Friday, September 13, 2013

Economics and the Noosphere

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we're inquiring into mankind's great leap forward, after thousands or even millions of years of economic stagnation (that is, if we want to include pre-Homo sapiens such as old Homo erectus and the like).

In fact, I wouldn't even call it "economic," since the rational underpinnings of an economy -- e.g., prices, secure private property, rule of law, etc. -- are precisely what we lacked; nor would I call it "stagnation," again, because every species is stagnant. Every species subsists on what is available in the surrounding environment. Truly, our great leap forward was an existential discontinuity, and not just a prolongation of biology.

And ever since it started, there have been people predicting it was petering out, or who warned that it would end in catastrophe, or who actually want it to end. Remember the Simon-Eherlich wager? How about the perennial myth of "peak oil?" Global warming hysteria is just the latest outlet for these hopeless pessimystics.

One commenter mentioned the centrality of energy to our Great LF. This is correct, except that energy isn't just energy.

Rather, it must of course unite with information in order to become useful. By way of illustration, Gilder cites a seemingly mundane example involving the history of lighting. Note how it parallels yesterday's sad story of man's long economic flatline:

"[F]or millions of years, from caveman's fires to the candles that illuminated the palace of Versailles, the labor cost of a lumen-hour of light dropped by perhaps 75 percent." But the emergence of gas light in the nineteenth century resulted in a a huge decrease in the price of light, and "the arrival of electricity in the 1880s produced another thousand-fold drop."

Now, the question is, how can we possibly measure the resulting improvement in our quality of life? We're talking about "a million-fold increase in the abundance and affordability of light itself," but that's just a number. The real impact is incalculable, and very few people take the time to think about what a miracle it is. And again, it is a miracle, if by miracle we mean a vertical ingression into the horizontally closed flow of time.

Note also that any leftist along the way could have proclaimed that we have quite enough light to go around, and that it's just a matter of redistributing it so that everyone gets enough -- say, three candles a day, or a bucket of kerosene, or whatever. In the 1970s it was gasoline every other day. The mentality never changes.

The other critical point is that no one -- certainly not any central authority -- planned for any of this benevolent progress. If they had, we'd probably still be using candles. No doubt manufactured by Solyndra.

Again, a free economy facilitates and protects information; an unfree one -- to the extent that it is unfree -- crowds out information with power. It "protects the centripetal power of kings, bureaucracies, politicians, and other purchasers of economic influence."

Obama-style krony kapitalism is just the latest version, but there are always going to be economic parasites and free-riders. Hemingway once called critics "the lice on literature." You might say that leftists are the lice on economics. They have no idea how to create wealth, only how to exploit it. The only difference is that they are not as intelligent as lice, in that lice at least have the good sense to avoid killing the host.

California is subject to the one party rule of such suicidal parasites, with utterly predictable consequences. Are they worried about hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded public pensions for their fellow bloodsuckers? Nah. What are they worried about, then? About making sure that sexually confused children can pick the bathroom they want. Progress!

I don't know about the sexually confused ones, but I do know that any healthy, sexually unconfused male will naturally choose the girls locker room.

I guess Jerry Brown wanted to shed the "Governor Moonbeam" image, and finally prove that he's not from this solar system at all.

Now, if we examine the deep structure of the economic miracle described above, what's really going on?

First of all, I would suggest that economic growth is only possible in an open system that is specifically open to entrepreneurial creativity, imagination, innovation, and most importantly, to failure. I was reading something just yesterday -- can't remember where -- that if failure is not permitted, then neither is success. We must be free to fail, which is why there is no such thing as an unfree launch in the econosphere.

Conversely, leftists view the total economy as if it were a closed system with a set amount of wealth. They "believe their mission is to seize capital for the masses," and just infuse a bunch of money at the back end -- i.e., the demand side -- to reinflate the balloon. Which is a little like taking water from the deep end of the pool and pouring it into the shallow end.

Our president, for example -- the noted constitutional scholar -- has pointed out that the founders got it wrong in not giving sufficient power to the state to seize property and redistribute cash from one end of the pool to the other.

The problem is, any elected idiot can seize money. But that doesn't mean he's seizing wealth.

Again, a million dollars in the hands of Bill Gates is very different from a million dollars in the grubby hands of some bum on the street or in the White House. As Gilder explains, "detached from a capitalist, there is no capital."

Rather, in order "to create wealth, knowledge and power must be merged." This infusion -- or vertical ingression -- of information into capital doesn't appear on any accounting statement, because it is qualitative, not quantitative. You might say it's "in the cloud" -- the cloud of the ultrahuman noosphere that surrounds the material world.

Consider all of the "quantitative easing" by the Fed, which simply removes information from the economy. Conversely, Reagan unleashed entrepreneurial activity by what we might call "qualitative easing," through which it became much easier for venture capitalists to unite with entrepreneurs to create "informational capital."

Again, no one planned the consequent technology revolution. Rather, it was just a matter of getting out of the way and letting the noosphere do its thing.

In any event, it is this openness to verticality that "is the source of restoration that prevents the circular flow from running down into inanation. When the circular flow seems healthy, it is only because we do not notice that it is being constantly replenished. Such constant replenishment and revitalization by new information and knowledge is the only solution to the dissipation and physical entropy that is normal at all times..."

The other day, reader Julie commented that this sounds a bit like "as above, so below." Precisely. We could take the above paragraph and say the exact same thing of the vertical flow of grace -- or of our tension toward the Great Attractor -- in the absence of which we are just absurcular tale-spinning Darwinian monkeys chasing our tails.


Open Trench said...

Love the post, and agree with all statements made. It is a very astute analysis.

I've ranged on ahead a bit, and arrive at a time and place where wealth infused with knowledge has produced a very good state indeed; all external human dilemmas solved. No shortage of anything for anyone who wants anything anywhere at any time--done.

Even the problem of parasites is gone, because the living is so easy there is no way to avoid being a parasite. Doing what we would call "work" would be ludicrous and unecessary.

Unlimited light, unlimited energy, unlimited you name it.

The day will come when we will rack our brains to think of a problem that needs a solution, and find nothing.

And then....we arrive back into the only thing left to do: Relax into basic goodness, which you can do today this instant.

Tune in, turn on, and go Zen.

Gagdad Bob said...

And we shall all sleep the sleep of the tenured.

John Lien said...

We lived for about two years without electric lights between moving to the clearcut and my setting up the solar panels. Kerosene lamps and Coleman lanterns just didn't provide the light to do much but the bare necessities after dark. We just ended up going to sleep. Very depressing. We had no idea how much we took the light for granted.

julie said...

The problem is, any elected idiot can seize money. But that doesn't mean he's seizing wealth.

Yes, this is a key point. Ultimately, wealth happens as a result of creative activity. One suspects that a man like Bill Gates would probably be "wealthy" whether he lived in a world run by money or, well, ropes. Or if not him, then whoever looked at ropes and saw any of the potential uses to which they could be put, and had an opportunity to trade on those uses.

Of course, if there's no opportunity to trade, it's a moot point...

Open Trench said...

Here at the think tank we have two of our best agents working full-time to crack the secrets of artistic inspiration.

They have become contentious with each other. One is convinced great art is extracted from the noosphere (or some funky non-physical repository), and the other gives credit to neurochemistry at work; straight up brain work and no mystic connection.

Their supervisor is trying to craft a compromise position for her report to the board.

Any input from the OC panel or blogwriter on this? It does relate, tengentially, to the post.

mushroom said...

Consider all of the "quantitative easing" by the Fed, which simply removes information from the economy.

A can of pork'n'beans is now 59 cents on sale. Three or four for a dollar was more informative.

Eighty-five billion every month, and there's no telling where the money went.

I guess it was simply irresistible. At least we get to have a little fun on Friday. I miss Robert Palmer.

Open Trench said...

Robert Palmer was addicted to love. He had to face it.

He not only went into the girl's locker room, but was able to get some pretty nymphs to strap on guitars and do a naughty jiggle dance.

That's raw talent.

James Sheives said...

The beginning of this post reminded me of Ayn Rand's collection of essays entitled "The Anti-Industrial Revolution".
Leftists want to preserve the past also, it's just that conservatives don't go far enough back.
Forward comrades, back to the future!

James Sheives said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mushroom said...

One of Rand's better works -- partly because it was shorter -- Anthem talks about collectivism leading to a new dark age.

Van Harvey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gagdad Bob said...

I rarely read psychology books anymore, but Thinking, Fast and Slow is pretty interesting so far. The author makes the point that research shows that intelligence and rationality are independent variables. This explains a great deal, not the least of which being the Land of the Tenured, which is filled with presumably intelligent people who are completely irrational.

Gagdad Bob said...

Not to mention the fact that the conventionally intelligent are the most easily indoctrinated.

Van Harvey said...

"The problem is, any elected idiot can seize money. But that doesn't mean he's seizing wealth.

Again, a million dollars in the hands of Bill Gates is very different from a million dollars in the grubby hands of some bum on the street or in the White House. As Gilder explains, "detached from a capitalist, there is no capital.""

Not much to add, mostly just wanted to see it again.

I'll just add that a similar thing happens with education. Giving a set of'important' facts to everyone, and testing them on how many they can recall, is giving them data only, not information, and certainly not meaning or understanding.

And data, detached from information and meaning, is no Education at all.

(Android sucks so bad)

Van Harvey said...

Gagdad Bob said..."Not to mention the fact that the conventionally intelligent are the most easily indoctrinated."

Yep. We're awash in intelligent idiots. It's almost as if there's an overflowing open trench of them somewhere.

Gagdad Bob said...

And by time the BS trickles down to the media and public education, the irrationality blends with mediocre to below average intelligence.

Gagdad Bob said...

Reminds me of my father-in-law: off the chart IQ totally infested with New York Times parasites.

julie said...

Reminds me of a comment I saw at Ace's earlier this week (and now can't find), paraphrased: is there anything more useless than a tenured professor? The context was pretty awful; some school in Vermont had a campus group headed by a professor (if memory serves), taking the flags away from a 9-11 memorial because they represent oppression of native communities or some BS like that.

Anyway, yeah - sometimes it seems as though the very act of being smarter than average makes some people incredibly susceptible to being incredibly stupid about things they don't understand, but think they do.

Gagdad Bob said...

Tenure, like politics, is just narcissism for the unattractive.

julie said...

For that matter, tenure goes right back to one of yesterday's points - once a teacher reaches the point where they can't be failed out of their job, they can't succeed, either...

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, like the liberal media, it's reduced to a mutual masturbation society.

julie said...

Completely off topic, I was just thinking: you know that aphorism of The Don's about how you can't take a picture of the place the poet sang about?

I'm pretty sure Robin Starfish could.

But then maybe he's the exception that proves the rule...

Gagdad Bob said...

Not a fair example, since he's also the poet.

julie said...

Good point.

Gagdad Bob said...

Wait. Maybe he sings the poem about the photograph, or maybe the photo is a visual poem, in which case he's come up with a new medium: poemography.

Van Harvey said...

Heh, Poetography.

julie said...


Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of poemography, the amazon gremlins have recommended this book to me, The Poetics of Space. Looks promising, but I'm very backed up at the moment...

Open Trench said...

One problem facing us is what kind of beer to drink. IPA pale ale or other premium brew vs Miller or Bud.

Or wine...vintage or 2buck chuck.

Or shelf strain or shake?

A lot rides on this.