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Exponential Economist Meets Finite Physicist

[slimstat f='count' w='ip' lf='resource contains economist'] views this month; [slimstat f='count' w='ip' lf='strtotime equals 2011-07-01|interval equals -1'] overall Some while back, I found myself sitting next to an accomplished economics professor at a dinner event. Shortly after pleasantries, I said to him, “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely,” just to see where things would go. It was a lively and informative conversation. Cast of characters: Physicist, played by me; Economist, played by an established economics professor from a prestigious institution. Note: because I have a better retention of my own thoughts than those of my conversational companion, this recreation is lopsided to represent my own points/words. Act One: Bread and Butter Physicist: Hi, I’m Tom. Economist: Hi Tom, I’m [ahem..cough]. Physicist: Hey, that’s great. Economist: [chokes on bread crumb] Did I hear you right? Physicist: That’s right. Economist: Well sure, nothing truly lasts forever. Total U.S. Related:  The Myth of Infinite Growth

Using U.S. Dollars, Zimbabwe Finds a Problem - No Change But these days, Robson Madzumbara spends a lot of time quite literally waiting around for change. Pocket change, that is. He waits for it at supermarkets, on the bus, at the vegetable stall he runs and just about anywhere he buys or sells anything. “We never have enough change,” he said, manning the vegetable stall he has run for the past two decades. For years, Zimbabwe was infamous for the opposite problem: mind-boggling inflation. But since Zimbabwe started using the United States dollar as its currency in 2009, it has run into a surprising quandary. “For your average Zimbabwean, a dollar is a lot of money,” said Tony Hawkins, an economist at the University of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans call it “the coin problem.” Still, the new predicament is an improvement. Zimbabweans have devised a variety of solutions to get around the change problem, none of them entirely satisfactory. “I already had to buy clothespins I don’t need today,” Ms. “I won’t accept any Zimbabwean money,” said Ms.

Recovered Sustainable Means Bunkty to Me 1977 views this month; 1977 overall What? Don’t know what bunkty means? Now you know how I feel about the word “sustainable.” My paper towels separate into smaller segments than they once did. I think most would agree that the rapid depletion we currently witness in natural resources and services, climate stability, water availability, soil quality, and fisheries—to name a few—suggests that we do not live sustainably at present. Sustainability, in Numbers I have made the case in the past that growth—either in physical measures like population, energy use, etc., or in economic terms—cannot continue indefinitely in our finite world. If we think about the fact that growth must one day end, we realize that an ultimate steady state would tend to reduce income inequalities. Our dream is that the poor of the world can improve their standard of living toward first-world norms. You may object that Americans don’t eat five times more food than the average Earthling today. Why Now is Special

Colonized by Corporations May 15, 2012 | Like this article? Join our email list: Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email. In Robert E. Illustration by Mr. Gamer and many others who study the nature of colonial rule offer the best insights into the functioning of our corporate state. A change of power does not require the election of a Mitt Romney or a Barack Obama or a Democratic majority in Congress, or an attempt to reform the system or electing progressive candidates, but rather a destruction of corporate domination of the political process—Gamer’s “patron-client” networks. The danger the corporate state faces does not come from the poor. This is why the Occupy movement frightens the corporate elite.

Galactic-Scale Energy Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have seen an impressive and sustained growth in the scale of energy consumption by human civilization. Plotting data from the Energy Information Agency on U.S. energy use since 1650 ( 1635-1945 , 1949-2009 , including wood, biomass, fossil fuels, hydro, nuclear, etc.) shows a remarkably steady growth trajectory, characterized by an annual growth rate of 2.9% (see figure). It is important to understand the future trajectory of energy growth because governments and organizations everywhere make assumptions based on the expectation that the growth trend will continue as it has for centuries—and a look at the figure suggests that this is a perfectly reasonable assumption. (See this update for nuances.) Total U.S. Growth has become such a mainstay of our existence that we take its continuation as a given. This post provides a striking example of the impossibility of continued growth at current rates—even within familiar timescales.

A Short History of Neoliberalism (And How We Can Fix It) As a university lecturer I often find that my students take today’s dominant economic ideology – namely, neoliberalism – for granted as natural and inevitable. This is not surprising given that most of them were born in the early 1990s, for neoliberalism is all that they have known. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher had to convince people that there was “no alternative” to neoliberalism. For most of the 20th century, the basic policies that comprise today’s standard economic ideology would have been rejected as absurd. So how did things change? Neoliberalism in the Western Context The story begins with the Great Depression in the 1930s, which was a consequence of what economists call a “crisis of overproduction.” This economic model is known as “embedded liberalism” – it was a form of capitalism that was embedded in society, constrained by political concerns, and devoted to social welfare. They got their solution in the form of the “Volcker Shock.” Figure 1. Source: R. Figure 2. [4] U.S.

Growth thumbnail from NYT As a rejoinder to my piece a couple weeks ago (not really), the New York Times published an article on population growth, and why we need not worry. The problem—and solution—is all in our head. Clearly there is a misunderstanding, but I’ll side with the natural scientists, naturally. Continue reading Sometimes considered a taboo subject, the issue of population runs as an undercurrent in virtually all discussions of modern challenges. The subject is taboo for a few reasons. Recently, participating in a panel discussion in front of a room full of physics educators, I made the simple statement that “surplus energy grows babies.” So in the spirit of looking at the numbers, let’s explore in particular various connections between population and energy. Continue reading I’ll cheat on my bi-weekly posting plan and slip in this podcast conversation between Chris Martenson and myself, covering many of the topics I have written about in the last year. Continue reading What?

Facebook and the 100 Billion Investors that shoot for IPO allocations needn’t worry that a high stock price overvalues the company if they are confident they can find a ‘greater fool’ willing to pay more.Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2012. With cult-like projections, Mark Zuckerberg’s face was beamed across a screen at Hacker Square. Facebook was, after all, having its heralded float as a public company, though the occasion could not cease but be a social event of some magnitude. That, and the fact of its founder’s marriage, which received the usual empty adulation that such a network facilitates. The shares in the company’s shares finished at $38.37, though at one point stocks were trading at $42 a share. The question then is whether such a value is not just a touch exaggerated, something which might be said of the entire social media experiment. With Facebook, we are in a curious situation of producing what we consume in one act. Its value, like its functionality, is fictitious or better still, virtual.

Can Economic Growth Last? [slimstat f='count' w='ip' lf='resource contains can-economic'] views this month; [slimstat f='count' w='ip' lf='strtotime equals 2011-07-01 | interval equals -1'] overall As we saw in the previous post, the U.S. has expanded its use of energy at a typical rate of 2.9% per year since 1650. We learned that continuation of this energy growth rate in any form of technology leads to a thermal reckoning in just a few hundred years (not the tepid global warming, but boiling skin!). What does this say about the long-term prospects for economic growth, if anything? World economic growth for the previous century, expressed in constant 1990 dollars. The figure at left shows the rate of global economic growth over the last century, as reconstructed by J. The difference between economic and energy growth can be split into efficiency gains—we extract more activity per unit of energy—and “everything else.” Exponential vs. First, let’s address what I mean when I say growth. Potential Gains and Limits

The World's Richest Countries And Biggest Economies, In 2 Graphics : Planet Money Gross Domestic Product — GDP — may have its limits. But it's a useful, broad measure for looking at national economies. It's basically the total dollar value of all of the goods and services a country produces in a year. Here are all the countries with GDP of over $100 billion: Notes GDP at current exchange rate for 2010. Having a very large GDP means a country is an important economic player in the world. A better measure for looking at the wealth or poverty of a nation's citizens is GDP per capita (adjusted for the fact that $1 buys more in some countries than in others). Here are all the countries in the world with GDP per capita over $15,000 a year: GDP per capita (purchasing power parity), 2010. Perhaps the most striking difference between the two graphs is China, which has the second biggest economy in the world but is still very poor. It's also worth noting that GDP per capita is just an average. Update: The World Bank does not list Taiwan as a separate country.

Arithmetic, Population and Energy - 1 - a talk by Al Bartlett Living without cash: Does it lead you to spend more or less? Photograph for Slate by Heather Murphy. It all ended a few days ago, when I withdrew $120 from an ATM in the bodega on my corner. Two months of living cashlessly came to a close with that simple act. I plunked a $20 on the counter, bought a $1.50 soda—take that, $5 credit card minimum—and walked away with a sheaf of bills and a couple of quarters jingling in my pocket. Life has admittedly been easier since then. I previously wrote about my yearning to again feel physical cash in my palms and on my fingertips. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course of this experiment, it’s that we are millimeters from being able to go cashless as a society. Yes, giant companies will take a bite out of these transfers, and that sucks. One thing I won’t miss if the world goes cashless is abetting tax evasion. David Wolman, author of The End of Money, executed this stunt way before I did and for much longer—a full year of living cashlessly. The real eye opener came when he traveled to India.

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