Capitalism and ignorance

From Three wild speculations from amateur quantitative macrohistory but there is nothing wild about the diagram other than how ignorant most people are about what it shows.

In How big a deal was the Industrial Revolution?, I looked for measures (or proxy measures) of human well-being / empowerment for which we have “decent” scholarly estimates of the global average going back thousands of years. For reasons elaborated at some length in the full report, I ended up going with:

Physical health, as measured by life expectancy at birth.

Economic well-being, as measured by GDP per capita (PPP) and percent of people living in extreme poverty.

Energy capture, in kilocalories per person per day.

Technological empowerment, as measured by war-making capacity.

Political freedom to live the kind of life one wants to live, as measured by percent of people living in a democracy.

Two million years of “human” history where the only tools were made of stone, and then a bronze age, iron age, industrial revolution and now us.

We now have morons [who call themselves “progressives”!] trying to take us back in time to just where I don’t know, perhaps 1890, maybe 1920, but certainly to a time of greater poverty and fewer chances in life. The diagram is only for us because most of those trying to kill off our carbon-based energy sources would be too thick to understand any of it since the basis for their entire ideological view of the world is a hatred for the capitalist system that has transformed the human race.

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36 Responses to Capitalism and ignorance

  1. Tel

    It would be interesting to put some environmental metrics on the same chart.

    For example, the River Thames gradually became more and more polluted, and the air over London became more and more smoggy, as population density increased. However in 1860 they built sewers in London and gradually got the air under control again so the pollution levels ramped up to a point and then turned around and ramped back down again.

    I would also argue that the “Scientific Revolution” does not have a clear beginning point. Disciplines such as metallurgy, agricultural science, animal training, etc are very very old and perfectly scientific. Philosophical thought goes way back and the same arguments have been churning all that time. Improvements in communication, and in teaching probably had more to do with the explosion of ideas, in as much as many more people had access to the knowledge that had been sitting around, greater literacy, better documentation, ability to repeat what someone else has achieved thereby breaking the limitation of a single human lifespan.

  2. A similar graph exists, which I saw last year and I thought I’d kept a copy of it but obviously not. It should be used frequently in every argument about renewables etc.

  3. retrogressive growth

    Greg Clark’s “World economic history in one picture” [Figure 1.1 on page 2 of http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8461.pdf%5D provides a neat summary.

    It shows income per capita over a long time period. The divergence, so to speak, came with … wait for it … capital! That is, capital goods, produced in capitalism.

    In the new ‘progressive’ commonwealth the outcome is decapitalisation – negative economic growth or retrogression, in which everyone can light their wood fires in their mud brick houses, and everyone will have a job! And the elite, who tell us what to think, and how to think – there will be no need for education – will be more equal than the rest of us, who will be less equal. That is nirvana, for some!

  4. IainC of The Ponds

    Capitalism – graph this way up.
    Socialism – please turn graph upside down.
    Greens – please extrapolate graph beyond 1000BC.

  5. struth

    As soon as the bible was taken out of the hands of the elite, the Christian world boomed, and a light was turned on in the darkness.
    The enemies of the west nearly have the lights turned off again.

  6. duncanm

    too thick to understand any of it

    I’m not sure thick is the right term for it. I suggest wilfully ignorant.

  7. Bruce of Newcastle

    The point about the Greens is they could continue the energy intensity of society by adopting nuclear energy.

    There is enough uranium and thorium for millennia, but they persist of bird-destroying wind turbines which only operate when the wind is blowing, not when people need the electricity. Go figure.

  8. lotocoti

    We now have morons [who call themselves “progressives”!] trying to take us back in time to just where I don’t know, perhaps 1890, maybe 1920, but certainly to a time of greater poverty and fewer chances in life.

    Morons maybe, or perhaps unwilling or unable to appreciate the strides taken in the last two centuries.
    Or perhaps a fanciful nostalgia for more bucolic times.
    But only if they’ve never spent endlessly miserable days with a hoe, chipping weeds.

  9. Empire GTHO Phase III

    While it contravenes my principles with regards to right to life, I have accepted the inevitability of using progressives as a fuel source for rebuilding civilisation following collapse.

    Any tips for maximising the output from the average 80kg anarchist dyke (assume 30% body fat) would be welcomed.

  10. rickw

    I would also argue that the “Scientific Revolution” does not have a clear beginning point. Disciplines such as metallurgy, agricultural science, animal training, etc are very very old and perfectly scientific.

    To me, the whole thing is very near run / dumb luck.

    Since Roman times, man has had the elements at his disposal to build machine tools and therefore precision machinery etc. etc. and yet this did not happen for another 1800 years.

  11. Since Roman times, man has had the elements at his disposal to build machine tools and therefore precision machinery etc. etc. and yet this did not happen for another 1800 years.

    How true and to what extent, the Chinese apparently had a form of mechanised industry long before the industrial revolution. The only thing that they didn’t seem to fully develop was the process line.

  12. progressive retrogression

    The link to Greg Clark’s chapter 1. The graph is on page 2.
    http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8461.pdf

  13. manalive

    It’s a bit startling that the incredible intellectual, economic, scientific, engineering vigour of the Scottish Enlightenment (for instance) came out of a population around the size of Adelaide today.

  14. Myrddin Seren

    Thanks for adding this one Steve – saw it earlier at Instapundit.

    Of the most recent population down ticks

    2 world wars + Spanish flu epidemic ~7% global population loss.

    Luke Muehlhauser makes the point that even these weren’t enough to reverse the overall growth trend.

    However, one may speculate that the losses of the 20th Century have resulted in cultural issues which are impacting upon the former 20th Century powers and which are indeed attributable to those events.

  15. Once you accept that the Greenie Environazis of this world hate….HATE human beings (themselves included), then all of their policy prescriptions and demands make sense. All of it.

  16. iampeter

    I’ve always thought of the graph showing the jump in mankind’s standard of living as a result of the industrial revolution, the Real Hockey Stick Graph.

  17. HGS

    In England and Scotland the material advances came with freedom, the science and machines were used by business freed from overmuch oppression and restriction. Longer life, education, democracy followed. By the industrial revolution the impetus was great and took huge efforts by the state to squash.

  18. RobK

    Sometime ago I read a book called “Thirst, Water & Power in the Ancient World” by Steven Mithen. It detailed many civilizations over the past 10k years. Many thrived and were advanced in their own ways. Management of water was often the determining factor. A quick review from Harvard:

    Thirst
    Water and Power in the Ancient World

    Steven Mithen
    Add to Cart
    Product Details
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    $25.95 • £20.95 • €23.40
    ISBN 9780674066939
    Publication: November 2012
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    384 pages
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    49 color illustrations, 17 line illustrations, 11 maps
    United States and its dependencies only
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    SOCIAL SCIENCE: Anthropology: Cultural & Social
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    About This BookAbout the AuthorsReviewsTable of Contents
    Water is an endangered resource, imperiled by population growth, mega-urbanization, and climate change. Scientists project that by 2050, freshwater shortages will affect 75 percent of the global population. Steven Mithen puts our current crisis in historical context by exploring 10,000 years of humankind’s management of water. Thirst offers cautionary tales of civilizations defeated by the challenges of water control, as well as inspirational stories about how technological ingenuity has sustained communities in hostile environments.

    As in his acclaimed, genre-defying After the Ice and The Singing Neanderthals, Mithen blends archaeology, current science, and ancient literature to give us a rich new picture of how our ancestors lived. Since the Neolithic Revolution, people have recognized water as a commodity and source of economic power and have manipulated its flow. History abounds with examples of ambitious water management projects and hydraulic engineering—from the Sumerians, whose mastery of canal building and irrigation led to their status as the first civilization, to the Nabataeans, who created a watery paradise in the desert city of Petra, to the Khmer, who built a massive inland sea at Angkor, visible from space.

    As we search for modern solutions to today’s water crises, from the American Southwest to China, Mithen also looks for lessons in the past. He suggests that we follow one of the most unheeded pieces of advice to come down from ancient times. In the words of Li Bing, whose waterworks have irrigated the Sichuan Basin since 256 BC, “Work with nature, not against it.”

  19. RobK

    I would posit that nuclear powered anything including pumped storage and desal plants could be considered working with nature, in a manner of speaking.

  20. Tel

    Capitalism – graph this way up.
    Socialism – please turn graph upside down.
    Greens – please extrapolate graph beyond 1000BC.

    Well there’s only one graph. This isn’t “Back to the Future” we don’t have access to alternate histories.

    To some extent socialistic tendencies have always been there right from the start: humans once lived in families under some powerful father figure, you can extend that out to tribes where everyone in the tribe is leaned on to share their food with the other tribe members.

    Then again, the inclination to trade has also been there from the start, and the tendency of individuals to resist being dominated by any central figure. There’s always been tension between, “Hey you should give me a share!” and “I worked for it so bugger off!”

    For a long time it settled into Monarchy and Feudalism which do respect property rights, but those rights are bestowed by the Monarch in the interests of all concerned. A sensible ruler would establish good traditions and have a long lived dynasty… while a foolish ruler would probably bankrupt the kingdom and be defeated or replaced.

    So in regards to both Socialism and Capitalism as we think of them, neither of them existed for most of the graph. Arguably Capitalism didn’t start in earnest until the creation of corporations and the systematic accumulation of capital. Before that, people had freedom to trade but most of the real wealth was gained by conquest.

  21. RobK

    I seem to recall the Mayans prospered for 7 centuries without war until they had a 70 year drought, then floods.

  22. RobK

    I seem to recallreading….(i wasn’t there at the time)

  23. Dr Fred Lenin

    One amazing point the gangrene communusts try to destroy industry and private enterprise without considering less industry means less money to employ public servants like themselves , and they certainly won’t have the good life they enjoy at the moment . Hi Shitting in ones own best that’s called comrades ,a foolish thing even pigs don’t do.

  24. RobK

    Sometimes I do wonder if the green alarmism traits that are happening aren’t some natural flaw that has kept humans from flourishing. Some Individuals and civilizations seem to get to a point of success, then run off the rails to oblivion, when it was all going so well.

  25. Entropy

    Morons maybe, or perhaps unwilling or unable to appreciate the strides taken in the last two centuries.
    Or perhaps a fanciful nostalgia for more bucolic times.
    But only if they’ve never spent endlessly miserable days with a hoe, chipping weeds.

    They all think they would have married Mr Darcy. No grubby tenancy for them and theirs.

  26. steve

    That looks like a real hocky stick graph.

  27. BoyfromTottenham

    I would be more impressed with the graph if it had a scale on the vertical axis. Otherwise I could draw a similar graph for the number of weeds in my lawn since I stopped using ‘feed and weed’. And anyway the last century or so is impossible to read, so it probably doesn’t matter anyway. Not ‘sciency’ enough for me I’m afraid.

  28. duncanm

    I would be more impressed with the graph if it had a scale on the vertical axis

    let’s just assume it is a linear scale and work from there, shall we?

    What do you want, war-making capacity in ‘tanks per fortnight’ or something ?

  29. Pingback: Capitalism and ignorance | Catallaxy Files | Cranky Old Crow

  30. Boyfromtottenham

    You obviously haven’t read “How to lie with statistics”. A graph, any graph, without scales on any axis is meaningless, and probably intending to mislead the viewer. But if facts aren’t important, believe what you like.

  31. Mullumhillbilly

    Energy capture led the changes

  32. amortiser

    Now that’s a hockey stick!!

  33. Philippa Martyr

    The dating for the Protestant Reformation is about 100 years too late; it actually began in the very early 1500s.

    It also led to the 30 Years War, which devastated the European economy and took decades to repair.

  34. Philippa Martyr

    My point is: this is a bit of a blunt instrument that doesn’t recognise quite large blips.

  35. old bloke

    I’d like to see a graph of the changes railways and stationary steam engines made from the mid 19th century. They had a major impact on all forms of human endeavour, from the mass production and lower cost of manufactured goods, increased agricultural output leading to improved dietary habits (and resulting health improvements), and the increased ability of the citizens to travel widely and freely.

    Fortunately the mid 19th century wasn’t blighted by the Greenies (apart from their ancestors, the Luddites), otherwise all that coal burning would have been banned.

  36. Jessie

    retrogressive growth
    progressive retrogression

    The links posted state ‘link not found’ when opened.

    Pasted into google takes me to recherche/World Bank

    Has anyone a working link to the graph discussed?
    Thank you.

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