An Inconstant Vision

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#1
As an interesting tangent from the economics thread, I thought we could take our cue from Emperor Dornkirk and rev up our Prognostication Engines to speculate on what the future might hold (say in 25, 50 or 100 years). Everything from economics, technology, climate change, population, other societal pressures, whatever...

Are you ultimately a pessimist or an optimist? Any thoughts on general trends or something more specific?

Finally, it is possible that Jevons paradox is taking place, such that whatever is saved thanks to recycling, efficiency, and conservation is sold for profit to a growing global consumer market.
Very interesting. The paradox makes sense when you consider that every leveling up of the efficiency ratio also expands the scope of what's then possible to do with the resource, so usage automatically increases. Like with the jet engine (and maybe even new forms of jet fuel?): it opened up a whole new, easily accessible and cheaper market for the layperson with a corresponding increase in our global consumption of fuel.

We can't deny our nature, the thing to do is use out greatest assets - our adaptability and reasoning - to find ways of providing what our nature demands (comfort, safety, material distraction) that draw on either different resources or draw on existing ones in smarter ways.
I think I am ultimately an optimist. Or maybe, a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. I do think that technology offers the potential to bring about some sort of stability (and offer greater freedoms), even with all its inherent dangers. We just have to make a conscious effort to focus the direction this development might take so that its useful for more than just a small percentage of the population.

I hope that there's some headway made with anti-geriatrics. And the one thing I really don't give a damn about is hoverboards. But I do want my jetpack. I know they're around, but when I log onto Amazon or eBay, I can't find them.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#2
I also welcome our Robot Overlords.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#4
I see us going one of two ways, both being equally possible - either we'll find a way to solve our problems with technology in the long run, or we'll go the way of Idiocracy (somehow, both one of the greatest and the stupidest movies of all time):
I wish we would go the first route, but on a day-to-day basis, interacting with other people, it really feels like we're going the latter route to me. . .

This place is one of my few refuges from the developing Idiocracy
That "I'm actually supposed to be getting out of prison" scene is a direct nod to Monty Python.

That's a depressing vision. Toby Litt describes a situation like that in his very well written, but frustratingly difficult to read "Journey into Space". The characters get more and more moronic (IQ-wise) with each succeeding generation.

Whenever I get depressed about the future, I check out gapminder.org. I first read an article about the now famous statistician Hans Rosling in the The Economist some years ago and was reminded of him again by a piece in FT. He started this Swedish based organisation called Gapminder which collects data from around the world and creates very cool graphics to visualise different trends and facets of world development. A lot of the data show a much more positive general trend than the majority of the naysayers and harbingers of doom rant on about in the mainstream media. For example, check out this presentation he did for The Open University in London that examines the specific issue of the population problem, which necessarily includes discussions on monetary gaps, levels of progress defined by degrees of freedom/movement, etc.. His data really shows you the kinds of preconceived notions we have when he talks about the perspective from Bangladesh or from some country in Africa. Every time you feel panic about the future, or some moron tells you that things were better in the 1950s, check out the Gapminder site. Rosling is a living, breathing antidote to dystopian thought.

 
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ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#6
I think technology can only help in a system outside capitalism. Otherwise, it will only be used for profit, which means increasing consumption in a world with limited resources.
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#7
About population and consumption,

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

the world has a biocapacity of only 1.8 global hectares per capita for the 2007 population, but ave. ecological footprint is in excess of that. The former is expected to decrease further given continued population increase coupled with environmental damage and the latter increase because of the need for economic growth for the global economy.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#8
I think technology can only help in a system outside capitalism. Otherwise, it will only be used for profit, which means increasing consumption in a world with limited resources.
There is profit in the solutions that will become necessary.
Also this implies that material wealth is the only commodity of concern to the rich. What about standing? Prestige? Adoration?
All of which have prompted excellent philanthropy in the past.
Plus, and here's the doozy Pitstop, tech is made by geeks who tend to be leftist and socially conscious. They get rich and they deliberately try to follow paths that either address these problems at a profit or encourage social responsibility. Gates / Musk / Bezos.
Technology is relevant within capitalism. Very relevant.
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#9
I think technology can only help in a system outside capitalism. Otherwise, it will only be used for profit, which means increasing consumption in a world with limited resources.
How? You expect the government to dictate which technologies should be more important to its populace? Like some sort of benevolent dictatorship? The market is the ultimate arbitrator for which technologies succeed. People spending money on technology highlights which advances (and in which direction) the mood of a society is pointing towards. Even in government regulated economies, you can't get away from capitalism - the only difference is the State takes over as owners and dominates the means of production. One thing you can be sure of, the State will never spend money as carefully for you as you will spend it for yourself.
Also this implies that material wealth is the only commodity of concern to the rich. What about standing? Prestige? Adoration?
All of which have prompted excellent philanthropy in the past.
Philanthropy will always exist without even the need for achieving standing, prestige and adoration (these could also be a natural consequence of such philanthropic activities). According to Milton Friedman, the greatest era of such philanthropy was in the latter half of the 1800s, when government regulation was at an all time low and there were no welfare laws or state provided insurances, etc. Yet, private individuals were still concerned about the welfare of the downtrodden, and many private organisations (including religious churches) provided different kinds of relief for those without means.
 
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ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#10
How? You expect the government to dictate which technologies should be more important to its populace? Like some sort of benevolent dictatorship? The market is the ultimate arbitrator for which technologies succeed. People spending money on technology highlights which advances (and in which direction) the mood of a society is pointing towards. Even in government regulated economies, you can't get away from capitalism - the only difference is the State takes over as owners and dominates the means of production. One thing you can be sure of, the State will never spend money as carefully for you as you will spend it for yourself.
I do not think governments will do so as they are dependent on the financial elite for credit. In which case, collapse is inevitable due to a combination of a increasing debt, a resource crunch, and the effects of global warming coupled with environmental damage.
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#11
There is profit in the solutions that will become necessary.
Also this implies that material wealth is the only commodity of concern to the rich. What about standing? Prestige? Adoration?
All of which have prompted excellent philanthropy in the past.
Plus, and here's the doozy Pitstop, tech is made by geeks who tend to be leftist and socially conscious. They get rich and they deliberately try to follow paths that either address these problems at a profit or encourage social responsibility. Gates / Musk / Bezos.
Technology is relevant within capitalism. Very relevant.
Unfortunately, there is more profit to be made from not solving such crises. Hence, the current situation.

Also, I don't think the concern of the rich is material assets, as much of their wealth is essentially virtual (i.e., numbers which represent credit and stored in hard drives).

I'm not very sure about philanthropy, as financial aid makes up only a fraction of national budgets of the richest countries worldwide. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor increased two hundredfold the last two centuries, which explains why only a few hundred people worldwide have more wealth than the bottom third of the world population.

Finally, the issue isn't whether or not technology is relevant for capitalism. It's whether or not technology will solve the problems I raised earlier. Given such relevance, I don't think solutions are likely.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#12
Then we stand in different spots. There's no way either of us can be right without a DeLorian that hits the quantum highway at 88mph.

I choose to believe that it will become self evident that to help others is to help ourselves and that technology will offer a way of smaller, more enlightened groups having a disproportionately positive affect on Capitalism and Society.
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#13
The catch isn't that technology will help people. It's that in capitalist systems it's used for profit, and that means increasing consumption of energy and material resources. That explains increasing money supply and energy and material resource consumption during the last few decades.

Unfortunately, the world has physical limitations and economic activity leads to pollution. That's why we have been experiencing a combination of financial crises, peak oil, and the effects of global warming during the past few years.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#14
Unfortunately, the world has physical limitations and economic activity leads to pollution.
Because of our hamfisted, industrial revolution use of technology.
throw in transparent 80% efficient mass produced solar cells and what would happen?
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#16
Because of our hamfisted, industrial revolution use of technology.
throw in transparent 80% efficient mass produced solar cells and what would happen?
The use of other sources of energy is inevitable given peak oil, but they have low energy returns and quantity:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3786

Also, components used require oil and other material resources for mining, manufacturing, petrochemicals, and transport.

On top of that, given a global capitalist system where efficiency leads to more consumption, even more material resources and energy will be needed to maintain economic growth. According to the IEA, we will need the equivalent of one Saudi Arabia in new oil every seven years to maintain that. If the new oil will come from unconventional production, even more will be needed. More still will be needed to deal with an energy trap and lag time related to a transition to renewable energy:

http://www.businessinsider.com/131-years-to-replace-oil-2010-11

and likely even more to meet the needs (part of efficiency, increasing production, profits, and capitalism) of a growing global middle class:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22956470

And that's assuming that the world population will not increase.

Some resources refer to at least one additional earth needed to maintain continuous growth, but certainly way beyond planetary biocapacity.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#17
There's no doubt things are unsustainable. It is a worry, particularly as my wife and I already increased the population problem by 3.
I do think though that a lot of this data is based on patterns of consumption continuing as they and predictions that assume behaviour consistent with the past. Clearly consumption simply cannot continue as is (because of the aforementioned biocapacity).
I read that article It Will Take 131 Years to Replace Oil and We Only Have 10 and all I think is; Good, necessity is the mother of invention.
Running out of oil would be just about the best thing that could happen to our society. Look how quickly the U.S. made it to the moon when properly motivated.
My hope is we see more things like Toyota's recent sharing of it's hydrogen patents to increase market size..
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-30691393
And more research into tidal and solar energies (I personally think wind is a red herring - available soonest but no where near capable of providing the energy requirements we need).
Imagine if Tata steel, makers of the world's cheapest car (which admittedly bombed in sales) produced one that ran on hydrogen for the Indian economy. Emerging economies are less tied to following the developmental paths of their "1st World" cousins than they might have been half a century ago.
I know that I'm focusing on automotive rather than heavy industry/ food provision/ land use here but it's just an example.
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#18
Unfortunately, significant aspects of mining, manufacturing, food production, and transport are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for energy and for petrochemicals. These include renewable energy components, infrastructure, and thousands of consumer goods that use petrochemicals. Even electric vehicles require oil for manufacturing, not to mention large container ships that have to transport all sorts of goods worldwide.

To make matters worse, we now have to use lower quality oil and natural gas to manufacture more goods and provide more services, and this means the same, if not higher, carbon emissions. With that, we face both a resource (and energy crunch) coupled with global warming.

If any, BRICS and emerging economies not only manufactured many of the goods used in First World countries but kept costs low by skirting environmental issues. Meanwhile, citizens in rich countries moved to service and finance industries, thus not only increasing demand for these cheap goods through consumer spending but even fueling the production and consumption binge by increasing credit through investments. This explains why consumer goods sales have been booming in developing countries for years, together with pollution levels.

Meanwhile, environmental damage is taking its toll, especially in developing countries, as more chemicals are used to keep food yields high while soil is being degraded. Water is also being polluted while being used to manufacture more goods and services. (It's not just oil but fresh water and other material resources that are used. It's also not just fossil fuels but products like cement that add to carbon emissions. A lot of cement is needed for systems ranging from hydroelectric plants to wind turbine bases to infrastructure needed to distribute energy from solar farms, etc.) And this is just for basic needs. Add electric vehicles, smart phones, and other "needs" that the small global middle class takes for granted, and the need for more material resources and energy increases significantly.

Finally, in capitalist systems invention does not lead to conservation but to more consumption, as what is conserved is sold for a profit. The profit fuels the same systems to extract more minerals and use more energy to produce even more goods with the intention of making even more profits. This explains why countries like the U.S. have less than 5 pct of the world's population but around a fifth of world oil production to maintain its lifestyle.

India and other countries want the same, together with the small global middle class that can only maintain its lifestyle by selling more goods and services to a growing consumer market.
 

wakarimasen

Journeyed there and back again
#19
You've clearly read more widely on the economics of our current condition than myself @ralfy and whilst I feel that I don't agree with phrases like
what is conserved is sold for a profit.
It would be an easy point to argue given past behaviour. Sounds a little generalised to me, but then we are talking in very general terms here so that's okay.

I'd be interested in what you see as the future? Is it a straight up dystopian decline to chaos? A self correcting pandemic by nature? War, famine and the other dudes on horseback? Or will you surprise us all with a positive roadmap out of our consumptive quagmire?
 

ralfy

Got in a fistfight with Dresden
#20
You've clearly read more widely on the economics of our current condition than myself @ralfy and whilst I feel that I don't agree with phrases like

It would be an easy point to argue given past behaviour. Sounds a little generalised to me, but then we are talking in very general terms here so that's okay.

I'd be interested in what you see as the future? Is it a straight up dystopian decline to chaos? A self correcting pandemic by nature? War, famine and the other dudes on horseback? Or will you surprise us all with a positive roadmap out of our consumptive quagmire?
Businesses entail inventory costs if they overstock or overproduce, and opportunity costs if they do not exploit extraction of resources, etc., as competitors may take over. Pressure to produce more is brought about by employees wanting better pay, investors wanting better returns, competitors trying to gain more market share, and increasing number of consumers worldwide who want to buy goods and pay for services. That's why consumption of oil, iron ore, copper, etc., has been growing worldwide for decades, together with money supply, as profits are churned back into the system to make even more profits. That's also why governments, businesses, etc., want to report good news concerning economic growth, more profits, etc.

Unfortunately, global biocapacity is limited and ave. ecological footprint is in excess of that. To complicate matters, the former is expected to deteriorate given extensive environmental damage coupled with the effects of global warming while the latter has to keep growing (together with increasing human population) to meet a growing global middle class (people in BRICS and emerging markets who want to buy passenger vehicles, appliances, etc.).

As we have seen the past decade, we face combinations of crises (peak oil, global warming and environmental damage, and debt-ridden economies given internal flaws in capitalism) and they amplify each other. We can consider additional problems, such as incredible levels of arms production and sales (accompanied by more conflict, with more civilians getting harmed and killed) and increased vectors for disease (such as human enroachment in wilderness areas, warmth, urban migration, a lack of sanitation and other utilities, pollution, a lack of government services due to economic crisis).

Finally, this recent study of the Limits to Growth report published several decades ago might help:

http://www.theguardian.com/commenti...ight-new-research-shows-were-nearing-collapse
 
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