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Not A Financial Crisis

It's a moral crisis:

It was once the West that taught the world how to change its skylines through fast and furious efforts. One of the first examples was the Eiffel Tower, designed by engineering genius Gustave Eiffel (who also created the Statue of Liberty's internal structure). It was the centerpiece of the Paris Exposition of 1889. Using the principles of prefabrication, the 150 to 300 workers on the site put it up in only 26 1TK2 months.

Another example is the Empire State Building, which officially opened on May 1, 1931. Masterpiece of the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the Empire State Building was completed in only one year and 45 days, a testament to business efficiency and the determination of the dedicated workforce.

We couldn't match those time frames today, despite the advances in technology, because the advances have been outstripped by an even more rapid growth in complex and idiotic planning procedures, bureaucracy, myopic trade unionism and restrictive legislation.

We have grown soft. And a Democrat juggernaut will just make it worse.


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jack lee wrote:

Anyone who looked at the air during the beijing olympics
probably saw the reason why we have the clean air act
and the EPA.

Given the Chinese needed to fake many of the fireworks
during the opening shows because real fireworks could not be
seen due to intense pollution, I would not hold china or
india up as moral examples to the west.

The idea is that the west has learned how to balance
growth with environmental protection, while
Japan and China and India have had to re-learn these

Rand Simberg wrote:

The idea is that the west has learned how to balance
growth with environmental protection...

We didn't balance it. We overshot.

The Pathetic Earthling wrote:

It'd be interesting to rationalize these building time-tables allowing for post-accident work stoppages. There's a guy buried in the concrete for the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance, because they knew he'd be dead by the time they got him out and kept pouring. There were (if I recall) about 2 deaths a month while building the Bridge. Anything close to that these days would bring construction to a grinding halt. This doesn't change the point, I don't think, but it would be curious to see how much slower construction goes these days to avoid the kind of accidents/deaths that were quite routine in late-19th century/early-20th century engineering projects.

II wrote:

We have grown soft. And a Democrat juggernaut will just make it worse.

Did Rand change his prediction of who was going to win?


And by the way it is Democratic . You've been listening to too much Rush Limbaugh, the guy who is making certain younger folks detest the Republican Party.

Carl Pham wrote:

Oy, Rand, have a drink. It's not as bad as you think. For one thing, the moral decline of the United States has been a staple of election speeches since at least 1824, i.e. since when the country was barely cool out of the oven. We just thrive on that stuff. Why, when I was young, we had to get up at 11 PM, two hours before we went to bed, clean out the lake with a toothbrush, work 16 hours down at mill for tuppence,...

I think a better take is that the US is further divided into "hard" and "soft" America. You're absolutely right that "soft" America -- all those pundits, speakin' truth to power journalists and community organizers and facilitators -- couldn't fix a flat on a bicycle, if it was the only way to outrun a herd of stampeding rapid weasels, and even if provided with a set of color-illustrated instructions.

But "hard" America is a different story. Those are the guys in Iraq who are inflicting casualty ratios of 100:1 or more on the enemy, who can put in 16 hour days with 100 pounds on their back in 105F heat, keeping one eye out for snipers, and deal patiently and effectively with a suspicious populace that doesn't speak English.

Those are some of your alt-space guys, squeezing out rocket tech at 10% of what the "experts" can do.

That's some of those wunderkind net entrepreneurs, kids who dropped out of college to found their own company at 19, and are worth $100 million by 25.

There's plenty of rock-solid tough no bullshit individuals all over the country. You just don't hear as much from them because, well, they're not whiners. They're just getting the job done and living their lives. They don't give TV interviews much. They think that looook at me! stuff's for losers.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Did Rand change his prediction of who was going to win?

No. Take a course in logic, Anonymous Moron. And pass it, though I'm not sure you're capable.

I was positing a theoretical.

But for the record, I'm not sure that McCain will win. Neither am I sure he will lose.

You've been listening to too much Rush Limbaugh

I rarely listen to Rush Limbaugh, Anonymous Moron.

Why do you persist in proving yourself a moron?

Anonymous wrote:

And by the way it is Democratic. You've been listening to too much Rush Limbaugh

Sung to the tune of "Karma Police", with deep apologies to Radiohead.

Suffix police, arrest this blog, it abbreviates offensive
it buzzes like Limbaugh, it's like a detuned NRO
Suffix police, arrest this blog, its Fascist labels, are making me feel ill
And we have crashed the party
This is what you get, this is what you get
This is what you get, when you talk to nuts

Suffix police, I've given all I can, it's not enough
I've given all I can, but we're still on Axelrod's payroll
This is what you get, this is what you get
This is what you get, when you talk to nuts
And for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself
And for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself

For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself
But then I checked the polls and took heart.

R Anderson wrote:

Rand's appointed troll "II" boils the last 2 months of his drivel into what is, for him, an exemplary last post. It's a pity that it can also be done in 2 half-sentences, and with equal coherence:

"I don't like what I'm hearing - so you better shut up!"

Good lord, is this what passes for reasoned debate these days? Or even a passable argument? Rearranging lyrics by Radiohead is your best, your last line of defense? I've heard better replies from JoeBi, and he fabricates his reality on the fly!

Take heart Rand, if this is their best shot so close to the goal; if despite the rampant fraud and sampling biases of polls; if the media being so deep into the tank for The One that they're part of the base metal, and Mac's STILL within the MoE, then this Tuesday should prove quite enjoyable. Unless you're chosen religion is Hopenchange, anyways.

Anonymous wrote:

I'm not II - I was just reacting to the odd propensity for conservatives to shorten the name "Democratic Party" to "Democrat Party". I don't understand why they tempt the Grammar Police so.

Dinsdale wrote:

What a ridiculous post.

Live in earthquake country and you won't bemoan how long it takes to sink pylons that allow the building to sway 20 ft in a 9.0 quake.

For that matter, how does the number of days it takes to build something become a sign of moral degeneracy ? At the peak of WWII we were rolling aircraft carriers off the assembly line in hours. now it takes longer to build a carrier.

Rand Simberg wrote:

I was just reacting to the odd propensity for conservatives to shorten the name "Democratic Party" to "Democrat Party". I don't understand why they tempt the Grammar Police so.

It has nothing to do with grammar. Two things--to call it "Democratic" is false advertising (just like "liberal" or "progressive"). It's stealing an intellectual base. Also, it's simply consistent. Republicans are members of the Republican Party, and Democrats are members of the Democrat Party.

Jim wrote:

We didn't balance [growth with environmental protection]. We overshot.

Overshot? We are consuming species diversity, fresh water reserves, topsoil, and fisheries faster than they can be replaced.

Leland wrote:

species diversity What?
fresh water reserves Where?
topsoil Don't subsidize ethanol.
fisheries No.

Somebody give Jim a unicorn.

Anonymous wrote:

Democrat is a noun, not an adjective. Republican is a noun and and an adjective. Consider how insulting but also stupid it sounds when you describe someone as a "Jew doctor" instead of a "Jewish doctor".

Here's a discussion:

Andy Freeman wrote:

> At the peak of WWII we were rolling aircraft carriers off the assembly line in hours. now it takes longer to build a carrier.

While we did build carriers faster then, we didn't build carriers in "hours".

Never confuse latency and throughput.

Anonymous wrote:

We are consuming species diversity, fresh water reserves, topsoil, and fisheries faster than they can be replaced.

You, and people like you, have been saying those specific things since the early '70s. According you, and people like you, by now Iowa is supposed to be at sea-level because the topsoil is gone, Kansas and Nebraska a desert because the Ogalla is empty, and cod, tuna and salmon extict because overfishing. Not to mention that food is rationed (except for soylent green, of course), no fuel for internal combustion engines and air conditioning illegal.

At some point you've really got to come up with a new set of predictions instead of continuously recycling the old ones.

Jonathan wrote:

Rand makes a good point.

From this post:

The point of all this isn't to say that the past was better or that people today are stupider; this plainly isn't the case. However, we have to recognize that public projects are a calamity compared to even ONE HUNDRED years ago, and many of the public projects that you see couldn't even be contemplated in today's environment.

Our discussion today shouldn't be a pat on the back for our modern management and use of computers; it should be a somber reflection that on almost every dimension (except safety) we are accomplishing a fraction of what people were accomplishing decades or over a century ago.

Ashley wrote:

The Eiffel Tower is just an open framework "structure", not a "building". And if Doctor Who has taught us anything, it's that the Empire State Building was erected during the Great Depression, when people were desperate enough to do unsafe, backbreaking labor just for a meal.

I have no doubt that Indonesian children in a sweatshop can make t-shirts more efficiently than me. I'm a "pampered Western worker", with my "bathroom breaks", "8-hour days", and "weekends". People willing to lose fingers, destroy joints, or risk a hundred-story fall off a beam could no doubt erect a skyscraper faster than modern workers, too.

Jim wrote:


I wasn't making a prediction, just stating a fact. Do you think we aren't actually using those resources at greater-than-replacement rates? Do you think that we are, but it doesn't matter, because we haven't run out yet? Rand says we've overshot on the side of environmental concern -- do you think it's a good idea to draw those resources down even faster?

Carl Pham wrote:

We are consuming species diversity, fresh water reserves, topsoil, and fisheries faster than they can be replaced.

In some areas, Jim, you are unquestionably correct. I recommend this short and even-tempered little book, for example, in which you can follow the sad destruction through short-sighted exploitation of the Atlantic cod fishery. There are similar threats to Pacific fisheries, particularly near Alaska, from the Russians, Koreans, Chinese and Japanese, who have far less thought for conservation of species than we do.

Part of the problem is, however, that it's actually quite difficult to tell whether a given level of exploitation is over or under long-term sustainability. There are many reasons for this:

1) Living species have substantial natural variations, e.g. from weather and from their interaction with other species (predators, their own food).

2) It's very hard to measure resources accurately. In the case of fish that live in the open ocean Pacific, for example, how do you propose to count them? Not easy to lift up the ocean temporarily and send people down to walk the seabed and count. In the case of mineral resources, like oil or copper ore, the stuff is buried underground in random places all over the world, sometimes underwater.

3) It's very hard to predict sustainability levels. In the case of living species, you have to have a complete mastery of the whole ecosystem and species behaviour. How many adult salmon are enough to sustain a given run? Who knows? We don't really know what they do out there in the deep blue ocean, how they find each other to mate, how probable it is that a fish of age x will survive to the next mating season and produce n offspring. In the case of nonliving resources, there's a strong economic component of what's recoverable. For example, estimates of the size of the world's "recoverable" oil depend quite strongly on the price of oil. At higher prices, more oil is recoverable. At lower, less.

4) It's very hard to predict the changes that future technology will bring. Malthus predicted we'd all be starving to death by now. He was wrong, because he did not realize technology would allow us to grow far more food on far less land for much less capital and labor cost. People might have predicted 50 years ago that the price of salmon would be enormous now, because of overfishing the wild stock. But people learned how to farm them, and now it's about the cheapest fish on the West Coast, strangely enough. We worry about running out of oil -- but that's really running out of petroleum deposits of a certain type. Technology comes along and, bing, we can now extra the needed hydrocarbons from oil sands or shale, or we can bio-engineer bacteria to just manufacture it straight from air and water.

5) It's very hard to predict the replacement of certain social needs for resources by others over time. In the mid-19th century, there was a real and substantial concern about imminent shortages of whale oil, I kid you not. Only a few realized that this sticky black stuff seeping out of the ground in Pennsylvania would turn out to be an excellent and even cheaper replacement. Nowadays, who worries about enough natural gas to burn to light your home or street? What about worrying about the environmental impact of tons of horse manure on city streets circa 1900? Gone. England practically denuded itself of tall trees in the 1800s to build ships. But now the forests are back, because we don't build wooden men o' war any more.

So sometimes, when you see the availability of some resource declining steeply, and you say whoa! that's not indefinitely sustainable, you have to realize that virtually nothing needs to be indefinitely sustainable. It just needs to be sustainable long enough for us to figure out the next most efficient technology.

That is, we burnt trees and plowed up land unsustainably fast in the Middle Ages -- until we learned about coal and steam power and crop rotation and fertilizer. Now we burn coal and oil and fish Pacific pollock perhaps unsustainably fast -- until we pass over to nuclear and biotech direct synthesis of hydrocarbons, plus fuel cells, open ocean fish farming, genetic manipulation of food stocks to make them more robust, easier and cheaper to farm, who knows?

All this means that reasonable men can differ on whether a given level of exploitation in a given field is "unsustainable" or not. It's most definitely not as simple as either side would generally suggest, either that we're raping the planet and global eco-catastrophe is right around the corner, or that mankind has zero effect on the world ecology and we should just eat drink and be merry.

I think, more than anything, the oversimplification of complex issues, and the tendency to turn what should be economic and scientific discussions into silly-ass moral and philosophical discussions, has damanged our ability to rationally manage the risks and benefits of the undeniable and eternal fact that we do and must prosper by exploiting our environment, and we must balance short-term and long-term goals appropriately. On the whole, my feeling is that those exasperated with the evangelizing worriers have the better side of the argument, simply because the fact is that people have been crying "unsustainability!" and "doom lies just ahead!" since the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution and those predictions have turned out to be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. We're not only not living in the hell-hole predicted in the past for 1920, 1960, 1980, 2000, et cetera, our lives are better than they were. We're better fed, more well off, in less conflict internationally over resources, our air and water are generally cleaner, and most of the material products on which we rely are cheaper and less scarce. In other words, things are generally (if not in every detail) going in the opposite direction as the doomsayers. That's not a good track record of prognostication.

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 30, 2008 3:22 PM.

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