The Golden Age

Since long before I started blogging, I’ve been planning a big article on the prospects for Utopia, starting off from Keynes’ essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren. While I procrastinated, lots of others had the same idea, most recently Robert and Edward Skidelsky. But, with encouragement from Ed Lake at Aeon Magazine, I went ahead anyway and the article has just appeared.

This is also a good time to announce that our long-promised book event on Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is going ahead, with a target publication date of March 2013.

33 thoughts on “The Golden Age

  1. I want to ignore some of what you are saying here because I don’t agree with the watts-per-square-metre, back-radiation model when it comes to climate science. However it is NOT true that a reliance on thorium, Tesla towers, and dyson-harrop satellite enhancement of Tesla towers …. it is not true that these would not EVENTUALLY lead to reductions in CO2 output.

    Since ore grade materials are increasingly difficult to find, with abundant energy, eventually carbon fibres would be a normal building block of all sorts of structures, from large parts of industrial machinery to high-rise buildings. Our success in any undertaking must ultimately be pinned on abundant energy. And abundant energy in nature is there for the taking. Abundant energy will naturally lead to human race to eventually take CO2 OUT of the biosphere rather than the other way around. Given the extreme flexibility of carbon-based materials.

    I did a paper in energy economics, and the key finding of the whole thing was that substitution away from primary energy sources was quite stable and notoriously slow. It was completely different from consumer products and energy economics is completely different to the rest of economic science. The answer to this dilemma was therefore to do as Caesar advised …. and “Make Haste Slowly.”

    We’ve got to get away from this big corporate version of government projects where we line up billions of dollars of debt with international financial criminals in the room, and we try and rush things. Why not start canal-building in South Australia, and Thorium on the East Coast on 5000 dollar a day budgets? Start it now. No enquiry. No legislation. No mucking about.

    Let me give you an example from the past. Before Telecom was privatised there was this expert with a funny accent on the ABC. His name was Paul Budde (as in Buddha). Anyway he said that the way to privatise was by way of analogy to a trucking company. Of course if you are a communist country, and you want to offload some of your responsibilities, then you may wish to offload your trucking companies.

    Now do you sell the trucking companies and the roads together? To the same outfits? “No” said Paul Budde. You deal with the two different categories of properties separately. And until you know exactly what you are doing you keep the roads in government hands, and you sell off the trucks and on the trucking side, and you let big business grow out of small business success.

    So Paul had the right answer all that time ago. And so had we proceeded with Pauls way, we would have had a much sounder industry. We wouldn’t have Mexicans running away with 70 million dollar severance packages for doing next to nothing. And best of all we could have started, on the strength of Paul’s argument, a 5000 dollar-a-day optical fibre program. We could have started it more than 20 years ago. Now of course projects of this sort don’t have to stay at 5000 dollars a day in their budget. But cost-effectiveness takes time and you can increase the budget 1% per day when you know (not THINK, but know) that you will be getting value for money.

    We could have a dozens of these little projects on the fly, decades before we could plausibly start anything under our current system, and everyone would know when it was time to increase their budget. “Make Haste Slowly.”

    Make has slowly, now if you imagine that there is a near and present danger of a tipping point with CO2, then you have a quandary. Because there is literally no way around it from our starting point. Cost-effective substitution is simply too slow. Even the best of ideas can be rendered cost-ineffective by the Steve Conroy approach.

    I take issue with your word “unfortunate” with regards to my attitude towards Thorium. That is high-browed anti-scientific silliness on your part. Its true that it would take twenty years for us to get cost-effective thorium-based electricity, and another 30 years for such an endeavour to make headway on CO2 output, if you think that this is important. I don’t, everyone else here does. But nonetheless its true that seeking a Thorium (and Tesla Tower, and Dyson-Harrop satellite) future is not going to make headway on CO2 output in under 50 years. 50 years minimum. So if you don’t like that you have a problem. And the answer to the problem you have is to bring back Malthusian values. And Malthusian values can only lead to fascism. As if we don’t have enough of the fascism around the place already.

    Now I take issue with another thing. I don’t like deficit spending. Nonetheless you are blaming Keynesianism for a problem that really must rest on the feet of fractional reserve parasitism. Under the fractional reserve, central banking model, all money is created as debt. So there is always more money then debt. Attempts to pay off debt generally therefore lead to monetary contraction. Therefore the debts are permanent, and not a matter of individual choice. The debts are therefore a sneaky form of slavery. And so its this private banking, central bank, fractional model that is the real problem that you ought to be addressing. Anyone wanting a new source of funding for infrastructure ought not back down from this most timely of issues.

    If you want to reduce CO2 output quickly the way to do this, and I approve, is to increase royalties on coal. Get rid of the company tax on coal miners, but put royalties through the roof, and then refund that part of the royalties for local coal consumers, so that at least we can have cheap energy here. The only way to realistically reduce CO2 output is for Australia to start pricing its coal out of the export market. If its an emergency you’ll do it, and reverse the policy only as appeasement against intimidation coming out of North Asia.

    Is it an emergency or not? If its an emergency lets start reducing exports slowly in this way. Or quickly in this way. I’m happy about that, and I would support that sort of strategy, though I’m a denialist bigtime.

  2. @Graeme Bird

    Good post, providing the average punter much to think about. Much infrastructure, like roads, ought to stay in government hands. That said, government still has a long way to go to start managing infrastructure responsibly, whether within government hands or in the hands of others.

  3. Humans individually and collectively suffer the “hand in the cookie jar” syndrome. There is so much we could achieve but we frequently fall well short due to greed.

    The child in us has that big cookie in our grasp. And we can get it and our hand out of the jar. We could release, tip the jar over, and have it all. Or break the cookie and withdraw our hand with some now, and the rest for latter. Instead we choose to remain fixed with within our grasp but foolishly kept out of reach of our mouths.

  4. Graeme Bird

    How does anything you posted there ensure that the amount of plastics, concrete, jet-travel, hydrocarbon products will not increase – even with thorium.

    What data are you using to claim that there is more money than debt. Debt is around 100 trillion.

    Fractional Reserve banking is not related to the Keynesian need for growth and stimulus. Even without any central bank, Keynesians would still demand stimulus.

  5. Every debt is an asset to someone. When total debt is subtracted from total assets the result is unfailingly positive. Net total assets exist!

    But so does aggregated and aggravating twaddle.

  6. “Every debt is an asset to someone. When total debt is subtracted from total assets the result is unfailingly positive. Net total assets exist!”

    Brilliant! You must be the discoverer of double-entry accounting.

    “How does anything you posted there ensure that the amount of plastics, concrete, jet-travel, hydrocarbon products will not increase – even with thorium.”

    Nothing I said does this. As I said, expansion of energy under thorium, would not lead to reduced CO2 output, this side of 50 years. Quite the contrary. The construction projects needed to get Thorium reactors, Dyson-Harrop satellites, and Tesla Towers into place would INCREASE CO2 output, all that time during the intervening 50 years minimum. There are some solar projects that could make a contribution particularly in Australia, where you have cheap desert land outside of small towns. But the construction of these projects would also INCREASE CO2 output, in the intervening 50 years, minimum.

    There is something about plastics that I don’t like, but you have to admit that plastic is quite the utilitarian substance? What exactly is your problem with it? Leaving my anti-plastic bigotry aside my main problem with plastic is that its getting into the ocean. Its getting broken down into tiny pieces, and it appears to be working its way through the food chain, in a situation where almost all fishing geographies are highly stressed, perhaps with the Antarctic alone excepted.

    You must understand how frustrated I am with the CO2 business, because I don’t believe in it, and I think its stealing all the oxygen from this immense drama to do with fish-stocks, inadequate vertical development, the coming food stress, loss of biodiversity, and this sort of thing.

    I don’t believe in the CO2 story but if you DO BELIEVE …… you ought console yourself with the information that the 20th century has had stronger solar action then at any time in at least 1000 years, and more likely any time for 8000 years. So that we are due for cooling, and so that if you are right about CO2, we would presumably have a second stay of execution, and enough time to put the Thorium, the canals, and the other energy-efficient investments into place, and maybe only deal with a tropical world for a few centuries, even in your own scientific estimate. Why ought we not grasp this second stay of execution (your science not mine) with both hands?

    We’ve got to get away from this instant gratification meme. We ought to be moving forward on the basis of us working for posterity. There are but a few things we need to get the government to do now, that are for you or for me. We ought to be looking at things that are not for you or for me. If you believe that low-CO2 output is a worthy goal, then look to the long term. Let our generation put up with too much heating, and too much sea rise, and concentrate on generations yet unborn.

    But if its an emergency lets reduce our coal exports. Is it an emergency or not? I’m predicting hard times for the next few decades so I want a lot easily accessible coal on-hand. If you want to reduce coal exports you will have a friend in me. Is it an emergency or not? And what are you prepared to do?

  7. Graeme Bird

    Plastics is just an example of the many carbon products we get from petrochemicals. As you do not beleive in the CO2 analysis you have not thought much about the problems society has to confront when seeking a decrease in CO2 emissions.

    The focus is not on plastics but on the petrochemical input into plastics (ie don’t get confused with other plastcs).

    What data did you use to claim there is more money than debt?

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