Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day

By coincidence I began this second edition of LaMarotte on St. Patrick’s Day last year. The coincidence serves to remind me today that this is an anniversary. Since then I’ve made 209 posts. The favorites include posts on what might be called the subject of infrastructure. Top ranked was an entry on hydro and nuclear energy the world over, fourth ranked a post on electric power in the United States. Most read posts are shown in the left column. More tellingly, perhaps the three other posts that make up the top five are about math or measurement, thus perennial subjects rather than the flow, as it were, of generally very mixed news about the U.S. economy.

My basic interest is in economic fundamentals, something best measured in jobs. Employment trends, therefore, are a central focus here. My other focus tends to be on energy—arising from the conviction that humanity is passing through a unique and time-bounded period, the Fossil Age. The conventional economic focus is on money and on growth. But real wealth is rooted in nature and in labor. The fundamental growth-figure, therefore, is that of the population; economic growth should reflect population growth, but not much more than that. The vast growth in economic well-being since the nineteenth century has been due to the discovery of coal, oil, and gas—their sum a diminishing resource. Their exploitation through technology and automation is increasingly depriving the people of jobs. Our time horizons are short. We don’t collectively internalize what this sort of process means in the long run—assuming, as we must, that the Fossil Age will end, probably before this century is over.

Contemplating this picture—and the collective disregard of the vectors that are becoming visible—is at best sobering. I wish more people would do it. By way of diversion I turn my attention here to such fun topics as math or science or technology. Technology is particularly interesting. The modern attitude is firmly anchored in the belief that technology will save us—but ignoring the obvious fact that without free energy, which is what the fossil fuels really represent, our technological civilization is actually doomed. And the great faith in the solar solution? Well, my view is that humanity lived on solar energy exclusively from the very dawn of time to the discovery of the steam engine, which suddenly made coal “interesting.”

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