Friday, October 29, 2010

Entropic Journal

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Greed and Growth

Greed alone does not explain the growth imperative. Given constantly-rising labor productivity (i.e. lower labor inputs per unit output), the only way to stave off rising unemployment is to constantly increase consumption. But does it make any sense to blame productivity? Should we castigate CNC lathes and imprison programmable logic controllers? That would make as much sense as flogging gasoline pumps for failing to display prices which are onerous enough to make “people” conserve. Talk about passing the buck!

No, the growth imperative is the inevitable result of a spiritual deficit: we-the-people do not behave like we want to need human labor. Our actions indicate we’d rather employ fossil fuels and motorized machines and computers than employ human sweat, human craftsmanship, and human cogitation. God help us, we don’t even want to employ our own legs to get from “a” to “b” anymore. Why? Because we can get more for less that way. In fact sometimes it seems like we’re all swept up in a rat-race to get something for nothing.

The crisis which grips us today is not (yet) one of insufficient energy and raw-material inputs for “healthy economic growth”. Nor is it (yet) one of insufficient output of material goods for people in “advanced” economies. Our waistlines and landscapes are stark reminders that we already have far more Doritos and Escalades and McMansions than we “need”.

The crisis is rooted in our failure to choose to need one-another. The crisis is rooted in our willingness to “outsource” responsibility for a fundamental human need: to be needed - to labor and create for a purpose beyond ourselves. The fact that most of us expect “government” and/or “the economy” to shoulder this duty – a duty of brotherhood – is proof of our insanity.

We are damned fools to expect corporations or bankers or the educational system or elected leaders (especially those at higher levels) to do anything about this. They are but symptoms which emerge from the disease.

Posted by HanZiBoi at 10:56 AM 0 comments

Monday, August 23, 2010

Transportation Kinetics

The laws of kinetic energy for a hot gas beautifully describe our default behaviors in the complex network of interconnected “pressure vessels” we call our transportation corridors. Small things that move slowly get whacked by big things that move fast. Either the meek learn to get the hell out of the way; or they get with the program, bulk up, and shift into high gear.

It’s really not much more complicated than that. Not unless significant numbers of “molecules” choose to behave as though they are responsible for the impacts of their momentum on other molecules. And if that happens – Whoa! The changes which occur could begin to seem…well, intentional. As though something like intelligence might be at work. We might even see some respect for the little guy. But more on that later.

First, why do so many molecules want to go somewhere else so often in the first place? Why aren’t they happy being where they already are? And why are so many of the places where they want to go located so far apart? Why isn’t “a” next-door to “b” more often?

Well, that’s easy! The more kinetic energy you pump into the system, the further apart things get pushed!! (Duh.) In fact our transportation network here in the USA is a fantastic system for continuously manufacturing “needs” for more – and bigger – and longer – high-pressure pipes. Which, in turn, continuously manufactures “needs” for more energy, more machinery, more development, and more land. It’s quite the positive-feedback loop: great for investors, businesses, units of government, and employment. Tax revenues grow; the DOT and other bureaucracies swell; and politicians buy votes with the pork they deliver to the Highway Lobby. Meanwhile society can avoid balancing current expenditures with current income. You could base a whole damned economy on it. For a while, anyway.

Back to my point. For various reasons, lots of people think there are serious problems with transportation. So let’s consider some of the “solutions” that are being proposed.

(1) The overwhelming majority seem to think the way to solve the problem is to expand the high-pressure pipe network. Well, “think” isn’t really the right word; it’s their default behavior that does the thinking…and the voting. That’s why their default solution is mostly about accommodating more and more big, fast molecules. True, many people SAY they want the small and the slow to have a fair shake, but they don’t really mean it. Momentum speaks louder than words.

(2) Some people – a distinct minority – believe that if enough low-pressure pipes are added to the network, most of the molecules will have a choice as to which pipes they use: high-pressure pipes if they want to be big and fast, or low-pressure pipes if they want to be small and slow.

It’s a nice idea, but there are serious problems with it. Maybe even insurmountable ones, especially if we are at all serious about the “most” having a “choice”. Why? The existing network consists primarily of high-pressure pipes. Even if we focus on areas where molecules tend to congregate, most are places which are richly interconnected with high-pressure pipes but poorly connected with low-pressure ones. Installing new low-pressure pipes parallel to so many existing high-pressure pipes would cost a fortune. Maybe even an empire.

So who would pay for it? If you consider where the big, fast molecules REALLY like to live (exurbia), you will find damn few low-pressure pipes. Why? Avoiding the costs of low-pressure pipes is one big reason why so many big, fast molecules move there! Not only that, but most of these upwardly-mobile molecules spend most of their time “off the reservation”, congesting high-pressure pipes in places where they don’t BEGIN to pay their fair share. The system is already bankrupt, running on IOUs from children who can’t even vote yet.

Then there is the matter of proximity. Fast molecules couldn't care less about destination “a” being close to “b” – ten or twenty miles seem mighty short when you’re really truckin’ down a high-pressure pipe. But pity the slow molecules! Even if there is a low-pressure pipe running parallel to a high-pressure one (so the slow guys don’t run the risk getting whacked), the TIME it takes can be a killer. Moving slow, it feels like darn near everything is just too far away.

Last, we must not forget that all parallel pipes eventually have to intersect. And it’s a tough engineering challenge to build these intersections so that the small, slow molecules can safely cross the high-pressure pipes. Especially when you have big, fast molecules who don’t much like being restrained. You know, high momentum dudes who behave as though having to wait for slowpokes is…well…an insult! “Move over, a**hole!!” “Get the f**k out of my road!”

(3) A few people have their fingers crossed that the energy supply for the high-momentum molecules will eventually dwindle; the pressure will go down in the high-pressure pipes; and somehow the system will become more “humane” for small, slow guys. Maybe they are right. Probably they are right. It might take a while, though. And it’s sort of weird, expecting pipes to get “humane”. Like “pipes” caused the problem in the first place! Meanwhile, it’s obvious that the energy supply for the big and fast hasn’t run out yet. So many of the folks who are waiting for the dwindling conclude the best they can do right now is to buckle up themselves and their kids inside a big-ish molecule too. OK, one that’s not-so-big…but not-so-small, either! Then if they get whacked by a really big, fast molecule, it won’t be a guaranteed death sentence.

(4..?) Might there be another possibility – one which doesn’t require huge numbers of additional pipes…or…having to run out of energy? Like, what would happen if millions of molecules…just…began to choose to have less momentum more often? Hmm…maybe when we brush our teeth tonight, we could look in the mirror for clues about how to make it happen.

Posted by HanZiBoi at 4:15 PM 3 comments

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Solution to Jobless Growth

The solution to Jobless Growth is:

Growthless Jobs! Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Reverse the words and Presto! The solution to all of our problems.

Really, it makes sense. Consider what we have right now in our economy. Lots of businessmen (and women) who set out with the explicit intention to sell toasters, cars, corn chips, open-heart surgery – stuff like that. Lots of investors with a laser-beam focus on getting Higher Returns. And darn near every consumer bound and determined to get More Stuff for Less.

Given these intentions, what have we got to show for it? Exactly what one would expect: lots of toaster manufacturing; profits on toaster sales; toasters in our basements, in our attics and storage lockers, on our garage sale tables. More toasters than we need…and unemployed people who have good reason to worry about not being needed.

Hmm…no need for so many toasters…not enough need for people who need to be needed. Could it be that our intentions are the problem? More precisely, a LACK of intent? A BIG lack? A black hole, in fact?

Amidst all our intentions to make and sell and profit on and acquire more toasters than we need (along with more than enough other stuff), where is our intention to need people?

Could this have something to do with passing the buck? OK, we all love to blame Government whenever unemployment rears its ugly head. Business executives with factories run by automated machines don't even blink when they scream bloody murder about how Government is preventing them from creating jobs. Even the candidates play along, making all kinds of promises about the jobs THEY are going to “create”…after (of course!) they blame the opposition party for unemployment...and every other ill in the world.

But what if the whole thing was a ruse, a huge lie we tell ourselves in order to avoid yet another Inconvenient Truth? Forget outsourcing toaster-manufacturing, what happens in an economy when darn near everyone "outsources" responsibility for making sure that people who need to be needed…are needed?

The thing that makes it really tough is this: we can get More Stuff for Less – and Higher Returns to boot! – when we outsource employment to fossil fuels, machines, and automation. Year after year, more Productivity, more “saving” labor. What the heck, who needs other human beings these days?

Oops, we still need them to consume the stuff our machines are making. So…is there some way to make machines that consume? THAT would be sweet! Cars that drive themselves to McDonalds and order high-fructose corn syrup (straight up) from serving-robots. That's right, skip the distillery, skip turning most of the corn into cow-manure (another disposal problem!), we're talking about hyper-mobile, perpetually-hungry consumers that wanna LiveGreen GoYellow, baby.

Ye-ha! Kick back and watch the DOW soar! Who knows, with the ethanol subsidy AND “smart” cars ordering corn syrup for themselves at every drive-thru in America, maybe the corn surplus would take care of itself…

Anyway, is a bit of Luddism in order here? As in, enough to make sure that we need one-another? And how about choosing to need our own labor once in a while? Instead of using our legs mostly to press accelerator and brake pedals, what if we used them more often for (Gasp!) self-locomotion? Getting from “a” to “b”?

I got a lot more to say. You want it?

Posted by HanZiBoi at 4:44 PM 2 comments

The Problem of Jobless Growth

First our Leaders told us there were “Green Shoots”. Then they began to tout the Recovery. More recently they have expressed their regrets that the Recovery appears to be Jobless. And now the Recovery itself is floundering.

This is what Business as Usual delivers in 2010: Jobless Growth - when there is any Growth at all.

Meanwhile we all know about Earth’s biophysical limits – and the terrible messes we’ve gotten into by pretending those limits don’t exist. On this (still-) living, richly interconnected planet, economic Growth IS the problem!

So is this a case of “damned if we do, damned if we don’t”? Maybe not. Ready to think out of the box? I mean, REALLY out?

(Hint: sometimes the solution becomes obvious when you look at a problem from another direction. So if the problem is “Jobless Growth”…)

Give up? OK, the answer is...drum roll...

{see next post}

Posted by HanZiBoi at 4:42 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Spill and You

The following is a transcript of my comments last evening to the trustees of the Village of Oregon, Wisconsin, USA. Perhaps you, dear reader, might find inspiration in it to get up on your hind legs and say something along these lines to your elected public servants...

If anything is clear to me, it is that if we fail to transform the public conversation about responsibility, we will fail period. We will never know whether seeds such as these will bear fruit if we do not plant them.

I am here this evening to speak with you about choosing a relationship to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Not just as individual citizens, but as trustees, as stewards of the public good.

So how might you choose to relate to the spill?

First, you could choose that there isn’t time to discuss the oil spill right now – you already have your hands full with urgent Village business…like budget shortfalls! As someone who has served on the Board, I would respect this choice. I mean that. But please hear me out anyway; I will give you some specific, practical recommendations in a minute or two.

So what else? You could choose that the spill, bad as it is, has nothing to do with us and how we live here. It’s a free country; it’s a free market; and people have a right to burn as much gas as they want.

You could choose that OK, the spill might have something to do with our way of life here, but it isn’t any of your business (or mine!) to tell people how to live. Who wants to rock the boat?

You could choose that if we don’t burn deepwater oil – heck, oil from anywhere else for that matter…well, someone else will. With a fungible commodity like oil, no consumer is responsible.

You could choose that the spill isn’t our fault because we get most of our oil from Canada…where they are clear-cutting forests, strip-mining tar sands, and burning a lot of natural gas to cook out crude. And you’d be right: about 80% of our motor fuel comes from Canadian tar sands right now.

You could choose to react to news of the spill like millions of busy consumers. “OMG those poor pelicans! Did you see John Steward’s spoof about BP last night? It was hilarious! Anyway, they need to nail the jerks who did this…{look at watch}…Oops, gotta go! Have to run my kid to a soccer game in McFarland… Hmm…where the devil are my car keys?”

You could choose that some “they” out there is to blame for the spill…and that “they” had better punish the bad guys…and make “them” clean up the mess…and do a better job enforcing regulations.

You could choose that advanced technology will provide us with all the clean energy we need. Cool! So all we need to do is sit back, wait, and buy an electric car when they are available.

You could choose that we have no choice but to burn gasoline. By God we need it! End of conversation.

You could choose that OK, we do have some choices here in Oregon about how much gasoline we burn…and yes, we should all do our part!...

…but realistically we don’t have that many options, and realistically, the little bit of oil that we use here (or don’t use) can’t possibly make any difference, so…

…really, what we need is a NATIONAL energy policy; we need higher prices to force people to conserve; obviously the President and Congress need to tackle these big issues. The most important thing for us to do is to elect the right candidates…and support the right legislation.

Here is another possibility. You could choose that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has everything to do with how we have chosen to live here. You could choose that a future without such spills – without raping the landscape – without occupations and wars over oil and other resources – without deprivation and misery visiting upon our children – you could choose that all these things have everything to do with how we choose to live here tomorrow.

You could choose that as citizens we have a duty to act. You could choose that as elected officials you will seek possibilities to learn, participate and be inspired; to inform, advocate, and enact.

I promised specifics:

(1) Commit to bringing commuter transit to Oregon. Put the wheels back on the Oregon-Area Public Transit Committee and get it rolling again. Tell trustee {name of the guy who chairs the moribund committe} that you’re on board. Let the Dane County RTA board know that YOU want to help make commuter transit a reality here. Work with the RTA. Attend its meetings if you can; keep abreast of proceedings in any case. The RTA board is looking for members of an Advisory Committee – especially representatives from outside the current RTA boundaries. How about volunteering?

(2) Tell the citizenry you believe that all of us have a duty to walk lightly on Earth. Tell them you want Oregon to be a community where it is NORMAL for us to walk…and roll about in wheelchairs…and ride bicycles…and push strollers…and pull Radio Fliers – and where it is NORMAL for us to share transit. These things work best when we do them together! That is why it is so important to bring transit service here.

(3) Choose to walk and bike when you “don’t have enough time”…when it is too hot, too cold, too wet, too dark. Choose to walk and bike when the streets are plowed but many sidewalks and bike paths are snow-covered and slippery. Choose to push a stroller to the library (or pull some groceries home in a wagon) when the curb-cuts are plowed shut. Roughly a third of your constituents cannot drive, and most don’t have access to 24/7 chauffeur service. Many motorists who could walk and bike are waiting to be led and inspired. More people than you might suspect are afraid to be alone on our sidewalks and streets. They are hoping and waiting for me…and you…to take the first step. You won’t learn the first thing about getting around in Oregon without a car – from the inside of a windshield. Choose to learn.

Posted by HanZiBoi at 10:11 AM 3 comments

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Productivity Plunges

April 1, 2011 New York, NY

A Bloomberg poll of leading US economists found that 79% were “shocked” or “dismayed” by the recently-readjusted Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that labor productivity in the United States plunged by 13.8% in 2010. Asked how they felt about the corresponding sharp decline in U3 unemployment – from 10.1% to 6.3% - 31% of these economists said improved employment numbers were “welcome”, but 88% considered the correlation (between falling productivity and falling unemployment) “counterintuitive” or “irrelevant”. All agreed that the top priority must be to return to increased productivity and healthy economic growth as rapidly as possible.

In addition to the improved employment situation there were other signs of progress last year. The US trade deficit fell by 18.4% in 2010 as demand for petroleum products and imported consumer goods “fell off a cliff”. Consumption of energy overall, demand for minerals and metals, and purchases of snack food products all showed steep declines, and total vehicle-miles-traveled dropped an astonishing 13.4%. Household debt fell by 15.8% as consumers saved more and spent less.

Climate scientists were delighted to announce that US emissions of greenhouse gasses in 2010 went down by 12.6% - a result which bolsters Stanford University Professor Clausius Carnot’s contention that nuclear and renewable energy sources can provide much larger percentages of US electricity usage when electricity consumption declines. Professor Carnot has generated much controversy – and elicited more than a little scorn from the Wall Street Journal editorial board – for his radical theory that climate change is being driven by “an excess of economic metabolism”.

The good news extends to health as well. “People are happier when they have useful work to do”, noted Dr. Howard Frumkin of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. “Moreover, with the steep reductions in automobile usage and petroleum consumption, more and more people are employing their legs and arms to do physical work. When it becomes normal for people to walk or bike to the grocery store and other nearby destinations, this definitely hurts the auto industry, the oil industry, the roadbuilders, and so on. Hell, it even hurts the health-care industry, because obesity is the primary engine of growth for the medical sector of our economy. So we have this weird situation where the economy is shrinking but people are better off. We’re in uncharted waters.”

But none of America’s most prominent economic thinkers is willing to concede that a mere year’s worth of evidence might disprove long-established economic theory. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times notes, “Everyone knows that the only way to grow the economy is to increase labor productivity – to grow output of goods and services per hour of human labor. And everyone knows that the only way to maintain healthy levels of employment is to increase consumption sufficiently to offset the decreases in employment per unit of output. This is Econ 101, for God’s sake.”

“So even if we presume Earth is flat, how could less employment for fossil fuels and less employment for machines translate into more employment for human beings? This sounds like the ravings of the Luddites; like Marx and his ridiculous ‘crisis of surplus labor’. Well, we are a lot smarter now; smart enough to know that such ideas are pure bunk.”

Posted by HanZiBoi at 11:10 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Non-Violent Transportation

Want more Peace on Earth? And more living Earth available for Peace?

Choose Non-Violent Transportation.

Small. Because the Footprints of human feet and bicycle tires are miniscule relative to the Footprints of cars.

Slow. Make wherever you are...the place where you want to be.

Gentle. Living things which might cross your path have a right not merely to not be harmed by you, but to not be afraid of you.

Posted by HanZiBoi at 8:49 PM 2 comments

Older Posts Home

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▼ 2010 (9)

▼ September (1)

Greed and Growth

► August (3)

Transportation Kinetics

The Solution to Jobless Growth

The Problem of Jobless Growth

► July (1)

The Spill and You

► March (2)

Productivity Plunges

Non-Violent Transportation

► February (2)

I Am Scared

Communities That Walk

► 2009 (13)

► November (2)

Not in Kansas Anymore

Willful Ignorance

► October (1)

Manufactured Uselessness

► September (1)

Economic Liberty and Moral Chains

► August (1)

Urban? For What Species?

► May (1)

What's at Stake

► April (2)

Fatal Pace

Sinking In

► March (1)

This is Freedom?

► February (2)

The Secret

End of Consumption

► January (2)

Independence vs Splendid Isolation

Missing the Bottom Line

► 2008 (13)

► December (1)

Rail Efficiencies

► October (1)

On the Spot

► September (1)

New World Order

► July (2)

Technology & Self-Restraint

No Race for Small Footprints

► June (2)

Elephant in the Drop-Off Zone

Election Spin 2008

► May (2)

Habitat Follows Behavior

The Surge

► April (2)

Mow Is Less

Green Car Checklist

► March (2)

Global Warming "Religion"?

Kunstler's Nightmare

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