2001.Radical numbers

Provocation # 148. Radical numbers.

The following is sketchy.

I like Musk’s use of numbers.



“Two  billion wall batteries  would be needed  to meet all the world’s energy needs.  Difficult? Most people think impossible. We have 2 billion cars, replaced every twenty years. We can do this. “

If we took the social side in the same straight-forward way, what draconian but adequate measures would be necessary. A few off the top ideas floating around:


•Stop all air transportation  October 31. Use internet
•Cut population radically
•War can do it.
•One child families gets each child 4 parents.
•Food. Seed production increased and distributed. Everyone plants.
•Freeze on mortgage payments, cut rent. (Down come the banks).

•Unemployment is first step toward redeployment,

You get the idea. Necessary but impossible? But something will happen.


Two major narratives to start:

◦Collapse; climate,  food, grid, finance

◦Cohere, struggle but widespread survival with dignity..

Smart money right now seems to be  on cohere (though private conversations suggest widespread skepticism), because if you win, great, and if you lose no worse than if you had bet on collapse. But since this takes many smart people who, in choosing the likelihood of society cohering,  out of the effort to work on draconian measures, which consequently hurries us toward failure.


What to do?

Post # 2000. Intro to the book

The 2000 post seems like a landmark, though I remember the disappointment that moving the year from 1999 to 2000 was not so exciting.  To mark this occasion now  here is the introduction  to a book I am drafting, the intro is of course still a draft,

The working title is

GardenWorld and Civilization:
Its Politics economics and philosophy-
The drama of humanity

Click on link for pdf

intro aug 5

Here are the opening paragraphs..

Any politics which does not aim toward the humanization of its people and the gardening of the world is not an adequate politics.  – DC.


Since we all want to live in a vital combination of nature and civilization, why do’t we use our wealth to go there? Without a goal to enhance the globe and its nature we have embraced the blind path of killing it off. The goal was to develop technology so as to free people from work and to live in a beautiful world – but not to free them from income. The world we have, where technology, governance and infrastructure support the wealthy and their professional supporters, but not the majority of people, needs to be seen as a grand failure. There is a goal for the world, a mix of nature and civilization, what I am calling GardenWorld, that has a deep appeal to many and could possibly be a goal to which we can work. GardenWorld would replace the drive for growth and consumption that has benefitted the few and not led to a society we love nor can trust, that limits basic security and creates meaningless work and worse unemployment..
We can think our way to a better society rather than just being carried along like a semi out of control. Our society is not ready for autonomous driving (though the tech world is moving us there). We need a shared sense of what is happening and we need a goal to know what we are doing. “Without a vision the people are lost.” We are not
using our intelligence to furthering the well being of the species but to enhance favored individual lives. Early societies had elites that took the well being of the population through the complex process of food as crucial, and managed fairly well.
A return to thinking about how the human species and the natural environment can be interrelated is essential, to our survival. We are organized to favor increasing complexity linking money, innovation and markets rather than favoring flexibility to deal with breakdowns and misjudgments. Flexibility may even help us to a more delightful life. While we need innovation, we also need, as a balance, restraint and reflection on secondary consequences of innovative proposals. Proposals need to be consistent with society, with the human life cycle, as well as technical requirements. Learning to appreciate each other and others cultures needs to be the core of a new culture for humanity.
One lesson I hope we all understand: it is very important to be better educated: philosophy , history , anthropology. We tend to believe that we already know the outlines of what is important. This is not true. In fact we have built institutions that reinforce narrow thinking by creating narrow departments and a current practice that supports careers management, not insight .

post # 1998 How can we…?

We need to deal with large population, low quality of life, (because most people are too anxious and insecure, and threats loom large or have already arrived), no future path for making only things that fit climate change  (requires making things with less extraction and less energy use, over all and getting there fast)  and distribute  income.

we need to discuss

  • what needs to be produced
  • how it is produced – the organization off work (Roberto Unger’s stress on the benefits of an advanced mode of production that is too narrowly held moves in a very interesting direction)
  • how income or its equivalent  can be distributed
  • What to do about narrowly held assets, such as land,  that prevent .. just about everything for most people.
  • The militarization of social conflicts.



post # 1997 Economics gives no guidance

Provocation 147 Economics gives no guidance.
Surprisingly economics, the thinking about the use of resources to meet needs, fails to tell us anything about what resources to which needs. Under climate change pressures we should be shifting our consumption and our production to things that are helpful under new conditions. But economics has no guidance on what we should have been spending for what nor guidance on what to produce now that is truly useful (and attractive).

Why do we use a word like utility for meeting needs and desires? It is so ugly, resonating with basic usefulness such as electricity and water (utilities), but not with delight and taste. “What is the utility of the flowers on the breakfast table?” What conspiracy holds us in thrall to this terrible vocabulary?

Bentham, “Utility is the sum of all pleasures.” Marmalade on my toast? Utility? In whose language?

What economics would be helpful in a time of collapse and what economics would be helpful in a time of rebuilding?

post # 1996. Report, comprehensive

After the weekend heat and the NYT article on climate, we are about to be swamped by a tsunami of good and bad writing about climate  and society. Here is one that seems pretty good.

After four years of drafting, debating, rethinking, and revising, the IPSP report is finally published! This work represents an incredible effort from our 200+ authors all around the world.
Entitled “Rethinking Society for the 21st Century,” the report is available from Cambridge University Press in multiple forms: as a 3-volume set, as separate volumes, and as a Kindle e-book. Please visit the CUP website for information about how to get the book.
You can read the executive summary of the report here!


1995. Failure of policy recommendations – no common sense

From Bill Easterly

“The UN is not alone in producing action plans that nobody notices. The World Bank promotes itself as the “Knowledge Bank” for action recommendations. Yet a recent World Bank study found that 31 percent of the World Bank’s “knowledge products” full of such recommendations have never been downloaded, and 87 percent were never cited.”

Why are the policy recommendations of the Policy Institutions not more used? Because they are not useful?

Society needs ideas but the ideas that come from the Institutions are mostly riffs on current policies, or criticisms of current policies. But very little with recommendations for what to do differently.  The ideas remain within the current paradigm supporting those doing well in the current paradigm, climate and marginalized population treated as ignorable externals Some forward looking ideas fail common sense. For example, dealing with a housing crisis by proposing more housing that uses more energy to build and to run, and end up creating middle class priced housing as middle class jobs are disappearing. Or job creation that provides cheaper skilled worker to existing oligopolies thereby keeping the machine of wealth concentration running full time and full tilt. The point is that proposals that pass the common sense test for future directions are very hard to come up with. Much of society knows this, but the Institutions grind out proposals that are not adequate to the now widely shared view of what’s wrong. So the proposals are useless and unused. Society runs without leadership adequate to the situation.

A local wine and cheese shop that does tastings was visited by public health. “You can’t dry wine classes with a towel, you need a $4000 machine that will dry them to 197 degrees.” A friend wants to redo the windows in his house. Finds there are really only two suppliers. Why cant he find a local shop? Because windows have to pass tests for energy compliance that require expensive testing equipment. Guess which companies can afford the Equipment? All local window manufactures are long closed.

Yesterday I drove through Redding and the Carr fire area. Suburbs surrounded by dry brush. The houses are built on prime farmland and the hills, where the houses should be, grow brush.

1994. Trump and cold war.

David Graeber on twitter

“I’m not sure which i find more entertaining, Trump’s still somewhat random efforts to dismantle the American empire, or Cold War liberals special shock & outrage about pretty much the only good thing he’s doing.”

I agree. an opening of friendship to Russia and China is good statesmanship. When Trump came to the presidency Russia was a minor player on the world stage. Trump, probably with echoes form the fifties and sixties in New York, assumed Russia was a big deal. This was a big mistake because a world divided between China and the US areas of influence is much easier to manage than a three part (or 4 given Europe., but less important geopolitically as time goes on.)

But having raised Russia in the world’s eyes, and its own, getting out of the cold-war mentality is still a very good idea, now ruined.

Trump seems to want to play king of the mountain and like the idea of just one mountain, ours, Too bad because he too cannot be trusted with his own impulse to treat the rival street gang as a somewhat friend.

1993.Not facing issues leads to megacide.

The goal of recreating the Garden of Eden (as nice a life for humans as we could achieve) has long been replaced by turning it over to bankers and developers. The result is a megacide. This is an economy issue. We are not managing the estate well, we are exploiting the land and the people. Economics should be about how to manage the planet, for the good of people. (The nomos part of economy comes from early Greek meaning equal distribution.)

But without a clear sense of goal and necessary steps to get there we are playing the game with blank cards. We don’t seem to be able to make tough arguments and think them through to their implications.The people and the policy makers need us to be doing this thinking and sharing it widely.

The use of oil for transportation for example must be drastically cut IF we are to limit global warming. Do more than a handful of people really disagree? (Global warming is only one part of the megacide. The biomass of all fish falling by half or sea birds by 2/3 is not primarily climate. driven. )

Have any economists modeled out what would happen if gasoline use were to be cut enough by Jan 1 to reach the goal of no more warming by 2020?

(You probably already know that if we were to cut fossil fuel use by 100% global warming would continue to increase because existing co2 will continue to trap heat.)
We would need to look at some rough numbers as to how big the cut would have to be. And, as a first conversation starter, we could model out what would happen if we (sic) cut gasoline use in half by Jan1? (I am not sure that would be enough to prevent the suicidal bullet we have launched at ourselves from reaching its target.) What would happen to existing cars and their use, how would people and institutions cope,
reconfiguring the tasks the cars are used for, and the existing loans that have supported the purchase of the cars? Many loans would default because people won’t pay for cars they can’t drive. That brings down banks. The beginning of chaos. Is this so chaotic that we can’t begin to model the consequences of such a necessary action?

Why don’t we see this kind of conversation? My guess is it is taking place, but I haven’t found it.If you know of such, please let me know.

1992. More on Trump

The US that trump attacks is the US that in fact has been in many ways the enemy of the people who voted for him, or support him now. The country was run for the benefit of the 1% and the professional class and is most associated with the Clinton’s, Obama and less well known, Geithner and Larry Summers.

If we are to recreate the country as a good place to live we must take on this issue, which requires recognizing the legitimacy of Trump support in the concrete details of what was happening to the majority prior to Trump’s announcing his candidacy.  As we know, peple were losing out, incomes down, social mobility less, and – let’s give people some credit – climate change  not being addressed, hence not serious.  Remember, a support in politics always is in the context of the alternatives. The Democratic party has not been presenting itself as – well, as anything. Not a good alternative.

I am reading The Crisis of the European Mind 1680-1715 by Pail Hazard, It contains the wonderful

“Spain alone had dimmed her radiance. We will not say that even now she did not fling over Europe some rays of a light that could not be extinguished; but it is a hard task for a nation to go on indefinitely keeping ahead of her rivals. It means she must never falter, never exhaust her strength, never cease to keep bright, and to diffuse around her far and wide the radiance of her pristine glory. But by this time Spain had ceased to live in the present. The last thirty years of the seventeenth century, and, for the matter of that, the first thirty of the eighteenth, were with her well-nigh completely barren. Never before, throughout her whole intellectual history, says Ortega y Gasset, had her heart beat so feebly. Wrapt up in herself, she presented an attitude of lofty indifference towards the rest of the world. Travellers continued to visit her, but they did not conceal the disdain with which she inspired them. They harped on her defects—a populace wallowing in superstition, a court sunk in ignorance. They enlarged on the decay of her commerce and spoke contemptuously of the sloth and vainglory of her people. As for her writers, he foreign critics repeatedly gave instances of their pretentious and affected style.. people were begining to say not only that Spain had lost her power and influence, but that she was a traiter to her wn genius  Her romantic spirit, her national pride, her nice sense of honour, her love of justice, her complete unselfishness—all those qualities which had been her particular pride and glory, Cervantes in his Don Quixote had held up to ridicule. And the Spaniards by applauding Don Quixote had belied their nature and disowned their birthright. Absurd as it was, this idea was not more absurd than a host of other reproaches with which nations competing for leadership have sought to give the coup de grâce to their already weakening rivals.”