. Are you sure you have been reading more up to date stuff, like from the last 30 years?


I hadn't thought about the bridges; good point. I think you are right in regard to ceramics.


Certainly a possibility - and, yes, I have that book! However, ceramics were very brittle until recently - though China led the West.


An interesting point, but in the case of armor, I would think bronze could substitute for iron, though you are then depending on the availability of tin or arsenic.


Even assuming an otherwise similar history, I think Spain would not gotten the Burgundian Inheritance. No iron/steel means the French cannot control Flanders by use of armored knights. Meaning no Burgundy.

But that's a lot of ifs. I think Rome could of developed with Less Iron, but Roman Architecture liked using Iron with their cut stone.

We can play the whereas game easily from late Rome to the age of discovery. I think Barbarians would be a bigger threat. Archery would be more developed. The rise of heavy Calvary will be averted. Light Calvary and horse archers will be an issue. I think the Byzantine-Sasanian Wars will look different without heavier Calvary and is an important possible place of divergence since it . I think the Calvary will end up canceling out advantages during the rise of Islam if those wars still happen to a stalemate. How far Islam spreads as well may differ, perhaps the lack of Tin makes it harder to spread into Spain or try for France. Otoh, perhaps the lack of good iron/steel makes the reconquesta harder and Granada survives.

English Tin may make England far more in touch with the Europe, rather than being like it was on the boundary for so long. Maybe the viking raids and invasions will go off worse as they lack tin. Maybe taking Cornwall will be so important it will be an early goal, radically effecting how Viking settlement happened in the British islands. Maybe increased wealth due to the value of Tin will make England an earlier colonial power.


Scotland most certainly is NOT fossil-fuel free for electricity generation. Peterhead power station is a generating station that uses North Sea gas to produce as much as 750MW using secondary plant usually over winter when demand is high. Its normal power output using CCGT is about 400MW if the market rates allow. There's also a smaller 130MW gas plant in Grangemouth which apparently does CHP.

Coal burning in Scotland, thankfully, has ended with the closure of Cockenzie this year.


I never said it was, I was merely entertaining the other poster's idea, although I had forgotten about Peterhead.


No, really really bronze can't substitute for iron for armour. Iron is just too damn strong for its weight, malleable, etc. And of course easily available.
In the switch from bronze to iron age, a lot of archaeologists like to ask why it took place. After all, the early sorts of iron just weren't as strong as bronze. But over time people learnt better how to use the iron. For example early iron tools were made to be the same shape etc as bronze, which turned out not to be as good as when you made them the way that is best for iron. So they fall back as much on the greater availability of iron to explain a lot of it's takeover.


Car engines can still happen - or at least it wouldn't be thermal difficulties that stop them. These days, after all, they are made mostly from aluminium, which has an even lower melting point than copper alloys. Pistons, cylinder blocks and cylinder heads are all aluminium. It's just a matter of getting rid of the heat fast enough, and we manage that fine.

There would be differences, of course. No poppet valves, for one thing - but once you've sorted out the difficulties of lubrication, that's an advantage. Piston speeds would be lower, so power-to-weight ratios would suffer, but not enough to kill the idea - power-to-weight ratios of early car engines were horrendous by modern standards anyway. Piston sealing would be more difficult but by no means insuperably so. Lack of ball bearings doesn't matter since even now engines use plain bearings made of soft metal with the surfaces kept from contact by an oil film, so no change there. So you get engines which are bigger and clumsier, but you still get them.


That makes sense - and I was thinking about it from exactly the why did iron replace bronze point of view. The political/historical implications become very complicated.


Reverberatory furnaces excavated in Worcester - got a link? I'd like to pay them a visit.


Ahhh, but then how do you get to the Aluminium? Actually maybe someone would make a working engine that used bronze, and after a while, maybe a generation or two of tinkering, someone would think of Al and cooling, but it would likely take a while. Of course that assumes you come up with Al processing early enough for it to be a known thing. But you can get electrolysis etc without iron.


Not sure they are open or anything, it is all reported in the CBA Research report 139, "Excavations at Deansway, WOrcester 1988-89, Romano-British small town to late medieval city". By Dalwood and Edwards. As usual, the report only came out in 2004, and I managed to get a copy in 2008 or so, but it was really useful because it gave me something to use for the outside of my re-enactment bronze casting furnace, i.e. tiles.


I agree there's evidence for a number of tin sources, and I'm not arguing that.

The thing I've gotten grumpy about, in particular regard to the Atlantic Bronze Age (but also with the Phoenicians, the Minoans, etc.), is that the experts seem to disagree with each other about things like dates, locations, processes, and links. They're not arguing with each other--they don't seem to be talking to each other. This particularly goes for Spain, where it appears that the people writing in English about the Bronze Age Iberian Peninsula and the Iberian researchers (in translation) disagree with each other, in stuff written since the 1990s.

And, of course, they all do their best to sound authoritative.

When you add in the question of when the Phoenicians got serious about the Iberian Peninsula, and when the region switched over to iron, it gets even more confusing. For example, everyone agrees that "Tartessos" of history was an iron age kingdom, even though it routinely gets portrayed as a bronze age kingdom in literature (looking at SM Stirling). What they disagree about is whether the bronze age Phoenicians got to Iberia back before 1177. The historians say yes, the archaeologists ask where the evidence is. When you try to figure out when the Atlantic Bronze Age started and ended, apparently the ABA is more an English concept than an Iberian one, so they don't map onto each other all that cleanly. Et cetera. I'd be thrilled if I could find the conference where they sat down and argued with each other to come up with a consensus narrative and areas of confusion, but so far I haven't found it.

You also get a lot of confusion about how the Bronze Age Collapse affected Phoenicia too, particularly the city of Tyre. Some archaeologists claim it fell around 1177 and was refounded at least a century later by settlers from Sidon. For others Tyre just kind of fuzzes out for a few centuries. Were pre-Collapse Tyrians getting tin from Cornwall or Portugal? Perhaps. The next question is whether they were sailing directly to the tin mines (e.g. the "Casseritides" of many centuries later) or getting tin through intermediaries who traded it down the line from Cornwall to Brittany and ultimately to Marseilles. There's no archaeological evidence either way.

I first noticed the confusion when I started reading multiple authors and trying to fit what dude A said with what Senora B said. While it easily could be me being confused, at this point I'm pretty confident that there are multiple narratives about Bronze Age history out there, and that the story in the English speaking world appears to be different than the story in the Spanish-speaking world, at the very least.

In closing, I'll say that Skillagrim on YouTube has posted some great tests of bronze swords. If you want to see a direct comparison of an iron sword with a bronze sword, and also what bronze swords are actually capable of, YouTube is definitely a better source than archaeological speculation at this point.


Yes, that sounds like part of archaeology. There's a lot of hogging stuff to yourself, and howing your own row and not caring about other people's. I think I've even seen it in the same building, which isn't sensible at all. It is easier to create your own career path in archaeology and history without properly engaging with other researchers, because ultimately your results aren't winnowed by reality the way they are with science.

Then there's national rivalry and patronage links.

Bronze swords are useful, the debate is still ongoing about whether the ones we have found were used for real or damaged specifically for deposition. I am entirely aware of youtube videos about it all since I've been involved in WMA on and off for over a decade and have met some experimental archaeologists. Who are the sources of many of the speculations you see on youtube....


Actually zinc is more common than copper. Copper is 50 ppm in the Earth's crust. Zinc is 75 ppm. This Earth.


Another quick commentary about the bronze age: trading wasn't exactly barter.

What they seemed to do in the bronze age was trade by metal weight. This is where terms like shekel and mina (50-60 shekels) came from. They didn't use coins. Rather, they had some standard weights, so that (IIRC), a shekel of silver was worth a standard weight of barley, say a day's ration of barley for a man, by fiat. They went around weighing things like copper, tin, bronze, silver, gold, and iron (which was produced as a byproduct of refining copper).

Instead of currency, they appear to have had "hackmetal" which is bits and bobs and broken pieces. The nice thing about bronze is that 9 parts copper:1 part tin makes good bronze, and things like spiking it with carbon don't change its properties. If you want to, you can melt down a sword and make it into a bunch of jewelry. Later on, you can melt down that jewelry and cast another sword. If you want a copy of a sword, the smith carves a blank (ideally out of wax; honey production and fine bronze work go hand in hand) and casts you the sword. Or he makes a model out of wood, makes a clay mold, and casts exactly the sword you want.

Also, bronze lasts effectively forever on human time scales. Some bronze swords come out of tombs still sharp and functional thousands of years after they were buried.

Now, contrast this simplicity with iron. Cast iron doesn't make a good blade, and in any case, the Ancient Europeans weren't into casting iron even when they could. Instead, iron has to be forged, which is harder to do than casting in a mold. Moreover, the longer your iron is in the smoky charcoal fire, the more carbon it absorbs, so the more it's reworked, the more brittle it gets. You can certainly melt down an iron sword to make some iron jewelry (iron was used as jewelry in the Bronze Age, much as titanium is used now), but reforging that jewelry into an iron sword will make for a crappy brittle iron sword. This is one of the places where "cold steel" and "cold iron" came from. The less work you did with an iron blade, often the better it was.

Another note is that pure iron and pure bronze aren't all that different from one another. It's when you get to tempered steel that the differences start to jump out. The bronze age was really over by around the 700s BCE, simply because steel swords were getting increasingly common, and bronze really is a lot softer than steel.

IMHO that's the fundamental split between the bronze age and the iron age. In the bronze age, all the metals (except exotic iron) were treated more or less the same, hacked up, weighed, and used to purchase other stuff using some standardized weight ratios. Once you get to iron, there are multiple ways to handle metal, and that disconnection probably helped ultimately spur the production of coinage.

But that whole nonsense about Bronze Age trade being weird? Forget it. They knew how to loan metal out at interest for trading long before the Bronze Age collapse. They just standardized metal value by weight, not by coinage.


...or rather what would be more likely to happen would be that there would be slow steady improvements in technical knowledge of ceramics and chemistry of ceramics and related areas,...
I don't know of theory covering how to optimize for the speed or slowness of such developments absent significant resource availability constraints on them. For speed, perhaps rapid dissemination of new results, greed-based competition (and a pathological culture that encourages this), some sort of IP regime (or not?), etc. (OGH's OP does cover some of this.) Is there a comparative literature that can make useful predictions? (Anyone?)


When I taught in China I lived in a small city of a million people that was much smaller than the Canadian city of 100,000 that I grew up in.

It didn't feel crowded.

Wide streets (fairly empty — wasn't a wealthy place). Lots of low-rise and mid-rise apartment buildings — very few private homes. Wide sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Lots of public spaces, both parks and pedestrian squares. Quieter than I expected (no one had boomingly loud car stereos or played music outside, except for nightly ballroom dancing in one park by the river).

I currently live in a Canadian suburb (with 20% of the population density) which feels more crowded. Got to drive to do most shopping, so much more traffic. Streets and driveways filled with cars — even on my dead-end court — mean more obstacles and more noise. Social custom that making lots of noise is OK if you enjoy it (car stereos, PA systems at kids' ball games) — which means that you are often aware of many more people than I was when I was in China.

We could live more crowded — but we'd have to adjust not just our architecture and urban planning but also our social customs.


Sorry, I was using the aluminium to make the point that internal combustion piston engines (unlike gas turbines) don't depend on high melting point metals to resist the heat of combustion (as long as they don't use poppet valves). The advantages of ferrous materials for that application are partly plain cheapness, and partly strength-to-weight ratio for parts like crankshafts and con-rods. You could certainly build an engine using copper alloys, and while it wouldn't have the power-to-weight ratios we're familiar with in modern car engines, the much lower ratios of early internal combustion engines would still be achievable.

The furnaces - thanks - no, if they were around Deansway they are not open; I would guess the site might now be under the shopping development between Deansway and the High Street. But your reference ought to be enough for me to find something out.


Even if you think that inland tin mining into the corpus of Africa is dubious, Djibouti / Punt / Rhapta is a good trading port if you're sourcing Tin from SE Asia and running a classical trade route (i.e. not far off the coast) from there to Egypt.

Trade routes were never single stages. It's entirely possible that the ore was getting traded on the south edge of the Red Sea for other things (shell, gold, whatever) and then traded on north to Egypt / Rome.

Also, ecology time: Punt wasn't a desert then (on the African side).

What makes deserts fast in geological time?

Lots of people.

Ignore the Arabian peninsula, look to rapid environmental degradation as a tell for a major trade port.


So, yeah, plenty of evidence.


Oh, and I'm watching a Guardian Article get Snow-Jobbed about agriculture and things mentioned in this thread at this very point in time.

Holy Shit this is Gold.

Would you pick fruit and veg for very low pay? No? We have a problem Guardian 8th August 2016

We're Faster than You

The problem with your kind is you don't surrender until you're spanked.

Mein Herz Brennt Rammstein, YT: Music: 4:44

Reality is not negotiable. Trust Us on This One.


I am profoundly sceptical that a large population in itself leads to economic take-off. Ancient Egypt had a large population but was a static society. The same can be said of the Mayans, China, Imperial Rome, and much of South Asia. Big populations all of them, but not centres of lasting, incremental innovation, any of them.

The more I ponder this issue, the more I tend to Deirdre McCloskey's view that it was an idea, more than anything else, that lies at the root of the industrial revolution: the idea that all souls have the same weight.

In practical terms: if one person can directly read the word of God for himself in the Bible, then so should any other person be able to do so. So all must be allowed (and encouraged) to learn to read.

It is the idea that all people have the same worth, and therefore all must have the same rights and respect, the same access to knowledge and institutions, that allowed the more enterprising to begin to better their lives and the lives of others.

High population with inequality gives you Ancient Egypt or Feudal Japan. Even comparatively small populations combined with equal dignity and opportunity, as in Enlightenment Europe, gives you innovation.



But the ability of a pre-industrial empire to enforce social norms globally is hampered by their ability to operate on a worldwide scale: no global system of social control that can block industrialization is possible to a state or agency that hasn't acquired the means of rapid communication and transportation

Ah, just refreshed my memory by re-re-reading: Jennifer Government and catching Cory Doctorow - Fighting Back in the War on General from Defcon 23. Vanilla peeps here, but watching the steps to see the TTIP was fun.

Ah, lesson time?

Well, it's simple kids: those who can swim in your seas, deploy the Modes of Thought you like to imagine as "how the world works" and find solutions to issues you're spending $millions on... in under an hour.


Oh, sorry: that's a bit out of date as well.


Fuck it.

We'll see how many of your slaves can handle the pressure, Mr. Men.

Hint: projected Mental Break is at ~67-82%.

Now, that's a bit worse than the average 25% cull rate you're running, but hey: at least they get a chance.


Now you're getting weird.

There was tin bronze in SE Asia (Dong Son culture, known for their bronze drums for whatever reason), but they seemed to be getting their metallurgical ideas from China in the north (along with a lot of refugees displaced by the expansions of the various Chinese empires). If they were trading with the Mediterranean, there's no evidence yet. The Chinese Bronze age developed rather differently than did the European bronze age.

Indeed, I'd expect the bronze trade to go the other way, with people heading west from Indonesia not east from Arabia, much as the Indonesians settled Madagascar. Thing is that Madagascar was settled perhaps in 200 BCE, so the voyages still well past any Old World bronze age when people sailed the deep Indian Ocean.

One thing to remember is that we know that African pygmies made it to Old Kingdom Egypt (~2700 BCE-2181 BCE), and they were (at a guess) coming up the Nile (downstream) from the tropics, not from East Africa. If there was tin to be had from Africa, one might expect it to show up early, not late, and that there would be evidence of that trade all through Egypt and Africa.

The other thing to remember is that Mediterranean-style bronze artifacts made it all the way to Scandinavia, probably following the amber/mercenary/slave trade. It would be really weird if people in the Middle East were trading for African tin, and there wasn't a huge spray of Mediterranean artifacts all the way up the Nile and into Uganda.



The 18%?

4-8% are sociopaths / psychopaths [weighed here]

The other 10% are the soulless cunts who sold their world.

What defines the French Revolution?

They cheered as the heads came off.

Now go look at the Central / South American / S.E Asian Coups sponsored by the CIA and so on - no joy, as the dumped them out of helicopters, made them play music or hung their bodies off the freeways post-torture.

And no, grow up: Now look up Mao, Cambodia and so on as they were swinging babies against trees - no joy.

Or Mexico.

Or Philippines

Or Iraq

Or Afghanistan


You're the same.

It's American / Soviet Training.

You Declared War on an Out of Context Thing.

As the Culture would say: that's a big fucking mistake.


Stocks. I'd check them HFTs soon. Cause... well. They are our equivalent to stomach bacteria.


Hands up who knows why the Black Death went West rather than East?

The Wall really did help (as did xenophobic policies and turning away refugees - and no, it doesn't work any longer)

Hint - this timeline as well.

And Holy Shit did you not read up on Ancient Egypt (Rawlinson)/Queen Hatasu and her Merchant Fleet

Oh and p.s.

Not even up for discussion.

You Want Equality?

So Be It.

We're Gonna Run that Test on ALL of you.

And Holy shit, do only 9% of you pass sane.


And, killer meme:

That Heart Attack Thing You Tried.


Now. Ours.

Non, Je ne regrette rien


Okay, I'll bite on the troll bait. More fun than watching the Olympics.

Let's see, the black death originated somewhere between central Asia and Northwest China, hit China first and maybe helped the Yuan Empire collapse, then spread from there along the Silk Road.

So actually, the wall performed its real task--keeping the peasants from fleeing onto the steppe, as peasants have been wont to do since before they invented nomadism,* and it had precisely nothing to do with stopping the plague.

*Nomadic herding first came about when peasants realized they could get out of bondage to irrigated farmlands in the late Neolithic, and that running with their herds far beyond the irrigated fields was the only way to be free. Since then, peasants have been fleeing into the steppes in both China (aka Mongols) and Russia (Cossacks). These empires have responded by declaring them "tribes," designating their leaders as "princes," and trying to reward them for organizing to boss around the descendants of the peasants who ran away from the system to begin with.


Re, Charcoal Iron, it actually hung on in the US for special applications (cast Iron?) through the 1880's; Eastern Iron Companies were left with extensive tracts of forests that had been managed on a twenty year cycle, they became corporate hunting preserves for the board, etc.

The last real boom was in the American South during the (American) civil war, as previously uneconomical suppliers were revitalized. I used to have a picture of a historical plaque for one in Tennessee somewhere.

And approximately HALF of Czarist Russia's iron was still produced in Charcoal Blast Furnaces in 1913.

Of course, you need cheap exploitable labor to male the charcoal.


But we're discussing the abilities of pressure and early industrial societies to discover, mine, smelt and use metals, so zinc might be common in the crust but how common were it's ore bodies? Not that much as far as I know, and the method of manufacture was a bit fiddly.


"Also, ecology time: Punt wasn't a desert then (on the African side).
What makes deserts fast in geological time?
Lots of people."

In that case, you are talking nonsense. It was primarily climate change, where the rainfall dropped enough that natural regeneration no longer worked. Essentially, the same shift that changed the British Isles from sub-Arctic to temperate. I agree that people cutting down the trees then turned savanna into semi-desert, but the population densities were not high.


"So they fall back as much on the greater availability of iron to explain a lot of it's takeover."

And it took over from timber (more recently) for exactly the same reason. I have and used a wooden block plane (with steel blade), have used a wooden wheelbarrow and rake, seen in-use wooden shovels and pitchforks, and some bodies were wooden. One of the consequences of staying with timber is a large number of skilled woodworkers and a consequential middle-class - very much in the steampunk tradition.

Something that people might like to note is that one reason that so many things made of plastic break break so easily is that they use barely-modified steel designs. Exactly the same was true of aluminium before the modern high-tensile and stress-resistant alloys became common (say, 30 years back); the improvement has not been in the designs, but the metallurgy.


Your link suggests that the Polynesians appear to have failed to discover "Australia" and/or "New Guinea" despite regularly visiting "New Zealand". They would, quite literally, been lost had they found themselves in mid-Atlantic or at the "Galapagos Islands".


I was thinking something similar over the weekend, but imagined a universe where the nuclear binding energies were slightly different making iron a lot less abundant. Iron would be rarer, like tin or copper but I'm not sure in either your version or mine, it would be so rare as to be truly expensive (as silver) or require modern techonology (as aluminum).

Don't mess with the nuclear binding energies—you are likely to get more than you bargained for. In particular, deuterium is very weakly bound, and the diproton is fairly marginally unbound. In our universe, deuterium is the essential first step in nucleosynthesis: if it isn't bound, I'm not sure that you ever get any fusion reactions at all. The nearest analogy would be the triple-α process, which goes via the incredibly unstable 8Be (half-life <1 femtosecond!)—but 8Be is formed directly from the fusion of two 4He nuclei, whereas 2H needs a weak interaction (you collide two protons, but need one of them to convert to a neutron). This has a pathetic cross-section as it is: if it's not bound, I suspect it simply doesn't happen, even temporarily.

On the other hand, if the diproton is bound, the entire universe looks different: in particular, stars are very much less massive (and probably cooler), because the reaction p + p → 2He + γ is much faster than p + p → 2H + e+ + ν: you still need quantum tunnelling, but it will turn on faster and probably at lower temperatures. I don't know exactly what happens to nucleosynthesis thereafter, but world-almost-as-we-know-it isn't going to happen.

So you can't change the strong nuclear force very much without having a disastrous effect on your universe, and I don't think small changes will do what you want: the relative binding energies of different nuclei are mostly set by the exclusion principle (leading to energy levels within the nucleus) and the range of the strong force (leading to instability of large nuclei). The nuclear binding energy maximum is very flat: minor tinkering might give you nickel or chromium as the dominant product of Type Ia supernovae rather than iron, but probably not by much. (It won't give you manganese or cobalt: even-Z nuclides are always more tightly bound than their odd-Z neighbours, for exclusion principle reasons.)

Less accessible iron, because of differences in geological history, seems a lot more plausible. The Earth's crust is depleted in iron because most of it sank to form the core: I'm not a geologist or a planetary scientist, but if that process had been a bit more efficient iron could have been much less common in surface minerals. Also, banded iron formations are very old, so slightly different plate tectonics would have an effect. (Plate tectonics does not appear to be ubiquitous in rocky planets: it looks as though Mars used to have it, but Venus doesn't.)


I've visited and discussed where their copper went with Dr Sian James (sorry; discussion was verbal but between 2 archaeologists who were taking each other seriously). There are bronze artefacts from ~2_000 BCE which contain Great Orme copper and Cornish tin. Does that help at all with timescales?


There is also the point that earthly biochemistry is critically dependent on iron being widely available - indeed, our mucous membranes defend themselves against bacteria by not secreting iron, and the growth of planktonic algae is limited more by iron availability than anything else.


I'm not sure that's true. I can't find it right now, but I read an article pointing out that the Mongols originated from Siberia, not from "fleeing Chinese peasants". Basically, the article asserted that during warmer climates, the population of Siberia increases. When the climate turns sour, much of that excess population then pushes out the nomads, who are then pushed into the cities. That was an argument for the Germanic and Slavic migrations into Europe as well. Yours is the first time I heard the theory that the Mongols were Chinese who "wanted to be free".


Should have included this in the previous post.

The Cossacks were about as nomadic as the cowboy. Both were basically the outer edge of an expanding settler population, not an expanding nomadic one. The Chinese had a similar population, but they tended to migrate Westward along the Silk Road and Southward, not Northward towards Mongolia and Manchuria (see Tang and Ming dynasties).

You're making the mistake of imposing the US founding mythology on historical processes. Heck, I'm not sure the mythology was true even in the US case?


That is true, but relatively rare iron for industrial purposes doesn't mean it will be so rare as to be biologically inaccessible.


Thanks Susan. That is interesting. I'm not sure that making up the geology or chemistry is any more consequence free than playing with the physics. (I'm also not sure than you can play with the geology or chemistry without playing with the physics.)


From memory, up until the 1400s most of the tin extracted from the general area of Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and on down into Cornwall was collected from river bed sand and gravel by panning. The rivers would be worked repeatedly over the centuries as more deposits washed downstream, and each pass would destroy the evidence of the previous pass leaving little for archaeologists. Surface veins may well have been dug out when they were located but the underground mining, certainly around the edges of Dartmor, didn't really get going until the first steam engines became available.

Panning for tin has happened in recent times, the spoil tips at Devon Great Consols were reworked in the 1970s when the price rose enough to make it economic albeit with multiple vibrating tables in a very large shed rather than miners up to their knees in a stream...


I've no expertise in tin mining or panning; I was citing (with references) the availability etc of deep mined copper since copper is an essential requisite of making bronze.


If you're interested in understanding the true limits, and the true relevance of that bit of American foundational mythology, you might want to look at Igor Kopytoff's The African Frontier.

Kopytoff was a stateless person until he finally got American citizenship in his late 1920s, so he had a somewhat different relationship to the United States than did Frederick Jackson Turner, the founder of the Frontier school of American mythology. Turner believed that American national character had been formed on the frontier, you see. Kopytoff argued that the frontier was key to African history, too, but in a different way. . . a much different way.

For Turner, the American frontier was the American revolution: for Kopytoff, frontier processes were the result of politically conservative tendencies in precolonial African polities. Dissension and political strife within this or that African polity would ultimately lead to fission of that polity, and the out-migration of this or that dissident population. Moving into new lands, the dissenters would build their new polity, but would do so in a conservative manner, based on the notions of the 'good polity' which they had brought with them from their previous homes.

I suppose this would be related to issues of commons, their creation, and their maintenance, mentioned above.


I was specifically NOT meddling with any of the basic sciences, but merely assuming a slightly different order and/or balance of the various processes, well within the range that we have certain geological and biochemical knowledge of. I accept that it is an open question whether a variation different enough to eliminate almost all high-grade ores would be possible, but that's not the same as what you seem to have understood me to be saying. And, unless you assume significant chemical or geological differences, even a small reduction in the amount of iron in the earth's composition would lead to a large difference in our biochemistry.


It's probably worth reading James Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed. Indeed, I think you've got it mostly backwards.

One thing to realize is that governments are always trying to organize the people outside them, going all the way back to the Romans and probably long before. With the Romans, you can see the incongruities by comparing Roman accounts of Gaul and Germania with what the archaeologists see in the remains.

Speaking of archaeology, there's a lot from Central Asia, and peasant agriculture with chiefly burials showed up in the steppes quite a while before nomadism did. The difference is that the peasants were stuck around permanent water sources. As with the Polynesians settling the Pacific, it took awhile before some peasant herders realized they could run away from the water sources by utilizing the milk from their herds, and if they got far enough away, they were free. That's where the nomads came from, ultimately.

Something similar happened with the buffalo hunting tribes in the US, who were descended from corn-planting societies and only took off for the prairie when they got horses. Even then, a bunch of them stayed corn farmers around the rivers. If you've read any of the old accounts of the mountain men, or any of the colonists who dealt with the Iroquois, there were quite a few who thought the life the Indians led was preferable to American life, even up into the 1800s. They just weren't sustainable in the face of so many hungry farmers supported by the US military.

Now I agree that the climate plays a role, because deserts can be nasty places to live during droughts (hence, yes, the big migrations). The converse is true too, which is that peasant agriculture can be pretty horrible, especially when the state is increasing taxes, taking sons off to die in wars, and so forth. If running away is a viable option, people take it.

People have been running from China since probably the Shang dynasty. Most of them ended up in Southeast Asia, and you can see this by how non-Chinese kingdoms who used to farm parts of China share the same name as "tribes" in the mountains of southeast Asia (not that they're all the same people, but you need to read Scott to understand what's going on). However, western ethnographers like Lattimore found a lot of Han Chinese living with the Mongols in the 19th Century. Beyond the two nomad dynasties that ran China (the Yuan and the Qing), there's been a lot of interflow back and forth onto and off of the steppes. When taxes get too bad, farmers on the edge of the steppe might do better to get horses for their family than to work harder on their farms.

The same with Russia. The cossacks were composed of serfs who ran away from the estates and took up the lifestyles of the nomads. Russia spent a fair amount of effort fostering leaders among them, giving them Russian titles and so forth, and now they consider themselves Russian, but originally they were outlaws and escaped serfs.

The ultimate lesson is that there are powerful political reasons why you hear about barbarians as people "stuck in the past," despite all evidence to the contrary. It's not in state interests to let their citizens know that it's possible to live without a state. Indeed, there are stateless areas in the world right now, but they're described as "failed states" or "lawless areas" instead. They include Somalia, parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan (the tribal areas), parts of Syria and Iraq, probably parts of eastern India (where the civil war has been going on for how many decades now?), probably parts of the Philippines, and so on.

Now, I'm a happily civilized democrat, and I firmly believe right now that living within a state is about the only way to keep seven billion people fed and watered, if nothing else. We're too dependent on global trade for survival. However, a lot of the rage that's powering Trump's supporters has its root in the same impulses that drove people to get out past the edge of the US frontier back in the 1700s and 1800s. There's no place outside for them to go and try to make a better life, and that energy seems to be trying to tear this country apart instead. I suspect that, when the nation-state system starts to really falter, "lawless areas" (aka places where people can live outside states) will balloon, and that will be the collapse of civilization as we know it. Personally, I hope that happens many decades after I'm dead, but the potential for it has never disappeared.


"Another thing: why wait for coal or gasoline - what's wrong with burning methanol or ethanol?"

Efficient agriculture is a result of the industrial revolution.

So assuming efficient agriculture as a prerequisite of an industrial revolution is a non-starter.

To put that differently: In 1790 90% of the workforce were farmers. To produce enough methanol or ethanol to power an industrial revolution would have taken even more farmers. It is hard to imagine the maths working out.


But as your link says, it's actually quite hard, especially if you are in pre-industrial times, which is the relevant point here. Which is why brass was discovered a lot later than bronze, and took a long time to get into real industrial production. It's hard to imagine how, but eventually someone worked out that if you cemented this substance with that metal, the metal came out gold coloured. Cementation was already ued to purify gold under the reign of the infamous Croesus, and probably someone had similar ideas at some time.


" the spread of new world crops, specifically maize and potatoes"

I think humanity's build-up of "bio-technology capital" is greatly under-rated, as is its influence on history.

The crop species/varieties humans had as at 5000 BC sucked big ones. Crop varieties as at 1000 BC sucked too, though less.

Human crop species as at 1000 AD were a lot better - better rice yields, better wheat yields, better fruits, better vegetables. Something recognizable as modern corn.

1650 AD, post Columbus, things were vastly better. Mexicans had chickens. The Irish had potatoes. The Hungarians had peppers (how did they cope without them?). Wheat was better. Corn was spread. Fruit species were improving.

By 1800 they were better still.

By 1900 they'd done great things like discovering the species of sheep in South Africa that produces twins at every birth, and breeding that into every modern sheep species. Global spread of sub-species continued.

The 1960s saw massive increase in world-wide crop yield (the "Green Revolution"), partly because of fertilizers but largely because of careful scientific inter-breeding of rice varieties.


The interesting and tricky bit is that you can do isotopic analysis on metal to work out where it came from, but only as long as it has hardly been used and recycled since it was mined. Otherwise all the isotopes get mixed up and you can't get a good result.

So you can see where artefacts have gone around Europe, in this randomly found paper that is available online:

"Apart from a steady supply of copper from the
Alpine ores in the North Tyrol, the main sources of copper seem to be ores from the Iberian Peninsula and
Sardinia. Thus from the results presented here a new complex picture emerges of possible connectivities
ows in the Bronze Age between Scandinavia and Europe."

This book has interesting info re. mines in bronze age europe:


Another interesting thing is that I recall reading a paper where someone described calculating how much copper had been mined in Ireland in the bronze age, compared to how many artefacts had been found. It was something like 5,000 tonnes to 5 tonnes, or an even greater gap. The obvious thing is that a lot of that metal was recycled, and there are probably medieval bronze cauldrons surviving today which contain copper that was mined 2k years earlier, made into an axe, made into a bowl, made into an axe, buried, dug up, made into a cauldron.


But so's smelting iron! However, my idea doesn't fly for one simple reason: bog iron. Ah, well.


Ah, I see where the confusion comes from. Scott gets a lot of things about China wrong.

1. It's true that a lot of Chinese moved Southward. Just one problem, there were very few nomadic areas southward. Many of the Ming "colonies" (they more resembled modern Chinatowns rather than true colonies) were set up in functioning states in the 1400s, not among nomadic people. Hence Taiwan being ignored until the introduction of the plantation economy by the Dutch in the 1600s, 200 years after the height of Ming trading.

2. "how non-Chinese kingdoms who used to farm parts of China share the same name as "tribes" in the mountains of southeast Asia". From my reading of the situation, that comes more from the fact that the "tribes" incorporated people of ethnic minorities who were displaced when the "Han" Chinese moved in.

3. "However, western ethnographers like Lattimore found a lot of Han Chinese living with the Mongols in the 19th Century". And here we have our biggest problem. Short version. SE Asia was closed to Chinese immigration by the Europeans. It was not safe for the Chinese to move to the Philippines or Indonesia, where the Spanish ran pogroms. At the same time, the Russians consolidated control over the Silk Roads of the South.

While the above was happening, China itself was experiencing a population boom. That led to a settler expansion into Manchuria and Mongolia. In short, I would be wary of data after the early 1800s.


Certainly 5 or 6 years ago, the presiding theory about the start of the copper age is that people noticed that some stones they built their pottery kiln from, or added to it for some reason, produced red metal that was the same as that which their ancestors had passed down, probably as jewellery.

(Back then, it's hard to imagine, but native copper, gold and silver were just lying about the ground in some parts of the world, waiting for a human to go "Oohh, shiny")

So then they started deliberately pursuing that sort of production, burning rocks, which led to other advances and probably eventually to making glass, not to mention iron, although I need to read up on iron.

But how do they work out what earths to add to metal and in what way, in order to produce brass? That's the interesting and tricky bit.


I'm thinking about the tai and shan, just to name two groups that appeared as states back before the Chin dynasty, but then showed up in SE Asia. Not sure whether they are the same people, but it could be a "grandfather's axe" problem as much as anything else.

Still, I agree that Scott's a bit questionable on parts of Chinese history. I do think he got it right on the interflow between the nomads to the north and west and what he calls the "Han."

And I also agree that Zomia's not a nomadic place. It's a different kind of running away.


"Something similar happened with the buffalo hunting tribes in the US, who were descended from corn-planting societies and only took off for the prairie when they got horses."

This statement is a good example of American foundational mythology. This covers the Great Lakes, but the phenomenon is similar

Note that the Lenape were the tribe which "sold Manhattan for beads". They didn't willingly decamp for the Great Lakes Region anymore than the plains tribes did.

Another thing he doesn't mention was that tribes such as the Sioux became nomadic to escape diseases ravaging more settled areas. Here is a history of the area

So, in a way you are correct that those tribes "chose" to become nomads.


"Speaking of archaeology, there's a lot from Central Asia, and peasant agriculture with chiefly burials showed up in the steppes quite a while before nomadism did. The difference is that the peasants were stuck around permanent water sources."

This paragraph is true, but it relies on a sleight-of-hand. Central Asia was the site of the Silk Road. As I stated previously, there were settlements in the area since before the Tang dynasty (some Chinese). A lot of those settlements were depopulated by Genghis Khan's conquest of the Khwarezm Empire. Still a lot of settlements survived. Perhaps this was a time when it WAS safer for people to live among the nomads?

Having said that, it is true that the Chinese government was meddling in tribal politics by the time of the Mongol Empire. Chinese governments still remembered the Jurchen, and even the Jin Dynasty were wary of allowing repeats.

As for the Cossacks, I'll admit to not having familiarity with their history, so I can't intelligently comment. Perhaps someone with more knowledge can?


"Another side-effect of this productivity growth is growth in the complexity of financial arrangements"

It helped that England was a (or "the") maritime trading nation.

Complex (for the time) financial arrangements, and entrepreneurs, were a part of economic life because that how trade worked. This made industrial entrepreneurship easier.


I should check my work before posting

*where the Spanish AND Dutch ran pogroms

* The Silk Road was to the West, not the South.


Sorry for the torrent of posts, this will be my last one for now.

Since we're past 300 posts, I think it's safe to introduce contemporary news to this discussion.


South Korea is really interesting due to how fast they went.

Japan had the excuse that it was industrial before WW2. SK started ten years later with all its industry in the North. SK's economic culture is a strange mix of US and Japanese practices. Japan's influence on family owned organizations with monopolistic practices and loose interrelated companies forming a bloc mixed with US style management. Combine that with US factory management practices.

1973 is also a good year to mark, although you could argue early as 1947 the bootstrapping started. Because the story of SK industrialization is the story of Hyundai and the other Chaebols.

Ok, today Hyundai isn't the same as it used to be. Samsung and LG may seem bigger, especially if you're dealing with household goods. That's mostly because of SK anti-trust laws in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crises broke up Hyundai into ~13 companies with several divisions being bought by LG or Samsung. (Samsung and LG were not broken up, but I've heard speculation its possible if there's another similar crises).

In the late 60s, the SK government realized that SK had a lot of challenges, some skills, and few natural resources. They did have a decent education though, as SK had an extensive literacy campaign after the war that went from ~22% in 1945 to 87.6% literacy. Korea, before the Japanese invasion had a high literacy, a developed language, and written language which was highly phonetic.

So to build an economy what they needed to do was use their labor and develop it into a skilled workforce. Hyundai was a bit beneficiary of these policies as they had skilled laborers who were doing construction work all over Asia. Then once they started dealing with oil construction, they got into the Middle Eastern boom, making their construction an export industry.

Combine this with Nixon coming into office and Vietnamization. US technical advisors and money was pumped into SK to build their own arms to defend the DMZ and reduce American efforts there. Lots of cash, lots of expertise, lots of push of students into engineering.

So SK opens factories, focusing on manual labor and semi-skilled labor. Stuff like t-shirts and other jobs we think of China for today. Korean culture also changes a bit. Factories put up dorms. Girls wanting off the farm go to the factories when they hit 18 or so. Boys go do their military service for 2 years. Women entering the work force do a lot of unskilled but delicate work. In the 70's its garments.

Boys often get taught some technical skills in the army. Smart ones get sent to school, with the best being sent to the US to learn theory. SK starts bigger programs using their funds and trade, taking of advantage of skills like welding being taught. Shipbuilding factories and basic automotive factories open up. Farm mechanization becomes a bigger thing.

Those girls from the farms start coming in droves to work. Mechanization brings in their brothers as SK farming rapidly adopts the mechanization. Government invests in infrastructure in the country side to spread the wealth and elevate the pain for small farmers.

Those ties to the middle east for construction work sell the oil exporting countries on the idea that SK can build them ships using their new shipyards. Suddenly massive oil tankers are coming out of shipyards not even ten years old.

The people are having more wealth now, and want goods like radios and TV. The rapid shift to a factory culture means SK companies are able to get some interest in the size of their internal market, and the ability to make cheaper electronics that require more manual labor. Those girls off the farm go from sewing to doing fab work. SK universities expand their engineering schools. A few big tech companies start making a fair amount of electronics in SK.

Remember those best and brightest sent off to the US to study? Some of them studied IC design. Those domestic companies develop their manufacturing skills by working with the US companies, then start a second line of homegrown and homedesigned electronics. Hyundai, Samsung and LG get into electronics.

And over this whole time, as their export focused factories turn out product, the internal demand is rising along with the skills and education level of the public. The governments aren't super trustworthy, having a series of coups and other measures, but they do try to force development of the internal market. They do this via the big firms (since there's a tonne of corruption), but the big firms are competent enough to meet the demands of the rising middle class to prevent anarchy.

Otoh the internal demand for goods for the middle class helps create a bigger middle class as SK urbanizes. The corruption and paranoia over the North makes more than a few emigrate when they can. The media and communications growth due to the rising middle class also make it harder to stamp a lid down.

SK is still authoritarian, but now its more of their boomers voting for law and order populists rather than the military doing a quasi-coup.


What I love about plains indian myths is it ignores those diseases, or touches on them only when a tribe dies out around white people.

The actual reality was there were very sophisticated native tribes that were ravaged again and again and lost their critical mass to keep their society going. We know some of these tribes had advance stone work including masonry skills, and a complicated agricultural system. Some, like those in Arizona, had complicated irrigation systems including canals.

Effectively they were living in a post apocalyptic wasteland in the aftermath of the Columbian exchange. These plagues hit N. America starting in the 1500s and spreading and hitting the villages again and again over the next 300 years.

The view of the plains indian hunting buffalo from a horse is effectively the same as Mad Max in his car hunting dingos.


In one of his lecture online Brad DeLong talks about how getting to a modern economy requires getting rid of the big landholding families somehow, either killing them or just taking their land away.

He notes that for South Korea this happened twice, once when Japan conquered Korea and again when they left.

He also talks about the "thrifty workaholics" reputation SK got, and how despite all the moralizing this is an effect of economic development* rather than a cause of it.

* Or of the economic reforms that lead to development.


I think its an effect of being a poor farmer responsible for feeding yourself. Factory work is easier and more profitable than being a traditional farmer.


That's the ironic thing. Our view of Central Asia is a similar post-Apocalyptic scenario, as the region never really recovered from the Mongol Empire.


He said the reputation was not there before, it was quite the opposite.


It is notable that this level of recycling seems normal again; a recent article claims that two thirds of steel produced in the USA is now from recycled materials. This is up from 15% in 1970, from similar totals.


Perhaps this Damn Interesting article on South Korea's alphabet will be of interest, due to both relating to your post, and the general theme of differing glyphs/scripts/alphabets affecting development.


Sometime in eons of prehistory, a ground dwelling bacterium evolved to metabolize iron. It turned magnetite and hematite into basalt. Only this bacterium is intolerant of O2, so shallow surface deposits are OK.