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From the edited extract you linked to in “The End of Economic Growth”, which is taken from Robert Gordon’s book, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US Standard of Living since the Civil War”:
In the century after the end of the Civil War, life in the United States changed beyond recognition. There was a revolution—an economic, rather than a political one—which freed people from an unremitting daily grind of manual labour and household drudgery and a life of darkness, isolation and early death. By the 1970s, many manual, outdoor jobs had been replaced by work in air-conditioned environments, housework was increasingly performed by machines, darkness was replaced by electric light, and isolation was replaced not only by travel, but also by colour television, which brought the world into the living room. Most importantly, a newborn infant could expect to live not to the age of 45, but to 72. This economic revolution was unique—and unrepeatable, because so many of its achievements could happen only once.
I’m not sure that is Robert Gordon’s summary of life prior to the Civil War, but this myth that every life was an unending grind because you couldn’t work in a cubicle and work often involved using your body, or household tasks were like Dante’s 9th circle because you had to can your own food instead of using an electric jar opener or that life was isolated because there was no tv or, horrors, social media, is pretty silly (Bowling Alone, anyone?). And, news flash, as George Carlin once said, “scattered darkness through the night”–it’s supposed to be dark at night. Longevity averages were also greatly skewed by high infant mortality, something that rapidly declined mostly with basic hygiene, not whiz bang technology.
It’s always discouraging and disappointing when a promising premise starts out built on false propositions. Also, in the extract, there was not a single mention of the role of energy–even electricity was presented as an “innovation”, and one of the five ways households became “networked”–the other four being gas, water, sewer, and telephone.
It would seem that Gordon believes “progress” simply sprung from the minds of humankind, and that innovations themselves were the drivers that built our present economy.
Unfortunately, this is simply not true. I await the book that attempts to examine the interrelationships between human innovation, economies, and the age of fossil fuel, and how they melded to create the dangerous myths of endless growth and eternal progress. It is this huge, what I call “cultural ego” that continues to restrict our ability to deal with the enormous dilemmas bearing down on the planet and everything and everyone on it, and continues to shrink what Nicole calls the “solution space.”
Note that NYT resident nonsense economist, Paul Krugman, reviewed the book recently. His review is less annoying than I supposed it might be. It was also reviewed by Lawrence Summers. I have not read that one.August 18, 2015 at 4:41 pm in reply to: The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space – Part 4 #23286
The techno-fantasists annoy me more than those who remain completely ignorant.
After 4 parts, it appears the “solution space” is going to be quite small.
I wonder how quickly we will lose access to high tech medical procedures. I have very bad eyesight and I am at high risk for retinal tears. Scary but generally fixable at the moment. Also wonder about basic things like cataract surgery. 5 more years? 15? I can’t even stock up on contact lenses because they expire after a year or two. I plan to buy 5 or 6 pairs of glasses and hope for the best.
I’ve done many of the things you suggest in your video that will be made into a documentary, including no debt (except child support), no house/mortgage, no car. I have also been building relationships in the community with a local non-profit farm and other community-based food and local production projects. But I do wonder how much advantage these actions really give you when everything goes south. They can’t repossess every house or car, can they? The only advantage I see may be a slight psychological edge–I won’t consider some of these losses so much as deprivations since they will already be my normal state. But if there is no food, or no job, what good is commuting by bicycle going to do for me? Of course my greatest concern is I worry about the life my 6 year old boy will have, especially because I am an older dad.August 16, 2015 at 2:25 am in reply to: The Boundaries and Future of Solution Space – Part 1 #23200
Huge energy throughput….has led to tremendous complexity [and] …far greater potential to concentrate enormous power in the hands of the few with destructive political consequences…
Ivan Illich talked about this back in the early 1970s in his little book (actually a compilation of several lectures) Energy and Equity. Even fewer people realize this important aspect of large quanta of energy through a system than realize we are at the limit of our limits.
In other words, the continued concentration of wealth/power in the hands of fewer and fewer (the infamous 1 percent, and now talk of the 1 percent of the 1 percent) is a guaranteed result of gorging on fossil fuels. We can try to put governors on this phenomena–for instance, the New Deal–but eventually even those mild attempts at restraint are overwhelmed.
It should be clear from this that there is no secret cabal of TPTB, meeting on a yacht somewhere once a year and staying in touch with weekly teleconference calls to plan their world domination. Sure, super wealthy people fight together to make rules that allow them to get richer, but, as Nicole puts it, when the music stops, they will be cutting each others’ throats to get their ass in the empty chair.
It should also be clear from this that the natural outcome of vast amounts of energy poured into a civilization will have all the same complex problems and dilemmas whether the particular segment of the civilization is socialist, communist, democratic, republican or whatever.
This is not an insignificant point, because the failure to understand that will create scapegoating and many other problems that will further absorb energy, both physical and psychic, that would obviously be better applied elsewhere. It’s not that bad behavior should not garner an appropriate response, but over-attention to this aspect of who is to blame will not be fruitful.
Industrial civilization is a complex organism in its own right, and a few must play the role of those in power regardless. Once those massive amounts of energy go away, much of the power reliant on that will also disappear. It is important to envision what types of hopefully relatively benevolent power structures might work in this kind of future. If we even have a choice. A number of writers in this arena of collapse have suggested dictators, tyrants, and various criminal gangs will fill this void. Certainly if we don’t make any positive effort in this direction that is a highly conceivable outcome.