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That was then. This is now. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

I often see calls for action based on appeals to what worked historically. The judgments, however, rarely take into account the different constraints of current conditions, which often lead to radically different outcomes from those expected. (In popular vernacular, it is often referred to as the law of unintended consequences. In physics, these are referred to as boundary conditions of the problem.) Some examples might help to clarify.

Science Boundary Conditions: Biologists back in the 1970s began to study the electrical properties of nerves in mammals. At first they tried to send electrical signals down some nerves that had been removed from the surrounding tissue (muscles etc.) and place in air. They got bogus results that made absolutely no sense. Only after they began to realize the importance of the boundary conditions (i.e. that conductivity of electrical signals is significantly different when the nerves are embedded in moist muscle tissue full of blood compared to the nerves are in air) did real progress occur.

Economic Boundary Conditions: President Roosevelt’s New Deal significantly improved the economy during the Great Depression. While it was WW II that really revved up the US economy, the impact of the New Deal was substantial. Some important conditions back then were: oil could be simply pumped from land-based wells with a rate of return of 100:1. Similarly, high yielding returns could be obtained from other natural resources. Lots of factories were idle only due to a lack of demand. Putting people back to work and placing money in the hands of lots of people generated demand and inexpensive-to-obtain natural resources could be exploited, providing positive feedback that stimulated further expansion.

Today, it has become expense to obtain natural resources and many closed factories are obsolete so cannot be quickly and cheaply exploited to increase production. Moreover, the US debt (both public and private) has ballooned well beyond what can ever be repaid. Simply increasing the number of US workers employed will benefit economies internationally more so than domestically. Thus, new spending as suggested by Sen. Sanders won’t be effective in the long run. Neither will the tax cuts offered by Republicans.

TheAstroChuck 8 July 24

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Big subject, interesting post. As a student of history I'm also aware of the folly of thinking that past solutions can be applied simply. History doesn't repeat itself but cycles do apply. Your post seems to relate to the current crises in capitalism, specifically US capitalism. We are now in a period where neo-liberal conservative economics have been discredited, or at the very least have been shown to be simplistic - deregulation, so-called free markets, small government and the rest -- though conservatives cling to this secular economics religion. If you are suggesting that Keynesian pump-priming economics can no longer be applied as solutions as in the past, you are right, and I don't think Mr. Sanders simplistically believes that as well. Capitalism has evolved, and also moved geographically with the emergence of developing countries. Still, some broad principles apply: the consensus in economics in the post WW2 period of a mixed economy of public and private interest, government role in protecting the public interest, a real safety net against poverty, and fair taxation including on those who can afford to pay it, has been lost, actually attacked and ruthlessly so from the right of politics, a direct assault on the equality gains in the period 1950s - 1970s.

Politicians like Sanders are not suggesting that they have all the answers, but practical measures, like public protection regulation, infrastructure investment, social and economic safety net, democratizing of political processes and alike, are a good start. The challenge to the left, not only in the US but also in other western countries like mine, is to translate these issues into a credible political platform. Problem is, left of centre political parties since the 1980s have been hopelessly corrupted by neo-liberal economics and seem unable to transcend them.

@TheAstroChuck Indeed. Not my field, but it seems to me there is a need to make huge leaps in technologies, energy and alike to create a new production and consumption economic paradigm. So much of the economic and political debate is based on old paradigms that are rapidly becoming obsolete.

@TheAstroChuck cheer up, dear professor, there is always hope. Do what I do and watch some old Star Trek TOS 1966-69 for comfort. ("Who cries for Andonais?" always cheers me up.) They did it, why can't we? I know, it's delusional, but there are better and worse delusions. Methinks, however, that you are right.


But if we don't invest in our infrastructure we most assuredly will not move forward. And if we keep on burning fossil fuels mother nature will spank us hard. So why not kill two birds with one stone and invest in green infrastructure? Seems like a win-win to me.

I agree we are well beyond the long-term carrying capacity. The only question is whether the population will shrink gradually or abruptly.

Wow, bleak outlook! I hope you are wrong. If it plays out that fast it will be really really ugly.

Your calculations are taking into account the rates of ice caps and permafrost melt, heat and CO2 absorption by the oceans, current and projected fossil fuel burning, decreasing albedo,...? What kind of climate modeling capacity do you have? Do you have a supercomputer at your disposal?


But if we don't invest in our infrastructure we most assuredly will not move forward. And if we keep on burning fossil fuels mother nature will spank us hard. So why not kill two birds with one stone and invest in green infrastructure? Seems like a win-win to me.

That is what we are trying in Germany with the so-called "energy turn". The problem: for many years green energy has to be heavily subsidized. In fact all German consumers have to pay for the "energy turn" with their electricity bill . I do not know whether the majority of consumers in America would do the same..?

Unfortunately, a large portion of the American electorate either does not accept that global warming is happening or that it is caused by burning fossil fuels. So something big will have to happen....


so what would you suggest?

btroje Level 9 July 24, 2018

Everyone kicks the can down the hall. The law of unforeseen consequences is well known.
The town floods, you build a levy. spring tide comes an you don't get flooded but the next town downstream does.
Capitalism is cyclical, economics 101 yet everyone seems to forget this when planning for our future. The USA has been on an economic war footing since 1942. Couple that with a consumer boom and you have a spiraling debt thats too astronomical to imagine. Okay lets say that a shovel of dirt costs a dollar. Well you could fill the grand canyon 3 times over with the money you owe.
What we are dealing with now is some of the fallout from 9/11. The economy was due for a dip but post 9/11 and Bush could not let the US slump so he pumped, as any politician would. Well whats the odd trillion dollars between fiends. Then you have to service this debt. Not pay back obviously but just roll it over. That costs more than all the pork barreled bills combined. (plus you have the pork barrels as well). You also have some of the most inefficient forms of finance on the planet. The money you spend on health care per capita is staggering and for what? A higher infant mortality rate than Cuba?
Look guys its your country and no one wants to see it go down but wtf. Your like someones car stuck in sand and yet they keep on gunning the engine and spinning the wheels, hoping to get a different result.


There is a third option and that is to create an economy of zero sustained growth that reduces demand and maintains a healthy society through the redistribution of wealth and providing the necessities of life like education, healthcare, food and basic needs, shelter, courts, public transportation, care of the elderly, etc. This would allow the rest of the planet to catch up to the level of the West but, through green tech.

The chances of this happening are really small since the western culture is one of greed and consumption which will end civilization as we know it through as you put it, boundary conditions.

@TheAstroChuck I think it is still possible to advert this demise there is more than enough renewable sources to sustain the human race. Reduction in consumption is the key, for the most part much of this consumption is not necessary to sustain us. The biggest problem remains the will to do it and the second is the consumption of energy to make the changes.
For example where I live in the province of Alberta there is more potential geothermal energy available than all the oil this province has produced in the last 100 years. Less than 1 percent of the potential wind energy is being harness here yet it makes up about 6 % of the electricity on the grid. Places in the US have far great potential for both of these than here.
There is technically challenges to overcome but these potentials are there. This brings us to the third problem which is time, the longer we wait the more difficult it becomes, global warming and the consequences of it are nipping at our heels now. The longer we wait the more resources and energy we will need to be divert to dealing with these consequences so, you maybe right about a die off coming but I still have hope that we are smarter monkeys than it currently appears.


Trump says he believes that more people in employment will solve several of today's problems. He says people in work will have less reason to be concerned with race, prejudice and other inequalities because they have less time to themselves, job responsibility gives them a purpose in life and they have more money to enjoy themselves.

There was talk of improving infrastructure in the lead up to the election. Perhaps that that idea is dead because so much of a modern economy is based on service industries. The economic war-cry of 'put America first' is not a bad idea. We had that idea in Ireland before we joined the E.U. Can changes in economic policy based on putting America first work?


Your talking Economics to the illiterate voting populace that elected 45 for his charismatic flaunt that they viewed on Celebrity Apprentice. Your above comment which is very informative and correctly presented for which we are all very concerned about but for the most left me without HOPE and this type of comment is exactly the kind of answer that he would want for the simple fact that he has absolutely no idea what TF you are talking about. Or could care the F less because he will be playing golf at one of his Resorts on the Taxpayers dime which he has been doing since his first day in Office to which he was appointed by the Electoral College and not the American Populace of which half declined to cast a ballot out of total frustration.
I joined this Website to which I have found a spot worth viewing about God, Religion and where we are to sort it all out. Religions love $$ as do Politicians and History will bear this out. If you could give insight into Jimmy Swaggert, Billy Graham, Jim an Tammy, Joel Olsteen and the Southern Christian Coalition who had his 47% secured. I would think and be proud about your concern that apparently to me has missed what was Agnostic about what you were commenting about because it was for an economic audience and not an Agnostic concern. . Please do not see this as belittling, but as informative as I can try without your feeling offended.


I think that things have become so complex that any plan is going to have flaws and fluctuation in everything will always be a constant. We will just always have to keep working on it without there ever being some kind of utopian ending.

@TheAstroChuck Well, something's going to happen. I don't think it will be as bad as all that but that's kind of what I'm saying, constant change. One thing is for sure, it's not going to stay the same.

@TheAstroChuck I doubt that a lot !!!


sadly there will be no "easy" solutions

weeman Level 7 July 24, 2018

@TheAstroChuck indeed your a smart guy nice to meet you 👍

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