BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2022-06-26 Su: Briefly: very very roughly, approximately, and inadequately, on average what twenty workers were needed to do in 1870 with their eyes, fingers, thighs, brains, mouths, and ears, 1 worker was able to do in 2010. It is also true that what one worker could do in 1870 required 20 in -6000. But that 20-fold amplification was an 8000-year creep rather than a 140-year sprint: a proportional growth rate of 0.04%/year rather than 2.1%/year. And from -6000 to 1870 the overwhelming bulk of the potential benefits for humans from that twentyfold upward creep of technological knowledge had been eaten up by growing resource scarcity: the land and other natural resources available to support 1 person in -6000 had to support 400 by 1870. By contrast, the twentyfold post-1870 technological-progress wave had to deal not with a 200- but only a 6-fold multiplication of human numbers, leaving lots to be devoted to bringing about much higher average productivity. Thus over the long 20th century humanity really should have used our collective technological prowess to build a Utopia or Utopias–have created, as my friend Max Singer used to say, a truly human world. Spoiler: it did not do so. But why not? And is there anything we can do to do better in the 21st century? And, if so, what?
Douthat is very occasionally perceptive to the degree that if he had a Substack, I might take the free tier. He’s not NYT op-ed material any more than I am, or rather, perhaps he is, but in the Brooks-Friedman genre of “wouldn’t it be nice” free-floating speculation untethered to reality.
I continue to be stunned by the bull-headed stupidity of Brexit. I’m not sure the right state for comparison in the US - perhaps Florida, a large state but not the largest, not obviously critical in logistical or resource terms, a large market, true, but not even potentially self-sufficient. How long would it take before it became like other peripheral Caribbean or central American nations?
If I had to pick one thing on “what to do better”, it would be devoting great resources to finding ways to make governance of publicly-owned enterprises effective. It can be done; we even have some in the US that are effective. But without a higher level of public ownership I think it’s very difficult to see how to redirect the flow of surplus value towards the general population. Perhaps stock market-mediated ownership is the best we can do, but if so, where’s the US SWF? CALPERS, maybe, but that’s for the favored few. And then there’s the problem of over-disbursement and self-dealing…