12 thoughts on “Thoughts On Human Progress”

  1. I wish that Zubrin had picked another example than Crassus’ Rome if for no other reason that Romans didn’t need need paper because they had papyrus and scrolls, lots and lots of scrolls.

    The problem with Malthus is the implicit “Zero Sum Game” – the same resources, the same technology, the same agriculture and ever expanding population. The dismal vision that humanity is doomed because we are crude unthinking beasts …if only we could be led to salvation by an inspired elite like Malthus ! (Or Marx or Al Gore or…)(/sarc)

    1. I would gladly exchange my smartphone for Crassus’ mansion.

      “Ancient Rome was the first civilization to have glass windows. It discovered the technology of mixing sand and other component materials and heating the mixture so it could be pressed and cast into small pieces that were formed into panes.”


  2. In fairness to Zubrin, Roman glass windows are dated to the century after Crassus. His windows were likely made of translucent minerals such as selenite.

      1. Crassus also wasn’t the victim of PowerPointâ„¢ ! That should be worth something!

        Also, IIRC, the Romans had hydraulic concrete (that sets while submerged) and nobody in the West figured that out for over a millennia. Romans were rather relentless in their urge to steal, ahem, adapt any useful technology they found laying around.

  3. I think Zubrin lays a bit too much blame on poor Malthus. Considering the malnutrition and even outright starvation endemic in Britain and Ireland through the 20th century, was he even wrong? I can remember pretty regular news reports of famines in various places through the ’60’s. The actual causes weren’t his neat mathematical relationship but for a clergyman, it wasn’t that bad of a first approximation.

    At the time, roughly 1/3 of agricultural production had to be devoted to animal fodder. Soil fertility was practically a complete mystery, manure was known to be helpful but no one had any idea why. Nitrate fertilizers were still in the future, Humboldt first encountered guano as a fertilizer in 1802. And that only accounts for nitrogen, not phosphorous and potassium.

    Then to lay all the atrocities of a couple of centuries of colonialism, both before he was born and long after he was dead, on him seems a bit much.

    Where he made his mistake was not having faith in the ingenuity of the billions that were to come. This is the same mistake that just about every would be prophet is still making. We are still seeing tis same error every day.

  4. This is one of Bob’s most beautiful writings. He expressed a thought I’ve had since my youth in elegant form with:

    “Human numbers are not limited by natural resources because there are no such things as natural resources. There are only natural raw materials, which humans turn into resources through their creativity.

    I particularly liked his conclusion to this line of thought:

    “This is important because it means humans are not consumers but, rather, creators of resources.”

    He really is brilliant.

  5. Just like Republicans think capitalism only work on Earth and Democrats think capitalism only works in space:

    Democrats think Malthus was right only for citizens and Republicans think Malthus was right only for immigrants.

    It’s weird that everyone can be so inconsistent…

      1. OK, answer this: would you rather have 100,000 Californians enter your town or 100,000 Nigerians?

        I’d much rather have the Nigerians – those guys are the epitome of hard working immigrants in my mind.

        Immigration by people that disagree with you can’t realistically be avoided. I do agree that controls should be in place – for example, Texas and Arizona should be able to say no more immigrants we’re full, and have all the immigrants pass through to Illinois or wherever.

  6. Following Malthus’ thinking to its logical conclusion, I wonder how well he’d went with “…fava beans and a nice Chianti”?

Comments are closed.