Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Sunday, December 16, 2007 CE

Comment 1

Here is my comment about the article "How Should We Be Thinking About Urbanization? A Freakonomics Quorum" in the Freakononomics-Opinion section of the New York Times. The article was posted on December 11, 2007. My comment is number 54.

There is a period of transition waiting for us. How is the transition going to be? I depends on us. It could be organized, gentle and civilized if the nations agree that we have to reduce our numbers, our toxic emissions and our use of energy. It could be tumultous, tragic and apocalyptic if we deny the realities of physics and geology, if we believe in growth-economics as a dogma and if we selfishly decide not to proceed as a community.
— Posted by Dr Marco


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Marco,

If you had left off the last bit ("...if we believe in growth-economics as a dogma and if we selfishly decide not to proceed as a community...") I could agree with your statement 100%. But, you included it, so I'm going to toss in my 2 cents worth...

First, I think you are tainting "growth economics" two ways.

1. You are confusing human fear and human greed with "growth economics"

2. You are equating "growth economics" with environmental impact

You are equating "growth economics" with physical production and physical consumption which were the dominant contributors to ecomonic success during the agricultural and industrial ages. Production and consumption are still very prevelant today obviously, but they are not the dominant contributors to today's global economy. This is the information era, and information related assets drive economic growth today. Do not confuse wealth with physical goods. Intellectual property has far more value than physical property.

Also, I think you have a couple of false perceptions of humankind (two false liberal beliefs that are the basis behind liberal views of society, government, and economics):

1. I think you believe that "humans" care about other humans, they do not know, as much as they care about themselves

2. I think you believe "humans" are willing to sacrifice for "humans" they do not know
I believe that human history (the whole picture not isolated peoples or selected times) shows us that the two traits above are only true if:

1. The humans know each other well enough that they would feel a sincere, long-term loss of the other humans

2. The humans involved are totally disatisfied with their life, and cannot imagine it ever improving (which is also a suicidal mental state)

3. They are a hero (vary rare - far less than one percent of all humans)

Can you show me any time (that exceeds a year) in history when humans (in significant numbers) have sacrificed themselves for other humans when one of these conditions did not exist?

- - - - - -

Alternative... innovate. Instead of trying to change human nature, take advantage of human nature and use our creativity to allow a growth-economy that is not mutually exclusive with a healthy environment.

- - - - - - -

Side note. It is no longer up to the West to save the environment. We can help, but we can't save it. There are 300M Americans. If we cut our consumption by 50% (not going to happen short of a total government collapse, nuclear war, or pandemic disease) and Indians (1 billion+) and Chinese (1 billion+) increase their consumption by just 10%, they completely undo our cuts. They are certain to increase their consumption by 10% (short of a total government collapse, nuclear war, or pandemic disease).

Do the math...


3:07 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...


I think that your comment is very instructive and at the same time, highlights more our similarities than our differences.

Growth economics, to my understanding, is the social science that states that an economy has always to grow in order to be healthy. This would be true if resources were unlimited and if the world in which we live would have unlimited capacity to shed our waste products into space or deep into the ground. I am neither confusing human fear and greed nor envoronmental impact with growth economics.

If you read my post from December 11, 2004, you will see that we have more coincidences than differences regarding human nature. The difference probably lies in the fact that I believe that education can bend natural greed in order to make our lives a little easier.

The carrying capacity of the world has been estimated at a number between 0.5 and 2.0 billion people. I believe that the Indians and the Chinese arrived to the bar at 1:50 am.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I also think we overlap a lot in thought. I just have an extreme sensitivity to any suggestion (explicit or implicit) that any freedom is better managed by a government - I especially dislike pure democracy and strongly favor a republic. Of course, I prefer pure democracy over all other forms of government other than republic. To me your negative inflection toward growth economics implied that another form of economics is needed. I equate growth economics with free market economics. I equate free market economics with freedom.

Concerning the estimate of the Earth's ability to carry people. I have found thru many years of frustration that modeling even simple things (like the growth of a competitor) is impossible to do with any accuracy. I have ZERO faith in the ability of scientists to model the Earth - or anything else for that matter.


12:26 PM  
Blogger Doctor Marco said...

I certainly welcome the overlap, it serves as an anchor for further discussion or debate about the topics we do disagree on.

Growth economics is the result of energy surplus. Democracy and all "benign" forms of government should be seen as a a consequence of growth economics. I am not against it, it is just it is not realistic to see it as a perpetual model in a world with finite energy resources. You are cynical about human nature, just like I am, so you should also be cynical concerning economics. Growth economics could be equated with free market economics only if a surplus of energy is always available. What would happen if less energy becomes available? My unenlightened answer would be that free market would not be equated anymore with growth economics but with negative growth economics.

I will lead you to an article in the Financial Times (not a socialist publication).

Finally, science is about doubt. You have the right to question the scitntists' conclusions, specially if they have not yet been contrasted with reality. However, as the scientific method preaches, you should come up with an alternative hypothesis.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


For a short article, it was kind of all over the place - economics, government, war, energy, environment...

I don't necessarily disagree with the points. Many/most are just opinions/views...

To me, "growth economics" means we can all get wealthier (positive sum economics). A point I was trying to make was that in the current era of economics the dominant "industry" is information. People can increase their wealth much faster with information (Google, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) than they can building cars. So, we have entered an era where "growth economics" does not have the environmental impact that it had when the dominant "industry" was manufacturing...

Concerning science. I was not proposing a hypothesis. I was trying to make the point that our knowledge of the environment, biology, ecosystem, etc. is so limited that our best modeling tools are not able to generate dependable (not even remotely) predictions. However, many people and the press use the results of models for their purposes. Science and our knowledge are so limited... what we know will fill a thimble, what we don't know will fill an ocean...


8:58 PM  

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