Re: The Invisible Hand

1

A favorite note of mine on primary voting from HST's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. A Democratic leader in Ohio speaking to Frank Mankiewicz (McGovern's campaign director) about allegations of voter fraud the night of the primary:

This is your boss's fault—he should have known—you start electing delegates and you get this kind of thing.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 8:53 AM
horizontal rule
2

Two thousand years from now, when the future replacement of HBO is making holodramas about the rise of the American Empire (with lots of sex, cocaine, and battle scenes), the writers are going to find the rules for electing Presidents in the last days of the Republic delicious dramatic fodder.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:07 AM
horizontal rule
3

I look forward to the holoscene where George W. Bush makes his marines pick up seashells from an Arabian beach.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:12 AM
horizontal rule
4

For someone who's supposed to study this stuff for a living, he has surprisingly few insights. His main point seems to be that he believes in an elite opinion that can and should override all those "quirks" that can arise in a proportional vote system, like a hypothetical candidate who wins in smaller states and caucuses yet has more pledged delegates. He's just saying... y'know?

I stopped paying too much attention when he said:
For political leaders versed in majoritarian thinking, a candidate who has failed to win the popular majority in a state's primary has a heavy burden of proof to show that he or she could carry it in the general election... Of the Big Eight Obama has won only his home state of Illinois with twenty-one electoral votes, so a larger burden of proof rests on him to show what portion of the remaining 155 large-state electoral votes he can deliver in the general election.

Yeah, because Obama really needs to justify how he could see taking California, New York and NJ in the general, just like Clinton really needs to be worried about if she could win Illinois.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:15 AM
horizontal rule
5

I look forward to the "et tu, Condi?" scene.


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:18 AM
horizontal rule
6

Sounds like he's attributing that (correctly) to "political leaders versed in majoritarian thinking."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:19 AM
horizontal rule
7

Condi will totally have a girlfriend in HBO's America.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:20 AM
horizontal rule
8

It's an interesting marker of how partisan I've become that I read that and thought "pff, dude's totally in the tank for Hillary."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:27 AM
horizontal rule
9

Did people notice the contribution disclosure at the bottom?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:33 AM
horizontal rule
10

Sounds like he's attributing that (correctly) to "political leaders versed in majoritarian thinking."

My suspicion is that people whose careers depend on winning elections--political leaders--are more likely to have views of elections that hinge on something other than "majoritarian thinking." Cf. the rise of Karl Rove.

t's an interesting marker of how partisan I've become that I read that and thought "pff, dude's totally in the tank for Hillary."

I've noticed something similar in myself.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:35 AM
horizontal rule
11

7: You gotta figure it'll be an adulterous affair with Mary Cheney.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 9:52 AM
horizontal rule
12

The future HBO won't be done in holograms, it'll be scrawled on cave walls. If we're lucky.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:05 AM
horizontal rule
13

Controversially, Dick Cheney will be played by a computer-generated hologram of Jonathan Rhys Meyers.


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:10 AM
horizontal rule
14

Two thousand years is plenty of time for them to rebuild civilization and write cheesy books entitled: Hello World: How the Post-Gaiacide Isolated Commentbots Saved Civilization.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:15 AM
horizontal rule
15

I'm assuming any cave-scrawling will be done by our monkey successors, 'cause humans are toast.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:26 AM
horizontal rule
16

I like that your pessimism has finally plateaued at "We're doomed! Dooooomed!", stras.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:27 AM
horizontal rule
17

maybe he's an optimistic monkey enthusiast?


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:28 AM
horizontal rule
18

If post-apocalyptic civilization cannot shed our worst habits -- namely, books titled with asinine puns and cliches and subtitled with vague descriptions of things no one wants to read -- then they don't deserve to mine our slag-filled graves for raw materials.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:30 AM
horizontal rule
19

FutureHBO productions will have an all-cockroach cast.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:31 AM
horizontal rule
20

Hovel Box Office

Hole-in-the-Ground Box Office

[Mutant Cockroach] Hive Box Office


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:34 AM
horizontal rule
21

16: I've been on board with the "humanity as a species will probably be extinct within a couple hundred years" thing for a while; really, the effort to avoid wiping ourselves out at this point would simply be beyond anything we've done as a civilization to date. Not that it's impossible, but it seems vanishingly unlikely. It's not just a question of global warming, which alone would be an unprecedented hurdle to overcome, but mass extinction, water scarcity, and the general impact caused by human civilization at this point, from roads to manufacturing to agriculture. Moving to a sustainable form of global civilization would be such a mind-boggling feat, I can't even wrap my head around it, and the people who can seem less optimistic than me.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:34 AM
horizontal rule
22

FutureHBO productions will have an all-cockroach cast.

You know the most depressing thing I learned from reading eco-apocalypse books? For the most part, the rats and the cockroaches don't make it. They need us too much.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:36 AM
horizontal rule
23

Fuck rats and roaches. If we can take them down with us, that's a plus for the apocalypse in my book.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:39 AM
horizontal rule
24

I look forward to the holoscene depicting rising sea levels.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:40 AM
horizontal rule
25

wow 'stras, I'll have to remember that one next time I feel like I'm getting overly pessimistic.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:42 AM
horizontal rule
26

You suck, PGD. Rats are awesome.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:42 AM
horizontal rule
27

I'll have to remember that one next time I feel like I'm getting overly pessimistic.

"I just give, give, give in this relationship. I have to remember, the roaches need ME, too."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:44 AM
horizontal rule
28

I'm accumulating all kinds of enemies. But who needs rats when you have squirrels. Squirrels are the pleasant, pastoral version of rats.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:44 AM
horizontal rule
29

24: indistinguishable from a holoscene of the Holocene, if stras is right.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:47 AM
horizontal rule
30

Towards the end of The Word Without Us, the author starts interviewing people who try to look for solutions to what looks like this impossible ecological catastrophe. One of them talks about how, absent a sudden and unexpected technological breakthrough that would allow, for instance, the human race to holographically clone itself on a distant inhabitable planet, or fixes that involve microscopic robots, we might be able to get human population down to non-catastrophic levels if we had an incredibly draconian global version of China's one-child policy. That kind of thing is incredibly depressing and overwhelming to think about. So is hearing people talk about the Sixth Mass Extinction, and hear them talk about how we're in phase two of that extinction, which began when humans started developing agriculture ten thousand years ago.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:52 AM
horizontal rule
31

Speaking of rats.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:53 AM
horizontal rule
32

The key, stras, is to have only a vague idea of the timescales we're talking about.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:54 AM
horizontal rule
33

whups, that link broke.

should have been here


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 10:55 AM
horizontal rule
34

We're just in a particularly tough period as we transition to zero or negative population growth, which should happen about the middle of the century. So far the disruptions we've seen are very small compared to the disruptions involved in the transition to modernity.

Of course, if the natalist fundamentalist types get too much power that would be bad. I hate all those people lecturing about how population declines in Europe, etc. are proof of civilizational decline. Say what?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:03 AM
horizontal rule
35

Your lack of faith in the adaptability of the human species to even survive at all is touching, stras.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:06 AM
horizontal rule
36

We're just in a particularly tough period

While I won't go to 'strasian lengths of pessimism, I don't think there is any evidence the tough period has really got started yet.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:06 AM
horizontal rule
37

36: right, that's what I meant. We're coming into a tough period. In fact, it will seem even tougher because things have basically been pretty good for many countries post-WWII. Mass abundance, etc.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:12 AM
horizontal rule
38

Your lack of faith in the adaptability of the human species to even survive at all is touching, stras.

I'm looking for a more specific solution than "faith."


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:16 AM
horizontal rule
39

We're coming into a tough period

Why say this? The biggest change in the next few decades will be a rising retirement age, but if instead of looking at retirement as a years-from-birth event, years-from-median-death is chosen, nothing changes.

Other than that, what ill effect comes from slowing population growth?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:18 AM
horizontal rule
40

39

"Why say this? ..."

We are going start running out of oil and that will be disruptive.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:20 AM
horizontal rule
41

FutureHBO productions will have an all-cockroach cast.

A family of cockroaches walks into a talent agents office ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:20 AM
horizontal rule
42

The important thing to remember, as Swift pointed out in another context, is that children are a renewable resource.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:21 AM
horizontal rule
43

I hate all those people lecturing about how population declines in Europe, etc. are proof of civilizational decline. Say what?

It's not just the natalists and the nativists. Modern economics takes for granted that perpetual economic growth is natural and good, and to maintain perpetual economic growth you need a population that's constantly growing. Of course, you also need limitless resources.

I don't think that adjusting to a sustainable future is impossible. But I do think that it's going to be (1) much, much harder than it's currently being made out to be, in that it's going to require short- and medium-term sacrifices for a lot of people who won't want to make those sacrifices, and (2) it's going to be incredibly difficult, nearly impossible in fact, to get everyone who needs to take action to do so. If it were just a matter of getting the United States government to get its act together, I'd feel depressed and overwhelmed, but we're talking about every developed and developing nation on the planet, every corporation, every international body, to take collective action on a host of issues where lots of very powerful players will have to voluntarily give up power and wealth for the common good.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:25 AM
horizontal rule
44

43 gets it right.

Economic growth is by definition destructive to the resources being extracted.


Posted by: peter | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:27 AM
horizontal rule
45

I'm excited to run out of oil. It'll be an adventure!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:28 AM
horizontal rule
46

43: The really difficult part comes after the first round have given up a great deal of wealth and power, when, the next day, and ten years later, and twenty years later, one has to convince the people who see wealth and power just sitting there, ripe for the picking, not to take more than their sustainable fair share.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:33 AM
horizontal rule
47

46: Right. For example, a point is rapidly going to come when the cheapest short-term source of energy comes from burning coal, and there's no real danger of running out of coal any time soon. And we're going to be more or less asking the world, "Please, for fuck's sake, stay away from that shit," and the only thing we'll have to rely on is the collective judgment, presence of mind, and far-sightedness of the human species.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:38 AM
horizontal rule
48

For a bunch of nervous old women, none of you shows much literary style. This is how righteous scorn should be done:

On every high hill and under every green tree you sprawled and played the whore. 21 Yet I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine? 22 Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, a restive young camel interlacing her tracks, 24 a wild ass at home in the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust? None who seek her need weary themselves; in her month they will find her.

Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:47 AM
horizontal rule
49

It's an interesting marker of how partisan I've become that I read that and thought "pff, dude's totally in the tank for Hillary."

I also thought that he was in the tank for Hillary when I'd finished about 2/3 of the article. Funny, isn't it then, that he gave $100 to John McCain.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:53 AM
horizontal rule
50

The World Without Us is currently depressing the hell out of me. I keep thinking, "Oh, that won't be so bad! A lot of this damage can be undone if... all humans on the planet instantly disappear."

And then you get to the chapter on nuclear materials and realize that, nope, even if we all get raptured, the planet is fucked.


Posted by: mrh | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:55 AM
horizontal rule
51

Reign of Fire was on TV the other day and its imagined future of communal farming in the Scottish highlands and swarms of dragons struck me as quite optimistic, all things considered.

Biologists: is this feasible?


Posted by: felix | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 11:58 AM
horizontal rule
52

This thought-provoking post from The Oil Drum a few years ago, pulls together some interesting graphics to look at. In particular the very long time scale looks at population and population growth rate. To get an idea of the magnitude of change coming note on the latter that WWII shows up as a tiny downward correction. But as you can also see, recently this signiifcant change has started, but per the rest of the article it is happening at very different rates around the world. Nothing too new here, but it pulls it together nicely and the graphs are worth internalizing.

It will be a time of dislocation, England running out of wood and developing coal? Something worse? Finding out is half the fun.

Poor Grendel's had an accident ... So may you all.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 12:00 PM
horizontal rule
53

...the only thing we'll have to rely on is the collective judgment, presence of mind, and far-sightedness of the human species.

To quote Bender B. Rodriguez, we're boned.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 12:01 PM
horizontal rule
54

52's location of quote reminds me, since we seem to be beating this particular horse again.

Walt, if you're reading, I found this at the oil drum while looking for an article it references by Jean Laherrere. This roughly outlines why I think the bad-case but plausible scenarios for nat. gas. may well kick us in the ass (and mess up plans for orderly shift to more coal reliance over short-med term). Coupled with oil production pressure, of course. They have some other stuff on EROI analysis coming up now (post 1/5 on the 1st april) that looks like it might be interesting.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 12:13 PM
horizontal rule
55

54: Did not really mean to get into the "peak oil" part of it, just thought the had done a good job of showing the graphics that really brought home the salient characteristics of human population growth and the magnitude of changes involved. So apart from the article I suggest mentally chewing on just this and this for a bit.

So, yes, some challenges coming. However to stras's alarmism, with homo sapiens being biologically and culturally the most versatile generalist among largish animals, I certainly do not look for extinction in the near future no matter how grim things might get. It might really, really suck, but in almost any scenario a few of us make it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 1:31 PM
horizontal rule
56

Well, sure, we'll eventually be gone, and the world is eventually doomed. Eventually. But actual extinction rather than just the collapse of our culture or economy or civilization? Within 200 years, or even 2,000? I'd be very surprised*. I admit I'm not basing this on science, but homo sapiens survived the ice ages, and technology became pretty sophisticated in some fields before we figured out how to use fossil fuels. Even if we regress all the way back to the Middle Ages, that's still a long way from extinction.

* A few exceptions come to mind. Nuclear war is always an option, and some apocalyptic events are random for all practical purposes, like an asteroid strike or an eruption of the Yellowstone caldera. But as far as the general ongoing downward trends everyone is worried about, I remain not-totally-pessimistic.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 1:56 PM
horizontal rule
57

55: the two issues are fundamentally linked though, since through the `green revolution' we've essentially been converting fossil fuels into food, to a degree that is not supportable without the fossil inputs. This is a limiting factor on the exponential growth you show in the latter figure ...

I don't expect the extinction scenarios either. But some of the entirely too plausible worst case scenarios look horrific.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 1:58 PM
horizontal rule
58

I certainly do not look for extinction in the near future no matter how grim things might get. It might really, really suck, but in almost any scenario a few of us make it.

JP, I'm not really seeing any reassuring arguments here other than general cheerleading for humanity's "versatility." And even as that goes, humans aren't all that versatile by the standards of living things. We can only survive in a relatively limited range of environmental conditions, which is why so much of our energy has gone into remaking our environment to be more hospitable. But all of that's coming back to bite us in the ass, and really, the "challenges" that are coming are a lot worse than losing New York to rising tides and running out of clean water. If humanity drops the ball on global warming, we could very well get something like the Under A Green Sky scenario, where the ocean conveyor stops, sealife dies off, and the ocean releases massive amounts of hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere, wiping out most everything else on land and in the air. And that's not even the worst worst-case scenario. All of which is to say there are lots of ways humanity can exterminate itself.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 2:08 PM
horizontal rule
59

I admit I'm not basing this on science, but homo sapiens survived the ice ages, and technology became pretty sophisticated in some fields before we figured out how to use fossil fuels.

Homo sapiens has never survived a bona fide extinction event before. Right now it looks like we are the extinction event. We're spewing carbon into the atmosphere in a way that only massive volcanic eruptions have been able to do in the past, and when this happened in the past it killed almost everything alive at the time.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 2:14 PM
horizontal rule
60

Geez, Stras. Way to perk a guy up on a Monday.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:19 PM
horizontal rule
61

We can only survive in a relatively limited range of environmental conditions

By the standards of other animals, I thought humans were quite versatile. Even without the aid of technology, we've lived sustainably in jungle, grassland, river valley, highland, and even in the Arctic. Are you referring to some other environmental condition?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:45 PM
horizontal rule
62

Well, "not breathing hydrogen sulfide" is one, of course. But if it doesn't kill most life on Earth, we can probably survive it too.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:48 PM
horizontal rule
63

61: Yes, we are quite versatile by biological standards, omnivorous, and of course even with a minimum of technology we were able to live in the environments that you mention. All the cultural stuff, plus manual dexterity helps as well.

So we may go down, but we will bring a lot of specie and ecosystems with us if we do. (Exception would be some human-specific pathogen, but ones that completely wipe out a species are few and far between, much more common for drastic reductions in numbers.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:51 PM
horizontal rule
64

we will bring a lot of specie and ecosystems with us if we do

Serves 'em right.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:54 PM
horizontal rule
65

we will bring a lot of specie and ecosystems with us if we do

Yeah, be sure to bring your gold to the apocalypse. Jesus. Species! It's species that we want to destroy.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-08 3:59 PM
horizontal rule
66

But if it doesn't kill most life on Earth, we can probably survive it too.

In that scenario, it will indeed kill most life on earth. That's the thing, see: the previous extinction events have all wiped out most existing life on earth. And the various top-of-the-food-chain predator species around at the time were probably the most vulnerable, as humans are incredibly vulnerable today.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 8-08 6:43 AM
horizontal rule
67

So we may go down, but we will bring a lot of specie and ecosystems with us if we do.

What part of "mass extinction event" aren't you understanding here? The dinosaurs were pretty badass, and lasted a hell of a lot longer than us hominids, but they kicked it with everyone else, too.

When we talk about highly adaptable, highly versatile species, we're talking about stuff like bacteria and insects and certain kinds of microscopic plants. Humans are only versatile on an incredibly superficial level - say, compared to other large meat-eating mammals. And even then we're incredibly vulnerable compared to animals lower than us on the food chain, because we get all the combined toxins and pollutants from everything our prey has eaten, and our prey's prey has eaten, and so on down the line. When sudden, massive environmental changes happen, big predator species like humans have historically not made it, because we're most adapted to the world as it currently exists. We're not, as a species, prepared for a massive change in earth's atmosphere. We're not prepared for a massive change in the climate. The fact that the vast majority of humans react to warnings from the scientific community by basically plugging their ears and humming loudly does not make us more prepared.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 04- 8-08 6:57 AM
horizontal rule
68

Guy's clearly a winger - associations with the Claremont Institute are a giveaway.

That aside, article's full of a lot of nonsense, although a few interesting bits.

Also: Global warming? Do we have to?


Posted by: Wry Cooter | Link to this comment | 04- 8-08 10:18 AM
horizontal rule
69

All this nonsense about the vulnerability of humans is rather doom-mongering.

To be species chauvinistic, we're utterly fucking unique in terms of known biology. We're the only species on this planet ever to leave it under our own power; we're the only species to make it to interstellar space full stop. We're the only species to have created calculus and relativity, hydro-electric dams and nuclear power plants, Guernica and the caves of Lascaux. We've survived pretty major extinction events before -- in point of fact, we thrive on extinction events.

We came to prominence during the Pleistocene extinctions, and, let's face, we've been living an ongoing extinction event ever since.

Humans aren't going anywhere as a species, like it or not, mass extinctions or not.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 04-11-08 1:09 AM
horizontal rule