Monday, February 25, 2013

Energy Slaves Per Capita

The concept of an energy slave originated with Buckminster Fuller in 1944. Using data from the United States, German, and Swiss armies, he calculated that the amount of work a person can produce in a year was equivalent to 37.5 million foot-pounds per year. Now a foot-pound corresponds to 1.355818 joules, therefore the energy output of an energy slave was 50.843 million joules a year.

So how many energy slaves do we employ every year. Fuller’s approach was to measure the total energy consumed—but he adjusted that figure by taking only 4 percent of it. He assumed that we lose 96 percent of the energy in getting it to work, thus a 4-percent energy efficiency.

The most recent Energy Outlook published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (link) provides data for the year 2008. In that year world consumption was 505 quadrillion BTUs. Since one BTU equals 1,054.35 joules, that consumption is 532,447 quadrillion joules. Let us take 4 percent of that, as Fuller did. We get 21,298 quadrillion joules. We divide that by 50.843 million joules and get a total count of “energy slaves”: 418.9 billion of them. We divide that by the world population (6,973,738,433), and, Presto! We learn that each living human being is served by 60 more or less invisible energy slaves.

Fuller’s calculations were applied to data for 1950. In that year (the population was then 2.25 billion), the result was 38 energy slaves per capita.

Something to think about. You will find other numbers on the Internet. They are sometimes quite hokey, based, for instance, on calorie intake by humans. Here we stick with the concept’s inventor. If you don’t like the “low” number, you can make the assumption that our overall energy efficiency is higher than 4 percent. But understating something is not always harmful. Our dependence on this modern form of slavery is quite overwhelming enough when we consider sixty servants at our personal beck and call.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Size of Sequester

Here and there the Media actually come close to discussing the size of the sequester looming on March 1, 2013. When they do, the total sequester ($85 billion) is expressed as a percent of the total federal budget ($3,600 billion)—2.36 percent (Columbus Dispatch,; the Baltimore Sun uses a federal budget figure of $3,803 billion, hence produces a lower percentage—2.24. In any case, we have a magnitude.

But things get complicated in a hurry. Social Security and Medicaid are exempted from the cuts; cuts in Medicare are limited. These three programs amount to about 57 percent of the total federal budget—which explains why the militant right wing demands cuts in “entitlements,” which these programs are said to represent.

Sticking with a $3.6 trillion budget, this means that the sequester must be taken out of $1.585 trillion†. When that is done, the percentage of the affected budget is 5.4 percent rather than 2.4. That’s still a small number.

Now Congress, while pretending to do a uniform across-the-board budget cut, almost immediately compromises things, thus muddying the waters. It exempts some programs fully, some partially. But let’s suppose that a genuine cut is needed. In that case, by all means let us cut the budget across-the-board. That would affect Brigitte and me, hence I’m advocating something that would hurt us; we are on Social Security and benefit from Medicare. But if all are guilty, all should pay at the same rate. The cuts should fall on all expenditures by the Federal Government, equally, and at the same rate. No one needs to be laid off—only to lose income at the 2.4 percent rate. Contractors? They should be paid 2.4 percent less. Electric power suppliers? Their bills should be “discounted” 2.4 percent. And so on down the line. Everyone benefiting from federal funds—a 2.4 percent cut.

Are you a beneficiary? Calculate the hit on yourself. And you could—if Congress were straight-forward about it. But, of course, the aim here, ultimately, was to cut “entitlements.” The militant right just didn’t have the power to get its way.

If the militant right did have its way, conditions quite similar to the early, read Dickensian, industrial revolution would return. An unfortunately large segment of the population would not save for its retirement or health care unless compelled to do so by wage deductions. Significant percentages of the public would indeed be unable to do so. The reason why these programs came into being in the first place was because the conditions of which Dickens wrote were not desirable for the nation as a whole.

P.S. It just occurred to me that, of course, a 2.4 percent tax hike would have the same laudable effect as a sequester. But never mind…
†3,600 * .57 = 2,052.  3,600 - 2,052 = 1,585.  85 / 1,585 = .0536.  .0536 * 100 = 5.36.  Rounded, 5.4 percent.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Solar Flare

My thanks to John Magee for sending along a link to a video produced by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. It is of a solar flare that took place on July 19, 2012. As John’s note said, “Let the record show that I’m fully satisfied with the chunk of my taxes that NASA spent on solar probes.” Amen to that. The sun, as is probably known to visitors to this blog, is occasionally featured here. Best not to forget the Big One in the sky on which life down here absolutely depends.

Tribalism Redux

Although this subject fits better my other blog, Ghulf Genes, where culture is the central subject, I’ve chosen today to post something there on Asian carp (link), a subject that more properly belongs here. So turn-around is fair play.

My subject, narrowly, is the Sequester, but behind it is something else. Behind the Sequester lies something more basic, something primitive: tribalism of a sort that, in human affairs, is only ever under control when one of two situations prevail. The first of these is wealth so abundant that conflicts of a tribal sort are unlikely to take hold; everybody has enough and then to spare, and in the resulting exuberance, the deeply biological is muted. Therefore this circumstance is extremely rare in human history. The other, and more common, is that a powerful overlord, by sheer overwhelming force, prevents tribal clashes or holds them in close check.

The modern world, up to fairly recent times, wallowing in the wealth bestowed by fossil fuels, represents the first. Such a vast eruption of wealth has never been before—but, presumably, collective control of rivers, to stimulate agriculture, say in China and along the Nile, may represent earlier cases where suddenly if only temporarily resources outstripped population growth.

Powerful empires represent the second, most notably, in recent memory, the Ottoman. One historian, Arnold Toynbee, once speculated that the Ottomans, Turkic peoples whose habits were formed by herding, translated this habit into conquest of people on whose tribute they lived—and to keep that tribute flowing, they adamantly suppressed the usual upwelling of tribal conflict.

Widespread wealth only mitigates tribalism when it is well-distributed—as rendered in the aphorism that a rising tide lifts all ships. Some of us numbers-crunchers, however, noted as far back as the 1990s already, a change in that pattern as the distribution of the wealth changed—so that the three lower quintiles of the U.S. population began losing their share, and the two top one’s began to gain wealth—the topmost soaring to the skies like a sudden Himalaya. In part this transformation has been due to what is known as productivity, thus the replacement of people by machines.

In recent times the mounting inequalities have become much more sharply visible as dropping real household income and unemployment for the lower quintiles, producing economic woes in part due to the erosion of the customer base on which commerce rests. And then—and this was really more accident than design—a black man, of the left, thus at least nominally representing the poor and the urban masses—not least the laboring masses who have been sliding down an tilting economic plane—came to be elected president. President Obama, of course, arguably, is only nominally black. He himself belongs to the upper elite. Nonetheless, in the great cloud that a culture actually represents, he has become symbolic for the “Other” among those elements of the population who are still enjoying wealth but threatened by the overall decline.

Hence now we have a major rebirth of tribalism under various names, Tea party the best known. And the country is now showing serious and terminal rifts. No matter how big a majority President Obama won in the last election—supported by the urban masses—those who voted for him, whatever their income, are seen by a large other grouping, as being the Other and therefore lacking legitimacy—and never mind the numbers. Therefore gridlock, stasis, and the Sequester. Will the returning tribalism manage to sink roots? If that should happen, we must be prepared for major change, very major. I used to hope that by the time that happens I’ll have joined to Dearly Departed. Now I’m beginning to fear that I’ll actually be here to see something of that happening in earnest.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Our House Needs a Root Canal

Manner of speaking. There is a giant tree on the outer strip of our lawn, that side of the sidewalk. We appreciate its shade. It has been there since we bought this house (1989) and probably since the house was first built (1929). The local sewer pipe, meaning from our house to the city’s sewer line, which runs under the street, is made of clay. Over time these pipes develop cracks or their joints open ever so slightly—what with being lifted by roots outside them. Then tree roots can invade the pipe and produce, in the worst cases, the sort of thing I’m showing here from a photograph. The image comes from an Australian source (link)—but trees are the same all over. In this illustration, there may very well be a much, much narrower channel in the center of that hairy surrounding—but not enough to let the wastes flow out as they ought. So we’re now facing a pretty expensive operation to free our canal of its roots. This sort of thing is educational, enlightening—but hard on the pocketbook. Maintenance, maintenance! Our economy needs jobs? I bet there is plenty of maintenance to be done. Tomorrow we join the ranks of the job creators.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

StatAb Lovers: A Must Read

Multiple posts on the Statistical Abstract have appeared on this blog—and are referenced from oldest to most recent below. Yesterday I saw one on Patio Boat that rightly belongs into this series and is a must read for those who follow this saga. Here is the link.

Those here are, in order: one, two, three, and four.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Employment Update: January 2013

The release of employment data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (link) on February 1 produced  an unremarkable gain in jobs of 157,000. But the Big News was that the BLS introduced basic benchmark changes that have affected the entire series I’ve been showing, from 2008 forward. The biggest changes came in 2011 and 2012. All told, 679,000 more jobs were created in the 2008-2012 period, of which changes in 2011 (up 197,000 jobs) and 2012 (up 315,000 jobs) account for most. The patterns shown here earlier, however, have not changed much. All data in the graphics I show have been updated. The biggest change is that 2012 outperformed 2011—rather than producing fewer jobs, as shown in a graphic that follows. First the monthly data presentation:

The chart has been revised slightly so that the whole of 2013 is shown. We’re now into the fourth year of the recovery. As is evident from looking at these revised data, the pattern is the same.

I am also introducing a new graphic which will show actual results for 2007 through 2012 and an annualized projection of likely results for 2013. The formula used here is to average out the sum of actual monthly values and then multiplying that average by 12. This month, with only January results available, the 157,000 gain is divided by 1, yielding 157,000. Times 12 makes for the annualized projection of 1.88 million jobs in 2013—below, at this point, the 2012 results. Herewith that graphic:

With the revised data now in hand, as of January 2013 we have regained 5.452 million of the 8.578 million  jobs lost in the Great Recession, 63.6 percent of the total. We’re two-thirds of the way to erasing that recession. Then real employment growth will follow.